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Title Author Date
An obvious point poorly presented Rubin, Ephraim Jul 12, 2004
Reading A. Eterman's essay "On Orthodox Discourse" leaves the strange impression that its author was so eager to restate the obvious that he neither took time to work out a careful presentation nor gave thorough thought to the real point of contention between him and his opponents.
To begin with, it is quite risky to suggest that "a treatise devoted to the problem of charging interest among the Jews" and written in the vein of traditional Jewish scholarship would lead its reader to a conclusion that "anyone who charges interest or refuses to give interest-free loans to Jews is a sinner and a heretic, that real Orthodox Jews conduct their dealings without charging any interest, or that Orthodox business does not use bank credit as a matter of principle." The Rabbinic authorization for charging interest to Jews -- called heter iskah -- has long ago entered the mainstream of Jewish legal thought, and it is reasonable to expect it to be mentioned in any treatise dealing with these issues. Traditional Jewish scholarship -- at least its legal branch -- is not lunatic; it does its best to keep up with real life as the practitioners of this scholarship know it. On the other hand, of course, a treatise of the kind suggested by Eterman would likely note that although charging interest to Jews is technically permissible, it is a deed of righteousness to refrain from charging such interest -- and again, in the realm of the real life there are occasions when Orthodox Jewish individuals and organizations extend interest-free loans to other Jews in the framework of charity.

[continued]
Related Articles: On Orthodox discourse

Title Author Date
An obvious point poorly presented Rubin, Ephraim Jul 12, 2004
[continued]

Indeed, even Eterman's quotations from Eshkoli's book show that at least some Orthodox rabbis are concerned with justifying the norm which appears to be obvious in practice for their public -- refraining from willfully causing suffering to gentiles -- in terms of traditional legal thought. One may rage at Rabbi Sternbuch's argument that the prohibition against causing an animal to suffer applies to gentiles because they lack an "intelligent soul" -- but he is merely playing the cards he has been given by his tradition. In the case of charging interest to Jews, the cards given to the present-day Orthodox rabbis are far better. To be sure, somewhat better cards in the case of gentiles may be also available (as those mentioned in the article on R' Menahem ha-Meiri on this site), but they do not pertain to the issue of animal suffering, so it is little wonder they are not mentioned in Eshkoli's discussion. (It has to be noted, however, that Meiri's line of reasoning appears to necessitate attributing an "intelligent soul" at least to those gentiles who are followers of monotheistic religions -- which would, in the vein of Sternbuch's argument, lead to the conclusion that the prohibition on causing animals to suffer does not apply to these gentiles, after all, but that maltreating them would be subject to other, more severe prohibitions. Whether Sternbuch's argument implies his unwillingness to follow Meiri's approach or has resulted from a simple oversight is at this stage hard to tell.)

[continued]
Related Articles: On Orthodox discourse

Title Author Date
An obvious point poorly presented Rubin, Ephraim Jul 12, 2004
[continued]

Now let us move to the question of social realities and their interaction with social theories held by human societies. It is obviously true that these theories -- the glasses through which the respective societies view the human world around them -- influence their practical conduct vis--vis that world; the influence obviously also works in the reverse directions. Thus, social theories harbored by a group and preaching -- even when covered by "a theoretical patina" -- hatred to members of other groups do not bode well. If Eterman's point was that the Orthodox discourse is potentially dangerous (potentially because he admits that this theory is "only sometimes and always partially" implemented at present in real life), then he is obviously correct -- so obviously that it is hard to suppose his alleged opponents disagreeing with him on this point. But the sad reality is that potential sources of danger surround us on every side: from the threats of volcano eruptions and earthquakes to the hazard of stock market collapses (which, even though occurring in the generally well understood framework of the market, are still largely unpredictable as to their particulars).
Since the sources of potential danger are probably infinite while the resources of every human individual or collective are rather finite, nobody can cure the sources of potential danger altogether. To bring a vivid example, in Israel -- where the author of this comment lives -- the danger of earthquakes is especially pertinent. A minor earthquake occurs in this country every couple of years or every several months (one of them just a couple of days ago), and a score of major earthquakes, resulting in considerable destruction of buildings and loss of human life, have been recorded throughout history (the last of them in 1927). But whatever one's opinion of the policies of any given Israeli government, it would be obviously stupid to allot the whole national budget, or even a major part thereof, to implementing earthquake-safe technologies in the Israeli construction industry. Although some provisions in this field are necessary, the country has, on the whole, more urgent concerns.
So, probably, do both the Jewish people and the countries harboring Orthodox Jewish communities have more urgent concerns than the potential danger arising from the views of Eshkoli and his fellows, however appalling these views may be. After all, expressing one's view -- even if it is appalling to most people around -- is part of freedom of speech unless this view is a source of clear and imminent danger to other people's rights and freedoms.
And one more point about Eterman's essay. He recommends "at least removing Eshkoli's treatise and similar texts from the school curriculum -- even if only in non-Haredi educational institutions." Does he know of this treatise being a part of the curriculum in any of these institutions?

Ephraim Rubin
Related Articles: On Orthodox discourse