By: Eric Shalmon  | 

RAFT Hosts Rabbi Klapper and Prof. Rynhold Discussion on Jewish Law and Morality

On Monday, November 28th, RAFT (Religious Approaches to Faith and Theology) hosted a discussion between Rabbi Aryeh Klapper, Dean of the Center for Modern Torah Leadership, and Dr. Daniel Rynhold, Associate Professor in Modern Jewish Philosophy at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. The speakers proposed practical modes of dealing with the challenges in faith that may arise when Jewish law collides with an individual’s moral compass.

Rabbi Klapper presented eight methods for dealing with a situation in which there seems to be a contradiction between Halacha and ethics. After Rabbi Klapper presented each group of methods, Dr. Rynhold responded with his critique.

Rabbi Klapper presented eight modes of dealing with the challenge, each with its advantages and pitfalls. Various elements differentiated the modes he presented, including humility, the recognition that God’s laws are sometimes incomprehensible, acceptance of contradiction, and the overall understanding that G-d’s law still requires obedience. Several great scholars inspired some of Rabbi Klapper’s models, including Rav Hutner and Rashbam; philosophers, such as Averroes, inspired other models.

Professor Rynhold pointed out the philosophical scruples and implications of the various methods. He also said he had to withhold some details of some of his responses because they were based on the content of a forthcoming book by David Schatz, the Ronald P. Stanton University Professor of Philosophy, Ethics, and Religious Thought.

The presentation was generally very well accepted. “Rabbi Klapper had a refreshing, systematic approach to an area in which most people follow their emotions without thinking them through,” expressed Yaakov Stone. “He presented a series of approaches that allowed for serious philosophical discussion.” Avi Hoffman agreed: “It was great, and really interesting.” He reported that he doesn’t usually go to “these events, but this seemed to be a really good one, especially based on the number of attendees.”

However, not everyone liked the mode of Rabbi Klapper’s presentation. “Although the ideas were presented well,” opined Aharon Mirlas, “the arguments used were highly apologetic and did not represent an honest approach to the religion.”

Every seat was filled in Furst Hall 535, the location of the discussion. Aryeh Laufer, SOY Vice President of IBC and one of RAFT leaders who organized the event, said, “We are trying to make the Torah programming more accessible to everyone and this is one of the ways we have opened it up. The room was filled, so students clearly have an interest in this aspect of programming.” Michael Shavolian, another organizer, voiced his take on the discussion: “These are very complicated issues and justice can’t be given to them in just one session,” he explained. “However, it was a discussion that provoked thought and, judging by the number of people who stayed behind to ask questions, it was a success.”

Still in its first year, RAFT is a student group that aims to promote discussion of Orthodox theology at YU. Benny Aivazi, one of RAFT’s founders, said RAFT participants are generally “a group of students who are interested in creating a forum for discussing the major questions pertaining to Orthodox Judaism and having them addressed from an Orthodox perspective.” He described the group’s mission as creating “a space for discussion where we can seriously engage with all kinds of questions in a respectful and sincere way.”