October 12, 2012

Reviewing Jewish tradition

Jewishness is a question of religion, yet many Jews are atheists, perhaps unwittingly. They seem unaware of theist arguments to respond to skeptics, such as the statistical impossibility of evolution by mutations. The rabbinate must try to explain Judaism to Jews, not just command them to believe. 

The Talmudic tradition should not be static. It postulated originally that later rabbis’ opinion prevails. There is no reason to say tradition stopped developing centuries ago and left Judaism as a fossil. Even the opinions of the sages are open to argument. Ancient theologians cannot dictate for modern humanity. Arcane food laws, for example, are confusing and impede acceptance of core teachings.[1] Kashrut may remain a valuable tradition for those willing to accept it, just like the other people’s revulsion for eating dogs and roaches, but not an absolute rule on equal footing with the commandments.

Sages greatly expanded the rules to protect the core commandments from inadvertent violations. That created wide no-man’s land around Judaism, preventing violation but also impeding enjoyment by making legitimate actions like eating cheeseburger off-limit to Jews.No-man’s land, deliberate desolation of some territory to protect another, is just one measure against violations; there are other, less wasteful. People build fence before starting a house; religion also requires a fence of additional prohibitions. They should be, however, minimized, so that the fence does not become a tall wall, closing the outside world to the house’ inhabitants, the Jews. They concentrate on auxiliary Talmudic prohibitions rather than the commandments.

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