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September 25, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Nitzavim

In this week’s portion, Moses says yet again that the Jews will be punished if they don’t keep the Torah.  That makes sense for the generation that agreed to keep it.  But what about future generations that aren’t party to the covenant?  Why should they be bound?

Arama argues that Jews are bound because it would be self-destructive not to be: that if they ignore the Torah, God will ignore them, causing them to be destroyed.  In other words, abandon the covenant if you like but be prepared to suffer the consequences.

But of course, Jews (and even entire Jewish communities) have assimiliated into the general population without any obvious ill effects.  So its not always true (at least post-Temple) that Jews will be physically punished for abandoning the Torah.

However, it does seem to me that there’s another way of looking at it.  If your community abandons the covenant, they may not be physically harmed- but they will be cease to exist as Jews.  They will just become part of the general community, for good or for ill.

To put it another way, Judaism is a bit like baseball: if you deviate far enough from the rules of baseball (however you interpret them) eventually you’re not playing baseball any more.  You may be playing football or soccer or basketball, but not baseball.

So where do differences among Jews fit into this?  Just as baseball changes, Judaism changes.  But how much change creates an entirely different game?  Orthodoxy argues that any change outside its boundaries turns the game into a different sport; non-Orthodox Jews argue that they are still close enough to the original rules to still be playing more or less the same game.

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