Monday, April 03, 2006

New Branch of Judaism Formed

Tachanun to be Omitted on Godol Hador’s Birthday:
Halacha to remain otherwise unchanged.

What do people do when they no longer believe in the classic orthodox Jewish dogma that the Torah was revealed on Mount Sinai to Moses, and that all of the laws and practices which are adhered to today are reflections of that revelation?

Over the past few months, during my still nascent blogging career, I have been observing with fascination the evolving metamorphosis of super-blogger Godol Hador, the Eddie Van Halen of skeptical orthodox riff making. In his blog, which ranks among the most well written and humorous of those which I read, GH discusses and debunks many of the issues which lie at the uncomfortable border between acceptable orthodox belief and apostasy. He explores the origins of the bible, the place of myths and miracles, the principles of free will and afterlife, the role of science, the requirements of faith, and many similar topics. At the same time, he fires, in approximately equal helpings, his sharp, amusing and well crafted diatribes at orthodox fundamentalists and skeptical non-believers (and basically at anyone who doesn’t agree with him, i.e. everyone).

While GH rarely stated his own views outright, it was becoming more and more obvious over the past few months that his belief in the historical accuracy of the Torah was, well, a thing of the past. He was beginning to focus less on what threads to hold on to and wrote more about where he could find his ‘soft landing’.

Here’s onememorable riff(Mormons being the topic at hand):

“It’s amazing how people can believe such obvious nonsense. Boruch Hashem I’m not a Mormon, but instead an Orthodox Jew. Err, better make that a Modern Orthodox Jew. Errr, make that a Rational Modern Orthodox Jew. OK, a Maskilishe Rational Modern Orthodox Jew. Oh just forget I mentioned it. OK? I said forget it.”

One of the most interesting things about this was that, for all of his skepticism, GH was not for a minute considering leaving orthodox practice. The reasons he presented for this, while not among his most logical discourses, were heartfelt. He argued that, while the exact basis of Judaism could be questioned, the spiritual benefits of observing halacha were self-evident.

So what was going on with GH? To understand the picture, here is a summary of Godol’s take on life:

1. Without God, all morality is ‘relative’. There is no moral basis for declaring any right and wrong.
2. Non-believers are an unhappy group who drift through life without meaning or purpose.
3. Non-religious society lacks the strong social and communal strength of religious society.

Actually, GH finds himself in a place where many orthodox jews come to, at least for a time. The principlas of belief are gone, but all of the other pulls towards religion - the moral certainty, the purposefulness of each life decision, the comfort and acceptance of community – all are still in tact.

Some people ultimately leave, as I did, and endure the mess and difficulties of dealing with the people in ones life who are affected by this. Some do nothing; the ideological issue is simply not important enough to cause a change. Some people find a new story to value their religious practices without believing in the underling dogma.

But for GH, the answer was rather different - he created a new religion, or, to be more accurate, a recasting of the definition of the existing ‘Modern Orthodox’ (MO) religion.

According the Godol, ‘Real’ MO adherents do not, in fact, believe in the literal story of the bible, nor do they believe in the classic story of revelation. These are all allegorical tales. They do, however, believe in the importance of keeping every single detail of Jewish law, as currently practiced by the fundamentalist Orthodox community. In his last three posts (1, 2, 3) (which represents only a few hours of Godol’s publishing career), GH constructed an elaborate theology for the ‘Real MO’ religion, complete with dogmatic coda and FAQ.

So why are there (virtually) no adhearants to this great new faith, even as Orthodoxy continues to thrive? As many commentors pointed out, this is just a re-casting of ‘Conservadox’ or ‘Orthoprax’ ideology, two slivers of Judaism too insignificant to fill the 10:30 shachris room in the Sphardisha Shule.

Fundamentalism is sustainable, with all of its clear ideals and isolationism. Non-belief is sustainable for its rational causation. Many other systems of spiritual thought are sustainable (to a greater or lesser degree) if they are at least somewhat self-consistent. But the combination of an all-encompassing and controlling system of halacha with a flexible view on the origins of law, that doesn’t have much staying power. It is simply too contradictory to make sense for the long run. You are, on the one hand training yourself (and your children) to not take bible stories literaly or to atribute what is taught directly to God. And, othe the other hand, you are maintaining that doing each mithzvah perfectly is a fulfilment of God's will. Sorry, I understand the rationals, but they just crumble.

But, at least for today, the GH is the actual Godol Hador (or L. Ron Hubbard) of a great newborn faith – ‘Real Modern Orthodoxy’.

I wonder if they’ll get the hagadah out in time.

7 Comments:

Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Good summation. Knowing GH, though (or at least "knowing" him by reading his blog) he'll be off on a completely new worldview next week.

It's fascinating to watch.

April 03, 2006 12:48 AM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

That's the Godol in a nutshell, although from his perspective he likely imagines most modern orthodox people agree with him...they just haven't thought it through yet.

April 03, 2006 11:32 PM  
Blogger Mis-nagid said...

"from his perspective he likely imagines most modern orthodox people agree with him...they just haven't thought it through yet."

He probably feels that way about the non-Modern Orthodox too, with the added proviso that they don't have the required info yet either... :-)

April 04, 2006 12:06 AM  
Blogger dbs said...

The truth is that I'm really puzzled that Godol believes that the MO community agrees with him. Maybe you guys are right and it's an ego thing.

I don't know. I think that he is very open about his ideas and he knows more than the average MO, so he gets a lot of nods at shabbos lunches.

I also think that it is somehow very important to him to think that he has a community of like minded people, and he doesn't want to let go of that without a fight.

Hate to admit this, but I actually do think about what goes on in his head.

April 04, 2006 12:50 AM  
Blogger DovBear said...

- Without God, all morality is ‘relative’. There is no moral basis for declaring any right and wrong.

Thia is absolutely false.

- Non-believers are an unhappy group who drift through life without meaning or purpose.

Also absolutely false. Non beleivers create their own meaning and many turn out perfectly happy.

3. Non-religious society lacks the strong social and communal strength of religious society.

--- Also false. There've been many strong societies which weren't especially religious

April 04, 2006 9:03 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

Okay, Dovbear,

Calm down. That is (I think) my point.

However, this is what GH conveys in his posts. I can go through his many statements and try to show you if you disagree. But the point is that GH is going to have some real trouble letting go of the mesorah all together until he modifies some of his ideas. (and gets them more in line with what you are saying.)

April 05, 2006 12:48 AM  
Blogger Godol Hador said...

> Hate to admit this, but I actually do think about what goes on in his head.

Great! When you figure it out please clue me in, as I'm not that sure myself.

April 05, 2006 11:49 AM  

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