Thursday, September 28, 2006

Between Sin and Sin

In the Hineni prayer, before Musaf on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Hazzan intones 'כי חוטא ופושע אני.' It's an interesting combination, because a חוטא is one who sins by accident, while a פושע is one who sins as an act of rebellion. What connection is there? One could answer that it's based upon Hazal's observation (Sotah 22a): R. Huna said: When a man commits a transgression and repeats it, it becomes to him something which is permissible.

I think there's more to this than meets the eye.

The late Jacob Katz, in his book Out of the Ghetto, tried to determine when truly secular behavior began to manifest itself among the Jews of Europe. Certain historians had suggested that the level of observance (or the lack thereof) was the best barometer. Katz disagreed. He argued, cogently, that the lack of observance per se is not the issue. The determinative question is how does the miscreant understand his actions. A person who desecrates the Sabbath, but who defines himself as a 'bad Jew,' is still part of the traditional community, because he still subscribes to its value system. However, once a person justifies his lack of observance on the grounds that it represents a correct/progressive/modern Judaism, then he can be deemed to have left the traditional fold.

Recently, the Orthodox community has been all abuzz about various modes of behavior that are 'justifiable' halakhically or that require the Torah to adjust itself to more 'ethical' or 'enlightened' modes of thinking. In some cases, there really is room for adjustment, but not endless room. In other cases, there is absolutely no room for movement. That is not a pleasant reality, but that is the religious reality.

Part of Teshuvah and Heshbon ha-Nefesh is to learn the difference between the two.

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