The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Yehudah, Beit Shemesh, the Chief Rabbi, the Pope and Responsibility

with 5 comments

1. Since my post saying that the Chief Rabbi is wrong in telling the Pope that religion is the answer to restoring the “soul” to Europe, I have been wondering what is the answer.

2. Since my post about the nutters in Beit Shemesh shouting at little girls in the name of religion, I have been watching the media discussing who is really to blame.

3.  Last night my son Yisroel gave an excellent shiur on the week’s parashah, Vayigash, at the end of which he focused on the fact that the word “vayigash” emphasises that Yehudah finally steps forward to accept personal responsibility for his brothers’ welfare and thereby justifies his hereditary position of leadership.

4.  Personal responsibility seems to me to be the key to lots of things.

5.  In one of the Father Brown stories GK Chesterton has the priest comment on the use of early lie-detectors; he says they are as useless as the medieval idea that a murder suspect is made to touch the corpse and if blood flows it is a sign of guilt: “Blood flows, fast or slow, in dead folk or living, for so many more million reasons than we can ever know.  Blood will have to flow very funnily; blood will have to flow up the Matterhorn, before I will take it as a sign that I am to shed it.” This reminded me of an old post of mine entitled “What if God’s a Christian?” (which annoyed a few people), the essential thesis of which was that I should live on the assumption that my religious beliefs might be wrong, and avoid doing anything that, without religion, I would have to be ashamed of.  Father Brown’s refusal to shed blood based on belief in superstition or trust in machinery is an assertion of personal responsibility for his actions – neither religion nor anything else should be used as a cover or excuse for my own action or inaction.

6. So: (1) the “soul” of Europe will be restored when children, and adults, are taught how and why to take personal responsibility for their actions.

7. And so: (2) the real problem of Beit Shemesh is that 30 malicious nutters are being allowed by 10,000 passive chareidi residents to taint the chareidi reputation, because the 10,000 are failing to accept personal responsibility for the need to do anything positive to protect children from being abused in their name.

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Written by Daniel Greenberg

December 31, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. I’d be wary of endorsing personal responsibility alone as a philosophy without it being backed by the moral teaching that religion, whether Judaism or Christianity, provides. Ultimately you come back to the question of “why” things are right and wrong. The Pope speaks a lot of sense when he talks about the “natural moral order”. If we are simply individuals, “atoms spinning in the dark” as Dr Rowan Williams put it, “why” is there a need to do anything positive to protect children from being abused in one’s name? Which of course isn’t to say one can’t be good without God. But personal responsibility alone doesn’t I feel provide the unconditionality that some of us, particularly the more fallible weaker characters, need.

    Samuel Johnson

    December 31, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    • Organised religion has a patchy record of reinforcing personal responsibility. You may or may not be able to get on without religion – opinions differ – but you certainly cannot get on without personal responsibility; and as classic rabbinic sources teach, if you aim for religion without a sense of personal responsibility, you end up by becoming something much worse than an amoral animal.

      Daniel Greenberg

      January 1, 2012 at 12:17 am

      • Quite. I just wonder how easy it is without moral teaching rooted in religious thought to preserve a meaningful sense of personal responsibility, or of right and wrong as absolute rather than relative concepts.

        Samuel Johnson

        January 1, 2012 at 1:00 am

  2. A reasonable thing to wonder – religious people generally claim it is difficult or impossible, while humanists and others claim it is easier – the available evidence based on observation is equivocal!

    Daniel Greenberg

    January 1, 2012 at 8:47 am

  3. What is the definition of a “Chareidi”? Is it the Chossid who, instead of sitting and learning in the Kollel where he is registered, goes out into the street and protests about something that he hasn’t been told by his Rabbonim to protest about, or is it the typical member of Rabbi David’s Shul in Bet Shemesh or Kehillat Ahavat Zion in Ramat Bet Shemesh, or, for that matter a member of North Hendon or Ner Yisroel or what? The problem here is that everyone seems to be tarred with the same brush and therefore every “frum” person is lumped in with the meshugayim.

    Henry Ehreich

    January 1, 2012 at 1:47 pm


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