600.03 Qualifications and Limitations— Within Freedom (pps.108-109)

hard cover page 108

Freedom, though, is not the ultimate aim. Freedom as the necessary base for ultimate growth is the point.427

. . . freedom enhances when it is marked and contained by reason, but when reason fails to find language, freedom is destructively cut loose or bends toward untruth or succumbs to sheer willfulness. . . .freedom without the containment of reason returns to caprice, and reason without the imagination of freedom is supineness and passivity.
-A. Cohen428

Mainstream Jewish theology posits that man is free,429 although the Jew who strays from the Halachic path does so at his own peril. The principle of reward and punishment is positioned as not being a limitation on man’s freedom, since the individual is ultimately free to pursue his own path.

The “freedom maximalists,” who are in the minority, posit that man is absolutely free,430 Either man is free or he is not free. Ultimately the theologian must make a choice. Man cannot be free in one context and a slave in another context, all under a sacred umbrella.431

One of the central questions in covenant theology is: Why should man today be bound by the covenants of Abraham and Sinai? The inherent covenantal obligations of the individual form the subject of a complex and rich debate, closely interlinked with the question of the absoluteness of individual man’s freedom. But the broader concept of man’s freedom, while seemingly at least somewhat delimited by mainstream Jewish theology, is indisputably and insistently upheld.

Torah enhances man’s freedom by placing a high value on man’s intellect, which in turn fosters increased freedom and spiritual growth. Judaism attempts to be expansive vis-Ã -vis man’s spiritual growth. At the same time, Halachah, considered in isolation from its intellectual and spiritual aspects, is in most respects a restrictive element on man’s actions. On the whole

——————- NOTES ——————-

427 See Bokser, Abraham Isaac Kook, p. 161. “The aspiration after freedom of thought has a good as well as a bad aspect, a dimension of the holy and a dimension of the profane. The good aspect is manifested when it is directed beyond the zone of the imagination and physical lusts.”

428 Cohen, The Trernendum, pp. 92-94.

429 ” ‘And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, ch-r-t on the tablets’ [Exodus 32:16]. Do not read charut [engraved on the tablets]; read cherut [freedom on the tablets]!” Mishnah Avot 6:2.

430 See Fackenheim, To Mend the World, p. 24. ” . . . a Grace that gives commandments also gives the freedom to obey them.”
Cf. Buber, Eclipse of God, p. 105. “Man is created by God with an autonomy enabling him to ‘stand over against God.’ ”
Cf. Cohen, The Tremendum, p. 92. “The world is complemented by man whose essential character is freedom. It is not reason that makes man little lower than angels, but freedom and speech.”
Cf. Borowitz, Choices in Modern Jewish Thought, pp. 258, 272.
Cf. Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man, pp. 73,92, 101.
Cf. Merton, The New Man. “All the powers of the soul reach out in freedom and knowledge and love” (p. 19); “. . . at the first moment of his existence, Adam breathed the air of an infinitely pure freedom-a freedom which was poured into his soul directly by God in his creation” (p. 54); “. . . man’s freedom was to be without limit” (p. 55)

431 Ibid., pp. 42, 63, 230.


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