Orthodox Judaism In The Post-Modern World

I often get asked why I don’t always speak and behave in accord with Orthodox Judaism.

With Orthodox Jews, I just say, “I’m not there yet.”

With the goyim, I never answer by watering down Orthodox Judaism and pretending that what I am doing is always OK by it.

Instead, I say things like, “Orthodox Judaism would not be cool with me hugging you, but I’m not at that level of modesty yet.”

I feel like I live in a post-modern world. Post-modern means to me that no one way of looking at life is adequate.

Orthodox Judaism is a profound system, but it is not the answer to all of life’s questions. So, for questions about psychology, I look for answers from the great psychologists. For answers about history, I look to great historians. For answers about the age of the universe, I look to people with PhDs in that topic.

I would not want to be treated by a doctor practicing Talmudic medicine.

I don’t look for scientific or historical or geological truths from the Torah. I do not expect rabbis to have special wisdom about immigration policy or minimum wage laws or global warming or marginal tax rates. Generally speaking, I am not interested in the views of people who are not expert in the matter at hand.

In my experience, Orthodox Jews are not more likely to be honest and upright than non-Jews and non-Orthodox Jews. When I know someone presents himself as an Orthodox Jew, I have no reason to believe that this person is going to be more ethical than the average Joe.

I feel like I have more clarity these days. I feel like I know who I am and what I want and I am going for what I want and I am willing to pay the price for my choices and I am willing to acknowledge when I’ve made bad decisions and I am willing to re-evaluate my choices in the light of unexpectedly painful and humiliating results.

Joe emails: It is interesting to read your analysis of what I would call Judaism, and what you call Orthodoxy. Your problem is you are not practicing an a priori analysis. You are basing your views of Orthodoxy based on your and others’ experiences. It makes for good blogging, but it is kind of like reviewing a food review by Jonathan Gold of the LA Weekly. Orthodoxy is not a vietnamese noodle place in hollywood, it is a source of existence.

The difference your view makes is critical. You are comparing “Orthodoxy” to other “variants” of Judaism. You even use the derisive nomenclature given to the variant by other brands. So now you are comparing Orthodoxy to other styles and comparing your experience in that style of life to others, and then finding faults with Orthodoxy. It reads a lot like Rabbit Artson’s Credo that seeks to apologize for Judaism. By the way, i disagree with Artson’s Credo, but I do like reading it.

Instead, try this. Orthodoxy is the one true Judaism. There is no question but that it will survive beyond other variants. Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist – they are all doomed to evanescence. Maybe not in my lifetime, but sometime.

Now, instead of taking experiences and questioning why Judaism does not allow your experiences to give you the satisfaction that Judaism promises, take Judaism for what it is for, and question why you are entitled to its satisfaction.

The classic case for me is driving on the Sabbath. No question it makes absolutely no sense to prohibit, even though it is obviously lighting a fire and therefore a forbidden labor. However, it has become a part of modern life – people no longer live within short distance of their work. The prohibition against driving actually conflicts with modernity’s essence. The whole structure of metropolitan life is irreconcilable with the prohibition.

Not so, for instance, the prohibition against lighting a fire for light. This that has been worked around since the beginning of judaism. Lights lit before the sabbath can burn into the sabbath. Orthodox homes today have those lights that you can cover to turn off, so that there is no need for worry about leaving lights on or off.

As to the car (and other elements of modern life) on Sabbath, it is difficult to see an analysis that is sustainable if you question why Orthodoxy does not allow driving on the Sabbath given how the experience of driving affects the analysis. One can say, well, it is part of the communal aspect of Orthodoxy, everyone lives close, everyone does not drive. I don’t know about that, scientology seems to be an acceptable “community” even though it is a cult. Orthodoxy may be about community in some degree, but no where in the torah does it say (except for Hillel’s admonition not to split from the community) that a community is important as a goal.

Now, instead, assume that Orthodoxy has a rule, no triggering of fire on the Sabbath or any variant thereunder. That is the essence. Well, then I obviously cannot drive on the Sabbath. Forget how important the experience is, the rule exists before the experience and makes the experience meaningless. That is faith. that is a mindset that the Hatam Sofer expressed when he said “modernity is forbidden under the Torah”. We do not try to impose modernity on Judaism. Whether it be dating, food, hairstyles, etc. A priori we accept Judaism. If you can do this, you are a mini-Abraham, observing the word of God because it is the word, even when that word asks for a human sacrifice. How could Abraham not question that? It is an illegal order, to use a military term. Ah, but this is not an institution that is to be criticized, it is the a priori truth.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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