Friday, January 11, 2008

More from Rabbi Walter Wurzburger

In an earlier post I began to quote from the work of Walter Wurzburger. In particular from his book Ethics of Responsibilty. I wanted to continue that today.

The pluralism of Jewish ethics manifests itself in the readiness to operate with a number of independent ethical norms and principles such as concern for love, justice, truth, and peace. Since they frequently give rise to conflicting obligations, it becomes necessary to rely upon intuitive judgments to resolve the conflict. There is, however, another dimension to the pluralism of Jewish ethics: it is multi-tiered and comprises many strands. It contains not only objective components such as duties and obligations, but also numerous values and ideals possessing only subjective validity. Moreover, the pluralistic thrust of Jewish ethics makes it possible to recognize the legitimacy of many alternate ethical values and ideals. p5
I love Rabbi Wurzburger's humanity that comes through in his writing. In every word I sense his conern for the reader and his hope that his writings will enhance the reader's understanding and practice of ethics.

What I find fascinating is the juxtaposition in one paragraph of these phrases:
  • "pluralism of Jewish ethics"
  • "rely upon intuitive judgments to resolve the conflict"
  • "multi-tiered and comprises many strands"
  • "legitimacy of many alternate ethical values and ideals"

Certainly these phrases aren't how the Halakhah or orthodox Judaism are portrayed in the media, or I would argue even in the discussions that I read in blogs like Hirhurim Musings or in most shiurim from YU. Perhaps I am missing something, or I wonder if Rabbi Wurzburger's ideas and writings aren't within the mainstream anymore. I know that he was a student of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and a professor at Yeshiva University, but as is clear from the field of discussion about Rav Soloveitchik, there are a wide, wide range of opinions about him and his legacy.

I would love to hear from someone at YU about the how Rabbi Wurzburger's work is seen today.

Of course, this paragraph does not make Rabbi Wurzburger into some liberal, anything goes reformer as this next paragraph shows:

For me, Halakhah represents the revealed will of God. The positions of classical Reform as well as of Conservative Judaism and Reconstructionism are the very antitheses of my approach. For them, the promptings of the autonomous human conscience constitute the highest court of appeals in all ethical matters. p5

It is this fascinating tightrope between a "revealed will of God" and "intuitive judgements" that Rabbi Wurzburger walks that attracts me, because it is one that reveals a profound truth that I believe holds value for a far broader audience than would traditionally read Rabbi Wurzburger's work.


Anonymous said...

I know that he was a colleague of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and a professor at Yeshiva University

Although they both taught at YU-RWW would have referred to himself as a student of RYBS never a colleague of the Rav.

Jeff Wild said...

Dear anonymous,

Thanks for the clarification. I am sure Rabbi Wurzburger would have agreed. I have changed the text.

With blessings for life, peace and all good things,