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September 7, 2016 6:28 am

Petty Orthodoxy

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

Email a copy of "Petty Orthodoxy" to a friend
A group of Orthodox Jews. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A group of Orthodox Jews. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Thetorah.com is a website that analyzes the weekly reading of the Torah for people who do not take every word in the Torah literally. In addition to valuing traditional commentators and interpretations, it caters to those who are interested in seeing how academics — scholars of different disciplines and backgrounds — understand the Torah. It is not for the fainthearted, fundamentalists or those who are unable or unwilling to take a rational point of view.

I consider it to be extremely important in bridging the gap between rationality and faith, belief and acceptance. But more than that, I think it is crucial in reaching out to those who feel that traditional interpretations alone no longer meet their intellectual needs. This is so important in preventing open minds from rejecting the Torah as being too doctrinaire.

The biggest challenge today in Jewish life is no longer preserving Orthodoxy. The Orthodox world is thriving. It retains most of its alumni. Those who leave get a lot of publicity but they are few overall. On the other hand, we are losing far more through apathy, ignorance, and assimilation. It may well be too late to reach those who have absolutely no knowledge of Jewish spirituality or of Jewish learning. But I think the greatest challenge is to reach out to those with a background, from Jewish schools or observant families, who are turning their backs and minds on a simplistic way of looking at our traditional texts.

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We live in a world where people like to think for themselves, to make up their own minds. For better or for worse, ours is an era of individuality. How should religion relate to it? By shutting up the mental gates, closing minds, and peddling the conformity of ideas? Or by opening up, tolerating, and allowing freedom of thought?

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) in New York started out to meet these goals. It was a reaction against the creeping influence of non-rationalist rabbis over Yeshivah University. Amongst its alumni is Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber, who is the editor of thetorah.com. Recently some YCT students issued a declaration dissociating themselves from Rabbi Farber on the grounds that his exploration of other ways of looking at Torah texts have taken him beyond the pale of Orthodoxy, and that they, as students of YCT, did not want to be tarred by his brush and regarded as heterodox. It was just another example of the petty name-calling, rivalry, and dissent within the “broad church” of Orthodoxy. Furthermore, it negates thousands of years of alternative interpretations from impeccable rabbinic authorities.

Trying to impose any auto-da-fé on Orthodox Jews is offensive to me as a rationalist precisely because, although there are indeed accepted ideas and fundamental concepts in Judaism, there has always been a powerful rational voice that has avoided the rigid constraints of fundamentalism. Although certain concepts are regarded as core components of Jewish identity, the right to use one’s mind — to be able to think for oneself — is a measure of a healthy society and a healthy human being. One may disagree and express disagreement, but to imply that others are not “kosher” is to fall into the very trap that makes extremism so unpalatable. One should be emphasizing the positive, rather than trying to sift out those one disagrees with. To be derogatory is just as much a breach of Torah values as the sins the accusers are laying at Rabbi Farber’s feet.

What is more, the prime mover of thetorah.com is a Kollel rabbi of impeccable credentials and a member of the haredi community. If YCT students want to dissociate themselves from men like these, who look beyond traditional sources for answers to serious questions, then I wonder what they are doing in YCT. If thinking Orthodoxy has no room for questions, it will wither on the vine of obscurantism. I am proud to be associated with thetorah.com and Rabbi Farber, and I urge every thinking, committed Jew to rally to its support.

I worry that orthodoxies tend towards pettiness. Whenever any group seeks to define itself by distancing itself from and negating others, it inevitably risks becoming a witch-hunting travesty of its own ideals. In time, it falls prey to internal division and sectarianism. That was why we needed prophets, to keep us reminded of our ideals and goals.

Some issues are indeed incredibly complex. Does “Torah from Sinai” mean all of it, part of it, most of it or none of it? Was it spoken, transmitted, dictated, inspired, influenced, deduced at a specific moment some 4,000 years ago, over 40 days or 40 years? And in what language and what script? Or was it invented or edited, or complied, or adopted, or adapted, or reconstructed, or deconstructed, or created, or evolved out of something, nothing, or everything? If many rabbis in the Talmudic era could argue about the details then, why not now? And what really matters? Theological slogans or living a life of Torah and genuine morality?

Communities can have their own ideas and can choose to be either open or closed. They can refuse to accept anyone who thinks or behaves differently. Or to tolerate those who may or may not completely, partially, occasionally, formally, or informally agree, or not quite, or sort of, or it depends. That’s why many of us prefer living in free societies that do not insist that we all believe the same thing. The last thing we need is a “belief test” as well as a “means test” as well as “sniff test” or a “look into my eyes and swear test.”

You want to wear a black coat in summer? Be my guest! But don’t rubbish those who prefer not to. You want to believe the world is 5,000 years old? Gezunt! But why insult those who think it is older. You want to study Torah only? Of course, why shouldn’t you. But don’t prevent those who want to earn a living from being able to educate themselves. You don’t want to serve in the Israeli army? It’s your decision, but stop bullying those religious people who do. And now to cap it of, they want to hound people who think for themselves.

Am I to understand that the God of Micah who said, “Be kind, love justice, and walk humbly with your God,” really wants people to snub or insult others just because they disagree about how to understand texts or history? Let’s focus on the positive, on the good.

I’d rather see energy expended purging haredi Orthodoxy of its culture of corruption, illegality, materialism and brushing everything under the carpet than trying to sort out who is on the Lord’s side and who on the devil’s.

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  • Jay Levine

    A lot of Hassidim hold a potent grudge against non-Hasidim. They have a holiday framing the people who questioned their takeover.

    • JG

      Hassidus, or Hassidim, have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

      The “Rational Judaism” movement wrongly believe that it can twist the clear words of the torah to match the ever changing social norms of the day, even when every logical review of the torah and the accompanying mesorah contradict these new norms, such as abandoning shabbos, kashrus, tharrat hamishpachea, torah study (day and night) gay marriage, tzniut (both male and female), and every other of the mitzvot that seem “old fashiond”.

      The real reason for this abandonment of torah is NOT enlightened minds, it is the persuit of sin, the need to conform and feel comfortable with the non-jew, and the need to throw off the burden of torah,that is what drives this sudo-elitist thinking.

      Leave Hassidim for another time, this is Judaism 101 regardless if your hassidic, litvish, modern orthodox, unaffiliated, ashkenazi, sefardi, mizrachi, kvuzot teiman, or any other ethnic group.

      I love all jews, and I will show respect to all of them as long as they either stick the torah or at a minimum even when they abandon the torah they know in their heart that they are perusing sin and feel some guilt to hopefully one day return. But when someone tries to subvert the torah and cause others to join along in their sin, then I have to do whatever I can intellectually to stop them from capturing additional Jewish souls.

      Remember this hallacha, a torah scroll written by a Gentile idol worshiper is still holy and must be buried (genuza), however a torah written by a jewish apikores (heretic) must be burned, even if it means burning all the names of God written in that torah! See rambam hilchot yesodie hatorah chapter 6 rule 8 (included as an apikores is someone who does not believe that the torah was a divine revelation given at sinnai including all the oral law that clarifies the details of the mitzvot).

      So there is actually a mitzvah to shame and disassociate from heretics, in fact we are commanded to do everything in out power to make “erase thier name”. So I commend the students statments disassociating from Mr Farber as he is bordering on heretic beliefs.

      The way to keep jews engaged is nit through watered down Judaism, Mr Rosen has clearly stated the orthodox are thriving and the non orthodox are hemorrhaging. People are not fooled by fake morality and get turned away by open orthodoxy, conservative Judaism and reformists, these groups are struggling to survive and keep more than 1 or 2 generations. If they would simply stick to the mesorah alone, no need to mix in any hassidus, or minhagim, or anything beyond what it says in the shulchan arruch and the rambam they would flourish.

      May God merrit me the to see that happen

  • Aaron_Merida

    ” just another example of the petty name-calling, rivalry, and dissent within the “broad church” of Orthodoxy. ”

    There was divine revelation at Sinai? A petty detail?

    That said, I do read R. Farber’s blog, find it stimulating without needing to buy all his assertions.

  • JG

    Typos removed.

    There is a test that I have found to be very useful and accurate when trying to filter what people are presenting versus what they actually are selling, and it goes something like this;

    “If the name of a product (or service) is something that should be left up to the observer to judge instead of letting them judge for themselves” then the presenters are trying to “pull the wool” over my eyes.”

    So for example if the name of a car is “smart” it usually is not a smart buy, if the makers of this car felt it important to not allow me to decide for myself if buying this car is smart or not, then they must be worried that if they allow me to think about it without preconceived implanted ideas I would see through their fallacy.

    Calling the entire concept of your belief system “rational judaism” makes me very certain of how “irrational” this system is.

    Stop selling a Kollel Rabbi as your prophet to the masses, many scholars in our hostory have already strayed from god’s torah (yes the very torah that you feel so uncomfortable with acknowledging with absolute certainty as the word of God given at har sinnai and continuing through Moses for the remaining 40 years in the desert 3328 years ago), the Tna’ch and the Talmud have many cases of leaders, kings, judges, rabbis, and scholars that strayed from the torah’s path.

    In fact the Rambam in chapter 7 of Hilchot  Talmud Torah rules on how to deal with a scholar, elder, or leader that has abandoned the torah, this is not a new phenomenon,  it has always been around.

    Actually what I find more indicative as to the validity of your so called Kollel rabbi is that he rejected everything he was taught by his mentors to the point were is views are completely opposite of what he was taught because of his enlightened mind, this is in effect saying that his teachers were completely unelightened, yet he is still using his tutelage under thier Kollel as a badge of his authenticity and veracity? So  im summary Thetorah.com is run by a Kollel rabbi that is no longer a Kollel rabbi? Is this dislexic faculty the reason we are supposed to bestow upon it an ‘enlightened’ status? It all actually seems very unenlightened and confused to me.

    And to further delve into the ‘heart’ of the attempt to harmonize rational orthodox theology with true torah belief, see Rambam chapter 3 of Hilchot Avodah Zara rule 3, quote: “and not only idol worship alone is prohibited to peruse in thought, also every thought that causes us to uproot any other roots of the core of the torah, we are also prohibited to bring it onto our hearts” end quote. The Rambam goes on to explain that not every wannabee scholar is capable of answering his own questions correctly, and this persons lack of ability will fool him into beliefs that are contrary to the torah. So in a nutshell, the entire “rational orthodoxy” is not new, and it’s completely opposite to the torah as explained by the Rambam cited above.

    And I know that even a scholar as youself does not have the audacity to hold himself in higher regard to torah knowledge than the Rambam. And if you do than this in of itself is proof to your utter lowely existance.

    So to all people reading this article by the deqr enlightened rabbi, think for yourself, are you going to take the explanation of a Rabbi from 3326 years after we received the Torah over the word of the Rambam who is universally recognized as one of the greatest scholars 1000 years ago, the Rambam who’s words are based on those of his rabbis the Geonim who’s words are based on their rabbis from the Talmud?

    Would you trust the repair of your Ferrari to the original manufacturer or to your local 1800-auto repair?

    Wake up brothers! Open orthodoxy is your hearts way of pulling you towards sin! Don’t think with your heart, use your head.

    And as a final word, I challenge the great enlightened “rational” Jews who claim to be in search of the real truth and who believe that all questions may be asked, to allow the post of this link to http://www.animaamin.org, go explore and see for yourselves where the truth is!

    Shalom.

  • In any kind of believes there are people of the book, which contradicts each other and some of them contradicts them selves in the long run, was and is the reason for other religions rise. The old Hebrew brain in Sinai did watch the sky, observing hurricanes sand storms understood nature forces caused by opposition’s atomics moves against earth into the moment of beauty silence. In beauty rises the individual evil. So it is with men’s brains in all times. Is religion politics? Or politics is religion? Is literature politics or a hided religion? Walt Whitman wrote “I’m contradicting my self” so what. W. Whitman wrote about men on our planet and yet contradicting him self. Where do the contradictions come from? And why a man does notice it and accept the fact. It means that men can easily miss something in his overall view picture of the world or it is as men can never be able to master the whole of the universe picture. Recently an Asia country leader did call Obama “Son of a b…h ”, is the Asian leader brain acts by a religious believe or by a political one. In the Asia country there is a gigantic social drugs addiction which needs to do something about it. We no forget that drug addiction is a political tool which can be dictated from within and without a country. Has Obama the right to interfere in other country intern affairs? Does drug addiction go against religion? Of course it does! In Asia people are one race religious believe which is not mixed as USA does. The Hebrew minds and Christians are mixed among men in different countries spaces is the reason for the individual man to seek freedom of mind. The concept of beauty of minds differs among men on our planed. The passion of a body simple move touch of matter do differs among men also! Does a brain needs to live in peace to restore it self to be able to observe justice done among men? Or do men want to go to war to convert others people to own political believe for economical reasons? The concept of matter does differ among men on our planet. The one who does not see that the concept of matter does differ on our planet is not able to trade in the long run. Religion is kind of trade brains from birth, because it contains values. There is a jock saying that god did say to Abraham “ Do what you want” because god’s words were not easy to go after. Why? Because of men’s natural born body desires. Was and is the cause of the holocaust to happen which did influence the Hebrew religious collective minds move into science which the Hebrew men to day do debates. I guess in the soon future science will have enormous influence on religion awareness by practical larger trade with countries which do not split and rules!

  • JG

    There is a test that I have found to be very useful and accurate when trying to filter what people are presenting versus what they actually are selling, and it goes something like this;

    “If the name of a product (or service) is something that should be up to the observer to judge instead of letting then judge for themselves” then the presenters are trying to “pull the wool” over my eyes.”

    So for example if the name of a car is “smart” it usually is not a smart buy, if the makers of this car felt it important to not allow me to decide for myself if buying this car is smart or not then they must be worried that if they allow me to think about it without preconceived implanted ideas then they worry that I would see through their fallacy.

    Calling the entire concept of your belief system “rational judaism” makes me very certain how “irrational” this system is.

    Stop selling a Koller Rabbi as your prophet to the masses, many scholars in our hostory have already strayed from god’s torah (yes the very torah that you feel so uncomfortable with acknowledging with absolute certainty as the word of God given at har sinnai and cintinuing through Moses for the remaining 40 years in the desert 3328 years ago, and we will deal with this further below), the Tna’c and the Talmud have many cases of leaders, kings, judges, rabbis, and scholars that strayed from the torah’s path.

    In fact the rambam in chapter 7 of Hilchot Talmud Torah rules on how to deal with a scholar, elder, or leader that has abandoned the torah, this is not a new phenomenon, it has always been around.

    Actually what I find more indicative as to the validity of your so called Kollel rabbi that he rejected everything he was taught by his mentors to the point were is views are completely opposite of what he was taught because of his enlightened mind, in effect saying that his teachers were completely unelightened, but he is still using his tutelage under thier Kollel as a badge of his authenticity and veracity. So Thetorah.com is run by a Kollel rabbi that is no longer a Kollel rabbi? Is this dislexic faculty the reason we are supposed to bestow upon it an ‘enlightened’ status. It all actually seems very unenlightened and confused to me.

    And to further delve into the ‘heart’ of the attempt to harmonize rational orthodox theology with true torah belief, see Rambam chapter 3 of Hilchot Avodah Zara rule 3, quote: “and not only idol worship alone is prohibited to peruse in thought, also every thought that causes us to uproot any ofurther the roots of the core of the torah we are also prohibited to bring it onto our hearts” end quote. The Rambam goes on to explain that not every wannabee scholar is capable of answering his questions correctly and his lack of ability will fool him into beliefs that are contrary to the torah. So in a nutshell, the entire “rational orthodoxy” is not new and is completely opposite to the torah as explained by the Rambam.

    And I know that even as big a scholar as you does not have the audacity to hold himself in higher regard to torah knowledge than the Rambam. And if you do than this in of itself is proof to your utter lowely existance.

    So to all people reading this article by the enlightened rabbi, think for yourself, are you going to take the explanation of a Rabbi from 3326 years after we received the Torah over the word of the Rambam who is universally recognized as one of the greatest scholars 1000 years ago, the Rambam who’s words are based on those of his rabbis the Geonim who’s words are based on their rabbis from the Talmud?

    Would you trust the repair of your Ferrari to the manufacturer or to your local 1800-auto repair?

    Wake up brothers! Open orthodoxy is your hearts way of pulling you towards sin! Don’t think with your heart, use your head.

    And as a final word, I challah get the great enlightened “rational” Jews who claim to be in search of the real truth and who believe that all questions may be asked, to allow the poost of the link to http://www.animaamin.org, go explore and see for yourselves where the truth is!

    Shalom.

  • Jay Lavine

    My well-worn Soncino chumash from 5722-1962 contains commentary from some Christian scholars as well as all the Jewish ones. But it seems that in recent years the Orthodox establishment does not even want to consider any of the ideas of the former.

    • Jay Levine

      You’re so original “those racist Jews”.

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