Halachic Opportunism

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Korach 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Halachic opportunism is a phrase that contains within it an internal contradiction.

What, after all, is “opportunism”? It means checking out what works, what is pleasing and popular. Halachah, by contrast, is divine, eternal, absolute, firmly entrenched.

Every individual has goals and ideals. Yet what can he do when they are smashed up on the boulder of reality? Opportunism suggests: Very simple, make maximum use of opportunities, while foregoing or changing your initial goals in favor of what is easily attainable. Change your loyalties in accordance with the shifting likelihood of success.

According to this, when there is a contradiction between Halachah and reality, halachic opportunism will say: Reality wins. Halachah has to be adapted to it.

There are therefore sophisticated methods for officially continuing to tow the line. In fact, the heretics in the universities claim that that’s what the Sages of the Mishnah did. For example, those heretics claim, the sages of the Mishnah considered the law of the rebellious son (in which the son must be killed in anticipation of the hideousness of his future acts, Devarim 21:18) to be inhumane, old fashioned, and in need of change, so they invented new conditions: in order for this law to be applicable, for example, the parents of the child must be identical in appearance and height – something which is obviously impossible. By such means, they elegantly neutralized that law. Those same heretics hold that the Sages of the Talmud did the same thing to the laws of the Mishnah, and so forth – G-d have mercy on them.

In just that way, halachic opportunism changes one’s loyalty to the laws of the Torah according to their shifting chances of success. In other words, according to the level of popular support. That’s how it works: changing one’s positions in accordance with one’s relative strength and in accordance with public opinion polls.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the incident involving Rachamim Kalanter (Kalanterism), a member of the religious “Mizrachi Workers’ Party" which, in 5713, sought to depose Jerusalem’s mayor because of his support of establishing a Reform synagogue. Kalanter changed his allegiance and supported the mayor in exchange for an appointment as Vice Mayor in charge of religious affairs. In order to prevent such Kalanterism, a law was passed that a Knesset member must leave the Knesset before being chosen to a new party.

Here is an example of religious opportunism: Many dwellers of Zion do not love conversions that demand undertaking Mitzvah observance. They want to change the definition of conversion to mean, “belonging to the Jewish People”. For them, “Your people are my people” (Ruth 1,16) suffices, without “your G-d is my G-d” (ibid.). This constitutes not just a change in the definition of conversion, but in the definition of the Jewish People.

Another example: It is a fact that many girls enlist in the army against the rulings of the Chief Rabbinate. The simple solution? A new ruling that says that this is all right.

A third example: There is a lot of filth in modern culture, but the public loves it with all its warts. Hence we must rule that all is permissible, perhaps with a few minor changes as a sort of fig leaf. Any interesting film or book is permissible, because, when all is said and done, it’s just “culture”. Even if it’s got a bit of heresy, a bit of forbidden gossip, a bit of pornography…all in all, those things are lost in the permissible majority. No big deal.

As for us, however, the disciples of Moshe, when there is a contradiction between Halachah and reality, we say: “Let G-d decide!” And why is that? Because G-d also determines the divine nature of the soul.

And what exists in Halachah in black letters exists deep within us, in the letters of our soul. Israel and the Torah are one. Indeed, that is a spiritual concept. Whoever does not delve deeply into issues of faith, risks falling prey to halachic opportunism. I am not writing this for the halachic opportunist. He will not understand. He will think he is sanctifying the name of G-d. I am writing this for us, so that we do not get confused.

Maran Ha-Rav Kook quotes the words of the Zohar: “The Devil begins by bringing people together, but ultimately creates divisiveness. Holiness begins divisively but ultimately brings people together” (Orot Ha-Kodesh 2:440-441, and 1:15). Opposites cannot be attached together.

We do not go “whichever way the wind [Ruach] blows”. Rather, we set sail in the direction of “My spirit [Ruach] which shall be set upon you and My words which I have put in your mouth” (Yeshayahu 59:20).