Thursday, January 19, 2006

Orthodox Judaism- Just Too Hard to Believe?

Following up on my previous post on how the heck I am going to raise my kids, I got mainly posts from sympathetic skeptics, some with kids, some without. I am going to keep doing a lot of thinking about this, of course with my wife.

But I got an interesting post from my friend Chardal, a true believer:

"The enigma of BTA for me is that he pretty much has the moral/ethical code of OJ and therefore rejects major aspects of popular culture yet has theological positions that usually come with a more relaxed attitude towards popular culture. "

To that, I replied:

"The enigma of BTA for me..."

Chardal- would you agree with this statement- "The basic elements of OJ (let's say Rambam's 13 ikkarim) are objectively hard to believe unless one has been raised to believe them or has spent many hours internalizing them."

Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith are Inherently Hard to Believe:

Here is an uncontroversial translation of Rambam's 13 Principles of faith from the trusty OU website. There's a lot of history behind the 13 principles and a lot of debate over what they were/were not designed to do. Let's set all of that aside and not digress about Rambam or the wording of the 13 principles themselves, as we OJ's are so often wont to do.

Rather, let's use these principles as shorthand for what OJ believes and what an OJ is supposed to believe. Maybe after looking at these, we'll conclude that most orthodox Jewish people don't really believe one or all of these principles, and that I am not so enigmatic after all. Perhaps we'll all realize that when we go to shul, the guy to the left or right of us is only partially a believer in these principles.

Defining Terms- "I Believe in Principle X" as Opposed to "I Subscribe to Principle X":

Subscribe: (Definition) "To feel or express hearty approval: e.g., 'I subscribe to your opinion.'"
Believe: (Definition) "To accept as true or real: e.g., 'Do you believe the news stories?'"

Now, I know you philosophers see where I'm going and are going to wikipedia me to death. I know there's no such thing as an OJ catechism. I know there are oodles of books defining the difference between faith and belief, or in judaism between "emunah" as faith or as "trust."

Kiruv pros specialize in fine distinctions of emunah, so let's not join them for the moment.

Rather, let's just say that most OJ folks must find it easy to subscribe to the 13 principles, but not nearly as many believe in them. Why else, are there constantly shabbatons and shiurim dedicated to "chizzuk" (strengthening emuna)? Why are half of Artscroll's and Feldheim's libraries filled with books designed to mechazek one's emuna?

In the liturgy itself, Yigdal is the 13 principles. Those who daven are regularly subscribing to these principles. But, are they merely paying "lip service?"

Yet, how many of you believe in all 13, not just subscribe to them? Here they are- from the OU website.

1. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is the Creator and Ruler of all things. He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.

2. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He alone is our G-d He was, He is, and He will be.

3. I believe with perfect faith that G-d does not have a body. physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing whatsoever that resembles Him at all.

4. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is first and last.

5. I believe with perfect faith that it is only proper to pray to G-d. One may not pray to anyone or anything else.

6. I believe with prefect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.

7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses is absolutely true. He was the chief of all prophets, both before and after Him.

8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.

9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be another given by G-d.

10. I believe with perfect faith that G-d knows all of man's deeds and thoughts. It is thus written (Psalm 33:15), "He has molded every heart together, He understands what each one does."

11. I believe with perfect faith that G-d rewards those who keep His commandments, and punishes those who transgress Him.

12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. How long it takes, I will await His coming every day.

13. I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen.

I personally don't believe any of these and honestly don't see how anyone can believe in #'s 6,7,8,12, and 13, especially after some exposure to studying the subject matter. I could see to subscribing to the rest, if I believed in God.

So, I think FFB's ("Forced From Birth"?) do "believe" on some level, having grown up believing, but I really don't see how an BT's do. I also don't see how thinking adults, whether FFB or not, could actually believe 6-8,12 and 13.

My theory is that the value of living in an OJ lifestyle outweighs questioning and abandoning the lifestyle. Those who have "left the fold" do seem to be a rather unfulfilled lot.

So- do you believe in "The 13?"