Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Observance vs. the freedom to make my own decisions (revised)

[Originally posted Sun., Aug. 5, 2018.]

Start with my Concerning vows:  A pre-Yom-Kippur post.

". . . on the subject of vows, even though the Torah ShehBichtav (Written Torah) itself clearly states  that it's better to avoid making a vow than to break one (I forget where in the Torah I read this--please lend a hand [see below]), the rabbis went in exactly the opposite direction with their interpretation, making it almost impossible for any Jew not to make a vow.

I honestly don't understand why the rabbis of old seem to have gone out of their way, even contradicting the p'shat (literal meaning) of the Torah, to make sinners of us all."

Here are the references, which I've finally tracked down almost three years after that post:

Ki Tetze/Deuteronomy Chapter 23

כב  כִּי-תִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לֹא תְאַחֵר לְשַׁלְּמוֹ:  כִּי-דָרֹשׁ יִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, מֵעִמָּךְ, וְהָיָה בְךָ, חֵטְא.22 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it; for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it will be sin in thee.
כג  וְכִי תֶחְדַּל, לִנְדֹּר--לֹא-יִהְיֶה בְךָ, חֵטְא.23 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 5 קֹהֶלֶת

ג  כַּאֲשֶׁר תִּדֹּר נֶדֶר לֵאלֹהִים, אַל-תְּאַחֵר לְשַׁלְּמוֹ--כִּי אֵין חֵפֶץ, בַּכְּסִילִים:  אֵת אֲשֶׁר-תִּדֹּר, שַׁלֵּם.3 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools; pay that which thou vowest.
ד  טוֹב, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִדֹּר--מִשֶּׁתִּדּוֹר, וְלֹא תְשַׁלֵּם.4 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

Now check out this translation of Hatarat Nedarim, the formal annulment of vows (traditionally recited before Rosh HaShanah/Jewish New Year), of which I'm copying an excerpt:

"In the last year I have from time to time made vows, sometimes speaking them out loud or had an intention, a resolution to change something in my actions, behavior and attitude in my mind. Some of these are in relation to myself, my body, my mind, and my soul. Some of these deal with the way in which I conduct myself in relation to other people. And most of all, there are those that deal with my relation to God.
Sometimes I took on a practice or a custom and did it at least three times and have since either willingly or unwillingly abandoned it and I know that this, too, has the power of a vow.
Many times when I ask for prayers for some people whether they are prayers for healing, for blessing or for the repose of souls departed, in which the formula includes “Because I shall contribute to tzedakah” and I may have forgotten to do that or not been aware, I ask you to release me from that, too.
All these I regret and I ask you to recognize my regret and release me from all those vows."
The vows to which the Tanach (Bible) refers clearly involve payments, presumably to the Kohanim (priests) for use in worship.  As far as I can determine, there's no connection whatsoever between the types of vows described in the Tanach and the presumably-rabbinically-defined vows described in Hatarat Nedarim.
So how did we get from there to here?
I'm going to go way out on a limb and take a completely-uneducated guess--the following is 100% speculation:  After the destruction of the second Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple), the rabbis, in their zeal to preserve whatever they could of Temple-based practices, completely redefined the nature of a vow by removing from the concept of vows any hint of dependence on the existence of a Temple.  In the process, they turned many of our decisions, made with or without witnesses, and even many of our unspoken thoughts, into vows, thus making it almost impossible for any Jew to avoid making a vow, thereby making sinners of us all.
In plain English, I get no choice in the matter--I'm making vows, and therefore committing sins, all the time, whether I intend to or not.
You may say that that's no big deal--I can always do Hatarat Nedarim.  But if I'm, essentially, making vows against my will, why should I have to?


I'm embarrassed to say that this is the second time I've had to correct this post, and the fault was mine on both occasions.  :(

In this case, it finally dawned on me that I'd never actually read a traditional Hatarat Nedarim.  The version that I'm transcribing below is directly from what's popularly known as the Koren Sacks Siddur (Nusach Ashkenaz), page 874 in the version that I own.  As you'll see, it doesn't bear much resemblance to the Schachter-Shalomi version, to which I linked above at this translation of Hatarat Nedarim, the formal annulment of vows.

"Listen, my masters (expert judges): every vow or oath or prohibition or restriction or ban that I have vowed or sworn, whether awake or in a dream, or that I swore with one of the holy names that may not be erased, or by the holy four-letter name of God, blessed by He, or any naziriteship that I accepted on myself, even a naziriteship like that of Samson, or any prohibition, even against enjoyment, whether I forbade it to myself or others, by any expression of prohibition, whether using the language of prohibition or restriction or ban, or any positive commitment, even to perform a [non-obligatory] commandment, that I undertook by way of a vow or voluntary undertaking or oath or naziriteship or any other such expression, whether it was done by handshake or vow or voluntary undertaking or commandment-mandated custom I have customarily practiced, or any utterance that I have verbalized, or any non-obligatory commandment or good practice or conduct I have vowed and resolved in my heart to do, and have done three times without specifying that it does not have the force of a vow, whether it relates to myself or others, both those known to me and those I have already forgotten -- regarding all of them, I hereby express my retroactive regret, and ask and seek their annulment from you, my eminences.  For I fear that I may stumble and be trapped, Heaven forbid, in the sin of vows, oaths, naziriteships, bans, prohibitions, restrictions and agreements.  I do not regret, Heaven forbid, the performance of the good deeds I have done.  I regret, rather, having accepted them on myself in the language of vow, oath, naziriteship, prohibition, ban, restriction, agreement or acceptance of the heart.

 Therefore I request annulment for them all."

The text continues for another page, but my hands are already falling off from transcribing this one, so whatever I've already typed will have to suffice.

The problems that I have with this traditional version are that:
~ I don't understand how one can make a vow in one's dream, since dreams are involuntary by definition.
~ I don't understand how I can forbid anything to someone else.
Would I do Hatarat Nedarim?  Not unless I could figure out what any of these sins are, and whether or not I'd actually committed them.  What on earth is the difference between "vows, oaths, naziriteships, bans, prohibitions, restrictions and agreements?"

One point remains valid, at least for me--"I'm making vows, and therefore committing sins, all the time, whether I intend to or not."
You may say that that's no big deal--I can always do Hatarat Nedarim.  But if I'm, essentially, making vows against my will without my knowledge, and therefore, without my consent, why should I have to?"

My original complaint stands--the whole concept of vows, etc., is so complicated that no one without a good knowledge of halachah/Jewish religious law can possible avoid making a vow.  Lifnei iver no titen michshol--before the blind (ignorant, tempted), do not put a stumbling block.  Why did the rabbis make the laws of vows so complicated?

The argument below remains valid.

Let me make another argument--what if rabbinic law puts the health of our planet at risk?

This planet is currently facing the most serious ecological disaster of my lifetime, namely, global climate change.  How could we waste precious resources by running our air conditioners for 25 hours straight, rather than turning them on and off as needed? Even the energy-saving setting on an air conditioner uses electricity, as do the numerous timers that we've always used.

From the comments:

Shira Salamone said...
. . .
If the ruling against using electricity on Shabbat was a mistake to begin with [our son the Physics Ph.D. insists that electricity is neither a form of fire not a form of the act of building], why perpetuate the mistake by continuing to observe the prohibition? There are other, far better reasons to avoid using communication technology on Shabbat, as I stated in my post. But I must respectfully state that, in my opinion, refusing to push a button on Shabbat doesn't seem to be the best way to mark oneself as observant.

I see no good reason *not* to "shed prohibitions and limitations" once they're been proven incorrect, have outlived their usefulness, and/or have become downright offensive.
WED AUG 09, 12:14:00 AM 2017

After years of serious consideration, I've finally concluded that I will probably never be an observant Jew, whether Orthodox or halachic egalitarian, mainly for this reason:  I will not relinquish my right to say that the rabbis are wrong when I think they're wrong!

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