The 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 legally and socially:
A) Legal: In the spheres of travel, finance and business, the spoken and the written word, the taking of drugs, etcetera, we are hedged about and restricted by the increasing number of laws which limit our freedom.
B) Social: 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 behavior, that is to say, that which is motivated by a desire to follow others. ‘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. ..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’ (D.Reisman, The Lonely Crowd). The mass media of today, the closeness and intensity of communication, create a constant barrage of influences upon the individual, which influence him to adhere to the status symbols which the media create. He wishes to belong to what is fashionable, to conform, to be ‘with it’ – in ideas, in way of life and dress. This means the loss of individuality and freedom. But society is more permissive in various fundamental ways:
Relativistic ethics which are fashionable according to the code of the new morality do not accept any absolute moral power above man. They adopt the philosophy that ‘there’s no such thing as good or bad; tis only thinking that makes it so’. Relativistic Ethics are based partly upon a misconstruction, a mis-application of apparent scientific principles. The principle of causality which is today adopted in the sphere of physics, has been transferred to the sphere of morality, and forms the basis for many schools of psychology and sociology. This has led to viewing sin as an illusion or as a maladjustment to ‘patterns of culture’.
This has led to the removal of all moral or religious sanctions. The only ones that exist are legal or totalitarian. Guilt and shame gradually disappear. Since this view does not accord with reality, anxiety takes their place with more serious consequences. The younger generation lacks respect for authority, even for the university professors who have inculcated these principles into the minds of their students. Therefore, they have no right to be surprised at student protest and unrest.
The general anxiety is increased by the insecurity which exists in our generation after two world wars, and the threat of nuclear and ecological destruction.
The enormous increase in twenty-first century education in new spheres of knowledge, the availability of new experiences and more leisure time has led to a widening of the horizons facing the younger generation. In technology, there has been progress without parallel. However, there has been no comparable increase in moral and spiritual guidance. No direction has been given to them to know in which way to make use of – and to which purpose to subject – the knowledge and experience which are given to them.
In our “other-directed’ society, behavior is motivated by conformity and external materialistic values. rather than in accordance with inner principles. There is a vacuum in the sphere of inward decision and values.
Indulgence and the consumption of goods dominates human behavior. This has created a spirit of apathy and withdrawal from serious concern as to the purpose of living, and has produced the fun syndrome.
Experimentation with lifestyles which are regarded as being forbidden, obviously gives more attraction. ‘Stolen waters taste sweet’ (Proverbs 9:17). In our age of psychedelic experience, pot-indulgence, get highs, of drugs, gambling and vandalism, it is the spirit of prohibition which itself creates the excitement.
There is an increase of sexual promiscuity, and public expression in its favor. 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, sexual perversions and homosexuality have become the subject of experimentation amongst large sections of youth. We live in the age of the pill, an age of the pursuit of pleasure without fruit, of indulgence without responsibility. This has led to a great deal of unhappiness and insecurity, to unwanted children, to AIDS and to the breakup of marriage and the family.
Not only is there a breakdown of the wholesome relationship between man and women, there is a similar breakdown of the relationship between parent and child. The attitude towards society is egalitarian instead of functional, all beings are viewed as having equal status. Parents and children are regarded as equal voices in the family. In a large family, children would out-vote the parents. 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 disowns the father and the daughter rises up against her mother’ (Isaiah 3:5). We live in an atmosphere of other-directedness where only peers matter, and youth and beauty rule.
The large generation gap is due to the permissive attitude parents have towards their young, and also because the young realize that the world is in a mess, created by adults.
Alienation pervades many spheres of life. It shows itself in the chaotic character of music, the plastic arts, painting and poetry. The artist expresses through his medium the Tohu and Vohu of our generation.
Judaism is partly based upon ‘other-directedness’, that is to say, the establishment of a society wherein the pattern of observance becomes conventional. However, its main mode of approach to life is ‘inner-directedness’. Judaism demands constant work upon one’s inner self, and behaving not according to any external standards, but according to the standards demanded by the conscience, the inner voice of G-d. This is identified with the traditions of Judaism, the pattern of life which sets up ideals above the standard of values accepted by one’s peers. It therefore gives man freedom and individuality.
In some ways, Judaism can thrive more in an atmosphere of permissiveness which is tolerant, than in an atmosphere of persecution. It also provides new challenges. In our age when all types of dress, behaviour and values are tolerated, no one need be ashamed of adopting the specific Jewish life-style and choosing prayer instead of psychedelic experiences and learning the Torah instead of addiction to LSD and pot.
‘The advantage of wisdom from folly is like the advantage of light from darkness’ (Ecclesiastes 2: 13). Just as one appreciates light most when one comes from the dark, so one can appreciate the wisdom – the art and science of living – of the Torah far more deeply coming from the atmosphere of confusion and ignorance of contemporary society.
The belief in and awareness of an Absolute Moral Power gives firmness and stability to moral values. The Book of Ecclesiastes, which begins by showing relativity in nature, human behavior, society and morals, ends with the words ‘the end of the matter, when everything has been heard is: fear G-d and observe His commandments for this is the whole of man’ (Ecclesiastes 12:13). By accepting the absolute code of the commandments of G-d all the relativities of life can be transformed into a purposeful style of living.
The ‘image of G-d’ in which man was created indicates that man can relate himself to the Absolute One and, by striving to emulate Him, gain absolute significance for his life. The code of objective ethics of Judaism does take consideration of the subjective circumstances of the individual. ‘The thief who stole because he is hungry will not be despised’ (Proverbs 6:30). Our Sages speak of the infant taken into captivity among idolators, who is not regarded a responsible for the wrongs he has committed. This is not to be confused with relativistic ethics, but rather that in judging the behavior of an individual, one must take into consideration all the subjective aspects of his circumstances, but the objective code of ethics remains stable and firm.
The basic sanction of Jewish observance is moral and religious. The sense of guilt which this induces is better than anxiety and neurosis which is 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 of authority which characterizes student protest and unrest.
Instead of the spirit of insecurity which characterizes our age, Judaism inculcates 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’ (Psalms 118:6,8). The observance of the Sabbath, the symbols of the Sukkah, the daily prayers and blessings bring about a situation of happiness and stability in the life of a Jew.
Education (Chinuch) in Hebrew is equivalent to ‘consecration’, towards spiritual and moral ideals. With moral guidance, wide experience and increasing educational opportunities there will be a sense of direction. The Sages declare ‘Who is a wise man? He who learns from every man, as it is written ‘I have gathered wisdom from all those who could teach me, because Your statutes were my constant thought’ (Psalms 119:99). Breadth of experience and greatness of mind are very good as long as one has a yardstick whereby he can know what to accept and what to reject. This is given by the statutes of G-d. (Otherwise the mind can be so open that the brains drop out!) Judaism is opposed to repression. The Talmud says that ‘man will have to give an account and reckoning of everything that his eye saw from which he did not derive pleasure.’ This is not in support of hedonism; but if a person combines indulgence with moral and religious experience he derives full joy and the indulgence will not develop into misery.
The ideal personality of the Chasid, the saint, is one in whose qualities all play a part. He suppresses neither spiritual nor material faculties but instead harmonizes them all for the purpose of fulfilling G-d’s commandments. This will lead to the love of G-d, which often takes precedence over the fear of G-d (in the daily prayers ‘To love and fear Your Name’). Educationally the do’s should take precedence over the don’ts. The Torah brings a spirit of harmony, integrity and wholeness to the life of man which gives him great creativity and makes all perverse and lower modes of life seem trivial and unexciting.
Judaism regards marriage as the ideal state, naming it sanctification (Kiddushin) and sublimity (Nisuin). It introduces the balance between a strong physical and a strong platonic relationship. This is done through the laws of separation (Nidah), producing a rhythm of renewal of the honeymoon which creates a spirit of security for the children, surrounding them with an atmosphere of harmony, solidity, stability and love. The frittering away of sexuality which is taught by the new morality has an adverse effect upon culture (See Unsworth on ‘Sex and Culture’). Judaism believes in the principle of chastity for the sake of charity. Physical energies can also be sublimated for higher cultural and religious purposes. Judaism accepts the functional attitude towards society. Husband and wife have their specific roles to fulfil in life, different from each other. Parents and children can set up a harmonious unit of the family if they play out their specific roles. Children must show honor to their parents. Parents, on the other hand, must show understanding towards their children and have duties towards them, material and spiritual: ‘You should teach Torah to your children.’ (Deuteronomy 6:7). Then there is no fear of a generation gap, as there is constant communication concerning fundamental issues of life.
The precept of the fringes (Numbers 15:37-40) on the garment’s four corners, teaches that in all directions of the globe the Jew should develop a universal image of holiness. The knots on the fringes remind one to exercise a rneasure of self-control, but two-thirds of the threads are left open to show that self-control produces a double measure of creativity and freedom. ‘You should not go astray after your eyes and your heart’ – a person should not become confused and fragmentized, frittering away his energies, just following the whims and fancies of his heart and eyes which view things externally and materially. ‘You should be holy,’ dedicating your life in a holistic and constructive manner to G-d and remove yourself from all forms of moral chaos. Judaism teaches not self-denial but self-discipline, for the purpose of self-fulfilment.