Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is Orthodox Judaism true? What does that mean?

A guest post by Philo

Since it's very quiet here today, I figured I'd find something to repost from my own blog that can be food for thought. This was originally posted (writing as Yehudi Hilchati) in 2 different posts (hence the discontinuity and slight repetition) on my blog in October 2007:

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Many skeptics on the Jblogosphere wrestle with the question "Is Orthodox Judaism true?"

Seems to me that they struggle with 2 questions and that each needs to be examined in a different light:

1) does God exist

2) if god exists, is OJ true?

Or break it down even further:

If God exists, what kind of God is he? Does he consciously rule the world or is all of existence just a sort of “side effect” of God’s being? Or does he take an active role?

If he takes an active role, did he actually command us to do all the things that the Torah lists or is that a human document by people who were striving for God?

Even if it’s not a totally human document, what level of input was there by God? Written by God, every word? Written by people interpreting the word of God? Written with ruach hakodesh or divine inspiration?

There’s a lot behind the question: “Is Orthodox Judaism true?”

Personally, I believe in God (99% of the time – I think 100% is unhealthy to having an active, thinking religion) and I believe in traditional halacha. But what does believing in traditional halacha mean? That all of Torah Sheba’al peh came directly from God at Har Sinai, or that humans extrapolated it from Torah Shebichtav? There are definitely majorly flawed halachot. If it’s a partially human system, then you can accept that some of it reflects the biases of those who instituted those laws (and you work within the halachic system to change them). If it’s 100% min hashamayim, seems to me that would imply a flawed God. That’s why I think that accepting that the system is partially human created invites MORE emunah, not less.

----------------------

I also entertain skeptical thoughts but here’s the two facts which ground me:

1) I believe in Hashem. How to define Hashem? The standard way – an omnicient and omnipotent entity who created the universe (or, in some way, IS the universe.) I leave out whether this entity exactly matches whet is depicted in Tanach for the moment. Call him a nondenominational God.

2) I believe in Judaism. That is to say, I believe in the process. Rabbinic Judaism is mostly man made anyway. What we practice today would be virtually unrecognizable to Jews at the time of, say, Shlomo HaMelech. So for anyone, 90% of believing in Judaism is believing in the process of Judaism, the give & take of interpretation of the Torah.

As for the other 10% – well, I have doubts, but I figure my belief in Hashem and in the process of Judaism is enough grounding so that I can explore my doubts about whether parts of the Torah were written by humans, or whether individuals in Tanach actually exististed, or if there was ever really a great flood that ecompassed the world, in relative theological comfort.

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