Monday, October 31, 2022

Anti-Rationalism and the Charedi Vote

In the charedi community, there is a carefully-crafted non-rationalist worldview about bitachon and hishtadlus. It was relentlessly drilled into me during my years in charedi yeshivos that all hishtadlus is meaningless. God directly controls everything, and the laws of nature have no power. The only reason why the world seems to run according to various laws is that otherwise there would be no free will. Hishtadlus is just a price that we pay to keep that illusion going, but it doesn't actually accomplish anything. And to the extent that we recognize that, it's possible to cut down on the hishtadlus.

Supposedly, this is a major reason why many charedim don't serve in the army or gain a secular education and work for a living. To the extent that you realize that Hashem directly runs everything, you don't need to engage in the sham of hishtadlus. On the contrary - it is learning Torah which provides divine protection from our enemies, which protects us from illness, which merits our parnasa.

The divide between the rationalist and anti-rationalist approaches to theology has fascinating ramifications with regard to the electoral system.

Rav Kornfeld is a local charedi rabbinic leader in Ramat Beit Shemesh who is not afraid to openly state the Israeli charedi perspective on such matters. For example, a few elections ago, he went on record in HaModia as stating that American olim are mistaken in believing that they have the right to choose who to vote for; instead, they are obligated to vote for whoever the Charedi-Litvishe-Non-RavShmuelAuerbach camp tell them to vote for. I am very grateful to Rav Elimelech Kornfeld for spelling out the ramifications of the charedi approach with regard to the electoral process. (I say that without any sarcasm; while I disagree with the anti-rationalist approach, I think that it's important for it to be articulated and I greatly appreciate his doing so.)

For this election, Rav Kornfeld gave a speech in his shul, reiterating the contents of a letter that he once printed on the front page of a local newspaper in a previous election, in which he spelled out the charedi anti-rationalist approach with regard to the very nature of the electoral system. In that letter, he explains that it is not in the hands of any politician or party to actually do anything for us, and continues as follows:

"Our national security, our physical and surely spiritual needs are not in the hands of any government... Our present decision in these elections is to show Hashem that we feel that the things that are important to him are important to us, and this will being us continued Siyata Dishmaya. To this end our leaders, Rav Shteinman Shlita and Rav Kanyevsky Shlita have spoken clearly and strongly that we should vote for Gimmel - UTJ..."

In other words, the entire system of voting in politicians who make policies that are implemented is, like all other forms of hishtadlus, is a sham; it's merely a cover, a mask for the workings of Hashem. However, it is very important to show support for the party that espouses Torah values (which he believes to be UTJ, notwithstanding how its MK was forced to resign for corruptly manipulating his power to protect a pedophile), because that will earn us the Divine favor which actually accomplishes everything that happens. 

This appears to be an ingenious way of arriving at the same end result - vote for party x - while basing it on a fundamentally different idea about what voting actually accomplishes. However, the more one thinks through its ramifications, the more complications and problems arise.

First of all, it means that rallying votes is only important insofar as it shows Hashem that (charedi) Torah is important to us. But surely one can show Hashem that Torah is important even more powerfully by actually learning Torah! Are the two yeshivah boys who stayed in the Chevron Beis HaMidrash to learn while all their peers spent several hours traveling to and from Bnei Brak not showing Hashem that learning Torah is of supreme value to them?!

Second, it means that if people cheat (from either side), that will have absolutely no effect on the fate of the Jewish People. But why, then, is UTJ searching for people to monitor the voting booths?

Note the slogan on the right - you have to do
even more than you could normally do
Third, it means that it is of absolutely no significance as to whether UTJ actually gets in the government (other than perhaps as indication of whether Hashem is happy with chareidi voting choices.) The only thing that matters is how many people show Hashem their support for UTJ, not whether UTJ actually gets in.

Fourth, it means that if charedim are unsuccessful, then that is also from Hashem (and presumably as a result of their not sufficiently demonstrating their dedication to Him). So why, after Lapid's success in the last election and his resultant policies, was their so much anger towards him? Lapid didn't actually do anything, it was all from Hashem!

Fifth, it means that the followers of Rav Shmuel Auerbach and others, who are of the view that one should not participate in elections at all, are not doing any harm. After all, they are certainly acting out of dedication to Torah and Gedolim. So why is UTJ so upset about them?

Of course, nobody in the charedi world actually acts as though they think this way. When you look at all the vast effort expended to get charedim to vote, and the tremendous passion about who actually gets in the government, obviously charedim feel that the votes and politicians inherently make a difference. It's similar to the anti-rationalist notion that yeshivah students provide protection from rockets, and that parnassah is all in the hands of Hashem and has nothing to do with hishtadlus; people might profess to believe it, but when push comes to shove, nobody really believes it. After all, there is the awkward fact that on Rosh HaShanah, Hashem apparently decrees much more parnassah overall for people who engage in hishtadlus!

I wish people would just make up their minds and be consistent. Either you accept that hishtadlus has genuine significance - in which case, give your kids the education that they need to earn a living and maintain the economy, and stop ruling out army service for your community. Or, decide that hishtadlus has no real significance - in which case, stop with all the political stuff, and don't bother voting, just learn Torah!

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52 comments:

  1. Perhaps they mean that "these things are not in the government's hands" in this way:

    If I remember correctly, a friend of mine quoted the Chazon Ish as saying that the Israeli government will never succeed in compelling yeshiva students to go serve in the army. So, even though Ehud Barak said that as one of his campaign promises in the 1999 elections, he was never able to implement such a plan. (Shas had gained a whopping 17 seats in the elections, and had to be part of the coalition--so it was impossible to pass such a thing.)

    So, although politicians like Lapid or Liberman say that they'll compel Haredi society to integrate more into Israeli society, their plans are always foiled by some sort of "Divine intervention"--no matter who ends up running the country.

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  2. Baby steps maybe? Even if it's illogical, maybe this behavior will somehow slowly extend to working.

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  3. These are my favorite kinds of posts. Not disparaging the other side, not putting them down (though there may be unintentional undertones), rather merely pointing out the problems that prop up out of a certain world view. The outlook that Hashem is immediately charge, not the science and laws which He set up, leads to a feeling that the science and nature are not to be dealt with.
    No one thinks that eating unhealthy is okay, and "דמיו בראשו" for someone who eats things that make him ill. We very much live in a world of טבע and of science where ignoring dealing with the world we live in leads to catastrophe. But the chareidi view is that it is all a smokescreen. In reality, they say, Hashem is running the world based on merits and demerits, and specifically of the frum Jews.
    I’m not sure why RDNS thinks they are wrong (he’ll probably claim that I think such because I myself am chareidi and I therefore think it’s my way or the highway, while he disagrees), but be it as it may, those who disagree are the one who end up being the voice of critical opinion, and in that he is not wrong. I would love if we could meet, where RDNS comes a little closer to understanding that it really is a smokescreen, while the charedim, while understanding this, think about hishtadlus as a real thing – each not minimizing the points of the other.
    But perhaps this is the way it’s supposed to be. Yissachar (tribe of the book) doing his thing (and we could argue that more people think they are Yissachar than there really are), and Zevulun (who live in the business/scientific/hishtadlus world) doing their’s. In fact Yissachar can do his thing only because Zevulun is doing his. And vice versa. So maybe we should all stay the same but partner up. Which may mean hearing each other out when to comes to politics…
    Just thinking out loud...

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    1. So it’s okay to fress every Shabbat at kiddish and since it’s a mitzvah it won’t lead to obesity and diabetes according their view……..

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    2. "I’m not sure why RDNS thinks they are wrong"

      It might be because 1)as far as we can see the world works in physical ways 2) Classic sources in the Torah seem to indicate this is how the world works 3) as RNS noted in the article, almost no one actually acts as if the laws of nature have no power.

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    3. ummm. If they say it's a smokescreen, the fact that we see that it works this way obviously says nothing. And yes, no one acts that way because the smokescreen exists - the point is no to get caught up in thinking it's real. Your second point is true, there are many sources, but there sources on either side, and I'm not sure why you take one side over another.

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  4. The theory of no need to do anything except learn Torah started with the idea that Hishtadlus meant do a little but doing a lot to accomplish your goal shows a lack of faith. Now it is do not do anything except signal G-d your waiting for Him to do it. Is this a philosophy that developed to keep learners in the Yeshiva or is it the result of the philosophical problem dealing with the question of free will vs Gds Providence, or a combination of both ?

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  5. WADR, this is one of your weaker posts. Even a bozo like me can see through all of your points. To address only "Lapid didn't actually do anything" (#4), why do sinners in general--thieves, murderers, etc.-- get punished? Think everything over or discuss with a friendly moderate Chareidi if you have one. Your points don't add difficulty to their position. I can't elaborate. I gotta go learn! ;)

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  6. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik claimed that one only needs to do a minimum hishtadlus and certainly not to try twice. So the charred parties need only to do a minimum amount of campaigning. I have also not understood why some Haredim insist on only using the best doctors when after all it is G-d that heals

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    1. Isn't interesting how anyone who does the "hishtadlus" of going to medical school *somehow* ends up being well-off; and if you take a job working at Walmart, you'll *somehow* not have very much money? Amazing!
      Unless you for some reason merit miraculous divine intervention, the "minimum hishtadlus" line is adolescent yeshivish nahrishkeit for 20 year-olds.

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    2. Anonymous at 4:50 PM, that's specific to Yoseif Hatzadik. For others, there's much nuance.

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  7. Your silly questions are not worthy of a cheder yingel. But despite wasting a whole page on these silly questions, you indicate you are not interested in an answer. As R' Chaim allegedly said, "For questions I have answers - for answers I have no answers".

    As for consistency, yes, material hishtadlus is important. But not nearly as important as hishtadlus in ruchniyus -or should I say, hishtadlus in the thing you call "fluffy spirituality". Yes, poverty is problematic, but not nearly as problematic as secularism. But since you dismiss the relationship with Hashem as "fluffy spirituality", it is clear why you don't understand this point.

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    1. So basically "I don't have an answer for any question you thought of outside of yeshiva". Good luck with that . . .
      (I doubt RCS actually said that, anyway.)

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    2. But Weaver, these are not "questions you thought of outside of yeshiva". These are just dumb questions. Questions that anybody with a modicum of Jewish knowledge (let's say, enough to know that connection with Hashem is not "fluffy spirituality") wouldn't ask. But more importantly than that, he indicates, after a whole page, that he is not even interested in the answer. This is where R' Chaim comes in.

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    3. They are not dumb at all. The relationship between effort and earnings (or indeed anything that happens to you in this world) can't reduced to pat answers and cute slogans. Also see my other comment above.

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    4. Sorry, but this is really unserious. You can be Charedi all you want, but don't pretend that the philosophical questions of bitachon vs hishtadlus and how they work is anything but extremely profound and "teef." Only seminary girls and moros think these questions are "silly."

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    5. Guys, I never said there aren't good, profound questions about bitachon and hishtadlus. I just said the juvenile silly ones in this post aren't those!

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  8. Rambam shecheinin 6/6
    כל הדברים שצריכין לשמירת העיר לוקחין מכל אנשי העיר, ואפילו מן היתומים, חוץ מתלמידי חכמים, לפי שאין החכמים צריכין שמירה, התורה שומרתן. אבל לתיקון הדרכים והרחובות אפילו מן החכמים. ואם כל העם יוצאין ומתקנין בעצמן, לא יצאו תלמידי חכמים עמהן, שאין דרך תלמידי חכמים להזדלזל בפני עמי הארץ:

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  9. Happy, If the questions are silly it is because the statements of these Rabbonim,with all do respect, are silly. The world is a creation of their imagination. G-d commanded man "רדו את הארץ וכבשה..." ששת ימים תעבוד

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    1. Moshe, G-d commanded man lots of other things as well. Are the secularists interested in that? Also, I suspect you are really bothered by these "questions"?

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    2. @Moshe 6:30PM

      Of course life-long Torah study, to the exclusion of working to support your family is a natural consequence of unfalsifiable interpretation of The Torah, Talmud etc. or a clever interpretation of a interpretation.
      To your point, God said ששת ימים תעבוד. However, you misinterpret תעבוד to mean physical or mental labor directed at supporting your family. But what better עבודה than עבודת Hashem? As far as the ששת ימימ requisite, one day per week is enough labor to support your family according to my deft interpretation. But work one day per week is better than nothing, I suppose.

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    3. Moshe, don't repeat stock ignorance. תעבוד means you are permitted, not obligated, to do the 39 melachos, not go to work.
      People are off on Sunday despite that it's of the 6 days. And when people take vacation they aren't working 6 days.

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  10. The Halacha forbids swearing, slandering, slandering, lying and bad language. That's the only thing I can judge now. why? Because I am not a prophet and certainly not God. Because apart from judging the language I hear now, I know nothing about any candidate. I don't know what he thinks, feels and wants; Planning and hoping. Because I don't see into the heart, only God sees into the heart (Shama 16:7). Because I'm not a prophet and I don't know what the candidate will decide in a second, especially if he'll be in the next government. That way I don't know how many will vote and for whom.
    That's why my only criterion is: does the head of the list and the entire list treat everyone with respect and doesn't curse. is not condescending and does not preach morals to others.
    Regardless of the halacha, I do not want such people to represent me in the world, lead my country and speak on my behalf.
    I hope that the one to whom I will give my vote, when he is in the government and all the sources of the security, economic, social and political truth, national and international - everything that no one knows now except the Prime Minister himself, will be able to steer the country according to only one basic principle "supervision The soul of every person, regardless of who he is, rejects the entire Torah," including everything he promised before the elections and considerations for the next elections.

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  11. Happy, I believe that G-d wants us to live by the rules of nature because that is the way G-d runs the world. You work hard and appropriately you will accomplish your goal. Except that G-d also prevents you from or helps you reach your goal based on his Will
    which may consider your spiritual state, Mitzvot and Aveirot and or other factors. But on the whole natural factors prevail. So we say ,"With the help of G-d". There is no weak Hishtadlut and no one has G-d in his pocket. Do what you must and what you can and you must not or even may not depend on miracles.If you run in front of a moving car don't expect not to get hurt. If you don't prepare yourself to make a living you probably won't.In fact you have violated G-d's Will . Sometimes you may sacrifice for
    learning Torah but don't expect a free ride. You had better have a Plan B. G-d wanted Smirot Ha Torah in the world of real consequences. Hatzlacha to all of us Bezrat Hashem.









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  12. The comment from Hamodia you cited from R. Kornfeld seems pretty unctuous, but its about 10 years old, and we'd need to see the whole thing in context. As for the present, in which you say he made a speech in which he referenced a different letter, we'd need to hear or read the transcript of the actual speech and then see the letter.

    As for your numbered objections, I understand them, but they are no different substantively than the questions one can always ask of any religious man. Why take any precautions at all, if it all comes from God anyway? It's just another manifestation of the apparent contradiction between ידיעה and בחירה that every religious man lives with. One can do no better than the simple formulation of chazal, הכל צפוי והרשות נתונה.

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  13. Fundamentalism is good because fundementalism works. Most people who engage in meaningful religious practice don't follow the line of logic until the very end - nor does it matter. They get what they came for which transmissible religious devotion and closeness to God.

    Those tortured intellectuals (myself included) that cheshbon every detail have logical consistency but lose the oomph that makes serving God so doable and meaningful.

    With all the logical ends pursued by the likes of RNS, Ddo you actually think Judaism would prosper more in his hands?

    Do what I do - roll you're eyes at the silly and stay on board for what matters.

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    1. @big mouth, your comment was arrogant, ignorant and incorrect. Incidentally, also the legacy of 21st century orthodox judaism

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    2. Why do we have to redact everything we hear from "fundamentalists" who say what they mean and mean what they say.We should listen to thoughtful leaders and judge accordingly and not act like infants with no understanding. Living in fantasy and double think is not "oomph" but self indulgent rationalization. Be inspired and excited by clear meaning and logical thought. There is no contradiction between thought out ideas and "oomph". Everything in moderation!

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    3. True words, if there ever were any. You cannot bring children up on the theory of evolution, watching tv and DL education and also expect to pass down Judaism. It simply doesn't work. This is סוף כל התורה כולה.

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    4. @Yakov, agreed, with one caveat. If you build an elaborate defense system, as R Hirsch did, in which awe of the Creator is the constant and active foundation of everything, you can concede evolution and such (but not some of the others you mentioned). The Creator and devotion to Him remain the nexus and context of everything. People think they can allow themselves anything that R Hirsch allowed and can succeed. But the Hirsch system is meant for being used in its entire context. (That's why TIDE is predicated on Austrit. But that's a different discussion.) Otherwise, according to the statistics, and like you said, you're at risk for trouble.

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    5. @Moshe

      It dordn't work for the masses. They need to believe that tfilin, tsitsis and lulab are powerful weapons of Hashem. Nothing else ever worked and never will.

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    6. Thanks, Yakov. I don't think the earlier commenters truly understand what Im saying. Let's use evolution as an example:

      I consider my self a theistic evolutionist much like RNS. I opt for a non litter interpretation as he sets out in his book. But I would never ever teach it lichatchila to my kids!! Apologetics is something that I need personally, but if taught it to my kids that way the whole point of bereshis and the fire behind it would be lost if I start going into science and literary analysis. Yiddishkeit can't thrive on a rationalist mindset.

      The chevra on this blog think that intellectual clarity means enhanced worship and I just don't agree.

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    7. Yakov and Anonymous, I agree that in order to "safely" transmit a balanced understanding, the foundation must be strong. The Yeshiva needs to be as good as - or better than - the University. This is why, if we all remember, Bais Yaakov got started, and this is how many argue for permitting more advanced Torah learning for women.

      Fortunately, for thousands of YU graduates, Touro graduates, and those who have gone to secular universities with strong Jewish support programs, they have been able to transmit Jewish values to the next generation. And there are great Talmidei Chachamim and Rabbanim who have arisen from these places. Evolution and civil rights and cosmology included.

      Yakov, is it HARDER to maintain a balance? Is it HARDER to transmit emuna if you also teach science? Sure, no question. Clearly, the Chareidi/yeshivish/whatever world picks the easy path by ignoring or discounting the validity of anything "other," creating a mindset that takes hold in most of the next generation. Of course that method works while the DL/MO path may not be as effective. But does that mean it should be abandoned? [from here we go to a "defense" or "explanation" of MO values, which is a more involved discussion and not the purpose of this comment]

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    8. Most recent Anonymous (seriously, people, make up a name!!): I see your point about cherry picking bits of philosophy, but don't forget, the whole structure IS appealing to the MO side. Yes, we accept the structure of R' Hirsch and R' Soloveitchik and others (although I'm not sure why we base a philosophy on a kind of salami, but that's just me...)

      And not to play whataboutism, but EVERYBODY cherry picks! Case in point: most people - particularly left-leaning Jews - really don't know much about Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, but when they don't want to vaccinate their children, all of a sudden he is the gadol hador that they follow - whether for everything else they are right-leaning or left-leaning!

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    9. And I'd make a distinction between "learning evolution" and "watching too much television." I think that too much exposure to secular culture erodes religious feeling in a way that learning knowledge and science absolutely does not. Sure, you are more likely to find more permissive television habits in houses that are not Chareidi, but correlation is not causation. Those YU Talmidei Chachamim I mentioned in my other comment probably also didn't watch much television...

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    10. Yosef, to your point about harder and easier- it is not a question of harder and easier. It is a question of reality. In reality, if you, as a community, teach Judaism to your children (and to yourself) in a "rationalistic" way, your communal Judaism WILL suffer. Your community WILL have (much) greater attrition. That is just the reality, whether you like it or not. You can congratulate yourselves on taking the "hard" path, while looking down upon the charedim who take the "easy" path, but all the while, your Judaism as a community is suffering tremendously.

      Mashal l'mah hadavar domeh? To a speed limit. Surely not everybody who goes at 90 mph will get into an accident. In fact, very cautious drivers probably won't, even at that speed. Sure, it is HARDER to be cautious at 90 mph- but does that mean we should set the speed limit at 65? That would be taking the easy way out! Better to take the HARD path, and set the limit at 90, and hope everybody is cautious enough at that speed!

      And absolutely, teaching evolution in direct contradiction to everything about Bereishis and Creation erodes Judaism. Just as much as teaching that prayer doesn't work. Or that Yetzias Mitzrayim is a myth.

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    11. @Yosef R, you said "Fortunately, for thousands of YU graduates... ...they have been able to transmit Jewish values to the next generation."

      Do they? Lots of very serious YUish of the previous generation have merged into charedi light life, lots more are disinterested, plus we haven't seen the full trajectory yet it's only been a few years. Also important to note the MO & DL ride the coattails of the frummer crowd and absolutely would fall thru the cracks otherwise over time.

      You can criticize charedim all you want but they are the best insurance policy for Orthodox jewry.

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    12. MO may work for the intellectual elite, which most of the people are not. I'm with Big Mouth on evolution, but that's for a minority. The masses can't straddle it. MO and DL are doomed.

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    13. Ḥevreh, Ḥevreh!
      Gentlemen!
      The famous/infamous ID writer PE Johnson has weighed in on this already in a chapter in 'Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds', at least in the Christian context. He recounts students Billy Graham & Charles Templeton debating whether to go pure or whether to rational, and who won that debate by a landslide. See there.

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  14. Anonymous at Nov.1,22 at 5:16 AM. The very use of the word עבודה tells us that we are talking about real work in the real world of work. בזיעת אפילו תאכל לחם...Yes the מלאכות are based on creative work not about tiring work.

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  15. Anonymous at Nov. 1,22. We all know the word avodah and it doesn't relate per se to sitting in the restaurant or beit hamedrash. The idea relates to G-d's creation and "rest". In the real world work is part of life not some chance thing we do as a hobby.

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    1. @Moshe, "We all know the word avodah..."

      But many of us are ignorant, illiterate, innocent, naive, oblivious, obtuse(?), uneducated, and uninformed of its Halachic meaning here.

      If you want to argue that people should get jobs, that's correct and excellent if you add nuance here and there. But if you want to attach it to ששת ימים תעבוד, you (and plenty of others) are showing cluelessness of the Halachic meaning.

      (Please don't identify the anonymi by only the date. There are too many. Please add the time. Cheers!)

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    2. "The idea relates to G-d's creation...."

      He didn't even press a button.

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  16. The 3000 years of Jewish history is 3000 years of a religious crisis. Haredim is a modern response to it. This is all you need to know to understand them. I haven't voted Gimmel for 40 years, but it's not something that is completly out of bounds for the future. Let's give Ben Gevir the oppprtunity now.

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  17. Anonymous at Nov.2,22 at 4:38 PM. At the pshat level I think it is significant the use of the word עבודה.

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    1. Are you unable to continue the thread above?

      Pshat is fascinating, but we Pasken acc. to the Halachic meaning. The Pshat is untrue here on multiple levels.

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  18. There are commentators who differentiate between literary pshat and Halachic interpretation of the Torah. The Torah is called Shirah and it's literary meaning may be different than its' Halachic interptetation. Others say the only true interpretation is the Halachic one. Hence according to the literary approach it stands alone as legitimate. Hence no need to discuss whether there a Mitzvah to work six days a week especially in Israel.

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    1. You're getting confused. The consensus is exceedingly careful not to conflate literal and Halachic Pshat. My man, just ask your learned neighbor or LOR.

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  19. The value of working is highly regarded by Chazal even if it is not included in the formal counting of Mitzvot. (Some actually consider it as a Mitzvah).ln Israel it can be a Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael.

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    1. Now you changed the subject from ששת ימים תעבוד to Chazal, but that's too involved for me to comment on. Kt.

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  20. Well Natan, you got your wish: Bibi, Ben-Gvir and the Chareidim :-)
    At least Trump isn't in the coalition

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