Monday, February 28, 2011

Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (aka Rambam and Maimonides)


Tonight, I went to my synagogue to see a showing of a movie about
Rambam (aka Maimonides). I had previously seen a Rabbi Berel Wein production of a movie about Rashi and enjoyed it immensely. I assumed I would like this one too, and I was not disappointed.

The movie told about the life of Rambam. There were interesting details that included scenes with Muslim zealots called the Almohads coming into Jewish Cordoba and giving the Jews there the traditional non-choice -- leave with just the possessions on your back, convert or die.

To some degree, I understand why Muslims (and a few centuries later, Christians) would give Jews the choice of convert or die. When you know you don't have the truth on your side, you need to keep people under the thumb of death threats. But Judaism is the truth and Jews understand this in a way that people whose version of the truth is anything but the truth will never understand. Because their version of the truth has more holes in it than all the golf courses in the world, they don't understand what the real truth looks like, so they don't understand why we can't give up our way of life.

I understand why the Karaites of Fustat, Egypt, had issues with Rambam. They didn't want the other Karaite Jews to realize that the truth in Rabbinic Judaism and leave the Karaite fold.

What I don't understand is why so many Ashkenazic Jews feel the need to force their customs and interpretations on Sephardic Jews. I don't understand they Sephardic Rabbis are often threatened (by threats of non-acceptance within the Orthodox community) for having different opinions or following their own halakha (version of Jewish Law). I have been learning Shulhan Arukh -- the Code of Jewish Law -- written by the Sephardic scholar Rab Yoseph Karo. In the Shulhan Arukh is also versions of the writings of the Polish Ashkenazic scholar Rav Moshe Isserles (Rama). Right there in one volume is not only the Halakhot for Sephardic Jews and for Ashkenazic Jews side by side. Both are equally acceptable.

Which sort of begs the question: why are so many Ashkenazic Jews bullying Sephardic Jews into discarding their own traditions? Why can't these people accept variations in Halakha that don't match their opinions? Can it be that they are concerned that their way isn't the truth?

Well, Torah bullies, ease your minds. Both versions are Tora, both versions are equally valid Tora paths. Stop trying to create a monolithic Judaism. Monolithic Judaism is antithetical to a living Tora and to the concept of Halakha as a growing, living, breathing, developing entity. Keep Rambam's dream alive and continue protecting his ideals.

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