Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: The Chasm Between Orthodox/Torah Judaism and Its Derivatives

Disclaimer: I am utterly and without reservation opposed to the idea of thinking there are "branches" of Judaism.  Nonetheless, I am also keenly aware that the surrounding culture does think of Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionist/FlavorOfTheWeek that way.  I was (again) made aware of that distressing fact when my boss asked me to explain the "Jewish" view regarding abortion.  I said I could give him the Orthodox view, which I did.  His response came in two parts; first to what I said, second to the implications for other branches.  To what I described his response was, "So every case has to be considered independently with all of its unique factors and a competent rabbinic authority consulted."  Yes and yes!  Precisely the message I wanted to convey.

Regarding the implications for other branches of Judaism, though, his response was most distressing.  "So the Jewish view is basically a spectrum from there."  Yikes!  No, I said; those other philosophies are not really any more Jewish that Christianity or ethical humanism.  He rolled his eyes; "So you are saying that if I went into their temple, I wouldn't find a torah scroll?"  I completely understood his reaction as an outsider looking at me, an ultra orthodox fanatic.  So I thought and thought about it.  I finally arrived at a way to present the case for what separates Orthodox Judaism from all other philosophies.  I even came up with a better word to describe them: derivatives of Orthodox Judaism.

First and foremost, Orthodox Judaism is defined by one overarching concept: the Torah -- both the written form and what it all meant -- was received by the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai with 100% clarity and without error.  More than that, the Torah is not a book of rules and stories; rather it is the blueprint of Creation.  Or, if you prefer, it is the genes and chromosomes of Reality.  That being the case, by definition there can be no situation that is not already addressed by the Torah.  Furthermore, those who originally received the Torah also understood and appreciated all of the principles by which reality operates -- and that knowledge had been accurately transmitted generation after generation down till today.

With that introduction, I can now state the differences clearly.  Anyone who identifies himself as an Orthodox Jew, when asked for an opinion on some topic, will answer, "I may have my own feelings about the matter, but at the end of the day I know that the HaShem's opinion (so to speak) -- as revealed by the Torah -- is the only one that really matters."  Those from one of the derivative religions will say, "The Torah is an important document that expresses real wisdom.  However, there are other documents that also express wisdom.  At the end of the day, I take some input from the Torah, some import from other sources, and then I form my own opinion."  I said that closer derivatives may give 90% weight to the Torah, while more distant derivatives may give only 10% weight to the Torah.

My boss (a somewhat observant Christian) was totally on board with this description.  He also now appreciated when I said that both Reform Judaism and Christianity are both derivatives of Orthodox Judaism.  Christianity, in fact, was basically the first derivative religion from Orthodox Judaism.  As I have noted many times, Christianity is in some ways a closer derivative than Reform Judaism, and in other ways more distant.

My final point was simply to note, without making a value judgment, that once a philosophy takes even the smallest stop away from looking at the Torah as the blueprint of Creation, then its distance from Orthodox Judaism is only going to increase over time.  Like the drop of water on the edge of a cloud.  No matter how close to the edge, it's still in the cloud.  Once it leaves -- no matter how close it is right now -- it is on it's way out.  It is no longer in the clouds, it is rain plummeting to earth.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…

Thought for the Day: Hydroponically Grown Humans... I Feel Sick

I am quite openly not at all objective about abortion in particular and the treatment of human embryos and fetuses in general.  I am, after all, the survivor of a failed abortion attempt.  Not "thought about it, but couldn't go through with it"; not "made appointment, but then chickened out at the lost moment"; but, "tried a procedure, but was unsuccessful in attempt to abort".  Nonetheless, I try very hard to listen to the liberal arguments (which I also used to chant as part of the general liberal catechism), and am genuinely empathetic to the plight of women who find themselves in that difficult position.

What I heard on NPR this morning, however, has left me feeling physically ill.  You can read about it, if you like, but here's the bottom line:  Scientists in Cambridge have achieved a new record, they fertilized a human ova and then kept it alive in vitro (that is, in a test tube/petri dish in a laboratory) for 14 days.  The scientist involve…