Conservatism in politics and religion has captured the thinking in many countries today. This, like most things in life, can be good, but it can go to an extreme. Unfortunately, it affected Judaism terribly and prompted Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo to write “Jewish Law as Rebellion.” He, in essence, suggests that rabbis need to change radically or be replaced.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a Dutch-Israeli rabbi, philosopher, and scholar. He is the author of more than a dozen thoughtful books in which he addresses the all-to-many crises among Jews. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called him a man with a wide intellectual horizon, unafraid to confront challenges. His books are fascinating and are often, as this one, thought-provoking calls to action.
In this book, among much else, he focuses on rabbis who call themselves Posek haDor, deciders for the generation, who teach Daas Torah, the truth of the Torah. They portray themselves as supreme decision makers of Jewish law. The very language they use signifies arrogance and ignorance of Judaism, and this makes a farce of their idea. They fail to recognize that since ancient time, Judaism recognized that there are differences of opinion about Jewish law, and this is reflected in the Talmud which contains various opinions about many laws. Their insistence of using the out-of-date Ashkenazi pronunciation Daas instead of the Modern Hebrew Daat, dramatizes how they prefer to live in and even speak the language of ancient times. Cardozo stresses that their view of Judaism and life generally is static and confining. He encourages rabbis to return to authentic religiosity.
The Israeli Chief Rabbinate, for example, refuses to recognize the conversion process of most Orthodox rabbis who live outside of Israel relegating the procedure to themselves alone, refusing to admit that conversion is not a biblical procedure, was invented most probably in the second century BCE and can be changed. Similarly, they refuse to allow many women abandoned by their husbands to be divorced by a court because of an outdated psychological view “a woman would prefer to live even with an abuser than to live alone.” Even children in high school would recognize that this psychology no longer exists.
These Posek haDor rabbis must understand that times have changed, which may well mean that God demands different decisions from those in the past. Cardozo quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel who wrote: “Indeed, the essence of observance has, at times, become encrusted with so many customs, and conventions that the jewel was lost in the setting. Outward compliance with the externalities of the law took the place of the engagement of the whole person to the living God.”
They must also learn how to make Judaism exciting, ennobling, and relevant to the twenty first century, how to deal with secular Jews and non-Jews, and with the problem of Hareidi Jews not participating in defense of their country in the military. They must also try to bring religion and science together.
He writes: “We should be very thankful that we witness the disintegration of rabbinic authority in our days. Nothing can be worse for Judaism and the Jewish people than having rabbis admired as great spiritual halakhic leaders when for the most part they are not.”