Man-made versus divine precepts
He will not smoke on the Sabbath because he can appreciate that the discovery of how to make fire was one of the greatest steps towards civilisation, and he will refrain from smoking on the Sabbath as an acknowledgement of God as Creator. But he will find it hard to accept the notion, found in the sources, that to light a cigarette on the Sabbath involves the death penalty, and that if he were to do this in the days of a restored Sanhedrin, he would be sentenced to be stoned to death. He would be free from the crushing burden of direct divine communication that there is – in theory, at least – the death penalty for this religious offence, flogging for another, and he would be glad that history has decided that such divine threats can no longer be operative.
Since, according to his view, the non-fundamentalist is free to choose which Sabbath and other observances awaken a response in him, he may, in his personal life (though without any wish to offend others) choose, say, to switch on the electric light on the Sabbath, though he might not use electricity to cook or bake or shave. This is because the latter activities have long been part of Sabbath observance, whereas a case has been made that switching on an electric light, since there is no combustion, does not fall under the heading of making fire.
“I know that I have to recite the Shema in the evening and the morning because the rabbis tell us that this is the meaning of ‘… when thou liest down, and when thou risest up,’ which, say the rabbis, means at the time of lying down and at the time of rising up – that is, in the evening and the morning. Thus, whenever I recite the Shema, I am using God’s actual words communicated (I know that God has no vocal organs and does not literally ‘speak’) to Moses.”
The non-fundamentalist will put it all rather differently. He will say something like this: “Deuteronomy was originally a separate book, probably the book discovered in the days of King Josiah and compiled shortly before then but, in any event, long after the days of Moses. It does contain the words of God for that time but is not itself the word of God. This it cannot be, since it became part of the Pentateuch only when it was combined with the other pentateuchal books by an editor or series of editors, which means, since there are contradictions between Deuteronomy and other sections of the Pentateuch, that the Shema is not the words of Moses himself but what the Deuteronomist said that Moses said. I do not see the rabbis as infallible authorities but as great teachers, yet I must respect their ruling that one must recite the Shema daily, not so much because the rabbis say so but because all the evidence goes to show that the Shema was recited as part of the Temple service and has been recited by Jews throughout the ages.
“As a historically minded Jew, I am interested in how the Shema developed, but as a religious Jew, the development is irrelevant to me. I recite the Shema because the words constitute a glorious affirmation of Jewish belief and, when reciting it, I share in the experiences of my fellow-Jews, belonging to a community of faith reaching back to Deuteronomy and beyond. Since it is good to do this, and since it provides me with a Jewish ‘vocabulary of worship,’ the only one that makes sense to me as a Jew, I believe that to recite the Shema is a divine command, albeit one communicated through the experiences of my people. By the same token, I recite the words following the first verse of the Shema, which everyone admits were added in rabbinic times: ‘Blessed be the name of His glorious Kingdom for ever and ever.”