|We were debating how to help an Agunah, a woman abandoned by her abusive husband. Another rabbi, sitting with me on the Beit Din, Rabbinical Court, interrupted our heated discussions with a loud, "Gefühlsjurisprudence!" I was stunned, "But I didn't sneeze!" The other judge laughed, "I thought you spoke German. I used the word that describes someone judging a case on mere sentiment or feeling, which, however noble its merits, does not possess the grace of novelty!" |
The discussions went far beyond the immediate Halachot of the situation into the realm of what I call, "The Music of Halacha." Do we deal only with absolutes, or is there room for poetic interpretation? The other judge insisted that creative application threatens the black and white law and would lead to chaos and confusion, while I insisted that simple adherence without application of the sense of the law would sever the connection between the Creator and His law.
My adversary confused "universals," and "interpretations." I could not possibly sit on a Beit Din if I did not accept the universal and absolute truth of Halacha. I could also not judge a complex case if I did not believe that Halacha insists on creative interpretations and applications, even a little Gefühlsjurisprudence. Why else would the Torah refer to a judge as Elo-him (Exodus 21:6), one of the most important Divine names? We believe that the spirit of God hovers above judges who are committed to the universal truths of Halacha to guide them in applying His law.
Our debate began long ago, when Moses, fulfilling, "Through this you, Pharaoh, will know that I am God (7:17)," turned his staff into a serpent, water into blood, and produced swarms of frogs. Pharaoh readily acknowledged that Moses was more powerful than he, and his miracles, impressive feats, but the king could have his magicians perform the same tricks through magic. Moses proved himself the more powerful miracle maker but had not demonstrated the proof of a truth beyond the laws of magic, certainly not the existence of God. That is, until the plague of lice, when Pharaoh's sorcerers ashamedly admitted, "It is the finger of the Lord, Elo-him (8:15)." Although most assume that the magicians were acknowledging God, perhaps they meant Moses, to whom God said, "See, I have made you an Elo-him to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet (7:1)." The last mention of Elo-him before the magicians' declaration was God's appointment of Moses as an Elo-him. The sorcerers accepted that Moses was an Elo-him! Moses, who empowered by God, chose how to end the plague of frogs (8:4-8), [See "What Kind Of Leader"] was acknowledged by the Egyptians as an Elo-him, and that, was proof of God, the Infinite Being, the One Who empowers us to use our judgment, to choose our path, to apply His truths to life. The plagues were not to prove God, but that serving God is different from serving a Pharaoh; it is a process of empowerment. God wanted Moses to use his judgment when dealing with Pharaoh based on God's thematic message, as He wants judges to hear a complex case filled with confused facts and mixed emotions, and creatively apply Torah to the case, and as He wants each of us to derive the message of His laws and apply them with a sense of empowerment to every aspect of our lives.
Is this not the essence of God's greatest gift, Free Choice, when He empowers us to poetically apply His Torah and experience His finger touching ours, empowering us as Elo-him to make judgment calls, choices that will define our life's path?
Our Beit Din was able to unanimously reach a poetic decision that helped the woman who pleaded for us to save her life. We arrived at our decision with a sense of God's spirit hovering above, guiding and empowering us, to apply His laws and help one of His creations. It was a celebration of God as Moses had taught the Egyptians. "I feel," said my new friend, "powerful sentiments and feelings that are definitely not Gefühlsjurisprudence."
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Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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