Monday, September 03, 2007

the issur of orthopraxy

What's worse: being mechalel Shabbos, or keeping Shabbos but not believing it is a Divine commandment? The Ramban explains "Arur asher lo yakim es haTorah hazos" (27:26) to mean that a Jew must believe in his/her heart that mitzvos are a Divine truth and believe that G-d rewards their observance and punishes their desecration. One who disbelieves is subjected to the curse of "Arur...". However, says the Ramban, if a person simply violates commandments, e.g. a person who eats pig or does not observe sukkah or lulav, but still believes they are true and that ultimately there is reward and punishment, that person is not subject to the curse in the parsha.

Of course, the fact that belief is essential is obvious from our mesorah and it seems only if your exposure to Judaism comes from the internet would you even have a hava amina otherwise (which is why the whole topic is silly), but l'ravcha d'milsa it is mefurash in Ramban.

41 comments:

  1. Mike S.7:04 AM

    With all due respect, I do not see how anyone who is among those who "twice a day, lovingly, say Shma Yisrael" can think that Judaism has no required beliefs. Even without the Ramban.

    Although, to be fair, I also don't see how anyone can believe that the list of required beliefs has grown over the last couple decades as dramatically as some claim.

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  2. Anonymous7:39 AM

    The second sentence begins, "The Rambam explains..."?

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  3. Mike S - Agreed.
    Anonymous, thanks - I fixed the typo.

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  4. Bob Miller11:33 AM

    Mike S. said
    "Although, to be fair, I also don't see how anyone can believe that the list of required beliefs has grown over the last couple decades as dramatically as some claim."

    I don't see anyone claiming that they themselves have taken on newly required beliefs. Their claim is that the long list was always required---which is what some others dispute.

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  5. Sorry, I disagree, and on good authority. Rabbi Yona Reiss himself told me that you only need to not categorically deny any beliefs. You can certainly be agnostic and be ok, especially nowadays when according to the Chazon Ish everyone is a tonok shenishbah. Also, considering the prevalence of doubt in the world, your post is extremely irresponsible, since it will no doubt make skeptics feel that they are wasting their time being Orthoprax, and they will drift even further from observance. You should add these clarifications to this post immediately ESPECIALLY considering it is Ellul.

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  6. R' Yona Reiss (or yourself) is enough of an authority to disagree with the Ramban??? Just read the words - 'yodeh b'mitzvos b'libo v'yeheyu b'einav emes v'ya'amin...' It is impossible to read this as anything less than a statement calling for affirmation of belief, not simply avoiding denial. I fail to see what the C.I. has to do with anything - the C.I. never encouraged disbelief, he merely said that we should judge people favorably given their circumstances.
    The last point in interesting, but I feel quite the opposite - davka because it is Elul it is important to be mechazeik emunah and to show black on white sources like the Ramban so that those who are bemuddled by the nahrishkeit out there are not led astray because they are not equipped with the knowledge of sources and information. I'm afraid I am too honest to hide the fact that Judaism makes demands of belief and committment even if those requirements might make it a more palatable religion for some.
    Should we hide the fact that it is prohibited to drive to shule on Shabbos because that may disuade some potential ba'al tshuvah from coming to an Orthodox synagogue? Or hide the fact that Orthodoxy demands that one eat kosher because it might disuade those who keep other mitzvos from affirming a Jewish identity? This slippery slope is far too dangerous to tread on.

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  7. > but I feel quite the opposite - davka because it is Elul it is important to be mechazeik emunah

    Please exploain how this post is 'mechazek emunah' in any way. I certianly don't see it. All you are doing is yelling at people with doubts and making them feel bad. Some chizuk.

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  8. It is educating people who are not aware of Ramban but read on other internet sites that it is OK to be agnostic, that Judaism doesn't require belief as long as you obey halacha, etc. that what they are reading "out there" is not an accurate representation of Judaism as interpreted by the Rishonim and our mesorah and that they should not be suckered into false hashkafos before the y'mei hadin.
    I don't think anyone ever accused me of adopting a "yelling" tone in my posts, and as for people feeling bad, I guess when you tell people who eat treif that Judasim demands that they eat kosher or when you tell someone who is comfortable driving on shabbos that halacha demands they refrain, it is inevitable that they might initially feel bad. See previous comment - you did not explain why there is any difference between the two. If you saw someone about to eat a poisoned steak because it looked so succulent and their "friend" told them how good it tasted, would you keep your knowledge of the poison quiet because it would spoil the meal and make them feel bad?

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  9. That's a very bad analogy. People have a choice of what to eat. People don't have the same choice of what to believe.

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  10. > R' Yona Reiss (or yourself) is enough of an authority to disagree with the Ramban???

    Also, since when is the Ramban the final word on hashkafah??

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  11. >>>People have a choice of what to eat. People don't have the same choice of what to believe.

    You don't have a choice between kosher and treif food. You don't have a choice between kosher and treif hashkafos.

    >>>Also, since when is the Ramban the final word on hashkafah??

    It's a significant enough shita to be choshesh for even if their are opposing views, kal v'chomer here where I am not aware of any explicit dissenting opinion. If you want to point one out, then by all means...

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  12. Dovid2:22 PM

    "People don't have the same choice of what to believe."

    That's not entirely true. If I go to a Yeshiva for 4 years instead of a secular university, I'm much much more likely to come out believing in G-d even if I didn't beforehand.

    If a person would even just decide to tell himself 10 times everday that "G-d exists and He loves me" his chance of eventually believing in G-d probably goes up a lot.

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  13. > If a person would even just decide to tell himself 10 times everday that "G-d exists and He loves me" his chance of eventually believing in G-d probably goes up a lot.

    Wow, that works for Jesus too. Also for atheism. If thats what you call belief then I don't think there's any point. Is that what God (assuming he exists) wants? You can't mandate belief. That's a psychological fact. And brainwashed belief is worthless. Thats why this post is wrong.

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  14. Dovid3:03 PM

    "And brainwashed belief is worthless."

    I disagree. I would pay a lot of money to have all radical muslims brainwashed into being American style evangelical Xtians.

    "Is that what God (assuming he exists) wants?"

    It's certainly not ideal.

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  15. And the point of this post was to simply establish that version #1 of Judaism which says

    >>>You can't mandate belief. That's a psychological fact.

    Is completely incomptable with version #2 of Judaism which demands

    >>>'yodeh b'mitzvos b'libo v'yeheyu b'einav emes v'ya'amin...'

    Version #1 is internet Judaism, version #2 is a Ramban.

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  16. It seems to me that an inability to understand *why* version #1 is incorrect is one of the primary forms of Permission to Disbelieve (if one may call it that). Bringing down the Ramban is all fine and good amongst friends, but if someone comes and says "I don't believe and hence, by definition, I can't believe", it would be better to have a more extensive explanation.

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  17. Could you help me out here....exactly what is it to believe something? And what is it to be omer belibo? Are they the same? How do you know?

    Suppose recognizing my responsibilty to believe,everytime I asked myself ''Do I believe in X'' I said yes and the same when others asked me... is that enough? If there is something more than saying I believe, what is it?

    How do I know what I believe? Can I be mistaken? Can anyone know better than me what I believe?

    And finally does the Rambam on your view also include preconscious and unconscious beliefs? How do you know what you believe unconsciously?

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  18. Let's say for the moment I don't believe. According to you, is it more desirable that I continue to be Orthopractic without belief or is it better that I neither follow halacha nor believe?

    The traditional answer I was taught was that I should follow halacha, because doing so will lead me to belief.

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  19. i may be mistaken but when i see the words "Arur asher lo yakim es haTorah hazos", that seems like practice and not belief.

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  20. Hartzl, the Rishonim (see R' Yonah 1:6 as well as Ramban) base themselves on the extra verbiage "asher yakim...la'asos". Why not simply say "asher ya'aseh"? Because the focus is on acceptance to fulfill, not on the action itself.

    Larry, if someone has doubts then continued immersion in mitzvah performance will mitigate those doubts. The Ramban simply means that when one weighs the severity of aveiros a decision to reject belief is more serious than failure to perform a mirzvah. As to why, bl"n more tomorrow maybe.

    EvanstonJew, I'm afraid I have no idea what you mean to say - you don't know what it means to believe something or what you believe? I'm afraid I don't understand what the confusion is and I'm not going to speculate about unconscious belief (how would you know what is in your unconscious?) because I don't see how it is relevant to the Ramban or the Torah's idea of belief. maybe you can clarify?

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  21. I don't believe that the Ramban is taking a position as to whether keeping Shabbos while not believing in it is worse than not keeping Shabbos at all.

    It seems to me that all the Ramban is saying is that the former is included in this curse, while the latter is not.

    We have no way of measuring how being included in the curse compares with the punishment due to someone who knowing violates the Shabbos.

    I agree with you that this Ramban is extremely important.

    Several years ago, I cited it in an EMAIL to a very prominent Rabbi who had written a book stating that there are many truths, Judaism's being only one of them.

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  22. Dovid S10:45 PM

    I'm the Dovid of the previous comment. Please sign me as Dovid S, do as to not confuse me withthe other Dovid who has commented here.

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  23. I guess I wanted you to recognize that saying in your heart is like saying to others except it is addresed to yourself. And saying something, even if it all the time is less than believing.

    Remember the childhood story of The Little Engine That Could. The point of the story is that even though the engine believed it couldn't by pushing the thought out of his mind and saying/wishing he could,he overcame his fear.

    Would pushing doubts out of one's conscious mind be adequate even if unconsciously the doubts remain? If you say no Judaism ends up as a sort of Calvinism...some people are maameenim/saved, some are not maameenim/damned and there is nothing one can do, it's bashert. If you allow people to repress/push away doubts it is sort of odd to talk about belief.

    We understand more clearly than the medievals how people can deceive themselves. We do not have a transparent, unified theory of the mind.One part can believe and the other part not believe.

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  24. Rabban Gamliel1:55 AM

    The subconscious is only important to the extent it affects the fully conscious. But it sure does. If we count the subconscious then too many skeptics such as XGH are subconsciously doubting their level of confidence in their skepticism. They tell themselves they have X amount of confidence and really subconsciously they have less but they are not lying. They are just pushing their thoughts down to the subconscious level. This is suspending disbelief (or in their case belief) as one plows into a subject. For instance if one examines whether murder is really wrong but doesn't want the onus of an immoral thought (in other words people asking "how can you ask the question?") one suspends disbelief and simply deals with the question. There certainly are levels of belief/disbelief. There are layers upon layers that determine us. If we are told not to entertain racism for instance we will push questions of racial abilities into the back of our heads. As it turns out racially we’re mixing and mixed but this is an example. How about when other issues becomes politically correct? We feel pressure to not consider some ideas. What’s that if not shelving things into the subconscious mind?

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  25. Dovid Berrel8:28 AM

    EvanstonJew,

    I always thought you would like this blog.

    P.S. I am the first "dovid" that left comments on this post and I am the only stam dovid that has posted for the past couple ofmonths. For now on I'm going under this name.

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  26. I'm confused with all the Dovid's.
    Anyway, with respect to the subconscious, I am very wary of assigning any weight to subconscious influence to a Freudian degree - how does one determine if unconscious doubts remain? Lo nitna torah l'malachai hashareis. Also, I just want to note that the language of the Ramban was not "omeir b'libo" but "yodeh b'libo", which allows for broader interpretation.
    One final thing - I am not confortable with the notion of removing (i.e. completely eliminating) doubt. As I have written before faith is not either/or - there are madreigos on top of madreigos. A Rosh Yeshiva who teaches Sha'ar haBitachon in Chovos haLevavos remarked that he used to see the yad Hashem in every day that he lived, now he sees it in every hour, and he is working on getting to the point that his bitachon effects every minute. Does that mean he lacks bitachon because he does not see the yad Hashem on a minute by minute basis? I think not.

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  27. Very good....yodeh beliboh is what I would call "acknowleding" or "trusting", what the goyim call "saying witness to" & similar to the locution "believing in" but maybe different from "believing that".

    You seem to think of emuna as a catechism of sort...a series of questions which require an answer.I am saying emuna might be closer to bitachon and more intimately tied to what one does & how one lives than with saying the right answer.

    An argument could be made (similar to one of William James about emotions) that we know what we REALLY believe by seeing what we do. A gossip might not believe beleebo that lashon harah is wrong, despite what he says.

    I find it interesting how you are gentle with yourself, as you should be, in not worrying about possible doubts that you might have repressed (lo nitna etc.) but harsh with others who have difficulty believing propositions that seem to them improbable.

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  28. Rabban Gamliel10:36 AM

    XGH is in practice telling himself what to believe as he keeps repeating the same arguments over and over again with no reasoning to counter the counterarguments that were presented to him. He simply doesn't want a way out of his dilemma towards full belief.

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  29. >>>but harsh with others who have difficulty believing propositions that seem to them improbable.

    Please explain as I don't see the harshness. I invited a previous commentator to explain his reference to the Chazon Ish and tinok shenishba, to provide other sources that take issue with the Ramban, etc., but he never took me up of the offer. Judaism demands committment and faith - I do empathize with those who find that difficult and struggle to meet the challenge, but I think it disingenuous to present Judaism as something it's not just to make people feel better.

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  30. The issue you have with XGH and others is not committment, since everyone agrees on Orthoprax. The issue is whether a person who finds it difficult/impossible to believe one of the ikrim is a person who made a decision to disbelieve, and is doing something more serious than non performance of mitvoth.

    What many have tried to explain to you is that there is no decision involved....it lacks a maaseh aveirah as you might put it.

    Lacking faith is much like being in love....you don't try to fall or be in love. You are either not in love or you find yourself in love....it happened already. You always undershoot or overshoot the target, much like the tortise and the hare paradox. Similarly, some/many just find themselves not believing...they don't do anything, they find themselves in a state of disbelief.

    I think your harshness is in failing to see how it goes these days with such people and fitting Orthoprax people into a sinning model.

    All of which is not to deny that Torah requires more than practise and people ought to try to understand how the ikrim are or could be made plausible.

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  31. >>>they don't do anything, they find themselves in a state of disbelief.

    But that's exactly the point - doing nothing, passivity, when the development of belief requires nurturing, support, reinforcement. Your analogy to love is well put - in a loving relationship if one is passive and does nothing that love will wither and die, and despite the romantic notion of love at first sight, love can be nurtured and sprout where at first it was absent. Is a "sinning model" not appropriate for those who let G-d's love wither and die?
    Secondly, the "sin" I have been addressing is not disbelief per se, but the establishment of a alternate Judaism that denies that faith as a central value. If someone cannot help themselves from eating lobster because they cannot live without the taste, you are right, who am I to judge them when my taste is so different. But to intellectualize that aveira into an acceptable form of Judaism is a different ballgame and deserves the label of sheker. Once that philosophy is out there it corrupts not the person who has succumbed to his tastes or opinions, but it corrupts the person poseiach al hasei'pim who instead of making the effort to find truth takes false comfort in emptiness.

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  32. OK...we're getting closer since you now say that disbelief per se is not a sin. As I understand your thesis there are two different sins.The first is not nuturing, supporting and reinforcing belief. Here I ask you what can be a stronger nuturing,etc. than Orthopraxis. Halevai oti azuvo vtoriti shamawrew. As for the sin of idealizing Orthopraxis as a legitimate alternative form of Judaism, nothing I said was meant to disagree with that observation.

    As with any discourse there can be more than one way to axiomatize a system. Besides the foundations set down by the rishonim there could be other naturalistic reasons/explanations for mitzvot and Orthodoxy that might be more appealing. I assume you are not opposed to stories about community, family life, children and such topics as long as they are seen as supplements to an ikrim approach.

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  33. I guess I was too nice : ) I did not mean to suggest disbelief is not a sin - I meant to say that I am not the judge and jury anyone has to answer to. Whether there are ameliorating factors like tinok shenishba or whether ones is a ptur is relevant klapei shemaya, but not for me.
    I do agree with your last point, and I also agree that there is no problem with orthopraxis as a means to develop emunah. I am not even sure that such an approach is itself not a kiyum mitzvah of emunah in some way - there is an effort to reach the goal. My main problem is setting up this waystation as a philosophical ideal instead of a stop on a longer journey toward true belief.
    I think one needs to distinguish those who have philosophically renounced belief as impossible, where I don't see a way to avoid the word "sin", and those who are still on a journey toward faith, albeit a slow, hesitant, tentative journey, filled with doubt. We are all to some degree on that same journey. If you like an analogy, there is a big difference between someone stuck on the bottom rungs of a ladder because he has given up climbing and someone stuck on the bottom rungs because he hasn't yet figured out how to pull himself up, but is still searching and trying to find a way that works.

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  34. Azoi redt men....we're together...same page. Done!

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  35. cedarhurst jew9:53 PM

    chaim b:
    "If you saw someone about to eat a poisoned steak because it looked so succulent and their "friend" told them how good it tasted, would you keep your knowledge of the poison quiet because it would spoil the meal and make them feel bad? "

    Ironically, the same moshol was used by my Mashgiach in Splitri. He used it for college, saying youre killing your parents if you go to college, and just like you wouldnt serve them poisoned food, to the ridicule of your family, so too, you shouldnt go to college, and withstand the ridicule of your family.

    (college = molech, where Hashem promises to kill the parents if their children are "sacrificed" to molech)

    Now do you believe in what he believed and do you believe if you told yourself 10 times a day his belief that you would believe it? Any reason youre not putting yourself in an environment conducive to believing his beliefs.

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  36. > My main problem is setting up this waystation as a philosophical ideal

    And I never did that, so get your facts straight.

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  37. >>>Now do you believe in what he believed and do you believe if you told yourself 10 times a day his belief that you would believe it? Any reason youre not putting yourself in an environment conducive to believing his beliefs.

    Yes, I could theoretically convince myself of such a position. The reason not to is because such a view is not supported by halacha.

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  38. Anonymous10:23 AM

    "Halevai oti azuvo vtoriti shamawrew."

    This is not about orthopraxy leading to belief, even though it is commonly quoted as though it were, but rather about studying torah leading to belief. Shamaru here means learn. it's in the psicha to eicha rabasi, look it up you'll see!

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  39. Anonymous, that is correct. Thanks for the note.

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  40. cedarhurst jew6:21 PM

    chaim b.

    Dont you think if you grew up in his environment you would find support for that viewpoint in halacha?

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  41. Cedarhurst, I think the idea that halacha is as malleable as you seem to suggest and so easily influenced by environment is wrong. It suggests the entire halachic system is infected by subjective bias. Would you suggest that a scientist working in a different time/place might discover an alternate to the law of gravity? (yes, I appreciate that is an inexact analogy, but you get the point).

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