Three Reasons For Not Asking For Reasons For Jewish Law

In his 2000 lecture on Numbers 19, Dennis Prager says that this is the area where he most differs with the tradition. I do not believe that there are any laws we can not understand. The traditional interpretation is that chukim (laws between man and God such as kosher) we can not understand.

Here are three reasons for not seeking out reasons so you understand the traditional antagonism for giving explanations for chukim:

* If you think you know the reason for a law, you can say, the reason no longer applies, so I can drop it.

* Israeli Orthodox thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz said that people who looks for reasons for divine law are undermining God’s authority.

* It honors God to do it just because God said so.

Where do I differ then from the tradition? I don’t agree that God giving this law is all I need to know. It is critical to doing God’s will to know the reason and meaning of the law. It does not honor God to do it only because God said so. I do keep kosher because God said so, but I keep kosher also because I believe I understand much of the meaning of it.

It is sufficient for me that God said it for me to do it.

I believe that someone who inquires into the meaning of the law is more likely to do it better. We need to know the spirit of the law to do it better. I believe God wants us to prevent needless animal suffering. That’s why the law requires a knife without a nick.

So, my first reason for inquiring reasons, is to do the law better.

Two. The laws become an end in themselves if you don’t ask what their purpose is. If something becomes an end to itself rather than as a means to God and goodness, then it becomes a false god.

The Hebrew word for Jewish law is halakha, which literally means “way.” So what am I supposed to achieve?

I understand why some Jews 2,000 years ago tired of law as an end to itself and started Christianity.

A hundred years ago, most Jews were Orthodox. Now 10% are.

You can’t like wise and profound to the non-Jews if you don’t have reasons for keeping laws. Instead, you look goofy.

In the Orthodox world I grew up in, it was believed that if non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews saw us keep the commandments, they would say, that’s beautiful, but when these people saw us walk to synagogue through a blizzard on the Sabbath and not drive, they didn’t say that’s beautiful. They said that’s weird.

Most people say that walking in the heat of summer and the cold of winter with kids crying half the walk is weird. It may be God’s will, but it doesn’t appear that way to others.

You may say God wants me to walk to the synagogue in the rain and he does not want me to use an umbrella on the Sabbath.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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