Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Vort: Replacing the Old Laws

If I were to sum of Christianity (from a religious Jewish perspective) it might go something like this: Christianity is a religion where the actual laws of Judaism were considered too difficult, so they decided to institute a new set of laws that removed all the difficult laws and replaced them with extremely simple requirements of belief that anyone could follow. And how do we know that this is what God wants? Well, according to the Christians we just have to trust Jesus and his disciples. The Jews of course saw through this ruse, but the goyim didn't, and many converted to the "simple" religion that promised large rewards for no hard work.

That view is of course a bit slanted, but there is some truth here. Christianity did abrogate the old laws, which they termed the "Old Testament" and replaced them with a new set, the "New Testament." The "New Testament" did focus more on belief rather than religious precepts like dietary laws, sacrifices, circumcision and the like. The religious spin comes in when describing the motivation for the switch. Perhaps the founders of Christianity, mainly Paul, thought that the old laws were actually "bad laws" and should be replaced. They hampered the approach to God rather than enabling it. Christians say that the replacement came directly from God through Jesus, but Jews scoff at this explanation. God doesn't change his laws. Why would he ever do that?

This week we'll see where at least one prophet accuses God of giving bad laws in the past and attempts to rectify them, an idea that seems pretty "Christian."

Before we get there, I'll note that Judaism itself does try to soften or excise "bad laws". One example of this is the "eye for an eye" which was completely neutered in Talmudic times. Other examples were all the commands for capital punishment which were also essentially removed by the Rabbis, who then claimed they had never been in effect in the first place. But we're not talking about this kind of change in the laws, we're going to talk about something more direct.

Yehezkel's "Bad Laws"

The prophet is Yehezkel (Ezekiel) and the versed in question are Ezek. 20:24-25. Here they are in Hebrew:
כד יַעַן מִשְׁפָּטַי לֹא-עָשׂוּ, וְחֻקּוֹתַי מָאָסוּ, וְאֶת-שַׁבְּתוֹתַי, חִלֵּלוּ; וְאַחֲרֵי גִּלּוּלֵי אֲבוֹתָם, הָיוּ עֵינֵיהֶם.  כה וְגַם-אֲנִי נָתַתִּי לָהֶם, חֻקִּים לֹא טוֹבִים; וּמִשְׁפָּטִים--לֹא יִחְיוּ, בָּהֶם.
 And here's my translation:
24: Because they did not do my judgments, and disdained by laws, and profaned by Sabbaths, and their eyes were directed towards the idols of their fathers. 25: And then I gave them bad laws, and judgments that they would not live by.
A lot of the scholarly discussion regarding this verse comes with the context of the verses after, which seem to imply that one of the "bad laws" that Yehezkel is referring to is child sacrifice. But this is not the topic I wish to discuss. (If you're interested in this topic, you can see this series of blog posts 1, 2, 3, where the second and third link deal entirely with this section of Yehezkel)

Instead, I merely want to draw attention to the pretty monumental claim that Yehezkel is making. He is basically saying that there were some laws, given directly by God, that are bad and that people should not do. And he gave these laws as a sort of punishment. Presumably he's coming to tell you what the good laws are and what the bad laws are.

Of course, as a person listening to Yehezkel, why should you believe him? After all, the old laws, those "bad" ones were given by God himself, and who is he to contradict God? But more importantly, we see an idea wherein Yehezkel's concept of Judaism is very different from the concept today. Yehezkel obviously does not believe in a static set of laws that are in effect for all time, and he's actively seeking to abrogate some of the old laws he doesn't like. Instead of using the same approach of Christianity or the Talmudic Rabbis, that the old laws are outdated, he actually says that God gave the old "bad" laws as a form of punishment for disobedience. It's actually a pretty crazy idea if you think about it. It's a level of malevolence that most people would not ascribe to God.

When you read through the book of Yehezkel, you find that he has a very different idea of how Judaism's laws came about. In some places he directly contradicts the Torah story about when laws were given, and like every other prophet, he makes absolutely no mention of the revelation at Har Sinai. Here it seems, that he thinks the laws are a bit more fluid, and that we should actively get rid of "bad laws" and replace them with good ones. How exactly we should know what is bad and what is good? Well we just need to trust Yehezkel.  

42 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I don't have a mikraos gedolos on me at the moment - how do the Rishonim interpret this pasuk?

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    1. Ok, I looked it up. Various explanations. Several commentators do in fact make the connection to child sacrifice (Molech). But the 'not good' part is explained as e.g. 'I gave you laws and you did not listen to them, which was not good', or 'I let you be conquered by your enemies, who imposed bad laws on you'.

      One of the ideas that has struck me in the area of biblical scholarship is that the rabbinical commentators (starting with shas and midrashim) came up with their own ideas of how to understand difficult passages, or contradictions. As opposed to the vague assumption I had in yeshiva that all this comes under the heading of Torah Shebaal Peh and thus must have come directly from Hashem at Har Sinai. (It just recently occurred to me that this obviously could not be the case for commentary on Navi). Now when I read Rishonim I view them through that lens, and it makes a lot more sense when seeing five wildly different interpretations of a pasuk.

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    2. @Throwway613 - well written.
      @Kefirah - another good post.

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  2. @kefira: nice d'var torah! You're actually being soft compared to how yeshivas disparage the Christian adoption of the new testament. Like throwaway, I also reflexively reach for my mikraos gedolos when I have trouble with tanach, only to discover that the meforshim are having a harder time understanding the psukim than we are. Thankfully, we have the luxury of knowing the origin of this (amazing!) man-made collection of scrolls and documents, while they had to operate from the assumption that it was god-given. Thank god for kefira!

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  3. The fact is, regarding your reference to Christianity, in any part of the world where there were a large number of Jews, gentiles created their own versions of Judaism. Christianity is Judaism for Europe, Islam is Judaism for the Middle East. This is in addition to the many gentiles who outright converted to Judaism (like me).

    In my opinion, this is a testimony to the divine wisdom of the Torah. The Torah is not only the world's oldest book (in the sense of a book length narrative) it is also the world's most influential. The Torah has given mankind monotheism, altruism, the weekend and the alphabet.

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  4. What a distortion of scripture. I'm not here to defend one position, but clearly you have no real training in understanding basic pshat. You cannot isolate one passuk and create a belief system. It's almost embarrassing that I need to tell you this. The simple understanding of this passage needs to be in context with the preceding passages and future ones. G-d according to Ezekiel is saying in passuk 23 that I have scattered you among nations because as stated in passuk 24 you have not listened to me. Skip passuk 25 which you quote and move to passuk 26. I will use the laws of the Torah against you, meaning molech your children will suffer that fate. With that logic passuk 25 is leading up to that simply put you screwed up I will also give you chukim that are not good laws that you cannot live with. You don't need to be a biblical scholar to understand this.

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    1. I did not isolate a single pasuk. I described the context. If you're going to insult me, then you at least need to present a cogent argument refuting my point. You did not do that. If you would like to spend some more time and formulate your argument, then I can respond. Right now, I have no idea what you're trying to say.

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  5. What a distortion of scripture. I'm not here to defend one position, but clearly you have no real training in understanding basic pshat. You cannot isolate one passuk and create a belief system. It's almost embarrassing that I need to tell you this. The simple understanding of this passage needs to be in context with the preceding passages and future ones. G-d according to Ezekiel is saying in passuk 23 that I have scattered you among nations because as stated in passuk 24 you have not listened to me. Skip passuk 25 which you quote and move to passuk 26. I will use the laws of the Torah against you, meaning molech your children will suffer that fate. With that logic passuk 25 is leading up to that simply put you screwed up I will also give you chukim that are not good laws that you cannot live with. You don't need to be a biblical scholar to understand this.

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    1. @Yeshi Ghoori just to clarify verse 23 'I have scattered' but JPS translation has 'I would scatter' Anyway, you are correct the passuk has to be read in context; but not just in context of verse 23 to verse 26. You need to start from verse 1 and see the repeated use of a 4 stage cycle; a cycle that gets broken near the verses we are now discussing. This has led some scholars to believe chapter 20 has been corrupted. We must also understand that human sacrifice / 'dedication' to G-d could well be a Torah statute, or was understood as such by at least some ancient Israelites - see my post on Human Sacrifice http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2014/01/human-sacrifice-in-bible.html and the associated Passover post.

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    2. @ Yeshi Ghoori- I had a difficult time understanding your comment - can you please write it as clearly as you can. I am not sure if English is your primary language. Thanks

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  8. Firstly, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your blog. Most of the similar type blogs have been inactive for several years. I understand this – they have moved on…
    But there are still very many of us who have just been unplugged from the Matrix and have no idea how to function healthily in our new reality.

    I am 50 years old – ffb – 4 years of Beis Medrash – Semicha – married with children.
    I don’t want to write a long winded first post so I will keep this short and to the point.

    I have a good friend I learn with once a week. He is brilliant and I enjoy the challenge of keeping up with him. He is semi-aware of my skepticism (totally unaware of my move to the dark side).

    For the first time ever I think I actually spooked him to the point where he actually made believe I never challenged him on a certain issue. He is usually up to the challenge.

    And here it is……

    We are taught from a very young age how much God loved us. We sing songs about it. We pray about it. We learn seforim about it.
    Hashem loves us so so much. We are like his children. We are like a bride and groom…etc……

    But in fact, I have not found anywhere in the Torah that states God loves us. Indeed, I have found several places where God expresses his utter disdain for us. To the point that he wants to wipe us out. It is only as a result of someone else’s intervention that this does not come to pass. And to make it worse, many times the reason God acquiesces is so He doesn’t look bad to the rest of the world.

    Some may proffer that the Torah does not express itself in terms of “love.” Yet we find many instances where the term love is used.
    Love your neighbor as yourself….
    But even more damning is the fact that the Torah goes out of its way to demand love from us!
    You should love God with all your heart, soul and possessions……

    Below are the only 2 places (I’ve found) that actual use the term love. In both of them they are said by Moshe (not God) and is only directed to the Avos (not us).

    Devarim 4:37
    Because He loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength….
    This is Moshe speaking not God and Moshe says God loved our forefathers not us.

    Devarim 10:15
    Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today…
    This is Moshe speaking not God and Moshe says God loved our forefathers not us

    Nothing ever mentioned again until Neviem Achronim

    Yishayahu 43:1-4 Descendents of Jacob, I, the Lord, created you And formed your nation. Israel, don’t be afraid. I have rescued you .I have called you by name; now you belong to me. When you cross deep rivers,I will be with you, and you won't drown. When you walk through the fire, you won't be burned or scorched by the flames.I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, the God who saves you. I gave up Egypt, Ethiopia, And the region of SebaIn exchange for you. To me, you are very dear, And I love you. That’s why I gave up nations And people to rescue you.

    The only places I could find a consistent and continuing theme of God’s love was in the New Testament.

    I anxiously await your thoughts on the matter.

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    1. @Anonymous Welcome to enlightenment and freedom from the bondage of the mind. MY blog is still active, but no comments. Sorry. Regarding love _ i think there are such pasukim.

      Deut 7:7 The LORD did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people--for ye were the fewest of all peoples-- 8 but because the LORD loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

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    2. I have a similar story as yours and recently started a blog discussing these kinds of issues http://ajewwithquestions.blogspot.com, would welcome any comments.thoughts

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  9. "But even more damning is the fact that the Torah goes out of its way to demand love from us!
    You should love God with all your heart, soul and possessions……"

    Well do you? If not, what do you want from him?

    Read the Torah again. God is fair and even kind, however very demanding. If you were told otherwise by your kindergarten teacher, then you were misled my friend.

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  10. Mr. Stein. I want to be crystal clear that, other than this response, I will completely ignore any comments you post (as I have done in the past)

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  11. Let me be crystal clear: you are an idiot.

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    1. @Jacob Stein who writes "Let me be crystal clear: you are an idiot." You are not crystal clear. Who is an idiot ?

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  12. Thank you Alter Cocker. My only question is that, again, this is Moshe talking not God. In Chumash, every time God is angry it is written as God's word.

    Exodus 32:9
    “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alonem so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

    Exodus 33:3
    Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

    Exodus 33:5
    For the Lord had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.’”

    There is no pasuk where God himself says "I love you"
    There are pesukim where God says "Love me"

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    1. @Anonymous - I read your initial comment to quickly. Maya Culpa. You may be right - that when the OT speaks of God loving Israel,it is Moshe relaying this info and not written "The Lord said I love you..." or some variant. You are bringing up a very good kasha ! God can hurl the threats, but has a problem saying "I Love You" ; many a man cant say those words, and if the Torah was authored by macho men they would be missing the soft touch, while the threats roll of the tongue easily.

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    2. @Anonymous - I offered that answer as speculation, but there is likely something else going on. Something to ponder and keep my eyes open for.

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  13. The answer is perfectly clear: God loves those who are deserving of it. The Patriarchs for example. Emulate them and he'll love you too. It's not contradicting Judaism. This IS basic first grade Judaism.

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  14. Alter Cocker that is an interesting idea. I also noticed something interesting in the verbiage of the pasuk from Vyikra.

    Psuk 7 does not use the term Ahava but rather chashak -desire (which needs further exploration of other times this term is used in the Torah. I have some ideas but need to verify) Chashak is a more self serving term.

    Pasuk 8, the verbiage is also curious. Moshe says "Ki mi-ahavas Hashem" which is using love as a adjective rather than a verb. Later in that pasuk it switches to verbs "asher nishba"..."Hotzi Hashem" "Vayifdicha mibais avadim"

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  15. The pasuk would have been more consistent if it was written "Ki Ahav Hashem eschem v'shomro as Hashavuah asher nishba" Although it may have continued the verbiage from the previous pasuk which states "lo MARUBCHEM"

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    1. I changed my name from anon.
      Alter Cocker on second thought I take back my last remark of maybe Pasuk 8 is continuing the verbiage of the previous pasuk "lo merubchem." If that was the cases, it should say Ma-ahavah. What is the point of saying "Ma-ahavas Hashem" The pasuk already indicates it is talking about God

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    2. Steve,
      I read through your post. Of the places in the Torah where we see references to God's love or love of God, they are entirely in Devarim. Love (and here specifically talking about the root, ahv) shows up in many contexts, a husband for a wife, a father for a son, Isaac for specific food (Gen 27:4). It includes platonic love, parental love, and sexual infatuation.

      With this knowledge I can propose two possible answers, one in the traditional sense, and one in a more academic sense.

      The traditional answer could go like this. "Love" is truly a human emotion. It is fully a function of human biology. It is not logical. It is just part of our biology. What the Torah is commanding is to take our emotions and turn them towards positive outcomes, like loving our neighbor or loving God. We should have an emotional connection towards these things, as well as a logical one. For God though, this makes no sense, since God does not have emotions. So instead, the Torah uses words like chesed to describe God's relation. The outcome is the same, you get a good result from chesed as from ahavah, but it's a difference in means. How'd that do for a Shabbat d'var torah?

      The academic answer would be that the conception of God in ancient Israel is different than our view today which is heavily influenced by Christianity (whether we admit it or not.) So it is true that most of the authors of the Torah don't see God as a loving entity, but rather one to fear and be subservient to. It's only later, in the times of the Talmud where the kinder, softer god appears. Perhaps this is the conclusion you have reached on your own. I'm not sure it's correct, but it seems reasonable.

      There's yet another wrinkle which is that words change meaning, and different people have different understandings. So love occurs a lot between man and god in Devarim but not much elsewhere, where it's really a human/human thing. This could just be the quirk of those specific authors (or if you prefer traditional authorship, a quirk of Moshe's patterns of speech.) It sure seems reasonable to assume that ahavah in the Torah is the same as my 21st century concept of love, but is it justified? I don't know the answer to that. Clearly the Torah has a wide range of meaning for that word. I would say that I love Indian food, just like Yitzhack loved Aisav's meat dishes, but that's not the same love I have for my SO, which is itself different from the love I have for my family. The Torah uses love in all these contexts as well. So which context are we to assume when the Torah tells us to love God? Should we love him like ice cream, like a sexual partner, like a parent, a child, a wandering traveler? Can I just pick any of those?

      A very interesting topic indeed.

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    3. Thanks for the "food for thought!" BTW I am a now DH believer. (i'm just trying to figure out the best way to come out of the closet)

      Regarding:

      "For God though, this makes no sense, since God does not have emotions. So instead, the Torah uses words like chesed to describe God's relation."

      The Torah is rife with God's emotional attitude toward people ...angry - jealous - vengeful. And some positive ones too... slow to anger....

      Did I miss any other pesukim about God's love in Devarim other than the two I mentioned in my previous post?

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    4. 1. The academic reason you offered makes sense to me
      2. The "meaning" of love with regard to our love toward God is interpreted by the RAMBAM as exactly the the love we would have for our SO. We should pine for God as we would pine for the woman we desire.

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    5. @Steve and Kefirah - I had considered the 'academic' reason but rejected it earlier on because of Deut 7:7. If Deut was redacted later on then there may have been an evolving conception of the relation of God and Israel including reciprocal love. I agree it is all a very good Kasha.

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    6. Jacob Stein points out Deut 7:12 etc: makes Lord's love contingent. But Deut 7:7-8 LOrd already loved Israel prior to the contingency.

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  16. יב וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן, אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם וַעֲשִׂיתֶם, אֹתָם--וְשָׁמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ, אֶת-הַבְּרִית וְאֶת-הַחֶסֶד, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע, לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ. יג וַאֲהֵבְךָ, וּבֵרַכְךָ וְהִרְבֶּךָ; וּבֵרַךְ פְּרִי-בִטְנְךָ וּפְרִי-אַדְמָתֶךָ דְּגָנְךָ וְתִירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ, שְׁגַר-אֲלָפֶיךָ וְעַשְׁתְּרֹת צֹאנֶךָ, עַל הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לָתֶת לָךְ.

    דברים פרק ז

    It's very simple: if you fulfill these criteria God loves you.

    The idea that God loves all Jews just because they are Jews sounds like maybe Lubavitch, besides racist.

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    1. @Jacob - in Deut 7:7-8 The Lord already loved Israel before the conditions set out in in 12 etc: Maybe DEut 12 etc: is making the future love contingent.

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    2. I think it's safe to assume that there is no contradiction.

      Deut. 7:7 is referring to love which was earned because they were loyal to God as is explained a few verses later in Deut. 7:12.

      By the way, regarding people who have abandoned Judaism, their fate is clearly spelled out in Daniel 12:2

      Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.

      as well as Isaiah 66:24

      And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.

      So Alter and Steve Michael, I hope you are really having fun now because you are headed for an eternity of pain.

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    3. @ Jacob - Deut 7:7 Is past tense and makes no reference nto earning Lord's love based on loyalty or performance of anything. Deut 7:12 is future tense, as if to qualify that Deut 7:7 becomes contingent.

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    4. The general message of Deut. 7 is that love depends on obedience. There is no unconditional love of God for Jews in Tanach. In fact, God's love depends on a very high standard.

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    5. @ Jacob To repeat - Deut 7:7 Is past tense and makes no reference to earning Lord's love based on loyalty or performance of anything. Deut 7:12 is future tense, as if to qualify that Deut 7:7 becomes contingent. So I agree that eventually the love is contingent. I am reading Deut 7:12 as modifying Deut 7:7 I cant prove it though.

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    6. This is a good source.

      G-d refers to us as His firstborn son in parshas va'eira. Additionally, I think the opening of Malachi could be a source for G-d's love of the Jews. However, due to laziness I have not researched there more fully, so can't say whether that love still applies.

      Interesting that G-d proves love of the Jews from love of Yaakov.

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  17. @Steve Coming out of the closet can cause all sorts of havoc. Please think of potential consequences. How will your spouse react ? If poorly it could get nasty potentially costing you custody of children.

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  18. Wish I could believe like you. I start from the belief that belief in Torah Misinai serves only to distance people from the truth and/or make them dependent on rabbis, and, if it is true, appears to represent a disservice to the Jewish people/the world from hashem. Plus everything just *seems* to suggest a secular interpretation, and yet - I really can't find anything objectionable about Torah Shebiksav (I don't subscribe to western moral theory, in case you were wondering) and the traditional version of history remains the only plausible one. And yet, I am free. It's amazing what it feels like. I know that if I ever found something truly objectionable, I could and would throw out the traditional historical account, despite the evidence. In the meantime, I'm working on my own interpretation of the mitzvos and how G-d wants us to relate to the Torah and I really don't care what the consensus is.

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    1. For me it's not as much "western moral theory" as what I personally felt was moral and correct. In many ways these views were shaped by interactions with friends and other people. For example, the biblical prohibition against homosexuality was a nagging concern but not a huge problem until I had some close friends who were gay. Then my views started changing.

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    2. What about health? There is no question that sodomites are far more at risk of serious illness or premature death than smokers for example, yet smoking is discouraged.

      The idea that sodomites represent a "race" yet alone an oppressed racial minority is purely a very recent Western social construct.

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