“Let's table the discussion" is an  Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children. (Dedicated to the Refuah Sheleima of Shalva Adina Bas Sarah Chana & Eliyahu Aharon Ben Yocheved Yetta Ettel).

There was once a gathering in a Rabbinic conference in Petersberg, Russia. The rabbis were facing challenges from the general Jewish population seeking reform in the Torah in order to “help” make the Torah more palatable to the “modern Jew.” 

At the conference, which was attended by a wide ranging group of Rabbis representing different views  a certain Rabbi listed a series of topics that he felt were worthy of review in modern society. He began with the Mitzva of Chalitzah: “Be it known,” the presenter began, “that the antiquated law of Chalitzah which takes place when a woman is widowed without offspring, is offensive and should be changed.”

Rav Tzvi Hirsch Rabinowitz ztl. Kovna Rav was one of the Rabbis attending the conference. He rose immediately and offered a response: “Young man” said the Rav, “You are offering an interesting proposal but it does not belong here. There is a medical conference across town. You are in the wrong place – the place your proposal must be brought, is directly there.”

“What?” argued the presenter, “What do doctors have to do with nullifying Chalitzah?”

Rav Tzvi Hirsch was bewildered. “I thought you understood that the Mitzva of Chalitzah is predicated upon the death of a husband who leaves his wife and this world without a child. If the doctors follow your proposal, they will vote and abolish death and indeed, Chalitzah reform will be achieved. Truly brilliant!”

The presenter responded, “But you cannot abolish death.”

And with  a twinkle in hiss eye, Rav Tzvi Hirsch added, “The same is true with our Torah and Mitzvos.”

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 82b) recounts the episode that occurred at the end of the Parsha with Zimri and Pinchas. The Gemara notes that Zimri brought Kozbi, the Moabite princess into the Jewish camp in front of Moshe and the Zekanim. In what appears to be an act of defiance and mockery of Moshe, Zimri challenges Moshe. However, when one examines the comments of the Maharsha, one discovers that the 250 year old Zimri really wanted to save the Jewish people with the argument that it is better that they commit the Avaira of Gilui Arayos within the camp of the Jewish people instead of running the risk of Avodah Zara AND Gilui Arayos outside of the camp. In essence, adds famed Maggid Rav Yaakov Galinski ztl., Zimri was helping the people select the “lesser of two evils.”

This is why Pinchas arose and stated that in regard to Torah-true Judaism there are no compromises. We are not the ones who own the Torah – we are merely bound to interpret and keep its words.

There are two words that have historically proved to be major challenges to synthesize in Jewish life throughout the last 2 millennia (at least). They are the words “Torah-true” and “modern”. Each generation has the challenge uniquely because by definition, the modern challenges of today are not the modern challenges of the previous generation. Some argue that the Torah must embrace modernity and modern society or risk alienating the Jewish generation of tomorrow. Others argue that modern society needs to be solidly grounded and aligned with  Torah-true commitment and values or risk creating a religion that is not Judaism.

What practical challenges do the words modern and Torah-true present to you?

How do YOU navigate these challenges? What tools, guidance  or heuristics do you use?

What advice can you provide to your children as they grapple with  their own struggles with the same issues?

Let’s  “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting  discussion into our homes and communities.