Wednesday, December 14, 2005

New Moral Lesson Discovered On 12/14/05

In response to my last post, The Jewish Freak speaks thus:

We are a product of our times, and it is not easy to distance ourselves enough from our 21st century culture to accurately and objectively investigate biblical morality.

Agreed. It is difficult for us to 'objectively investigate biblical morality'. But I am not at present investigating whether Torah had a moral message once-upon-a-time. I am attempting to explore whether The Bible has a relevant moral message for 21st century people living in western democracies today. Can I learn a moral lesson when studying Torah that I was unaware of before that learning session? Does studying The Bible make me a more moral person.

I think the answer to these questions has got to be a resounding no. I do not believe I become even the slightest bit more moral by studying The Bible. I already know that I shouldn't kill, steal or rape. I do not need The Bible to tell me to pay workmen for jobs they have done, or to dissuade me digging a hole in the middle of the highway.

I will tell you what. This is a new blog and I don't suppose I have many readers, but for those of you who do, could you please leave a list of the moral lessons that you have personally learnt from The Torah. These must be ideas that you wouldn't have known had you not had access to The Bible. And remember, this is not about The Bible 2500 years ago. This is a question about how relevant The Bible is today. How relevant is The Bible on the 14th day of December 2005?


At 12:49 PM, Blogger Hayim said...

I was reading interesting divrei Torah about this week's parsha.

One was about the different attitudes of Eisav and Yaakov, Yesh Li Rav vs. Yesh Li Kol, how do we relate to our material possessions, etc.

Another one about our attitude toward non-Jewish society (relationship Yaakov - Eisav). What can we do to foster tolerance from the Gentiles, what is too much (flattery, bribery, etc).

This is still relevant to me in 2005.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

Dear Rabbi Lomdus,
Your question is so thought provoking, the Jewish Freak needed a whole day to think about it.
The Jewish Freak comments thus:
First of all, what I meant to say was not necessarily that biblical morality is from biblical times and therefore different from our 21st century morality. But rather, that I may be arrogant if I say that my 21st century morality is superior to biblical morality. Our morality is not a technological advancement, it is a product of our culture, our current mores. So I have no real evidence that it is better, I only have my opinion that it is better - my 21st century opinion.
That being said, Let's take a look at what we know from the bible that we would not have otherwise known:
Maimonides (and some others) would amswer as follows - that the Torah teaches us philosophical ideas that we would not have otherwise known. For example - that G-d can relate to individuals and interact with them in a personal way. Otherwise we would assume that we are far too insignificant to warrant G-d's attention. Also that we are permitted to pray to G-d. We would assume that our prayers are too insignificant for G-d, or even disrespectful to Him.
If we accept the truth of the Bible (a big if - I know) there are some other issues that are answered that would not otherwise be known. The idea of the rebellious child (ben sorer umoreh) tells us that in the opinion of the Torah a sociopath can not be "reached", and will presumably only progress in anti-social behavior.
The commandment to destroy Amalek tells me that entire cultures can be so sick that they can not be fixed, only destroyed. (Would you have pulled the plug on Nazi Germany prior to WWII?)
My next point comes from oral law (Torah sheb'al peh). Yes, we know that murder is wrong, but it is not so simple. What is murder? is abortion murder? is euthenasia murder? What should be done with a murderer? Is compassion for the perpetrator an act of cruelty to the victim or the victims family? Our 21st century morality has trouble answering these questions. The Torah makes a point to clearly define acts of violation and prescribes a specific response to each of them. It is this precisely defined morality that the Torah has but we (our modern selves) do not.
When the Rabbis interpreted "an eye for an eye" as monetary compensation their reasoning was as follows: since no two eyes are exactly alike the literal interpretation is impossible in practice, so it must of necessity mean monetary compensation. This is not a far fetched interpretation, but it does raise the question of why the Bible did not say so in the first place. But that is an entirely different question. In this instance the biblical morality is not so far from ours anyway.
The idea of monetary compensation for theft (white collar crime) is far superior to our "correctional" system.
The idea of sobriety in sexual and appetitive drives in order to be "holy" would not be known to us without the Bible. Plato discussed similar ideas, but without a specific system like that of in the Torah.
Lastly, I have learned some moral lessons from the mistake Joseph made in prison as well as an analysis of the sin of the spies in the desert that have helped me time and time again in my own life.
I don't think that my comment has answered your question in the way you intended, but these are my thoughts.
I really make a terrible heretic don't I? - JF


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