Friday, August 10, 2012

How frum is the torah? Not very

On Twitter, some of us are discussing the claim that the chumash and frumkeit are incompatible. So far, it doesn't seem that anyone disagrees, though there is some dispute as to what Judaism and frumkeit are, and where exactly they part ways.

My own view, is that Judaism is constantly changing and developing. The Judaism of the Torah is not the Judaism of the Mishna. In fact by the time of the Mishna, Judaism had split into several sects, only one of which survived. The winning sect,Phariseeism, which transitioned into Rabbinic Judaism, is popularly considered the authentic Jewish flavor, but the whole idea of authenticity is a fallacy. There is no authentic Jewish condition, only the condition that obtains at the moment. Ironically, the word Pharisee shows this to be true. It comes from the word פָּרוּשׁ pārûsh, meaning “set apart". Religions develop sects, as new groups find reasons to set themselves apart. Had the Pharisees came first, it seems unlikely that they would have acquired this name. Meanwhile, their main rivals, the Sadducee have a name derived from the word for "to be correct". (Think about what happened in the 19th century. The "new" Jews called themselves "reformers", while the "old" Jews were called "conservative" or "orthodox", even as they developed new sects, in part, as a response to the reform. The Pharisees are called "set apart"; their main rivals are called "correct." So who broke away from who?)

Though the Pharisees won the first battle we know about, history didn't end with their victory. Judaism continued to change and new sects developed, including Judeo-Christianity (which transitioned into Christianity) Karaism, Hasidut, and the three responses to modernity namely Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism. Additional sub-sects exist within Hasidut and Orthodox Judaism. What I call frumkeit is not a sect, but a culture or way of thinking and doing things, that spans Hasidut and the RW Orthodox sects. Like pornography, its hard to define but you know it when you see it.

Demonstrating that frumkeit and the chumash are not simpatico is like shooting fish in a barrel. Consider the frum shabbos which requires cholent, kugel, zmirot and a nap. Where is that represented in the Chumash? And where, for that matter, are the sacrifices the Chumash says must accompany every festival? Does any frum Pesach require the sacrifice of a goat or a sheep? More to the point, does any frum person really think his Pesach insufficient for not having included a blood sacrifice? (Made impossible by the loss of the Temple, you say? To which I reply: See what I mean about Judaism changing?) Other pillars of frumkeit include monotheism, but the Bible, notably the Ten |Commandments ("No other God before Me") is, in many places, monolatrist.

None of this should be construed to mean that I think modern forms of Judaism are illegitimate. Quite the contrary. Judaism has always been nothing more and nothing less than what Jews say it is. How we decide which speakers and statements matter is outside the scope of this short blog post, but there can be no doubt that Judaism changes as Jews, as a whole and as specific sects, continue to think and speak about it. And we can expect such morphing, developing, changing and evolving to continue as long as there are Jews who take Judaism seriously.

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