Friday, June 24, 2005

Owning a Slave, Theoretically.

One of the effects of long-term exile is that many aspects of halakha became theoretical in the sense that they are impracticable. We can learn dinei nefashos for hundreds of hours and write a hundred sefarim on it, but as long as a Sanhedrin is not convened in the Lishhas Ha-gaziz all of it is theoretical.

So it is with the, shall we say, difficult things in the Torah. Some people feel a great sense of moral superiority by not having their sensibilities offended even a tiny bit when things like yefas to'ar are considered. Supposedly their morality is shaped by Torah and nothing else. Therefore if the Torah seemingly condones such practices it would be anti-Torah to even feel a twinge of unease and to desire some resolution. Regarding the topic of Amalek, R. Aharon Lichtenstein writes
At one point, during my late teens, I was troubled by certain ethical questions concerning [the destruction of ] Amalek etc. I then recalled having recently read that Rabbi Chaim Brisker would awaken nightly to see if someone hadn't place a foundling at his doorstep. I knew that I slept quite soundly, and I concluded that if such a paragon of kindness coped with these laws, evidently the source of my anxiety did not lie in my greater sensitivity but in my weaker faith. And I set myself to enhancing it.

I don't think R. Lichtenstein is suggesting that someone who is troubled by these things is anti-Torah, but he does say that it is a weakness of faith that requires strengthening.

That seems fair enough. I'm not sure if by enhancing faith he also means to include developing an approach that smoothes these matters out in your mind, as opposed to simply concluding that if it didn't bother R. Chaim (who says?) then it won't bother me. (Actually, R. Lichtenstein says that R. Chaim "coped", he didn't say it couldn't have bothered him.)

Which leads me to this thread on about a mamzer's limited marriage options. An anecdote was offered about a mamzer who supposedly bought an African woman and had children with her, who then had the status of avadim (a mamzer can have children with a shifchah caaanit). Whether or not this happened or if "bought" was a slave purchasing transaction or the woman was not acquired against her will I don't know. Naturally the old chestnut about black Africans being natural slaves because of the curse of Noah is trotted out in this thread.

I wouldn't say that I'm shocked, but I'm appalled how people can be so indifferent to the institution of slavery. Why does it continually need to be pointed out that the Torah doesn't command us to own slaves? To me, this is an example of something theoretical: no one who professes not to be bothered in the slightest by slavery will ever own a slave. They will never have sexual relations with a minor (one hopes). They will never kill non-combatant women and babies. In short, their indifference to these things are also theoretical. These concepts are just words on paper. I can't believe they connect those words to actual people with hopes and dreams and lives.

It reminded me of a post on the old Protocols blog about the Rabin assassination.
The idea that lomdus and the study of Halakha are completely abstract are products of golus, and can really only exist in the circumstances of golus. When you have a situation in which Jews are in power, though, you can no longer view Halakha as existing in vacuum, as not corresponding to the outside world....Rav Kook, understood that as Jews begin to resettle the land, and reassert their autonomy, it is no longer possible to think of Halakha as divorced from external, political reality. He insisted that Talmud must be studied “aliba de’hilchata”, to arrive at a practical conclusion. I think that he realized that a situation in which Jews are no longer merely studying texts, but have the ability to implement their teachings, challenges us to recognize that Torah has a political dimension and is not merely an intellectual exercise.

Rav Kook’s point was clearly illustrated by the Rabin assassination. When you call someone a rodeph, you are saying that they should be killed. You can’t hide behind the excuse of lomdus, or the eternity of Torah to justify your teachings.
Indeed. When halakha is real to you you cannot be indiffirent to human suffering.

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