Radical Disagreement Within A Tradition

Here’s an argument from analogy for you.  I was reading some Nietzsche lately, and while I get something different from such texts each time I read them, this time I was struck by just how much I differ from Nietzsche on almost any of the ‘big’ issues in philosophy and politics.  Shockingly, I feel the same way about some of the people with whom I share the other tradition that has thus far defined my life: Judaism.  However, the similarity ends there.

The way that my Jewish education was formed, similarly to many others as I understand it, both in this generation and in at least a few preceding mine, focused on a certain black-and-white nature of the religion.  This theory stated that all the members of the tradition must hold certain core beliefs, and those that differ too radically from those beliefs were belittled or outright excluded from the tradition.  The fact that I can see this theory for what it is now speaks as much to the company that I have kept over the last couple years as it does to any progression in my own thought, but the key is just how deeply that mode of thought sunk in for me at the time (which was not long ago).  At multiple times since I began to struggle with issues of Jewish identity, a topic so difficult in no small part due to this sort of teaching, I have considered disavowing myself of the tradition as a whole because I so strongly disagree with the notions outlined above.  Some, including myself if you asked me today, would call such a move throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  The point that struck me as I read Nietzsche was how odd it was that I did not always share that view.

What makes philosophy and Judaism so different in this respect?  It would never cross my mind to ‘disavow’ myself of philosophy simply because I came across thinkers who represented that tradition in some form or another with whom I disagreed vehemently.  Maybe that is what drew me to philosophy, but there are very few ‘core beliefs’ than anyone has to adhere to in order to ‘be a philosopher.’  As such, thinkers who disagree with each other tend to produce the most interesting and intellectually fruitful discussions.  There are days when I simply cannot handle entering into that dialogue, and that is perfectly acceptable; but when my head is clear, really reading a philosopher whose views clash consistently with mine helps me, among other things, to clarify which beliefs I consider fundamental for myself.

It is quite clear which method of interacting with a given tradition I consider healthier.  In a perfect world where time was no obstacle, I would scour the traditional Jewish sources and my living mentors to see if there is any mention of such a concept within Judaism itself.  Given the extremely time-bound and imperfect world I find myself in, I will have to rely on the powers of the internet for that search.

 

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