At the height of World War II, the great Christian author, C.S. Lewis, published The Abolition of Man – a short but powerful argument for the continued relevance of traditional values in contemporary society. In his spirited defense of traditional morality and natural law – which he refers to as the “Tao,” for convenience – Lewis rejects the moral relativism of modern thinkers who seek to undermine the legitimacy of traditional values. Over time, this concise book – more accurately described as a long essay – has achieved renown as one of the greatest works of non-fiction written in the 20th century.
Reading Lewis’ penetrating words from a traditional Jewish perspective, it struck me that his arguments in defense of tradition could also be read as a powerful defense of traditional Jewish law (Halacha). Simply replacing the word “Tao” with “Halacha” yields a powerful defense of Orthodox Judaism against the arguments of modern reformers, who argue that traditional Halacha must be changed in order to remain “relevant” to the modern Jew.
The following are direct quotations from C.S. Lewis, with only one change: I have replaced the word “Tao” with “Halacha”:
“A theorist about language may approach his native tongue, as it were, from outside, regarding its genius as a thing that has no claim on him and advocating wholesale alterations of its idiom and spelling in the interests of commercial convenience or scientific accuracy… A great poet, who has loved, and been well nurtured in, his mother tongue, may also make great alterations in it, but his changes of the language are made in the spirit of the language itself: he works from within… It is the difference between alteration from within and alteration from without: […]