It is never easy for someone to simply compose a document explaining one’s world view. For one, it is difficult to organize one’s thoughts and present them coherently when there are numerous interrelated concepts. On a micro-level each word and phrase must also be carefully analyzed for they too impact how one’s position will be received. Then, regardless of how well (or poorly) one succeeds in writing one’s thoughts, is of course the inevitable criticism which will follow.
Because it is a personal exercise, critiques are more likely to be taken personally. As such, whoever would accept such a challenge must be able to balance between ideological and personal rejection.
Simply put, people don’t like being told that they’re wrong, especially regarding their essential fundamental beliefs.
This is especially true when the topic at hand is religion for one’s opinions often result in serious repercussions.1 In Judaism for example, arguments over kashrut affect who can eat someone’s house. If someone is thought to be a Shabbat violator, then his overall halakhic status is aversely affected.
Furthermore, disputes over the fundamental nature of halakha may lead to someone being branded a heretic and/or be socially excommunicated as being “beyond the pale” of Judaism. In such cases, a person might not be counted in minyan. If the person in question is a Rabbi, this could lead some to question or reject someone’s marriages, or worse, divorces.
Despite all these reservations and potential repercussions, I am finding it more and more necessary to explain my opinions on Judaism, especially regarding halakha. The main reason is simply for clarification. Many people have had isolated conversations with my father, and as such many people have incomplete or incorrect views of what his system is. I have also had similar results from similar limitations; a typical conversation does not allow for a full explication of one’s ideas. Given the potential consequences outlined above, this has led to much confusion as to what we actually believe.2 Rather than rely on other’s labels and assessments, I can let my own words express my opinions.
Secondly, in the process of the next few essays, I hope to redefine and clarify many of the misconceptions people have about halakha. As most Orthodox Jews have found, halakhaic arguments are generally pointless or counter-productive, most likely because people have their own definitions and frequently talk past each other. What I will show is that in many cases people are not necessarily as far apart as their arguments may indicate.
Finally, the opinions set forth here while not necessarily innovative, will probably be unique to most readers. Few if any orthodox Jews have coherent or consistent perceptions of halakha or Judaism as a whole. Some prefer not to think about things, others are just comfortable with whatever inconsistencies they might have. In the forthcoming essays I hope to at least call attention to certain issues. You may agree with my perceptions and conclusions, or you may find them unconvincing. Minimally, I hope that the issues raised will be thought-provoking.
And perhaps realize that maybe I am not as crazy as you’d think.3
1. See Strauss, Leo.
2. Although, based on blog feedback and comments, I have found that putting things into print does not always help matters. Still, having something I wrote in print makes for easier referencing and correcting.
3. Or of course, perhaps more than you ever imagined.
For some reason, you never quite struck me as crazy…
Everything’s relative :-)
Sounds like a big project… Are you doing this to clarify your own thoughts, or to show other people what’s what? (or to start a dialogue, or to show a great diversity in possible thought, or any other number of reasons)
Shaynale – Good to hear from you again. Probably a little of everything. I haven’t decided where everything will go and there will probably be some overlap.
from one who has seen the insides of those jail cells wherein they place crazy people (okay, not really, but that soudned good), josh, I’d tell you to be cautious what you write. ;) Then again.. maybe if it’s just to promote dialog,.. perhaps you should be as radical as you know how to be and pull some feathers…
…kind of a dismal picture you paint of the orthodoxy though. Conjures the image of halachic-minded robots who understand only in piecemeal fashion “what their judaism means to them and why”- and hey, isn’t that phrase under copywrite?-My question is, aren’t there any “circles” within the orthodox community that exhibit what you consider a relatively comprehensive/consistent understanding of their religious observance or are we all socialites in a panic to mutilate halacha in order to align it, or at least keep it from hampering our american dreams? But perhaps that is what you’ll tell us in future postings?
copyright, my bad.