Monday, June 22, 2015

What I want from Orthodox Judaism

I was born an Orthodox Jew but became, as far as I know, a sect unto myself. Like a bumblebee, I flit from flower to flower plucking a good idea here, or a good argument there. In my daily life, I don't criticize my neighbor's religion. Whether he believes in one God or twenty, whether he has sex with men or sex with women, whether he prays for hours or believes the heavens are empty, it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket.* [Lots of this lifted from here]

On this blog, I'm different. I'm louder. But my issue isn't "with people to the right of me," as some suggest. Its with people who deny facts, make stupid arguments, and have an incorrect view of science and history. As it happens, there is much more of this in RW Judaism, but I'm not quiet when I run into it on the left.

Almost eight years ago I wrote a post called "My not so modest demands" in which I described what I want from Orthodox Judaism.  Here's the meat of it:

Reconcile itself with science The evidence is in, and it can't be disputed: the earth is millions of years old. Dinosaurs once roamed the earth. There's no such thing as magic, or demons. The spells and amulets don't work. To argue otherwise is to announce yourself a backwards fool. Judaism has a real and positive message, but no one wants to hear from a backwards fool. (This includes our own children who know from their first visit to a museum that anyone who says the earth is 6000 years old is lying or hiding something. Perhaps Yaakov Horowitz and his friends at Project Yes would have less to do if our leaders and role models didn't destroy their own credibility by binding themselves to ideas that are easily disproved)

Reconcile itself with modernity This includes many ideas, ideas the rest of the free world has largely accepted, but the most important of these is Freedom of Speech. Please note: I am not advocating some sappy, feel-good, pc-liberal ideal, wherein all ideas are equally respected. I am advocating the opposite: Open war on the bad ideas. And the way to do it is via questions, and arguments, and challenges to the received wisdom. If the received wisdom is right it will win the debate. If it is wrong, why cling to it? Truth has nothing to fear from free speech.

Reconcile itself with the rest of Orthodox Judaism Wouldn't it be great if the masses and leaders stopped obsessing over over the correct way to eat a boiled egg? Nusach is irrelevant. Levush is irrelevant. 72 minutes vs 42 minutes is irrelevant. In fact, all of the petty and silly stylistic acquisitions Judaism has made over the last 2000 years are irrelevant. A guy is Jewish if his mother is Jewish, and it shouldn't matter one drop if his mother covered her hair, or even if she occasionally serves as cantor at the local WPG. I feel so strongly about this that in the first draft of this post, I demanded that Orthodox Judaism dissuade itself from the narcissism of small differences and reconcile itself to the rest of Judaism, but lets get our own house in order first.

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