Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bits and Pieces 1

Luke Skyhopper

I have been reading about Higher Biblical Criticism and academic scholarship on the Torah since I finished Shana Alef. I'm not a hundred percent sure why, but until I went to Yeshiva, the divine origins of the Torah was never a big deal for me. To me it was the book of our people, and the exact nature of it never really bothered me. I was only vaguely familiar with academic criticism in high school, to the point that I only knew it existed, but nothing of its veracity.

When I got to Yeshiva, Torah study was stressed all day to long, to the point that it was the end in of itself. Until this point I was religious, but lived in a modox household. When I came home, I was free to do what I wished, of course staying within the bounds of halacha. Being in Yeshiva, I felt myself bombarded from all sides by the forces of Orthodox Judaism, not necessarily the modern kind.

At the time I encountered a mental conflict that I've only recently come to understand. Essentially it boiled down to a clash of personal freedom versus being dictated to. Being in Yeshiva I began to feel, somewhat subconsciously at the time, that I had no control of my life. The morality of choices were being dictated by the people who wrote these books hundreds or thousands of years ago. These books were then being interpreted by individuals who I sensed were ignorant, while at the same time pushing their own agenda.

This led me to begin a fight to control my right to live as I pleased.

To clarify things, there was no one telling me what to do in the direct sense of it. The Yeshiva tended to turn a blind eye to most of our activities. Secular music, books etc were completely accepted. The philosophy was strictly halachic, modern scholarship and culture was either disdained or ignored by the Rebbeim. Sure, many had secular degrees, but their outlook was by no means modern.

What bothered me was the belief was that Halacha was dictated to man by God, in the objective sense of the word. Subjective belief was not presented as having any play here, God demanded Halchic adherence in the most direct sense.

Now you might ask youself, "What was this guy thinking? no kidding Modern Orthodox Rabbis believe this." Until then I had faith that Modern Orthodoxy could work as a faith that was humble before science and reality. I guess I wanted to believe that you could be skeptical of fundamentalist beliefs while still calling yourself Orthodox. But my experiences in Yeshiva ran to the contrary.

Rationally proving that God wrote the (through Moshe at Sinai) Torah and gave the laws was never really important to me throughout high school. I believed in my simple way because I thought that such was the approach of my people for thousands of years. The fundamentalist notions that this is objectively true never really got on my nerves until I was surrounded by them in Yeshiva.

At this point I realized that I had to retain my right to freedom and individuality. I suppose it was not until I felt Orthodox fundamentalism really encroach on my life that I cared enough to disprove it, and thus research the Documentary Hypothesis.

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