The Limits of Orthodoxy

I feel a need to chime in about the contretemps about Dr Zev Farber’s essay “Avraham Avinu is My Father: Thoughts on Torah, History and Judaism” on thetorah.com. But first I want to lay out some thoughts about defining heresy, who qualifies as a heretic, and the limits of Orthodoxy, which may not be the same thing.

To be clear, I was informed that Dr. Farber’s role on IRF’s beis din is administrative, and any discussion of whether his article constitutes kefirah has nothing to do with the validity of their beis din or the converts it produces. Besides, I’m not a poseiq!

I – Categories of Belief

One of the problems with discussing the question of whether an idea someone shared is heretical or not is that the word “apiqoreis” is thrown around too readily today. Therefore, a conversation which tries to limit itself to the question of whether a given idea is apiqursus or kefirah inevitably raises the emotional responses of a personal accusation. As it is, it’s hard to avoid taking the words “your belief system is heretical” impersonally, but the climate has made things worse. So, let me open by defining the technical terms.

The Rambam (Hilkhos Teshuvah 3:6) speaks of three kinds of heretics:

The min, which the Rambam defines (3:7) giving a list of wrong beliefs about G-d: the atheist, the polytheist, someone who believes in a god that has a body, etc…

The apiqoreis, which includes people with various beliefs about how G-d runs the world. Note the origin of the word; it’s the Aramaization of the name of Epicurus and his followers, who denied that the universe has a Lord. An apiqoreis is described (3:8) as denying prophecy, that no knowledge flows from G-d to the heart of man, denies Moshe’s prophecy in particular, or does not believe that G-d Knows what people do and think.

Last, Rambam discusses (3:8) the kofeir, which has subtypes.

  • The kofeir baTorah is someone who denies the Torah in one of 3 ways:
    • someone who says that one sentence or one word is not from Hashem, such as he claims Moshe wrote that part himself;
    • someone who denies the Oral Torah or contradicts the members the chain of mesorah that transmits it, or
    • someone who says that a single mitzvah was exchanged, or (like the Christians and Moslems) that the Torah was superseded.
  • The kofeir betchiyas hameisim denies the eventual resurrection, and
  • the kofeir bebei’ah hago’el does not await the messiah.

Notice that these categories pretty much cover the same ground the Rambam described in his commentary to the mishnah, the introduction to Chapter “Cheileq” in Sanhedrin — generally known as the Thirteen Iqarei Emunah (Articles of Faith). The difference is that the mishnah discusses a philosophical point. “All of Israel have a portion toward the world to come”. Which the Rambam explains refers only to Jews in good standing, and then he lists which beliefs would be required to secure at least some portion. Here he defines halachic categories in the negative (things the iqarim exclude), which have labels that reappear in a number of places in the code and impact how we are to treat other Jews.

There is a second difference: the criteria here are spelled out in far less detail. They are less specific in what must be believed. Which is also true of accepted halakhah. We don’t so much hold to the standard of the Rambam, we found it overly shaped by his own approach to Jewish Thought. He would exclude schools of Qabbalah, for example, which most contemporary rabbis would consider holy. Instead, we demand that a philosophy explain how it fits in the forms found in Ani Maamin and Yigdal without redefining them. After all, there is a reason why Yigdal found its way into every contemporary traditional liturgy, from Germany to Yemen.

So I think it’s fair to say we do hold of the 13 Articles of Faith on a legal level, for example in discussing questions of which beliefs we demand of a conversion candidate for their geirus to be valid, who may be counted toward a minyan, whether they can handle uncooked kosher wine, etc… But notice my vague phrasing “in discussing questions”, we’ll see in the next section that there is a second piece to the question when we shift from labeling beliefs to classifying people.

Bible criticism is therefore a form of apiqursus about Moshe’s prophecy and presumes kefirah about the revelation of every word of the Torah. After all, if the text were dictated as it is by G-d for the sake of being a seed to start the halachic process, and to be notes that are a small part of a primarily Oral body of wisdom, all the textual questions of the bible critic don’t begin.

II- Beliefs vs.People

But it is not a given that someone today who believes in kefirah would qualify for the label “kofer“. For something like a conversion candidate, or to appoint a Chazan, since intent is part of the mitzvah, answering the question about belief is sufficient. But when deciding whether the person is themselves some form of heretic who must be kept aside from social interaction, and thus his wine is prohibited to me, or whether he cannot be counted toward a minyan, there is an issue of culpability for those beliefs.

The Rambam excludes those who have Qaraite beliefs because they were raised in a Qaraite home from the label (Mamrim 3:3). So it would seem that someone who believes in meenus, apiqursus or kefirah because of upbringing is not in the halachic category of min, apiqoreis or kofer as a person. Rav Yaakov Etlinger (Teshuvot Binyan Tzion Hachadashot 23) applied this ruling to the Reform Jews of his day. And the Chazon Ish (YD 2:16,28) says this applied to all Jews today, as even those of us from Orthodox homes are impacted by being in the minority, we are bucking the zeitgeist and even G-d has been so silent.

Moving from the product of his upbringing to the seeker of the truth, the Raavad (on Teshuvah 3:7) writes that someone who believed in error that G-d had a body because of studying the many verses in Tanakh written in human, body-related idiom, could be holier than the Rambam. He is often taken as ruling that while G-d does not have a body, it’s not heretical to think he does. But it’s also quite likely that the Raavad instead meant that because of the way the person reached this bit of meenus, he is not himself a min. Rav Kook (Shemoneh Kevazim 3:31) and the Piaseczner Rebbe (Benei Machashava Tova, pg 19) hold that’s the Raavad’s intent, and both accepts that position. But more clearly, the Radvaz (responsum 4:187) ruled about a man who said Moshe was Divine that he is not an apiqoreis because his error was the result of an honest search for the Truth. To the Radvaz, heresy is an act of rebellion; these definitions are the measure of how far one must rebel against traditional beliefs before qualifying. And the Iqarim (1:2) considers even such a person, who honestly explored the topic and ended up being convinced of heresy among “the pious and righteous of Israel”, which echoes the Raavad’s description of the rabbis who believed in a G-d that had a body as being “among those greater and better than him” (an earlier manuscript has “among the great and good”).

The Rambam (Hilkhos Eidus 11:10) says that any of these three kinds of heretic would not be a valid witness in beis din, which means he couldn’t serve as a dayan on a beis din either (Nidah 49b). And so the Shulchan Arukh concludes (CM 32:22). Whether this would include those who belief kefirah but do not themselves qualify as koferim is a question I couldn’t find an answer to. It is easier to find the various views followed today with respect to a tinoq shenishba, someone who doesn’t believe because of their upbringing, and whether they can be counted toward a minyan, or if their uncooked wine may be shared. The subject of serving as dayan or the person who was misled by an honest study eluded me.

But I think we can agree that someone who preaches kefirah shouldn’t be given a position of authority to use as a soapbox to spread his teaching.

Rav Aharon Soloveitchik permits counting someone who was raised to believe meenus or apiqursus (heretical beliefs about G-d, revelation or His interaction with the world) toward a minyan as long as their beliefs still leave prayer a meaningful concept. I would think there is a parallel issue here. Deciding halakhah is not only a science it is also an art. There is a feel for how the halakhah ought to flow that is only taught through shimush (lit: service), apprenticing under a mentor rebbe. Chazal attribute Yehoshua’s succession after Moshe to the extent of his shimush. (Bamibar Rabbah on 21:14, Temurah 16a) They attribute the explosion of disputes between the students of Hillel and Shammai not to the teachers’ ideology, but because they didn’t commit themselves sufficiently to shimush of their respective rebbes. (Y-mi Chagiga 2:2 vilna 10b, Sotah 47b) Without that feel for the art, a genius with access to the Bar Ilan CD is still not a halachic decisor.

So even without labeling Dr Farber a “kofer” as a person, his belief in kefirah makes it impossible for him to continue to qualify as a rabbi or dayan. Someone who doesn’t share the historical sense of where halakhah flows from from can’t share the same opinion of the development and art of pesaq, regardless of how well he mastered the texts

III – Is He a Shomer Shabbos?

All this talk about the technical definition of kefirah aside, historically we generally didn’t bother questioning people about their beliefs. Instead, we presumed that Shabbos observance testified that they believed all the basics. This could be understood two different ways: We can see this as simply a pragmatic solution, the only way to avoid handing out a test (taken with a lie detector!) to every person we wish to count toward a minyan. If so we do indeed require that he adhere to the Thirteen Articles of Faith, as in the prior section, but we can presume that a Shabbos observant Jew does. But then, someone who writes a paper summarizing his faith would still be judged according to the , despite being meticulous in his observance.

Or, we could consider this an actual halachic criterion of who we are supposed to treat as a Jew in good standing, rather than my argument above that we expect the beliefs listed in Ani Maamin or Yigdal. And it’s hard to prove this point from the literature, because people could be using “believes the 13 Ani Maamins” or “believes the iqarim” as idioms. Much the way we say someone “follows the Shulchan Arukh” when we mean that they follow accepted halakhah even when it differs from the rulings of the Shulchan Arukh and the Rama. I personally do not subscribe to this position, but it’s worth exploring before deciding something drastic.

This appears to be the thesis of The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles Reappraised, by R’ Melech / Dr. Mark Shapiro. This would mean that our exploration of whether Dr. Farber’s beliefs could be accepted as within the Orthodox fold, should focus on whether those beliefs succeed in maintaining enough of the traditional motivation for Shabbos observance. Notice even by this yardstick, we aren’t simply asking if he observes; no one would consider an atheist who observes Shabbos for cultural reasons alone to be a believing Jew.

Which really boils down to the question of whether Dr. Farber’s position actually does succeed at what he set out to do. Can someone subscribe to multiple authorship of the Torah, even under prophetic influence, without undermining the halachic process and consequently the laws of Shabbos? Bringing us to my next post. (Don’t worry, the draft is pretty far along. Shouldn’t be too long of a cliff-hanger.)

Orthodoxy and Biblical Criticism

This is part two of my reactions to the internet discussions about Dr Zev Farber’s essay “Avraham Avinu is My Father: Thoughts on Torah, History and Judaism” on thetorah.com. In the first part, I tried to lay out how I view the topic of what is Orthodoxy and what is an Orthodoxy Jew, just to set the scene.

Very quick summary review:

  1. I personally believe that we in practice use the standards of Ani Maamin or Yigdal to decide which beliefs could remove a Jew’s good standing.
  2. I am willing for the sake of this discussion (which would otherwise be quite short) also consider a more loose definition, and ask who is a shomer Shabbos. The term is an idiom for a reason. Meaning, rather than looking at the beliefs as a law in themselves, we will require those beliefs that justify living according to halakhah (including Shabbos in particular).
  3. There is a gap between judging beliefs and judging the people that have them. There could be more to being a heretic than believing in heresy, there is the element of why they believe and culpability. We really didn’t have the material to answer the question, and pragmatically answers differ between contemporary posqim anyway. But it’s important to know the question is there.

So, here we are not discussing the status of Dr Zev Farber, but the status of his beliefs. I still think it’s self evident that if we find his beliefs problematic, we as a community need to say so, and not give him a forum to teach them. Therefore, I am more uncomfortable with the subsequent statements from key people in Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, who are keeping him in his post, then with Dr Farber himself. (Although you’ll note I’m uncomfortable using the titles “rabbi” or “dayan” to refer to him.)

Besides, anyone who can’t help quoting Zaphod Breeblebox the Zeroth (a character in the British satire Science Fiction book series The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy) in the middle of a serious paper spelling out some of his most cherished beliefs sounds like someone whose company I would really enjoy.

I – Key Quotes

But now, I want to address Farber’s specific claims. He writes:

To adapt an idea I heard from a wise mentor, if the Borei Olam (Creator) can fashion a universe in which pond-scum can eventually evolve into Rabbi Akiva, then how much more so can God use the voices of the nevi’im to form theTorat Hashem! (God’s Torah).

 

THE WAVE THEORY
Revelation derives from the channeling of divine through human conduits. Although I consider nothing in the Torah to be specious, the insights of the Torah must be framed in a way sensitive to the context specific nature of revelation. If one wishes to uncover its message, the Torah must be studied in depth and in relation to the historical reality of the ancient world in which it formed.

I believe that people over the years, through some sort of divine encounter, have been given insight into God’s plan for Israel / the Jews and that these things were put into writing by the various prophets who experienced them and their disciples. Over time these revelations are synthesized and reframed. In the beginning this was how the Torah and the other books of Tanach were compiled. Over time the process moved on to the creation of other works, including the core works of Oral Torah like the Mishna and the Talmud…

And:

Given the data to which modern historians have access, it is impossible to regard the accounts of mass Exodus from Egypt, the wilderness experience or the coordinated, swift and complete conquest of the entire land of Canaan under Joshua as historical. At what point biblical historiography and ancient history begin to overlap in significant ways remains highly contested—some would say with the accounts of the United Monarchy (the period of Saul, David and Solomon) others with the account of the Northern king, Omri (beginning in the late tenth century).

So he accepts the theories of Bible Criticism and schools of Biblical Archeology as having shown that the Torah’s traditional foundation is mythical. So how does Dr Farber maintain his own relationship to the Torah and halakhah?

In my world-view, humans have the capacity to function in more than one mode. There is a mode where the person is totally on his or her own, and there is a mode where the person encounters the divine and channels it in some way. I understand this mode to be related to the traditional concepts of nevua (prophecy) and ruah ha-kodesh (holy spirit). I will call it prophetic mode. …

The prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, certainly function this way….

The same is true of the Torah, I believe, which is the prophetic mode at its most sublime. If there are contradictions which cannot be answered by literary readings, this is because they reflect the respective understandings of different prophets channeling the divine message in their own way; each divine encounter refracts the light of Torah from the same prism but in a distinct way.

To adapt an idea I heard from a wise mentor, if the Borei Olam (Creator) can fashion a universe in which pond-scum can eventually evolve into Rabbi Akiva, then how much more so can God use the voices of the nevi’im to form the Torat Hashem!  (God’s Torah).

In this installment I hope to discuss the question: Can this edifice actually stand or is it self-contradictory?

II – Does it Work?

Dr. Farber lists a number of examples of the kinds of things that make up a compelling argument for concluding the Torah was redacted together from multiple documents by different authors. As these are only illustrative examples, I won’t address each one. The point isn’t the examples, but the kind of thought they demonstrate. Since our focus here is whether his philosophy does indeed support halakhah, I will take his first example of alleged “Contradictions in Law”: “Do slaves go free on the seventh year (Exod. 21:1-6, Deut. 15:12-18), or do they go free in the Jubilee (50th) year (Lev. 25:39-55)?”

Chazal, of course, note the same contradiction. We can be sure that Farber is aware of the Yerushalmi Qiddushin 6b (probably directly if not via the Rambam) which says that a Jewish slave is freed at shemittah, if they sold themselves or if court sold them (e.g. to repay a debt incurred stealing an item) and they wish to leave. If someone sold by court chooses not to, they go through an ear piecing ceremony (mentioned in the quoted portion of Shemos) and remain slaves until no later than yovel. And this is as the Rambam codifies it as well (Avadim ch. 3).

In general, Bible Criticism is based on different assumptions about the nature of the text than Jewish Tradition does. We believe that the Torah, and Tanakh in general, describes events that were not typical. In fact, that the events themselves were as much part of how Hashem “wrote” His message to mankind as the books. We believe that the written Torah is Cliff Notes to a fuller body of wisdom, “merely” the seed to a Tree of Life planted among us, a process we were given and instructed how to work.  So, yes, Hashem orchestrated similar but different events, wanted Yaaqov to have 7 children in 12 years, tells the same story in different ways or calls the same person by different names, and presented the term limits of a Jewish slave in terms that engender halachic discourse.

If someone believes that Hashem planned the Oral Torah and halachic process as part of His Intent when He composed the text, there is no question for the Bible Critic to address. That is not to dismiss the need to understand the peshat, the plain meaning of the verse. But there is no “why?”, we know the Author’s motivation to at times make that peshat less than obvious — there are other layers that we can only find through those indicators. They are not imperfections to be attributed to a human element in authorship or inconsistencies to be attributed to redaction.

There is something paradoxical about Farber’s belief in a text that evolved from the voices of prophets into Hashem’s word. If you accept it’s Hashem’s Word, and that Word is of the sort that supports Jewish Tradition and the halachic process, there is no longer motivation to speak of multiple “voices of prophets”.

Underlying the whole exercise was the presumption that Oral Torah and halakhah are an afterthought, and not part of the original texts. Thus Chazal’s answers come across as weak apologetics, rather than reflecting the true body of the full corpus of the Torah in which the Oral and Written are a single entity. And I do not believe that traditional Shabbos observance can stand on that foundation.

(In contrast, Chazal teach that the Oral Torah actually was given first!  The ideas of the Torah were given at Mt Sinai, but the text was given either piecemeal over the next 40 years, or all at once at the end of Moshe’s life.)

And I could have taken a short-cut and noted that Dr Farber also realized that the halachic process would not stand unchanged. To resume my first quote from his essay:

In my view, Judaism is essentially a wave that eternally sends the messages of God. However, in order to understand how to apply these messages we must understand how any given halacha or ideal functioned in any given society, particularly the original society, ancient Israel. When we understand this, we can “subtract” the societal elements to see the ideas in their relative purity and reapply them to our times. Waves, however, require continuity. For this reason, it is vital to understand how the Torah functioned in every generation since Moshe in order to do this right. This requires serious study and thought.

The Jewish community already tried that experiment, combining bible criticism and historical and sociological analysis of halakhah to justify a different legal process, one which balances Tradition and Change. It’s simply not Orthodox halakhah. (And in fact that system devolved to the point where Conservative observance of kashrus full-time is at 3% and the movement’s leadership has been working on pulling out of a nosedive for the past decade. Which is not a good thing, but that’s a topic for a different post.)

Dr Farber’s belief system stands up neither to the Ani Maamin test nor the Shomer Shabbos one.

And last, is there serious reason for others to feel the challenges posed by Biblical Criticism and Archeology are insurmountable, such that the Torah needs to be understood in a new light? Are those of us who insist on maintaining classical Orthodox beliefs intentionally blinding ourselves to the truth? Stay tuned for part 3!

Hatred

The Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin 1816-1893, last Rosh Yeshiva at Volozhin) wrote a relatively famous piece in Meishiv Davar (1:44) that is quoted a lot this time of year. I thought I would translate a core section (pg 52, col 2, paragraph starting “Vehinei). The context is that the Netziv just discussed the prohibition against going into business with minim (heretics) lest one get influenced.

The extremists ruled and came up with a plan to be guarded in this generation by separating one from the other altogether, the way Avraham separated from Lot. But with all due respect to the extremists this plan is hard to the body of the nation and its survival like swords.
For in time when we were in our Holy Land it was as if with our permission during the Second Temple that the land was conquered, the Temple destroyed and the Jews exiled because of the dispute of the Pharasees with the Sadducees and also caused by much pointless hatred which is not according to the law. That is, at the time that one Pharasees saw someone lenient in some matter, even if [the other] wasn’t a Sadducee at all, but was sinning, still because of pointless hatred they judged him to be a Sadducee and would attack him and from this bloodshed multiplied….

And all this isn’t unimaginable to Heaven forbid happen in our time as well! For my own eyes saw one of the Orthodox decide that another wasn’t acting according to his way in serving G-d, and ruled that he was a heretic and distanced himself from him. Now they chase after one another in a false illusion that it is permissible, and destroy the entire nation of G-d (Heaven forbid)….

Siimilarly the Netziv writes in his introduction to the Book of Bereishis (HaAmeq Davar, pesichah):

The subject is explained in the song of Ha’azinu on the words, “הצור תמים פעלו וגו’ צדיק וישר הוא — The Archetype Whose work is perfect… He is Righteous and Upright”. (Devarim 32:4) That is an upright praise to justify the Holy One’s Justice in the destruction of the Second Temple, which was “a warped and twisted generation” [c.f. Devarim v. 5]. For they were righteous, pious, and toiled in the Torah, but they weren’t upright in the ways of the worlds. Therefore, because of pointless hatred, because in their heart they accused anyone who they saw acting in a manner unlike their opinions in yir’as Hashem of being a Sadducee and a heretic. They came through this to bloodshed via internal divisions, and all the evils in the world until the Temple was destroyed.

On this was the justification of the Judgment. That the Holy One is upright and doesn’t pardon “righteous people” like these, only those who walk in the upright paths also in the ways of the world. And not through treachery even if were for the sake of heaven. For this causes the destruction of creation and the elimination of settlement of the land.

Taken Tish’ah beAv morning, 2013

If I may add what I believe to be the real hard part… We have to read the Netziv’s words not as a description of those who demonize us and those like us, our way of serving G-d, but of our own “justified response”. The end of internal divisiveness in the Jewish community will not come through identifying another camp as guilty and separating ourselves from them!

But what if the “other” isn’t being demonized, but really is a threat? Didn’t our first citation from the Netziv open with an obligation that would keep us somewhat apart from the real heretics?

Tosafos (Pesachim 113b “shera’ah bo) ask about the word “sonei“.

ואם תאמר דבאלו מציאות (ב”מ דף לב: ושם) אמרינן אוהב לפרוק ושונא לטעון מצוה בשונא כדי לכוף את יצרו והשתא מה כפיית יצר שייך כיון דמצוה לשנאתו וי”ל כיון שהוא שונאו גם חבירו שונא אותו דכתיב (משלי כז:יט) כַּמַּיִם, הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים כֵּן לֵב הָאָדָם לָאָדָם ובאין מתוך כך. לידי שנאה גמורה ושייך כפיית יצר:

This requires a lot of explanation, so I won’t try a literal translation. The Gemara (BM 32b-33a) says that if someone has to choose between unloading a friend’s donkey, or loading that of someone he hates, one should choose helping the one he hates, because overcoming the yetzer hara is a mitzvah. (In other cases, unloading has priority over loading, because of the weight on the poor animal.)

But from the gemara the Tosafos are commenting on in Pesachim, we learn that this rule

applies to unloading an enemy’s donkey even where the enemy is a sinner of the sort that we’re supposed to and even obligated to hate him. So they ask, why then is there a mitzvah to overcome that hatred? Tosafos answer that the justified enmity can cause a cycle of hatred. As is says in Mishlei 27:19 “As with water, one surface (literally: “face”) answers another, so too the heart of a person to a person”. And so the measure of hatred one is supposed to have can grow, “uva’in mitokh kakh lidei sina’h gemurah“. And so, we must control the yeitzer even when hatred is appropriate, lest it grow to complete hatred.

To capture this latter thought, I originally named this post “Hatered”, intending to mean “Hater-ed”, but then realized it just looked like another instance of my bad spelling. But that’s really what we’re talking about more than the issue of avoiding hating. Since Tosafos discuss a case where hating is called for. Rather, they warn against turning into a hater, getting “hatered”.

Ways of Peace

In a comment on my recent post “Infinite Worth“, Raffi asked:

Hey – would you elaborate on your intriguing definition of darkhei Shalom as “walking the path of He Who makes peace”?

Vav — I’d be glad to. (Now aren’t you glad I don’t inject my sense of humor into this blog too often?)

The factoid behind Raffi’s question is that the phrase is usually taken to be pragmatic. The way I learned it in grade school was that we violate Shabbos to save non-Jews because it’s important to keep the peace lest they kill us. Similarly, there is a concept that is batted around synonymously, “mishum eivah” — because of animosity.

Despite these understandings being commonplace in discussion, they do not stand up to scrutiny. This was first brought to my attention in an email from Yeshivat Har Etzion (“Gush”) too many years ago to find, which contained notes from a lecture given by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit”a. The same thesis appears in his “In The Human and Social Factor in Halakhah”, Tradition 6 (2002) pp. 89-114, made available on-line by the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education (Bar Ilan Univ.) What I write below will be based on my memory of the email in addition to the essay.

Most trivially, neither idiom is used not used exclusively where there is real risk to life or limb, but that would have to be the meaning of the phrase if it were pragmatic grounds to override Shabbos.  Mishum eiva is applied between father and child on Bava Metzia 12a; on Yuma 12b to the kohein gadol; and on Kesuvos 58b, between husband and wife. So avoiding eivah is a value of some sort detached from the value of saving people from future retaliation.

But we were looking at darkhei Shalom in particular.

There is a story in the gemara (Sukkah 53a) where David haMelekh dug deep holes into the ground as part of his preparations for the future building of the Beis haMiqdash. He dug far enough down to hit the tehom, the subterranean water, and the water came up threatening to drown the world. Achitofel wrote the name of G-d on a pot sherd and through it down the hole, thus stopping the water. He reasoned from the law of sotah, where a paragraph of the Torah that includes Hashem’s name is written on a parchment, dissolved in water (along with some dust from under the Beis haMiqdash) and given to a sotah — a married woman accused of adultery who then is found alone with the suspected paramour. Achitofel reasoned that if Hashem’s name may be erased to save one marriage, then of course it may be erased to save the entire world.

The Rama (teshuvah #11) says this is a general principle that preserving the peace is a value that can at times override prohibitions. As Rav Aharon Lichtenstein translates the relevant snippet of the responsum:

We have learned from here that it is permissible to modify [the truth] for the sake of peace, and it is permissible to violate the injunction, “Thou shalt distance thyself from falsehood.” [The consideration of peace] also overrides the biblical prohibition of “Thou shalt not do thus to the Lord thy God,” which bans the erasure of God’s Name, as is explained in the Sifri to Parashat Re’eh and counted by the Rambam and the Semag in their respective enumerations of the mitsvot. Since this is so, I say that it is also the case that [peace] overrides the prohibition of defamation; in other words, it is permissible to defame another if one’s intention is for the sake of Heaven and for a good cause, [namely,] to promote peace.

But what makes the whole thing open-and-shut is the Rambam’s explanation of how we are to relate to non-Jews and why (Hilkhos Melakhim 10:12):

אַפִלּוּ הַגּוֹיִים צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים לְבַקַּר חוֹלֵיהֶם, וְלִקְבֹּר מֵתֵיהֶם עִם מֵתֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּלְפַרְנַס עֲנִיֵּיהֶם בִּכְלַל עֲנִיֵּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִפְּנֵי דַּרְכֵּי שָׁלוֹם: הֲרֵי נֶאֱמָר “טוֹב-ה’ לַכֹּל; וְרַחֲמָיו, עַל-כָּל-מַעֲשָׂיו” (תהילים קמה:ט), וְנֶאֱמָר “דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם; וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם” (משלי ג,יז).

[Not only Jews and geirei toshav (resident aliens),] even for non-Jews our sages commanded to visit their sick, bury their dead [as] with the Jewish dead, support their poor among the Jewish poor, because of darkhei Shalom. For it says, “Hashem is good to all, and His Mercy is on all that He made.” (Tehillim 145 “Ashrei” v. 9). And it says, “[The Torah]‘s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” (Mishlei 3:14, also said when returning the Torah to the aron)

The Rambam’s prooftexts show that darkhei Shalom is:

1- Imitatio dei. This is why I have been capitalizing the “S” in “darkhei Shalom“. I believe from this perspective, we are actually using Shalom / Peace in its use as an appelation for G-d. To go in His Peaceful Way.

Note how the kindnesses listed are behaviors we learn from Hashem’s examples:

ואמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא מאי דכתיב (דברים יג:ה) אחרי ה’ אלהיכם תלכו וכי אפשר לו לאדם להלך אחר שכינה והלא כבר נאמר (ד:כד) כי ה’ אלהיך אש אוכלה הוא אלא להלך אחר מדותיו של הקב”ה מה הוא מלביש ערומים דכתיב (בראשית ג:כא) ויעש ה’ אלהים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם אף אתה הלבש ערומים הקב”ה ביקר חולים דכתיב (בראשית יח:א) וירא אליו ה’ באלוני ממרא אף אתה בקר חולים הקב”ה ניחם אבלים דכתיב (בראשית כה:יא) ויהי אחרי מות אברהם ויברך אלהים את יצחק בנו אף אתה נחם אבלים הקב”ה קבר מתים דכתיב (דברים לד:ו) ויקבר אותו בגיא אף אתה קבור מתים:

And Rabbi Chama beRabbi Chanina said: Why is it written, “You shall walk following Hashem your G-d”? (Daverim 13:5) It is possible for a person to walk following the Shechinah? Doesn’t it already say, “For Hashem your G-d is [like] a consuming Fire?” (4:24) Rather, it means to walk following the attributes of the Holy One blessed be He [as He shows Himself to us]. Just as He clothes the naked, as is written: “And Hashem E-lokim made for Adam and his wife cloaks of leather and dressed them (Bereshis 3:21) So too you should cloth the naked. HQBH visited the sick, as is written: “And Hashem appeared to [Avraham after his beris milah] in Oak-woods of Mamrei” (Bereishis 18:1) So you you should visit the sick. HQBH comforted mourners, as is written: “And it was after Avraham’s death, and G-d blessed his son Yitzchaq” (Bereishis 25:11) So too you should comfort mourners. HQBH buried the dead, as is written: “And He buried [Moshe] in the valley” (Devarim 34:6). So too you should bury the dead.

- Sotah 14a

2- Darkei Shalom is the defining feature of halakhah.

Far from what I was taught as a youth, darkhei Shalom (and even mishum eivah, the avoidance of animosity) are not mere accommodations of an imperfect reality, but speak to the heart of Torah.