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More On The Torah–Who Needs It?

June 11th, 2008by Haim Watzman · 2 Comments · Judaism and Religion

Haim Watzman

In response to my post The Torah-Who Needs It, “Haskalah” asks:

Can a Jew “think hard about every action, about what it means and what its consequences will be, without the Torah?” Did no one do so before the first Sha’vuot? In short, is it possible for a Jew to be moral and ethical and responsible without being observant?

It’s possible for anyone, not just a Jew, to be moral, ethical, and responsible without being religious or observant. And, as I noted in that post, observing the Torah’s commandments does not automatically make the observer a moral person.

Ultimately, I know of no rational argument that can convince anyone to be religious or observant. In the end, being religious requires an instinct that tells you that there is something beyond the empircal world. You need a sense of the sacred, and some people don’t have it.

But I can make this process-oriented case for the observance of precepts and ritual. When a ritual system is interwoven with your life, the study of your religion’s texts and laws directly affects your behavior. For example, if you are an observant Jew in Israel this year-a Sabbatical year-you have no choice but to grapple with the question of how you will observe the special laws pertaining to the produce grown in the Land of Israel during this year. The answers you reach in that study directly affect what and how you eat for an entire year.

So when you address larger moral issues in the same framework-to name some pressing and not specifically Jewish ones that Gershom and I have written about in this blog: homosexuality, organ transplant, health care, and the treatment of minorities and refugees-you already live a life in which study and abstract argument directly affect your everyday actions. I think that such a discipline encourages deep theoretical analysis and thought while keeping one’s feet on the ground and in the world of action.

That said, I certainly respect the many non-observant people I know who think deeply about moral issues and act to correct the injustices they see around them. They do God’s work.

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