Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ortho What?

A firestorm of sorts has erupted over a new blogger who signs himself as the Orthoprax Rabbi. For some background reading head to the Haveil Havalim link from Sunday or go straight to The Rebbitzin's Husband.

I'm going to pick nits about his self-styled title. You have Ortho and you have Prax. Those who have previously written on this subject, including the Orthoprax Rabbi himself, define this as one who practices orthodoxy, visibly, in public, but who is not a believer. In this Rabbi's case he admits to not believing in God, in being an atheist. He admits to not "obeying" every law. Key here, however, is that it is all a sham, undertaken for purposes of keeping a job. Were this man not a pulpit rabbi I would imagine there would be many more laws that he would openly not keep and would, perhaps, stop identifying himself using "ortho" in the label he chooses.

But now that the label has been co-opted by this rabbi we're kind of stuck for anything to call a different type of problematic orthodox Jew: the one who believes in God, who has faith in God, but who does not wholly practice orthodoxy. Perhaps this person adheres to enough outside, visible, practices that he is not questioned as to whether he belongs in orthodoxy or not, and perhaps he doesn't. He is the opposite of the Orthoprax Rabbi in that he doesn't have a crisis of faith but a crisis of practice. So what are we to call this person? He is someone whose beliefs are orthodox but whose practices are not fully orthodox. You know, the person who cries to a God he believes in but doesn't worry about cheating on his taxes or cheating his fellow Jews or committing all kinds of financial or legal misdeeds or covering up for sexual predators or other liars and cheats? For me he, too, is an orthoprax--one for whom orthodoxy and practice do not align straight. One who talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk.

If we are going to use the label (and I'm not actually in favor of that label) perhaps we need to rethink our use of it, so that it covers all the possible conflicts between faith and practice. Yes, those who outwardly profess to be orthodox but who inwardly aren't are a problem--and I would opine that a rabbi of a congregation who does this is a realllllly big problem, but so are those who inwardly have faith but don't practice orthodoxy outwardly, or pick and choose what they are practicing.

There are some who have shown by their comments that they are horrified by what the Orthoprax Rabbi stands for. If we expand what that term orthoprax covers perhaps there will be more people who will also be horrified by what those other orthoprax followers are doing. Can we really continue to call someone just plain orthodox, to talk about that person's emunah and bitochon, to talk about that person's tzidkonius, and let slide that he breaks government laws or the laws of morality, such as the sexual predators do?

Open that box of orthopraxy and you are going to find yourself with a lot more in that box than you might have envisioned.


Anonymous said...

I could see a practical use for calling those perverts and thieves orthoprax. The secular papers always refer to these guys as orthodox jews giving all orthodox jews a bad name. If we'd somehow get the papers to use the word orthoprax instead we'd all get a benefit. First, they wouldn't lump all of us together with these people giving a false picture of what being orthodox is. And it would finally get out there that these people aren't choshuv members of orthodoxy--they're fakes.

Micha said...

I don't like that word orthoprax. It sounds like these people are practicing orthodox when they aren't really. How about orthofrags? Only practicing some fragments of orthodoxy.

TK said...

I vote for using Orthoquacks--tell it like it is.

efrex said...

As someone who cares a little bit about language semantics, I protest the use of the term "Orthoprax" for somebody who deliberately breaks torah law. Orthopraxy is defined as the correctness of practice. No correctness of practice = no orthopraxy.

There's very little distinction made in halachic Judaism between cultic and moral observance: a deliberate Sabbath desecrator gets the same death penalty as a murderer. Someone who cheats on his taxes is no more "orthoprax" than one who eats cheeseburgers.

The term "Orthodox" is one that has long outlived its limited usefulness. As noted by everyone from the Rambam to Mendelssohn to Hirsch, Judaism does not preach doctrine, theology, or spiritual emotion - it preaches action. We determine a person's halachic status by his deeds, not his thoughts.

A Fan said...

Efrex- the Torah DOES legislate certain thoughts, and there are a few things that a Jew is required to believe. That being said, you have no way of knowing who believes what, and the pasuk in Nitzavim says "Vehanistarot laHashem"- IOW you ARE held accountable for your thoughts, but only by Hashem, not by other people.

I would venture to say also that those profiled in this post- they pray, do ritual, but cheat on their taxes etc- their beliefs are not anymore Orthodox than those of an atheist. Someone who cheats on their taxes thinking they won't get caught has no yiras shamayim- and yiras shamayim is a biggie when it comes to belief, and in fact is one of the 613.

Trudy said...

I agree with a lot of what you say Efrex, but not with how you are defining orthoprax. "Orthopraxy is defined as the correctness of practice. No correctness of practice = no orthopraxy." But that isn't how the term is being used 'out there' today regardless of what a dictionary might say.

That self-styled Orthoprax Rabbi says straight out that he's only faking his outward appearance of Orthodoxy. And there are things that he doesn't do publicly even though they would come under orthodoxy. He's hardly the only one. I would argue that today most people would define orthoprax as "lip service orthodoxy" and a pick and choose variety at that. So those who consider themselves, and whom we might also consider at certain times, to be orthodox but who publicly violate or don't hold a tenet of that orthodoxy like those who are closet sexual predators, are also orthoprax.

Only way around the problem is to get rid of the term altogether because it has changed its meaning and can be seen too many ways.

JS said...

efrex beat me to it, but I'm surprised someone who writes about language so much wouldn't recognize the distinction between ortho-"dox" (correct belief) and ortho-"prax" (correct action/practice).

That said, I don't think it's our place to judge someone's inner beliefs, as long as they remain internal to the person. A heretic is defined by his actions, not unexpressed beliefs. The same is true of all sins. In fact, I would argue that doubt and confusion about faith is an inherent part of a thinking person's religiosity. Look at Tehilim - there are many, many chapters in which David expresses doubt and confusion about why God seems so distant from him.

I haven't read this person's blog, but if he's married, my guess would be he'd remain practicing even if he wasn't a rabbi. There are likely many people who no longer believe but keep up a front because of their spouse and kids and neighbors. They're "trapped" so to speak. Maybe when no one looks they'll sin, but publicly they are frum.

In the end though, how is this that different from the orthodox? Don't they too sin when they think no one is looking? An argument could be made that they're even worse BECAUSE they believe.

Also, perhaps a distinction needs to be made between those who believe and sin in commandments between man and God and those who believe and sin in commandments between man and man. For some reason the latter is frum, while the former is not. You wear the right clothes and coverings, go to minyan, attend a shiur and you're frum no matter what terrible things you do vis a vis your fellow man. But, if you dress "secularly" and aren't a member of a shul you could be the world's greatest humanitarian and it doesn't matter a bit.

Lion of Zion said...


" There are likely many people who no longer believe . . ."

i think there are also many people who go through the motions without even realizing that they really no longer believe.

ProfK said...

Let's get that orthodox definition fully correct. "conforming to the usual beliefs or established doctrines, as in religion, politics, etc.; approved or conventional [orthodox ideas or behavior]; Adhering to what is commonly accepted, customary, or traditional." So an orthprax would be one who practices (takes actions) orthodoxy. Since orthodoxy includes within it conforming or adhering to beliefs AND actions, the orthoprax rabbi should not fall under this label. Neither should those who believe themselves to be true believers but whose actions are not acceptable or orthodox.

However, if others are going to use orthoprax to refer to someone who practices but does not believe--at odds with a definition of orthodoxy--then it would be just as logical to include those who believe but don't practice. Neither fit unless you redefine orthopraxy to include ANY who are not fully orthodox because of not adhering to belief, to practice or to some combination of both.

tesyaa said...

Neither fit unless you redefine orthopraxy to include ANY who are not fully orthodox because of not adhering to belief, to practice or to some combination of both.

Well, then we are all Orthoprax. How many of us never violate halacha? All "Orthodox" Jews are really Orthoprax, and some aspire to be Orthodox.

Dov said...

Tesyaa is right--there are no perfect people when it comes to obeying and believing and doing everything. So why is that word orthodox still being used? Why did we use it to begin with? Even our greatest of greats among our people were not presented to us as perfect.

efrex said...

A Fan: There almost certainly are fundamentals of Jewish belief, but not very many, and it is hard to find practical halachic ramifications for one who denies those fundamentals, particularly if he only does so internally and does not preach his heresies publicly.

Before this past week, I've heard the term "orthoprax" exclusively used for those who followed mitzvot but had some theological viewpoints that put them outside the "mainstream Orthodox" camp. As I mentioned in a previous comment, the increased complexity of our contemporary religious observance is going to require a significant lexicon update, unless we stop attaching major meaning to minute distinctions (I can dream, can't I?)

ProfK said...

Please note above that I did mention that I'm not in favor of the orthoprax label, whatever that actually means, if it means anything at all. Agree Efrex that we have gotten so mired in minutae that our lexicon is already exploding with dozens if not hundreds of new words for distinctions sometimes so small that you can't see them without the aid of a high power microscope, if you can even see them then.

Truly no disrespect meant, but I sometimes wonder if God doesn't think that maybe giving man the power of language was a bad idea, given what mankind does with that language.

Or maybe we are all like Humpty Dumpty--`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

Lion of Zion said...


nice redesign
i also like the description of the blog (maybe it was always there, but i never realized it before)

BE said...

Agree that I like the redecorated blog. Finally figured out how to get some red on here huh?

About that use of orthoprax, think the humpty dumpty comment was spot on.