Judaism and the Permissive Society

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By Rabbi B. Horovitz.

Is Our Society More Permissive Than Others?

Sociologists stress that which everyone experiences, namely that we live in an age of social change and upheaval, of the breakup of the old order of society. Yet the new order is in some ways less permissive than the old, both in the legal and the social sense of the word. In the legal sphere, we are hedged about and restricted by laws which limit our freedom in the areas of travel, finance and business, the spoken and the written word, drug usage, etc. In the social sphere, the persuasive materialism of Western civilization has weakened the freedom of the individual and has brought about what the sociologists term an “other-directed” mode of behaviour, i.e. that which is motivated by a desire to follow others. As David Riesman says at the conclusion of his notable book “The Lonely Crowd”:

“If the other-directed people should discover... that they no more assuage their loneliness in a crowd of peers, than one can assuage one’s thirst by drinking sea water, then we might expect them to become more attentive to their own feelings and aspirations. The idea that men are created free and equal is both untrue and misleading. Men are created differently. They lose their social freedom and individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other.” The mass media of today, and the closeness and intensity of all communication, create a constant barrage of influences upon human individuality which are in danger of weakening it. Instead, the individual strives to adhere to the status symbols which are created by the mass media and the strong communications which influence him. He wishes to belong to what is fashionable, to be “with it” in ideas, in way of life and dress, to conform to the fashionable way of thinking and behaving. This frequently leads to the loss of individuality and freedom.

On the other hand, our society is certainR more permissive in various fundamental Wd\ These fall into ten categories, which we now consider.

1 . Morals. Relativistic ethics which are fashionable according to the code of the ne\ morality do not accept any absolute mora power above man. They adopt the philosoph\ that “there’s no such thing as good or bad ‘this only thinking makes it so.” They accept no code of right or wrong. Relativistic ethic% are based partly upon a misconstruction, an application of apparent scientific principles to spheres where they do not apply. The principle of casuality which is today doubted in the sphere of physics, has been transferred to the sphere of morality, and forms the basR for the sciences of psychology and sociolog This has largely led to viewing sin as an illusion or even as a maladjustment to a certain “pattern of culture”. It is assumed that real values are only illusions that are relative to a specific pattern of culture. These ideas are taught by professors and leaders of our present day society.

2. Sanctions. This relativism has led to the removal of all moral or religious sanctions. The only ones that exist are legal or totalitarian. As a result, guilt and shame have gradually disappeared. Since this view does not accord with reality, anxiety takes their pace, with far more serious consequences. We need not be surprised if the younger generation has no respect for any authority, even for the university professors who have inculcated these principles into their minds and hearts.

3. Insecurity. The general anxiety is increased by the insecurity which exists in our generation after two world wars and the knowledge that we live under the threat of nuclear destruction. This has led to a society which is filled with a spirit of anarchy and tension, and which lives under the symbol of the bomb.

4. Widened Horizons. The enormous advances in the twentieth century in educational opportunities, the proliferation of new spheres of knowledge and the availability of new experiences has led to a plurality of perception and to a widening of the horizons facing the younger generation. However, there has been no comparable advance in moral and spiritual guidance. No direction has been given to contemporary youth to help them know in which way to make use of and to which purpose to direct the knowledge and experience which they have been given.

5. Leisure. The increase of leisure time and the surplus of means available in Western civilization has created a situation in which people have an overabundance of both vJthout knowing for which purpose it is to be used. It has created an inner vacuum in the life of man. Self-Indulgence. Frequently we find :nat self-indulgence and the consumption of oods dominate human behaviour and are recarded as the end of life. This has created a sirit of apathy and withdrawal from serious concern as to the purpose of living, and has ntroduced to the experience of life what is nown as the “fun syndrome”.

Experimentation. All this leads to anattempt amongst the young to experiment in all spheres without regard to the spirit of harmony. Experimentation in aspects of life which are regarded in present day society as being forbidden, is obviously very attractive. According to Proverbs, “stolen waters taste sweet”. In our age of hippies and trippies, of flower-power and psychedelic experiences, pot-indulgence, drop-outs and ins, sit downs, get highs, of drugs, gambling and vandalism, it is the spirit of prohibition itself which creates the excitement.

8. Marriage. It is above all in the sphere of marriage that the permissiveness of our generation reveals itself. There is an increase of promiscuity, and public expression in its favour. Recently, a prominent newspaper featured the photograph of a bride in a dustbin with the caption; “Are we the last Married Generation?” Premarital and extramarital relationships have not only been condoned, but are officially advocated. Sexual perversions and homosexuality have become the subject of experimentation amongst large sections of the younger generation. We live in the age of the pill, an age of the pursuit of pleasure without fruit, of self-indulgence without responsibility. This has led to a great deal of unhappiness and insecurity, to unwanted children, to VD, and to the breakup of marriage and the family.

9. Family Relationship. Not only is there a breakdown of the natural and wholesome relationship between man and women, there is a similar breakdown of the relationship between parent and child. Since the attitude towards society is an egalitarian instead of a functional one, human beings are viewed as having equal status. This has led to a situation wherein husband and wife, parent and child are regarded as equal voices in the family. We therefore sometimes have the situation where, instead of parents bringing up children, it is the children who bring up the parents. “The young shall put the elders to shame, the elders shall rise up before the little ones, the son shall disown the father and the daughter rise up against her mother.” We live in an atmosphere of other-directedness where only peers matter. There is, therefore, a large gap between the generations. This is due to a large extent to the permissive attitude parents have towards their young, and also because the young find themselves in a chaos created by adults. This has affected the jewish community as well, where there is increasing unhappiness and delinquency amongst the youth.

10. Order. The permissiveness of our generation with its concomitant disorder pervades many spheres of life. It shows itself in the chaotic character of much music, in the plastic arts, in painting and poetry. The artist expresses through his medium the tohu and bohu of our generation.

How Judaism Removes the Evils of the Permissive Society

We will now examine in detail how Judaism combats the various negative aspects of the permissive society which we have described.

1. Morals. Through its belief in an absolute moral power and by instilling a constant consciousness of this power, Judaism developsin man firmness and stability in moral values. The Book of Koheleth, which begins by showing the relativity in nature, human behaviour and society and morals, ends with the words “the end of the matter, when every thing has been heard is: fear G-d and observe His commandments for this is the whole of man.” This means that by accepting the absolute code of the commandments of G-d all the relativities of life can be transformed into meaningful and stable modes of living. Man is created in the image of G-d — Tze!em Elokim

- indicating that he can relate himself to the absolute One, and by striving to imitate Him gain absolute significance for his life. This does not mean that the absolute code of objective ethics of Judaism does not take into consideration the subjective circumstances of the individual. As it is said in Proverbs: “The thief who stole because he is hungry will not be despised”. Our sages speak of the tinok shenishbah — of the infant who has been taken into captivity amongst idolators — who is not regarded as responsible for the sins he has committed. This is not to be confused with relativistic ethics; rather, in judging the behaviour of an individual, one must at all times take into consideration all the subjective aspects of his circumstances. The objective code of ethics remains stable and firm throughout.

2. Sanctions. The basic sanction of Jewish observance is a moral and religious one. In the Diaspora, these are the only sanctions which exist. The sense of guilt which this can create is better than the anxiety and neurosis which are the end-product of permissiveness. Through constant moral education — Torah study — respect for religious and moral authority is built up in the minds and hearts of committed Jews, which is in direct contrast to the lack of respect for authority which characterises student protest and unrest.

3. Insecurity. Instead of the spirit of insecurity which characterizes our age, Judaism inculcates bitachon and emunah, trust and firm belief, It teaches: “the L-rd is with me, I have no fear. What can man do unto me?... It is better to shelter with G-d than to trust in man.” The Gaon of Vilna explains that chasah, the root of the Hebrew word for “shelter”, means to trust when there has been no promise. In other words, it is better to rely upon G-d when there has been no clear promise than to rely upon the promise of man. The observance of the Sabbath, the symbols of the Sukah, the daily prayers and blessings bring about a situation of happiness and firmness in the life of a Jew. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the L-rd.”

4. Widened Horizons. The Jewish term for education, hinuch, indicates that its ideal is one of consecration, education towards high spiritual and moral ideals. With such moral guidance, wide experience and increasing educational opportunities will not bring confusion and will not lead to the loss of a sense of direction. The Torah, says the Book of Proverbs, grants discerment to peta’im. The word “peti” (usually translates as “simple”) describes one who is open (patach) — like our generation — to manifold and often conflicting influences and trends of thought and life. What is required is discernment, clear guidance as to what is right and what is wrong. This is given by the Torah. The Ethics of the Fathers states: “Who is a wise man? He ssho learns from every man, as it is said: ‘I hase learned from all those who could teach me because your statutes were my constant thought and conversation’.” In other words, width of experience and broadness of mind can do a great deal of good as long as a person has a measuring graph — the statutes of G-d

whereby he can know what to accept and what to reject.

This does not mean to say that Judaism ads ocates repression. The Sages (in Talmuc Yerushalmi, Kidushin) say that “man in the future will have to give an account and reckoning of everything that his eye saw from which he did not derive benefit and pleasure. This is not to be regarded as an advocation o hedonism. Its meaning is that only if a person combines his self-indulgence with moral and religious experience does he derive full benefit and joy, and insure that the indulgence wil not develop into misery. It is with such moral guidance that a person can develop his personal freedom and individuality. He will not be in danger of becoming a slave to his environment.

5. Leisure. Leisure has never posed a problem for the Jew but has been his greatest opportunity. Bitul Zeman, waste of time on things of nought, is regarded as a great crime. Time is the greatest possession of man, and should be used for the fulfillment of divine commandments, for the betterment of humanity, for the improvement of self, of one’s knowledge and understanding of Torah.

6. Self-Indulgence. Consumption and indulgence should never be regarded as an end but are an important means. Judaism believes in the concept of Simcha she! Mitzvah. This means that the ideal, the end, is the Mitzvah

— the fulfillment of G-d’s commandment. Indulgence of this nature can remain constant and will lead to S/mcha, to spiritual growth. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in his Kuzari describes the ideal personality as the Chasid, the saint in whose character all qualities play a part. He suppresses neither spiritual nor material faculties but instead harmonizes them all for the purpose of fulfilling G-d’s commandments. It is this type of ideal towards which the Jew

should strive and which will lead to a constant spirit of positive achievement and the love of G-d. It is important to realize that contrary to common belief, the love of G-d frequently takes precedence over the fear of G-d, as we say in our daily prayers, “Le’ahava u/eyirah et shmecha” — ‘to love and fear Your Name.” This means that educationally the do’s should take precedence over the don’ts. The positive aspects of Judaism, which frequently make use of the material inclinations of man rather than suppressing them, are a priority in Jewish life. This is expressed in the words of the Sages: “I have created the Torah as a spice for the evil inclinations” (not an antidote as it is usually translated). This means that the material inclinations of man will not bring him constant pleasure, unless he spices them v ith the Torah. A spice is used in order to give extra taste and extra pleasure. So the Torah will do the same to the material inclinations of man, if he uses them for the service of G-d.




strive to satisfy the instinctive drives through Torah. As the Sages have said, “If the evil inclination meets you, then draw him into the house of study. If he is made of fire, the

YdtO15 of th Torah will ccnch him, If he is made of stone, then the waters of the Torah \%ill melt him.” This means that the evil inb lination, the primitive instincts of man, will

ind far greater satisfaction and happiness in :ne study and observance of Torah than in nv experimentation outside this sphere. “It

- healing for all his flesh” (Proverbs). The Torah brings a spirit of harmony, integrity 2nd wholeness to the life of man, which gives im great creativity and makes all perverse 2nd lower modes of life seem trivial and un\citing.

. Marriage. In the sphere of marriage, udaism offers us the deepest satisfaction, stability and sanctity. It regards marriage as the ideal state, considering an unmarried person as a ravak — an empty man or women. It nelieves in setting up a relationship within marriage of kidushin and nisuim — of sanctifi

Experimentation. Judaism will make far more exciting if people experiment in all sorts of perversities, but insteadcation and uplift. It introduces the balance between a very strong physical relationship and a stong platonic one. This is done through the laws of Nidah and Mikveh, which bring about a constant renewal of the initial happiness within marriage to husband and wife, and produce a renewal of their marriage relationship. This constant renewal of love within marriage creates a spirit of security for the children, surrounding them with an atmosphere of harmony, solidarity, stability and love. The frittering away of sexual powers which is taught by the new morality has an adverse effect upon culture, as is shown in the important writings of Unsworth on “Sex and Culture”. Judaism believes in principles of discipline, in chastity for the sake of chastity. It is only by opposing extra-marital and premarital experimentation, by introducing a strict discipline upon the sexual instincts of man, that human misery can be avoided, and happiness within marriage can be developed. The energies of human beings can also be sublimated and evolved for higher cultural and religious purposes. In contrast to the permissive slogans of our society, Judaism believes that pleasure without fruit, that pleasure for its own sake, is self-defeating. For all indulgence involves responsibility.

9. Family Relationship. Judaism believes in the functional attitude towards society. This indicates that a husband and a wife have their specific roles to fulfill in life, different from one another. Parents and children likewise, in order to set up a harmonious unit of the family, must play out their specific roles. K/bud av vaem — children must show honour to their parents. Parents, on the other hand, must show understanding towards their children and have duties towards them. Their duties are not just material ones, but spiritual ones — “veshinantam levanecha”

“You shall teach Torah to your children.” If parents teach children there is no fear of a generation gap, as there is constant communication concerning important and fundamental issues of life between the older and the younger generation. It is only when this communication breaks down, when there is no spiritual contact between parents and children, that the younger generation altogether revolts against the dominance of the older generation. In Jewish life, however, father and child establish a close bond through the study of the Torah. Through the observance of G-d’s commandments they are able to walk together to fulfill these commandments — “vayelchu shnechem yachdav”.

If humanity would adopt the universalethics of Judaism, introducing its pattern of international relations, as well as basic principles that should govern all human beings, the world would not be in such a state. Then the younger generation would have respect for the manner in which the older generation is conducting world affairs. Judaism requires that we involve ourselves in bringing its universal ethics to humanity. It is this aim which underlies the idealism of many of the younger people and makes them turn against the older generation who are so often concerned with self-interest. Judaism, which opposes this self-interest, can serve as an ideal bridge between the young and old, if it would be adopted universally.

10. Order. Judaism teaches us to introduce order, system and control in life, making it into a constructive adventure.

This is illustrated by the mitzvah of tzizith. The garment in which the Jew envelops himself represents the type of atmosphere and influence into which he should be immersed. The tzizith are to be tied into knots to remind us that the Jewish religion requires a measure of self-control, but two thirds of the thread are left free and open, to show that through control a double measure of creativity and freedom can be produced. The tzizith also teach us that “You should not go astray after your eyes and your heart”; that a person should not just follow the whims and fancies of his heart and eyes, which view things externally and materially. Instead, he should be kadosh — one who dedicates his whole life to G-d in a constructive manner and removes himself from all forms of moral chaos. Judaism teaches not self denial but self-discipline, for the purpose of self fulfillment. Judaism can thrive most positively in a permissive society. In our age even more than in others, the positive meaning of the Jewish way of life can fill the vacuum existing in present day society. Judaism teaches that “motar ha-adam rn/n ha-BeI-iema ayin”; the advantage of man over the beast lies in the ability to say “no” to many of the permissible acts and activities of present day society. It is only in this way that we can structure a life built not on permissiveness, but on freedom — the freedom which lies in subservience to the law of G-d.