Thursday, January 18, 2018

Improper Use of the Torah to Support an Agenda

Far-fetched as it might seem, I believe that Satmar Poskim and the leaders of the far left wing of modern Orthodoxy have a lot in common.  At least as it pertains to how they use the Torah or Torah based sources to promote their agenda.

Rav Gershon Edelstein recently commented about the compassionate and accepting ways parents should treat children that have gone OTD (are no longer observant). How does that compare to a Halachic work on the subject written by a couple of highly respected Satmar Dayanim? Their views are in diametric opposition to Rav Edelstein’s views.

Rabbi Yair Hoffman has done a great job analyzing the flaws in their argument in a YWN article. Flaws that are based on a selective Psak by Rambam about Apikursim  (heretics) which they apply to children that have gone OTD. The Rambam says that Apikursim should be shunned by the community. And that any attempts at Teshuva on their part should not be believed and rejected. 

There is however a 2nd contradictory Psak by Rambam. There he says that not only do we accept their Teshuva, we seek it out! The Satmar Dayanim ignore that 2nd Rambam and base their views exclusively on the 1st one.

How the contradiction is resolved is dealt with by Rabbi Hoffman and is beyond the scope of this post. But it is worth noting that most commentators explain the 1st  Rambam as referring to a situation where it is clear that Teshuva will never be sincere - if done at all. Besides, even the first Rambam may not apply in any case. There are myriad reasons why some young people go OTD and not all of them are based on being a heretic.  

What I believe to be the case is that these Satmar Dayanim have an agenda. They want a particular outcome and use only those sources that facilitate it. Their goal is to keep their world a ‘pristine’ one - free of outside influences that would negatively affect their children. Clearly (to them) an OTD child that overtly violates all manner of Halacha is such an influence. And must be kept out!  Other children can ‘learn’ from them and end up OTD themselves! The OTD child must be excised from the community. Get rid of the ‘rotten apple’ before it spoils the whole ‘barrel’! What about welfare of the OTD child? They see it as a necessary sacrifice for the good of the whole.

This may be somewhat speculative on my part. But I believe that based on how isolated from the rest of the world they are for the above-mentioned reasons, it isn’t all that unreasonable to make this assumption.  Thankfully their views are their own and run counter to the vast majority of other Poskim and mental health experts that deal with this problem.

Which brings me to leaders on the far left wing of Orthodoxy. They do almost exactly the same thing. They quote from the Torah to show that their social justice agenda is based on the Torah.  But like those Satmar Dayanim they base their interpretations onthe outcome they want to see. This was dealt with very succinctly by Rabbi Jeffery K. Salkin in a Moment Magazine article.

Just to cite one example of many where he shows this to be the case, let us look at the oft quoted ‘Justice, Justice you shall pursue!’ (Devorim – 16:20). The far left sues that phrase to pursue all manner of social justice causes. They see an underdog being mistreated by society and want to help him.

But as Rabbi Salkin points out, the Torah has an entirely different intent for that phrase. It is used as a blueprint for a judicial system where justice is blind. Equal justice under the law. The Torah clearly demands a system where no one is favored. And specifically states that an underdog (the poor) not be favored. Pursuing social justice might bias one in favor of the underdog. But the Torah tells us that justice demands that everyone be judged on the merit of their case. Not on how disadvantaged they might be.  

The left ignores the Torah’s actual meaning and uses a phrase that not intended for the way they use it. A social justice agenda. 

The left use of the Torah is as outcome based  just like Satmar’s use of it. They both have agendas and use it to justify the outcome they seek.

This is not how one should approach the Torah. The right thing to do is to leave biases, prejudices and preconceived notions of right and wrong at the door. And to seek the truth without any agenda, no matter how noble that agenda might be.

This is why it is important to see things objectively without filtering them through the colored lens of a preconceived agenda. Something I try to do here.