Below is a sermon from a Reform Judaic synagogue which nonetheless reveals teachings of the religion of Judaism which will be of particular interest to traditionalists who sense the ground shifting beneath a recent revival of traditional externals.
We should be interpreting our times through the unchanging, bedrock teachings of the Gospel, not reinterpreting the Gospel or fashioning dispensations to accommodate our times. Pope Benedict induces a double-mind in his followers when he laments a “dictatorship of relativism” and simultaneously recommends that Christians learn from rabbinic exegesis. Benedict is a vicar of Hillel, not Jesus, when he deceives himself and others into believing that innovations which overturn core principles are actually in accordance with them.
… [The rabbinic interpretation of the biblical narrative] reflects a view that human development is constantly dynamic and emergent. Equally so, it is the foundation for a relationship with God based not on blind faith and passive submission but on mutual engagement and struggle. This view of God and humanity as inherently embraced in an exchange providing mutual self-disclosure is on full display in the Biblical narrative. Even bolder is the rabbinic declaration in the Talmud that whatever may be the divine source of the commandments, their interpretation and application rests now in human hands. God’s voice is not even welcome in the ongoing legal debates.
This is the nature of [rabbinic] covenantal theology: a muscular role for human beings in shaping the framework of a sanctified world and a God willing to cede great authority to God’s creations. It is this perceived relationship of responsible human and loving God that enabled the psalmist to invert the Greek view that truth was an abstraction residing in the heavens and to proclaim instead: “Truth springs up from the earth” (Ps. 85:12)*.
As most elegantly displayed in the Talmud, from this point of view sacred truth is proposal and not conclusion, offer and not certainty. [Rabbinic] theology resists static declarations of truth, which brutalize and constrain humanity in the form of absolute doctrine, creed, and ideology. Far more supple and felicitous is the shapely form of truth in [rabbinic] tradition. Deciding is always penultimate and provisional, always yet again unsettled and displaced by new insights and interpretations. There is no more succinct an expression of this ongoing, unfolding of truth and wisdom than the simple phrase which first appears in early rabbinic writings: olam haba; which sometimes is translated as “the world to come,” but which is better rendered as “the world that is coming” constantly, incessantly. Every day there is a new infusion of divine insight, calling, and purpose.
This presumptuous assertion of human authority in the linguistic gardens planted by the divine Creator, of the ever-unsettled status of any declared truth has profound implications for the concept of “tradition.” … [T]he most successful [rabbinic] myth may be the very notion of “tradition:” the idea that there is an identifiable, essential cultural practice that has remained unchanged and true to its original formulation centuries ago.
Tradition is sometimes used as a bludgeon to intimidate those seeking to innovate. At other times it appears as a plaintive cry from the mouth of one adrift in storm-tossed seas of shifting historical epochs. Both of these formulations are initially wielded by Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof as he seeks to navigate in a world no longer familiar to him: threatened by revolution and counter-revolution on the political plane; challenged by his daughters on the domestic front; and provoked to re-examine in his most intimate relationship, that with his wife Golde, the very notion of love. The joke that this simple and holy man finally gets and shares with us is that we are constantly reinterpreting and recreating our inherited cultural patterns and that the [rabbinic] genius has been to call the resulting innovations consistent with rather than a rupture from the past …
*“Truth springs up from the earth” (Ps. 85:12 or 84:12 in Vulgate). This likens truth to a rock or foundation. See: Jesus, Gospel of Matthew 7;24-27: “Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock.
And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.”
It’s precisely the rabbinic “genius” that takes a passage of scripture which teaches that truth is fixed and interprets it to mean the precise opposite for rabbinic self-aggrandizement. Jesus tells us that a wise man’s philosophy, theology and deeds proceed from fixed, bedrock truths; those of a foolish man shift like sand and lead to ruin. It’s for good cause that Jesus taught His followers to beware the doctrines of the Pharisees whose ‘truth’ is molded like clay, or made to appear or disappear like magic. Why is the Pope telling his followers to learn from the doctrines of the Pharisees via their heirs, the rabbis?