Friday, May 19, 2006

Orthopraxy = imitation Judaism

DEAR READERS OF GH REFERRED HERE: Read carefully. This post has nothing to do with rationalism and mitzvos. Check here for a full list of mekoros on Orthopraxy, the lack of belief in G-d. When the Rambam says one must believe in G-d “Ani Ma’amin”, when the Torah says “Anochi Hashem Elokecha”, that is a positive mitzvah, not just a lav prohibiting denial. According to some Rishonim it is axiomatic and therefore is not even counted as a mitzvah! Even a nochri who observes mitzvos but does not believe they were commanded by G-d at Sinai does not get olam haba, as Rambam writes end of ch 8 of Melachim. Note that not a single source that says otherwise has been offered - just armchair philosophizing. See here

Your doctor refers you for surgery and recommends a person who he things is a highly skilled surgeon. You visit the office and notice on the wall a diploma from Zulu’s School of Quackery. Although he was recommended, your suspicions are aroused, so you decide to have a little conversation before entrusting your care to this guy. “Scientific method? – Don’t believe that for a second – it all depends on the spirit world.” Not too reassuring. “Post operative care – yes, I’ll give you antibiotics, but those don’t really kill germs, they just invoke the spirit world to rest on the wound and draw off the evil.” You are getting more nervous. “Sterilization – of course, for how else would the good sprits be able to dwell on the scalpel?” Uh-oh.
Scientist or quack? You make the call.
You see, handling a scalpel is not all there is to being a doctor. A doctor is trained in science, which has a whole range of philosophical assumptions about the world as well as a methodology to test truth and falsehood and a means to advance knowledge. A quack who can handle a scalpel is nothing more than a quack imitating a doctor, but not the real thing. He cannot advance the field of science, because he does not understand what science is. He cannot determine what is essential and what is secondary, because he does not understand the why, only the what. His approach is a superficial parody of what scientific training is all about.
Orthopraxy is the imitation of Judaism. It parodies the practice of Judaism without subscribing the philosophical beliefs and underpinnings of the real thing. As the Chovos haLevavos devotes his entire sefer to establishing, in authentic Judaism explicit practice is just a means of revealing the heart. Or, as Chazal put it, ‘Rachmana liba ba’i’. Judasim is not just a means to a more ethical society, a more complete personal ethic, a more refined way of life - those are just nice side products of the -praxy side of the coin, but are not the telos of religion. The telos is nicely summed up by R' Tzadok haKohen's statement that all mitzvos aseh really come to teach one principle, and its a -doxy one: "Anochi Hashem Elokecha". Without belief, the rest is just going through the motions.


  1. Anonymous6:54 PM

    3 points

    1) Medical Doctors and surgeons are neither scientist, nor are they practitionars of scientific methodology. They expliot scientific data to refine and improve the ART of healing.

    2) A Doctor who is Orthodox in his theoretical knowledge about the practice of Medicine may be incompetent in his practice. Similarly a Doctor who has heretical beliefs about medicine may excell in the application of his/her skills. That is probably why your Docotor refered you to him/her in the first place.

    3) Following on from 2), Explioting Chiam B's annalogy, but applying it correctly, Excelent practice (praxi) is the measure of excelence, not dox! Of course Chiam is free not to be operated on by the most skilled surgeon because of the hetrodoxy of that surgeons belief. It is Erroneous of him to question his skills however, or the legitamacy of his practice.
    Yossi | 05.24.06 - 6:55 pm | #

  2. not a torah scholar here, but as best i know, being jewish is about actions and not beliefs. scientific and/or spiritual, the surgeon has to use the scalpel.

  3. Yossi, please reread the post, which spoke to differentiating ikkar and tafeil and advancing the field. Yes, the surgeon is a great parctitioner, but he cannot advance the field of medicine, which is done through pure research relying on theoretical underpinnings. Secondly, without some knowledge of theory, how can he distinguish washing hands from wearing a lab coat - he just imitates what he sees with no understanding?

  4. Eliyahu - see the Rambam in his hakdamah to peirush hamishnayos toward the end. The Rambam sees action as a means of refining the individual so he/she is able to arrive at the correct beliefs and creed, which is the ticket to olam haba. See also the Dershos haRan, begining of derush sheni (I think, sorry don't have the sefer with me) who writes that the telos is a perfected mind that exceeds even rational thought and is thereby open to prophetic wisdom. Sorry, I am not engaging in armchair phliospohizing, I'm just citing the sources. Don't believe me or anyone else without seeing them inside.

  5. Only one point. The correct girsa in the Rambam is not "VeLo Michachmeihem" but rather "Ella Michachmehem". Thus many achronim write that such a person does get a cheilek in Olam HaBa. I agree with your sentiments regarding orthopraxy, just wanted to clear up this point.