Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Secret Weapon of the Jews in the War on Moral Relativism

I've blogged before about the difference between how Christians and Jews read the Bible (LINK1 and LINK2).  In that little series, I quoted an excerpt from Chaim Saiman's article, "Jesus' Legal Theory" in which the author provided an amusing anecdote that highlighted the difference between Christian and Jewish approaches to the Bible.

The story was about a rabbi (the author) who walked into a church.  He'd been invited to give a lecture about Christian and Jewish approaches to the Bible.  He writes:

"After a short discussion, I told the group that the Talmudic rabbis maintain that the first 'commandment for generations' (applicable beyond Adam and Eve) was to '[b]e fruitful and multiply.'  The group nodded in approval, and I sensed we were on the same page.  Next, I asked a simple, almost inevitable, question from a Talmudic perspective, but one deeply foreign to my audience.
     C.S.:  "How many?"
     Group:  "How many what?"
     C.S.: "How many children?"
     Group:  "What do you mean, how many children?"
     At this point I realized that we reached a bit of a brick wall, so I backed up.
     C.S.:  "Do you believe the Bible is the word of God that expresses His Will?"
     Group: "Yes."
     C.S.  "Do you believe you have to follow it?"
     Group:  "Yes."
     C.S. "Well, then how do you know when you have done it?  How do you know when you have been sufficiently fruitful?"
     Again, blank stares from the audience."

The little episode shows that the Christian way of life is governed by the heart, not by an objective rule-based system.  To be sure, Christians have their own set of limited rules.  But it's not an all-encompassing system like the Jewish system.  And the rule-averse ideology behind the Christian system makes it very unstable.

In the Jewish Way of Life, you're not allowed to simply interpret the Bible in the manner that "feels right" to you--in effect, to be led by your heart.  This rule-positive system is therefore very objective.  It's also based on the Bible.  The result: a very stable system of halacha that has changed very little in the last 2000 years.

Now, with the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, a lot of Christian folks are upset but others very calmly say "the world is gonna be the world and the church is gonna be the church" (I think Bishop TD Jakes said that).  The problem is that churches are not insulated from popular culture in the same way of halachic Jewish communities.  Because they don't have all-encompassing rule-based systems that inform their way of life, their hearts often get the best of them.  Case in point:  many churches now welcome practicing homosexuals into positions of leadership.  In other words, Christians should be very concerned about where popular culture is going because it's very likely that the next generation of Christians will see homosexuality as normative.

Normative uncertainty in Christianity will ultimately lead to Christianity's acceptance of secular cultural norms.

So, for Messianics, we must learn from the Jewish model.  We need the secret weapon that combats moral relativism and normative uncertainty.  We need a halachic system:  only then will we our communities be able to promote (1) moral objectivism; (2) normative certainty; (3) long-lasting legal stability.

But to get there we must move beyond "being led by the heart".  We have to embrace an ideology that Christianity disparagingly calls "legalism."  And there will be 2 sides to a Messianic halachic system:  (1) the laws themselves; (2) the meta-laws which explain how to recognize a law as valid.  And the only way we'll achieve this is with Messianic Jews and non-Jews working together as one.   Bipolar Theology (aka "Bilateral Ecclesiology) doesn't even want to provide a halachic system for non-Jewish Believers.  The One Law movement is the only hope for viable Messianic halacha that informs the Way of Life for both Jewish and non-Jewish Believers.

May G-d have mercy on us and bless us with wise leaders so that we may know how to walk in the Way!


  1. Peter,

    You actually only described one form of Christianity, generalized within Protestantism. Catholicism itself, mirrors Judaism much more than Protestant Christianity. They have a entire set of traditional laws and doctrines that clearly define practice and Catholicism makes up majority of Christians in the world, you could say they are the standard of Christianity, of course there are different sects of Catholicism as well.

    That said, I don't find halacha to be the standard reality for standing against the war on morality. It may help clarify the position, but the Torah itself, is enough ammo, the problem is that Christianity does not believe the Torah to be applicable today, thus Christianity has to pick and choose morality, based on a whimb, so in my opinion, Christianity's answer, is to take on the Torah, as valid and righteous for Godly living, the standard.

    1. Allow me to rephrase:

      There are 2 things that have to happen before Torah is correctly realized:

      (1) Determine which laws are applicable;

      (2) Determine how to correctly apply each law.

      Christians filter out most of the Torah in step 1 by saying that only their idea of what is a "moral" law should apply. In reality, all the laws of Torah are moral. But then in step 2, even the applicable laws get distorted as they are incorrectly applied (e.g. the Christian Sabbath).

      But Messianics are also distorting Torah. We do it in step 1 oftentimes by believing the Bilateralist lie that many commands don't apply to Gentiles. And we definitely distort Torah in step 2 by making application subjective based on feelings or individual rationalization.

      You can't just say Torah clears everything up. The issue is that folks have a different idea of which laws apply and how to apply each law. The secret weapon of the Jews is that they have a lot of wisdom in how to complete each of the 2 steps. Not saying they're perfect! Just that we could learn a thing or two.

    2. You can't just say Torah clears everything up. The issue is that folks have a different idea of which laws apply and how to apply each law.

      To be clear, I would argue that proper understanding of the Torah, comes from good teaching, with good teaching, the Torah stands, the issue we have today in the Messianic movement, is a lot of confusion and bad teaching.

  2. Bipolar Theology.... LOL!! (tea up my nose...)

    Yes, seeing more and more the need for normative halachah, though it will be something that grows out of committed communities, bottom up, not top down. Therefore, plant, encourage, grow One Torah communities.

    My 2¢

    1. Amein! G-d bless you, brother!

  3. Be fruitful. Multiply. Fill.

    Does the rabbi provide halachic guidance for fulfilling this command? Or are we to be "governed by the heart, not by an objective rule-based system"?

  4. ...Or are we [left] to be...

    1. Jason,

      I'm chuckling to myself because I know that you have certainly discharged your obligation to be fruitful and multiply--may G-d continue to bless you! For those who don't know, our brother Jason has a family that is a community unto itself. : )

      To answer your question, it seems to me that there are commands where it's good to know the minimum that has to be done (objective) so that we can do even more out of our own free will (subjective).

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  7. Sorry for the 2 deletions: caught spelling mistake and wonky formatting.

    Spontaneous laughter broke out as I was sharing your response at dinner and read "community unto itself". (I don't think the little ones knew why they were laughing.)

    Since some will die before marrying or not marry or be part of a marriage that does not produce offspring:
    0-2 kids: population declines (2 become 0 or 1)
    3-4 kids: population is steady (2 become 2)
    4-5 kids: population slowly increases (2 become 3)
    5-6 kids: 2 become 4 (first multiple of 2)

    If "fill the earth" is a shared obligation as the rabbi teaches, those with productive marriages would have added responsibility. So, if, when, and how it's acceptable to remove procreation from marriage is something I wrestle with from a Torah observant perspective. In the meantime, we like to remind ourselves that while nights are long sometimes, the days are sweet.

    Thanks for the comic relief.