02 February 2009

Thoughts on "Confrontation"

Having read Professor Marc Shapiro's recent first posting on his thoughts on Rabbi Soloveitchik's 1964 article "Confrontation" (yes, I know he has a second one up - I started reading it this morning at the gym), I figured I should go back and re-read it, and did. I actually thought to read "Confrontation" a few years back when the bishops and cardinal visit occurred at our school and the ensuing discussions that followed.
Anyways, my primary reaction to Rabbi Soloveitchik's words in my college years are similar now to what they were then. The article itself is interesting and a nice read, but the severity and the interesting part is in the addendum, a statement formulated by Rabbi Soloveitchik on interfaith relationships.* He writes that
In the areas of universal concern, we welcome an exchange of ideas and impressions. Communication among the various communities will greatly contribute towards mutual understanding and will enhance and deepen our knowledge of those universal aspects of man which are relevant to all of us. (78)
So far so good. However, in the next paragraph, he writes
In the area of faith, religious law, doctrine, and ritual, Jews have throughout the ages been a community guided exclusively by distinctive concerns, ideals, and commitments. Our love of and dedication to God are personal and bespeak an intimate relationship which must not be debated with others whose relationship to God has been moulded by different historical events and in different terms. Discussion will in no way enhance or hallow these emotions. (78).
What seemed peculiar to me was why we would be debating our love of and dedication to God - perhaps we would discuss these things, but not debate them. He then continues on by saying that
We are, therefore, opposed to any public debate, dialogue or symposium concerning the doctrinal, dogmatic or ritual aspects of our faith vis รก vis "similar" aspects of another faith community. We believe in and are committed to our Maker in a specific manner and we will not question, defend, offer apologies, analyze or rationalize our faith in dialogues centered about these "private" topics which express our personal relationship to the God of Israel. We assume that members of other faith communities will feel similarly about their individual religious commitment. (79)
Although this is interesting, I want to return to the above below.
Here's what is really interesting:
Jewish rabbis and Christian clergymen cannot discuss socio-cultural and moral problems as sociologists, historians or cultural ethicists in agnostic or secularist categories. As men of God, our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and terminology bear the imprint of a religious world outlook. We define ideas in religious categories and we express our feelings in a peculiar language which quite often is incomprehensible to the secularist. In discussions we apply the religious yardstick and the religious idiom. (79-80)
Although I understand what he means, I think that rabbis and Christian clergymen can discuss these things in these ways, but I think that they refrain and it is easier to speak about them using the religious yardstick and idiom.
He concludes by saying that "we are ready to discuss universal religious problems. We will resist any attempt to debate our private individual commitment" (80). For his conclusion, it is apparent that he is saying we need to resist opening up discussion as the Catholics were doing around the time he wrote this piece. Yes, we can discuss our public individual commitment, but not opening up a public debate to those who are not rabbis to help us decide how we should see our "
doctrinal, dogmatic or ritual aspects of our faith" (from above). It certainly seemed that the Rav felt kind of bad about what was going on with the Catholics and did not want that sort of process occurring with the Jews.

* In A Treasury of "Tradition", ed. Norman Lamm and Walter S. Wurzburger (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1967), 78 - 80.

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