Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Moving Davening off your Checklist

In a recent bookjed review of We're Missing the Point: What's Wrong with the Orthodox Jewish Community and How to Fix It by Gidon Rothstein, Franics Nataf writes:
In We’re Missing the Point, Rothstein correctly tells us that much of the Orthodox community has lost its way. Echoing A. J. Heschel's castigation of our community as pan-halachic, he writes that by becoming "checklisters and ritualists," we not only miss the forest from the trees but are not even able to differentiate between big trees and small trees. His answer is to try to identify a blueprint of the goals of Judaism and explain how various mitzvot connect with these goals. As he writes in his introduction, such an agenda should be obvious and to this reader it was. Yet I am reminded of the introduction of Messilat Yesharim which says the same and yet became a classic for much the same reason one would like to see the current work become a classic – because people often ignore the obvious.
I would go one step further and suggest that many of the fights that are raging between various sectors of Orthodoxy would be less divisive if halacha was viewed contextually as Rothstein suggests. By this, I mean that the community would do well to understand more overtly that we should not see our aim as doing a particular mitzvah per se, but rather achieving the goal it – as part of a larger system – is supposed to accomplish. Were that the case, Orthodox feminists would likely feel less desperate to legitimate women’s participation in all sorts of mitzvot that remain controversial. At the same time, more conservative elements would likely get less hot under the collar if certain communities struck a certain halachic position that allowed such participation.

I haven't read the original work by Rothstein, but I think that Nataf's comments must cause us pause about the trending over ritualization of our teffilot. I once heard it said that the conservative streams of Judaism overly emphasize structure and lack a proper teaching of the spirit while the liberal streams overly emphasize the spirit but lack the proper teaching of structure - how can we practice, teach and maintain this balance?  This is at the top of my checklist!

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