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    Reasons for commandments – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Are we allowed to ask for reasons for all the Jewish commandments?

    A. There is a long train of endeavours to find ta’amei hamitzvot – reasons for the Divine commandments.

    Abraham Joshua Heschel says: “There are many perspectives from which observance may be judged. The sociological: does it contribute to the good of society or to the survival of the people? The aesthetic: does it enhance our sense of form and beauty? The moral: does it help us to realize the good? There is also the dogmatic: observance is the will of God and no other justification is called for”.

    Heschel adds that no one perspective is enough by itself but “since Jewish observance embraces the totality of existence, a synoptic approach would bring forth its relevance in terms of all higher values, and would open a comprehensive view of its meaning”.

    If, however, we fail to look for, or are unable to find, a rationale for a given commandment, does this exempt us from this mitzvah?

    Samson Raphael Hirsch’s answer is that in all systems of law the binding force of a law is independent of the motive behind it.

    Sometimes a code itself provides information as to the underlying idea of a law, but without such information the law remains the law: “As in Nature the phenomenon remains a fact although we have not comprehended it yet as to its cause and connection, and is existence is not dependent on our investigation, but vice versa, thus also the components of the Torah remain the law even if we have not discovered the cause and connection of a single one”.

    Franz Rosenzweig stressed that one should be loyal to the precepts as a whole and due course commitment to the details would come. Asked whether he put on tefillin, he replied, “Not yet” – implying, “A time will come when I will!”

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