A comment on my blog by Michael sparked off a series of emails between us about Modern Orthodoxy. He sent me a series of links about various aspects of MO. I printed one essay for Shabbat reading and read it on Saturday morning. It had been a while since I last read anything as stimulating as “Why Judaism Has Laws”, an essay by David Hazony.
From what I understand when talking about religion with various people around me, all of them non-Jews, some practicing Christians and some atheists, it is clear that for modern Western people the idea of fixed traditional laws is close to anathema. Isn’t independent thinking the ultimate proof that you are a grown-up and mature individual?
David Hazony provides a beautiful and insightful answer. He starts by reminding us that in Judaism results are more important than intentions. It thus follows that the best way to get results is action.
The discipline we need to be led into action is precisely the set of rules (of which even ritualistic laws are alos part and parcel) people would expect us to discard. It trains us to adopt moral habits as opposed to moral beliefs.
Hazony reminds us that American Jews are by far more generous than their non-Jewish neighbors, giving to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes, not because they are nicer but because they are mandated to give a tenth of their income to the needy.
In addition these laws prompt us to do things we might not otherwise do, such as comforting the bereaved or speaking fairly of others. Ultimately they will have an impact on our inner selves. By doing good we become better. By comforting mourners, we become more compassionate and aware of other people’s suffering. Giving charity makes us more charitable.
Hazony concludes by stressing our role in this world. “In Judaism (…) being good is about taking responsibility. It is about making sure we change things for the better. It is not about what we think or feel about things. It is about actually transforming our world.”