Monday, October 22, 2007

On Obligation

This is a bit of a sticky issue. How can the movements of Judaism which do not recognize the divine authority of the mitzvot or the standing of rabbis to declare judgment in Halacha still maintain a sense of obligation to Jewish heritage and traditional Jewish practices? What is the place of Halacha in a philosophy that does not recognize divine law? Simply, on what basis can liberal Judaism make requirements on their constituents?

A major problem of Reform and Conservative Judaism is the apparent "anything goes" approach to Jewish practice and belief which leads to a free for all and disintegration of Jewish identity and community. This approach is based on the ill-conceived idea that people will leave Judaism entirely if they feel the least bit chaffed by obligations that do not suit them, yet it is those people who are most likely to be committed to Judaism which then feel little for it because it requires nothing of them. Judaism becomes meaningless. Liberal movements tend to play towards the lowest common denominator in order to create the biggest tent, but ultimately this backfires as the content of Judaism is lost in empty aphorisms and continually dated political efforts. The process promotes a weakness in Judaism to which even committed Jews have trouble finding tangible connection.

So I have an approach which is akin to some Reconstructionist approaches where it is Jewish heritage itself that makes claims on each Jew. A committed - religious - Jew is one who delves into the richness of our history, religious evolution and traditional practices in order to make a home for themselves in our heritage - and, most importantly, is keen on passing on that sense of patrimony to the next generation. The idea is that one is not just a passive receiver of a heritage, but one has an obligation to maintain it, make it one's own and pass it on. The mandate is to build a Jewish philosophy, a Jewish family and a Jewish community. This necessarily applies to both individuals and the larger collective as the goals cannot be met by a kahal without individual interest, nor can an individual best express his Jewishness without communal life.

B. Spinoza elsewhere lambasted this approach as being little more realistic than divine obligation. That a heritage cannot create an obligation. I disagree (obviously). A Jew is defined by his heritage - since it is only our heritage which makes us different from any goy on the street and therefore it is by our heritage that we can judge whether a person is a good or a bad Jew. First and foremost is how importantly a Jew considers his heritage to be - indeed, how important a Jew believes it is to be a Jew. Any individual Jew may be a great person, but if he doesn't take his heritage seriously and doesn't care to pass it onto his children, then he (I'm sorry to say) simply isn't a great Jew.

Now I believe that once a person really takes his identity seriously, a next step is to follow a way of life that best exemplifies the values so accepted. Following some approximation of traditional Jewish practice - orthopraxy - seems like an ideal fit to me. What precisely the borders of Halacha ought to be in such a state is essentially a matter of politics, though some general principles need to be followed in order for communities to coherently exist. Personally I tend towards relatively more conservative realizations of Jewish practice, but these are details.

62 comments:

Shai said...

Do you feel it's impossible for Jews to tie into all you mentioned without "traditional Jewish practice" (ritual)? If so, why? Why, for example, can't the "tikkun olam" idea be a basis for Jewish identity, with no ritual at all, assuming that that concept is steeped in a study of Jewish tradition? In other words, why not hashkafic, rather than halachic "tradition" as a basis for Jewishness?

Orthoprax said...

Shai,

Many things are possible, but I think that in a world of growing Jewish pluralism, a common way of life is a better social glue than some weak common beliefs.

I think there are some beliefs that can and ought be universalized as widely as possible, but I don't think tikkun olam, in itself, has much retaining power.

Ahavah B. said...

You might be looking at it wrong: it's not necessarily believing in divine law or not, it is often believing in divine law vs. believing in Rabbinic authority. The two are not one and the same. You can accept the written civil and moral laws of the Torah without accepting the self-serving authority of the Rabbis to add or subtract from it. Those of us who have experience with the latter can sometimes not throw out the baby with the bathwater and embrace the former - but it's hard not to just lump the two into one category. You have to get over being angry at your Rav/Shul/Community and try to be objective about what the covenant can be.

Orthoprax said...

Ahavah,

I'm not angry with anyone. It is a matter of the divinity of the law. In any case, it amounts to the same thing as Halacha as we know it cannot be required pedogogically as simply being the will of God. And that leads to a mess.

If anything, I'd want to retain a rabbinic form of Halacha so as not to revert to the sometimes unforgiving code of the Torah.

B. Spinoza said...

I'm glad i can motivate you to write a post. that was my evil plan all along. mwhuahah

AgnosticWriter said...

I agree that Jews will likely not maintain their identity over even several generations, much less several centuries, without some sufficiently powerful uniting (communal) and identity-reinforcing factor(s).

In Israel, Jewishness is reinforced by geography, common peril, language, etc. There, the powerful action/ritual focus of Orthodoxy may be argued to be unnecessary. But to ensure that one's progeny retain a Jewish identity even in a non-Jewish, open, wider culture--anywhere other than Israel--this, it seems to me, does call for factors strong enough to resist the relentless call of the larger herd.

I think history has played out the experiment and has shown the fatal weaknesses (in retaining Jewish identity of progeny) of those forms of Judaism not involving frequent action/ritual and the placing of restrictions on its members that make it difficult to get too comfortable in larger society.

In short, some form of active, intensive religious involvement, combined with some form of de-facto segregation, seems to be necessary. Only the Orthodox do that, and only the Orthodox retain the great majority of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren as unambiguously Jewish.

The questions remaining are:
1. Is maintaining a people with Jewish identity important?
2. If yes, do I choose to be part of that exercise? (Bear in mind, that communities of Orthodox Jews will almost certainly survive for the foreseeable future, irrespective of whether skeptics choose to tie in with such a destiny.

But if one answers both questions with a yes, I don't see the alternative to Orthodoxy.

(Orthopraxy--halachah without belief--hasn't really been widely attempted, probably because very few would really make the sacrifices religion asks if they didn't believe its theological claims. The percentage, in the general population, of pragmatic philosophers with an ethnocentric bent is rather low.)

zachdus said...

Nice in theory, but supremist in practicality. At least that's how any Jew other than an Orthodox Jew might feel.

In therapy talk, the problem is that you're working someone else's program. I thought you were supposed to make yours look good, attract with honey, so to speak.

Orthoprax said...

Spinoza,

"I'm glad i can motivate you to write a post. that was my evil plan all along. mwhuahah"

How sneaky of you. ;-) Well, it had to be written sooner or later.


AW,

"But if one answers both questions with a yes, I don't see the alternative to Orthodoxy."

But if one cannot accept Orthodox theology, then what? Hence my project. The sincere commitment of Orthodoxy is great and I see no great need to create separate communities based on differences of philosophy, but a philosophical space needs to be made for sincerely Jewish skeptics.


Zachdus,

"Nice in theory, but supremist in practicality. At least that's how any Jew other than an Orthodox Jew might feel."

It's supremacist to believe in standards? Well, too bad really. This is exactly the point I made in my post with the problem in Reform and Conservative Judaism. Kowtowing to those who chaff under obligation only serves to weaken Judaism.

"In therapy talk, the problem is that you're working someone else's program."

Hum? I don't know what that means.

"I thought you were supposed to make yours look good, attract with honey, so to speak."

The merits of Judaism and living an observant lifestyle is a topic for a different post.

AgnosticWriter said...

Orthoprax writes: "But if one cannot accept Orthodox theology, then what? Hence my project. The sincere commitment of Orthodoxy is great and I see no great need to create separate communities based on differences of philosophy, but a philosophical space needs to be made for sincerely Jewish skeptics."

I understand the difficult spot you're in. One who doesn't believe cannot, of course, will himself to believe. Yet I'm skeptical of the notion that children can be raised, and community gathered, in any significant or sustaining numbers--let alone a movement that would see its distant progeny remain true to its identity--under the banner of a Judaism without theological beliefs. As mentioned, there are simply too many sacrifices to be made if no God really demands them, and simply too few people with a temperament and mind-style for remaining true to such puzzling ideals--those of unbelieving religion.

It seems to me, then, that your realistic choices are:

1. Raise your children Orthodox, and in all likelihood they, and their children, will remain with a Jewish identity. (Of course, this involves being dishonest with your children, either actively or passively, about what you believe.)
2. Raise your children Orthoprax, being honest with them about your beliefs, and watch them drift away from Jewish identity, and their children drift still more--or completely separate themselves.
3. Raise your children secular, and speed up the process.

Mind you, I'm not lecturing for Orthodoxy. I have no plans to raise my (as of yet unborn) children Orthodox, but I'm realistic about the low odds of my distant progeny remaining identifiably Jewish. And I do find it sad in some ways. But I find it more unthinkable to be intellectually dishonest (Orthodoxy) or to restrict my life so drastically (Orthopraxy) in a Halachic lifestyle, which was fashioned on foundations I don't believe.

I still identify as Jewish, and find various forms of meaning in it--but I understand that my progeny (should I be blessed with such) will have very different childhoods than the one I did, and in all likelihood will value different affiliations and cultural experiences than I do.

Orthoprax said...

AW,

"under the banner of a Judaism without theological beliefs."

That's not the banner I am suggesting. I am suggesting a broader culture-based, value-based and heritage-based community, rather than a faith-based community. Religious beliefs will surely be present and will come in many forms. They will promote debate and serious introspection. However, what will be absent is the dogmatic approach to religion which only pretends to hold authority.

Traditional practices are _not_ just religious acts, they are cultural acts that help define a people and create a way of life. Religion will still be a key to Judaism for the forseeable future - indeed indefinitely - but the basis for the acts is not religious. Religion helps inform and find deeper meaning in tradition, but is not the authority behind Halacha.

Does this kind of thinking appeal to people generally? I don't know, but it works for me and I believe it has validity. Rather than waiting for Jews to polarize into fundamentalism and gross assimilation and making an impossible choice - I will take a third path. And we'll just have to see how many others will join me.

GoingGoingGone said...

I wonder if it has to be an ORTHO-praxy. I grew up in a setting where the religious content was certainly watered down to being almost non-existent, but my parents inculcated a very strong Jewish cultural identity and I had no doubt about my Jewishness. Similarly, even though many members of my family intermarried, Jewish ritual tradition has been kept, to the exclusion of whatever religious context the other spouse was in most cases. I understand how it can be a precarious stance to take, with a lot of risk of losing participants, but I think a very strong pride and sense of identity can be imbued without adherence to halacha, which to me, seems pointless if it is a system in which one does not really believe to be true.

alex said...

"The mandate is to build a Jewish philosophy, a Jewish family and a Jewish community."

And the mandatOR's name is "heritage."

Mikeskeptic said...

This sounds familiar.

"Ki yidativ lemaan asher yitzaveh es banav acharav veshumru derech hashem laasos tzedaha umishpat" (quoting from memory so forgive me if I mangled it)

I love him [Abraham] because he will command his descendents after him to observe the Way of God, to perform charity and justice.

XGH said...

We've discussed this before. Heritage gives people the warm and fuzzies, but is usually isn't enough to make people feel obligated. Guilty, maybe, but not obligated. In a sense, who you were born to is an accident. We live in a free world, and each individual should ideally be free to make his own choices in life.

I have also made the following argument - Judaism has a great moral tradition, and has contributed significantly to society. Humanity as a whole needs Judaism, so we should feel obligated on behalf of humanity. But this is not a very strong argument either.

Shai said...

"...a next step is to follow a way of life that best exemplifies the values so accepted. Following some approximation of traditional Jewish practice - orthopraxy - seems like an ideal fit to me."

All I'm saying is that "Jewish Practice" is in fact the hashkafic expression of Judaism. The ritualistic prax is a supplement to the hashkafa, but today it appears to have supplanted for all intents and purposes. Nobody gets upset enough about whether a Yeshiva gets its money from money laundering, but if your water has tiny lobsters in it, watch out.

The point should be that whether it's hashkafa or halacha, "community" is a byproduct of a group of people who share beliefs and common ground. Without that, you don't have a Jewish community, but rather many of them. Because we haven't a single set of values (irrespective of halachic practice, which is only sometimes influenced by values), Jews are living on the equity of the community built by past generations rather than the interest. We haven't long to go before it's all spent, and we'll disappear, in my view, unless we find the set of common VALUES that set us apart as a community.

This is the reason that, while I don't deny halacha its place, I don't think it's the ikkar of Jewishness. Obviously, I am nearly alone in thinking that, but nevertheless I think it's a better basis than ritual observance for building the "broad tent" of community we have the potential of building. But thanks anyway for your response - I find your thoughts interesting, always.

Shira Salamone said...

"A committed - religious - Jew is one who delves into the richness of our history, religious evolution and traditional practices in order to make a home for themselves in our heritage - and, most importantly, is keen on passing on that sense of patrimony to the next generation."

Orthoprax, have you been reading my blog? That's pretty much what my approach.

Will it work? The jury's still out--I'll tell you in ten years, when my kid is in his thirties.

Orthoprax said...

GGG,

"I wonder if it has to be an ORTHO-praxy."

Not necessarily, but, at the least, it's the approach that works best for me. Part of the issue is also not causing an unnecessary schism in pre-existing Jewish communities.

"seems pointless if it is a system in which one does not really believe to be true."

The system is true - it clearly exists and works. It is only the traditional assumptions that have propped up the system that are at issue.


Mike,

"I love him [Abraham] because he will command his descendents after him to observe the Way of God, to perform charity and justice."

Sure, I honestly do not think my take on things is such a radical jump from tradition. It's just a self-conscious one.


GH,

"We've discussed this before. Heritage gives people the warm and fuzzies, but is usually isn't enough to make people feel obligated. Guilty, maybe, but not obligated."

Not by itself, perhaps, but it's a history-consciousness that blends into a future-consciousness and our existence as a people. There's are real consequences for those who do not live Judaism - i.e. there's a good chance their children won't be Jews at all.

"In a sense, who you were born to is an accident."

Is it?

"We live in a free world, and each individual should ideally be free to make his own choices in life."

Of course, but each choice has its consequences.


Shai,

"We haven't long to go before it's all spent, and we'll disappear, in my view, unless we find the set of common VALUES that set us apart as a community."

I'm not disagreeing with you. But those values need to be particularly _Jewish_ values and tikkun olam (for one) could be transposed with the political ideology of half of america. Both values and rituals add to the richness of a community.


Shira,

"Orthoprax, have you been reading my blog? That's pretty much what my approach."

I'm afraid not, but it's always good to find likeminded people. Now how do we convince the skeptics?

Miri said...

"It is a matter of the divinity of the law. In any case, it amounts to the same thing as Halacha as we know it cannot be required pedogogically as simply being the will of God."

Halacha is a human-developed code of law. It isn't divine. No one claims it is. The reason it's important is exactly what you have been talking about here - we needed a system to hold our communities together. So this is what they came up with. I don't think it's entirely fair not to buy into the halachik system because you don't believe that G-d gave us the Torah. Why can't you look at it as another piece of Jewish culture? Think of halachik practice as cultural rituals instead of "divine law." It amounts to the same thing in the end.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"Halacha is a human-developed code of law. It isn't divine. No one claims it is."

If you say so. Maybe not divine like Torah law, but almost as highly authoritative since it is believed that the Torah gives rabbis the ability to define Halacha.

"Why can't you look at it as another piece of Jewish culture? Think of halachik practice as cultural rituals instead of "divine law." It amounts to the same thing in the end."

I'm with you and maybe in some instances, but there are many tough fields that people would submit to Halacha if it were the will of God but would not if it was just a cultural remnant. So they do not amount the same way.

Miri said...

I don't know maybe my definition of "divine" is a little narrow, but I thought it meant "directly from G-d." At least in this context.

"there are many tough fields that people would submit to Halacha if it were the will of God but would not if it was just a cultural remnant"

This is sort of a vague area. Take into account the fact that already there are many religous people who won't do certain things in the eye of the public but would do them in private. This already seems as if they are treating the halacha as a cultural norm and not as the will of G-d. I don't have numbers on how common this sort of behavior is, but if we said that this behavior is not uncommon (for the sake of argument) then one could argue that this perspective is already relatively widespread.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"I don't have numbers on how common this sort of behavior is, but if we said that this behavior is not uncommon (for the sake of argument) then one could argue that this perspective is already relatively widespread."

People constantly do all sorts of things they know they shouldn't do. It depends how they justify their behavior.

Xvi said...

I may be rehashing old points but I have to disagree on some points.

Orthopraxy is a (perhaps) great system when applied on a personal level, but that is only because it is a compromise on a personal level. While there may be some elite followers who truly believe in its stand-alone value, I would have to imagine that many/most are just maintaining an orthodox front to assuage guilt, fear of the unknown/afterlife, community ostrasization or a drastic and sudden change in lifestyle. Othopraxy allows one to maintain all the old facades while simultaneously being (fairly) involved in the secular world.

My experience with orthopraxy and its followers though (by whatever name they call it) is generally manifested as the worst form of compromise. They may not violate shabbos, but they dont put on tefillin either. From a religious perspective its a loading up of Sur Me'Rah while completely ignoring the Asseh Tov. Secularly, its all of the knowledge with none of the action. Psychologically, its all of the restriction of religious scruples with none of the enjoyment of fulfillment.

I am not denying that it works for people. I feel like it is a compromise, but you may think that it is ideal. That said though, I cannot imagine a situation where it would work on a communal level for a truly significant amount of time. Orthodox judaism remains alive and kicking today only because of its restrictions and seperations. Those restrictions and seperations are only upheld because of divine fear or love.

Removal of the divine can only inevitably lead to loosening and eventual cessation of those restrictions. That will, in turn, lead to basically what we are seeing today in our reform communities.

Miri said...

orthoprax-
"People constantly do all sorts of things they know they shouldn't do. It depends how they justify their behavior."

Yes. My point was, how is this different from what you have described? Other than, now they have a new justification.

Orthoprax said...

Xvi,

The difference between what you are describing and what I am suggesting is that orthopraxy in itself is not the bulwark for Jewish identity by itself. It is not a value in itself, inasmuch as it is a way of life that follows from the theory of Judaism that I described in my post.

Orthopraxy for its own sake is hopeless, but with a love for things Jewish and a solid Jewish identity I don't think adopting traditional practices is so insensible.


Miri,

The difference is that people would still believe they ought to do something if God commands it and not so much if it's just a cultural remnant. It's the theory behind the action that counts.

Miri said...

If you say so. I remain skeptical.

Shira Salamone said...

"Shira,

"Orthoprax, have you been reading my blog? That's pretty much what my approach."

I'm afraid not, but it's always good to find likeminded people. Now how do we convince the skeptics?"

I'll have to be convinced *myself* first. As far as I'm concerned, the jury's still out until I see whether the woman my son brings home as his fiancee is Jewish (or is willing to *become* Jewish, which would indicate that being Jewish is important enough to *him* to be important to *her*).

Can't find the comment, but I agree with whomever said that ethics alone won't keep people Jewish, since ethics, though certainly an absolute essential of Judaism, are not exclusive to it. You can be ethical without being Jewish. So tikkun olam doesn't necessarily work as a Jewish-continuity strategy unless accompanied by something specifically Jewish. I've said for years that, at the moment, the only thing keeping our self-declared-Buddhist son Jewish is that he loves challah and matzah. I just hope he eventually decides that he wants to observe some semblance of the Shabbat and Pesach that go with the challah and matzah.

Orthoprax said...

Shira,

Yeah, I said that about tikkun olam a few comments up.

Anyway, to be honest, I'm not sure I'd consider your son to be the poster boy for this approach to Judaism. Looks like he could go either way. And what about his kids?

Jeff said...

Hello all, I'm new to this very nice site, and these well thought arguments. Do please forgive my relative ignorance, and stay with me, I do have a point:)

It seems the main issues that we're deling with are sources of judaic tradition: written and oral torah, and the issues of divinity/ divinely inspired/ potent philophy. I think it's probably easier to deal with the oral torah first.

Clearly, the oral torah has been questioned in Jewish history. When look at the history of the oral torah, it seems that it is rabbininc tradition that became codified. Unless I'm mistaken, it can not be radically altered anymore because of the lack of a Sanhedrin. However, the Sanhedrin was a politically created group, with a basis on the previous groups of sages & elders. If this is true, one could argue that any current group of sages could make new interpretations, particularly, if this group of sages is in the majority.

In this case, one could argue that reform/ conservative views are just as legitimiate as any other. Don't forget that even the Chassids were outcasts at one time.

Now clearly, there are faults in the majority rules argument, as this can deviate so much that the original point is lost (muslims, etc)

OP, it seems your main point in orthopraxy is the continuation of jewish heritage. But I question why other than Nostalgi, and the sense of well being it gives you (not that there's anything wrong with that!) The way I see it, our children regardless of what we teach them will have *some* culture, and doubtles, they too will feel nostalgic and good about it as well. So who cares then? The only reason it would matter to continue jewish heritage is if there is a *true* axiom behind it. This brings me to the divinity of the written torah issue.

If the torah is at not at least divinely inspired, than one could argue that jewish culture has no intrinsic value beyond any other ancient culture.

One possible arguement could be that written torah is at least a recipe for family happiness and sustainability (as evidenced by history), however this in not satisfying, as if there is no true import to our culture, there are many other ways to raise happy children.

This brings me to the question of divine vs divinely inspired origin of the torah. If it is truly divine, than our answer is easier, traditional orthodox judiasm, with possible endless arguments about halacha & oral tradition (more or less very similar lifestyles. This also brings me to another question I have not researched enough: Are we reasonably certain that the written torah of today is letter for letter the same as what Moses received?

If not, it seems to me you have the conservative or reform approach. This can be argued from 2 points: the written torah has been sufficiently garbled throughout histiry as to necessitate a new interpreatation and practical practice, or the new rabbinical majority has a relevant and reinterprentation on divine law. Either brings us to the same endpoint.

I guess I'm argueing for a frankenstein fusion of reform, orthodox, and reconstructionalist. I think that without belief in some kind of divine axiomatic origin, judiasm is meaningless as a culture and a religion; and on the flip side, judaism of today wehter we like it or not, or whether orthodox like it or not, is slowly changing (It is impossible to truly follow every written torah commandment literally, so some interpretation is allowed for leniency). I am just taking this point further.

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"I think that without belief in some kind of divine axiomatic origin, judiasm is meaningless as a culture and a religion"

I don't see why that follows at all. Personally I'm ambivalent about the divinity implicit within the Torah, but I'm willing to accede to that kind of construct because, at the very least, the text suggests a high-minded confrontation with the divine and moral responsibility due through the transcendent which are notions I take seriously.

But besides for that, I do think it is possible for those who see the Torah text as purely man-made to still find much religious, ethical and aesthetic value in our heritage. It's what we've collectively done with it, rather than its origins where the full value resides. The necessary point here is not for a required divinity to induce loyalty, but a required sense that Judaism - in its largest sense - is a proud part of one's identity.

Jeff said...

Yes, I guess I should have phrased that better. I do believe that Judaism as a culture is important, and, and particularly more so to me as it is *my* culture. I also believe that at the very least, Judaism has a proven track reord of promotinc humanism. I also believe that a cultural identity is very important in life and child rearing.

My point is that compared to any other old and "good" culture, Judaism would not be significantly different or inherently more important.

While human history tells us that preservation of one's identity through blood or belief is an important binding source, if our children decided to abandon Judaism for Buddhism, I can't think of a good argument other than a nebulous blood and personal cultural heritage.

I'm also curious as to your thoughts on my point on Reform/ Conservative Judaism being a a new de juro Sanhedrin, and thus being able to reinterpret written law. (This goes under the assumptions that they belief that the toarh is at least some extent divine)

On a side note, after reading your terrific Aztec thread, I had been reading some hearsay about a south island religion with a mass revelation, and was curious if you've heard anything.

Jeff said...

Correction from above -- I can't think of a good reason to promote Judaism over Buddhism, ***without some kind of divine backing***

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"My point is that compared to any other old and "good" culture, Judaism would not be significantly different or inherently more important."

Depends how you are comparing things. It just so happens that more than half the world's people get their basic worldview from Judaism. The same Torah stories that are so powerful to us were essentially adopted by peoples all over the world, took the place of their own cultural narratives, and heavily shaped their history forever afterward.

The place of Judaism in human history and civilization is a grander position than most. We have a lot more to be proud of.

But, of course, there are other very worthy and proud traditions like Hinduism that I mention in earlier posts or even Buddhism that you note - but they are not _our_ traditions. It is the Jewish identity that precedes the acceptance of the Jewish heritage.

Judaism goes beyond being just a religious path, it is a whole approach to life and identity. A person can accept ideas of Buddhism, but they can never unbecome a Jew.

"I'm also curious as to your thoughts on my point on Reform/ Conservative Judaism being a a new de juro Sanhedrin, and thus being able to reinterpret written law. (This goes under the assumptions that they belief that the toarh is at least some extent divine)"

There are several problems with that understanding. The first is simply that many Reform and Conservative rabbis are really not that scholarly and therefore they do not possess the standing to overturn decisions of past sages. That is the general Orthodox perspective.

Additionally, many of those rabbis are more concerned with political agendas than the good of Jewish integrity, which only leads to divisions and weakening of Judaism. Their judgement as individuals is highly suspect and largely unreliable. Lastly, the sad fact is that even if those rabbis were a legitimate Sanhedrin, nobody really cares about what they say. The laypeople of those movements hardly observe any Halacha at all. And those who do observe Halacha are generally Orthodox and would not follow the Conservative or Reform conclusions anyway.


"I had been reading some hearsay about a south island religion with a mass revelation, and was curious if you've heard anything."

I'm not sure to what you are referring. Do you have any more data? I could check up on it.

Jeff said...

OP,

"But, of course, there are other very worthy and proud traditions.... - but they are not _our_ traditions....

Judaism goes beyond being just a religious path, it is a whole approach to life and identity. A person can accept ideas of Buddhism, but they can never unbecome a Jew."

Firstly, I would argue that eastern religions do promote a way of life, identity, and religion in a simialr wat that Judaism does. Any temple is a center of the community in any religion, and thus follows traition and culture. I think it would be impossible to successfuly the two successfully.

Secondly, on the impossibility of unbecoming a Jew. I think here it is important to separate heritage & religion/soul for discussions sake. In regards to heritage - Yes, for many Judaism is there only heritage, but for growing number, only half. And who knows for any one person, 1000 years back, all of their ancestors were pagans. And in fact 4000 years back all of our ancestors were pagans. Where is their heritage? But I digress :)

While I agree that our heritage, no matter what "percentage" we areis important, if ones headstron children finds a better connection with another fine religion & heritage, it would take a far better argument to change a teenagers minfd than "it's your heritage". Why should the care to preserve something unimportant to them that does not fit their perceived identity.

If you are aguing that a Jew has a unique soul, then you imply axiomatic divinity in the basis of Judaism - the torah- in which case there is a great reason to stay with Judaism: Not because it is a great and storied and humanistic culture of our ancestors, but because it is the one true religion of the one true god, and all religions are just human philosophy, and even possibly dangerous to your soul and your family.

So again I say, why would Judaism be *so* imprtant to sustain unless it were actually right. If god forbid Judaism were to die today, in ten thousand years, there would be another religion and culture with an even longer and prouder history.

Side note: I only caught the South sea islander mass revelation mention on another website, no other info than the name. I've been unable to find anything on it...

And while I'm thinking about the Aztec revelation, let me make an analogy: Let's say I'm writing a book on how to love music. Undoubtedly, it would tell many stories about realy people, and have many untrue analogies. But when I get to the point where I as the author explain how I came to that love, one would undoubtedly take it literally. Thus, I do find the rabbi's argument more convincing. But it still leave sthe fact that you have proved another mass revelation. Perhaps only figurative, definitely without an excellent pedigree and tradition, but I think it still does somewhat weaken the Mt Sinai revelation proof of divine source of the torah.

But, to me, not enough, I still find that scenario more likley than not. Since I like the heritage of Judaism anyway, I can't go wrong!

So I can enjoy studying torah, and can look my children straigh in the eye and tell them I believe in god, and that I believe that that god believes in the torah.

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"Firstly, I would argue that eastern religions do promote a way of life, identity, and religion in a simialr wat that Judaism does."

That's not the point. The point is that being born and raised within Jewish tradition does something more lasting and permanent to the psyche than just passing on a set of religious beliefs that can be swapped like a change of clothing.

The same can likely be said for some Eastern paths too, but that just suggests a kind of non-transference that goes between these kinds of different traditions.

"While I agree that our heritage, no matter what "percentage" we areis important, if ones headstron children finds a better connection with another fine religion & heritage, it would take a far better argument to change a teenagers minfd than "it's your heritage". Why should the care to preserve something unimportant to them that does not fit their perceived identity."

Frankly, I'd find it strange that such an argument would be given very often. If a Jew is properly raised with a deep appreciation for his heritage then this situation simply will not arise very often. This is the problem with intermarriage that so fiercely weakens Jewish identity.

You cannot "argue" identity was someone. It has to be something they feel in their bones.


"But, to me, not enough, I still find that scenario more likley than not. Since I like the heritage of Judaism anyway, I can't go wrong!"

You are free to come to your own conclusions, but even if the Sinai story was a unique tale of national revelation, that in itself, to me, does not justify the conclusion that God actually spoke to the nation and gave them a set of commandments.

Personally, I do believe there was _some_ event at Mt. Sinai, but it was more likely a human-initiated event inspired by a perception of the divine rather than a revelation initiated by God with specific related verses.

Jeff said...

OP,

Ok, I think I see what you're saying now -- that it's important for jews to perpetuate their culture for their children, because it's good for children to grow up with a culture and an identity, and conitinue with it for their life. So it sounds like you would also say that long time Buddhists should raise their children Buddhist.

What I don't understand is why if culture perpetuation is what you're interested in, why is it so important that it remained unchanged( at least certain laws and traditions), as every other culture in the world slwoly does change

"Frankly, I'd find it strange that such an argument would be given very often. If a Jew is properly raised with a deep appreciation for his heritage then this situation simply will not arise very often. This is the problem with intermarriage that so fiercely weakens Jewish identity."

I suppose that if you are coming from an orthodox background, that might be true, however as far as I know the majority of Jews in the world now are not orthodox, and more definitely not "orthopraxers". How did these jews come to exist?!? Their ancestors were all orthodox, so what happened? At some point their was a breakdown, whether intermarriage, or whatever. Even if you see this as a faiire of modern orthodoxy which is being fixed, you've still got a huge population of Jews out there with a weakening bond. So I do see this as a major issue.

So again I say, why is cultural perpetuation without divine backing so important to a nonbelieving jew. Or even non believing part jew..

--on to Mt Sinai. Here's something I've discovered about my own beliefs that I suspect is a common phenomenon. The scientist in me finds it very easy to believe that there is a god who created the world ex nihilo - after all, surely something was first and behind everything, and it just seems right to me; yet I find it very difficult to believe that that same God could create any other miracle, even something as relatively simple as talking to the people he created. Yet, I also find the watchmaker theory of God unlikely, and do see God as a constant part of life (probably because of my upbringing...)

Regarding Mt sinai, I have played enough games of "telephone" as a child to have great difficulty with the idea of letter for letter unchanged divine origin, but I agree with you that probably *something* happened at Mt Sinai. I suspect it was a smallish group, maybe even only 10 people, who at least had some kind simultaneous divine inspiration proving the unheard of idea (then) of ethical monotheism. Even this seems a buit of a leap to me, but then I go back to my previous point - I find it so easy to believe that that same God created the world!

I think your point that:
"it was more likely a human-initiated event inspired by a perception of the divine rather than a revelation initiated by God with specific related verses."
is a very good one - I think the intersting point is that the Mt Sinai revelation was *simultaneous*. Perhaps this too was human perceived as well, but I find my self grabbing at more and more straws - particularly because a simultaneous event is just so strikingly different from a linear transmission that it seems that that part of the history would remain intact. No matter what, I have to agree that a fairly literal interpretion of Sinai was *possible*, the question is *how possible*

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"Ok, I think I see what you're saying now -- that it's important for jews to perpetuate their culture for their children, because it's good for children to grow up with a culture and an identity, and conitinue with it for their life. So it sounds like you would also say that long time Buddhists should raise their children Buddhist."

Well, that's part of it. It's not just a matter of children, but Judaism actually does have a lot to offer as a heritage and a way of life. However, the reason why we ought to especially appreciate it is _because_ we are Jews.

As for Buddhists, they could use the same theory of heritage for themselves as I am using for Judaism, but I don't particularly care how successful they turn out. I think Buddhism adds an interesting dimension to human thought and I think practising Buddhists keeps those ideas in play, but boyind that, I don't really care about their fate as a people.

"What I don't understand is why if culture perpetuation is what you're interested in, why is it so important that it remained unchanged( at least certain laws and traditions), as every other culture in the world slwoly does change"

I didn't say that. I think it can and ought to change. But I think it ought to change naturally, rather than being pushed too soon by outside influences which will only serve to weaken Judaism.

"Even if you see this as a faiire of modern orthodoxy which is being fixed, you've still got a huge population of Jews out there with a weakening bond. So I do see this as a major issue."

Oh, I think it's an important issue too, but I don't think there is any general solution. These folks already know about the believed divinity in Judaism and that hasn't stopped the flow of Jews away from Judaism. I'm more concerned with a retention of a committed core, rather than the maintenance of lukewarm masses.

"So again I say, why is cultural perpetuation without divine backing so important to a nonbelieving jew. Or even non believing part jew.."

Why would divine backing be any more important to a Jew who doesn't believe? If nothing else, I do believe that a sustained conception of heritage and identity could draw in relative outsiders too. These are Jews who are hungry for meaning of what it is to be a Jew but do not believe the theology.

Jeff said...

OP,

I completely agree that Judaism is a wonderful culture worth preserving, perhaps on oits own merit more than any other culture. While I could really care less about the preservation of ongoing Buddhist culture, I think the argument you make to perpetuate judaism is the same as for any other culture.

"I didn't say that. I think it can and ought to change. But I think it ought to change naturally, rather than being pushed too soon by outside influences which will only serve to weaken Judaism."

I didn't realize that culture and cultural change could be anything other than natural!!! This is particularly true without divine backing. Then humans are truly only fancy animals, and the hyper-dominant species of the epoch. Anything a human does is natural by definition: Human nature is natural. It seems as if you argue for retention of many complex judaic customs, yet reject the core belief. This to me would seem a much more radical change. I do see culture as constantly rapdily changing with multiple outside influences, and generally for the good. Where would Jewish culture be if not for the radical outside influence of written language, for example.

"Oh, I think it's an important issue too, but I don't think there is any general solution. These folks already know about the believed divinity in Judaism and that hasn't stopped the flow of Jews away from Judaism. I'm more concerned with a retention of a committed core, rather than the maintenance of lukewarm masses"

Yes, and those folks had a strong orthodox culture and upbringing, and many are no longer jews, and probably the majority of them belong to nonorthodox sects. I would say that reliance on cultural integrity is a failed system, and rather, that Judaism and its factionsare changing, some for the better, some fort the worse, but all in all, I think that diversity is good for culture, and good for survival.

Although, I would also agree that retention of a core of scholarly orthodox is essential for survival of judaism, probably a heck of a lot more than any other sect, althugh I'm not sure that would apply to the idea of all other sects in general.

While I love my culture, I see too much of the bigger picture of a global society to be that enamored by it. I do however think that the religion of Judaism is very important, and for more globally important that its culture.

So you didn;t comment on my paradox of miracles: Creation, sure believable, minor miracles, impossible...

Further food for thought: If one was 99% sure that the Mt Sinai revelation was at least divinely inspired, this would be enough to change your lifestyle,and philosophy, yes? How about 51% - reasonable, yes, well than why not at 50%, or even 49.9 - yes les likley thann not, but a powerful possibility. I'm not trying to push the "fallacy of the heap" here, but I do think than even with a small er percentage of probability, even 1%, althouhg unlikely, it is still within the likely scenario realm. When ou are talking about major lifestyle changes anyway, what is the loss of the leap of faith on top of a small percentage of possibility. Is this unreasonable? I think it more logical to make the assumption that there is divine backing, and if you were wrong in the end - no loss anyway. And why not, it's comforting to believe in divine origins of judaism, what's wrong with that.

And no, I don't think this argument would apply to any otehr religion, for reasons as discussed previously; judaism, whether you buy it or not, has at least plausible evidence.

In the end, your viewpoint makes no sense to me. I don't care about making sure culture change is slow and "appropriate" unless there is a darn good reason. Every single generation believes that things are changing too fast, and values were better when they grew up. I think this is a fallacy of memory and human nature.

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"I didn't realize that culture and cultural change could be anything other than natural!!!"

Please, I didn't mean it in that way. The point was that Judaism should adapt on its own terms rather than being pushed too soon in ways that would be damaging. The access and adoption of technologies is not what I was referring to.

"It seems as if you argue for retention of many complex judaic customs, yet reject the core belief. This to me would seem a much more radical change."

I don't think I reject the core beliefs inasmuch as I have a different interpretation of them. The existence of God, the centrality of Torah, the importance of Halacha - these are all beliefs which I still share. The real change I am proposing is a new way of understanding Judaism itself - as an organic manifestation of Jewish religious civilization rather than a specific path as defined by God through revelation.

"I would say that reliance on cultural integrity is a failed system, and rather, that Judaism and its factionsare changing, some for the better, some fort the worse, but all in all, I think that diversity is good for culture, and good for survival."

Ok, we'll see. As far as I can tell, this factioning is merely a means of assimilation and a dissolving of Judaism. Time will tell. I have yet to see a real return of some vigorous Judaism from these widespread seedlings.

"So you didn;t comment on my paradox of miracles: Creation, sure believable, minor miracles, impossible..."

That's because I agree with you. I understand your perspective.

"Further food for thought: If one was 99% sure that the Mt Sinai revelation was at least divinely inspired, this would be enough to change your lifestyle,and philosophy, yes?"

Depends what you mean by "divinely inspired." I already accede to the understanding that inspiration through the conception of God is immanent in the Torah.

"In the end, your viewpoint makes no sense to me. I don't care about making sure culture change is slow and "appropriate" unless there is a darn good reason."

That 'darn good reason' is simply the sustained existence of a recognizable Judaism. If you try blowing through the atmosphere too fast then you'll be ripped apart by the friction.

Jeff said...

OP,


"Please, I didn't mean it in that way. The point was that Judaism should adapt on its own terms rather than being pushed too soon in ways that would be damaging. The access and adoption of technologies is not what I was referring to."

I didn't mean it that way either. I am simply saying that whatever happens is natural. Some cultures change very rapidly, some slowly, some wax & wane, some have outside influences, some inside influences. None of them are unnatural. I think it artificial and useless to put up an arbitrary speed limit. Sure it's good to think about why you're changing and respect the past, but that doesn't infer that a rapid change shouldn't be made.

"Ok, we'll see. As far as I can tell, this factioning is merely a means of assimilation and a dissolving of Judaism. Time will tell. I have yet to see a real return of some vigorous Judaism from these widespread seedlings."

This sounds very biased. "Real return", "vigorous judaism". Who has the right to define this? Only the orthodox minority and their direct descendants? By many other defintions, reformed Judaism is robust and spreading, with a major impact on jewish belief and culture. Some might argue that modern othodoxy is heretical. For a time, Chassids were. Look at the world, diversity is good.

"I already accede to the understanding that inspiration through the conception of God is immanent in the Torah."

You are walking a very fine line. Is it the thought of an infinite god (whether existant or not) inspiring an entirely human torah, or is it thought on an infinite god making one receptive to The Real Deal God, and thus a "paraphrased" torah. If you believe as I suspect, more to the latter statement, it sounds you believe there is some kind of "actual" divine origin of the torah, but that you reject the Mt Sinai revelation as the major proof. Perhaps just more supporting evidence. I can deal with that. It also sounds like you believe that jewish culture and history need to be reinterpreted as needed. --That sounds like the statement of belief of reformed judaism.

I think you are putting far too much emphasis on culture. I believe (and I think this is relatively straightforward) That family upbringing is far more important than anything else in the development of children. While you might argue that part of family is religion and culture, I would point out that throughout history, culture clashes and assimilations have rapidly occurred, sometimes by overnight decree, and humans are still here. I think the argument that rapid cultural change is bad has zero evidence. And I don't see how Judaism should be a special case, especially if you don't believe in a literal divine torah.

"organic manifestation of Jewish religious civilization rather than a specific path as defined by God through revelation."

What the heck does this mean?!?! Some big dichotomies here: organic/religious. Either it is man made, or god made. If you take a man made approach to a religious issue, this becomes the study of "theology", not the ongoing practice of a culture.

Again, no matter how fast judaism changes, our children will turn out ok, and function successfully in society. The christians are doing great from a societal perspective, and they used to be jews. So to me it doesn't really matter that much if children know all halacha, and like matzo ball soup. What does matter to me is that children grow up and act with morals. Without morals created by God, there can be no definite morality (I won't bother with the argument here, as I'm sure you know it).

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"I am simply saying that whatever happens is natural. Some cultures change very rapidly, some slowly, some wax & wane, some have outside influences, some inside influences. None of them are unnatural. I think it artificial and useless to put up an arbitrary speed limit."

Ok, so "natural" is the word you take issue with? Forget I used it then. The point is that change should not be forced too quickly because it creates division and damage.

There's a strong point in Judaism that great rabbis of the past who even though they believed they had the right view on some issue would still follow the majority in order to maintain Jewish cohesiveness.

"This sounds very biased. "Real return", "vigorous judaism". Who has the right to define this? Only the orthodox minority and their direct descendants?"

No, this is defined by any objective assessment. They suffer from empty pew syndrome, vacuous conceptions of what Judaism means to them, poor commitment to a Jewish way of life, widespread intermarriage and poor retention over generations. If Reform Judaism was the only game in town then I don't think Judaism would last very long.

"Some might argue that modern othodoxy is heretical. For a time, Chassids were. Look at the world, diversity is good."

Good! I'm ok with heresy. It's apathy that's the problem.

"Is it the thought of an infinite god (whether existant or not) inspiring an entirely human torah, or is it thought on an infinite god making one receptive to The Real Deal God, and thus a "paraphrased" torah."

I like to think that God (being real) is immanent in the world and implicitly effects the very way we think. So nothing can be just human-made. If we nobly raise our thoughts then perhaps we can glimpse the divine.

"I would point out that throughout history, culture clashes and assimilations have rapidly occurred, sometimes by overnight decree, and humans are still here. I think the argument that rapid cultural change is bad has zero evidence."

Bad for whom? I'm not saying that it's necessarily bad for children or for humanity, but for the continued existence of the Jewish people as a recognizable group and a distinct identity. Many culture clashes lead simply to the destruction of one of the cultures. I want to avoid that.

"What the heck does this mean?!?! Some big dichotomies here: organic/religious. Either it is man made, or god made."

It means that Judaism is essentially Jewish conceptions of the transcendent. The dichotomy you are suggesting, however, is far from clear.

"Again, no matter how fast judaism changes, our children will turn out ok, and function successfully in society. The christians are doing great from a societal perspective, and they used to be jews."

Ok...so you're ok with the end of Judaism then? Let our children all become Christians or whatever and they'll be great citizens? No thanks.

Jeff said...

OP,

I'm starting to think we're saying the same thing but with a different dialect...

"I like to think that God (being real) is immanent in the world and implicitly effects the very way we think. So nothing can be just human-made. If we nobly raise our thoughts then perhaps we can glimpse the divine."

"It means that Judaism is essentially Jewish conceptions of the transcendent."

You have two conceptions of judaism, one is vague, the other is circular.

By the first comment, it would imply that any religious conception is divinely inspired. The second one says the same thing, but with a circular reference.

I want to pin down a direct statment from you, so please answer this question:

Do you believe that A)the written torah is based in at least some way on a direct divine connection *specific* to judaism, or do you believe that the torah is either B)an *entirely* man made document based on *perceived* divine intervention? or C)The torah is based on a generic "inspiration through the conception of God"?

Anonymous said...

OP,

By the way, I suppose I could be generous & throw in a D) none of the above ;-), but I won't!!! I do think those are pretty much the only options.

Anonymous said...

OP,

By the way, I suppose I could be generous & throw in a D) none of the above ;-), but I won't!!! I do think those are pretty much the only options.

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"By the first comment, it would imply that any religious conception is divinely inspired."

No, it only implies that any religious conception _could_ have divine inspiration.

"You have two conceptions of judaism, one is vague, the other is circular."

Firstly, it's not circular. The Jewish people is not the same as the Jewish religion. Judaism is the religion+ of the Jewish people.

The other complementary conception is indeed vague, but that's the nature of the beast. Try to define God. Now try to define how God interacts with the world. Not so easy to be precise.

"Do you believe that A)the written torah is based in at least some way on a direct divine connection *specific* to judaism, or do you believe that the torah is either B)an *entirely* man made document based on *perceived* divine intervention? or C)The torah is based on a generic "inspiration through the conception of God"?"

Like I said in my last post to you, if God is immanent in creation and in the minds of men then the strict dichotomy you are seeking just isn't valid. You might as well be trying to separate wetness from water. I believe the Torah was written by man but some of the ideas contained therein may have been conceived through divine reflection. The point I'm making is that the mind of man doesn't exist independent from God.

Jeff said...

OP,

It seems that you answer is: C) The torah is based on a generic inspiration through the conception of god. I believe A).

If you believe that all "good" cultures & religions from an outside perspective are equally valid, than I see no reason why,by your viewpoint, it is important that judaism survives. By that viewpoint, what's wrong with supporting buddhist convert children. Are you going to say "Son, you're abandoning your culture and heritage, which is arbitraraly important because you happened to be born of jewish parents. You should abandon buddhism even though it makes you happy, promotes a humanistic lifestyle, and fits in better with your identity."

I agree that God is part of everything, but that does not mean that God is interventional in anyway with anything. If there is nothing incredibly special about judaism, than there is nothing incredibly special about judaism. In that case, I would say "sure kids, go with whatever religion fits you best, lets just talk about why".

Of course, you are free to believe whatever you want. But Right or wrong, your viewpoint would lose me and my children as a jews. Go back and look at my percentage argument, I find it hard to believe you won't grant a 1% probabality that judaism is *specifically* & *directly* divinely inspired in some way -- that would change everything.

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"It seems that you answer is: C) The torah is based on a generic inspiration through the conception of god."

No, like I said, your divisions are not valid.

"If you believe that all "good" cultures & religions from an outside perspective are equally valid, than I see no reason why,by your viewpoint, it is important that judaism survives."

First off, I never said that all are equally valid, but that all can contain some level of divine inspiration. Secondly, if you've gotten this far and still do not understand the fundamental relationship that I've been stressing between Judaism and the Jewish people as the key for perpetuation then I don't know what to tell you.

"By that viewpoint, what's wrong with supporting buddhist convert children. Are you going to say "Son, you're abandoning your culture and heritage, which is arbitraraly important because you happened to be born of jewish parents..."

Why do you think that's arbitrarily important? Being part of a meaningful tradition that spans the ages is pretty cool. I would say to assimilate Buddhist concepts into the Jewish tradition and make Judaism richer for it.

"If there is nothing incredibly special about judaism, than there is nothing incredibly special about judaism. In that case, I would say "sure kids, go with whatever religion fits you best, lets just talk about why"."

Just because Judaism doesn't maintain theological superiority doesn't mean that there isn't anything special about it. The fact is that Judaism in _not_ just religion but everything that defines what it means to be a Jew. A Jew with a strong Jewish identity simply will not turn to Buddhism for a way of life.

"Of course, you are free to believe whatever you want. But Right or wrong, your viewpoint would lose me and my children as a jews."

Frankly, given your perspective on anything-goes Judaism I don't see the Jewish identity of your children to be so secure as it is.

"I find it hard to believe you won't grant a 1% probabality that judaism is *specifically* & *directly* divinely inspired in some way -- that would change everything."

I don't see what that would change. I don't assign probabilities to these things. Anything is possible, but I simply do not believe most of that 'anything' to be true.

Anonymous said...

(from Jeff)

OP,

I undertand very clearly your point on the heritage and people of judiasm. And I agree that its important. However, I do not think as you say, it's anything goes. I just think that its ok to reinterpret with new ways of thought, and it's ok to disagree with traditional rabbinical interpretation.

I believe that Judaism does have "theologic supremacy" (somehow that sounds horrible!!!), and that is why the culture and heritage surrounding it is special, and that is why it is important to perpetuate it.

I guess we will have to agree to disagree. I do very much appreciate your viewpoints & discussion, and am amazed at how much I can learn about my own hidden beliefs and logic in arguiing against them!

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"However, I do not think as you say, it's anything goes. I just think that its ok to reinterpret with new ways of thought, and it's ok to disagree with traditional rabbinical interpretation."

Indeed, but until when? What's going to keep Jewish civilization solvent if everyone fractures into their own tiny hamlets?

In my view, theological beliefs are fluid and a given society can accomodate a great deal of differences in opinion, but when it comes to how the society itself is going to operate - what rituals are going to be observed, concepts of responsibility, a hierarchy of authority - then there must be some level of compromise. Not everyone can just follow what is right in their own eyes.

The point of my construct is to wean Jewish civilization off of theological domination because the facts are always changing with modern scholarship and who knows whether one day the theology will have the rug firmly and unambiguously pulled out from under it? Religion will be a key aspect of Jewish civilization for the forseeable future, but it shouldn't be _based_ on it. This can ensure a flexible, adaptable and openly intellectual Jewish response to new data as the beliefs can change without the social foundations coming into question.

Anonymous said...

(from Jeff)

OP,

Everytime I think I know exactly what you are saying, you throw in another twist. So it sounds like you want a failsafe, and I think it's a great idea. Diversity is good for life and culture as I said above. I think its a great idea to teach that the culture on its own is reason enough to perpetuate it, however, I think it far more important to *also* teach the divine origins of it - particulary for the moral rigidity of it. That way you've got both bases covered, people can believe as they will, and there is no false hood.

I am still uneasy with your viewpoint as potentially dangerous. Here's the best I can remember of a quote from one of the Lubavitch Rabbi's:

The yetzer hara will not say "don't keep kosher, it's so foolish & cumbersome". It is far more subtle and deceiving, it will say "keep kosher because the food is healthier" (not because god says so)

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"I think it far more important to *also* teach the divine origins of it - particulary for the moral rigidity of it. That way you've got both bases covered, people can believe as they will, and there is no false hood."

Ok, but think a special divinity to the Torah is a difficult hypothesis to adhere to in the face of modern scholarship. And I do not believe that burden is going to get any lighter any time soon.

Individual Jews can believe what they will. Even different schools of Judaism can co-exist in my construct. But basing Jewish civilization on religion beliefs leaves the entire civilization at the mercy and threat of continued scholarship.

"The yetzer hara will not say "don't keep kosher, it's so foolish & cumbersome". It is far more subtle and deceiving, it will say "keep kosher because the food is healthier" (not because god says so)"

No, it's foolish to suggest that we keep religious laws for secular purposes. But the facts as they stand do not support the belief that God did command us thusly. So what do we do?

You say: believe it anyway in some watered down sense. I say: turn the whole reason on its head. What has it meant to keep kosher? It is a mechanism that Jews have created in order to raise our awareness of the transcendent through making the secular food into sacred nourishment. We keep kosher because it is the Jewish way of approaching the divine. And as proud Jews we happily do so.

Judaism provides a "set table" for religious life and Jews with pride in their heritage will take a seat.

On top of that, some schools may say that God commanded it too, but I do not see that point of view to be tenable in the long term. It is for that reason why I find _your viewpoint_ to be potentially dangerous. Stressing on that will lead to widespread skeptical defection.

Anonymous said...

(from Jeff)

OP,

I still disagree... Islam is doing great despite paltry theological evidence. I think you greatly underestimate both the power & the purpose of faith. I believe faith is at least some extent neccessary for depth of conviction.

No religion can be proven -ever. I also think your worrying about disproving theology is excessive.

Sure, evidence points to the hand of man in creation of god, but you will never be able to *prove* that god didn't guide the hand of man.

Even with overwhelming evidence, you will never change the belief of a true beleiver. How much less so with moderate evidence against, an at least somewhat logical supporting evidence.

I think my 1% point is very important. If you believe that there is a *realistic* probability, (albeit small) that the god of the Jews is watching you to see how you are following his explicit instructions on life, this is immensely powerful. Yes it might just be a 3000 year old philosophy & history book - but what if its not! The intention of an action is extremely important for the effect on the performer.

And no, I think the yetzer hara quote fits your thoughts exactly, just yours is even more subtle. I'm not trying to get emotional or illogical here, but you can bet a lubavitch rabbi would agree with me.

I think that many or possibley every generation feels they are on the cusp of profound intellectual change. I think as much as things change, they stay the same.

I agree with you that heretical talk is better than apathy, but I don't see reformed judaism as apathetic any more than other sects. There are many self defined orthodox who are twice a year shul jews. There are reformed jews who have made a modern translation of the Tanach.

You may see my view as watered down, I see it as a thoughtfull and scholarky modern approach. I see you view (taken exclusively) to be atithetical to the core belief in Judaism. Again, I think it probably a bad idea for all jews to be reformed, but also a bad idea that we all be orthodox.

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"I still disagree... Islam is doing great despite paltry theological evidence....Even with overwhelming evidence, you will never change the belief of a true beleiver."

If you want to leave the fate of Jewish civilization in the hands of anti-intellectual, obscurantist faith then I guess that's your prerogative.

Me, I actually want to take Jewish thought beyond the Middle Ages.

Yes, true believers can believe whatever nonsense they believe. But that's simply an awful assurance to hang your hat on.

"And no, I think the yetzer hara quote fits your thoughts exactly, just yours is even more subtle."

I don't disagree with you, but I also don't believe that is the point.

"You may see my view as watered down, I see it as a thoughtfull and scholarky modern approach."

But you've completely ignored my points regarding its impotence for social cohesion and its impermanence over the generations. I'm talking about a general constuct for thinking about Judaism in general - you're just looking for a theory that's comfortable for you. Luckily for you, however, your beliefs still have a place in my conception.

Jeff said...

OP,

"But you've completely ignored my points regarding its impotence for social cohesion and its impermanence over the generations." ..." Luckily for you, however, your beliefs still have a place in my conception."

How lucky I am!!! I'll assume this was poor phrasing from you, otherwise, your statement sounds very patronizing.

Anyway, I haven't ignored your point, I just keep disagreeing with you. The past is the best prediction of the future. The past of judaism is filled with religious factions coming and going with the times, and yes, a core of traditionalists, which also changed somewhat in reflection to the changers. Judaism is alive and kicking. Somw would say with our homeland and all, we are approaching an messianinc age. I think your beliefs about reformed judaism are irrational and I'm sorry to say hippocritical with your own interpretation.

First you say you're interested in preservation, but now it sounds like you want revolution. Is faith so evil that you can't deal with it? I believe faith in god is the main ingredient in relgion. You can make an omellette with any extra ingredient you want, but you can't make one without eggs.

I like my omelettes whipped well with milk and lots of veggies :)

One of the reasons I love judaism is that it encourages questioning, and does not demand blind faith, but I'm ok with those who give it. I think skeptics (myself included) are a different brand of people, and good to have around, however, I also think that they get overly caught up in their own logic and assume it is the only valid viewpoint. Don't forget that logical reasoning has its own unproven and unprovebale axioms, yet it seems you believe it with all of your faith. What would happen with modern scholarship, if traditional logical reasoning was firmly disproved. It seems to me that it probably will.

Humans have human nature. Religion must fit within it, or it will be rejected.

I want to leave judaism in the hands of a diverse thinking *and/or* faithful group of people that have stood the test of time. Guess what? They are the jews, and many of them are nontraditional.

Orthoprax said...

I seek a preservation of form and identity but a revolution in thought. Faith itself is not the enemy - blind faith in patent absurdities is. Rabbis who declare that believing the Earth is more than 6000 years old to be kefirah are enemies of progressive Jewish thought.

Leaving Judaism in their hands is wrong. Oh, I'm sure they could last indefinitely with their heads firmly buried under the ground, but that is not the Judaism I want to see. Or one that I would be comfortable passing to my children.

"Reformed" Judaism which, by and large, is merely a stepping stone to the next generation's assimilation and loss of meaningful Jewish identity is a threat to the entire existence of the Jewish people. That is neither irrational to recognize or a hippocritical judgement in relation to my concerns.

I do not consider myself the final authority on anything and I do not believe I am right about all I believe. The very point I make is that Judaism can only exist in the coming centuries as a pluralistic society - but that requires that we take down religious belief as the defining characteristic of a Jew and fully recognize it as derivative. The existence of religious belief doesn't go anywhere, but it's function as THE social foundation is dismantled. It is only then when we can safely liberalize Jewish philosophy without doing damage to the superstructure of Jewish civilization.

For you, you just want to start swinging axes, leave some bare beams and pretend that everything is hunky dory. I want to reconstruct the building. That may involve cutting some beams and making then non-supportive, but the structure won't be in danger of collapse.

Jeff said...

OP,

I was tempted to let this thread lie, and move on, but I can't help it!

So you've changed your mind now - You agree that "ultra orthodoxy" and judaism and jewish heritage (at least a significant portion of it) will survive, you just don't want it that way. So preservation is not the primary issue, but personal issues are. In that case, what's the beef with reformists? If you want to raise your children orthodix, great, and they probably will stay orthodox.

""Reformed" Judaism which, by and large, is merely a stepping stone to the next generation's assimilation and loss of meaningful Jewish identity is a threat to the entire existence of the Jewish people." I know you believe in your heart of hearts that this is true, but I disagree, and find your viewpoint unbased and shortsighted. Of course, many will slip away, although I feel far less than you think, but many I think will bounce back and embrace the finer details. I see reformism as both a valid alternative interpretation worthy on its own merit, but also a jewish safety net, and perhaps a jewish trampoline.

I chose to do my own brand of reform -- I'll call it "reformodox" Like it? Hopefully my children will stay reformodox too. I feel it to be inclusive of heritage, open to faith, and totally honest. I don't throw out any halacha out of convenience or belief, I try to slowly include them in my way of life, not for posterities sake, but because god says so.

I know you don't think it's important, but I believe that motive for action has a profound effect on the internal reaction. when I follow a mitzvah, I think to myself -do it because god says so, not because I believe it -- it feels diferent. Afterwards an inreflaction, I think about why I believe it. I know that studies of n=1 are not scientifically valid, but they are highly personally valid, and culture only works if it works on a personal level.

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"So you've changed your mind now - You agree that "ultra orthodoxy" and judaism and jewish heritage (at least a significant portion of it) will survive, you just don't want it that way."

No, I haven't changed my mind. I never intimated that Judaism couldn't survive in the backwards cul-de-sacs of intellectual ghettos. I just don't think that's the place for Judaism in the 21st century and into the future.

I want to preserve an open-minded, full-bodied Judaism. Not a lobotomized version of it - one incapable of coming in on its own into modern life. An Amish-like Judaism? No thank you.

"I know you believe in your heart of hearts that this is true, but I disagree, and find your viewpoint unbased and shortsighted."

It has nothing to do with what I believe in my heart. The statistics, the reality of it, is obvious. Do look it up. How many grandchildren of Reform Jews still identify themselves as Jews?

"I feel it to be inclusive of heritage, open to faith, and totally honest."

But totally without borders and situated on a slippery slope.

"I know you don't think it's important, but I believe that motive for action has a profound effect on the internal reaction."

I never said it wasn't important - and I actually encourage religious thought about traditional practices. But in a world of heterodox thought, you cannot rest a religious philosophy on inconstant beliefs that may work for _you_ but not for others.

Jeff said...

OP,

I'm glad that we're discussing cultural growth and not preservation. If we take for granted preservation, albeit through a hyperconservative group, I don't see what it is so so terrible if at worst a splinter group of liberals, in their new intepretations, lose a few members though a misunderstanding of doctrine, or apathy, particularly, as they may have been lost anyway. I'm not saying losing jews is ok, just that I'm willing to take intellectual risks.

So first off, what do statistics matter in the overall ebb and flow-- even the charedi will eventually lose a few people who will start their own groups, so I do see at least some liberalism at some point.

Anyway, I'd be interested in seeing your statistics, but this is what I could find:

http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-8294(199512)34%3A4%3C499%3ADRASAA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-U

"This article presents a detailed study of denominational retention and switching among American Jews derived from the 1990 national Jewish population survey. Adults report that since childhood the number of Orthodox Jews has decreased by 16%, practically no change has occurred among those preferring the Conservative denomination or without a denominational preference, whereas the number of Reform Jews has increased by 13%. More frequent synagogue attendance, more home religious practices, more involvement in Jewish primary groups, and day-school Jewish education are associated with greater denominational retention. Marriages between Jews and Christians produce shifts to the Reform denomination or, more often, to a no-preference position. Research on denominational shifting needs to differentiate between marriages within or between basic religious grouping"

A statistical note on intermarriage -- while many consider an intermarriage a loss of jews - don't forget that you're starting off with half as many jews in the first place - so if an intermarriage results in 60% retention, that would actually result in more new jews than an jew-jew marriage (assuming same number of children). This is conjecture, as I do not actually know the specific percentage of retention, but would be glad to examine your sources.

Regardless, I would say the statistics above speak very favorably of reform judaism -- although one could question the permanence of those reform jews -- but then I could say again, what truly matters is actual numbers of practiing members, ie, if you lose 50 people through apathy, but gain 100 through belief and intermarriage, you're doing great. I'm not saying that reform judaism is good as an underground prosyltization, I'm just getting statistical...

"and I actually encourage religious thought about traditional practices. But in a world of heterodox thought, you cannot rest a religious philosophy on inconstant beliefs that may work for _you_ but not for others."

I agree completelt, and that's why I believe in encouraging a diverse group of interpretations and a living culture. Because absoloutely, some if this only works for me, some for you. That's why I like the and/or approach to divine origins.

OP, I know that my scholarly knowledge of judaism is paltry compared to yours, but I suggest you may have some incorrect bias towards tennets of reformed judaism. I also know this is unfair of me, as the tennets of reform judaism are so varied (which I think good). Here's a site I found that fairly closely reflects my thoughts, and I'm curious as to your thoughts:

http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/10-Reform/section-2.html

"Reform is the most liberal of the major movements within Judaism
today. It started in the 1800s in Germany during the emancipation, and
encouraged examination of religion with an eye towards rationality and
egalitarianism.

Reform differs from the other major movements in that it views both
the Oral and Written laws as a product of human hands (specifically,
it views the Torah as Divinely inspired, but written in the language
of the time in which it was given). The laws reflect their times, but
contain many timeless truths. The Reform movement stresses retention
of the key principles of Judaism (as it sees them; for details,
consult the [5]Reform Reading List). As for practice, it strongly
recommends individual study of the traditional practices; however, the
adherent is free to follow only those practices that increase the
sanctity of their relationship to G-d. Reform also stresses equality
between the sexes.

Reform Judaism shares the universal Jewish emphasis on learning, duty,
and obligation rather than creed as the primary expression of a
religious life. Reform stresses that ethical responsibilities,
personal and social, are enjoined by G-d. Reform also believes that
our ethical obligations are but a beginning; they extend to many other
aspects of Jewish living, including: creating a Jewish home centered
on family devotion; life-long study; private prayer and public
worship; daily religious observance; keeping the Sabbath and the holy
days; celebrating the major events of life; involvement with the
synagogue and community; and other activities that promote the
survival of the Jewish people and enhance its existence. Within each
aspect of observance Reform Judaism demands Jews confront the claims
of Jewish tradition, however differently perceived, and to exercise
their individual autonomy--based, as the Sh'ma says, upon reason,
heart, and strength--choosing and creating their holiness as people
and as community. The requirement for commitment and knowledge is
repeatedly emphasized. A Reform Jew who determines their practice
based on convenience alone is not acting in accordance with the
recommended position of Reform Judaism. Reform also rejects the faith
tenets of other religions as a matter of first principles."

I would agree the phrase of what would "increase the sanctity of the relationship with god", is quite vague, but I think it is reined in somewhat by "A Reform Jew who determines their practice
based on convenience alone is not acting in accordance with the
recommended position of Reform Judaism."

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

http://www.aish.com/jewishissues/jewishsociety/Will_Your_Grandchildren_Be_Jews$.asp

The statistics you give makes sense (though it is dated and bases itself on an older cohort) because while the Reform movement gains members, it virtually only does so from the other denominations. Whereas most contemporary Jews raised Orthodox will stay Orthodox. Though, again, an older cohort will give you skewed results because a large part of the older populations of Reform and Conservative Judaism are people raised in Orthodox households.

As far as intermarriage goes:

"The NJPS 1990 found that mixed married households contained 770,000 children less than 18 years of age. According to the NJPS 1990, only 28% of these children were being raised as Jews...Moreover, while 28% of children of intermarriage are being raised as Jews, only between 10% to 15% of this entire group ultimately marries Jews themselves. Thus, it is clear that nearly all the children of intermarriage are lost to the Jewish people."

So your increase-through-intermarriage hypothesis is false.

My issue with Reform Judaism is not with their philosophy in itself, but the lack of obligation it leaves on the laity. The actual Reform leaders are generally really into it, with a strong Jewish identity and significant ritual observance - this is not true at all for the majority of those who merely identify as a Reform. This is likewise true (though less extreme) for Conservative laity.

Liberal philosophies lead a laity of apathetic and nominally identified Jews, which will be likely to intermarry and have their children lost to the Jewish people. If these philosophies obligated their constituents to _live_ Jewishly then they simply could not be so apathetic and intermarriage rates would plummet.

Jeff said...

OP,

Thanks for the info. The study seems to show that those orthodox who left the fold to form the nontraditionalists (and there descendants who form the sects today), are simply lost, and the orthodox are doing great. This would imply no need to form a new philosophy, as it seems the modern orthodox (very reasonable people to me) will remain a large proportion of a growing jewish people, and our numbers should be equal or improved in 100 years. In fact, it would suggest that we all become orthodox.

Also interesting, is that education seems to be the greatest predictor of retention.



So it would seem that all of our philosophizing is pointless. Particularly philsophizing about the creation of new jewish sects, or making signficant philosophical changes to existant ones, as you suggest. Rather it would seem skeptics efforts would be better spent at discussing modern scholarship with an assumption, albeit small of at least partial divine origins, and also how that knowledge of that scholarship effected the culture of the people.

ie, it seems many skeptics are bent on proving and disproving, rather than accepting the present, and examining the significance of how it got there.

I understand your concern of having the rug pulled out under the rug of religion, but if we are to follow the study results, this seems quite unimportant - equally as unimportant as my strong feelings on jewish philosophy.

Although I still have difficulty giving up these thoughts -- I guess I think that a philsophical movement, whether it survives or not, will have a presumably positive effect on the surviving group.

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

No, we need a new approach because they're wrong! Or at the very least, they hold to beliefs untenable among knowledgeable people. I cannot conscience making people (or myself) choose between their intellectual integrity and Jewish loyalty.

The data suggests that it could just as well be an involved education and high levels of ritual observance that keep people in the fold rather than a particular type of religious philosophy. It is the former that I promote.

Jeff said...

OP,

"The data suggests that it could just as well be an involved education and high levels of ritual observance that keep people in the fold rather than a particular type of religious philosophy. It is the former that I promote."

One could say that reform judaism is doing this -- the highly motivated originators and current rabbis recommend stringency and education, yet the people moved to laxity. It seems that any significant deviation from centrists results in loss. Yes, this is a cohort study, and must be judged cautiously, but it is fairly clear.

I think it would be an impossible task to create an orthodox school of thought such as yours, and creating legitamy without being seen as, and therefore attracting and acting as another nontraditional splinter group -- and most likely going down the same route as the others, ie extinction.

So I return to my previous thought - do you think splinter groups effect the centrists in a positive way, and is it worth it at risk of losing some jews???

Orthoprax said...

Jeff,

"One could say that reform judaism is doing this.."

One could say lots of things, but that isn't true.

"I think it would be an impossible task to create an orthodox school of thought such as yours, and creating legitamy without being seen as, and therefore attracting and acting as another nontraditional splinter group -- and most likely going down the same route as the others, ie extinction."

The point then, as I suggest, is not to splinter, but to create a philosophy that coexists within the larger Orthodox community. MO was largely successful in doing this.

"So I return to my previous thought - do you think splinter groups effect the centrists in a positive way, and is it worth it at risk of losing some jews???"

Maybe and maybe. If other Jews are going to risk their futures and their children then that's their business. I wouldn't take such risks.