1 Nissan 5763
Proving Right & Wrong
Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,
Firstly I’d like to say how much I enjoy your tapes – they are a great source of amusement and education. Now, I have a very puzzling question.
How is possible to demonstrate to someone that there really exists a definite right and wrong – that certain acts are, by their essence, inherently evil, and indeed that there is such a thing as evil. From talking to people and trying to prove this point I receive responses like, “Right and Wrong is totally subjective and is simply dependent on one’s personal feeling and opinion.”
This infuriated me considerably (understandably) and I attack them with tirades of examples of atrocious and horrific acts (appealing to their emotions and inbuilt sense of right and wrong) – the holocaust, 9/11, etc. I then ask them, “are not these acts inherently evil?” They simply respond that it is subjective again – and the fact that the perpetrators didn’t think themselves evil proves this…. This infuriates me considerably more and I am left totally deprived of my argument and made to feel very stupid indeed. I thought I would consult your wisdom on this most puzzling and intriguing matter. How IS it possible to prove that there is indeed a definite right and wrong – goodness and evil?
Thank you very much and eagerly awaiting our response.
Yours Most Puzzledly,
First of all, I assume that Dovid has become a popular girls’ name, because after all this is JEMSEM, the premier website for wayward seminary girls.
Anyway, I hate to get you more upset, but they’re all right! There is no way to prove that my opinion of right or wrong is absolutely and not relatively true. A good Nazi was one that turned in Jews, a bad one was one that hid them. In communist Russia there was a statue to a young boy who had turned in his own parents to the authorities. 50 years ago in the US homosexuality was a punishable crime. Psychologists treated it as an illness. Today if you think there is something wrong with homosexuality you’re sick. They call it homophobic.
Corporal punishment, abortion, death penalty, physician assisted suicide are all issues where both sides strongly believe they are morally right and the other side is morally wrong.
Judaism doesn’t claim we have the knowledge of absolute good because we are smarter or more morally developed. We think we have the absolute good because it came from the Absolute source of the universe – Hashem. We don’t believe it is our opinion, but rather that Hashem told us that this is the true good. But of course without the belief in an all-powerful G-d there can’t be any “absolute” anything.
People will counter that every religion believes it is “the” truth. I agree. But they can’t ALL be right. Either JC was the son of G-d or he wasn’t. Either there is a world to come or there isn’t.
The question is not who thinks they’re right. The question is who can provide evidence that they’re right. We argue on the basis of evidence, not blind faith. For a greater discussion of this I refer you to Rabbi Leib Keleman’s “PERMISSION TO RECEIVE”, his sequel to “PERMISSION TO BELIEVE”. His next book will be a defense of Orthodox families who have lots of children (sorry, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself).
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky