This is a response to Rabbi Zev Farber’s Manifesto of Torah and Faith as well as a response to Rabbi Gordimer’s and Rabbi Yitzchak Blau’s responses to it here and here. (Technically Rabbi Gordimer’s article was a response to a proto-manifesto of Zev’s, but…you know…whatever.)
Though Rabbi Zev Farber’s parents and my parents happen to be the same exact people, I still have absolutely no standing in the Modern Orthodox or Open Orthodox halachic commentary world whatsoever. I nevertheless thought perhaps this would get passed around on a sort of pseudo-nepotismic/curiosity basis anyway. I’m like Open Orthodoxy’s father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate, but what the hey, let’s get our Schwartz twisted and see what happens. The beauty of commenting from the outside is that I have no one to answer to, no skin in the game, so I can say whatever I want however I want. And that I will do.
By my dress and general behavior that people can see on the outside, most would consider me Modern Orthodox, or Open Orthodox, or at the very least “generally Halachically observant.” That’s the lifestyle I live together with my family. But that’s all window dressing. Halachic practice is important to me in a way, but only cosmetically so. At my core I am a libertarian. That is what is really important to me in a crucial, moral sense. By that I mean, I abide as much as I can by the non-aggression principle (NAP), and preach that others do the same. Indeed I preach that being a libertarian is what God actually, really wants from every human being on Earth, first and foremost Jewish human beings as His chosen exemplary people (I assume we are, reasons below).
Abiding by the NAP means I do not initiate violence. I don’t murder, I don’t rape, I don’t hit people outside the context of self-defense, and I don’t steal. All that is well and good. But here’s the tricky part:
I’m dead serious. By “steal” I mean taking money from other people without their explicit voluntary consent. This includes straight up everyday theft and burglary, but also includes anything that is not a mutually agreed upon exchange. That means government money, all defined by me as “stolen property”, as it is taken from people under threat of imprisonment by the government, which is not voluntary. If taxes were not backed up with the threat of violence, the vast, vast majority of people would not voluntarily pay them. Therefore, as a libertarian, I reject as many government benefits as reasonably possible. For example, I accept no child stipends from Bituach Leumi (National Insurance in Israel, everyone with kids gets them) and never took an unemployment check. Exceptions are that I drive on government monopolized roads, I drink government monopolized water and I use the government monopolized Karnei Shomron sanitation system, none of which I can avoid without hermetizing myself, which I am unwilling to do.
Full disclosure, other libertarians like Dr. Walter Block (a Jew) argue that accepting government money is legitimate, but I differ, and believe one should strive, within reason, to reject as many benefits as possible on the grounds that accepting government money legitimizes the existence of governments in the eyes of the masses, and libertarians should live by example, just like Jews should.
Like other libertarians I have a theory of property rights that says whoever homesteads a piece of land – plants things on it or builds on it first – owns it. Ownership can then be passed voluntarily as a gift or by mutual exchange. Further, “democracy” is illegitimate. In a country of 3 people, A B and C, A and B cannot legitimately “vote” to “tax” C’s property and split the proceeds just as A and B cannot vote to murder C either.
Now, what does this have to do with Judaism and Torah and Rabbi Zev Farber’s Manifesto of Torah and Faith?
Zev had a lot of pop culture quotations in his Manifesto (and most of them were good except the one from Abraham Lincoln) so I’ll do the same. I’m reminded of a scene from South Park. A bunch of people die and are met by the gatekeeper of hell. One of the dead people is disturbed at the fact that he is at the entrance to hell. He, after all, is a protestant. So he asks the gatekeeper which religion was the correct one. “The correct religion was Mormon.”
Assuming everyone understands the absurdity of the above scene, I’m betting most understand the absurdity of the following scene as well:
A Jew dies and meets God at the gates of the World to Come. “Did you believe that the Exodus, Yetzias Mitzrayim, really happened historically and that the Torah was written word for word by Moshe?” asks God.
“Well, not really,” says the Jew. “I mean, there wasn’t any physical evidence of an exodus from Egypt and the Torah really looked to me like it was written by a few authors. At least that’s what I thought when I was alive. But I did abide by the NAP as fully as I could and I preached liberty wherever possible on the grounds that every man is created in Your image and deserves to be able to make his own voluntary choices,” responds the Jew at Heaven’s Gate to God Himself.
“Well, the NAP is great,” replies God, “But the lack of evidence of the Exodus and seeming multiple sources in the Torah were just tests to see how well those who didn’t believe in its historicity and My man Moshe’s authorship can lie to themselves to convince themselves otherwise. Sorry! Hell it is!”
My point is, I don’t care what anyone believes regarding the authorship and historical veracity of the Torah, and in my opinion, neither does God. It doesn’t matter. Those who think it does matter nowadays are narrow-minded dogmatists with almost no awareness of what’s actually important in the world. They are spinning their wheels and wasting their time and ours impressing us about how much they can quote Chazal and Rishonim. Whipping a dead horse, barking up the wrong tree and other annoying metaphors.
Two questions: 1) What about all of Chazal and Rishonim and the rest who said it really DOES matter? Were they narrow-minded dogmatists with no awareness of what’s important either? Short answer, NO. 2) Zev addressed this next question, but I want to readdress it in the light of what I’ll say below: Should we just scrap the whole Jewish Nation as a myth founded on a lie and blend in to the rest of humanity, calling all of Jewish history quits? Short answer, NO.
Before I get into the long answers, I remember several years ago, maybe around my high school graduation in 2002 or thereabouts, my family was having Shabbos dinner and Zev was there at the table. At the time he was a “Drisha Girl” learning with Rabbi Silber. (That’s his joke, not mine. He was learning with Rabbi Silber in some kind of fellowship or other in the Drisha building before he enrolled in YCT.) We were discussing the historicity of Tanach, the Flood and whatnot, as we often do given our father is a Conservative Rabbi and modern biblical scholarship was often a point of discussion. Zev had said something that night that I used as my principle for the next decade or so of my own life. He said (again I don’t have this exact) that when one reads the Torah and has to decide what is historical and what is not, it is important to get into the mind of the author, so to speak.
Meaning, when you read the Genesis creation stories, you have to decide, is the author (or God forbid authors) trying to tell me how many days it took to create the world, or is he trying to teach me a lesson about the relationship of God and man through the stories? Well, given that first the author says it took 6 days, and then he (or a different one) says it took 1 day, he or they are probably not trying to tell me how many days it took to create the world. This is not historical. So I don’t have to freak out when I see dinosaur bones or lose sleep over evolution.
When reading the story of the Flood, is the author trying to tell me that a flood happened and it lasted so many days and this is the sequence of it? Or is he actually just trying to rewrite a popular ancient Middle Eastern myth the desert-wandering Exodus Israelites or their cultural descendants were familiar with but wanted to put in a monotheistic context? It could go either way, perhaps both, but I decided it wouldn’t upset me if the Flood and accompanying Noah’s Ark story never actually happened. I could still take the Torah seriously.
Same thing with the Tower of Babel. The author is not giving me a language history lesson as I doubt that is important to my religious education. The story seems more to do with the importance of human diversity in the Divine plan for the world. It gets a little tougher with the historicity of the Abraham and Isaac, and it gets really hard with Jacob and the 12 tribes, but I decided I still wouldn’t have a crisis if not every detail of those stories actually happened.
But, Zev said, and I remember this, and I guess he changed his mind in the last 12 years unless I’m mistaken, which is fine either way (really), that when you get to the Exodus from Egypt, it is impossible to take the author of the Torah and therefore the Torah itself seriously unless you assume the author is trying to tell you something that actually, historically, happened. In other words, if the historicity of the Exodus goes, then so does the rest of it because then it all just seems silly. If this didn’t happen, then what is the author smoking? Does he think I’m stupid? It all becomes a big joke.
I mention this not to call Zev out, but to point out that for many, the historicity of the Exodus from Egypt as written is crucial to their Halachic practice and Jewish identity. Going through the Pesach Seder seems especially dumb if it’s all a fairytale. Further, I believe that anyone who says that, on an individual basis, he no longer follows Halacha because he no longer believes in the historicity of the Exodus, is doing something completely understandable and legitimate.
Now the long answers to the two questions. First, the Chazal/Rishonim/et. al issue. Is the Rambam, for example, just a simple minded dogmatist because he wrote that anyone who doesn’t believe in total Mosaic authorship of the Torah is a heretic?
The answer is, there is a big difference between exilic Judaism and national Judaism. In order to survive thousands of years of exile culturally intact, you’ve got to hunker down in order to keep the nation together without its land, especially when your numbers are small and you could come under attack by some crazy murderous government at any moment without warning. If the Rambam or a Tana or Amora or Gaon or any other Rishon (all generational terms for Rabbis) or any other famous “dogmatist” wrote more or less what Zev wrote 800 or 1000 years ago and it came into prominence and was accepted, there probably would not be a Jewish People today, at least not in my opinion. If Rabbi Zev Farber’s Manifesto of Torah and Faith came out in, say, 1242, it probably would have been justifiably burned, not for being wrong (that is not to say that it’s right), but for being dangerous to Jewish national survival. We’ll get to why Jewish national survival is important in a minute.
Most people are Amei Ha’Aretz, laymen, then and now. Tell them the story is not historical in 1242 and most would ask why in the WORLD am I risking my life being Jewish? Yeah, today nobody with any serious governmental coercive power is actively trying to kill us so we have the luxury of going to Shul or lighting candles or having a Seder or whatever whether or not we believe the book is real or a fairytale. But back then, you need the people in line if you’re going to preserve the Nation for eventual restoration in its land.
Am I saying the Rambam didn’t really believe what he wrote about Mosaic authorship and heresy? No, I am not saying that. The truth is I don’t know what he personally believed. If I had Maimonides in a room alone with me and asked him to respond to Rabbi Zev Farber’s Manifesto of Torah and Faith and promised him complete confidentiality, I honestly don’t know what he would tell me. Does anyone else? What I am saying is I don’t care what he or any other Rabbi actually believed. It’s not important. Not anymore.
It was important when we were trying to survive without a land to keep the Jewish People culturally intact, but now it’s not.
So that leads me to the second question, why was it ever important? Who cares if Jews exist or not? Why not just scrap the whole thing and just become pig-eating shaatnez-wearing Shabbos-breaking libertarians, turn the Temple Mount into the Israel branch of the Ludwig von Mises (a jew) Institute, dedicate the Cave of the Patriarchs to Murray Rothbard (a Jew), build a Museum dedicated to F.A. Hayek (a Jew) next to Yad Vashem and call it a day?
My answer is, the Tochacha. That chapter at the end of Leviticus, repeated in Deuteronomy, maybe even (!) by two different authors. Those verses that predict with sickening cruelty what we would go through in agonizing detail. It even understated it, terribly so. The agony, the genocide, the promise that we’d never be wiped out completely, and finally, the redemption.
Whether or not you believe in the historicity of the Exodus or whether Moses wrote the Torah or even existed, the Tochacha is really, really old, written at the latest before the vast vast majority of all the worst stuff on planet Earth happened to us. You can ask Zev. He’ll tell you it’s really old. And it came true. And whoever it was wrote it down and we still have it. And now we’re back in Israel, again, just as written, and the Jews today are historically and culturally continuous and contiguous with the Jews of whenever the academics and the frummies agree you can start the historico-cultural timeline.
There is no way that there could be any cultural survival if a conscious God wasn’t watching us to preserve us for some huge, important, cosmic purpose. There is no historico-cultural parallel to the Jews’ collective national survival. It is impossible without a Divine historical Director, regardless of who wrote the thing. Somebody wrote it and it’s accurate.
From the Tochacha I go back to the Flood story. It begins as a continuation of the creation story and the Garden of Eden. Man starts multiplying like crazy, and all the sudden man starts violating what? The non-aggression principle of course. The NAP. The Torah complains about “Hamas” which means chaotic violence, destruction, theft all around, people taking whichever girl they find at will which I assume means rape. Total force, aggression, the NAP is in shambles. God says, “I can’t take this anymore.”
Why did God destroy the world according to the story? Because the NAP, libertarianism, completely died. Only one man was decent enough to save. Noah was libertarian all right. He was a non-interventionist. But he wasn’t a preacher. He didn’t really care about other people as long as he was left alone. He kept to himself. He was also a drunk, which doesn’t violate the NAP, but it’s not so flattering. You can’t start a nation with that kind of man as an example. Whoever wrote it down was trying to say that the planet will survive (barely) as long as someone follows the NAP, but it won’t progress if society as a whole doesn’t.
10 generations later, according to the narrative whose historicity does not concern me in the least, God decides on a different strategy in order to get the world moving again. He’d pick one man who was libertarian, someone who believed EVERYONE had the right not be violated or stolen from with no exceptions, but who also preached it and whose life was exemplary. That man was Abraham, Zev’s father. God promised Abraham that his children would remain intact, and He’d even give them a slice of land with which to practice libertarianism as a nation and serve as an example to the rest of mankind, as a light unto the nations. In order to stay intact, they’d need commands to separate them from the rest of humanity. Dietary restrictions, peculiar clothing, Shabbat, a Holy Temple, etc., which would all remind them that man has One Creator and rights come from Him and not from man, not from government, not from the majority, not from whatever money our “representatives” can squeeze out of other people by force.
Now guess what my fellow Yidden. I have news for you all. The exile is over. We can all come out of our dogmatic caves and wake up and smell what’s going on in the real world. We can all stop worrying about who believes what and activating the different strands of the Jewish Thought Police. It’s time to get serious and stop worrying about how many Jewish skeletons you can find in the Sinai Desert from 3,000 years ago.
It’s time to worry about how men in Israel, some of them Rabbis, with the power of force and violence, extract money with the threat of violence out of other Jews for their own purposes whatever they are which causes Jewish groups in Israel to mercilessly hate one another. Learning at Yeshiva with tax money, learning at a University with tax money, forced curriculums, police that can break down your door and tazer you in front of your children without you being charged for a single crime, a raise for Knesset Members, a raise for government monopolized port workers who are legally protected from competition, billions of shekels to kick Jews out of their homes by force in 2005 in Gaza, how one group of Jews has been trying for 20 years to use government force to kick hundreds of thousands more Jews out of their homes through the “Oslo Peace Process”. Because of this mutual force and theft, everyone hates everyone else. We all talk about stopping the Sinas Chinam, the causeless hatred between us but nobody seems willing to stop the massive mutual theft and aggression of everyone against everyone that is causing it.
It’s time to worry about how the government controls by force and violence every single aspect of our lives here in Israel. There’s a government minister for everything. For what food we can import, for what hospitals we can build, for what we can smoke and can’t smoke, for where we can send our kids to daycare and where we can’t, for what school we have to send our kids to and for how long, for how much or how little we are allowed to work for. There’s even a “Culture and Sports Minister” that tells us God knows what. The government owns 93% of all the land here jacking real estate prices up and complains they’re too high but wants to keep the monopoly. I see how the government-appointed taxpayer-funded Chief Rabbinate does nothing but stir up ever more Sinas Chinam and rage between different Jewish groups. How most secular Jews have nothing but contempt for government Rabbis that they have to pay to do their weddings and divorces by force. How they have a special list of Mamzers that they don’t allow to marry. How they manage to just piss everyone off for every reason because they have their dirty Rabbinic desecration of God’s Name hands in every conceivable thing. Most Jews who hate Judaism hate it because of them. It’s time we realized that and shut them down. Who can convert, who can marry, who can get a kosher certificate, who can build a Shul.
How everyone fights over how much force everyone else has to shoulder and the burden of violence, drafting into the army by force for three years where you can die, how it should be “equalized” and slavery burden “shared” instead of eliminated and freedom reign. How we are actually contemplating dragging people into the army who promise to revolt and we think somehow this is going to be good for us. We are insane. How the government monopolized prison system keeps letting murderers go, breaking the heart of every bereaved family and spitting on the graves all those murdered and cheapening the lives of everyone who risked theirs putting them away. And of course, endangering us all. How the government forbids Jews from praying on their most holy spot, Har Habayit, the Temple Mount, and nobody seems to care. Everyone’s obsessed with who can pray at the stupid government-owned Wall. How the government is now going to take my fingerprints and put them in a biometric database as if I were Jude on a German cattle car being tattooed by the SS. That one particularly sickens me to the core, the Israeli government about to take my fingerprints by force just like the Nazis took my grandparents’ arms as if they own my body, too. The violence is increasing and getting unbearable.
You want to know the real importance of the Exodus story? It’s not its exact historicity. It’s the message of liberty. Slavery is illegitimate. So says God.
Nobody has any right to take anyone’s body or property for any reason without his voluntary consent. Period.
How do we make the world libertarian? It can’t be done by individuals. God tried that and had to destroy the world in a flood because it failed. It has to be done by a whole nation. An entire People who can serve as an example to the world. This is why Jews still exist. To be libertarians. We do it by being Jews. By following the halachic system voluntarily, with punishments only for violations of the NAP as per Rabbi Akivaesque Halachic tradition. Why Halacha? Those who grew up with it as I have and have studied it can recognize the moral genius of most of Chazal and the later generations of Rabbis. I am aware that there are libertarian as well as non-libertarian sources in Halacha. I accept the former and reject the latter. It’s easy when you have a clear moral compass.
Anyone who has trouble meshing Halacha with my brand of anarcho-libertarianism in particular, I refer you to Midrash Rabbah Shoftim on שום תשים עליך מלך. It’s the most anarcho-libertarian Chazal source out there to my knowledge.
I for one plan to do my best to tear down as much government in Israel as I possibly can while I’m on the planet.
As for the historicity of Yetzias Mitzrayim, believe what you want to believe. If you believe in every detail, good for you. If you don’t, what are you supposed to do? Lie to yourself to get into Olam Haba? That sounds like the stupidest of all childish games. People believe what they believe. That’s it. I personally believe something like it happened because to think the whole thing was made up would make Judaism seem silly to me even given the truth of the Tochacha, but I don’t care exactly which details are historically true or not. The story was definitely put together very, very carefully by someone who knew what he was doing. I would be happy if archaeological proof were found, but I’m not too worried about it, because I do know that God is behind Jewish history in some way, or else we wouldn’t exist.
Follow Halacha if you believe in it. Don’t follow it if you don’t. It won’t affect your personal Olam Haba status, if that exists. That I’m sure of. I personally have no preference for what anyone does on a personal level as long as they follow the NAP, though it would be nice if people followed both Halacha and the NAP. It is not, however, my priority to get people to be observant Jews. I just don’t care enough for that to motivate me.
My priority is freeing Jews from theft and enslavement by other Jews. We have to stop worrying about individual Halacha and start thinking about the national sphere, like Jubilee and its built in design to limit government power like the 93% monopoly Israel’s government currently has over the land supply. If we had Jubilee and it were operative, would there be a land monopoly? We should think about how Halacha structures the Jewish judicial system and start acting accordingly. In a halachic system, Judges don’t elect themselves as they do here in this judicial dictatorship of a country. I bet we can get even the most ardent atheist to be interested in Halacha in that sphere.
But we’re all still busy putzing around worrying about who believes what happened 3,000 years ago and who doesn’t while everyone’s stealing from each other and kidnapping each other’s children into forced army service and everyone’s even younger children into government indoctrination schools NOW.
And you know the first question God will ask me when I die? It ain’t got nothin’ to do with who wrote the Torah. The question will be:
נשאת ונתת באמונה?
Were you honest in business? That’s Shabbos 31A for you.
Did you steal from anyone? Did you make your money through voluntary exchange, or by force, burglary, violence, theft, taxes? Did you follow the NAP?
Thank God Zev wrote his Manifesto of Torah and Faith. Gordimer should be applauding him for his intellectual honesty. Instead he’s busy like most other “Rabbis” who have totally lost track of what matters yelling about who’s getting into heaven or not, just like Christians go around accusing each other of “losing salvation” because they don’t believe in Jesus in the exact correct way according to Pope Francisco or some other catechismic irrelevant. How Goyish.
As for Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, I had the pleasure of being his student for a short time and very much enjoyed his response to Zev, which was much more relevant than Gordimer’s angry self-righteous “you’re not getting into heaven” nanny-nanny-boo-boo-*raspberry* screed. It’s Mormons, Rabbi Gordimer, in case you missed that South Park episode.
The only problem with Rav Blau’s article was the end, where he tries to urge people to reject Zev’s views because they are “outside Orthodoxy.” What the heck is Orthodoxy? Is it a club? Who’s the bouncer? Is he a bald guy with a beard and payis? Does he wear sunglasses? Where are the gatekeepers? How many of them are there? Does anybody care who’s in the club besides them? What if somebody says something that the bouncer doesn’t like but it’s true? Does that matter? Does he still get to dance in the club? Do people who only dance outside the club still go to heaven? Do they serve mojitos? What about Long Island Iced Tea?
Zev wrote something he thinks is true. Get over it. Here’s what I think is true:
This used to matter, but only as a means of national survival. It doesn’t matter anymore, not since our exile ended. If we can get past the “historicity” question, maybe we Jews can start dealing with the Sinas Chinam issue we all think is really important around Tisha B’av every year but then we devolve into this heresy nonsense. We can stop the Sinas Chinam when we stop the theft. When everyone starts respecting everyone else’s boundaries and letting them live who they want to live. So let’s stop it and start freeing the Jews from their slavery to the evil Israeli government. And then, just maybe, free from coercion, Jews will start coming back to Halacha like you all want them to.