Saturday, June 13, 2009

Profiles in Koferut: The Orthoprax

Orthopraxis is an interesting phenomena. With the exception of teffilah, there is great debate as whether any kavannah is necessary to fulfill the mitzvot.

If kavannah is not necessary, the Orthoprax - those who do all the mitzvot but don't believe in anything - are actually very good Jews.

Modern Orthoprax is an excellent example of this. The question us believers must ask is, why?

Why would someone live a lie?

The classic example of this is Reconstructionism. They view Judaism as a civilization. That is to say, we bake challah for the same reason Mexicans bake tortillas - it's just what our ethnic group does.

They are remarkably in line with Tevye, who yells, "Tradition!". Tradition is, exclusively, why we should do things.

The upshot of all this is that, nominally, these people are dedicated to the continuation of the Jewish civilization. On the downside, they advocate crazy things like having a Jewish Constitution.

Well, that's just the Reconstructionists.

But Judaism, as a repository of human knowledge that has been developed for over 3,000 years, isn't worthless to these people. Like a book might have a good idea, written by one person over the course of a few years. If a civilization devoted its best minds to writing a book for hundreds of years, then obviously that book (and by "that book" I mean the Talmud. You can include the Bible under that category, but I certainly won't.) has some value.

What's unclear to these people is what has value and what doesn't. Even stuff that conflicts with modern sensibilities, under this approach, isn't automatically obsolete.

It's an interesting idea. Except the hierophany at Sinai is so central to Jewish faith. I'd love to have one less assumption we had to brainwash people into believing, but that isn't going to change. When laws ask you to not have sex with your wife for half a month, every month, they better be more than just some nice tradition.

Specifically, it needs to be believed that the Rabbinical ordinances and innovations have the same normative weight as the ones that G-d told to us.

That's quite the handful.

And yet... anything that keeps Jews doing mitzvot and connected to the Torah, ANYTHING - is a good thing.

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