Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Orthodoxy and Bad Faith

A while back, I had an argument about what makes someone Orthodox. A guy believed that he was Orthodox because he believes in morality. The Orthodox people in the room disagreed, pointing out the fact he doesn't believe in G-d and Orthodox Judaism requires that belief.

My friend, however, argued that as long as a person has Orthodox beliefs, he is Orthodox, even if he does not follow through on any of those beliefs. In other words, a person could violate Shabbos, eat pork, sleep around, and still be Orthodox as long as he believes in G-d, that the Torah is of divine origin, and that there is a mesorah (oral law). As one person put it, a person can be Orthodox if he conducts himself in bad faith, meaning he knows what he's is doing is wrong.

This definition seemed wrong to me. Let's leave out the fact that Orthodox belief is more complex than just G-d and the Torah. The thirteen Maimonidian principles are, according to most contemporary scholars, required belief (notwithstanding Marc Shapiro). So a person can believe in G-d, but if he doubts resurrection or the coming of the Messiah, it's hard to imagine him being Orthodox.

But another problem confronted me. This definition only includes the "dox" aspect; it ignored the "prax." The term Orthodox was not a self-created label. Before the term was applied to Orthodox Jews, the standard terminology was "Shomer Torah U'mitzvos" (someone who keeps the Torah and G-d's commandments). It strains credibility to argue that someone can refuse to follow a single commandment and still be Orthodox.

Orthodox Judaism recognizes the primacy of Halacha (Jewish law). It requires all types of actions by Jews every single day. Someone who follows none of them cannot be a keeper of Halacha. And the requirement to follow Halacha is certainly a central aspect of Orthodox Judaism.

The next post will deal with what I think should be the dividing line between Orthodox and the other branches of Judaism.

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