June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In last week’s issue, Rabbi Moshe Taragin provided a very well-written article (“Ask, Don’t Tell,” January 26, 2023) using one little-considered aspect of the Yetzias Mitzrayim story to argue for his central thesis that “It is always preferable to achieve results through joint measures, rather than through unilateral imposition”, or, as he states more succinctly later in the same paragraph, “Agreement is always preferable to force.”

However, as well-written as his piece is, his thesis is not correct. Indeed, its disproof is to be found in a more prominent aspect of the same Yetzias Mitzrayim story: Hashem specifically hardened Pharoah’s heart, thus preventing our leaving Mitzrayim, from being achieved via agreement in order to instead achieve the same goal via imposition and force. Clearly, there do exist situations in which force and imposition are preferable to agreement and joint measures.

I believe that Rabbi Taragin may have been misled by the rarity of situations in which force and imposition are preferable. While such tactics can be ideal for demonstrating authority, few forms of authority are worth demonstrating at the resulting cost. These tactics are also effective for exacting revenge, but vengeance that is actually good is rare indeed. Perhaps the most practical use of such tactics is as a way of destroying cultures of arrogance or unaccountability that would otherwise get in the way of needed reforms, but this too is a niche situation.

Additionally, any use of force or imposition must be accompanied by a separate justification so that it not be seen as a glorification of might as a value or source of ethics. This justification must at the very least rest on premises accepted by all involved. Due to this need for universally accepted premises, there are very limited situations in which we can justifiably impose religion outside of our own (Orthodox) community and institutions, and it may be this limitation in particular that Rabbi Taragin had in mind.

Yitzchok Kornbluth
Teaneck

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