שאלות ותשובותCategory: HalachaJudge Menachem Alon dishonestly gussies up Halacha
Avatar Anon asked Staff ago


As a National Religious person (a student of the Tzohar rabbis) I think that you err in your narrow view of religion.

Read the philosophical texts of the moderate National Religious groups. Read the rulings of Prof. Menachem Alon, Supreme Court judge and religious man.


1 Answers
Avataradmin Staff answered 14 years ago

Dear Yariv,

Every now and then some National Religious person writes our site, claiming that Daat Emet shows only one side (the Charedi viewpoint), as though we ignored the view of moderate Orthodoxy (the National Religious). This is untrue, for there is no distinction between the religious and the Charedi when it comes to religious per se. Both are nourished by the same religious literature (the Mishneh, the Gemara, and the other books of Halacha).

Since you called our attention to the rulings of Judge Menachem Alon, we read them and below will write our reaction. But first a clarification. We identify three basic world views:

1. Those for whom the Talmudic/Halachic texts are the ideal and appropriate systems of law and order, those which should be implemented, even if they contradict enlightened values.

2. Those for whom enlightened values are the ethical basis for determining a system of law and order.

3. Those who sit on the fence and think they uphold both points of view, who hold on to one and don’t let go of the other.

While discussing our reactions to the rulings, we will discuss the third world view, for it describes quite well the National Religious community, which lives in a continual state of severe logical contradiction and invests a great deal of intellectual effort squaring the circle, cutting bits out of the Talmud and Halacha, emphasizing what sounds enlightened to them and ignoring what seems wrong.

In other words: How can the religious who seek equality from the depths of their hearts (or, more correctly, from their hearts’ imaginations) reconcile this with stringencies on the major and minor laws of a legal system (Halacha) which opposes equality, freedom of conscience, and freedom of belief?

One of the ways religious academics find to live in peace with the values of the Talmud and of Halacha which contradict equality is to claim that the terrible norms established in the Talmud and Halacha were suited to the culture of their times and their economic, nationalistic, and political situations. According to this approach they have, in practice, overturned the power of the Talmud to instruct about law and order (for it was correct only for its own time) and gives it to modern man of our own era. If they can force a text (like forcing an elephant through the eye of a needle) to coincide with enlightened values or the values of the National Religious they will force it, and if not, they will say that the words were correct for their time and place.

This is an amazingly ridiculous approach (which suits the religious who are not emotionally prepared to free themselves of the chains of their beliefs). If they are living the values of enlightenment, what do they have to do with the Talmud text, which is based on ancient norms? If they live according to the Talmud, why distort, ignore, and emasculate the Talmud text? They should learn the Talmudic legal system without changing a thing.

This odd behavior pattern finds expression in the ruling of Prof. Menachem Alon (Rulings volume 39, part two, 1985) on the question of whether the Kach party was fit to stand for election to the eleventh Knesset.

He writes:

It is well known that the world of Jewish philosophy through the ages — and even the system of Halacha itself…is full of different opinions and contrary approaches…It would seem that there is no sharper and more extensive statement of expressing an opinion and the importance of each and every opinion — even if it is the opinion of only one man — that the rule which the sages coined for the dispute between the study halls of Shammai and of Hillel, ‘This and that are both the words of the living G-d’…This is the way of leadership and rule in Jewish tradition — being tolerant of each and every person, each and every group, based on their opinions and their world views. This is the great secret of tolerance and of listening to the other, and this is the great power of each person’s and each group’s right to express an opinion: Not only is it necessary for proper and enlightened government, it is also necessary for the creator’s power…

When I read these words I thought I was in the middle of a hallucinatory explanation, as though Prof. Menachem Alon’s fountains of clarity and understanding were clogged.

It is clear that sages of the Talmud debated within the world of Halacha and even glorified in these battles, calling them “the war of Torah.” But did they not have room for any opinions outside the world of Torah? (A rhetorical question.) Was there no room to doubt the ethical axioms and beliefs? Had the students of Shammai come and claimed that the idea of a mamzer was immoral, that buying slaves was illegitimate, for humanitarian and not Halachic reasons, would any of them have been accepted as arbiters of Halacha? Were a rabbinic court judge of our days to come and permit a gentile’s cooking, forbid loaning to a gentile at interest, or permit women to serve as rabbinic court judges, would he not be fired? Would a National Religious yeshiva principal invite academics to speak to the students about the conclusions of research on the Biblical stories and Chazal’s “activism,” which in practice ended the authority of the Written Torah and gave it solely to the sages? There is no need to go on at further length, because every beginning student knows that the Jewish religion does not allow space to opinions outside the world of Halacha.

If Menachem Alon wanted to find precedent for the principle of multiple opinions (even though in Halacha it is limited to the opinions of the rabbis) he has no need for the sages of the Talmud; the natural reality of every society is different opinions which suit the basic norms of that society.

Another example upon which Alon lingers in a ruling is the issue of Halacha’s treatment of the gentile. He claims:

A basic foundation of Judaism is the idea that man was created in G-d’s image. Thus does the Torah of Israel begin, and from this Halacha concluded basic principles about the value of man — any man qua man — his equality and his ardors…thus, in this last verse the prohibition against a Noahide spilling blood is reasoned [he brings here a citation from Rabbi Kook, from Orot HaKodesh, volume three]. It is forbidden for one who fears G-d to reject man’s natural morality, for then it would no longer be a pure fear of G-d…

Since the status of the gentile is detailed on our site, we will not go on at length. We will only ask what blinded Alon so that he could say these things which are opposites of the truth? Did he not know that the murder of a gentile is less serious than the murder of a Jew, and that there is no disagreement with this law? The words of Rabbi Kook are odd and puzzling. Why did they not prompt Menachem to ask a few simple questions, like: Natural morality seeks equality. Does not the Halachic status of women, which denies her the right to testify, stand in the way of the fear of G-d? The prohibition against returning a lost item to a gentile does not stand in the way of a pure fear of G-d? The prohibition against saving the life of a gentile on the Sabbath does not stand in the way of a pure fear of G-d? and many other such questions, as brought in Morality in Halacha.

We will conclude with another issue he cites in this ruling:

The national minority of another nation is called, in the world of Halacha, a ger toshav. The only condition incumbent upon his is observance of the seven Noachide commandments, those basic obligations of law and order which every nation of culture expects and which the sages saw as a kind of universal natural law. The national minority is eligible for all civil and political rights due other citizens.

These words have about them something of the foolish or the evil (the reader may choose). I was filled with fear and trembling at the idea of who serves on the Supreme Court.

To show the “universal” demands upon a gentile, I will cite the requirements (from the essay The Jewish Nation Is The People Chosen To Fulfill The Purpose Of Creation):

These are the seven laws gentiles are obligated to: 1. they may not worship idols 2. They may not curse G-d 3. They may not murder 4. They may not have forbidden sexual relations 5. They may not steal 6. They must create laws and a legal system 7. They may not eat limbs of living animals. [There are two more prohibitions which apply to gentiles, crossbreeding animals and trees (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 10:5).]

Now tell me why a Supreme Court judge ignores what is said above if not for his faith distorting his reason. What is universal in the prohibition against idolatry? Is not opposing “each man shall live by his own faith” the opposite of universality? What is universal in the prohibition against eating limbs of living animals? Don’t imagine it is due to the pain caused the animal, for Halacha does not prohibit eating limbs off living unkosher animals. Maimonides wrote: “From the Glory we have learned that what is written in the Torah prohibiting eating blood with meat is to forbid the eating of a limb of a living animal. Of the limb of a living animal it was said to Noah ‘but you shall not eat flesh in its blood.’ The prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal holds for kosher animals and birds, but not for unkosher” (Laws of Prohibited Foods 5:1). Also, why is the law stringent with a gentile, forbidding him to eat any part of the limb of a living animal, but permitting a Jew to eat up to an olive’s worth?

Also, the law is stringent with a Noachide, making him liable for stealing something worth less than a penny, which is not the case for a Jew. “A Noachide is liable for theft, be it theft from an idolater [gentile] or from a Jew. It is the same whether he stole money or a person, or one who withholds the wages of a hired man or the like, even a worker who ate when it was not time. On all he is found guilty, he is a thief. This is not the case for a Jew, for he is guilty about something worth less than [a coin of very low value] and a Noachide who stole something worth little and another came and stole it from him, both are killed for it” (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9:9).

In general, see the “universality” in Jewish law: “And a Noachide (a non-Jew) who has transgressed one of these seven laws will be killed by sword” (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9:14). Is this to be called “eligible for all civil and political rights due other citizens”?

It’s a pity that intellectual honesty grows weak, even in one who sits on the bench.


Daat Emet

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