How Libertarianism Changed my View of Halacha

Referring to this paragraph written in my previous post:

And on top of all of that, call me a Messianist, but I don’t even believe in the right of the Moshiach to be king! I don’t even say את צמח דוד in my Shmoneh Esrei! I have stated publicly that if the Moshiach is declared and he starts instituting halacha laws, that I will break them!

Chaim, a reader, asks:
How do you explain this and justify your point of view from a halachic perspective as an observant jew? I’m trying to imagine for myself as well as explain to others that aggression is wrong, no matter who does it. You also don’t strike me as the kind of guy to light a match on shabbat and break halacha.
My view on kingdom is that just like אשת יפת תואר, it is no good to do it. But if you already go so far with taking a non-jewish woman as wife, that’s the procedure to follow. Dito with a king: Shmuel hanavi was against having a king, and explained clearly why. But if we already want a king, that’s the procedure to follow.
To get back to moshiach, please help me out. And it it mandatory to have a king, who by definition can commit aggression in impunity?

First of all, I’ve touched these subjects in these two posts.

The technical answer is that the Yerushalmi’s nusach shmoneh esrei is sans את צמח דוד. Since I don’t want a powerful king (a voluntary privately funded Davidic figurehead is fine) I find it silly to dedicate a special bracha to one, and I don’t like davening for something I don’t want. I may as well be a Hare Krishna chanting stoner if I do that. Unlike the תפילה לשלום המדינה though, I will still say את צמח דוד if asked to daven in חזרת הש״ץ because I can self-interpret as praying for the return of a Davidic king who will set us free and then renounce power. This is what I think will actually happen. I cannot justify praying for State leaders in any way though, not to myself at least.

There are two sides to the machloket of malchut (kingship). The Bavli believes in a king as mandatory. The Yerushalmi does not, including the Abarbanel and the Ibn Ezra. But this is all trivia, interesting and fun, but doesn’t get to the point. Let’s cut straight to the heart of the matter. I don’t mince words or baffle with bull.

What is Halacha? What is the point of it?

Let me begin with an example that just happened yesterday, fortuitously or so set up by God, who knows. Not very often does a yoreh yoreh question come up in my house. It just happened to yesterday. My wife was looking for a gift for her mom’s birthday. She came across a site that sells gourmet licorice candy. No hechsher, so we looked at the ingredients. They all look fine, except for something called “shellac”.
We google it. It’s basically bug juice. For whatever reason I have never encountered the question of shellac before, though I admit I really should have, because it is ubiquitous. I tell my wife it can’t be kosher, because it is “a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand”. That certainly sounds traif to me.
I say to my wife, pretty much these words, “Look, the only way it can be kosher is if some posek makes an argument that it’s equivalent to bee’s honey on the logic that the resin is basically bug feces instead of bug juice produced from the bug’s body. But that sounds really stretchy, and the only reason honey was ever considered kosher is that it’s in the Tanach way too many times and there’s no way that any authority can consider it traif. So they had to come up with some excuse.”
For a few minutes I just assumed it was traif and that we couldn’t get the licorice candy. But then I don’t know what happened, we Googled it again, and turns out, lo and behold! Rav Moshe actually paskins in Igros Moshe Yoreh De’ah II:24 (II is really volume 5) that shellac is indeed kosher, goes through all the sources, does his pilpul, weighs the sides, and shellac is kosher because it’s equivalent to bee honey etc. I found the teshuva on hebrewbooks.org but annoyingly the meat of the teshuva is missing from the pdf file which inexplicably skips from page 31 to 34 and I don’t have a hard copy. (I still have my Yeshivish reading skills and they haven’t dimmed, so I can can still read this stuff pretty quickly.)
So here’s the issue nobody wants to confront. Did Rav Moshe really TEST whether shellac comes from digestion or whether it’s secreted from a gland like pig’s milk? Did anyone actually test it? Did anyone put the bug under a microscope and see where the shellac is coming from? Is there a lab test cited in any teshuva anywhere on the lac bug?
No. Absolutely not. There is no test. Nobody, at least no Rabbi or posek, knows whether shellac is feces or secretion. All they know is how to cite sources and make logical assumptions that follow, that could be completely wrong when up against physical reality. I’m not saying that shellac is either secretion or feces. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’m saying that in order to arrive at his psak, Rav Moshe did not ask for a lab report on shellac. It didn’t matter.
The point is, whether shellac is kosher halachically or not has nothing to do with the actual physical, ontological question of what this stuff actually is. Conclusion: It’s all a game.

Halacha is a game. This is not to demean halacha, put it down, encourage people to break with the system or anything else. It is simply a statement of fact. Deal with it how you want, that’s what Halacha is. Its core is not ontological reality about what things are. Its core is shakla vetarya about what you can prove through sources that begin with the Gemara through a game of logic and quoting and rules of interpretation and how far you can stretch them. That’s it. That’s what it is, regardless of what you feel about it or want to believe.

At bottom – at the core of it – why is shellac kosher? Because it’s everywhere, in every fruit and vegetable waxed with shellac for presentation, in every candy, it is unavoidable by the average person who doesn’t want to grow his own fruit and vegetable garden. There is simply no way that Rav Moshe can possibly say that shellac is traif with the stuff being everywhere. So he came up with a halachic (game) reason why it’s kosher. Fine. He played the game, by the rules, and he found an answer.

Shellac is by far not the only manifestation of this. Why is turkey kosher? Because, according to the game, it’s a chicken. Is it a chicken? No, a turkey is not a chicken. But halachically it’s a chicken because somebody in the game said so. I eat turkey. You probably eat turkey. It is in no way a chicken. It just isn’t. It’s traif. But it’s kosher because by the time somebody asked the question, everybody was eating it already.

A woman that bleeds vaginally constantly, can she have sex with her husband, ever? Yes, because she is able to “intuit” if her blood is period blood or some kind of other abnormal wound. Is that real? Who cares. You can’t tell a couple to divorce because of this, so you just play the game.

Is a conservative or reform marriage a halachic marriage? If it is, half the Jewish people are mamzerim and can’t marry with the other half of the Jewish people, because they don’t do gets when they divorce and everything goes to hell if they have any kids from a second marriage. So Rav Moshe says there are no edim to anything at these “weddings”, it’s not a marriage, it’s just pritzus, and the nation stays together because the kids are not mamzerim. Are there really no edim? What about the hundreds of people watching? What if 2 of them are halachic? Do you have to test at each wedding? No. Why? Who cares. He answered how he had to answer. There was no other choice.

This extends into the issue of Agunot. This issue really pisses me off to no end. I hate men who don’t give their wives a get out of spite. I hate them and I understand the urge to beat them to within an inch of their lives until they give it over.

But I’m also against beating people who have not been violent. Refusing a get is not violent. It’s just assholery. It’s the equivalent of a boycott. So why not, for the love of God, set up a halachic court on the logic of the Rambam of כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני, spin in a little מקח טעות or whatever you want to say and have the court give the expletive get and end this misery!?

Halacha is a game. It’s a valuable game. Without the halachic game, there would be no Jewish people. We would not have survived. I believe we all have a chiyuv to play the game, and live within the rules of the game, up until the point where it conflicts with morality. That is why I consider myself a halacha following Jew. Anyone who disagrees is free to not count me in your minyan, one guy for not saying the Prayer for the State of Israel, another for saying halacha is a game.

But I do not confuse ontological reality as I perceive it, with a game. I don’t say את צמח דוד because I don’t want to. Because I don’t believe in it. If someone tells me that halachically, according to some game, a king has a right to just take my property because he’s king, or kill someone for insulting him, and quote me a bunch of Rishonim that say so, then the game has crossed the lines into being immoral and evil, and at that point I stop playing. I exit the game, I go into actual ontological reality, I draw my line, I’m telling you where it is, and that’s it.

Anyone can justify any murderous halacha any time. Eradicate Amalek, man woman and child, this people is Amalek here’s my pilpul, kill the babies, I’m yotzeh.

A Rabbi says I should be happy paying taxes because taxes go to chessed. Do I laugh at him for being ludicrous or do I play the game because he’s a halachic player? I laugh at him. A turkey being kosher I don’t care. I have no moral opinion about whether turkeys should be kosher or not. Let them players play. But I have a real moral opinion about whether taxes are good. They are not, and no Rabbi, not Moshiach himself, can convince me otherwise. So if Moshiach levies taxes, I know he’s a fake.

A State sponsored Rabbi, who makes his living through taxes, tells me it’s my religious obligation to pay taxes, do I listen to him because he’s part of some game, or do I tell him that really, he’s wong? He’s wrong. I won’t play the game anymore. I know when to play, and I know when to exit.

So let me get back to that paragraph. I do not recognize the right of Moshiach to have any power over me. I am human, he is human. He has a role, I have a role. Quote me whatever you want, I don’t play the game that far, not into NAP territory. Once you get to the NAP, I go into ontological reality and out of the halachic realm.

If there is a source within the game that justifies my position, good. In the case of את צמח דוד, there is the Yerushalmi, and Shmuel HaNavi, and Abarbanel and Ibn Ezra and whoever else I care to gather, I take that, regardless of whether “we” (whoever “we” is) paskin that way or not, and I adopt it. And that’s it. I’m out of the game at that point, so stop trying to bring me back in. I’m not playing anymore.

Pruzbul is a game. Eradication of Yibum is a game. Heter Mechira is a game. So is Otzar Beis Din. So you play it. That’s all legitimate out-of-NAP territory, pick your side, I don’t care. But don’t try to tell me that some guy has a right to steal from me because a game says so. I’ll find a source that says the opposite, and tell you it’s correct not because “we paskin that way” according to some made up rules, but because, ontologically, it’s correct.

Conclusion

The first time someone objected to me, in the smaller minyan, not saying the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel, he said to me, after davening, “Halachically  you have to.” So I said, “Then I’m against Halacha.” Because really, I’m not interested in playing a game about what is moral and what isn’t. I know what is moral and what isn’t. I judge it for myself. I decide personally. I have a mind, given to me by God, so I use it. Nobody else dare decide morality for me. They can help and advise if I ask, but I make the final decision with my own mind. 

I have no interest in playing the Halachic game with people on the legitimacy of morality. I will play halacha as far as the NAP, and no further. Any further and I will find the sources to defend myself if I’m interested in doing so, just to show I’m not alone, and I’m not. There are anarchic sources for every position I have. For me at least.

Pick your values. Stick to them. Halacha is a value of mine. I believe God told me to play the game. I can’t prove that at all, to anyone. So I play it, because I value it. Without halacha there would be no Jews. And Jews are necessary for the liberation of the planet. But if halacha ever conflicts with my core values, I pick my values, and ditch the game.

I call on you to do the same.

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10 thoughts on “How Libertarianism Changed my View of Halacha

  1. Very interesting post I have just picked up and read twice, yet still a little confusing for me as it seems me that you conflate several issues — but again, I am discovering your blog.

    Your wording of halakha as a game does not bother me, even though I view it as a serious game. But as Rosenzweig wrote, God created the universe not religion — and not even halakhah (as TB Baba Metsi`a 59a seems to teach). I personally find this useful to remember. So I regard your position as a kind of extended version of this. Rosenzweig was very careful about addressing Jews as human beings first and not as a Hegelian category.

    I am not familiar with respect to the halakhic question about shellac, so I cannot discuss the specific issues here. I assume that your point was that as long as it does not deal with a concrete, ethical issue, “you’re still in”. You could have taken up the question of turning on a lamp on Shabbos; halakhically speaking, it is quite hard to come up against turning on a LED lamp. And yet, the majority if not the totality of observant Jews — myself included — won’t turn on a LED lamp on Shabbos. I would suggest that the reason may be more complex than passively submitting to the rules of a game, inertia or conservatism. And from the viewpoint of the posek, the rules of decision are not arbitrary. Eliezer Goldman came up with the idea of meta-halakhah; there are, after all, some higher rules, meta-rules if you want, about the way halakhah proceeds. Moshe Koppel (later) also wrote an article about this (“Judaism as a first-language”) that is mind-provoking. I’d be curious to know your thoughts.

  2. Rav Moshe was well-informed about scientific realities when they related to halacha. There is no question in my mind that he searched out the necessary scientific facts before making the shellac decision. I can’t comment on your other examples, not having merited to study psak from the giants. All I can say is that if that’s your interpretation of halacha – just a game – it is the stupidest invention I have ever heard of.

    • So…here’s your theory: There is “no question in your mind that he searched out necessary scientific facts” before making the shellac decision, citing absolutely no evidence of this whatsoever. On everything else, you cannot comment “because you have not studied psak” and conveniently avoid dealing with the examples because you can’t, pleading ignorance. But you haven’t studied the shellac decision either, in fact, and yet there is no question in your mind about that one for some reason. And on the basis of absolutely nothing and ignorance, you say my interpretation is “the stupidest invention you ever heard of.”

      Tip top research there. Good job.

      • Gee, I didn’t mean your interpretation was the stupidest invention I ever heard of, I meant that if your interpretation is true, it would make halacha the stupidest invention I ever heard of. I see that my last line was clumsily phrased. Re: Rav Moshe, everyone knows that he had scientists advising him on the major questions.

  3. If you can’t stop then you can’t be playing the game. If you can’t stop the game plays you not the other way around.
    Now when some people (no longer laying names here) decide that with “game” it is attached the apriori innocence of a child (which can’t be either proven or dismissed), and that playing is related to a fixed notion of being like that imagined and finally decided innocent child, things are bound to go beyond liberation into slavery or self-slavery.
    The moral clause would be this – Jewish people have the RIGHT to be, they DON’T NEED to explain their necessity (to other humans that is, because who else would ask? God? a powerful conscience takes living decision of His own). It is not fair to explain any living conscience, including a human soul, the reasons for their existence. It’s like waking a patient during surgery to ask them why should they be cured. God did not ask, but everyone else asks, they have eliminated the existence of the Jewish people by denying their right to be – so who are they really asking when they are passing through the Jews with accusations? God. It is God they dislike.
    That is what I meant to say when I said the atheists have their merits (of noting what the real issue is..).
    For some reason or another, and quite recently (one century most, one and a half to be exact) the Arab Muslims have been “initiated” into the empiric game of death and “flying” over “taking care of the Jews”. I don’t think the Arabs are sick beyond repair if they can point still point out the maker of the game (assasins’s creed) – some people around-ish the Jewish culture, bored with their own old culture and displeased with the “emotional lasceration” they find in the Bible, some people who know they will “win the elections” in front of the Jewish people (designated competitor because of the halacha now I see), they will be ever more popular if they go game all the way.
    And I never said these people are Amalek, hence evil, they are just a deep disappointment of mine. Like a wound I know never heals. Why? Because people keep voting for them because their ideas are bewitching and seductive, and so is their fashion. Like someone wrote on a poster in Greece, definitely ironic to some campaign of euro-solidarity, to these people who I won’t call out, I will simply want to say “keep calm and go to ….”
    I also think that the Jewish people need to stop this – now widely known – tradition from time to time, in order to control themselves, and regroup Zion after all the insanity of Shoah and all the pogroms, the dumb ideologies of the world, the sadism of science, the falsehood of art, and the shock of finding the Muslims going Islam right close to the time when the Jewish people receives the land of Israel back…

      • I write to you because I have deep feelings that I should say these ideas that keep haunting me since 2007. I found your blog during the elections of 2012 by chance at it sounded familiar even if I don’t like Ron Paul, he sounds like a preacher imho. I know it sounds strange and frankly Rafi I don’t care if you think I’m nuts when I said these things. And I probably am nuts because other than nicotine or caffeine I never do dangerous drugs. But you are right, I should stop now that you explained about this strange game that I never knew existed and how it is important to go back to real life. I kept having dreams I was a small Goddess protecting and obsessing over your people and when it all exploded it blew my face off. But I obviously am not because if I were I would know strange things that are useful which I don’t. Or heal diseases. Or predict the future. But I don’t have any of these powers, just insane ideas and dreams. And sometimes I have thoughts that surprise me after I read them, like I have a message to deliver. You’re right to inspire me to stop. I should stop. I should go back to material reality. If I was doing weeds I’d be stopping doing that, maybe I should stop smoking. Maybe there are bigger drugs injected in those plain cigarettes.

      • HA! OK, no problem. I publish your comments when they seem to be related to something I wrote. I’d switch to cannabis if I were you over tobacco. I don’t smoke either, but at least marijuana has health and mental benefits. You can comment whenever you like, I’ll publish it as long as I can sort of understand it in a minimal sense.

      • Thank you, Rafi. I wish to bring a completion to these things one day if I can. Yes.. plus the taxation for tobacco goes to the States (in EU at least, and level of profit is so high that they said they “can’t afford to make tobacco illegal, just discourage through adds and increase prices”.)

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