Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Reaching Up Or Bringing Down

In the ongoing debate over how orthodox Open Orthodoxy is there has been a lot of confusion when it comes to the definition of Orthodoxy itself.  Orthopraxy is easy; you just act frum without it affecting your thoughts, beliefs and moral positions.  Orthodoxy is trickier.  Why exactly do the Ultraorthodox and mainstream Modern Orthodox reject Open Orthodoxy's claim to membership in the group?
If it's a matter of core beliefs then one comes up short.  The official position of Open Orthodoxy, even if it's disputed by the contents of their writings, is that there is one God in Heaven, that He gave us the Torah and that we are bound by its rules, both the Written and Oral ones.  In all the accusations made against YCT no one has ever suggested that they permit chilul Shabbos, an abandonment of kashrus or permissibility in taharas misphachah.  They hold that Torah learning is a key Jewish value.  Yes, they have very secular liberal ideas about certain elements of the prayer service, such as removing certain berachos a modern woman might find offensive or stretching the bounds of egalitarianism past what is acceptable but even then they try to do so by claiming they are following their understanding of the mesorah.
Indeed, attending one of their services about the only thing out of place would be the women getting aliyos or leading psukei d'zimrah.  If you showed up during Mussaf you'd be hard pressed to know you weren't in another Modern Orthodox shul.  So why the repeated outrage from folks like Rav Gordimer over at Cross Currents?  How does one justify writing them out of Orthodoxy proper?
I would suggest that this be settled by a new definition for Orthodoxy.  Orthopraxy, as noted, is about behaviour.  Orthodoxy should be something different, a defining and united attitude.  And what is that?
Logic would dictate that there are two ways to draw closer to God, to create that elusive d'veikus that is considered an ultimate goal in Torah observance.  One is to raise oneself up towards Him, the other to bring Him down to us.  Herein lies the difference between real Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy.
For real Orthodoxy the ideal goal is to use worship of God and performance of His mitzvos to generate a closer connection.  I am supposed to improve, evolve (oh that word!) as a Jew and grow so that my connection with Him strengthens.  This, of necessity, requires change on my part.  It requires me to accept a locus of control of my life that is outside of me.  I must accept that my gut feelings, my natural moral instinct, may not be the ideal and that it must become subservient to the Torah's values as understood by Chazal and the subsequent authorities.
Open Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is about bringing God down towards Earth.  It postulates that one's inner feelings and moral sense along with that of the surrounding society are the ideal and that if Torah values contradict it then they have to change.  As opposed to an unchanging God and a malleable society we are presented with the opposite: society as director, God as follower.  It reminds one of Joan Osborne's What If God Was One Of Us.
Of course God isn`t one of us.  If He was, He wouldn`t be God and that`s possibly a good thing according to the secular liberal crowd.  After all, if He`s one of us then He can change.  All those inconvenient rules in the Torah and Talmud can be changed to reflect changing times and morals.  That is the essence of bringing God down.  It does create a d`veikus but it results in a malleable deity who is a reflection of the society that supposedly worships him.
Perhaps this is the criteria by which Open Orthodoxy is being judged and found wanting.  As we read this week`s parasha and next week`s as well we learn about our ancestors building the Mishkan.  Now a cursory reading would suggest that, in fact, the construction project was about drawing God down to Earth.  After all, we are told that the purpose was so that God could dwell amongst us.  This would seem to vindicate the Open Orthodox position that d`veikus is about God cleaving to us.
But reading deep we see that the opposite is true.  Rav Adin Steinsaltz, shlit"a, in his writings on these sections of the Torah notes that the plans for the Mishkan were not unlikely the plans that are used to make a highly complex piece of equipment like a satellite or space shuttle.  One small mistake in the programming code that runs the equipment, a single byte of misinformation, or possibly a tiny defect in one part of the structure and the whole thing fails to function.
The Mishkan was no different.  The details of its construction are mentioned over and over again to emphasize that it had to be made perfectly according to its details.  There was no element of "I think God would like this" involved and any deviation would have caused it to not become the dwelling place of the Shechinah.  The details of our observance of God's laws are dictated by God, not us.
Perhaps this is the reason that Open Orthodoxy continues to spin out of Orthodoxy's orbit.  Despite all the similarities there is a glaring difference between the fundamental d'veikus they seek and ours.


zalman said...

Excellent analysis.

Mr. Cohen said...

*** QUOTE 1 OF 3: ***

Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuvah, chapter 3, paragraph 8:

If any Jew denies that even ONE WORD of the Torah is Divinely-revealed, then he or she is a heretic [apikuris].

In the same paragraph, Rambam teaches that any Jew who denies the Oral Law [Torah SheBeAl Peh] is also a heretic [apikuris].

In paragraph 6 of the same chapter, Rambam teaches that a heretic [apikuris] has no place in the afterlife of the righteous, and will be punished eternally.

Rambam was born in 1134 CE in Córdoba, Spain and died in 1204 CE in Egypt.

*** QUOTE 2 OF 3: ***

Pele Yoetz, Perek Apikuris [Heretic]:

“And it is not even necessary to teach that a person who doubts the words of the Torah or the words of the Great Ancient Sages [divrei Sofrim], or mocks even one word of the Torah or one word of the Great Ancient Sages [divrei Sofrim], he is a complete heretic [apikuris gamur]; and behold, he has abandoned the faith, and denied a foundation [of the Jewish faith]…”

Pele Yoetz was completed by Rabbi Eliezer Papo (Sephardi Tahor) in Bulgaria on April 28, 1824 CE.

*** QUOTE 3 OF 3: ***

Mishnah Berurah, siman 126, sif katan 3:

“Understand that according to all opinions [literally, according to the entire world], that if we know that he [a Jew] denies the Resurrection Of The Dead [Techiyat HaMetim], or that he does not believe in the future redemption [Geulah HaAtidah], and how much more so if he does not believe that the Torah is divinely revealed [Min HaShamayim], or [if he does not believe in] reward and punishment; [then] according to all opinions, he is a complete heretic [Apikuris Gamur], and it is forbidden to allow him to act as prayer leader [Shaliach Tzibur]…”

Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaKohen Kagan, was an Orthodox Rabbi who lived from 1838 CE to 1933 CE in Poland. He wrote the Mishnah Berurah from 1894 CE to 1907 CE.

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Anonymous said...

i feel like the one thing you are missing in your analysis is that both OO and OJ are movements -- both are split off from what Judaism was actually like prior to the Enlightenment/Emancipation. So, if Judaism is at the stage where we have to redefine it within movements (none of which by themselves represent shtetl Judaism) we have to accept OO as just as legit as OJ.

If before the rambam there were no set "beliefs," without which one could not be considered a legit Jew -- then we have to accept some of that carries through, and maybe finds a strand of it landing in OO.

The end of the shtetl wall, the advent of Islam (for Rambam's ikkurim), these are the real permanent injuries to what was an interesting and organic Jewish life, with a rich intellectual side that included Jewish atheism, and Jewish skepticism (and fervent belief, OP, and other kinds of thinking, some of which you strongly identify with.)