Torah of Man or of God?

December 23, 1996

by Rabbi Daniel Schur

Adam J. Raskin, rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York, writes as a reaction to my statement (CJN, Dec. 13):
"Jewish leaders, rabbis in particular, must focus on unity, not divisiveness and isolationism. Hillel instructs us in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): 'Be like the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, u'mekarvan l'Torah - and drawing them near to Torah.' The type of rhetoric displayed in Rabbi Schur's comments will only serve to drive people away from Torah, rather than encouraging them to embrace it."
Let us come down to basics. When we speak about Torah, what Torah are we talking about? It rings well to our worshippers when we speak about Torah, it adds a dimension of authenticity to our claim for our so-called wing of Judaism. Yes, what about Torah? If Torah was man-written thousands of years ago, of what relevance can it be for us today? And if it was man-written, how does one read Divinity into it? And if Torah was man-written, and although we find in it the highest degree of moral and ethical standards, and we speak of that Torah in the context of religious experiences, are we not still worshipping the works of man rather than God? Ethics and moral standards are the foundation of any ethical society. Then why call it a wing of Judaism? What makes Jewish ethics without a Divine Torah as a guide, more ethical than any of other people?

Now let us say, but for one fleeting moment, that Torah is the product of human wisdom but Godly inspired, then God and man become partners. For what reason does God need to inspire man to write a Torah with Him? Why couldn't God do it Himself, and give it to man? If God finds it necessary to use man, does this concept not resemble Christianity?

Judaism, as a religion, was established upon the intrinsic truth that Torah was given to us by a personal God, through which God speaks to us, and we respond to Him by attempting to fulfill his Godly commandments. This is the pillar upon which Jusaism and the Jewish religion was established. "Wings," never did, and don't exist now, in true Torah Judaism.

Now let us deal with my opposition to the ReformD concept of conversion. Essentially, a ReformD conversion is a reflection of a ReformD ideology. Since ReformD ideology is more interested in history, ethics and morals, and very liberal with regard to ritualistic norms, it stands to reason that education towards conversion within the ReformD movement, will take on the trappings of lessons in Jewish history, Jewish culture and Jewish practice as something to be aware of with some loose pledge of allegiance to the Jewish corpus. Absent from such conversion will be the insistence upon adherence to Judaic ritual practice. It would be ridiculous for the ReformD movement to insist that converts be obliged to observe the dietary laws, refrain from material creativity on the Shabbat, don the tefillin (the phylacteries) on a daily basis, recite the prayers regularly, fast the entire Day of Atonement, etc. If the rabbi who is supervising the conversion more often than not does not observe these practices, how can it even be suggested for the prospective convert? A ReformD convert may learn about phylacteries and dietary laws, but such learning is merely looking through a telescope backwards into archaic practices, which they think are no more in vogue.

When I refer to Reform or the so-called Reform wing of Judaism, I include the so-called Conservative wing as well. When one permits themselves to tamper with all the Divine commandments, or even with one, we destroy the original model. We create a Torah of man, not of God. As we understand, a little pregnant or nine months pregnant is still pregnant.

Adam J. Raskin writes, "Jewish leaders, rabbis in particular, must focus on unity, not divisiveness and isolationism." At whose expense? If an individual is placed in a position of leadership, is he not permitted to expound his thoughts? Does leadership dictate that we follow the demands of others, or the demands of our constitutents? Since when is an honest, critical view, always pleasant? But does that indicate that I don't love my fellow Jew? I love every Jew with my entire being, otherwise I wouldn't be crying out, but I don't appreciate their Judaism. It is the cause of assimilation and intermarriage, which all will agree, is destructive to our very existence.

Tractate Sanhendrin 91a (see further) proposes the following: "Whoever withholds a halakha from his disciples, it is as though he robbed him of his ancestral heritage." To tamper with the Divine halakha would ultimately rob one of his heritage, which implies assimilation and intermarriage.