Monday, November 20, 2006

Defining Liberalism

The folks over at Dov Bear have been attempting to align Judaism (Orthodoxy, that is) with contemporary political camps, called broadly "conservatism" and "liberalism." The problem is, these labels do not accurately fit any current political divides, since each has borrowed principles from the other. Oh, and they also don't fit Judaism, Orthodox or liberal.

Trying to puzzle this out has brought me back to the same question that's been buggin me since my conversion - namely, on what bases do Liberal Judaisms lay claim to authority/ownership of the tradition? What portions of torah (as a larger concept) do we consider authoritative, and what is flexible/discardable/irrelevant? And on what basis do we make those distinctions?

Here's my own attempt at describing my current relationship to torah, in general. Note that this may change over time, that I do not have reasoned, well-founded arguments for why I hold this - yet:

1) The written Torah, in the form of the Tanakh, is authoritative and non-negotiable. Even though I (gulp) don't believe in "G-d" as most traditional Jews do.

2) Just because the written Torah is binding, it isn't necessarily meant to be taken literally. Some parts of it have always been metaphorical, or contained hidden meanings.

3) As we move through time and around the world, from one form of society and culture to another, we require further translations and interpretations to remain true to Torah. Each generation reveals another aspect of this truth.

4) Not all interpretations of Torah are equally valid. Some people and generations will use Torah as a means for enforcing their own individual view, or advancing their own material purposes - and we must constantly be on the watch for such bias in interpretation.

5) Torah interpretations which make us struggle - consciences twinging, or rationales questioned - are probably more true than those which feel "comfortable." Not because G-d wants our observances to be difficult, but because these struggles are what help us transform ourselves into tzaddikim.