Sunday, September 10, 2006

Heresy, and Other Favorite Children's Pastimes

I apologize in advance for the length of this rant. but please read the whole thing before posting comments.

The more I explore the blogosphere, or at least that area of the blogosphere which is comprised of the musings of various young Jewish philosophers -disenfranchised, disenchanted, frustrated and struggling, intellectual, searching, and running around in semantic circles like chickens with their tongues cut off- the more agitated and frustrated I become. When will you realize you are all falling into exactly the same patterns as every Jewish thinker (read: Jewish person who has thought)that ever came before you? you are still defining your areas of thought by the same rules, restrictions, codes and guidelines as everyone you're trying to break away from (read: everyone who has ever thought seriously about Judaism.)I can feel you guys trying to break into new territory, an undiscovered concept, an original perception, and almost getting there, then at the last minute falling back into the same inevitable loop you have been falling into since the entire thought process began.

I'm sorry; I really don't know why I'm so bitter about this. I just keep feeling like it's all been said before, and yet each new person who says it afresh feels like it's a personal and irrevocable revelation without a resolution.

I cannot resolve anything for anyone, and I won't pretend to try. I'm not even going to pretend that I've got some new concepts here, because honestly, I haven't either. but at least I can recognize my struggle for a newer, fresher sphere. at least I can tell myself that just bc I'm frustrated doesn't mean that this is all there is. I'm still struggling, just like the rest of you, only I'm straining upwards, trying to shatter the glass ceiling with a broom pole. I know it's going to be bloody, but it's way the hell better than sticking around in the same endless track of Jewish thought (read: thoughts thought by Jews) that have been restricting, defining, and strangling especially the Orthodox Jewish movement for way too long now.

I should probably clarify at least a little bit what it is exactly that I'm trying to say. I apologize if I fail; sometimes high emotion and frustration make me eloquent, and sometimes they make me stupid.

when I talk about defining your areas of thought by the rules of the so-called opposition (or, the "They" if you prefer a specific title,)I mean that you define them the way they define you - two dimensionally, on the surface, looking only at the outlying characteristics rather than the full view of the community. I don't mean to say that any Orthodox Jewish community won't have its faults bc every community everywhere has its faults; and I won't say it's not frustrating to grow up within a system that insists you try to be something that you're not. but it's just as frustrating to hear you lump them all together in one group - they're all delusional, believing for the sake of the warm safe feelings it gives them at night. what about those people who never wanted to believe at all, but were forced to come to it on the strength of their intellectual honesty? what about those people who've had their faith challenged to the point where they feel like they've been completely abandoned, where they simply can no longer trust in a G-d which includes Evil in His list of character traits, but who won't let go bc they refuse to be beaten, even by the Master of the Universe? you fail to include, in your derisive lists of the delusional Orthodox, the people who are religous not bc of the warm fuzzy feeling of "I finally found truth!" but who live every day with the cold, hard, desperate realization that truth isn't just light and beauty -it's also evil and ugliness, it's shadows and obstructions and shadings and complexities - it's depth and depth perception. it isn't as simple and easy as it sounds. I'm not even talking about the people who've suffered innumerable tragedies in their lives. I'm talking abt those who maybe have suffered nothing physically, but who want to scream every time their older siblings assume that they believe what they believe simply bc it's what they've been told. some of us, even those of us who went through the system, did not simply accept everything on the silver spoon that was placed in our mouths. some of us fought to the death for every belief we hold. some of us had to break the system down piece by piece, from the inside out, to come to the realization that truth is not really as simple as anyone wants it to be - not the Orthodox, and not you who so disdainfully scorn them.

and then what about you from within the Orthodox world? honestly, some of you guys really try, and some of you do a pretty good job. but even you still fall into the same old traps - generalization, oversimplification, apologetics. Judaism was never meant to be a factory system. there will always be those of us who do not fit into your mold, no matter how wide it is. there will always be those of us who choose to see the world through a slightly different colored lense; but one that came with a prescription from the same eye doctor. If G-d wanted us all to be alike, He wouldn't have given us twelve tribes, each with its own place in Eretz Yisroel, each with its own bracha, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, characteristics. Judaism was always supposed to be a jigsaw puzzle - you fit in here, I fit in there, and together we make an entire picture. if we're all trying to fit into the same places, several things will result - 1)some of us just won't fit and 2)the picture will never be completed. I'm sorry, but the ever strengthening of the Black Hat community, reaching up and encroaching on even such MO bastions as Stern/YU and certain seminaries and yeshivot in Israel who shall go unmentioned, disturbs me almost more than anyting else in Orthodox Judaism today. there is no one right way. I will say for the last time, "Shivim Panim liTorah" actually does mean something - it means that Torah and Torah life are vibrant and dynamic, subject to debate and discussion. there's a reason there's a steryotype about the argumentative Jew. Jews are meant to argue - with each other about Torah, and with G-d, about Torah. of course only within the confines of halacha (bli neder, if anyone posts saying something to the affect of "but that's the reform movement, you can do whatever you want to!" I will break something, and it may be expensive and not belong to me, or it may be my hand, bc you clearly are misunderstanding everything I'm trying to say here.)and, which is included within the term "confines of halacha," since it is a halacha, that INCLUDES the concepts of "VIHAVTA LIRAYACHA KAMOCHA" and "KAVOD HABRIOT." I really don't want to get into the analogies to end of Second Temple Era politics here, but I will if I have to.

why can't there be Orthodox Jews who have honestly had their faith thoroughly and completely routed, yet hung on from sheer intellectual honesty and willpower and come through with a more intact, broader, more grounded and true faith? why can't there be Orthodox girls whose Gemorrah learning improves their middot, halacha observance, tzniut, and avodat Hashem, and leaves them just as fit to be baby-makers who can raise more ovdei Hashem as well as any shallow, hypocritical Bais Yaakov "rebel" who put on a button-down shirt and some tights to get a good shidduch? why does there have to be a black, white, and gray? why can't there be yellows and blues, and greens, and even a little red once in awhile?

look, I really think it's awesome that all you guys are talking and stuff. I just wish you'd communicate more. For all you disenfranchised youth - if you guys have reached your decisions regarding G-d and the universe, fine. go break Shabbat, eat pork, whatever. But if it bothers you enough that you're still so bitter about it, and still ranting and whining on the blogosphere, clearly your journey is not over. and if you're journey is not over, you are failing yourselves to give up so soon. I don't mean to minimize the intensity of your search. but it's not over till it's over, and only quitters give up before it's over. to all the Orthodox who try to help - it's awesome that you care. and you make a lot of good points. but you of all people should know that it's never ever over. remember that moshel about the ladder? going either up or down but never standing still? just because you guys "have found Truth" doesn't mean you get to stop searching either. Truth isn't a platitude, it isn't a sefer or a Rav or a psak, it's a process, and it is the process of everything that never ever ever ends. EVER.

so I'm just trying to say. I'm exactly like all of you - the disenfranchised and the Orthodox. I believe, firmly and irrevocably, in Orthodoxy and EVERYTHING (note the emphasis please) that it has to offer. but I'm also still searching and always will be, because I believe that the Torah is meant to be a battleground, brutal and draining and soaked with the blood of all the warriors who have ever come before us.


Blogger Richard said...

Granted, I don't have much experience with other Jews; even so, I can see much of what you say evident among my few friends and acquaintances, and I really only have one meaningful comment:
You're my hero.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Halfnutcase said...

let the dominos roll!

5:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is as follows if put in Israeli terms:
Israeli Dati'im who become Hiloni because they realise they no longer believe in the historical truth-claims of 'Orthodoxy' are effectively still playing within the system. They fail to realise that 'Da'ati' and 'Hiloni' are ridiculous Israeli constructs and that to truly break out of the system would be to acknowledge that they can have both 'secular' and 'religious' values.
Did I understand correctly?

A few more questions:

1) Is Orthodoxy something one believes or something one does?
2) Considering you just wrote at length about how belief is a process, how can you be so sure you will always be 'Orthodox'?

7:24 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

I was mostly talking about Americans, as it is with these people that I have the most sociological background. I can't exactly say that "secular" vs. "religous" values are constructs of the orthodox suystem, bc I think they're pretty universal - you have the concept of religous vs. non-religous ppl in every culture. the fact that we tag our non-believing ppl as "secular" doesn't really have any practical ramifications.
the main thrust of my rant was directed at people who accuse the opposite side of being two-dimensional, judgemental, and superficial, without realizing that the standards by which they judge their supposed opponents are exactly the same standards to which they object being defined by. if that made sense. also bc if you read most of the "great philosophers," on both sides of the argument, at least enough of them, you find that they're all essentially saying the same thing. to reiterate what others before you have already published and made money off of is nothing particularly impressive in my personal opinion. to take this thought train to the next level, the step beyond - which step requires the great thoughts of the previous great thinkers, but which progresses instead of repeats - that is what I'm looking for.
1)Orthodoxy is a semantic title bandied about in whatever general fashion the debaters choose. what I really meant was Shomer Torah Umitzvot, which is, I think, self-explanatory. please excuse my poor phrasing.
2)again, I apologize for my poor phrasing. no one can ever be sure they'll always, or ever, be anything; Pirkei Avot, perek bet, mishna daled, "Hillel Omer...v'al taamin biatzmeich ad yom mutaich, do not trust yourself until the day of your death..." what I meant was that the decision to believe in the Torah and that G-d gave it, etc, was only one step on the journey. the journey continues until the day of death - hopefully only in the same direction, moving further down the same road.
hope I've answered your questions.

4:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Secular' and 'religious' are certainly social constructs, but not neccessarily just of Orthodoxy. In the case of Israel they are constructs of Israeli society.
For example: Is intellectual honesty, regardless of preconceived beliefs, a secular or a religious value? It is a value usually associated with universities. If we look at the so-called centrist YU camp, the most widespread position to the best of my knowledge, is that once one has accepted the existence of principles of faith, any evidence contradicting those principles (if there were any ;) must automatically be disregarded. This confirms a general thesis that intellectual honesty is associated with 'secular' people. However, many people who are 'shomer torah umitzvot' also hold that as a value.
A more extreme example: There are those who see the Torah as being godly, but not as something that can command them. As testifying to a very real God, but not coming from Sinai. They see themselves, in concert with their sacred texts, as the best arbiters of their moral lives. Are they religious or secular?
Despite the fact that people/sheep stupidly choose to conform to one stereotype or another, I see it as blindingly clear that they are generally meaningless.
Regarding your answers to my questions:
1) Does being "shomer torah umitzvot" involve holding required beliefs?
2) Do you mean that "the decision to "believe in the Torah" (I believe in chairs; what on earth does that mean) and "believe in God" (same) is the first stage and those beliefs may change? Or, do you mean that they are a basis for all of your future development?
I don't udnerstand! How can anybody "choose" to believe in anything? One believes in something if one finds evidence for the proposal convincing, and not if one doesn't. Are you saying that evidence has no say in whatever proposals you are saying you believe in with regard to God or Torah? To say of the Torah, which in its physical form is a book, that evidence for its origins/claims cannot be tested is an appallingly anti-historical thing to say!

11:56 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

oh my. allright, first of all intellectual honesty is neither a religous nor a secular value - it's an intellectual one. you will always have those religous people who choose to ignore information which opposes their beliefs bc they feel unequipped to deal with it. you will have secualr ppl who do the same thing. what's even more common, sadly enough, is that you will also have ppl in both camps who ignore said information simply because they don't care. you will also have in both camps ppl who try and fight out every single intellectual conflict that comes their way - bc that's how they learn, maybe, or because it's fun, or bc they are what we are here terming "intellectually honest." what the phrase means to me is one who doesn't ignore the bits that don't make sense. all human beings assimilate information either by fitting them into a preconcieved mental construct, changing a current construct or creating a new one to fit the information, or ignoring the information. the intellectually honest ones are the ones who keep trying to make things fit, one way or the other.
I'm not sure I fully understood your example, or what it is you find meaningless. I'll say it again, the Torah is a system. it doesn't command us, it instructs us. the people who know exactly how the system runs are able to mold it into it's proper usage. ppl with lesser knowledge shouldn't try; simply bc it stands to reason that those who will best know how to use the system are the ones who know the system best. I'm not sure how people who kind of like the Torah but don't really want to follow it classify themselves. if they are shomer shabbat and kashrut, they will be generally percieved as Orthodox.
when I talk about belief, I'm talking about perception of the world. this perception is based on two things - the way we view the world through our personal/emotional lenses, and the way we assimilate this view with our intellectual understanding. if one ceases to "see" G-d in the world, he can still intellectually understand that the construct still works in theory. he can thus rationalize "even if I am not currently feeling G-d in my life, I know intellectually that He's there," and thus be able to hold onto his belief system and religous practices until his worldview shifts again- which it inevitably will. when I described my "decisions to believe in G-d and Orthodoxy," I meant, in the colloquial connotation of the word "believe," that I think G-d exists, that He gave us the torah, and that we have to follow His divine law as He handed it to us - the system He handed to us. and that for further "spiritual," intellectual, emotional, and generally holistic growth, I think I ought to go study more torah (among other things) and continue my journey in that direction rather than hanging about the same old point of "does G-d exist?etc." cuz you know. been there done that.
I'm not sure I answered all your questions, exactly, bc I'm in a bit of a rush. I asume if I didn't you'll respond again.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope I'm not trying your patience too much. If you have the energy...if not, don't worry.

You wrote: "the people who know exactly how the system runs are able to mold it into it's proper usage. ppl with lesser knowledge shouldn't try; simply bc it stands to reason that those who will best know how to use the system are the ones who know the system best".

Taking what you wrote out of context, this sounds like an excerpt from the traditionalist/charedi argument that runs: "People who disagree with traditionalism should leave thinking to those who know what they are talking about". The idea of discouraging independent thought is the most effective form of social control. Of course, the system is self-sustaining, the only people such a person would admit have sufficient knowledge of the system are those who had a sufficiently traditional outlook. I would have thought you would disagree with that kind of position.

When you say "it doesn't command us, it instructs us", what do you mean? What you said almost sounds Reform. i.e. "The Torah does not represent the unfiltered will/command of God but rather is an open source of tradition there for us to learn from; it's instructions to not have sufficient strength to command us". Even if you are not saying that, it does sound like you are disconnecting the 'command' of Hashem from the 'instruction' of the Torah. Can Hashem and the Torah be asking different things of us?

4:01 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

First of all - I never meant to discourage independent thought. I do think we should leave halachik decisions ("manipulation of the system") to those who know the most Torah ("know the system best.") I also said that at the moment that happens to be Rabbis; however I think my comments are open to the interpretation that one who nkew more Torah than an actual rabbi without having smicha might be subject to the same "manipulation" priveleges.
secondly, my friend gave me a metaphor to try and explain myself to you. Torah is kind of like chess. you can take the game in about a million different ways, but no matter what you do, the pawns can't move backwards, and the knights can only move in Ls. or, thay can, but then you're not playing chess anymore. there's an awful lot of stuff in the Torah, and I think G-d wanted us to figure things out for ourselves to some extent. that doesn't change the fact that there are certain unbreakable rules - the rules of the system- that we need to work within. the Torah does command us, but to a certain extent we have some creative power within it's boundaries - we also command it. I quote that Genmarrah (source unknown, sorry) where Rav Eliezer gets into a dispute with everybody, and he says "If I'm right, x,y, and z miracles should happen" and they all do. and then, after a voice from heaven calls out saying that Rav Eliezer is right, Rav Yehoshuah gets up and says "HaTorah lo bashamayim he." and G-d was proud of His children. I think G-d likes independent thought, and argument, and creativity. I just think ppl should have some background knowledge, at least enough to match their opponents, before attempting creativity.

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post miri.

fyi, the gemarah is, I believe, Baba Metziah: Daf Nun Tes Alef. (59A)

I think the same story is repeated in Pesachim Kuf Yud Daled Amud Alef (114A).


5:48 PM  
Blogger daarkthoughts627 said...

miri, hon,while i enjoy the written word, there is rarly a writer that can move me the same as some of the music i listen to right now-i mean, I love reading-u know that. But sometimes, u need more, u know?
Anyway, about ur blog. i think that while many people say things that have been said before, the fact that someone new is stating it, with their own thoughts and expiriences make things new even if they have been said already.
and i still haven't gotten my proofs-how awesome is that?

7:17 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

babe- wait till you've argued with a few more ppl. eventually you get to realize it's kinda repetitive...the fact that someone new is saying it doesn't make it new. it just akes that person think it's new. nice blog, btw.

4:41 AM  

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