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Unread 11-30-2012, 01:08 PM   #1
Chana Ruth
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Problems with Orthodoxy

Let me introduce myself. I'm just an average 50 year old Jewish woman who has always aspired to Orthodox observance. I'm not a Torah Scholar or a Tzaddik. I'm just trying to make it a go in my own small life.

I'm having problems with Orthodoxy, and I don't want to discuss it with anyone at my synagogue because I don't want to make waves. I figure I can talk about it here where my only victims are volunteers.

I have two recurring doubts about orthodoxy that are making me increasingly irritable.

The first is that Torah states not to add to the Law or take away, but it sure looks to me like a lot of baggage has been added through the years. Nowhere in Torah does it say to wash our hands, for example. And I'm going to go out on a liimb and say it is not a sin to put your left shoe on first. Sometimes I think a bunch of rabbis with OCD invented a lot of compulsive neurotic rituals that have little to do with Torah, and it makes me feel angry to think that their writings are holding judaism hostage.

The second problem is that the more I read about WHY the rabbis interpret Torah the way they do, the more a lot of their interpretations seems irrational. Torah should be interpreted intelligently, in the context of the writing, and the culture of the time. For example, Torah states three times not to boil a kid in its own mother's milk. It is irrational to think that this means there are three seperate prohibitions. I heard that there was a pagan rite in which a baby goat was literally boiled in the milk of the mother, and it makes far more sense to me that the prohibition is simply saying "don't do what the pagans do." I still seperate my meat and dairy, but more and more I'm wondering WHY I do.

I'm not in any way getting ready to jump to Reform Judaism. To me, the Reform are so random in what they choose to keep and what they choose to throw away. But I'm not happy with how things are.

Can someone help me? Can anyone relate?


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Unread 12-21-2012, 01:20 PM   #2
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Hi Chana Ruth, welcome to Chabad Talk.

In Mishnayos Pirkei Avos, it talks about how the Torah was given to Moshe Rabbeinu on Mt. Sinai. Along with the Written Torah, an oral transmission of the laws was given to Moshe that explains the particulars of each of the general laws written about in the Written Torah. For example, in the Written Torah it simply says, "And you should bind them [these words that I commanded you today] as a sign on your hand, and they should be ornaments between your eyes." In the oral transmission, this commandment was elaborated upon. The tefillin with the words of Shema are what we bind to our arms. The proper location is not in the palm of our hands but on the left bicep (for righties) close to the heart, and not smack dab between our eyes but just above the hairline aligned between the eyes.

This oral transmission was given over from Moshe to his successor, Yehoshua, who taught them to the elders. They in turn transmitted these laws to the prophets who then taught them to the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei Knesses Hagedolah). This transmission is known as the Mesorah - tradition.

Originally, this tradition was meant to remain something that was handed down orally from generation to generation and was not meant to be written down. When Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi realized that his generation wasn't as capable of remembering the Mesorah as the previous generations had, and there was risk of the tradition being forgotten, he decided that it was imperative that it be committed to writing. That is how the Mishnah came about. The Gemorah is the next generation elaborating on the Mishnah.

It's not really about interpretation, but the way the Mesorah was transmitted from one person to the next in order for the information to be retained. There are no extra letters in the Torah, let alone extra words. If the negative commandment not to cook a kid in its mother's milk was simply a message not to be like the Pagans, it could have been mentioned one time. However, that is not the case, it is mentioned three times to teach us that there are three prohibitions involved in the act.

Hope this helped. Have a good Shabbos.
To love a fellow Jew just the same as you is the basis of our holy Torah.
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Unread 12-25-2012, 09:53 PM   #3
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1. In Torah itself, Hashem authorizes rabbis to make a fence around the law. The prohibition of not "adding additional laws" is about Biblical commandments. I.e., don't say that Hashem has given us such a law while He hasn't. But it doesn't mean that rabbis cannot institute their own laws, or, indeed, that each community cannot add its own traditions which, over time, can become binding on an individual.

So, for example, the law of celebrating Chanukah is not an added law, because we know that it is rabbinical. Also, the tradition of playing with dreidel and eating oily foods on Chanukah is not an added law, unless someone claims it was already given by Hashem.

2. You make a mistake thinking that when rabbis discuss how certain laws "derive" from Torah, they are actually deriving them right there. The contents of Halacha were passed to us as Oral Torah -- as a complete set of instructions. Parallel to that we have the Written Torah, which is a shorthand version of these instructions. It was considered important to know where in the Written Torah a particular Oral instruction is mentioned.

So, we know that we have three separate prohibitions related to milk and meat. How do we know them? They were handed down to us orally. And where are they in the Written Torah? Well, it says "don't boil the kid in his mother's milk" three times -- that's where.

How do we know that the above is true (that the rabbis already knew the laws, and they were merely discussing where the laws are mentioned in Tanach)? Because a discussion between rabbis A and B sometimes will go this way:

A: Where do we know X from?
B: We know it from posuk P1.
A: But I interpret P1 differently. I think it refers to law Y.
B: Then where do you derive X from?
A: I derive it from posuk P2. And where do you derive Y from?
B: I derive Y from posuk P3.

From this discussion, it is clear that laws X and Y are already known by rabbis A and B. They are just performing an exercise of matching the laws known from the oral tradition to the written text.
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