Yes, there are some "things that a person should not do because it would compromise their beliefs". Laws and ethical principles determine boundaries and prescribe actions. But since most value systems are not absolute, "a workaround" as you call it, may be desired to reflect a higher truth or need. Does not an ambulance on duty zoom through red lights? A Talmudical formulation of this is found in tractate Yoma 85b where R. Yehudah in the name of Samuel explains why it is permissible to violate the laws of the Sabbath in order to save a human life. His reasoning is that the purpose of the Biblical commandments is "You shall live with them" (Leviticus 18,5), and not die because of them.
I liked your expression of "a workaround". To be more certain of how it can be used, I found the following definition: "A bypass of a recognized problem in a system. A workaround is typically a temporary fix that implies that a genuine solution to the problem is needed. Frequently workarounds are as creative as true solutions, involving outside the box thinking in their creation".
Indeed, when values clash, a "workaround" may be prudent. For example, "You should not lie". Yet, as described in the Talmud, tractate Babba Metziah 87a, God changed the wording of the "truth" for the sake of peace when He told Abraham that Sarah had laughed at the thought of her being able to give birth rather than mentioning Abraham's impotence (Genesis 18,12). From the perspective of moral theory, this is a Jewish version of "virtue ethics".
"You shall not kill" is both a universal value and a Biblical commandment. Yet sometimes "killing" is necessary to save lives, eliminate evil and prevent calamity. That is what a "just war" is all about. Similarly, another one of the Ten Commandments states that "you shall not steal". But, in April 1943, when my great-grandfather was dying of starvation in the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt, would it not have been permissible to steal a piece of bread from his Nazi tormentors?
To sum up, "a workaround" is laudablewhen meta-halacha, meta-ethics, and meta-value system mandate a solution. But maybe you are referring to "a workaround" that stems from laziness, character foibles or narcissistic indulgence. If so, the "workaround" is a deceptive camouflage for a weakness, and not an insightful "out of the box" discovery.
As I am writing officially under the rubric of the "Orthodox response", I would conclude by saying, that Orthodox Judaism mandates a defined set of rules, restrictions and values to guide daily existence, yet it also incorporates built-in safeguards of flexibility and "workarounds" that allow a living Judaism to flourish and adapt to the world around us.
Do you think that sometimes there are things that a person should simply not do because it would compromise their beliefs too much? Or is there always a workaround?
At one level, the question can be answered succintly: Judaism does not permit the bending of every rule. Classically, the tradition phrases the absolute nature of some commandments in this way: In the case of three commandments, “do not murder; do not commit sexual crimes; do not worship idols”, the ruling is “yehhareg ve-lo ya’avor”, which means, “a person should allow himself to be killed rather than to transgress.” In Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5, we are told that the reason why the Bible tells the story of our common descent from a first human couple (Adam and Eve) is so that no one could say, ”my ancestor is greater than yours.” The implication is that we are not allowed to murder another, under any circumstances, because we have no greater ultimate standing than the other person.
In the course of Jewish history, our tradition has sometimes extended that principle widely. During the anti-Jewish persecutions of the later Middle Ages, Ashkenazic teachers (i.e. religious leaders of the Jewish people living in the Christian lands of Northern Europe) specified that the limitation of martyrdom to only those three laws was a general rule, but that in times of persecution, every single law was so important that a Jew ought to submit to martyrdom rather than transgress. Clearly, that is a more extreme statement than our general, contemporary understanding of the issue, although the historical climate generating that statement is understandable.
In any case, the tradition is clear and univocal in answer to this question: not every law can be situationally reframed so as to justify non-compliance.
At another level, I suspect that the question reflects the popularity of the situational ethics that have become a significant element in some quarters, in recent times. We respond against the rigid and inflexible nature of some expositions of religion, by moving in the other direction, seeking to find the flexibility within religious tradition itself.
And yet, even when reacting against excessive inflexibility, it is a mistake to say that everything is negotiable. Implicit in the basic Jewish notion of God as the author of the mitzvoth (the commandments) is the understanding that a higher standard compels and constrains our behavior.
When aspects of the culture reinforce the message “anything goes”, it becomes all the more important for Judaism to insist on the counter-cultural message, “God commands. Much is permitted, but not all. So not just anything goes.”
Judaism is different from Americanism. In the latter, our nation is based on the idea of rights and liberties. But Judaism is based on a system of mitzvot/commandments. They form the framework for a legal and moral society. Byron Sherwin writes: The term “right” is not operative or meaningful in the framework of Jewish ethical or legal discourse…The problem in Jewish law is not one of rights but of obligations. We look for grounding in our choices. If a belief is to be compromised by an action, then the action compromises the belief system. The idea of “workaround” begs the excuse to allow beliefs to be compromised. If you accept the workaround, then the belief proves to be only situational. If it is truly a “belief”, then we have no “right” to refrain from following it, even to its undesirable result. So we need to choose our beliefs, our meaningful mitzvot/obligations wisely.
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