Rabbi Arthur Waskow
TORAH, RABBINIC INTERPRETATION AND GROWTH
In discussions of how we, in the modern era, respond to and wrestle with parts of Torah that appear unethical to us in today's society, I often assert that I think that, like the Rabbis, we need occasionally out of our larger sense of Torah to nullify some of these particular aspects. Specifically I do this, and urge others to do it, in regard to same-sex sexual relationships.
I give the Rabbis' nullification of the "rebellious son" as a precedent in point. Whereas the Torah commands that the "rebellious son" should be stoned to death, the Rabbis as a whole had ruled this case out of existence.
Now I perfectly well know that the Rabbis did what I now believe even more strongly was this "nullification" by using the midrashic method. I have no difficulty, either philosophically or technically, doing the same thing to the "Toevah" p'sukim about male homosexuality. I have no trouble acknowledging that I am moved to do this precisely because my moral and ethical sense, FORMED BY THE TORAH AS A WHOLE, prohibits me from treating male or female sexual relationships as per se toevah or z'nut, in any different way from heterosexual relationships.
But, please note that, I believe my approach is taught by the Torah as a whole. Morevover, there is one very powerful but partly concealed aspect of Torah that for me in our generation is extremely important. That is my sense that the Torah KNOWS AND INTENDS that the human race, including the Jewish people, has a collective life cycle and that the halakha that applies during different eras in this collective life-cycle may well be different.
The clearest assertion of this in traditionally accepted Jewish circles is Rambam's assertion that animal sacrifice is commanded only to help us grow up, and that when we are more fully conscious it would become (and did become) unnecessary. No longer halakha.
There are also strong hints of this in Prophetic and Kabbalistic texts which have been formative for me.
In my view, the halakha of separate roles for women and men as such (not e.g. for "care-givers/ community creators" as distinct from "activist energizers/ do-ers/ makers") was a stage in the evolution of the human race and the Jewish people. So was the fear of homosexuality. So was the requirement to be fruitful, multiply, fill up the earth, and subdue it.
All of these I regard as now in the process of being outgrown -- the last because it has been fulfilled, to the degree that any more effort toward fulfilling it will topple the entire structure of Torah, human civilization, and the planetary web of life within which the human race evolved. And I regard that out-growing as deeply involved in the outgrowing in the other spheres.
That is, I think the accomplishment of "filling and subduing the earth" radically changes our sexual ethics and with it the outlook on sex and gender that went along with that (I believe historically conditioned, like animal sacrifice) mitzvah.
I believe that the human race, including the Jewish people, has reached a crisis point in our entire species-history. I believe that Torah expected we would reach such a point, though it was of course difficult to perceive how and describe precisely what to do, since the folks who wrote Torah down were living within the great era of "fill up the earth and subdue it" and had difficulty seeing beyoind it -- just as a a three-year-old would have trouble explaining the halakaha of living as an adult.
I BELIEVE THAT THIS SENSE OF THE GROWING-UP OF THE HUMAN RACE AND THE JEWISH PEOPLE IS ENCODED IN TORAH. I BELIEVE THAT JUDAISM IS NOT ENCASED FOR ALL TIME WITHIN "RABBINIC JUDAISM," ANY MORE THAN IT WAS/ IS WITHIN LEVITICUS. I BELIEVE THAT LEVITICUS AND THE REST OF BIBLICAL JUDAISM, AS WELL AS RABBINIC JUDAISM, WILL CONTINUE -- FOREVER-- TO BE RELEVANT TO THE CONTINUING GROWTH OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE AND OF TORAH, BUT NOT DELIMITING.
So I ground all of my seeming innovations in the sense that we too, and our Torah, are "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" -- constantly becoming -- and that we can discern, as Rambam did, what it means to "grow up" -- what we keep, what we drop, and even what we add. I believe that God and Torah have always also believed this. So I reject the notion that I am applying some other standard than Torah when I try to develop our ethics -- indeed, I would say a NON-"RABBINIC" HALAKHA -- for our lives.
by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Director, The Shalom Center.