Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Are You Allowed To Make Up Your Own Mind?

"Judaism is all about asking questions!" Whenever somebody says that - and when the context indicates that they are not talking about questions such as "What happens if the fleishig spoon falls into the milchig sink?", but rather theological questions of a more fundamental nature - it's a fair guess that they are returnees to Judaism who came to observance via a particular outreach organization. This organization knows that critical thinking and independent decision-making are greatly valued in modern society, and so it tells people that Judaism is all about that.

But is that really true? In the yeshivah that I went to Manchester, when one student praised another for asking a lot of theological questions, the rebbe got up and thundered, "A Yiddishe bochur doesn't ask why!"

Of course, it's difficult to say anything about what "Judaism is," since there are so many different forms of Judaism - rationalist, mystic, charedi, Zionist, chassidic, chabad, modern Orthodox, etc. Still, the main problem with the claim commonly issued by this outreach organization is that the particular form of Judaism to which they are trying to attract people - i.e., charedi Judaism - is most certainly not into asking theological questions.

I was reminded of this in the current Bet Shemesh elections - which, thankfully, are over today. This week's edition of weekly newspaper that was started by the mayor's spokesman, Chadash - yes, the one of Holocaust-imagery infamy - contained over one hundred pages of Abutbul propaganda. The English section was introduced with the following announcement:
WARNING: This pamphlet is intended for people who are capable of thinking on their own. If you believe that you are not that kind of person, please pass it to a friend who is. He may thank you profusely one day.
So, we are told, the Abutbol campaign wants people to think on their own! It wants people who will make up their own minds, not people who blindly follow others like sheep.

The problem is, much of the rest of the 100 pages of the propaganda is about how you absolutely must not make your own decision. There is pronouncement after pronouncement about how everyone is obligated to follow the voting directives of the Charedi Gedolim and how it is forbidden to separate oneself from the (charedi) community. And Rav Kornfeld even gave an interview to HaModia about how Anglos need to be educated to know that they do not have the right to make their own decision on whom to vote for.

I'm not so bothered by a society that believes that people are not allowed to make their own decisions. I'm much more bothered by a society which has that belief, and yet attempts to deceive people and pretend otherwise.

34 comments:

  1. It's true that sometimes people in the Yeshiva-world are told not to ask certain questions.

    Personally, I find it more frustrating when you're told that you can ask questions as much as you want but that you can't חס ושלום draw any conclusions from the absence of acceptable answers (or approaches) to those questions.

    The latter approach disingenuously pretends to promote critical thinking but ignores the fact that you can't claim to be having an open-minded discussion about something that could potentially impact how you act if you already know what your operative conclusion is.

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  2. Many if those open-minded rather than glib understand that thinking on your own can sometimes lead to epistemological warrant for something not fully understood -- or at possibly least Halachic warrant for acting in that way.

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  3. Maybe in the charedi yeshiva you went to questions were discouraged, but in the charedi yeshiva i went to questions were welcome, and in fact, the rosh yeshiva often spoke about theological questions. now i know that you might claim that if that is true then i must not really be charedi, but if you met me in the street you would certainly think that i am.
    dont judge a charedi by his cover- just as there are different shades of orthodoxy there are also different shades of charedi.

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    1. "Maybe in the charedi yeshiva you went to questions were discouraged, but in the charedi yeshiva i went to questions were welcome, and in fact, the rosh yeshiva often spoke about theological questions. now i know that you might claim that if that is true then i must not really be charedi, but if you met me in the street you would certainly think that i am. dont judge a charedi by his cover- just as there are different shades of orthodoxy there are also different shades of charedi."
      Yeah but american chairedi isnt israeli chariedi.american chareidi are more tame.american chareidi have secular education.because, they know with no secular education they lose government funding. Hmmm sound familiar???

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  4. > This pamphlet is intended for people who are capable of thinking on their own.

    You misunderstood the intent of this sentence. A politician doesn't waste much time preaching to his base. He knows he has their votes. He wants the votes of the rest of the population. In Abutbol's case this seems to be the people who are capable of thinking on their own. Therefore you want those people to get this propaganda so they can learn they're wrong for doing so.

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  5. In the charedi world, original thought is original sin.

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  6. I don't see any deception here. All the paper is saying is that if you are capable of thinking on your own, you should know that you're actually not allowed to. The people who aren't capable of thinking on their own don't need to read the rest of the paper.

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  7. How is listening to someone else not thinking for yourself? That is logically analogous to saying that since you do what Hashem says or what the laws of the government are you do not think for yourself.

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  8. What I think is amazing is that many of the Baalei Teshuva ,who became frum davka becaus ethey had an opened mind ,once they become frum can no longer think for themselves. How Ironic.

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  9. In the interest of full disclosure, you should point out that you've expressed limited agreement with Rav Kornfeld's statement in the past. (Found it while looking for the original quote.)

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  10. Rabbibrian, most people who become BTs don't do it for intellectual reasons; they do it for emotional reasons. Being a BT doesn't imply an ability to think for oneself. Often, people who become frum are just trading a community they don't like or don't fit in with for one they like better. That's not wrong, but it's not open-mindedness, either. I imagine some BTs welcome the strictures of Orthodox Judaism and are relieved that they no longer have to make tough decisions for themselves.

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  11. If you are Orthodox - i.e. you believe the Torah is the will of the perfect G-d, you are FORBIDDEN from making up your own mind. It doesn't matter if you're Chareidi or if you're "open-minded" or "rationalist."

    You are not allowed to make up your own mind and decide that gay marriage is OK, because the Torah teaches that men who lie with each other are committing an abomination and must be put to death.

    You are not allowed to make up your mind and decide you and your family will be better off if you could drive to the beach on a Saturday, because the Torah says if you do so, you deserve the death penalty.

    And you are also not allowed to make up your own mind and decide that killing babies or owning slaves and treating them as sub-human is morally wrong, because the perfect G-d instructed otherwise in the Torah.

    In other words: "In Judaism, we love all questions - as long as you agree with our answers."

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  12. Let me make a personal statement. I suffered through many encounters with anti-thinking 'rabbis' over the years and can tell you with full confidence that they are completely full of crap. It's all for their own power or out of their own sickness. Anybody who bans you from thinking is somebody who doesn't value thought which is somebody you shouldn't listen to. If a rabbi's credibility is based on his brilliance then if he opposes free thinking, then he doesn't think, then he has no credibility. You get the logic there?

    You are free to think, free to ask questions. Of course, you must do so with good intentions and put in the hard work. And it is hard work.

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  13. See here for a great post in the same vein by Bracha Goetz:

    http://thelakewoodview.com/opinion/aren%E2%80%99t-we-supposed-to-question

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  14. > "Judaism is all about asking questions!" Whenever somebody says … it's a fair guess that they are returnees to Judaism who came to observance via a particular outreach organization.

    I was told that as a teenager, by the same rebbe who told me not to ask questions in class, because, “Why should the other boys be bothered by your questions?”

    In my experience, people who produce things like the pamphlet believe that “thinking on their own” means not following the trends of the wider world – in this case, thinking independently and not following the trend of deciding for yourself who to vote for.

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  15. Freethinking jew …..

    Your examples seem to indicate that yu are confusing “freedom of action” with “freedom of thought”.

    Every society, secular or religious, restricts its members, against their will to various degrees.

    I don’t know where you live, but I bet your neighbours aren’t going to be too happy, if you declare that you love shooting your AK-47 in the local mall, after all its “freedom”.

    If you are bitter about Judaism, that’s your prerogative, but don’t misrepresent it with your false examples. Judaism no longer kills people for being m’chalel shabat nor does it allow owning slaves.

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  16. elemir said...
    > Judaism no longer kills people for being m’chalel shabat nor does it allow owning slaves.

    Batie denim don’t execute people because the government doesn’t allow them to, not because the halachah has changed. And when did it become an aveirah to own slaves? The government doesn’t allow that, either, but it has nothing to do with Judaism.

    And you certainly aren’t allowed to decide that killing Amaleki babies or owning slaves is immoral, because the Torah says that it’s okay. At best, you might get an admission that it’s “difficult to understand,” but never that the Torah commands immoral actions.

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  17. - was told that as a teenager, by the same rebbe who told me not to ask questions in class, because, “Why should the other boys be bothered by your questions?”-

    G3 your rabbi was an obnoxious low class fool. I don't know so many people in the frum world are so crass and rude. I suppose it's a combination of the poverty of Eastern europe and brooklyn.

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  18. elemir,

    Regardless of the way Aish or Ohr spun it to you, if you are Orthodox, you by definition have neither freedom of action nor freedom of thought. It makes no sense to say you have the freedom to think there's nothing wrong with a Jew going skiing on Shabbos or two men marrying each other, when the perfect, all-knowing arbiter of right and wrong explicitly told you that those things are wrong. If you think otherwise, you're either saying G-d isn't always right or you're saying the Torah that says that those things are wrong isn't from G-d - both of which are forbidden. I know it's not pleasant to accept, but it's just something you'll have to come to terms with.

    Re: the AK-47, that's actually the whole point - a healthy society seeks to maximize everyone's freedom as much as possible. Everyone gets to live his life the way he wants. If you shoot someone, you're preventing that person from living freely, so that's why you can't do that - BECAUSE everyone should be allowed to be free. Religion, on the other hand, tells you you may NOT live your life the way you want, even though while you're in no way limiting anyone else's freedom. Get it?

    As for Judaism "no longer" killing people for being mechalel Shabbos, again, regardless of the way Aish sold it to you, the G-d of the Torah didn't change His mind about capital punishment for turning on a light on Shabbos. It's just that, NEBACH, we live in galus, and we don't have the power to enforce these laws. That's why you daven 3 times a day to have the Beis Hamikdash restored and Moshiach to rule the world, so we can enforce capital punishment, wipe out all the baby Amalekites, and slaughter thousands of animals every year as offerings to Hashem.

    Judaism has a lot of wisdom and fascinating stuff, as long as you appreciate the context in which its founders and torch bearers lived and how they thought and are willing to accept that.

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  19. I'm not so bothered by a society that believes that people are not allowed to make their own decisions.

    I gotta admit, I'm more than a bit bothered by this. Why? Because there's free speech, and then there's free speech whose goal is to undo free speech. There's pluralism, and then there's being so pluralistic that you give free reign to those who want to undo pluralism. There's individual choice, and then there's the choice to hand over your choice someone else.

    I was thinking about how in oppressed societies, when democracy first gets instituted, you see pictures of people proudly raising up their ink-marked thumbs, celebrating the chance to finally be able to express their personal voice about how the society runs. Boy - what a stark difference compared to the "ideal vision" being put forth here. It's kind of like saying: No, we're NOT an oppressed society - but b'ezras Hashem we'll get there!

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  20. --If you are Orthodox - i.e. you believe the Torah is the will of the perfect G-d, you are FORBIDDEN from making up your own mind. It doesn't matter if you're Chareidi or if you're "open-minded" or "rationalist."

    You are not allowed to make up your own mind and decide that gay marriage is OK, because the Torah teaches that men who lie with each other are committing an abomination and must be put to death. --

    freethinkingjew, who are you talking to? Obviously, we are mostly frum Jews on this blog and follow the shulchan aruch. When we use argue for freedom of thought, we mean within the bounds of torah. You sound like you are having a private conversation with your fry sister.

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  21. freethinking Jew said:"a healthy society seeks to maximize everyone's freedom as much as possible. Everyone gets to live his life the way he wants."

    Not exactly--if a person wants to commit suicide, I can call the police to stop him from doing it. That's besides the religious precept not to commit suicide.

    As for homosexual marriage: Using Kant's categorical imperative--that I can determine whether something I do is moral is if I can conceive of everyone else doing the same--would rule out homosexual marriage as well. If everyone were homosexual, we wouldn't have any children. So homosexual marriage makes no sense even without a religious imperative saying that it's wrong.

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  22. to FTJ..

    you said >>>> if you are Orthodox, you by definition have neither freedom of action etc.

    Well, yes, but you or anyone are free to choose to be orthodox or not, and then practice orthodox rituals…who is forcing you otherwise?

    The reason I was commenting on was the mean demeanor that came through from your words. if you don’t like orthodox judaism, you are free to live your life as wish. I don’t get onto Christian web-sites and complain about the stupidity of Jesus’ being the son of God or that the new testament is so rabidly anti-semitic.

    As for “a healthy society etc.”. That’s your opinion. If a religious person believes that there is more to life than doing “whatever pleases me”, you should respect his beliefs.

    As for what Judaism will be like “b’viat ha-moshiach”….nobody knows, but I doubt very highly it will be killing animals for offerings or re-institute slavery or kill those don’t keep Shabbat.

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  23. @Yisrael: "freethinkingjew, who are you talking to?"

    I think the word "elemir" at the beginning of my comment should have given it away.

    "Obviously, we are mostly frum Jews on this blog and follow the shulchan aruch."

    Actually, Rabbi Slifkin told me his readership includes everyone from Chareidim to atheists.

    @Yehudah P.: "Not exactly--if a person wants to commit suicide, I can call the police to stop him from doing it."

    There is certainly a strong argument for allowing people to make their own end-of-life decisions. The truth is, though, suicides almost always harm others.

    "Using Kant's categorical imperative...."

    Wow, I'm guessing you're just having fun, Yehudah. If not, I would highly recommend you read up on the categorical imperative from a legitimate source - such as a philosopher? - rather than a rabbi.

    @elemir: "you or anyone are free to choose to be orthodox or not."

    You can keep saying that, but it's just not true, elemir -- if you believe in Orthodox Judaism. If you're teaching kids that they are truly free not to keep Shabbos, I'm delighted to hear that. But you should just know a) you are disobeying Orthodox doctrine, which says you are NOT free to choose not to keep Shabbos, and b) you are in the small minority amongst Orthodox parents/educators.

    "If a religious person believes that there is more to life than doing 'whatever pleases me,' you should respect his beliefs."

    If your beliefs are that that you should be allowed to be Orthodox, I completely respect your beliefs. If your beliefs are that anyone who isn't isn't Orthodox cares only about doing what pleases him, wow, you just really need to get out more and discover that non-religious people don't carry pitchforks. You could also reread my earlier comment, where I explained that the goal of the humanist is not to do whatever please ME, but to help ALL people live happy lives in the way THEY choose.

    "As for what Judaism will be like “b’viat ha-moshiach”….nobody knows, but I doubt very highly it will be killing animals for offerings or re-institute slavery or kill those don’t keep Shabbat."

    This is very important: WHY do you doubt that very highly? Where does that doubt come from? Is it coming from Judaism? Certainly not, since Judaism's bible clearly says otherwise. Right? Then where do your doubts come from, if not from your enlightened, 21st century, secular, rational sense that there's something wrong with enslaving a fellow human being or slaughtering animals to a god? And what would you do if Hashem actually came to you and told you directly that if you beat a slave so mercilessly that he dies a day later, you don't deserve any punishment, because your slave is the equivalent of your money? That's what Hashem is believed to have said in Exodus 21:21; do you think He changed His mind since then? If so, was He not G-d, the perfectly good being, when He wrote those words? Just some things to sleep on. :)

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  24. FTJ said,"Wow, I'm guessing you're just having fun, Yehudah. If not, I would highly recommend you read up on the categorical imperative from a legitimate source - such as a philosopher? - rather than a rabbi."

    Actually I studied it in college--albeit in a survey course ("Contemporary Civilizations" at Columbia, part of the core curriculum). It doesn't matter anyway, because it doesn't seem many people actually consult Kant before making any decisions in life.

    I'll have another go at it: Rabbi Manis Friedman once asked the question: Why get married at all? Why not just live with whom you love for as long as you want, and if you get sick of each other, just separate?

    He answered that marriage has meaning only as a religious institution, not as a civil ceremony, and not as a tax write-off. In that way, "homosexual marriage" is an oxymoron, making as much sense as a beit knesset that tolerates their followers worshipping idols. It's taking a religious ceremony, and employing it in a situation that the religion doesn't tolerate.

    One rav started a program where people who are homosexually inclined should still marry someone of the opposite sex: just because they're homosexual, why should they lose out on פרו ורבו? People asked: But they're going into marriage knowing that they'll be committing adultery!
    But adultery is also only defined as long as someone is married in the first place--again taking a religious definition, and applying it in a situation that religion doesn't tolerate.

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  25. >>>> This is very important: WHY do you doubt that very highly? Where does that doubt come from?

    well, because I don’t believe every “bobbe my-se” I was told in Cheder. To any intelligent and well-read individual, the Judaism practiced today is definitely not what Moishe or King david or Ezra or anybody back then practiced. Judaism evolved and changed and likely was influenced by surrounding culture. Of course, this is contrary to what OJs say (and I suppose most believe).

    >>>> Is it coming from Judaism? Certainly not, since Judaism's bible clearly says otherwise. Right?

    I wish you would stop mocking. You know very well that much of Judaism is not based on what it says literally in the bible.

    >>>> Then where do your doubts come from, if not from your enlightened, 21st century, secular, rational sense that there's something wrong with enslaving a fellow human being or slaughtering animals to a god?

    True. But its not just 21st century. many others did use their intellect, however limited, in their time. The most famous being the Rambam.

    I believe that Chazal (likely) too acted in this manner. For example, I think they were appalled at the extensive usage of the death penalty in the Torah, so they introduced criteria, which, for all intents and purposes, abolished the death penalty. And there are many more examples (interest on loans, debt cancellation, etc.)

    >>>> And what would you do if Hashem actually came to you and told you directly that if you beat a slave so mercilessly that he dies a day later, you don't deserve any punishment, because your slave is the equivalent of your money?

    Since, it’s not happening, I’ll pass on worrying about it.

    >>>> That's what Hashem is believed to have said in Exodus 21:21; do you think He changed His mind since then? If so, was He not G-d, the perfectly good being, when He wrote those words?
    Again, you are being disingenuous. You know very well that the Torah was aimed for people and their cultural environment thousands of years ago.

    And again, later on, Chazal and other authorities changed what the thought was “wrong”. The sad part is that the evolution of Judaism slowed or stalled since the writing down of Torah she baal peh. The Shulchan Orech practically froze it.

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  26. > G3 your rabbi was an obnoxious low class fool.

    He was actually a really nice man, and is one of the few rabbeim I’m still in contact with today. He was also completely out of his depth when it came to hashkafa, yet he was the one in charge of dealing with kids who had “problems.” Probably because he was such a nice person.

    David Meir said...
    > It's kind of like saying: No, we're NOT an oppressed society - but b'ezras Hashem we'll get there!

    Yes! In the ideal “Torah True” society, everyone will behave exactly as the Great Ones dictate.

    Here’s the trouble, though. The gedolim are supposed to have daas torah – in other words, they’re getting their instructions straight from God. Whether or not that’s actually they case, that’s what Chareidim believe. Can a frum person argue that the ideal society wouldn’t be one where everyone will behave exactly as the God dictates? And if that is the ideal society, and the gedolim are just passing along God’s wishes, then isn’t the ideal society one where everyone will behave exactly as the gedolim dictate.

    Yehudah P. said...
    > If everyone were homosexual, we wouldn't have any children. So homosexual marriage makes no sense even without a religious imperative saying that it's wrong.

    1. Are you saying that it’s immoral not to have children? After all, if everyone did that, there would be no children.
    2. Why is not having children immoral? I can conceive of everyone not having children, and as long as everyone is okay with the end of the human race, who’s being harmed?
    3. Using your logic, you can determine that homosexuality is wrong, but not that homosexual marriage is wrong. It is the lack of heterosexual intercourse that is preventing children from being born, not the decision of two men or two women to formalize their relationship. But saying the homosexuality itself is immoral is not acceptable these days, right.:)

    > He answered that marriage has meaning only as a religious institution

    But that’s just not true. Marriage has whatever meaning the people getting married and the society they live in attach to it. OJ marriage may only have meaning as a religious ceremony, but that’s a very narrow definition of “marriage.”

    > People asked: But they're going into marriage knowing that they'll be committing adultery!
    But adultery is also only defined as long as someone is married in the first place

    Isn’t that exactly the problem? You’re taking people who aren’t married and getting them married, thereby creating the conditions under which adultery can apply?

    elemir said...
    > As for what Judaism will be like “b’viat ha-moshiach”….nobody knows, but I doubt very highly it will be killing animals for offerings or re-institute slavery or kill those don’t keep Shabbat.

    Why? We daven every day for the restoration of the Beis HaMikdash (animal sacrifices) and the Davidic monarchy (a theocratic government that would use halacha as the law of the land). While we could, in theory, have a midirabbanan that bans slavery, if someone is mechalael Shabbos with eidim and hasrah, a beis din with the power to do so would be required to stone him to death.

    Now, maybe moshiach will completely change halachah, but that’s not what we daven for. And so far, messiahs that have tried to change halcha have famously included Jesus and Shabbtsai Tzvi, so it’s not great company.

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  27. G*3 said, "maybe moshiach will completely change halachah"

    It could also be that human nature will change when Moshiach comes--like it says in Ezekiel 11:19: "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh".
    That might go against a rationalist view of Moshiach--after all, we had the Beis HaMikdash twice before, and it didn't succeed in changing human nature. But let's just say they found something like the Ark of the Covenant, or the ashes of the last Parah Adumah--wouldn't people's outlook toward the authenticity of the Torah change as a result, at least a little?

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  28. > It could also be that human nature will change when Moshiach comes

    Sure, but what does that have to do with anything? Even if human nature changed in such a way that no one would ever be mechalel shabbos, unless halacha changed, anyone who did in fact be mechalel shabbos would be chayev misah. And that is what we are discussing – what “Judaism will be.”

    > But let's just say they found something like the Ark of the Covenant, or the ashes of the last Parah Adumah--wouldn't people's outlook toward the authenticity of the Torah change as a result, at least a little?

    1. I’m not sure how this is related to the rest of your comment.
    2. It would be interesting, but it wouldn’t change anything. We already have archeological and historical evidence for the Beis HaMikdash. We know it was real. The aron is similar to other godly “thrones” in the ANE (though I think it’s unuiqe in that there was no representation of the god on it). There’s no reason to doubt that it was as described. What difference would finding it make?

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  29. >>>>> But let's just say they found something like the Ark of the Covenant

    to Yehuda P.

    If the do find the Luchot...what do you think will be the precise text found on them??

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  30. G*3 said, "anyone who did in fact be mechalel shabbos would be chayev misah"

    You undoubtedly are familiar with the Gemara in Makkos 7a where Chazal discuss how they would be able to acquit almost everyone from the death penalty. The Mishnah in Sanhedrin 6:5 says how the Shechinah itself is pained over the death of the wicked, all the more so the righteous. I don't see any reason to expect that a Sanhedrin will suddenly want to perform executions every Monday and Thursday. Even at present, the tendency in psak is to be lenient: כח דהתירא עדיף

    I've heard that the halachah is supposed to be like Beit Shammai over Beit Hillel in the future, but that doesn't mean that they'll be more eager to execute people. It could mean that people could be able to uphold a higher standard, though.

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  31. Yehuda, that’s not the point. Yes, beis din might not actually execute anyone, because they would bend over backwards to find a reason not to. But the halacha would still stand, and as halacha = Judaism, Judaism would still be a religion that mandated executing people for being mechalel Shabbos.

    People seem to imagine yemai hamoshiach as an idilic time when we’ll live in a perfect society, when in reality I think it will be like living in Saudi Arabia, complete with religious police.

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  32. elemir asked, "If they do find the Luchot...what do you think will be the precise text found on them??"

    Rabbi Josh Waxman had an interesting post parsha.blogspot.co.il/2005/06/value-of-learning-ktav-ivri.html,
    where he brings a Yerushalmi that discusses if the luchos were written in Ashuri script or Ivri script. If they were written in Ashuri script, then the samech and final mem would be hanging there miraculously. If they're written in Ivri script, then 'ayin and tes would be hanging there miraculously. In any event, they all agree that the luchos are something miraculous.

    G*3's concerns remind me of a conversation I once heard at a Shabbos table. One of the guests was a doctor. He asked one of his patients to take off his shirt. The doctor saw all sorts of lacerations on the man's back. The man explained that he's a Shiite Muslim, and they have a certain ceremony where they flagellate themselves. Another guest at the table said, "And that's the direction that Orthodox Judaism is headed!" (Everyone at the table was Orthodox, by the way.)

    At the same time, despite the fact that, for example, the Torah says "eye for an eye", the Gemara, and even the Karaites, all say that it was never to be taken literally, but to mean monetary payment. I don't think that we'll start to follow the Torah text more literally, after so much Talmudic precedent to be lenient, to go in the direction of compromise, to acquit, etc.

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  33. Yehuda P.-- that's what Jews used to do in Europe; self-flagellation is nothing new.

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