Huqqat and Korah deal with two contrasting religious polarities and dispositions. Korah is the religious virtuoso who is bereft of virtue. The incarnation of the Maimonidean min, the advocate of belief who does not believe but exploits the misguided beliefs of others for egotistic advantage, deference and power, [Repentance 3:7] Korah does not believe that God is real, and he projects his own unbelief upon Moses whom he portrays to be a usurper. Korah cannot believe that religion or God is really real. For Korah, religion provides the social tool whereby the masses are manipulated for the glory of the elite. The rhetoric of religion provides the propaganda apparatus that validates the ruling hierarchy by sanctifying and validating office holders, legitimating and justifying those who enjoy affluence, and privileges, those who yield power and demand deference.
Korah is a gavra, a human person, but he is not a mentch. Morally he is a beast or a machine, he is a heftsa, an object which if not human is amoral and if human, immoral. Korah is so addicted to power that he will bring down anyone who stands up to him, denying him the destiny he demands for himself.
“Zot Huqqat ha-Torah, “this is the inscribed law of the Torah”, is the antidote for Korah’s moral poison. “This” is a demonstrative pronoun, pointing to a ritual rite that teaches a moral right, and is not to be confused with Korah’s’ vision of power. “This
is the way”; Korah’s way is not God’s way. Hoq has been popularly taken to be a law with no apparent reason for it promulgation other than to test the unqualified obedience and loyalty of the subject to the divine master, which requires the unthinking, uncritical loyalty that Korah requires. A hoq is in fact a law inscribed on stone, available to be read by everyone, reflecting the will of the Lawgiver, and never to be effaced or changed–, an idiom that appears in Hammurabi’s Code, as well. The red cow Hoq is a ritual gesture that teaches unchanging and eternal moral lessons of which Korah is oblivious:
- the leader serves and is not ruling to be served
- God is real, commands, and holds people accountable for their choices and acts
- one tries to purify the defiled
- and be willing to be defiled in the process.
- The pagan Israelite called Korah used people to pleasure himself; the monotheist Moses would sacrifice himself to save his people.
The leader is one of the people and not an exploiter, misleader, or lord over the people.
Korah is a master of language, appropriating recognizable religious words to self-serving power ends. Below we compare the canonical Huqqat ha-Torah rendering to the Korahite hijacking of religious idioms, all of which shift the locus of religious Orthodox truth from the holy book –the sacred object–to the charisma of the holy person.
1. bHullin 90b speaks of daat Torah as the opinion of God as revealed in Torah canonical writing. Orthodox affiliating clergymen who invoke daat Torah/Torah opinion in our time are actually alluding to Numbers 24:16, where the wicked Balaam claims that he reads the mind of God, he knows the modest godol that he is, the opinion of the Most High. Calling God ‘elyon/most high, without the E-l/God epithet is a literary tour de force lost on most modern readers; ‘Elyon was the epithet for the pagan God also called “El” who presided over the Ugaritic pantheon.
We are told that coed educational classes, mixed denomination rabbinic boards, and drafting yeshiva men and Orthodox women into the Israeli army violates daat Torah. The Torah opinion of bSota 44b, which requires the conscription of both men and women when Israel is in a defensive war is apparently superseded by the divinely inspired saints who are sitting in their synods. Note well that daat Torah privileges the unjustified intuition of a sacred elite over the covenant canon recorded in the sacred library, or ignored by that sacred library. The Torah forbids adding on to its norms. God got the revelation right on the first try. Deuteronomy 4:2.
2. Avot 6:6 refers to an idiom called emunat Hachamim. According to Jewish religious Tradition, Hebrew grammar is applied to understand the meaning of the Hebrew words recorded in the sacred canon, According to the rule of semichut, also known as construct or genitive, the idiom means “faith of the [Oral Torah rabbinic] sages.” This grammatical, masoretic meaning was also noted by Rabbi Eliezer Levi of the Orthodox Berlin Rabbinical Seminary. When I first used the idiom following the conventionally popular but grammatically and theologically incorrect “faith in the sages” who happen to proclaim Daat Torah rulings in my JTS Talmud shiur with Hacham Yosef Faur shalit”a in the early 1970’s, he became angry with me. There is no such norm requiring such faith in the Halakhic legal order. Israel after all has a predilection for a justified law.
When suggesting these thoughts to some colleagues, I was told that my grammatical renderings are unorthodox. We instead believe in what we are told by our rebbes in Yeshiva. Their words and not our idiosyncratic or grammatical renderings reflect the handed down Tradition. Only those rebbes and rabbis have authentic Tradition, and they declare it is not traditional to use grammar or philology when learning Torah, and it is scornful of great rabbis to create egoistically driven innovations by applying conceptual analysis. When the Brisker Rov conceptualizes it is kosher; when lesser light luminaries learn, they really do not have a right to an opinion. When Bet Yosef applies lower text criticism in explicating legal views because he believes that one cannot make a correct reading with faulty texts, he is a special case. If one has daat Torah intuition, we must believe in the rabbi’s virtual, if not actual, infallibility. What difference does the text make? The real text in the shiur is the inspired mind of the mentor who is stimulated by but not bound to the sacred text; the teacher is thus reified into the Tradition incarnate. This view reflects the Judaism of the Orthodox street but it does not reflect the Judaism of the sacred library.
For Maimonides, Tradition ends with the Amoraic Talmud of Rabina and Rab Ashi; the Geonim possessed the Tradition of the Talmud but not the authority of the Talmud. Others seem to be claiming that today’s great rabbis
- are masoretic sages
- possess correct and divinely inspired intuition
- and have the singular right to innovate Jewish law. For example, Mehitsa is a Torah or rabbinic law; we do not need to do priestly blessing every day; we pick and choose, not subject to review or conversation. We follow Rema regarding egg matsa but not hol ha moed tefillin
- mediate the norms of Judaism; other rabbis may not do this
- subjecting these elite rabbis to scrutiny is heretical [machisi maggdienu]
- Jewish education is about recovering mimetic culture; only great rabbis have a right to discover truth, define Tradition, express Daat Torah, demand faith in their intuition.
The alternative Orthodoxy maintains:
- Numbers 24:16 indicates that Daat Torah is a Balaam like pagan idea when proclaimed by a person
- Faith in God requires that we have the faith of the sages of antiquity and not faith in the infallibility of unreviewable elites
- Tradition of the canon is sacred; tradition of ancestors is revered. The former has a veto the latter just a voice.
Last 10 posts by Rabbi Alan Yuter
- May Women Run for Public Office? - May 19th, 2013
- Sucking the Life out of God’s Law: A response to a blog post, “Metzitzah and the Halachic Process” - May 12th, 2013
- The Political Modesty of Rabbi Eliezer Melammed - May 5th, 2013
- The Israeli Draft of Women: What is Orthodox Judaism Anyway? - April 29th, 2013
- The Law of Preserving Life according to the Two Forms of Orthodox Judaism - April 21st, 2013
- The Narrative of Abraham and Efron: A Clash of Two Cultures - April 14th, 2013
- Rambam and Drafting Yeshiva Students - April 8th, 2013
- How not to Observe Sukkot - March 31st, 2013
- On Truth in Packaging - March 24th, 2013
- Ko’ah de-Heteira ‘Adif – Orthodox rabbis ought to be strict about being lenient - March 17th, 2013