May 23, 2024
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Emotions Have Their Place, But Not in Formulating Halacha

“The sin of homosexuality refers specifically to bisexual unions.”

“While no one should ever violate the Sabbath, I have much less of a problem with it if the person is living in Israel.”

What’s disconcerting is that these two statements were both made by Torah observant Jews, one of whom has semicha no less.

To be fair, after I took umbrage with them and after we “duked it out,” both retracted the statements, explaining that it came from a place of deep emotions. In one case, the person explained that his best friends’ son was gay and therefore, he felt more sensitive and liberal-minded about the issue. I get that.

The other individual explained that while no one should ever desecrate the Sabbath, he also felt that living in Israel was a very important mitzvah that many religious people often ignored, leading to his hyperbole. I get that too.

Still, an important distinction regarding Torah Judaism is that the mesorah and Halacha are the immutable word of God and therefore, cannot be changed because of one’s emotions. Why? Because the God who fashioned us knew all too well that man—and his views—are easily susceptible to change. Human beings are a walking ball of emotions and intellect—all wrapped up in one.

Emotions and feelings have their place in the service of God, but not in the way we generally format Halacha. The Torah doesn’t say: “Thou shalt give 10% to charity, unless you’re having a rough day,” or “Keep the Sabbath on the seventh day, unless of course, the Dolphins and the Jets are playing that day.”

I recently wrote an article mentioning the conflict of a frum Jew wearing a rainbow kippah, explaining what it actually represents. A good friend who is religious mentioned his wife had an issue with my words, not because they were wrong or insensitive, but rather because she had many liberal friends. I said, “Do you think on our day of judgment Hashem will say to you, ‘I didn’t realize who your friends were. These laws don’t apply to you. You can do and say whatever you want.’”

Hashem wrote a Torah that is a living document, with holy divine words directly from the One purest source of everything. Hashem and the holy rabbis have taken painstaking efforts to preserve our mesorah, knowing the danger that emotions can play in formulating Halacha. Chazal is replete with warnings to control one’s temper, to avoid making decisions in anger. The Torah warns the judge not to favor the poor, and not judge a wealthy man well because he is rich. The judge is warned to avoid relationships with anyone involved with the case for fear of tainting the purity of justice.

Obviously we all want to do what we feel is inherently right, what is just and good. But as our current society has now shown us, even the basic tenets of good and bad, of right and wrong, are susceptible to our emotional interpretations.

Men purporting to be women and vice versa all fly in direct contradiction with science, basic biology and reason. Yet that hasn’t stopped the woke left from literally tearing apart the moral fabric of our society, forcing us to accept things we know to be false. The fact that Ben Shapiro’s life has been threatened multiple times because he says a man is a man and a woman is a woman, seems absurd. After all, he’s stating an obvious, undeniable fact. While this is a very serious and painful thing to deal with and sensitivity all around is critical, accepting and loving someone is different than promoting certain ideals or behaviors that run in conflict with Torah ideals.

And let us not think that Hashem isn’t completely sensitive to man, as He commands man that if he was in battle, he cannot simply have his way with women in the way that many soldiers act. Rather, Hashem carefully and specifically instructs him how to behave throughout, and even explains the process should he choose to marry.

Many years ago, Dennis Praeger posed the following questions to a group of wealthy people asking them, “Which is preferable? Giving $10 to a poor guy and spending time with him and being kind, or simply handing a $100 to a poor guy and not giving him the time of day.” Most people agreed that the man who only gave $10 and was kind, was better than the guy who gruffly handed the poor guy $100 and left. Only they were wrong. Why? Because it turns out, while they felt good about being kind to the poor person, he was only interested in getting the money, not the compliments. Yet the givers only saw it from their own position. If they needed the $100, they would have answered differently.

Because man’s emotions can literally shift with the wind, when it comes to God’s commandments, Hashem clearly warns us “to neither add nor detract from it.”

In Leviticus 11:41, we are told, “And every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth is a detestable thing; it shall not be eaten.” Chazal elucidates on this pasuk that we should not say, “I don’t eat ants because I don’t like them.” Rather, say that we don’t eat them because God commanded us not to. This simple nuance can make a world of difference in how we interpret the Torah and ultimately, how we serve Hashem.


Avi Ciment lives in Florida and is a longtime columnist for The Jewish Press. He lectures throughout the world and has just finished his second book, “Real Questions Real Answers.” He can be reached at www.AviTalks.com.

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