Why Mystics Incorporate Technology Into Halacha
Over the last few posts, we have been discussing the difference between those who check fruit and vegetables for bugs in a simple way, and those who engage in extensive checking and cleaning procedures. This correlates with the rationalist/mystic divide in two ways.
First is that rationalists tend to be more historically aware, and further are aware that our ancestors were greatly limited in their ability to check and clean fruit and vegetables, and are further aware that there is evidence against their having done so. Non-rationalists usually view halacha in a vacuum, evaluating a halacha on its own merits without thinking too much about the history of that halacha. If they do think about history, they take the non-rationalist stance that our ancestors were superhuman, and they presume that they therefore were observing halacha at least as well as we do.
But there is another, perhaps more significant reason, as to why mystics are much more concerned about checking and cleaning food for bugs. It is due to the basic difference between how rationalists and mystics view the prohibition against eating bugs.
As explained at great length in Menachem Kellner's fabulous Maimonides' Confrontation with Mysticism, there is a fundamental difference between how a rationalist like Rambam and a mystic like Ramban viewed the prohibitions against eating non-kosher foods.
According to the rationalist view, there is nothing inherently metaphysically harmful about foods. Rather, for various reasons relating to how God wants us to improve our minds, our character and society, He prohibits their consumption. We are given various commandments that we have to observe in order to effect the change in our mind, character and society that God intends.
According to mystical view, on the other hand, there are antecedent metaphysical harmful elements present in non-kosher foods. If you had the right kind of spiritually-sensitive technology, you could actually detect it. God therefore prohibits these foods to us, because of the danger that they pose to our spirituality.
The difference between these views can lead to significant ramifications with regard to the halachic implementation. According to the rationalist view, there is a certain degree of diligence which is halachically required in order to fulfill God's intent. If one has performed one's due diligence, but then somehow ingests non-kosher food through absolutely no fault or negligence of one's own, then little harm has been done.
According to the mystical view, on the other hand, there is objective metaphysical danger present in non-kosher food. Even if one has exercised all due diligence in avoiding it, and one ingests some through absolutely no fault or negligence, it will cause the same spiritual damage.
Thus, the mystical view naturally leads to an obsession with avoiding eating insects even beyond that which is halachically required. And as technology increases, and we become more aware of smaller insects and we develop ways to avoid eating them, the mystics rush to act accordingly.
What we have here, then, is an interesting inversion. Whereas normally, it is the rationalists that are more connected with science, here it is the mystics!
See too these posts:
The Ghostbusters Analogy
Tylenol and Timtum
See this post for my forthcoming US lecture schedule.
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