Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Daat Emet

Luke Skyhopper

I was reading Undercover Kofer, and I stumbled across his link to a Daat Emet article which brings Torah sources to essentially prove that the Torah and Halacha cannot have remained intact since Sinai.

Daat Emet is an Israeli site which seeks to to dismantle various dogmatic arguments often espoused by Orthodox Judaism and popularized by the Kiruv movement.

While I have yet to check Daat Emet's sources in the original texts, I figured I'd share the link.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Raising Orthoprax Children


This topic seems to me to be one of the most impossible facing both orthopraxy as a group (movement?) and orthopraxers as individuals. If it will stand as a group/movement (groovement?), orthopraxy should know if it will attempt to be passed down to children, or if it is only a transition stage for those who have lost their belief. Individuals, meanwhile, must face the question: what on earth do you teach children, and how do you raise them in an orthoprax home?

The options, as they appear to me:

1. Try to teach orthopraxy directly--no beliefs taught, but "these are the practices we do, just because this is what Ortho(something) Jews do. It's our community and lifestyle." This seems to get sticky, however, when getting into the cognitive dissonance of traditions like brachot and prayer. ("No, we don't believe in the God of Abraham. Now stop asking questions and go daven Shemoneh Esreh.") Or, when the child gets old enough to understand what Orthodoxy is, and wants to do things Friday night.

2. One parent is orthoprax, one orthodox. The orthoprax one stays quiet and lets the orthodox one do the talking. Perhaps this could actually work for some who don't care much or aren't strong disbelievers, but not a great idea in my view. People need intellectual honesty in their lives as best as they can reach it.

3. Parents recreate their exact life experiences by perpetuating a "noble lie," teaching orthodoxy until the child reaches a certain age. Then, they sit the kid down and reveal that it has been a lie, but the kid is now too emotionally/communally invested to walk away. A repulsive idea, of course, but I include it to point out that, quite frankly, it's the only actual way to perpetuate the orthoprax experience. Orthopraxy is a weird lifestyle, what can I say.

4. A more sensible combination of 1, 2, and 3: orthodox beliefs are taught just in the way many innocent beliefs are taught to or maintained for kids, in a light, left-wing MO manner. (There wasn't much focus on belief in my MO upbringing, now that I think about it--that was when I got to yeshiva.) As they get older, more and more serious age-appropriate discussion about the world ensues.

So, more or less normal LWMO upbringing, but parents will step in to undercut something taught in school if it's past a line to them, and get the child thinking critically about religion at an age-appropriate level.

5. Parent(s) is/are orthoprax, but raise kids more or less Conservative, coming to terms with an ebbing away from orthodoxy. Traditions are kept in the home for traditional reasons, but with greater flexibility than the parents' upbringing would allow. Jewish education is more or less Conservative, and children are given the freedom to do what they would like with the traditions with which they were raised.

Did I miss any?

Of these, #5 seems to me by far the most sensible, but I can see how for some people more invested in orthodoxy, #4 would be more realistic. #5 would mean orthopraxy is not really tenable as a movement for more than a one or two generations. Perhaps that's a shame, perhaps not. Either way, is there a better option?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bits and Pieces 1

Luke Skyhopper

I have been reading about Higher Biblical Criticism and academic scholarship on the Torah since I finished Shana Alef. I'm not a hundred percent sure why, but until I went to Yeshiva, the divine origins of the Torah was never a big deal for me. To me it was the book of our people, and the exact nature of it never really bothered me. I was only vaguely familiar with academic criticism in high school, to the point that I only knew it existed, but nothing of its veracity.

When I got to Yeshiva, Torah study was stressed all day to long, to the point that it was the end in of itself. Until this point I was religious, but lived in a modox household. When I came home, I was free to do what I wished, of course staying within the bounds of halacha. Being in Yeshiva, I felt myself bombarded from all sides by the forces of Orthodox Judaism, not necessarily the modern kind.

At the time I encountered a mental conflict that I've only recently come to understand. Essentially it boiled down to a clash of personal freedom versus being dictated to. Being in Yeshiva I began to feel, somewhat subconsciously at the time, that I had no control of my life. The morality of choices were being dictated by the people who wrote these books hundreds or thousands of years ago. These books were then being interpreted by individuals who I sensed were ignorant, while at the same time pushing their own agenda.

This led me to begin a fight to control my right to live as I pleased.

To clarify things, there was no one telling me what to do in the direct sense of it. The Yeshiva tended to turn a blind eye to most of our activities. Secular music, books etc were completely accepted. The philosophy was strictly halachic, modern scholarship and culture was either disdained or ignored by the Rebbeim. Sure, many had secular degrees, but their outlook was by no means modern.

What bothered me was the belief was that Halacha was dictated to man by God, in the objective sense of the word. Subjective belief was not presented as having any play here, God demanded Halchic adherence in the most direct sense.

Now you might ask youself, "What was this guy thinking? no kidding Modern Orthodox Rabbis believe this." Until then I had faith that Modern Orthodoxy could work as a faith that was humble before science and reality. I guess I wanted to believe that you could be skeptical of fundamentalist beliefs while still calling yourself Orthodox. But my experiences in Yeshiva ran to the contrary.

Rationally proving that God wrote the (through Moshe at Sinai) Torah and gave the laws was never really important to me throughout high school. I believed in my simple way because I thought that such was the approach of my people for thousands of years. The fundamentalist notions that this is objectively true never really got on my nerves until I was surrounded by them in Yeshiva.

At this point I realized that I had to retain my right to freedom and individuality. I suppose it was not until I felt Orthodox fundamentalism really encroach on my life that I cared enough to disprove it, and thus research the Documentary Hypothesis.

Some Things I Value in OJ


Here is a non-exclusive list of some values and practices I love in Judaism, or at least ones for which Judaism offers a strong support structure:

-Family ties, kibud av v'em, kibud zekenim:
There is a strong sense of community built out of family structure. I do believe that in the modern world, there can often be a lack of respect for parents, or a lack of cohesion in a family. Judaism tries to provide structures by which all of the above are supported. Families are brought together through the structure of chagim, Shabbat, smachot, etc; children are taught about familial responsibility, and obligations towards parents; we are taught laws about how to honor the elderly.

No, not the prude sense of it, nor the idea that women need to be forced to hide themselves in silly ways. But I certainly appreciate the value that more attention should be paid to a person's interior; that there is value and dignity to living with some sense of modesty; that some things should be kept special between a married couple. (Say what you will about hair coverings, but isn't it important and valuable that some things between a married couple be kept only for each other?)

-Community bond:
Yes, I believe Orthodox Jews are, at least in a lot of circles, too insular--but that seems like the price paid for the benefits of a tight-knit community. And I do love being able to walk in a Jewish neighborhood on Shabbat and say "Shabbat Shalom" to strangers, and have a sort of instant bond.

There is something unparalleled about having a forced day off from mundane matters, when one must spend time with family and/or rest from the everyday rush (even if there can at times be frustrating sides that come along with it).

-Tikkun olam
The notion that we live in an imperfect world, and it is our duty to fix it. When utilized correctly, what more inspiring mission could we have than that?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bursting Bubbles


One problem I keep facing with blogging is that I'm a softie when it comes to bursting other people's bubbles, even if I rationally think it would be best. Don't get me wrong--if a fundamentalist suggests something wrong or silly, I'll respond, and explain why. But I always feel bad going "on the offensive," explaining why something they think is wrongheaded (on other blogs, that is--I assume if someone is reading mine, they can deal with the kinds of things I'm going to say). If someone has a wrongheaded certainty that comforts them, or may even help them in some way, is it right to burst that? (Even if it is, what if I can't bring myself to do it?)

The former is one of the driving questions of Dennett's Breaking the Spell. Unfortunately, though very honestly of him, he does not offer a direct answer to the question. He more or less suggests that more research is needed on the possible benefits and costs of religion, which is probably true but frustrating.

On the one hand, after all, religious certainty can offer comfort, hope, and strength to a person. Taking away a person's sense of certainty--even if you follow up with "you can still be religious if you want, just don't claim you have a proof for it"--may impinge on all that. On the other hand, religious certainty is what drives so much terrorism, violence, oppression, and land disputes, affecting people of just about all religions. It would be pretty great to get those people to think twice about how sure they are about their claims.

So what do you do with nice religious folk who you don't think will commit any acts of violence, but who have some repugnant views about the non-religious? Or who don't actively work against a pluralistic society, but whose views undermine it? Or who do not engage in extremist action, but offer explicit or implicit ideological support to those who do? Is it cruel to burst their bubbles--from personal experience, this can be a pretty painful process, after all--or irresponsible not to make them think twice? Again, I'm not even talking about trying to make them full-blown skeptics--I don't think I'm going to do that with one or two blog posts, nor do I want to--but rather about contributing to more room for inquiry in their minds.

At the end of the day, Dennett is probably right; we need more research about the effects of religion, and how best to treat it. But does that mean I just stay quiet until provoked in the meantime? I'd love to hear some honest thoughts about this from other people.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Shoutout from Dan Dennett

by JG

From Breaking the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon, pg. 224:

"[Some religious leaders] have come to realize that the robustness of the institution of religion doesn't depend on uniformity of belief at all; it depends on the uniformity of professing. This has long been a feature of some strains of Judaism: fake it and never mind if you make it...Recognizing that the very idea of commanding someone to believe something is incoherent on its face, an invitation to insincerity or self-deception, many Jewish congregations reject the demand for orthodoxy, right belief, and settle for orthopraxy, right behavior. Instead of secret pockets of festering guilty skepticism, they make a virtue of candid doubt, respectfully expressed."

Unfortunately, he gives no sources as to where the open orthopraxy is to be found. I wonder if he has the same thing in mind we do. (As a side note, does this make us a pocket of festering skepticism or a site of virtuous candid doubt?)

More on the Gay Question

by Luke Skyhopper

Ok, I am admittedly a bit sick of the discussions surrounding the Gay question of Orthodox Judaism. As a devotee of Orthopraxy, consenting adults are welcome to behave towards each other however they wish. The repression and ostracism of law abiding and innocent people is despicable; end of story.

However I was wondering, what might happen if the greater Orthodox community capitulated to most of the demands pressed by the Gay community at this conference. Orthodoxy can never fully accept the concept of Gay sex or marriage because of conflict with Jewish law, however let us say that everyone openly admits to the existence of people with same-sex attraction. How would that change the atmosphere in Yeshivas (non-coed) ones? Given that the notion of a boys Yeshivas operates, at least partially, with the intent to stifle adolescent attention towards the opposite sex (and focus on the Limmud), what would be done with Gay students? Place them in Beis Yakkov? How could one justify a uniform all-boys approach if it would be counter-productive according to the basic operating principles?...What about male Mikvahs?

Any wide-spread admission and open discussion of Gays within the wider Orthodox community (which I am still skeptical of) would precipitate a rethinking of other social norms. If one discusses the needs of Gay men, why not bring in the Ta'avahs of others such as unmarried people. Admittedly the YU conference was not about the issues of sexual fulfillment, but rather social acceptance. Nonetheless, I can't imagine the former issue remaining dormant for terribly much longer.

Since Gays are a group that seeks intimate fulfillment in way that "deviates" from the accepted norm, conceivably there will have to be repercussions inherent with rethinking such social structures. While such a widespread social reaction within Orthodoxy is still more or less a fantasy, one cannot help but wonder what normative changes such a spreading discussion might bring.

Now on to another topic please.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Contribute to The Praxy Project!

The Praxy Project is a collaborative effort. We are devoted to exploring, broadly:

-Inner life

of the frum skeptic/orthoprax life. Wherever you are on the frum/skeptic spectrum, if you would like to contribute your take on any of these, or share your thoughts or experiences, or tell or ask the public about anything else, please send an email to: jgadfly at gmail dot com.

We hope this blog can not only explore, but also contribute, to orthoprax community--whatever that is.