Thursday, October 27, 2005

Flexibility With a Firm Understanding

Yitzchak Blau wrote an article titled "Flexibility With a Firm Foundation: On Maintaining Jewish Dogma" where he discusses Marc Shapiro's recent book "The Limits of Orthodox Theology" and why Judaism must have a basic dogmatic core even if that core isn't necessarily as the Rambam described it in his famous set of thirteen.

As I wrote to the individual who sent me this article (with minor editing):

I actually have read Shapiro's book, it is an interesting topic and he does prove his case well, as the author of this article confirms. I also do see dogma in Judaism as an important part of its growth and continuance historically, however, I am not convinced that it is a necessary aspect for Jewish life indefinitely. It is also true, as the author states, that without an ideology of some sort, Jewish practices do become mindless behaviorism. And that is a situation that I do not desire. It is my goal to replace (at least in my own mind, but perhaps for others if they are so interested) new reasons for being traditional and continuing traditional activities without the burden of heavy insoluble dogma.

It is certain that this type of activity of making new reasons for continuing old practices has happened again and again in Jewish history. There are so many interpretations and new "insights" into customs and halachot that in many instances the original reasons for a custom have been lost to us.

I see all of Jewish history in a different light from most Orthodox rabbis and scholars. Judaism, either in terms of practice or belief, did not exist at its inception or over the centuries as it does today. There was a long evolutionary progression where practices and beliefs were created and ignored and where Judaism split and rejoined where some branches died out and other branches flourished. It is my view, for instance, that neither Pharisaism or Sadducism is the "correct" brand of Judaism, but that both are equally valid expressions of the same basic trunk. Neither Hasidism or the Misnagdim were "correct," they just took the source material and went different ways with it.

In this way, I can take ALL of historic Jewish expression and make it my own without declaring one sort heresy or apostasy as those terms cannot apply in my conceptions of Judaism. Judaism is the expressions of the Jewish people as they searched for meaning in the world and held together as a people. In the classic Hegelian sense, to understand Judaism is not to understand "correct" halacha and hashkafa, but to understand the whole progression of thoughts and practices as they formed through history and will continue to form into the future.

My orthopraxy is not the orthopraxy of mindless machinations but the understanding that every Jewish thing I do reaches and connects me back to my People's deepest past and secures it towards the unknowable future.

8 comments:

Ben Avuyah said...

I often wonder about this, and weather or not I can sustain my orthopraxy in the post-atheistic realizations state. I wonder if the drive that makes me want to celebrate the laws and customs is not just a concession to my earlier religious feelings that still insist, despite all logic and rational, that to do anything else is wrong.

Are we orthoprax because we have developed a love and respect for our ancestral customs, or because deep down, religious inference systems in the subconscious, are still successfully pulling the strings…

Prince Imrahil said...

My dear Orthropax,
Just go Reform - they beat you to the punch.
I actually agree with a lot of what you said but your missing a core principle in my opinion. Otherwise, there really isn't any reason to get involved in "my People's deepest past and secures it towards the unknowable future." What people, your a homosapien. Who says your a Jew, what does that even mean?

Sarah said...

I think it's probably a combination of both. For example, I can't sing in front of guys by myself. Not because I think it's wrong, but because I grew up hearing that it was wrong, and it stuck. The action just makes me uncomfortable even though rationally there's no reason for me not to.

However, there are other things that are the opposite: every morning when I wake up and think "wouldn't it be nice to just stay in bed instead of going to minyan" I go anyway - knowing that halachically there's not even a real point to it - only out of respect for the connection it creates among Jews.

In the end I think we have to realize that no person is going to be 100% logical and consistent ... it's just not possible.

Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"Are we orthoprax because we have developed a love and respect for our ancestral customs, or because deep down, religious inference systems in the subconscious, are still successfully pulling the strings…"

Yeah, like Sarah, I'd say really it's both. But the fact remains that if I had no love for the customs then the subconscious feelings of "mustness" would have no standing. And there are still a number of halachic obligations that I recognize as what I should be doing according to the "rules," but which hold little or contrary meaning to me and so I don't do them.

Orthoprax said...

Prince,

"Just go Reform - they beat you to the punch."

How do you figure? They've left most of tradition. Reconstructionist would be much closer.

"What people, your a homosapien. Who says your a Jew, what does that even mean?"

I have a cultural (and to some degree a biological) connection to a people that recognize themselves as a distinct entity with a distinct history and culture. I _could_ remove myself from this cultural heritage, but I don't want to. I have received it and I desire to pass it on.

"Jewish" is as much a part of my identity as is my family name.

alex said...

"every Jewish thing I do reaches and connects me back to my People's deepest past "

I've searched your site pretty thoroughly and have found very precious little that you are proud to connect TO. Elisha ben Avuyah, maybe.

Shlomo said...

Ortho,

Excellent post.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

You're right, on this blog I mention little of what I do like about Judaism and the Jewish people. I do that more in my posts to the Frum Skeptics Group.

But the things I connect to is the strong sense of peoplehood that exists among Jews. I love Jewish history and I can identify with Jewish protagonists. I like the sense I get through the year as we go through the holiday festivals and we go back and recall what happened to us in our past. Judaism is very history-conscious.

I am also proud of the strong Jewish thread in the commitment to ethics and morality and civic responsibility. I am proud of the sense of scholarship and learning and reading that underlines so many Jewish heroes and helps to define what Judaism is. I like the sense of a strong family. I love the Shabbos.

Of course I have issues with much of modern Orthodoxy, but I wouldn't bother talking about it if I didn't care.