Editor's Note: Simon Jacobson's article, "Was
Moses Orthodox?" received an unprecedented amount
of attention. Rabbi Jacobson was flooded with letters and
E-mail regarding his short piece. Most were positive. A few
were not. A rabbi in Michigan accused Mr. Jacobson of being
"sadly mistaken if he thinks that 'observing the Torah
and Mitzvot does not create, eliminate, or alter your inherent
soul.'" He also asserted, "There is no question
that observance of Torah and Mitzvot provides the only key
to communion with the Almighty. Those who consistently choose
that path in life are called Orthodox Jews, and the Almighty
has consistently stood guard over them these past 3,500 years,
protecting them from the wayward byways of a confused, bewildered
What follows is Rabbi Jacobsons response:
* * *
Instead of fighting with one writer who failed to grasp the point of
the initial piece, "Was Moses Orthodox?" let's take a step
back. Rather than trying to determine the validity of "orthodoxy,"
we should figure out what, in fact, makes a Jew a Jew?
Is it culture? Education? Observance? Personality? Genes? History?
Programming? Anti-Semitism? Chicken soup? The list goes on.
The answer is simple. What makes you human-and most importantly, what
makes you a Jew-is one thing and one thing only: your soul, your Neshomo.
In fact, you are your soul, contained in the vehicle of the body. Your
soul is shaped by G-d in His own Divine image. This soul is an "inalienable
right" of every human being, unalterable and nonarbitrary. Just
as G-d is immutable, so too is the soul. Fundamental to Torah thought
is that nothing-no action, no behavior-can alter the essential Divine
nature of the soul. The soul is eternal; a Jew has a unique Jewish soul.
Even if a person, G-d forbid, sins and transgresses, there is always
the hope for teshuvah (atonement). Maimonides wrote, "The Torah
assures that at the end of golus (exile) Jews will ultimately do teshuvah."
Even if one does not atone, the affect of his behavior is on his body
and the relationship of the body to the soul; not on the soul. There
is, unequivocally, no such thing (in Judaism) as eternal damnation of
This is not an opinion or a viewpoint, but a fundamental component
of Jewish faith-faith in the immortality of G-d and the Divine soul,
and absolute belief in the realization of G-d's plan for existence.
Judaism teaches that evil is transient and good is eternal. Good must
and will prevail. This is the entire basis of our belief in the Messiah
and redemption: that the world will realize the purpose for which it
was created. Anything less questions the validity of G-d Himself.
The well-known statement from Hillel reads, "Love all creatures,
and bring them close to Torah." When Hillel uses a seemingly strange
expression, "creatures" instead of "people," he
is reminding us somewhat arrestingly that even if a person has no apparent
quality or virtue, he must be loved by the mere virtue of being G-d's
creature; G-d chose to create him or her and that is the greatest reason
to love one another. We therefore love everyone unconditionally, including
a criminal and someone who is not living up to his calling.
It does not stop there. True unconditional love also means that you
want the best for your beloved. Thus Hillel continues: "And bring
them closer to Torah." Love for your fellow man dictates that you
do everything in your power to inspire and motivate him to live up to
his greatest potential. I may therefore disagree with another Jew's
behavior or choices, but I never disagree with the person. I embrace
him as my brother, both of us children of G-d.
Now let us once again consider the question of Moses' religious "affiliation."
The word "orthodox" has been politicized and bureaucratized.
To most secular people it does not mean "Torah observant"
and "G-d- fearing Jew." It means a "political party,"
a "dogmatic minority" that wants control and power, and imposes
its will on others. For better or worse, this is the way "orthodoxy"
has been "spun," and this is its image in many people's minds.
They do not see Orthodox Jews as G-dlier people.
Who can say that they are wrong? How many Jews have been "turned
off" of Judaism for legitimate reasons, escaping religiously oppressive
homes, experiencing deep alienation in synagogues and with rabbis who
are bureaucratic, punitive, angry, hypocritical or even abusive, all
supposedly in the name of "orthodoxy" and fulfilling "G-d's
Will." These rabbis miss the point, following the letter of the
law while missing its spirit.
"Orthodox" often implies inflexible and stagnant. In truth,
halacha (Jewish law) also means halicho (motion), as it is a dynamic
and live system. Not a throwback to archaic times, but a vibrant approach
to life, and one that continues to play infinitely new combinations
of Divine music, using the same "musical notes" of our holy
Nowhere in the Torah is there any mention of the word "orthodox,"
or in fact "reform" or "conservative." The denomination
called "Orthodox Jewry" was created only after the birth of
the reform and conservative movements in order to contrast between them.
So again we ask, was Moses an "Orthodox Jew?" No. Because
man-made labels and definitions have no place in a relationship between
our souls and G-d.