One concern that keeps showing up is the need to make Judaism relevant for today’s world. Judaism is committed to 16th century Rabbi Yosef Karo’s book Shulchan Aruch (Set Table) that regulates every aspect of Jewish life. The grip of this book on Jewish life is so strong that challenging it is perceived as questioning Judaism itself. It therefore takes courage to publicly call for a kind of revolution in Halacha (Jewish Law).
Menachem Nabet is one among quite a few young Orthodox Jews who challenge many traditional concepts that freeze Jewish life. As an Orthodox social media activist, whose posts and blogs attract thousands of people, Nabet is a Yeshiva (seminary) student whose influence must be reckoned with.
In a post a few years back, Nabet challenged the Jewish way of reading the Bible only through the eyes of medieval sages like Rashi, which detaches the text from the places, events and cultures that shaped it. Reading the Bible through traditional lenses, justified as it was, turns its heroes into imagined, mythical figures. Jews, stressed Nabet, have left the Scriptures wide open to the textual criticism of secular scholars, many of whom were reacting to the traditional religious interpretations.
Further, by blocking direct access to the biblical text, Jews are crippling the value of their own sacred tradition. It is the direct reading of the Bible that can enable Jews to “approach our religious existence in more original, meaningful, real and honest way…In contrast to the efforts of secular biblical scholars, we must bring God back to the center…and try and get rid of the ever-present attempts to find hidden, egoistic and political meanings behind the stories.”
However, he emphasized that this does not mean everyone can interpret the Bible as he or she pleases. Such an approach turns the sacred into the banal, which in turn leads to abandoning the absolute nature of the Torah.
Responding to the many questions his post elicited, Nabet clarified that his objective is not to demean the Bible. “My intention,” he write in a Facebook post, “is that Judaism is mature enough not to be shackled to the petty questions of ‘true or false.’ Instead, [my approach] invites us to a much higher, independent place whose origin is in a living tradition rather than a dead letter…The calling…to study the Bible itself [will enable us] to go out from the dead to the living letter.”
It looked to me as if the phraseology Nebet used was taken from the Apostle Paul’s statement in Corinthians 3:16, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” So, I asked this Yeshiva student if there is any Jewish parallel to Paul’s idea of the letter that kills.
“I took the idea of dead letter from the New Testament,” he said. “I do not know of any parallel in our Jewish sources.”
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