Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Historically Jews gave up religious practice when it became a burden - not because of loss of faith

Researching the impact of modernization in the 18th and 19th century, I am struck by how modern are the issues. The following is an excerpt from one of  Prof Feiner's works. He believes that secularization preceded ideology. Jews gave up religion when the price they needed to pay to keep it outweighed what they saw as its value. The cost-benefits issue is much more important than issues of theology.

The Origin of Jewish Secularization by Shmuel Feiner 2010 -Pages 105-108) In his study of secularization in England, Roy Porter points to a series of   measures that could be used to evaluate the growing erosion of the Christian   religion: in the big cities, churches were no longer major places of assembly,   and the clergy no longer served as the main sources of authority. The pace of   life in England quickened, and business, which dictated the pulse of urban life,   increased the influence of practical, rational, and earthly considerations in life.   In addition, physicians demonstrated that human intervention could help   people with their problems no less than the clergy, and they opposed folk med­icine and superstition, albeit not always with success. Despite the competition   between the concept of Christian providence as a worldview and the scientific   view, faith did not disappear, as a statement from that period revealed:"Superstition is said to be driven out of the world; no such thing, it is only   driven out of books and talk.?" At the same time, the rise in the consumption   of pleasures and the leisure culture contributed to secularization in England   and elsewhere in Western and Central Europe. Jeremy Bentham asserted that   if man were to choose the ascetic way of life proposed by religion, the world   would turn into hell because man is a creature who is meant to enjoy life. As a result   of the expansion of literacy in Europe and the publication of numerous peri­odicals, information about the earthly world and critical ideas became avail­   able to more people. But secularization did not depend on the adoption of a   secular world view. As John McManners argues, this trend was also a protest   against the constant demands of the Christian religion and an expression of   people's desire to cast off the burden of religion: "Secularization was the inevi­table counterpart, the opposite side of the coin, the reaction of human nature   to a demand almost too intense to bear.”

To Remove the Shackles of the Commandments: Indifference and Laxity

Beginning in the 1760s, religious laxity among the Jewish minority in Europe   gained momentum. In this decade, secularization expanded and deepened rel­ative to the past; this process would grow in intensity in the coming decades and reach its peak toward the end of the century in several communities in   Central and Western Europe. It was not the result of an earthquake that raised   questions about divine providence, nor was it the Haskalah's criticism of religion. But McManners's remark about secularization as the individual's reaction to the increasingly unbearable burden of religion can provide an insight   into Jewish secularization. At a time when halakhic literature and moral ser­mons were posing severe demands, individuals were attempting to throw off   religious prohibitions. To understand the traditional position that preceded   secularization, the point of departure need not be the normative system for   which the rabbinical elite was responsible, but rather the more widespread   popular understanding of religion in terms of obligations and discipline. What   is the meaning of loyalty to religion? When, for example, a London Jew was   asked to testify in court as to the character of Michael Levy, a young man   accused of a terrible act of sodomy, and to depict him as honest and moral,   he said the following: "[Levy] always resorted to the hours of prayer, minded his religion, and was timorous of God. My servant was acquainted with him,   and told me he was one that observed the Sabbath."

As we have seen, to understand the historical process that took place in   the first half of the century and distanced European Jews from religion as a   worldview and a way of life, we need to listen to the relatively obscure voices   that tell us that dissatisfaction with religious tradition, faith, and obligations   increased particularly among the younger generation, those born at the end of   the forties, fifties, or the early sixties. Some of them, spurred by their desire to   embark on an independent path and to cast off the burden of religion, also   took more radical steps of rebellion against the religion.[...]

For those men and women who grew up in a world dominated by eco­nomic considerations and interests, aspirations to climb the social ladder, modern acculturation, and the fostering of strong links to European culture, languages, and values, the demands of the halakhah were intolerably harsh, and the religious world picture was foreign and meaningless. The sharp contradiction between traditional religion and life ill the European city was for them unbearable, even humiliating: "The religion that was taught to us, then,   was full of mystical principles. The story of the primeval world was full of  secrets, dark, incoherent; the events were foreign and, down to the last shades   of meaning, so dissimilar to the occurrences of the world in which we lived   that they seemed almost unbelievable. Characters, states of mind, and feelings   of people who emerge in sacred scriptures not only were puzzling for us in   matters of expression but also, for the most part, stood in contrast to our feel­ings, expressions, and ways of acting."

The prayers were incomprehensible and meaningless, and the religion in its traditional form was at odds with their aesthetic sensibility; to them, the   commandments were embarrassing customs devoid of content, which "do   injury to sense and spirit." Traditional education may have kept young men from falling into moral degeneration and atheism, but in Friedlander's view,   it led to a counterreaction-to hostility toward religious practice, alienation,   skepticism, and a desire for release: "Who can describe the passage from the   slavery of the spirit into freedom! Who can calculate the delight, and thus the   strengthened energy of the soul, of a man who rises from the feeling that he has shackles to the decision to throw them off!”



    did chazal ban going to the market in order to avoid immodesty?

    1. Actually Rav Moshe Feinstein has a teshuva permitting going outside or going to work - even if you encounter immodestly dressed women.

      However there is a general principle - if you can get away with it then you make the demand. It is not a question of whether it is inherently permitted or not. That is why kashrus certification is not done for establishments that have disgusting activities

    2. "if you can get away with it then you make the demand. "
      What exactly does that mean? - please clarify.

  2. Historically Jews - who had lost their faith - gave up religious practice when it became a burden.

  3. The gemara already pointed this out. Love so that you do not hate. Fear so that you do not kick [in rebellion]. Without love religion becomes an unbearable burden. People give it up because it is mitzvas anashim melumada. When people find that secular life is no less a burden they return to religion with love.


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