Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Demolishing Dumb Diagnostic Devices

At the Godol Hador's urging, I took a silly little quiz, published at Beliefnet, which promises to reveal "what religion (if any) you practice...or ought to consider practicing."

Here are my results:

1. Reform Judaism (100%)
2. Orthodox Judaism (93%)
3. Sikhism (86%)
4. Liberal Quakers (84%)
5. Islam (82%)
6. Bahá'í Faith (81%)
7. Unitarian Universalism (76%)
8. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (68%)
9. Jainism (61%)
10. Orthodox Quaker (60%)
19. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (43%)
20. Seventh Day Adventist (39%)
21. Eastern Orthodox (37%)
22. Roman Catholic (37%)

The quiz is deeply flawed, so flawed in fact that if you managed to score at 100 percent for Orthodox Judaism I'd question your kashrus, or your honesty.

The problem is that instead of basing itself on what Orthodox Judaism actually is, as taught by Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim, the quiz appears to be based on some late 20th century idea of what Orthodox Judaism represents. And as readers of my blog know, late 20th century Orthodox Judaism, as it is represented by far too many Jews, tends to have much more in common with Bible-belt Christianity than it does with the authentic teachings of Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim.

Some examples, from the quiz:

What are the origins of the physical universe and life on earth? Choose one.

The correct answer is: "As in the book of Genesis, but "day" is not 24 hours, possibly refers to thousands (or even millions) of years, or to creation phases." But I expect the quiz penalized me for choosing it. I expect the quiz imagines Orthodox Jews take the bible's creation account literally, and gave a higher "Orthodox Jewish" score to those who chose that option.

What happens to humans after death?

I chose: "There is definitely an afterlife, but the specifics cannot be known or are unimportant--most important is one's conduct in life," an intellectually honest position given the multiplicity of opinions expressed by Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim. I bet the quiz expected something more concrete from an "Orthodox Jew, " because in the 20th century, "uncertainty" is rarely accepted as an "Orthodox" position, yet on the question of life after death, that is exactly what the disagreements among Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim have produced.

Choose ALL statements below that represent your beliefs.
1. Adhere strictly to the rites, practices, precepts, commandments, prohibitions, laws, sacraments, or ordinances of the faith to be rewarded after life.
2. All, even the wicked, are rewarded after life (e.g., go to heaven, merge with God) as God(s) is infinitely good and forgiving.
3. Extinguish all cravings, attachments, and ignorance, or rid oneself of all impurities, to become fully enlightened.
4. Learn all life's lessons through rebirths.
5. Realize your true nature as purely spirit (or soul) and not body, as one with the Absolute, Universal Soul.
6. Live very simply; renounce worldly goals and possessions.
7. Tap the power of the Ultimate (God, or the divine) through intercessory methods such as psychics, channeling, tarot cards, crystals, magic.

Choices 4, 5 and 7 aren't remotely Jewish. Choices 3 and 6 are consistant with Judaism, but aren't how I live. Choice 1 is obviousl Jewish, but so is choice 2: At the end of Chagiga, Reish Lakish tells us "The fires of hell do not harm the sinners of Israel;" and in Pirkei Avos we learn, "All Israel have a share in the World to Come, as it is stated:"And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the Land forever. [They are] the branch of My planting, the work of My hands in which to take pride." I wonder if the quizmakers were aware that Orthodox Judaism is, in fact, so forgiving?

Elective abortion should be accepted (not proclaimed or treated as immoral).
Agree. Disagaee. Not Applicable.

This was tricky and a poorly worded question. It's a tremendous oversimplification to say that the Torah considers abortion to be murder, as a number of fundamental issues are the subject of dispute. The Achronim don't agree. Some say (1) it is murder; others say (2) it is murder, but a Jew who kills a fetus is not liable for capital punishment; still others say (3) it isn't murder, but forbidden only on the grounds that it causes a deliberate injury to the mother. Additionally, these opinions depend on the phase of the pregnancy, and on the circumstances of the pregnancy and the welfare of the other. Many poskim permit abortion in the case of rape. The Christian may see this as a black and white issue. For the Torah Jew, it's very grey. I don't think late term elective abortions should be permitted, but I can't object to an abortion -done for any reason - within the first thirty days.

Homosexual behavior should be regarded as immoral or out of harmony.
Agree. Disagaee. Not Applicable.

Another badly worded question. In the end, I chose diagree, because I don't recognize "immoral" or "out of harmony" as religious categories. In Judaism some acts are permitted; others are forbidden. Homosexual behavior is forbidden, but immoral? Only if you think eating an ant, or cheating at business is immoral, because the Torah describes all three acts (ant eating, sodomy, and business cheating) in exactly the same terms.

So, at the end of the day, what is Orthodox Judaism? Is it what Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim said it was? Or is it what 20th century Orthodox Jews, in their rush to keep up with the Christians, imagine it is?

Tough questions, to be sure.