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December 01, 2006

WWRD?

I find this totally fascinating. The advisory body for Conservative rabbis is meeting in New York next week to hammer out an opinion on same sex relationships, rules, and even rabbis. But there won't just be one opinion:

Rabbi Avis D. Miller of Washington's Congregation Adas Israel said the "rabbinical scuttlebutt" is that the panel -- the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards -- will approve two conflicting answers, one upholding the status quo and one calling for change.

That is possible because it takes the votes of just six of the panel's 25 members to declare an answer to be valid -- meaning that it is a well-founded interpretation of Jewish law, not that it is the only legitimate interpretation. It would be possible to approve all the answers, or none of them.

In the end, the board is advisory, and each rabbi is the ultimate arbiter of Jewish law in his or her synagogue -- they'll get to make the decision. But the dueling recommendations show a sensible humility. Organized religion's attempts to profess certainty about the will of the divine based on majority votes conducted by mortal arbiters has always been a discomfiting element: A belief system based on human fallibility and transcendent Truth allowing fallible humans to decide, deterministically, what that Truth is, or at least how it manifests? Yikes. This method seems much more aligned with the view of humanity put forth by the religion itself: That people are error-prone and unsure, that they can do their best to interpret the source documents and relevations they have, but claims to spiritual certainty or infallible guidance face avery, very high burden of proof.

December 1, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

I would recommend that you change the name of this blog to "Rabbinical Scuttlebutt".

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Dec 1, 2006 10:04:07 AM

Organized religion's attempts to profess certainty about the will of the divine based on majority votes conducted by mortal arbiters has always been a discomfiting element: A belief system based on human fallibility and transcendent Truth allowing fallible humans to decide, deterministically, what that Truth is, or at least how it manifests? Yikes.

Religions tend to do this pretty responsibly. Individual groups of people within those religions usually don't do so well.

Most Christian denominations - even many of the Evangelical ones - take their doctrinal statements from the 1st seven Ecumenical Councils or so. So their doctrines are based upon teachings from over 1,000 years ago, and when those doctrines were "settled," they were all already in place among the teaching and belief of the Church for centuries.

It's a bit circular, of course, but in effect it does serve as a system of checks and balances. The Roman Catholics exemplify this the most, and it's the real root of why they are so resistant to ordaining women and other issues. That's why I was so surprised to hear that Benedict XVI created a committee to review condom usage in light of the AIDS epidemic. If they do the right thing and move away from blind condemnation, it will be a truly momentous occasion.

Having said all that, this gathering of rabbis and the way they make decisions strikes me as an excellent way to approach this type of thing. One of many characteristics that Judaism's wayward child should have tried harder to keep.

Posted by: Stephen | Dec 1, 2006 10:14:10 AM

Who's that R for? Maimonides?

Posted by: Doh | Dec 1, 2006 11:17:22 AM

I'd guess Rabbis.

Posted by: Sanpete | Dec 1, 2006 11:23:11 AM

There are only three Jewish movements, right? Fortunately, Christians have hundreds of denominations to choose from.

(Seriously, what Christians tend to do, instead of tolerating ambiguity, is have lots of splits and schisms.)

When I joined my Presbyterian church, I attended a few classes of the Presbyterianism-for-Dummies variety, and was taught that principles of church governance in the Calvinist-Presbyterian tradition were somewhat influential in the development of the Constitution and American political traditions. It's a somewhat self-serving thesis, but I actually think it has some merit. Also, I think the African-American church was important for preserving habits of representative government during the Jim Crow period when blacks were mostly shut out from political power.

Of course, appropriations bills or what have you are hardly matters of divine will.

Posted by: JBJ | Dec 1, 2006 1:02:39 PM

That settles it: I'm converting to Judaism.

Incoherence based on the irrationality of mankind seems positively grownup compared to the religous loopiness of Christianity in America nowadays. Just goes to show what a couple more millenia of seasoning can do for a faith.

But, um, does the circumcision thing still apply after 40?

Posted by: Chris C | Dec 1, 2006 3:28:43 PM

JBJ- there are many movements of Judaism. The 3 most common movements, in America, at least, are Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. Within all three of those movements there are a wide range of subgroups and practices (including Kabbalah, both the traditional practice of it, and the Madonna (sorry, "Esther") practice of it, though most Jews don't view the latter as being a legitimate form of Judaism).

A fourth movement is Reconstructionism which was founded in America in the 1920's and is similar to Reform Judaism, though many Reconstructionists are more observant in their rituals and observances of some Jewish laws than Reform Jews.

Furthermore, Jews in other countries have their own practices and movements. Sephardic Jews (Jews from areas other than Europe) have their own traditions and probably their own subgroups.

There are also many types of Orthodox Jews. There are Hassidic Jews, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, etc.

Posted by: Alan | Dec 1, 2006 4:14:54 PM

But, um, does the circumcision thing still apply after 40?

Yes.

Posted by: Thlayli | Dec 1, 2006 5:01:21 PM

The development of pluralist hermeneutics in relatively early rabbinic Judaism is one of the cooler things in late ancient history.

There's a great passage in the Talmud where a bunch of rabbis are discussing some abstruse bit of the purity laws, and Rabbi Eliezer says, such-and-such is pure. The other rabbis ask for his explanation, and he calls upon God, who rips a tree out of the ground. The rabbis again demand explanation, and again God performs a miracle in support. At this, the rabbis excommunicate Eliezer.

The point being, the rabbinic method does not allow for radical certainty through divine intervention. In order to be within the community, one must accept the rules of interpretation and engage in debate under these rules, further even accepting that debate will regularly result in many valid answers which may contradict.

Posted by: DivGuy | Dec 1, 2006 5:21:38 PM

At this, the rabbis excommunicate Eliezer.

I suppose they would have excommunicated Elijah too. "Why not worship Baal?" Zzzzappp!

Anyway, I think that most Christians who operate by majority rule understand themselves to be fixing the rules binding on the group rather than determining God's will. They hope to be consistent withe God's will, but don't have a doctrine of infallibility. Catholicism and a few much smaller groups are exceptional in that regard, but even they tend to have a fairly watered down understanding of whether they can really determine God's will by majority. It's contingent on God's participation, etc.

Posted by: Sanpete | Dec 1, 2006 5:43:10 PM

I can't believe nobody has yet mentioned the old saying about how if you put four Jews in a room, you'll end up with six opinions.

Posted by: fiat lux | Dec 1, 2006 7:27:58 PM

I can't believe nobody has yet mentioned the old saying about how if you put four Jews in a room, you'll end up with six opinions.

how about this variant:

I can't believe nobody has yet mentioned the old saying about how if you put four liberals or Democrats in a room, you'll end up with twelve opinions.

Heterodoxy is a good thing. Noone should ever be as sure of themselves as GW Bush or Dick Cheny are. Infallibility is fallible.

One of the interesting aspects of Judiasm avoidance of the error of infallibility (mostly), but more interestingly, the Jewish religious authorities that have great civil power in Israel (including deciding who can get married) are all rigidly Orthodox - reflecting none of the diversity in diaspora Jewish life.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Dec 1, 2006 7:45:42 PM

getting married in Israel means you adhere to all the Jewish laws, People go to another country to marry and come back to Israel

Posted by: zerakodesh | Jun 27, 2007 9:51:44 PM

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