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Commentary on Tanakh Discussion February 22, 2021: TRADITION!! (Teyve Revisited)

Don Perlmutter

In today’s discussion, we continued exploring the reasons for our beliefs and practices. We leaned heavily on the teachings of Maimonides, who had much to say about rational thinking. 

Orthodox to Reform to Conservative: The pendulum swings 
Acceptance or rejection of tradition and ritual has played a major role in the development of first the Reform, and then the Conservative movements, within Judaism. Reformism arose in Western Europe out of a desire of those Jews to assimilate with the host culture and separate their secular life from their religious one. As a result, there was a wholesale rejection of traditional (orthodox) practice. They dressed and attempted to behave like their fellow countrymen. They introduced organs and choirs into their services and removed their kippas, bagged their tallit, and unwound their tefillin. Conservatism developed in America as a reaction to the radical change of the Reform movement. The operative motto became: “We’re not ready” to reject traditional practice as abruptly and thoroughly as did Reform congregations. Conservatism, in Rabbi Edery’s words, “is reform with a foot on the brakes." 

The role of women in Jewish practice exemplifies the different approach of the major movements. Orthodoxy continues to hold that men and women have different roles based on their inherent qualities. While they will not admit that there is male dominance, the duties of the sexes are well-defined and position men as scholars and providers, while women are consigned to keeping the household and caring for the children. Reformism came to reject that thinking and all the traditions associated with it, culminating with the ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand in 1972. Conservatism eventually embraced a fuller and more equal role for women but did not ordain Rabbi Amy Eilberg until 1985.   

Maimonides threads the needle 
The dictionary defines Faith as a strong belief that is based on “spiritual apprehension rather than proof." In contrast, Maimonides, treading nimbly between science and religion, offered a procedure for arriving at belief: He taught that one must first learn provable natural science, then logic and reasoning, and finally armed with these, learn what to believe. In short, you can only believe what you observe in natural science after subjecting it to logical analysis. This does not imply a rejection of God, however. In fact, many scientists, like Einstein, see God in the wonders of natural science.  

Maimonides also cautioned against accepting opinions simply because we are accustomed to them while excluding opposing views. Tevye seemed to channel Maimonides as he struggled with tradition in the face of family crises when he uttered: “On the other hand…”       

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782