Shavuot: The Time to Get Things Straight

On the Holiday of Shavuot, we all celebrate the receiving of Torah which was given to us in order to bring to fruition the purpose for the existence of the Universe. Since we are speaking about so lofty a purpose, we have been commanded that: “This Torah will not subside from your mouth”; we are commanded to study it continuously in order to set straight in our minds what are the intentions of He who gave the Torah, without viewing it through the prism of our biased personal thoughts.

And this is what we must understand on Shavuot: It is far more difficult to cleave to the authentic ideas of the Torah than it is to fulfill its rituals. Therefore, both Greece and Rome passed decrees forbidding the teaching of Torah, since they understood that the internal thoughts, and not the external trappings, are what set the Jew apart from the gentile. This is the greatest protection from assimilation amongst the gentiles – authentic Jewish thoughts and concepts.

Having said this, in all the exiles, Jews, on the one hand did not want to abandon the commandments, but on the other hand were unable to reject the gentile cultures by which they were perforce influenced. Their solution was to present the Torah as though it were compatible with the spirit of the times in which they lived. Obviously, this is absurd. After all, if the Torah was compatible with Liberalism in 18th Century France, how could it also be compatible with Rationalism in 19th Century Germany and Communism in 20th Century Russia? But this was a convenient escape for the Jew who did not dare make the choice between the Torah and that particular culture by which he was influenced. Apparently even in the days of the Greeks, there were those who managed to convince themselves that there was no contradiction between paganistic Greek culture and the Torah…

Unfortunately, this trend which was once marginal has today become the norm. In practice, the majority of religious Jews believe, on a superficial level, that our Torah is more or less compatible with the ideas of democracy and western culture. We purposely said “on a superficial level”, because the majority of religious Jews have never delved deeply into the matter. They have been conditioned to think that the Torah, by and large, is compatible with “enlightened”, democratic Western culture. But there is no doubt that when push comes to shove, and they are faced with a specific, definite issue, most religious Jews will choose Judaism over Western democratic culture.

For sure, as opposed to other dark days in our history, it is not forbidden today to learn or teach Torah, as witnessed by the number of Yeshivas in Israel. But it is not so simple. An examination of the general trend of High Court decisions over the past 8-10 years reveals that there are significant parts of Torah whose practical applications are forbidden to be taught. For instance, any halacha that distinguishes between Jew and gentile is liable to be considered a crime under the anti-racism law. And so we see parties banned from running for the Knesset, rabbis imprisoned for halachic essays, and the writers for “Darka Shel Torah” harassed. Even if the “Darka Shel Torah” parsha sheet states the case much more bluntly than others, the harassment’s are a message being broadcast to the entire religious community.

We hope that the link between this article and Shavuot is properly understood G-d gives us the Torah – but we have to understand precisely what the Torah, which we receive, IS; and more than that, to accept it as it is.

There is no room for a “shatnez” of ideas; no room for truth mixed with democracy, which by its very essence rejects the concept of absolute truth. We call upon all members of the religious community to search their souls – to decide which Torah they celebrate. And through this soul-searching, cleanse their thoughts from the infiltration of foreign ideas.

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