Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ever Changing Morality

The following astonishing advertisements, from just a few decades ago, bring an important theological topic into sharp focus. (If you are are reading this post via email or RSS feed and cannot see the pictures, please visit www.rationalistjudaism.com to see them. It's worth it!)



When these advertisements were printed, they were not seen as immoral. Yet, by today's standards, they reflect a mistaken and disgusting attitude to women. Now, there can be little doubt that in another fifty years, people will look back on that which we consider moral today and will view it as hideously immoral. It would be the height of stupidity and arrogance for anyone to believe that today, Western society has finally reached the conclusion of its moral evolution. That which is moral and immoral today could easily be reversed within a few decades.

What does all this mean for us? It does weaken our ability to claim that the Torah's amazing morality is evidence of its truth/ superiority. For by what measure can we assert that the Torah is perfectly moral? We can only do so by claiming that it agrees with our own sense of morality - but as these advertisements show, our ideas of that change over time.

But the flip side of this is that it also means that those who claim that the Torah is immoral, in its attitudes to homosexuality, women, etc., are also severely weakened in their case. How can they judge the Torah to be lacking vis-a-vis their own modern Western standard of morality, when their own standard is so transient?

Yet, on the other hand, there is a school of Torah thought which claims that there is an ethic independent of Torah - and thus, for example, if one is stranded on a desert island and faced with eating either dead human or dead insects, one should choose the latter, even though it involves more halachic problems. But perhaps this idea of a separate ethic is one that is extracted from basic Torah morality.

This subject requires further study.

62 comments:

  1. Of course, an eternal and unchanging moral code has its advantages.

    Those who do not, have to contend with respected thinkers seriously discussing something like, say, this:

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/academic-conference-seeks-to-normalize-pedophilia

    Frankly, what "society" says is moral has absolutely no interest to me. Not after reading yet another news item like the above.

    Furthermore, the question need not be whether the Torah's moral values are "perfect" What could "perfect" POSSIBLY mean? That it brings all people ideal levels of happiness if practiced as instructed? How is that even plausible for ANY moral code?)

    So, since "perfect" is silly, the question is is it good enough to accomplish it's goals of bettering the world and keeping the Jewish people around? The answer to this is clearly "yes." It was Jewish morality that enlightened the world in such a way as to bring about science, the end of slavery, capitalism, and the very notion of human equality.

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    Replies
    1. The organizers of the event are not trying to justify child abuse, rather they are trying to create structures that can help pedophiles keep from offending. Listen to this episode of "This American Life" to gain some perspective on their circumstances. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/522/tarred-and-feathered?act=2

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  2. I don't know what's more shocking - the backwards, immoral attitude towards women or towards men's fashion. Belted sweaters?

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  3. > It would be the height of stupidity and arrogance for anyone to believe that today, Western society has finally reached the conclusion of its moral evolution.

    Yet the "enlightened" of each generation believe exactly that!

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  4. "their own standard is so transient"

    it IMPROVES as time goes on. it becomes MORE liberal and accepting. you are imlpying that we cant judge the torah morality becasue in 30 years we may reverse course and we all may believe gay to be immoral...that is absurd

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  5. So more liberal always equals more moral? That seems rather facile.

    Besides, not everything can be placed on a scale of more liberal/ less liberal - sometimes there are competing rights/ responsibilities. For example, torturing terrorism suspects.

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  6. The accepted morality in society indeed changes and whether we accept the change must be contingent upon and a result of sincere reflection upon and analysis of Torah-derived principles.

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  7. Speaking of moral shifts in the West-I recall that when I was a kid one of my family members had a much more disapproving attitude towards homosexual conduct. Then, the question was whether abominable acts should be legal, now the question is whether gay marriage should be sanctioned.

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  8. Torah morality always bothered me. we dont keep the torah because it is moral, but because that is what hashem tells us to do. but the claim the Torah is everlasting morality is problematic, in my eyes.

    how do you display morality when telling the jewish people to enter the Land of Israel and wipe out the inhabitants, men women and children? To kill out Amalek, men women and children and animals? The achzariyus of shiluach ha'kein?
    for example.

    It always bothers me when peole say the Torah is the source of morality, and I have never heard a good explanation of how these, and other similar commandments are beacons of morality.

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  9. I would suggest that not every cultural convention which has been abandoned as a result of moral shifts need necessarily remain in the trash. Even slavery if instituted in accordance with Jewish law could potentially elevate much of the world's population if the said slaves would be owned my upright, Torah observant Jews.

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  10. Who said that wiping out an enemy nation which is striving to wipe you out is necessarily immoral? My take on the issue is that in our day we can learn from such Torah laws in order to derive the correct course of conduct regarding current enemy populations-I think that expulsion of such populations is a reasonable course of conduct given the Torah's stated misswoth and values.(I admit that there may be room to consider that changing, more sophisticated moral standards which may jibe better with Torah principles might be reason to go with expulsion as opposed to elimination.)

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  11. There seems to be a premise that Torah and mitzvos are within the bounds of morality. But I am far from convinced about that premise. & even though I've looked for many years, I've never seen any compelling evidence or explanation.

    In fact,I've asked many people why they think that halacha would have anything to do with morality and they always point to halachot that just happen to correspond to something moral...like "don't murder". But I make it a habit of responding with 5 halachot that either have nothing to do with morality or are actually immoral for each halachic example used to "prove" that halacha is about morality. I haven't run out of responses. I think if you do this exercise in your head, you will see that it is so.

    The premise is false l'hatchila.

    Gary Goldwater

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  12. Thank you for raising this important topic.
    Rabbi Cardozo has an interesting shiur on this topic.
    If I understand him correctly (which may not be the case) he is saying that there is sometimes a real clash between our own deeply ingrained moral values and Halacha. An extreme example being amalak.
    And no matter how much apologetics we try use, at the end of the day one cannot deny this struggle
    Rav cardozo is (I think) saying that just like devastating disasters don't, (and should not) fit in with our moral standards, so to we are sometimes faced with a tremendous struggle of striving to keep halacha when they conflict with our morality. When avraham had to sacrifice his son do you think he thought it was a moral act? I doubt it.
    I find this a very honest approach.

    On a slightly different and personal topic, but in essence I believe it boils down to the same thing. I was brought up in an extremely religious environment. When I was struggling with masturbation and I told my rabbonim they told me that I had a serious addiction, and a very frum therapist told me the same, to cut a long story short I went to world renowned therapists and they all told me that I had no addiction at all and that my strict religious environment is the real problem. A asked a lot of people because I found it very difficult to accept that these rabbis were simply wrong. Here is part of my question that this university put on there site. http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/question/religious-belief-and-masturbation-discrepancy

    In short because people cannot accept that an avarah might not have negative mental effects, I went through turmoil.

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  13. This article may be a nonstarter. If by morality you mean what people should do in a society based on man's reasoning, it's up for grabs, and we are on our own. Each of us will have our own subjective ideas that a pure materialist if consistent can dismiss. He can speak of political correctness but real morality? If you wish to speak in terms of Revealed morality you have to see what the sources say and see how it fits in with us but the ultimate authority is with it. It is because of Judaism's contribution to Western morals that we don't always see that the two ways of deriving morality can diverge to endless extremes.

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  14. How can they judge the Torah to be lacking vis-a-vis their own modern Western standard of morality, when their own standard is so transient?
    That's like asking how a secular person can judge the Koran to be lacking, when their own standard has been so transient. Being an Orthodox Jew, you surely see the Koran as having a lot of rubbish in it, and being entirely man-made. But you also see that a lot of ex-Muslims and "moderate" Muslims have had their consciousness raised somewhat by modernity and secularism. Ethics isn't a completely developed field, but it is one in which we see progress.

    And look, even the "Torah-True ethic" develops. I bet you that rabbis recoil today when they come across what the Netziv said in Meshiv Davar 4:35 about how a man may obligate his wife to sexual relations...and not just because "we don't hold like that Netziv" but because it's not in consonance with modern values; if the Torah is a perfect moral beacon, it can't be that such a position is "Torah-true." Why not? Modern developing tenuous imperfect morality.

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  15. I think this goes to 2 very basic issues (which probably intertwine) -"is there an ethic outside of halacha?(or does halacha completely define ethics) and "does halacha have one "most right" response to every situation.
    If the answers are yes and yes then an "administrator analogy" is imho right on (i.e. I have no choice, I just carry out someone's rules with no interpretive authority). other answers yield a murkier world.
    (but apparently the baalei tosfot were ok with it since they allow you to give up your life even though halacha says you don't have to (or shouldn't depending on how you understand it)

    Question: you have a 119 and 364/365 year old talmid chacham and a pregnant 25 year old mother of 4 drowning and you can only save one - who do you save?

    Lots to discuss :-)

    KT
    Joel Rich

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  16. one other question-how does a mid-course ban on polygamy fit in?
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  17. While there seem to be serious risks when it comes to discussing masturbation on this forum (distraction from the main post, and worse, now all the anti-rationalists can say "Ha! Now we know why you people are kofrim--you just have taavos!), I would like to respectfully add a few points

    1)You don't have to be very religious to condemn masturbation. While the more extreme forms of demonizing the act (literally!) appear in Kabbalistic sources, the Shulchan Aruch,following the Gemara and our friend Maimonides, pronounces it the greatest sin in the Torah.

    2)There have been attempts to legitimize masturbation within Halacha. One approach is the Onnes one (Of course, that gets used for Homosexuality too!). THe best one I know of is the Ezer Mikodesh. However, it only works if you're married. A careful reading of his scattered comments on the subject reveal the following clever hypothesis: The prohibition is based on wasting useful seed. This used to apply even to married people back when polygamy was acceptable. Even if one's wife is a nidda or pregnant, marry another one, and use your seed with her! Today however, the cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom is binding, and a married man CAN'T take another wife. So if a)one's wife is a nidda or b)pregnant, there's no prohibition! He himself concludes that this is acceptable post-facto as a "Shield defending from Punishment," but should not be seen as a blanket Heter.

    3)All things considered, the best approach seems to be to acknowledge that we are trying our hardest. If we were perfect, we wouldn't have Yom Kippur. Ever heard the Mussar teaching about small Kabbalot (self-improvement resolutions)? So we do what we can, try to do better than last time, and instead of drowning in guilt, face G-d confidently, knowing that we are trying to do our best.

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  18. Ari

    >Those who do not, have to contend with respected thinkers seriously discussing something like, say, this:

    >http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/academic-conference-seeks-to-normalize-pedophilia

    >Frankly, what "society" says is moral has absolutely no interest to me. Not after reading yet another news item like the above.

    So, big shot, what's the "age of consent" in halacha?

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  19. I think it worth mentioning that ads these days are overwhelmingly sexist depicting a doofus/clueless dad/man versus a smart/wise mother/woman.

    See, e.g.:
    http://pajamasmedia.com/lifestyle/2011/08/15/which-automotive-ad-is-more-sexist/

    That's just one article. A brief google search will yield an embarrassment of riches of similarly anti-male ads.

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  20. It cuts both ways.

    People also very much miss "the good ol' days." For example, the Bronx used to be a really nice place to raise a family. By the Eighties, Bronx residents didn't go out after 8 PM and needed 7 locks on their doors for protection.

    Also, the attitudes expressed by those ads still very much exist, but men won't express them with women around. What about the very recent development of marketing lingerie for 4-year-olds and the accompanying ads, which look like child porn?

    Or the whole model/advertising industry? To get the very tall, superskinny look, they end up using really tall 14-year-old girls, dress them in suggestive make-up & clothes, and then coach them into very suggestive poses.

    BTW, that subservient pose (the men relaxing in bed with the lady kneeling servilely to his left) is used all the time in advertising, but they've sexed it up so that you think, "Wow, that's hot!" rather than "Wow, that's pathetic!"

    There is lots more to say on the subject. But we can leave it with the fact that today's morality doesn't allow kids to be kids. And things are in many ways worse for women, but all people can say is, "Women have so many more opportunities nowadays!" -- which really isn't good enough, especially since the "opportunities" often come with a two-edged sword.

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  21. These ads are very dated. I hate to say it, but there is an essential truth in at least one of these ads that is as eternal as the Torah: It is a man's world. As much as we like to pretend it is not so, it is still true and will never change.

    Ask any woman over forty who is single or divorced. Most married women realize this as well. Let's not be naive. It's a man's world.

    Consider a song sung by the great Dinah Washington:

    "When you see a woman cry
    And she cries all night long
    You can bet your bottom dollar
    Some no good man
    Has done her wrong

    Same thing when you hear a woman shout
    Somewhere there's a mean old man she's shouting about

    I ask you, ain't it a mean old man's world
    Ain't it a mean old man's world
    It's a mean, mean old man's world"

    Dinah spoke the truth. I am sure we can find this truth in the Torah as well.

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  22. The Torah is a moral document?

    Hmmm, not so sure. Child sacrifice (akeida), child murder (amalek), child brides (rivka) to name a few.

    Halacha is a moral code?

    Absolutely not. The Orthodox love to convince themselves that schita is the moral way to kill an animal but we know that there are far more humane ways to slaughter that Rabbis will not allow. True morality in that vain would be a Kookian vegetarianism.

    The torah and halacha may be a good roadmap for building a lasting society but don't confuse that for morality.

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  23. Jewish values are NOT completely unchanging. Chazal made no criticism of Rav's temporary wives. That would not be acceptable today.

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  24. Re "Child sacrifice (akeida)":
    It has been suggested that the entire point of the akeida episode is precisely to indicate that God does *not* want child sacrifice, while demonstrating to the rest of the world -- which considered child sacrifice to be the gold standard of faith -- that Avraham was as devoted to his God as they were to theirs.

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  25. Just curious-what is more "moral" than shechita that doesn't compromise efficiency, taste,health standards or wholenness of the animal?

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  26. The point is surely true, but the ads aren't the best example of a change in moral values. They're more of a change in what type of humor is okay to put in print.

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  27. While the more extreme forms of demonizing the act (literally!) appear in Kabbalistic sources, the Shulchan Aruch,following the Gemara and our friend Maimonides, pronounces it the greatest sin in the Torah.

    Actually the "worst sin in the Torah" line comes form the Zohar, and is not found in either the Gemara or the Rambam. Moreover, IIRC, both the Rambam (in Peirish Hamishnayis on Sanhedrin) and the Meiri (I assume on Niddah) both say that the Gemara exaggerated their statments in the gemara about the seriousness of zera levatala in order to frighten people away from being nichshal in the aveira.

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  28. It seems to me clear that (1) commonsense morality informs halacha and (2) halacha (and other religions' versions of same) inform morality.

    Does that make everything more complicated? You bet. But is that the way God structured the world? You bet.

    Its just one of these crazy paradoxes, like "you have free will but God foresees everything."

    As long as there are theistic human beings, we will be trying to wrap our heads around these issues.

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  29. Grappling said:
    3)All things considered, the best approach seems to be to acknowledge that we are trying our hardest. If we were perfect, we wouldn't have Yom Kippur. Ever heard the Mussar teaching about small Kabbalot (self-improvement resolutions)? So we do what we can, try to do better than last time, and instead of drowning in guilt, face G-d confidently, knowing that we are trying to do our best.

    I want to congratulate you and give you a big Yasher Koach! This is one of the sanest,spiritually healthy approaches a person can have when struggling with issues of self-development and spiritual progress. Think of the tremendous guilt people have who are struggling with addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography, the internet, and food!. The only thing I would like to add is we need to have more open forums on these topics within our observant communities, and allow those who wish to seek help overcoming issues, to seek it! Without fear of guilt or chastisement from the "holier than thou crowd" who would prefer to deny our short-comings and struggles and read to us from Masechet Gehinom! By doing so they perpetuate them and foster a culture of lies and deceit, and cause people to go off the derech in a big way!

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  30. "Just curious-what is more "moral" than shechita that doesn't compromise efficiency, taste,health standards or wholenness of the animal?"

    All agricultural institutions and Temple Grandin have endorsed stunning an animal before it's slaughter as a more humane way to kill animals.

    Her thought leading articles can be found here:http://www.grandin.com/references/humane.slaughter.html

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  31. People recognized the immorality of yesteryear while it was going on. (i.e. Plato in his Republic giving all people equal opportunity including women, or very early feminists, or people fighting against slavery long before it was stopped)
    The immorality of tomorrow will be things that people even today consider immoral (i.e. eating animals, or not accepting homosexuality).
    There is hardly a thing in history that can be said to have been agreed by everyone to be moral and later was considered immoral.
    Neal
    Besides, morality does not change in fifty years. What was the morality that changed between the years 900 and 1000 or 1300 and 1400? Only when social mores break down do things change and then it is because the few people that were saying it all along are willing to express themselves but not because their thoughts on morality changed. It is only the masses view of morality that change - one can find plenty of intellectuals speaking about the immorality or lack of immorality in many practices long before the eras they are accepted.
    Neal

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  32. "It has been suggested that the entire point of the akeida episode is precisely to indicate that God does *not* want child sacrifice, while demonstrating to the rest of the world -- which considered child sacrifice to be the gold standard of faith -- that Avraham was as devoted to his God as they were to theirs."


    See Rambam and some guy named Slifkin quoted here:
    "If child sacrifice is immoral, and it is for this reason that God does not want it, then why would we be willing to do it? If it is entirely inconceivable that God would actually want someone to kill their son as an act of religious dedication, doesn't this mean that Avraham failed to understand what serving God was all about?"

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  33. “It would be the height of stupidity and arrogance for anyone to believe that today, Western society has finally reached the conclusion of its moral evolution. That which is moral and immoral today could easily be reversed within a few decades.”

    Changes in what is considered moral occur in Judaism as well. Few things in the Torah are as clearly and emphatically stated as “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, etc.”. Yet, that imperative was modified by our ancestors generations ago because, in their view, it wasn’t fair. Execution of a rebellious child was consigned to oblivion by overly literal interpretation. Other practices were allowed to fall into disuse.

    In ‘The challenge of Creation’ you argue, if I remember correctly, that science in the Torah was “dumbed down” to meet the state of development of its audience. Would this not be true as well for the moral and legal parts of the Torah? This may be a destabilizing thought, but one that is perfectly rational, follows from your conclusions in “…Creation”, and is consistent with the facts as observed in the paragraph above.

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  34. I am surprised that nobody mentioned that in the third part of the Guide Rambam explains why Torah is the most perfect and moral law. Ayen shom.

    The Shreiber said: ' If it is entirely inconceivable that God would actually want someone to kill their son as an act of religious dedication, doesn't this mean that Avraham failed to understand what serving God was all about?"

    This is what Avraham Burg writes in 'Bilshon Bnei-Adam'. Ayen shom. I disagree but it's interesting to read.

    On the subject of masturbation. Isn't it just the dead sperm that needs to come out to make room for new ones? Isn't it similar to a woman's period? People can't control it so why the brouhaha? Please educate me where Rambam says that it's the worst sin in the Torah? I am not sure there is any problem here. It sounds like ignorance and paranoia.

    It's a mans world because the strong rule over the weak. When it becomes a just world it will stop being a man's world. Men will always remain stronger then women but they will use their natural advantage for the benefit of Humanity and the glory of G-d. I like strong and dominant men.

    Joel Reich asks:
    Question: you have a 119 and 364/365 year old talmid chacham and a pregnant 25 year old mother of 4 drowning and you can only save one - who do you save?

    The mother. Isn't this what the talmid chochom would want? I would ask him before he drowns but no real man would say anything different.

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  35. > But the flip side of this is that it also means that those who claim that the Torah is immoral, in its attitudes to homosexuality, women, etc., are also severely weakened in their case. How can they judge the Torah to be lacking vis-a-vis their own modern Western standard of morality, when their own standard is so transient?

    Because the Torah, as the Word of God, should be able to be seen as moral by all people in all times and places. It’s Divine origin separates it from typical moral codes which are rooted in their culture.

    On the other hand, it can be claimed that morality = that which the Torah commands. Therefore the Torah, by definition, is always moral, and on anything that modern Western morality disagrees with the Torah, modern Western morality is simply wrong. In this view, that, say, we feel that slavery is intrinsically immoral is just a coincidence of the society we happen to live in, and in reality, is moral to keep slaves.

    Ari said...
    > Furthermore, the question need not be whether the Torah's moral values are "perfect" What could "perfect" POSSIBLY mean? That it brings all people ideal levels of happiness if practiced as instructed? How is that even plausible for ANY moral code?)

    God wrote the Torah, yes? Are you suggesting that He is incapable of creating a moral code that, if properly followed, will bring all people ideal levels of happiness?

    HaRazieli said...
    > Who said that wiping out an enemy nation which is striving to wipe you out is necessarily immoral?

    No one said that. Attacking people who were minding their own business in their own country and forcing them to flee, convert, or die… let’s just say that the Jewish world judged the actions of the Spanish highly immoral when they did something similar to us.

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  36. Regarding zera levatala: One need not be religious to oppose it. I believe Rousseau and Kant were very much against it. At its essence, I think the act is base.

    Regarding morality: I have always been wary of people who are convinced they know better than their ancestors. With very few exceptions, I'm not at all convinced that we are more moral than previous generations.

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  37. IMO, if we are to declare the Torah our moral authority, we are headed for disaster. That is how terrible acts are legitimized. People often say that suicide bombers are crazy, but of course that is not the case. Rather, they have faith that a certain text and its interpretation instruct them to do certain acts.

    Why is it that abusers in the UO community do not get reported? Some will tell you that they should but many will not because of hilchos mesira. This is just one example but there are many more.

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  38. ksil said...

    "their own standard is so transient"

    it IMPROVES as time goes on. it becomes MORE liberal and accepting. you are imlpying that we cant judge the torah morality becasue in 30 years we may reverse course and we all may believe gay to be immoral...that is absurd


    Why is it absurd? As Europe collapses due to socialism and moral relativism, there very well be a harsh backlash in coming decades against the "liberal" ideology / morality which people see as responsible for Europe's collapse. In addition, people don't realize that in ancient Greece homosexuality and pedophilia were not universally accepted norms; they were subject of vigorous debate in society. In addition, people don't realize that there are strong, completely secular / atheist / moral relativist arguments against a society tolerating open homosexuality. I don't want to turn this thread into a debate about this topic, I just want to point out that the "advancement" of morality is not in a single direction. Sometimes "advancement" can mean reverting to previous norms that had been abandoned once people realize that the new norms, while logical and theoretically consistent, fail the test of reality and real experience.

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  39. This dove-tails nicely with discussions currently on other blogs about the recent suggestion by a Rabbi in California that we no longer say the Bracha "Shelo Assani Isha".

    If people thought the way these ads suggest just a few years ago, then it's not hard to imagine that 2000 years ago the idea that such a Bracha could be seen as offensive would not have entered the minds of Chazal.

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  40. This quote from Rav Kook is interesting in regard to the concept of man's "natural morality":

    Yir’at Shamayim—fear of heaven—may not supplant the natural sense of morality of a person, for in that case it is not a pure Yir’at Shamayim. The signpost for a pure Yir’at Shamayim is when the natural sense of morality (המוסר הטבעי) that is extant in the straightforward nature of man is improved and elevated by it more than it would have been without it. But if one were to imagine a kind of Yir’at Shamayim that without its input, life would tend to do well and bring to fruition things that benefit the community and the individual, and furthermore, under its influence less of those things would come to fruition, such a Yir’at Shamayim is wrong.

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  41. Carol, read this:

    הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק כא

    Read the whole thing through a few times. While he says it's assur, it doesn't seem to have any specific punishment associated with it. It just seems to be under the general heading of al tikarev. Many of the things in this section seem like interpretations of the general rule al tikarev, but it's not clear to me what their origins are.

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  42. If these ads were from the year 1950, consider that it was just 30 years earlier that women were given the right to vote in the United States, and that before 1920, Women’s Suffrage activists were jailed and beaten by those in authority. Not long before that time married women had no property rights and were not allowed into most professions (other than seamstress, cleaning, or unsavory or illegal businesses) and had no opportunities to financially support themselves without men.

    And, in the year 1950, men who got sick of their wife complaining about their mistress and were ready for a new wife without wanting to support the old one, could commit their wives to insane asylums, claiming that their wife was “hysterical” or “neurotic” without the women being given the chance to prove themselves to be sane.

    Tali – I disagree with you. Women currently have freedoms and rights in Western civilizations that they did not have for millennia. There may be ads and cosmopolitan marketing techniques that are insulting or degrading to women by sexually objectifying women (or girls) but women have the freedom to accept those messages, or not. Women have the freedom to live where they want and find friends and neighbors who do not endorse those values. And most importantly, women have the freedom and opportunities to financially sustain themselves without being subservient to or controlled by men.

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  43. 2)There have been attempts to legitimize masturbation within Halacha. One approach is the Onnes one…

    Grappling – Can you please explain more about the “Onnes” legitimacy attempt in Halacha? Thanks.

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  44. the Shulchan Aruch,following the Gemara and our friend Maimonides, pronounces it the greatest sin in the Torah.

    Could you provide a specific source for this in the Mishne Torah? I haven't come across it. While Rambam does condemn it as a "big sin" it's listed in the section dealing with things that fall under the heading of "al titkarev" and no specific punishment is listed for it.

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  45. Some will tell you that they should but many will not because of hilchos mesira. This is just one example but there are many more.

    Take a look at Rabbi Daniel Ediensohn's site: http://daattorah.blogspot.com/

    He's a Charaidi Rav and wrote a book on the subject which calls for turning abusers over to the secular authorities. He's stated that many of the "Gedolim" privately agree, but there are political issues with the Kanaim and Askanim that surround the Gedolim.

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  46. Ahem,
    In the Halachah, the issue is not the age of consent. The issue is marriage.

    Furthermore, the Halachic attitude towards sex is somewhat more abstemious than the "if it feels good do it" attitude we have today (to say the least).

    Those tenured radicals discussing pedophilia are not discussing having people marry very young girls or boy. They're discussing indulging in child molestation with whatever consent a child is capable of giving.

    If you fail to see the difference here, we have little to discuss.

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  47. Grappling,
    Though I found your whole post interesting, I particularly appreciated Point #3. I think it is the proper approach in general.

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  48. Back again to The Shreiber's question, quoting the Ba'al Ha-Blog: "If it is entirely inconceivable that God would actually want someone to kill their son as an act of religious dedication, doesn't this mean that Avraham failed to understand what serving God was all about?"

    A most reasonable question to which I offer two answers:

    1. It is certainly not "inconceivable" that God would desire human sacrifice. The Canaanites, the Aztecs, and others thought there was no better way to show their religious devotion, and I can certainly understand that mindset. In Avraham's pre-Mattan Torah time, even he might have mistakenly thought that this is what was expected of him.

    2. Remember, the whole episode was a "test." What should have shocked Avraham the most was not the idea of child sacrifice, but the blatant contradiction between God's command and His previous promise to give Avraham a son in his old age who would be the progenitor of a people. And yet, famously, Avraham says not a word but prepares for the sacrifice. This silence can be read in different ways, but my own theory (and I believe I'm not alone) is that he never really thought that he would have to go through with it. He faithfully did everything he would have to do in preparation, up to the point of raising the knife, but all along thinking, "You'll tell me to stop now, won't you?" And of course that's exactly what happened. Because God did not desire child sacrifice. But Avraham passed his test with flying colors.

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  49. Some sources, most written for educators, regarding contemporary approach to masturbation:

    R. Wolbe in "Shveilei Harefuah", quoted in note 20 of Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin's article, linked below(also quoted in his address sponsored by Ohel, "Torah Perspectives on Boundaries, Restrictions and Sexuality", available in MP3 on his website):
    http://drsorotzkin.com/pdf/pursuit_of_perfection.pdf

    Discussion between R. Yitzchak Roness and R. Yehoshua Shapira in Tzohar:

    http://www.tzohar.org.il/upload_doc/tzohar2463.PDF

    http://www.tzohar.org.il/upload_doc/tzohar2618.PDF

    http://www.tzohar.org.il/upload_doc/tzohar2916.PDF

    Another place this has been discussed(including a rather maverick and non-normative opinion) is on the Seforim Blog(note 20; see responses linked by R. Yitzchak Roness in his comment):

    http://seforim.blogspot.com/2011/04/new-writings-from-r-kook-and-assorted.html

    Finally, see R. Moti Fromer's counseling of a young man in Footnote 10 of Tamar Biala's "To Teach Tsniut with Tsniut"

    http://www.yctorah.org/content/view/552/10/

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  50. The Onnes approach is discussed at length here:

    http://tshuvot.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%A9%D7%99-%D7%9C%D7%94%D7%99%D7%9E%D7%A0%D7%A2-%D7%9E%D7%94%D7%95%D7%A6%D7%90%D7%AA-%D7%96%D7%A8%D7%A2-%D7%9C%D7%91%D7%98%D7%9C%D7%94/

    Concerning Rambam, you are all correct. He does not make this the worst sin ever, however he does use very strong language, calling masturbation an איסור גדול, comparing it to murder, and saying the violator is in Niddui(Cherem)!

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  51. well i for one think that Alec Baldwin looks great in the "Norfolk" Belted Sweater from Drummond. That guy hasn't aged a bit!
    Maybe you guys would think differently of the ad if you walked a day in his Lederhosen.

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  52. well i for one think that Alec Baldwin looks great in the "Norfolk" Belted Sweater from Drummond. That guy hasn't aged a bit!
    Maybe you guys would think differently of the ad if you walked a day in his Lederhosen.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Grappling, who runs that website?

    ReplyDelete
  54. Who runs the website? Tough to tell. He sure knows an awful lot, and seems to be very thought-out.

    To quote Marc from Sefarim Blog, he "is clearly from the haredi world. Maybe some readers know who he is, but I think that someone like this has to be in “deep cover.” ...Is it possible that instead of a “progressive” talmid hakham we are dealing here with a Trojan Horse? That is, someone who aims to undermine traditional Judaism from within, much like Saul Berlin attempted to do."

    On his blog, he printed alleged haskamot to his sefarim, one from R' Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, with his name removed.

    On the Charedi "Bechadrei Chareidim" blog, someone posted these haskamot, hoping for an ID.

    In response, someone created a blogger account, posted the following, and never posted again:

    זיהתי את הספר לפי ההסכמה. יש אותו אצל אבי שליט"א כבר שנים רבות. שאלתי אותו עליו. אבי הכיר אותו כי לפני שנים הם היו באותו כולל. לפי מה שהוא סיפר לי מדובר בלתמיד חכם מיוחד מאוד וקצת משונעדיג. הרב ש"ך ור' חיים גריניימן אמרו עליו דברים עצומים וחיכו שיהיה ראש ישיבה מהגדולים ויוביל את עולם הישיבות. יש עסקן תלמיד חכם שרב חיים נתן לו תקציב ואמר לו שישגיח עליו לעזור לו בכל דבר ויתמוך בו שילמד כי הלימוד שלו חשוב לכלל ישראל.
    אבי אמר שאמרו עליו שיש לו נפש עדינה ונשמה גבוהה והיו פעמים שהוא היה נמצא בכולל ואבי היה בטוח שהוא לא הגיה כי היה לו כשרון להיות שקט ושאף אחד לא ירגיש שהוא שמה אבל כשדיברו איתו הוא היה רגיל לגמרי ופשוט וצחק כמו כל אחד ולא הרגישו שום דבר מיוחד, אומרים שהיה מתפלל בבית כנסת של תימנים שעמד ריק והוא השיג את המפתח והתפלל שם לפעמים מהבוקר עד הערב בדמעות. הוא מסר חבורות מצומצמות וכל פעם שהתפרסם ורצו יותר לבוא לשמוע הוא ביטל את החבורה. כל פעם עבר ממקום למקום. הוא הסתובב גם אצל חזונישניקים וגם אצל ישיבישערס ולא היה שייך לשום מקום. אומרים שהיה משהו מאוד מיוחד לשמוע אותו והיו תלמידים שרדפו אחריו באש ובמים לשמוע אותו והוא ברח מהם. הרב ש"ך אמר שאולי הקב"ה ריחם על דורנו ושלח נשמה של גדול אמיתי מהדורות הקודמים ואמר שהלמדנות שלו היא לא משהו מהדור הזה בכלל וזה כמו אחד מגדולי ראשי הישיבות מהדור הקודם. אבי שאל את סימוניק דיסקין מה פתאום הוא כתב לו הסכמה כי הוא לא כתב לאף אחד והוא אמר שיש רבנים שזוכרים אותם אחרי כמה דורות בזכות הסכמה שהם נתנו לספר ואולי יזכרו אותו בגלל ההסכמה הזאת והוא חשב שבכל הישיבות ילמדו בזה אבל המחבר הדפיס ממש קצת ונתן כמה אחדים לכמה אנשים ולא מכר ואין את הספר בשום מקום כמעט. ואמר שהוא כתב לו הסכמה עם שבחים גדולים ותארים והוא ביקש ממנו לכתוב משהו יותר שקט. הוא היה תמיד עם בהיות בריאות. פעם רב חיים ציווה עליו לטוס לניתוח גדול בחוץ לארץ והוא לא הסכים ועשה את זה בארץ. אחד הגדולים ציווה עליו לפתוח ישיבה וסידר לו מקום ותקציב והוא קיבל לישיבה שבבניקים ובחורים עם פיגור וממשפחות הרוסות וגם ילדים שהיו צריכים משפחה אומנת הגיעו לשם והוא ישב איתם כל היום ולימד אותם ובישל להם בעצמו ואחרי שראו שאף בחור נורמלי לא יכול ללמוד שם וגם הוא לא לומד בגלל זה בסוף סגרו לו את התקציב ככה שזה לא ממש שהוא עמד בראש ישיבה. לפני בערך חמש עשרה שנה הוא עבר מחוץ לעיר לקריה חדשה וניתק את כל הקשרים וראו אותו שוטף חדרי מדרגות. ולפני בערך עשר שנים הוא נעלם לגמרי ומאז אף אחד לא שמע עליו. אבא שלי אומר שצריך להוריד את המודעה הזה כי לא כדאי לעשות נגד רצונו גם כי הזהרו בגחלתן וגם כי הוא רגיש ולמה לצער אותו וזה יכול לצער אותו כמו שהוא מכיר אותו, הוא גם לא הרשה לי להגיד את השם שלו

    This does seem kinda suspicious.

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  55. Michapeset,

    Your points are valid, but I still hold they come with a two-edged sword.

    Numerous articles in non-Jewish newspapers in the US and England point out how women are falling apart from combining careers with motherhood and marriage. It doesn't always happen immediately, but a lot of women eventually suffer physical or emotional problems from all the pressure. Prozac is also immensely popular.

    You say that women can reject the messages the media sends them, and you are completely correct. However, little girls can't and it seems that men simply don't.

    Sex crimes against women and children are way, way up. Domestic violence is common enough, though hidden. The statistics are there and I remember encountering this kind of thing with my friends a lot in high school.

    As far as property rights go, legal rights differ from the practical reality. Men can more easily gain the upper hand (and want to) within the marriage especially once there are children. In divorce, men impoverish their wives often enough, although I won't deny that women can also play some very nasty tricks.

    I also heard about men's extramarital affairs and committing their wives to insane asylums, but because it hardly ever happened, I'm not sure whether it's a good example of how things have progressed since. Men can still have affairs (and around 15% do, depending on how you define "affair") and so do women, and a man can still find a way to get his wife out of the way if he wants.

    And your list of women's jobs is very narrow. Women were also nurses, teachers, shopkeepers, sold crafts and foodstuffs, and so forth. They also helped their husbands in his business.

    Also, I'm not sure whether professions were officially closed to women or whether not so many were trying to get into the more demanding professions? ("Let Them Journey" records the story of a woman who did become a lawyer in 1944 while married with kids. It was hard, but not impossible.) Women wanted to get married by their early twenties and have children and so most weren't really looking for a profession.
    I think it's important to realize that the rise in women achieving degrees and entering a wider variety of professions coincided with the rise in labor-saving devices and convenient & effective birth control, meaning that married women had more free time because of less work and fewer children and unmarried women could put off marriage.

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  56. R' Slifkin:

    Regarding Torah and natural morality, several points:

    (1) The famous aggadah about Hillel and the potential convert seem to underscore the importance of natural empathy in (at the very least) mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro. Hillel essentially articulates the "golden rule" albeit in a negative form. It's hard to come closer to an "intuitive" form of morality than that.

    (2) In our parsha from the last week, Moshe underscores that the observance of the mitzvos would constitute our "wisdom" in the eyes of the nations (I don't have the Hebrew text). I don't think it is reasonable to assume that by wisdom we are referring to (merely, or even at all) greater accomplishment in secular forms of wisdom. Rather I think it is more likely that this is understood to mean that a Jewish life, properly lived, would impress the nations with its (moral) uprightness, decency, and promotion of the civil order. That the nations are supposed to be able to appreciate the value of Torah implies to me that Torah is not supposed to be a thing that is completely divorced from, or alien to, one's natural morality. Otherwise, how could the human intuition pick up on its value?

    (3) The Rambam of course attempts in the Moreh to demonstrate how the mitzvos accord with common standards of decency that can be appreciated intuitively.

    (4) I'm sure you're already aware of some of the fascinating writings of Rav Kook that Marc Shapiro over at the seforim blog brings in relation to this issue.

    Here's a quote from R' Kook, that may be relevant:
    "Yir’at Shamayim—fear of heaven—may not supplant the natural sense of morality of a person, for in that case it is not a pure Yir’at Shamayim. The signpost for a pure Yir’at Shamayim is when the natural sense of morality (המוסר הטבעי) that is extant in the straightforward nature of man is improved and elevated by it more than it would have been without it. But if one were to imagine a kind of Yir’at Shamayim that without its input, life would tend to do well and bring to fruition things that benefit the community and the individual, and furthermore, under its influence less of those things would come to fruition, such a Yir’at Shamayim is wrong."

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  57. I think this essay by Rabbi Blau is quite apropos:

    http://www.yutorah.org/_shiurim/%2FTU11_Blau.pdf ("Ivan Karamazov Revisited:
    The Moral Argument For
    Religious Belief") and responses: http://www.yutorah.org/_shiurim/TUJ%2012%20Letters12%20245-262.pdf (In case you're interested, the first response is from Gil Student.)

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  58. Grappling wrote:

    2)There have been attempts to legitimize masturbation within Halacha. One approach is the Onnes one (Of course, that gets used for Homosexuality too!).

    Let's analyze that.

    Clearly, mishkav zacahr is forbidden by Torah law. The homosexual conduct you mention must be other types of contact besides homosexual intercourse.

    Now, if somebody tells me that he has homosexual contact with another man but refrains from intercourse, I would have one of two thoughts in mind: 1) You're lying. Or 2) You're not doing that YET? Give it time.

    Being a formerly irreligious person, I used to chase women. One woman I was involved with didn't believe in sex before marriage. Given other forms of contact, it didn't take long for her resistance to break down. (resistance to BOTH of our biological impulses).

    So, even if the above can be used to permit some forms of homosexual contact, I would have grave doubts about a person who says they do one thing but not the other.

    That said, an objection might arise: what if the people you're discussing are so pious that they can be trusted to do the one thing but not the other?

    I'm skeptical. If they're so pious, why are they not "biting the bullet" and getting married?

    Lastly, as orthodox Jews, we want to keep the franchise going. The only way that's going to happen is if people form families and have children. People simply have to pull their weight in this regard. Plus it's a mitzvah.

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  59. I believe that the Halacha/Morality dilemma can be summarized as follows:

    The very act of adopting and interpreting Torah/Halacha (even assuming its divine "objective" origins) is a human endeavor, and therefore imperfect and subjective. One can argue for its benefits and disadvantages. However, in the marketplace of human ideas it is but one of many human endeavors that touch upon morality, when we define morality as a prioritizing of values.

    So one person can take very seriously his profession or some other cause, and it becomes his life mission-- his "religion" if you will.

    Those of us who accept upon themselves "halacha" as a binding value system-- it is a human choice with consequences--both positive and negative. So while we take ourselves very seriously, we must remember that our choice is just that-- a human choice with all of its vulnerabilities.

    A related point about the masturbation question-- It is very clear to me that the Talmudic/Halachic statements about it are based on ancient taboos as well as moral commentary about the importance of family. The Torah source for the prohibition (the Onen story) is obviously taken out of context for this purpose.

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  60. Yet, on the other hand, there is a school of Torah thought which claims that there is an ethic independent of Torah

    Please elaborate a tad bit if you could - who, what, when?

    thanks

    ReplyDelete

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