Parshat Va-Etchanan

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וְעָשִׂיתָ הַיָּשָׁר וְהַטּוֹב, בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה

And you shall do what is just and good in the eyes of God

As scandals pile upon scandals in Orthodox circles, it is tempting to find fault with Orthodox Judaism or with Judaism at large, or at least to feel demoralized by the whole situation.

Ironically it is may be quite appropriate that we have just started reading the book of Devarim. A book that includes numerous ethical injunctions.

Indeed Rabbi Joseph Telushkin reminds us that the verse above is such a fundamental guideline that the Talmud explains that the whole book became known as Sefer HaYashar, the “Book of the Right”, simply because of this verse.

In Cross Currents today, David Feldman reminds us how the Ramban explains this verse:

that mitzvah comes to express a fundamental truth of Jewish living. If one comes to the conclusion that his actions are permitted by the Torah even if they lack in basic decency, even if they are not good or upright, then that person is by definition mistaken. It is fundamentally impossible for lack of yashrus to coincide with the Torah’s vision.

In a fine article, The Morality Crisis in Orthodox Judaism, Jeffrey Goldberg wonders how we – as Jews – can respond to the current situation other than by being profoundly depressed and disgusted. He interviews Erica Brown whose conclusion invites us to react both personally and as a community.

I believe that the best way to combat the ethical morass that’s landed on our doorstep as a minority is to go out of our way to articulate our own distance from this behavior and to go out of our way to do acts of kindness for others that show us to be a moral light in the world.

Thanks Mother in Israel for pointing out the article.

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12 thoughts on “Parshat Va-Etchanan

  1. Thanks for this upbeat and scholarly response. My father and friends know Erica Brown from her days when she lived in the Boston area – they have good things to say about her, she was (is?) a good teacher.

  2. Thanks Leora. I haven’t had time to look into Isaiah yet but the article quotes him. Then something there reminded me of Telushkin’s words about another of Devarim‘s names.

  3. Thanks Ilanadavita for this post and links. I was shocked when I first heard the news of this scandal. I came to the same conclusion that Erica Brown did, it is a human condition and not the failure of Judaism.

  4. Thanks for pointing out this important message, of how Judiasm isn’t at fault, it’s the people who don’t keep it properly.

    “….go out of our way to articulate our own distance from this behavior and to go out of our way to do acts of kindness for others that show us to be a moral light in the world.”

    very true, I believe the same way.
    setting a positive example always works best!

  5. Telushkin writes profoundly, and I never lack for contemplation when reading him.

    Thank you for this post, and for the links.

  6. All of the poor behaviour absolutely should not be laid at the door of Judaism, it is the individual not the faith that is at fault. Thank you for this post and the links.

  7. As we find from reading of misbehavoirs in Isaiah, nothing new under the sun, to paraphrase Kohelet…if the Torah were easy to follow, we wouldn’t need the Torah. No need to blame Judaism.

    I think Erica Brown is originally from the Jersey Shore, so my husband knows her from way back when, too…

  8. Pingback: Here in HP, a Highland Park, New Jersey blog » Seeking Comfort

  9. We must, however, be careful when we say the sin is only that of individuals. One article I read pointed out that some Catholics today are wont to say the same about Medieval pogroms; the Crusaders were simply not following Catholicism!

    One must realize: even if Judaism disagrees with what some Jews are doing, the fact remains that these Jews are Orthodox, and that Judaism either made them what they are today, or tacitly allowed them to so become.

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