Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Zits”al, taught us a new vocabulary of tradition. Reb Zalman oft-spoke of paradigm shifting with respect to Judaism. A paradigm is a structured way to think conceptually. Everything associated with a concept -- assumptions, perspectives, methodologies, and accepted worldviews -- is considered within a collaborative framework. The appropriate Hebrew is, I think, תבנית.
I understand תבנית to be rooted in boneh - בּנה - “construct”, an idea from which Hebrew derives the verb - להבין - “to discern”. The inyan of integral halacha is, according to Daniel Siegel, a process that links “the needs of the moment to the precedents of the past”. We discern what we now know, if I understand Reb Daniel correctly, based on what we once knew. Reb Daniel has succinctly re-stated a spiritual premise I’m fond of: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door upon it”. Reb Zalman’s most significant interpreter, Reb Daniel must be placed among important contemporary Jewish teachers.
But is integral halacha a paradigm shift? I think not, but age may play a part: Reb Daniel describes himself as a “neo-chasid” and sees his Judaism as part of New Age spirituality. I am perhaps 10 years younger, I generally ignored New Age concepts, and there is nothing “neo” about my chasidut. I experience a wild field with diverse fruiting trees while Reb Daniel experiences a constantly shifting landscape of Judaisms. This needs its own unique rubric.
A wild field with diverse fruiting trees
Paradigm shifting is built into Jewish tradition. Mishna Makot, for example, instigates a paradigm shift with respect to capital punishment. Makot develops strong ethical ideas as it concerns itself in part with what we now term “retributive justice”. Makot 1:10 will establish capital punishment as legal, set a minimum legal burden before capital punishment may be considered, and announce an ethic that makes judicial execution all but impossible.
|One who does not follow the course of justice because he has fled the jurisdiction of the court? When he is returned to the court’s jurisdiction he is not permitted a defence.
||מִי שֶׁנִּגְמַר דִּינוֹ וּבָרַח וּבָא לִפְנֵי אוֹתוֹ בֵית דִּין, אֵין סוֹתְרִים אֶת דִּינוֹ
|When two witnesses come forward to address the Sanhedrin, and each separately establishes that the course of justice was perverted by the accused? He is executed.
||כָּל מָקוֹם שֶׁיַּעַמְדוּ שְׁנַיִם וְיֹאמְרוּ, מְעִידִין אָנוּ בְאִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי שֶׁנִּגְמַר דִּינוֹ בְּבֵית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל פְּלוֹנִי, וּפְלוֹנִי וּפְלוֹנִי עֵדָיו, הֲרֵי זֶה יֵהָרֵג
|The Sanhedrin’s jurisdiction is international.
||סַנְהֶדְרִין נוֹהֶגֶת בָּאָרֶץ וּבְחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ
|A Sanhedrin which executes anyone once in seven years is vain. Rebbe Elazar Ben-Aazr’ya? He said “once in 70 years”. Rebbe Tarfon and Rebbe Aqiva? They said “No one would ever have been executed had we been sitting on the Sanhedrin!”
||סַנְהֶדְרִין הַהוֹרֶגֶת אֶחָד בַּשָּׁבוּעַ נִקְרֵאת חָבְלָנִית. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה אוֹמֵר, אֶחָד לְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה. רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמְרִים, אִלּוּ הָיִינוּ בְסַנְהֶדְרִין לֹא נֶהֱרַג אָדָם מֵעוֹלָם
|Rabban Shimon Ben-Gamliél had this to say: “If so, we must be prepared for increased bloodshed in Israel!”
||רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, אַף הֵן מַרְבִּין שׁוֹפְכֵי דָמִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל
Rabban Shimon discerns what he knows based on what we once knew, and he knows that capital punishment is no deterrent: his life was spent in hiding after Betar fell; he saw first hand that the pax Romana in Israel was enforced by a lex Romana Hebraicus reliant on crucifixions and indiscriminate judicial executions. He does not, I think, oppose the aspirational ideals of Rebbe Tarfon or Rebbe Aqiva. You may, however, read the Hebrew this way.
Reb Daniel and I would certainly agree, I think, that the Talmud offers a constantly shifting landscape of Judaisms. The testimonies of the Tanna’im are used throughout the Bavli to shift the Mishna’s halachic paradigm. These testimonies, called bara’itot (בּרייתוֹת), are central to the Bavli’s method: deconstruct the Mishna by subjecting it to multiple testimonies. Are the bara’itot, chas ve’chalila, a postmodern methodology used by pre-modern scholars? No.
Jacques Deridda, who for some reason is never thought of as having a traditional Jewish background, recognised the bara’itot as both historical and phenomonlogical. He brilliantly adopted and adapted this pre-modern method. He never assumed, I think, that his notion of deconstruction actually relied on his Jewishness.
Deconstruction is, I think, essential to Jewish traditional well-being. It is here that Reb Daniel and I would likely stop agreeing. The constantly shifting landscape of Judaisms is a journey, it fascinates, but at some point I want to arrive somewhere. The Mishna (Avot 3:7) warns:
|Rebbe Eliezer, the leader of Bartota had this saying: Give to G!d what is G!d’s: You and yours. And thus David said (I Ch. 29:14) “Everything is Yours. We are merely a conduit through which it flows.”
||ז רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אִישׁ בַּרְתּוֹתָא אוֹמֵר, תֶּן לוֹ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ, שֶׁאַתָּה וְשֶׁלָּךְ שֶׁלּוֹ. וְכֵן בְּדָוִד הוּא אוֹמֵר (דברי הימים א כט) כִּי מִמְּךָ הַכֹּל וּמִיָּדְךָ נָתַנּוּ לָךְ
|R Shimon cautioned that this perspective does not apply to Torah study when he said: One who walks on the path reviewing a pasuq only to exclaim “What a beautiful tree, what a lovely, productive field!” obligates the soul.
||רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַמְהַלֵּךְ בַדֶּרֶךְ וְשׁוֹנֶה וּמַפְסִיק מִמִּשְׁנָתוֹ וְאוֹמֵר, מַה נָּאֶה אִילָן זֶה וּמַה נָּאֶה נִיר זֶה, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ
I am a storyteller. A storyteller’s trick is used in this Mishna: “Bartota” sounds suspiciously like a Hebrew pronunication of bara’itot (the plural form of bara’ita). “Ish Bartota” can mean “the man from Bartota”; it doesn’t. It means, I think, “the man who relies on bara’itot”. R Eliezer? He thinks we should constantly plant and plow. R Shimon? He prefers that we harvest. Both want the same effect. This is a disagreement on method, and with good reason: are we are to constantly plow, plant, and let people forage for what grows wildly? How many are even capable of doing so? Utter chaos!
R Shimon prefers cosmos: harvest regularly and replant. I commend this to you as the basis of integral halacha.
There are any number of useful ways to describe Jewish law. Let us give up on the idea that halacha is one of them. The idea that halacha - הלכה - means “law” is absurd. The verb holekh - הוֹלך - has many connotations, but “law” is not one of them. The verb defines actions associated with going, such as direction or leadership - להוֹליך - or embarking on a journey - ללכת.
It is with purpose, I think, that the imperative “go!” - לך - is indistinguishable from the personal pronoun “you” or “yours”. G!d uses this imperative when we are introduced to Avraham Avinu. A subtle phrase with several interpretations names the sedra: לך לך. It may mean any of the following...
Go to yourself!
Go to what is yours!
These imperatives describe something to possess, something to take ownership of, and I see halacha the same way.
Christianity began the cultural appropriation of Judaism in the Dark Ages, a cultural appropriation which continued as western hearts replaced the church the academy. It seemed right to 18th century German intellectuals that Judaism and Islam influenced western culture, these became “western” religions, something neither is or ever can be. Jewish perspectives have become so warped by Orientalism that our scholars accept Judaisms to be a “western” tradition, we are nothing of the sort, Judaisms is rooted firmly in the east: no map I’ve ever seen puts Persia west of the Mediterranean!
The western mind requires rubrics. Law is law, ethics are ethics, and there may be an ethic of law but there is no law of ethics. The eastern mind is fascinated by such Jaberwocky. Halacha is ethics, law, religion, and spirituality, all of which are in relationship to each other.