Rabbi Avi Weinstein

David Brooks writes an interesting NYT column, but doesn’t know diddly about the Talmud or its purpose.

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Brooks writes an article declaring that moral reasoning has little to do with morality since most moral decisions are intuitive and made in a visceral instant. In it, he claims that this:

…challenges the Talmudic tradition with its hyper-rational scrutiny of texts

Clearly, an indication of someone who has no idea of what the Talmud is, and its purpose. One of the criteria for entering the Sanhedrin, the sacred portal of those who created the Talmud, was to be able to prove in many ways how a lizard is kosher. (The point being that even a child knows that Jews aren’t allowed to eat lizards.) This was not only a way to demonstrate intellectual acumen, but to understand the limitations of reason when it comes to morality, or even legality.

Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine spoke of the Musar HaTeva the “organic morality” that existed in all men. The Talmudic sages called this the Yetzer Hatov, the organic inclination to do good. Enhancing the understanding of why even de facto the good is the better path reinforces the good and gives it substance beyond biological impulse. Just as the raionalization for evil is the friend of the perpetrator, the pondering of the ramifications of the good is an ally to the visceral impulse to do so.

The purpose of the Talmud was to sharpen those visceral judgements, to harmonize the positive emotional response with intellectual rigor, so that not only what you are doing will be of good intent, but will also have as good of a result as possible.

I love reading David Brooks, he is smart, sensitive and often unpredictable. He is also a committed Jew, but he might even be smarter if he studied a little Torah and understood the intellectual tradition that has much to do with who he is today.

I’m about to shut down for awhile, Chag Sameyach!


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