Thoughts on Judaism

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Why Rebel?

Orthopraxy is the plague which follows Charedishkeit.

Looking in the Rebel's dictionary, parts of which we will publish here, IYH, Orthopraxy is a condition where the practitioner conducts himself or herself with Orthodox Jewish practices, like Shabbos, kashrus, and yoga classes, but does not believe in theological Judaism. Many of the past and present bloggers fall into this category, perhaps even began blogging because they fall in this category. (As an aside, you can only "fall" into a category. It rarely raises anyone up, to label them.) Nonetheless, I have tremendous sympathy for these folks, and the forces of modern Judaism that have driven them to this dark place, where appearances count for all, your heart is not your own, and in many cases, the threat of being "outed" constantly hangs overhead. Why would someone choose such a life? Because they had no choice.

Charedishkeit, a condition which you can read about in mishna Mesichta Sotah 22, and the attending Gemora, and in the introduction to Moreh Nevuchim, is peaking today in the frum world. This statement, borrowed from (1/20/05) sums it up.

One solution, offered up by HaRav HaGaon (HRHG) Uren Reich shlit"a (henceforth: HRHG), an up-and-coming star of the yeshiva velt who sounds like my kind of guy, deserves to be quoted verbatim:

If the gemara tells us a metziyus, it's emes veyatziv. There's nothing to think about. Anything we see with our eyes is less of a reality than something we see in the gemara. That's the emunah that a yid has to have.

Besides the theology, fundamentalism run amok, its practice seems to be every aphorism of Jewish exclusivity. Shlomo HaMelech instituted eruv, according to tradition, so that Jews could be together on Shabbos. Charedishkeit is increasingly about pride in who will not associate with, what we will not eat, what we must not read, what we may not think, who we would never marry, what our last name is, what our wife's maiden name is, and above all, about ahavas and achdus yisroel. It seeks to impose itself in every aspect of Jewish life, especially in education. By reading this, you have violated basic tenets of Charedishkeit, questioning authority, browsing the Internet and reading unauthorized materials.

The modern Jew is more educated than in the past. Education is more educated than in the past. In the Rambam's time, few people learned fundamentals of science, mathematics, philosophy, history or even basic things about their local culture. Today, an elementary school education rounds us well enough to ask some blaring questions. The Charedi offers only that such questions are bad, that the person asking them is troubled, that such questions are the result of bad external influences, that the Moreh Nevuchim was written for "Nevuchim", which is a bad thing to be. What is left for a modern Jew is a choice of paths in Orthopraxy:

1) Becoming more Charedi and pretending that there are no questions (secret Orthopraxy).
2) Orthopraxy, dodging the questions and getting on with "real" life.
3) Modern Orthodox, commiserating with others in the same boat (wannabe Orthopraxy) (not all MO are Orthoprax, but Orthopraxes that become MO as a solution to their predicament, fall into this category).
4) Conservative, the less guarded stage of Orthopraxy.
5) Frei out, but thanks for stopping by (true to oneself Orthopraxy).

But there is another way. It involves alot of research, unlearning, soul searching, extreme care, but most of all it involves the will to understand that you are under your own care, not the care of some celebrity that you may never have even met. Not under the care of a student of said celebrity that happened to befriend you. Sure, a mashpia can give you a third party assessment of your path, but ultimately, only you can determine what you will do, what you are comfortable with, and what your values are.

The 6th way is the way that every true soul search will conclude, the way of the rationalist approach. By relearning the mesora properly, as mesora, we refocus on what Judaism is truly all about. By not confusing the examples, the mada, with the lesson, the mesora, we can reclaim the sanity that once prevailed in Orthodox Judaism. By not trying to build outdated mada into some deep mystical mystery, we can reclaim our heritage, without going through the crazy hoops that drive what may be our best people up the 5 paths of Orthopraxy. This is the heresy of the Rambam. This is the heart of the rebellion.

Orthodox Judaism should not be about ceding your common sense to a misunderstood philosophy, one which you must uncomfortably rationalize to promote. It has become so, as we have built a strange culture, based on magic supermen, odd superstitions and scientific facts that are "not understood". In truth, they are understood. That is the problem. They are understood as they were 1000 or 2000 or 3000 years ago. They are understood as hashkafa, rather than as symbols, and parts of the real mesora are relegated to the dustbin. When we are young children, we get a reason befitting a young child. That reason is not intended to satisfy us throughout our life. It is only meant to get us to the next step of understanding, the next question. To try and cling to that childish teaching as a life-preserver assueres that we will never grow in our knowledge, our faith or our frumkeit. Clinging to that life-preserver is the heart and soul of "mystical approach" charedishkeit. I venture that most people, even very religious people, would like to sweep this under the carpet. It bothered the Rambam immensely, and it is clear to see why. It is driving us to a situation where we must either be Orthoprax or untrue to our own driving common sense. The only solution is to struggle to return Judaism, or at least a corner of it, to the rational approach of our sages.


  • "If the gemara tells us a metziyus, it's emes veyatziv. There's nothing to think about. Anything we see with our eyes is less of a reality than something we see in the gemara. That's the emunah that a yid has to have."

    Actually I'm not sure you understood him at all. All he's saying is that the "reality" (which is by definition, from a Torah perspective) trumps what we see with our eyes. IOW what the Marharal would describe as chomer and tzura. The former being the physical reality and the latter being the true essence.

    See end of chapter 50 in Gevuras Hashem, for example.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:16 AM  

  • Boruch

    That is exactly how I understood it. That is the "mystical approach" in a nutshell. That invalidates the entire concept of Eidus, mada (in the Torah sense), and halachic ma'aseh in any sense, since a case must be decided based on circumstances which we see. An example of the last would be DNA evidence of paternity. Since the hashkafa of the Talmud is that the red parts of the body come from the mother (based on an ancient notion of how female reproduction works, see Rambam al HaTorah, beginning of parshas Tazria), therefore, the blood comes from the mother and cannot be used to determine paternity. See reponsa on the subject. In 1827, the discovery of the ovum and later work on the nature of DNA changed our understanding. Would you discard all of the progrress made on genetic diseases, infertility, maternal and infant mortality etc. over the past 180 years, and say that we cannot trust our observation and must trust only the Talmudic Hashkafa?

    I would say rather that the Talmud hashkafa can be used as an example in learning halachic principles and parameters (which are not based on reasons, but are rather mesora), in learning parables of the chachamim and the attending kabalistic ideas behind them (mesora again), and in homily (Torah drasha). You cannot use it any longer to determine the metzius of particular case or to determine a path of action in a particular case, because these are based on matching observation with halachic principle.

    So if you are saying that the medieval science view here is reality in those ways, then I would agree. But if you are saying, as HRHG seems to, that the observation is not correct because the Talmudic sages did not know of it and instead proceeded from ancient notions of biology and because they are magic omniscient supermen (even in the physical world), then you have gone farther on their behalf than they did for themselves. (See intro to Rambam on the Mishna and intro to Moreh Nevuchim).

    Unless you redefine "reality" such that you remove its meaning entirely, the statement is nonsense.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 6:44 AM  

  • "But if you are saying, as HRHG seems to, that the observation is not correct because the Talmudic sages did not know of it and instead proceeded from ancient notions of biology"

    You see, I think this is your misinterpretation. What we see is what we see, no less but no more either. I don't think HRHG UR is saying that we should deny what we see. What I understand is that he is saying that Torah defines the true reality and what we see when it contradicts Torah (while it may be real in a physical sense) is not the last word on the matter.

    I have not looked up the teshuvot on DNA testing, but I would guess that those who do not recognize it have no argument with the scientists, they simply believe that based on their understanding of Shas, it should not be accepted.

    I think secular courts also have the concept of inadmissible evidence, even though the judges may not disagree with the veracity of that evidence.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:20 AM  

  • Religion is superstition.

    By Blogger 0oze, at 11:02 AM  

  • "The only solution is to struggle to return Judaism, or at least a corner of it, to the rational approach of our sages."

    Sage. Our sages were anything but rational, and the Rambam was an apostate, who, given his predilection for not denying scientific knowledge, may have been a total heretic in today's era of unimaginably expanded knowledge. Had the Rambam grown up in 2005, would he have made a philosophy that is Orthodox? He didn't, even back in Aristotolean days.

    By Blogger M-n, at 11:53 AM  

  • Rebel –


    But the problem seems to be that by following #6 one is led to the truth – which may very well be #5!

    That is why Urine Reich and his chevra work so hard to enforce #1 (and sometimes 2)or its precusor. All other choices lead to #6, which leads to #5.

    In other words, it's simple faith or no faith, illogical thought over truth.

    I've chosen to pursue truth.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:38 PM  

  • Shmarya

    That was exactly the point that the eloquent benchorin made on that post. It is possible to learn in a rationalist manner, but as Snag points out above, it takes bravery and fortitude.

    since we know what they did to the Rambam in his day, I can only imagine what our "gedolim" would have done to him, and others like him.

    You guys are exactly my point here. Our chinuch feeds you mystical crap and then says it is your problem that you have questions and that they answer with nonsense.

    If you read Moreh Nevuchim you get a completely different picture.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 4:26 PM  

  • "If you read Moreh Nevuchim you get a completely different picture."

    I got the impression that the Rambam today would have been a) a scientist b) an atheist/agnostist/pantheist/deist/etc. Just like most scientists today.

    Total speculation, major bias, blah blah blah... I won't even bother defending it.

    By Blogger M-n, at 4:56 PM  

  • I think the Rambam would have been today exactly what he was then, a pariah rebel leader. I think he would have transformed chinuch and hashkafa into a useable form. I think he would have been fascinated by scientific advances and shocked at the gullibility of the Am Chacham V'Navon. Judging from tone of some of his letters, I think the last most of all.

    But to parrot your sentiment:
    Total speculation, major bias, blah blah blah... I won't even bother defending it.

    I guess we will have to wait for Techiyas Hamaisim to find out for sure.
    (Don't even start!) ;)

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 5:15 PM  

  • "You guys are exactly my point here. Our chinuch feeds you mystical crap and then says it is your problem that you have questions and that they answer with nonsense."

    Rebel, you sound like a sad and bitter person. I certainly hope you you don't end up like mis-nagid. But with the attitude problem that you have, yoiu never know....

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:04 PM  

  • Boruch,
    Rebel thinks.He questions.Nothing sad and bitter about that.Rebel has" Thoughts on Judaism".

    By Blogger daat y, at 10:38 PM  

  • Please continue blogging. Your thoughts are like a breath of fresh air.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:42 PM  

  • When he uses words like "mystical crap" he shows that he's lost it. I bet he has never been exposed to the mystical side of Yidishkeit anyway. Let him spend 2-3 hours per day for a year or two learning Maharal, Reb Tzadok, etc etc, and then report back.

    He is just one level up from Mis-nagid, who thinks it ALL "mystical crap". One mans rationality is another "mystical ......".

    Just remember, the GRO, the Chafetz Chaim, the Magen Avraham, the Beis Yosef, etce tec, all believed in this "mystical ...".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:47 PM  

  • Boruch's point on "mystical crap" is well taken in view of the fact that I did not clarify what I meant. I do not, in any way believe that the truly mystical aspects of Judaism are "crap". Quite the contrary, I have learned ta'amei hamitzvos with various sources that are quite inspiring, and in fact, drive me even more to the conclusions that I have stated here. The truly mystical learning lends a picture, a parable to what our slogans imply.

    What I meant was that we sell old mada as new mysticism, owing to the fact that we "do not understand it". In fact, we do understand it, but we are taught, wrongly in my opinion, to pretend that it is some deep mystical question. It is, in reality, simply an example that is no longer extent.

    L'ma ha'davar doimeh? Suppose someone compared the strange descent of a ball down a magnetized tunnel to Santa Claus coming down a chimney. His intention is to illustrate exactly how the ball descended, not to affirm the existence of Santa Claus. He used the example because I, the listener, understood the imagery, and might therefore understand his parable.
    When this happens in sefarim, we automatically go for the literal interpretation, where it was never intended. That is largely what the first chelek of Moreh is about. I think the BY, the MA, the Vilna Gaon etc. would agree. I think the Rambam would certainly, though that is obviously presumptuous.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:41 PM  

  • "we automatically go for the literal interpretation, where it was never intended."

    I take part of that back. It was intended that way at the time, but it is a side point that, upon refutation, would not take away from what was being said. Nor does it take away from the erudition of the taching. Today, anything that implies that these sages were somehow human, less than infallible, it irks the mystical approach.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:48 PM  

  • OK so let me try and understand. When the Maharal for example explains some "strange" agadeta to be speaking on some mystical level, what you would say is that the agadeta is simply using long refuted science and no "mystical" explanation is required.

    Now what is the reason that you come to your conclusion and the Maharal comes to the opposite conclusion?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:52 PM  

  • Not at all.
    But this makes the point rather well. Most agadata (ie stories in Talmud and medrash) is NOT LITERAL, but is valuable only as imagery. The Maharal need not defend the literal meaning of the agada, even if it is later brought to question, because he interprets that it is just imagery for the mystical concept. The same is true of examples that explain halachic limitations.

    For instance, when the Maharal explains Pes 94b, he explains that the sun sets into the water so that it will affect the element (yesod)of water. He is not refering to the physical sun setting into the physical water, but is clearly referring only to the imagery. Similarly, when killing lice on Shabbos is permitted because they are spontaneously generated, there are two separate things happening. There is a mesora, that killing lice is permitted, because its life is "garu'a". This much is mesora. Then there is a mada that anything that is spontaneously generated is "garu'a". That is a side issue. Even if false, it does nto affect the mesora. Afilu Ta'amo batul, halacha lo batul, in words of Chazal.

    Where we part company is that you seem to say that if the sages said that lice were spontaneously generated, then they are, and there is nothing more to say, because the sages are omniscient superhumans. That seems to be the thrust of the "mystical approach" and that part of it is misguided and damaging.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 1:14 PM  

  • I have discovered the kabalh was used to push out the Rambam
    I have an essay in my blog about the different approach of the Rambam
    here is the link:

    By Blogger Avraham , at 3:54 AM  

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