Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pluralism vs. relativism

Dovbear is currently hosting a thread on pluralism.

Pluralism is actually a Torah principle; relativism is not. It is easy here in galut to get confused. Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm has a great essay that discusses this:

Some excerpts:

'Relativism is the proposition that because there are many kinds of "things" or points of view, and each has an equal right to be heard and advocated in a democratic society, they are therefore necessarily equally valid. If pluralism is just the newest name for that kind of discredited ethical or religious relativism, it is not deserving of our attention....A pluralism that accepts everything as co-legitimate is not pluralism, but the kind of relativism that leads to spiritual nihilism. If everything is kosher, nothing is kosher. If "Torah" has an infinite number of faces, then it is faceless and without value or significance....Orthodox Jews are fully aware of the Talmud's comment on the disputes between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, that "both these and these are the words of the living God." Unfortunately, this profound statement has been abused and turned into a slogan by ignoring the fact that the controversialists were at one in their commitment to the halachah and its divine origin, and disagreed only on its interpretation with regard to very specific matters. The dictum implies a pluralism within the halakhic context-only. It simply cannot be stretched to cover all "interpretations of Judaism" as co-legitimate.'

While in the remainder of this essay he mainly talks about relations between Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities (raising up many issues that sadly, are still unresolved), I find the most profound aspect of the essay to be the premise: Pluralism is totally legitimate, within limits. In the case at hand, the non-Orthodox movements have gone beyond those limits.

In order to avoid the "anything is valid" relativist philosophy, however, some of the Orthodox world draws the line too narrowly. We saw that with Rabbi Slifkin. I hear criticism of LW MO that is in the same spirit. Yet all the disputants here are all committed to Torah, observant Jews. That is enough to get you a place in the discussion, and not be expelled from the beit midrash! I worry that in our zeal to oppose relativism, we end up opposing pluralism. There is a middle path and we must find it an follow it.


Blogger Ezzie said...

Well said.

12:54 PM  

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