Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ominous, Treacherous Infiltrators?

"Infiltrators" who are "a danger to society." "Duplicitous" "fifth-columnists." Members of an "ominous rebellion" who have "lost all traces of G-dliness." "Treacherous frauds."

Who is the latest issue of Ami magazine, in its article "The Imposters Among Us," describing? Jews for Jesus? Da'at Emet? Rabbi Leib Tropper?

No. It's describing sincere Jews who are shomer Torah u'mitzvos but who, tragically, no longer believe in any form of Torah min haShamayim. Not the kind who campaign to bring down Judaism. Not the kind who try to turn people into skeptics. Not the kind who are looking to give up halachic observance - people who dress frum but eat treif or break Shabbos when nobody is looking. Just regular Torah Jews who wrestle with their no longer possessing Orthodox beliefs.

Now, of course the lack of Jewish belief is a problem - for the people themselves, and sometimes for those around them, despite their best efforts not to cause problems for others. But is this hostile description of them as an evil menace really warranted?

I know that this article had to be edited out of concern for getting in trouble with the kannaim (the bane of all Charedi publishing, preventing people from saying what needs to be said). I can understand that Ami magazine, as a Charedi publication, has to reassure its readers that there aren't any genuine intellectual challenges to Charedi Judaism. I can even sympathize, notwithstanding my distaste, for Ami seeing it as necessary to describe these people as possessing a "superficial grasp" of Torah and secular thought, as being "almost mentally ill," as having "closed their minds to reason." But is it really necessary to be speak about them as though they are evil? To warn about their being a "danger to society"?

The intellectual challenges to Judaism are very real. Fortunate are those of us whose sense of Divine providence in Jewish history, and whose appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah, as well as other factors, enables us to maintain belief in revelation; but if we are honest, we will acknowledge that there are nevertheless intellectual challenges to which Judaism presently does not have a good response. Can we really be hostile towards those who consider the challenges overpowering?

Again, I am not talking about those who decide to give up their heritage and work insidiously to make others do the same. Such people do exist, but they are not what the Ami article was referring to. It was referring to the many people who still want to be good Torah Jews. They want to keep mitzvos and are serious about their halachic observance. They enjoy learning Torah. They want to contribute to Orthodox Jewish society. They have no desire to turn others into skeptics or to undermine Torah society in any way. Reading the Ami article, one receives the impression that it would be best if we could strap everyone into a lie-detector and grill them about their beliefs, with those failing the test being thrown out of society. Is this really what Ami wants?

Historically and traditionally, this is not how Judaism operated. To sure, there are certain dogmas which were always a vital part of Judaism. But as long as people observed mitzvos, were upstanding members of the community, and did not overtly rock the theological boat, they were never grilled about their private beliefs or lack thereof. (The Kohen Gadol had to swear allegiance not to change the avodah - not about his beliefs, which in any case would not be helped by an oath!) Rambam was very much an aberration from normative Judaism in his great emphasis on beliefs. When the Gemara talks about accepting converts, it requires only their commitment to the Jewish people and their learning of mitzvos and says nothing about their beliefs.

The Mishnah in Sanhedrin does declare that those who express certain heretical beliefs have no share in the World-to-Come. Interestingly, atheism and polytheism are not amongst them. Also interesting is that it describes people who "say" various heretical beliefs - not those who believe them. This isn't to argue that Chazal considered it acceptable to be an atheist - rather, to point out that Chazal were not overly concerned with addressing the requirements of a person's private beliefs; instead, they were concerned with peoples' expressed beliefs insofar as they affect larger Jewish society. Menachem Kellner has convincingly argued that this Mishnah is a polemic against those undermining Jewish society - in that particular historical circumstance, by their expressing solidarity with Sadducee beliefs. But even if one disagrees with that interpretation of this Mishnah, it is clear that overall, Chazal were much, much more concerned with a person's observance of halachah and place in Jewish society than with his private beliefs or lack thereof.

Ami magazine claims that these "Orthoprax" people (I dislike the term, for reasons that I will explain on another occasion), even if they are kollel yungerleit, are worse than Orthodox Jews who behave inappropriately: "At the end of the day, the man who behaved incorrectly but is still a believer can touch non-mevushal wine and it will remain kosher; if the yungerman touches it, it is rendered non-kosher." But that is not the case. As long as the yungerman conceals his lack of belief as a private problem, nobody - including Poskim - is going to say anything, just like almost nobody cares what Chabad shochtim actually believe (even though some would like them to formally declare that the Rebbe is not God). On the other hand, Orthodox Jews who cheat and steal and engage in perverse behavior and so on, while not making wine non-kosher, have indeed "lost all traces of G-dliness" and are a terrible threat to Torah society. And, if I recall correctly, the notorious butcher in Monsey that sold treife chicken was Orthodox by Ami magazine's standards; whereas the "Orthoprax" people described by the article would never do such a thing.

Ami magazine compares non-believers to Baal-worshippers(!). Such a comparison is utterly misplaced; these people are not abandoning any form of Torah observance. Much more accurate would be to cite Chazal's expression of Hashem's sentiment: "Would that they abandon Me and still observe My Torah!"

Most ironic is that the article claims that the solution is to expose more people to emunah-education such as the Discovery-type material provided by Project Chazon. While I have no doubt that such seminars boost the emunah of average people, they have the opposite effect for the more intelligent, educated, critically-thinking types that are the subject of the article. The shoddy arguments and intellectual dishonesty that is rampant in these presentations have the effect of turning such people off from Judaism. These seminars are part of the problem, not part of the solution. (I plan to describe my own suggested solution in a future post.)

Someone who seeks to undermine wider Jewish society, either through the expression of ideologies or through their behavior, can be described by the adjectives used by Ami magazine, and should deservedly be declared persona non grata. Not someone who privately suffers from a lack of belief, and tries their best to be a good Torah Jew despite that. They are still ami.

119 comments:

  1. link, so we can know what you are talking about?

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  2. I've heard somewhere that Spinoza, although his heretical beliefs was put in Cherem only after he failed to show up in Shul on Yom-Kipur.

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  3. This is certainly a surprise, because Ami was supposed to be a labor of love run by people who had worked for Mishpacha Magazine but felt constrained by its limitations and wished to address issues of Jewish importance with greater freedom, open-mindedness and intellectual depth.

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  4. but there is a logic to it- if you accept that secular ethical people can not be accepted/trusted because they have no belief in hkb"h to anchor their beliefs in "times of trouble", then it stands to reason that 'orthoprax" individuals are a ticking time bomb in the community's midst.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  5. R. Slifkin,

    When you say "any form of "Torah Min Hashamayim", do you refer solely to the written Torah or also the Oral Torah?

    Also, when you say "any form", does that include non-Orthodox understandings (Rozenzweig, Heschel &c)?

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  6. Also, may I suggest the following, written by Shadal, which may be of interest to you:

    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%2010%20Klein.pdf

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  7. Isn't the article you spend so much time castigating just an advitorial for the indoctrination programmes that they mentions?

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  8. I recently read Kelner's book. I think it's terrific. Especially his underlying message of using the idea that Judaism is not about dogma as a means to be more inclusive. Basically, the antithesis of what this article seems to be saying.

    If anyone can scan the article I'm sure it would be appreciated.

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  9. "Someone who seeks to undermine wider Jewish society, either through the expression of ideologies or through their behavior, can be described by the adjectives used by Ami magazine, and should deservedly be declared persona non grata."

    Interesting, there are some who would say this about you.

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  10. It makes sense, really. The era of "Orthodox non-observance" is largely over. So naturally there'd be a desire to nail the lid on "hashkafic non-observance," especially since that 1) appears to be growing, not shrinking and 2) that is a great threat to the most popular kind of Orthodoxy nowadays, which is entirely based on a particular hashkafah.

    My question though is, if they're talking about non-believers who neither try to influence others nor secretly are unobservant, then how on earth do they know such people exist? If a tree falls in a forest...?

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  11. Makes me think about Catholic worries about Marranos. A New Inquisition might be in order.

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  12. I recently read Kelner's book. I think it's terrific. Especially his underlying message of using the idea that Judaism is not about dogma as a means to be more inclusive.

    I think that he's wrong about that. I plan to post about it.

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  13. Interesting, there are some who would say this about you.

    Of course. And my writings do indeed undermine Charedi ideology, which is why I was deservedly declared persona non grata there.

    Fortunately, there is more to Torah Judaism than Charedism.

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  14. First of all, all Chareidi writing is the same. In a Tolkeinesque fashion, if you are not a good guy (one of them) you are black and evil even if in reality you only deviate slightly from their party line.

    However, there is a point to their concerns. Someone who starts off with doubts can easily continue on to the "dark side", open one blog after another insulting and degrading frum beliefs, dismissing all frum people who accept Matan Torah as true as fools and spending all his time attacking any attempts to rationalize Judaism as hypocrisy. Perhaps this is their main concern - someone who takes that step away from uncritical acceptances of certain Jewish beliefs will inevitably wind up there.

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  15. They did not give any indication that this is their concern. And very few people end up doing such things.

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  16. I've read a first draft of the article. One interesting point is that in the original the author seems to be attacking the school kiruv programs like Project Chazon. He quotes unnamed menahalim as saying that they will no longer be bringing in kiruv programs to their schools because they make more problems than they answer. The original reads more like an advertorial for Sapirman's Ani Maamin Foundation, 'cause the author brings long quotes from Sapirman answering all the questions about having such programs in schools in such a way that he leaves the questions intact about Project Chazon.
    (Sapirman is a training course for rabbeim; Chazon is a kiruv seminar for eleventh and twelfth graders.) Then he has a quote from an orthoprax posek (!) approving of Sapirman.

    The final article leaves out Sapirman entirely and just mentions Chazon.

    Of course, since Sapirman's main science authority is Jonathan Ostroff, you have to be very uninformed to want him speaking to your kids or their rabbeim.

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  17. Rabbi Slifkin surely there is a difference with someone who is sincerely observant but unbelieving but wrestling with this condition so that he or she has no unbelief to express but only at best the bewilderment of their unbelief. That's a contradiction in them, not strictly even unbelief. At that stage even if it interferes with their observance they are still representing contradictions in themselves. To be fair to the article, not seeing it, it sounds like you have a very narrow picture of who the article is referring to. I should like to see it. I think we all would.

    I think on the topic of you being outside of Chareidism I would say you are by now also at least on your way to casting your lot with the Left wing in Orthodoxy at least in ideology and I don't mean the YU types.

    Concerni the so called Kannaim they are inferior to those who really feel we should preserve the beliefs and practices of the Gedolim because they really believe in preserving the beliefs and practices of themselves which is made up and looking for the forced/forged stamp of a Gadol (and yes forgeries officially intentional or not happen enough, with Gedolim finding out what "they ruled" along with the rest of us.

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  18. It's a wonderful way of maintaining the worst sort of hypocritical obedience.

    A person cannot control the doubts he has at three in the morning in his heart of hearts, the things that are just between him and God. So you make him feel he is being watched and is at risk of being discovered. This spurs him to more dramatic displays of piety and fanaticism in front of his neighbors lest they suspect.

    Eventually you arrive at a standard to which no sane person could conform. Nobody actually conforms to it, but everyone supports it zealously. It's straight out of Stalin and Mao's playbook.

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  19. I'm coming to think that the only true believers are those who have unresolved questions and doubts, yet remain observant (for reasons that might seem vapid and immature,) especially in light of the profundity of their questions and doubts. The rest are ideological automatons.

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  20. your comment hits the nail on the head, YA.

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  21. Thank you for this post, and I look forward to your continued discussion of this topic.

    There is no greater issue facing Orthodoxy and the complete failure of the chareidim to come up with a coherent response has the effect of further radicilizing their beliefs. This Ami article sounds like a case in point.

    I do disagree with you that the Discovery-type outreach only works on "average" people but not the intelligent.

    You don't have to be super-intelligent to see through that sophistry. It only works on those who have other reasons to believe.

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  22. "Fortunate are those of us whose sense of Divine providence in Jewish history, and whose appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah, as well as other factors, enables us to maintain belief in revelation"

    1. What do you mean by "the nature and role of the Torah"?

    2. What do you mean by "belief in revelation"?

    3. You have stated your opinion about private beliefs. What type of public statements of belief do you think place someone outside of the pale of Orthodoxy?

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  23. The issue of hypocrisy is an interesting one. We have heard the expression "hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue" but there is a major difference in how Eastern philosophies deal with hypocrisy as opposed to Westerners. For many Westerners, hypocrisy is the worst possible sin, it is better to be an out and out no-good person and say you are proud of it, rather than to be outwardly good and to inwardly hold thoughts in the opposite direction. I have heard it stated that Easterners view hypocrisy as representing an inner struggle within the man. For me, this seems to be a more realistic view of human nature.
    The Torah was given to human beings and it has to be assumed that people, in all their complexity, are going to grapple with its difficult demands and views.
    I recently came across a biography of a great Torah scholar and the writer seemed to keep dividing the Jewish people into three groups
    (1) Bad Jews, (2) Stupid Jews and (3) Followers of this scholar. This approach is anti-human....we are not automatons who can be programmed to think "correct" thoughts.
    That's why I think this piece by Rav Slifkin is one of the most important he has posted here.
    Nothing is worse than ideological witch-hunts. That is the lesson we learned from the civil war we fought at the time of the first regellion against Rome. It lead to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.

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  24. Daniel - All good questions. I have addressed aspects of them in the past, and I plan to address them more fully in the future. But they are not the topic of this post.

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  25. Descarte said: 'I think, therefore I exist'. I would like to add to his words: 'I question (doubt), therefore I think'. Questions and doubts are signs that one's faith is alive and vibrant.


    The Eastern view of hypocrisy is fascinating. I have not heard this before.

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  26. I don't really want to comment too much until I see their article for myself, but I think the distinctions between the groups are a bit fuzzier than how you present it. We all know that there are different kinds of people who still maintain outward signs of frumkeit, but have come to intellectual realizations that they no longer believe the tenets of Orthodoxy. Some of these people do still try to live an observant life, some struggle mightily to regain their faith, others have accepted it and just do the bare minimum to keep up outward appearances. Some keep their concerns quiet, others start blogs to explore the issues and/or seek out others who they can discuss their questions with.

    It may be that you are referring to one small subset of this group that is very quiet and very non-threatening, and still fully socially identifies with torah observance, and they don’t deserve such excoriation. But I can see the writers of the article not being able to maintain a distinction between that group and these other people who do indeed seem very threatening to frum society.

    Of course, none of these people are evil in any sense, but it’s totally understandable that traditionalists would be so strongly opposed to them. I mean, after all, the blogosphere has had a major impact on frum society, and it’s many of those who started out simply ‘looking for answers’ that became some of the most ardent and vocal skeptics out there. Even you once fully identified as chareidi and lost much of your faith in the ideology of that world due to an honest exploration of the issues with no deliberate intent to become less chareidi (at least I think so).

    So I can understand how scared they are of this supposed fifth column. What I don’t understand is how they think that having this sort of Inquisition-like reaction is going to achieve anything. If people actually do get pushed out, it will a) create even more resentment and anger towards frumkeit, and b) remove any need for the person to keep their concerns quiet.

    I would really appreciate it if someone could scan the article and post it.

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  27. Thanks for being a voice of sanity - your words are certainly more Godly than the Ami author could ever hope for.

    That being said, I think you're being overly generous with your interpretation of the first Mishna in Sanhedrin. Granted it doesn't specifically mention atheists, but they certainly fall under the categories of "He who maintains that resurrection is not a biblical doctrine, that the Torah was not divinely revealed, and an epikoros."

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  28. RNS

    How many of those people do you know personally? I know few (or so I believe) and it seems to me that you are talking about a different topic. They don't have doubts or questions, their believes are pretty much settled. They don't strive to do "mitzvot", they just walk the walk and talk the talk. Only in public, not in privacy.

    Clearly, there is a whole spectrum of people with different believes and behavior, but it seems to me that the article was talking about the people I mentioned above. People who maybe sit in a kollel and tell others that Slifin books are apikorsus. Because thats the walk and thats the talk.

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  29. Shimon S - read the article, and you'll see that it's talking about the kind of people I was talking about, not the ones you are talking about.

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  30. See the amazing 8-part series of lectures on this topic by the noted talmid chacham, philosopher, and lecturer, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, here: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=711BA45AC1E7355F

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  31. The Ami article is a great article. TY Yoel B. Who cares if we're talking about a silent christian or a silent atheist or a silent rastfarian? Rabbi Slifkin, would you care if your daughter married one of these people? Why (not)?

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  32. Based partly on what you've written here (regarding the less than provable nature of Orthodox Judaism), Rabbi Dov Linzer has written about moving away from the "tinokos she'nishba" argument when relating to non-Orthodox Jews. I forget what concept he suggests replacing it with, but his fundemental point (that one can be unobservant without necessarily being "kidnapped") is true.

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  33. The Mishna in Sanhedrin by including such beliefs as belief in Torah Min HaShamayim and belief in the future resurrection of the dead as theologically essential implicitly says the same regarding belief in God, as opposed to being an atheist.

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  34. Stephen, did you read my post? I said that the situation is a problem, and can also be a problem for those around such people. My point is that it is not anywhere near as bad as the article makes out, and that these people should not be described in such a way (and that the article's suggested approach to the problem is entirely wrong).

    Of course it is a problem if a girl with emunah marries a guy without. But it's also a problem if a girl marries a guy who's a crook. Or who won't support her. Or who cheats on her. Or any of a hundred other problems, which are more common and more harmful - in contrast to the article's claim that the "Orthoprax" case is worse than these.

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  35. HaRazieli - the wider point is that there is no Maseches Deyos, no Mishnah listing required beliefs, no discussion by Chazal of the correct theological beliefs about God and Torah that a Jew should have. All we have is a list of two false beliefs that a Jew shouldn't declare. Which happen to be the beliefs of the Sadducees. It's not that Chazal felt that it's okay for a Jew to believe anything. But they were not especially concerned with beliefs - they were much more concerned about breaking from the community.

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  36. "But they were not especially concerned with beliefs"

    Hard to maintain this position, since the Torah itself, which Chazal were certainly concerned with, has numerous statements about how important it is for the people to know God, to fear God, to worship God, etc. Chazal didn't have to invest a lot of energy in declaring the importance of belief in God since the Torah emphasizes this idea again and again and again.

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  37. The Torah speaks extensively about loyalty to God. His existence is a given. But what about His nature? His incorporeality (or corporeality)? His knowledge of the future? What about the precise definition of Torah miSinai? What about praying to intermediaries? What about prophets? Chazal didn't list the required beliefs for any of these things.

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  38. I agree with R' Natan that the cited article is both mean spirited and focuses on a phenomenon that should not merit such attack. While the phenomenon of people who no longer have traditional beliefs but continue traditional practices is real and disconcerting, it represents less of a danger to others than violent behavior, abuse, and criminality. Why highlight and attack those who disbelieve silently but keep traditional practices, while disregarding those who take advantage of others by pretending to be devoted to torah study? The latter behavior is far more prevalent. The writer should also look inward and recognize that a strong contributor to lack of belief is the adamant stance in the Hareidi world of the infallibility of the sages and later torah authorities. Such a stance greatly exacerbates the conflict between the words of those supposedly infallible men and physical reality. Once disillusionment sets it, it can lead to a disbelief in all traditional teachings. The article also makes no distinction between disbelief in GOD, in a divinely authored (or authorized) torah, or the reliability of the rabbinic tradition. Presumably, the author doesn't believe that a distinction should be made; that to scoff at a literal reading of a midrashic statement is equivalent to scoffing at a statement in the torah. That stance may be acceptable to the intended audience of the magazine, it is unlikely to impress those who are outside of that world.

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  39. Thanks for posting a link to the article YoelB. I found the whole thing to be condescending and simplistically naive. Much more than the internet, it's the close-minded attitude being espoused in this article that is the problem.

    The idea that someone, with all seriousness, can say that a person with these doubts is "mentally ill" speaks volumes about the person who made such a ludicrous statement.

    The internet. Really? Again? This has been an issue for our religion (all religions) for as long as there has been religion. Was the internet responsible for the thousands who "left" during the enlightenment? The millions who left upon coming to the shores of America?

    If the only answer these people can come up with is to "filter" and "ban" then the problem will spread like wildfire. Someone has to smack the people writing stuff like this upside the head and explain to them why they ARE the problem.

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  40. Reading the article, I can begin to truly understand the mentality of people who hunt and burn heretics to death.

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  41. Thanks to YoelB for posting the article.

    R' Slifkin: First off, I have to disagree with your assessment of the types of people discussed by the article. You characterize these people as essentially committed to Orthodox Judaism but wrestling, privately, with theological doubts. The article paints quite a different picture. The Orthorprax “posek” admitted that he would be meikel if not for the fact that others were looking over his shoulder. So in reality, this person's “private” doubts have significant public effects, affecting adversely the halachick psak received by believing Jews. (Would you allow a child-molestor in a classroom as long as “someone is looking over his shoulder”? I think frum schools have discovered the vast inadequacy of such an approach) In another instance, an Orthoprax and self-described atheistic young man admitted to dating Orthodox girls because he relates to them better. That is an incredibly selfish decision, to date an Orthodox girl and lie to her simply because you can relate better. And it is very likely that this person's non-belief will negatively impact his marriage at some point. I think it is reasonable to consider these two acts instances of “infiltration” by heretics. True, the goal of the infiltration is not to overturn Judaism, but these cases are still instances of deliberate decisions by heretics to assume positions of responsibility where religious belief plays an important role. I am not judging these people, and we should indeed have sympathy for their plight. But it is clear that they both acted selfishly and immorally by taking advantage of the trust of other people. The whole point of the article was to demonstrate how these people are affecting others. It was never criticizing private unbelief.

    Furthermore, it is difficult for people to wrestle privately with their theological issues. No one wants to suffer in private, and these people will inevitably share their confusion with someone, whether in person or over the internet. I know someone who may be considered “Orthoprax,” and he definitely did share his feelings with a few of his friends, including me. It is only natural. And it is therefore dangerous. You say that these people are not evil. This is true, but it is also irrelevant. People like this do pose a risk to others around them, albeit unwillingly. They are like smokers who do not intend to harm others with their “second-hand smoke,” but do so nonetheless.

    You further state that you received the impression that Ami wants to grill people about their religious beliefs. I myself did not receive any such impression. The prescriptive elements of the article seemed to focus primarily on restricting access to heretical materials via the Internet. You also misrepresented the article when you said it compared these heretics to Baal worshippers. That is hardly the case. The article quoted the following pasuk, “ “And Eliyahu came to the peopleand said, ‘How long will you go wavering between two different opinions? If Hashem is G-d, follow him; but if Baal, then follow
    him.’ And the people did not answer him a word.” The point was simply that these people are living on the fence, and need to make up their minds instead of living duplicitous lives inside of the Orthodox world.

    A final, unrelated point – I do not think your diyuk that the gemara in Sanhedrin uses the term “say” instead of “believe” is a valid diyuk. The mishna in Avos (2:4) says - "Do not say 'I will study when I have the time', for perhaps you will never have time.” Clearly, the point of the mishna is not that such a sentiment should not be expressed verbally, but rather that such a sentiment should not be held at all.

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  42. There is no doubt in my mind that the kiruv programs for frum people do more to push people away from belief than to be mekarev them. The simple fact is that there is no rational argument for faith in G-d, and particularly in TMS. The smarter solution from the Chareidi point of view is to just ignore the problem. The author of the article seemed to think the best way to deal with this issue would be for people to not have access to "heretical" information. In that case, better not to write the article, someone might want to find the information they are talking about.

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  43. >Someone who seeks to undermine wider Jewish society, either through the expression of ideologies or through their behavior, can be described by the adjectives used by Ami magazine, and should deservedly be declared persona non grata

    >Of course. And my writings do indeed undermine Charedi ideology, which is why I was deservedly declared persona non grata there.

    It's one thing to declare such people as persona non grata, but to describe them as deserving the adjectives in the Ami article implies that Chareidim would also be right in referring to you as "Infiltrators, duplicitious, treacherous frauds, etc."

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  44. as long as people...did not overtly rock the theological boat, they were never grilled about their private beliefs or lack thereof.

    Sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. I have to think that this will remain for the most part.

    Yes, you'll have people who decide to "out" themselves, and people who try to smoke others out of the closet, but there will always be the option to keep your private beliefs to yourself and live with that tension.

    That said, people are only going to become increasingly open about their non-belief, and if the Ami article is any indication, we can expect the "right" to further dig in its heels, employ less reason and more rhetoric.

    I plan to describe my own suggested solution in a future post.

    Looking forward to that one!

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  45. Wow. Reading the article made me think of Pravda, Stalin, and their ilk. Just sickening and I hope I can fulfill my my pledge to never allow a mag like that into my home.

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  46. A long time ago, before I became observant, I rode every morning and evening to and from a jobsite with a "Jehovah's Witness" who was trying to evangelize me. I didn't know much; fortunately he didn't either and I could at least tell that. Nice guy, careful worker, seemed honest and my boss thought well of him. The thing is, it didn't really feel personal. It wasn't as though he thought "this is my friend, it hurts me to see that if I don't speak he's going to Hell." It didn't feel personal; I wasn't really a human being to him, just an trophy to be captured ("Wow! he converted a Jew!")

    I've often thought since that it gave me some sympathy for attractive women when a man won't pay attention to who they are or what they're saying.

    Anyway, I cringed when I read: “I sent them to the biggest scientists, who understand science far better than anything they read on the web and are fully Orthodox Jews. Nothing helped.”

    "Rabbi Deutsch" could at least fake a krechtz.

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  47. The article us WAY worse than you make it sound. Yikes.

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  48. You mentioned Da'at Emet - is he still leaving leaflets around Chareidi neighborhoods?

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  49. I just read the article. I'm stunned that the authors attribute the loss of faith to the internet. If Judaism's fundamentals are so shaky that internet searches can destroy ones' faith, then maybe there is something wrong with those fundamentals, at least in the way they are taught in charedi society.

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  50. I have read the article (ami magazine) and I am truly in shock. It treats lack of emunah as mental ilness, and excludes the possibility of true skeptics being rational. I am ebarassed to say that this behaviour is common amongst cults, notably scientology. As a skeptic myself who practices with full devotion, but who has trouble undoind the damage done by these emunah projects, I have been treated in the same fasion. Thank you Rabbi Slifkin.

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  51. > is this hostile description of them as an evil menace really warranted?

    Absolutely. The best way to defend an idea is to label anyone who disagrees as evil, to be shunned and denigrated.

    > but if we are honest, we will acknowledge that there are nevertheless intellectual challenges to which Judaism presently does not have a good response.

    This is from the “There are no questions, only answers” crowd. I’m pretty sure we had that discussion about a year ago.

    > Someone who seeks to undermine wider Jewish society, either through the expression of ideologies or through their behavior, can be described by the adjectives used by Ami magazine, and should deservedly be declared persona non grata.

    Are you suggesting that such a person really is evil, or just that he is actually a danger to Orthodoxy? Do you hold that expressing ideas that contradict certain precepts of Judaism is evil?

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  52. Rabbi Slifkin,

    You exaggerate the amount Chazal were not caring about belief. Chazal did care but they did not live in a world of systematic philosophical expression. That came later. Also if they had more of a habit of demanding belief explicitly in the face of sectarians, it was because in those days the only absolutist faith was that of the Jews. To a Pagan, Judaism was valid for a Jew unless he hated the Jews enough. In a world like that you only have to define explicitly faith principles when dealing with heretical groups within your own faith.

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  53. The Orthorprax “posek” admitted that he would be meikel if not for the fact that others were looking over his shoulder. So in reality, this person's “private” doubts have significant public effects, affecting adversely the halachick psak received by believing Jews.

    But he is conscientious, and makes sure that there IS someone looking over his shoulder!

    In another instance, an Orthoprax and self-described atheistic young man admitted to dating Orthodox girls because he relates to them better. That is an incredibly selfish decision, to date an Orthodox girl and lie to her simply because you can relate better.

    Agreed. Like I said, there can be problems. But in fact, I found out that that guy admitted to the interviewer that this is a serious problem.


    You further state that you received the impression that Ami wants to grill people about their religious beliefs. I myself did not receive any such impression
    .... The point was simply that these people are living on the fence, and need to make up their minds instead of living duplicitous lives inside of the Orthodox world.


    And what if they have made up their minds that they genuinely do not believe? Then they should divorce their wives and leave Orthodox society?

    Furthermore, that's exactly what I meant when I said that the article gives the impression that it would be best if we could submit people to lie-detector machines.

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  54. I think back to the infamous time when James Kugel came to speak at YU (Stern campus). The topic was completely pareve, but the room was packed. Why? Because people know what's out there (and can't "unlearn" it once they know), and *want* a reason to stay frum. They want to see a frum, kippa-clad man stand before them and, essentially, testify without saying so explicitly that it's OK for them to wonder about and even believe certain things and still stay within the machane.

    Ami seems to prefer that they leave entirely.

    By the way, left unsaid in the article is the possibility that lots of these people are rebelling against charedi thought, not Jewish thought.

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  55. "Infiltrators, duplicitous, treacherous frauds, etc."

    I think I've figured it out! The fellows who wrote this article are trying to bring down haredi Judaism. Only infiltrating, duplicitous, treacherous frauds could write stuff like that.

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  56. An thorough article by Eli Putterman on Orthopraxy can be found in the YU Kol Hamevaaser archives.

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  57. Best line of the article:

    He describes them almost as mentally ill. "To me, [the disbelief] is a sickness," he says.

    If that isn't Orwell or Twilight Zone, I don't know what is.

    I guess it's a safe bet they wouldn't be too into Julian Jaynes, who ascribes the phenomenon of prophecy/hearing the voice of God to a form of schizophrenia.

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  58. "It was referring to the many people who still want to be good Torah Jews. They want to keep mitzvos and are serious about their halachic observance."

    There's something immensely disquieting about these lines. "They still want to be good Torah Jews" is framed as a positive, but in context it must be very negative. Here are people who have stopped believing in God, and yet they refuse to change their practice. What good intentions could motivate someone to stand in a synagogue and call out the lie that there is a God to an empty sky?

    Almost any justification for this approach would seem predicated on a fairly deep seated nihilism. Perhaps some quasi-humanist approach to morality can justify remaining in your community despite living a life of near-constant dishonesty (though keep in mind that the presence of even crypto-Atheists cannot have a positive effect on a religion long term). But given the skepticism that leads to Orthopraxy itself, this seems the far less likely explanation for someone to continue his practice despite rejecting its core. Better, I would think, to be Christopher Hitchens himself, with a strong sense of morality and the conviction that religion corrupts it, then a walking statement that you can lose your religion and change nothing, because you have no values to prompt a change.


    I cannot help but remark at how positively Slifkin frames the Orthoprax and their motivations in this article:
    "Fortunate are those of us whose sense of Divine providence in Jewish history, and whose appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah, as well as other factors, enables us to maintain belief in revelation; but if we are honest, we will acknowledge that there are nevertheless intellectual challenges to which Judaism presently does not have a good response. Can we really be hostile towards those who consider the challenges overpowering?" It seems as if the Orthoprax are truly pure in heart and mind, that only their lack of a certain "sense" distinguishes them from the best sort of Jew. This raises a profound question: Why do good people become bad people? And if following our reason, and what we believe to be right, can equally lead us into darkness as into light, how can we possibly hope to do the will of God?

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  59. "They still want to be good Torah Jews" is framed as a positive, but in context it must be very negative. Here are people who have stopped believing in God, and yet they refuse to change their practice. What good intentions could motivate someone to stand in a synagogue and call out the lie that there is a God to an empty sky?

    Rob, just because you can't conceive of any good reason for being shomer mitzvos if you don't believe in God, doesn't mean that other people can't. And your example of tefillah is particularly interesting - according to Rambam, there are many statements in tefillah that are not true, but which we say out of various human needs.

    This raises a profound question: Why do good people become bad people?

    I don't see why this topic raises that question any more than the fact of hundreds, if not thousands, of frum Jews who do believe in Torah (or believe that they believe in it) and yet are very bad people.

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  60. While I agree that some of the orthoprax are people who really have serious questions and have looked for answers, i think that we may be giving some of them more credit then they deserve. Many orthoprax are in fact too lazy to explore what true Judaism is about, and find orthopraxy as an excuse for their laziness.

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  61. I might be able to help Rob understand. While I wouldnt want to label myself a disbeliever I am pretty close to it at this point - certainly more disbelief than belief. Yet I go to shul, try to go to minyan 3 times a day, would be considered one that davens with more kavanah than most (and I do try to concentrate on the words I am saying), raise my kids to be believers and learn torah with them on close to a dialy basis. was raised modern orthodox leaning to chareidi but became more modern orthodox as the years went by (but still as always quite committed to learning and mitzvot), studied in Israel for two years, ...

    So why do i keep it up? Life is complicated and the answer is not black and white. It is a mixture of - being afraid of change for me and my family, actually liking a great deal of observant orthodoxy, WANTING to believe in G-d, not being 100% sure (my belief lies on a spectrum and changes daily depending on whatever), hoping something will come over me (though not rejecting my skeptical and rationalist nature).

    What really gets to me is the anger I sense at people who are somewhat like me. Belief is not a moral question. I am not a bad person because I believe or dont believe. I am well-adjusted, I am not insane, and I feel no true sense of resentment to the way I was brought up. But I am who I am. And I believe (when I do) that G-d will treat me accordingly as a deep thinking kind and thoughtful person who loves G-d but is not sure he exists. In that sense I believe I am at the same time more religious and non-religious than most people who do not take too much time to think about it.

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  62. "Halevai oti `azavu ve'et torati shamaru"
    (Eichah Rabba, Petihta 2)

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  63. How wonderful it must be to have had an authentic Torah education which guarantees that every word of tefillah is pregnant with meaning and emotion every time. Never to have a dry spell, never dread coming home or going to work because you're just drained, and never been worried that trying to be kind and cheerful when you're exhausted, or in physical or emotional pain is going to be more than you can manage that day. Never worry that the resources you have to meet a physical, financial or emotional demand aren't adequate. Never wonder how you could hold it together to not further burden your loved ones with your anguish. Never hoped that you would come through this, somehow, and be in calmer water again.

    Of course, you've learned that the gedolim (and the Avot, and Chazal) were serene saints from infancy, never struggled, never fell and had to get up again, went through trials, sure, but their emunah was never even ruffled (actually, they of course grew in emunah, but it was smooth and inevitable.)

    Learning that has given you powerful tools to bring to bear on your own life, so you know that if you have doubts and questions, and the brilliant teachers you dare not really question can't give you a satisfying answer that you're irretrievably lost; diseased, defective, failed.

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  64. "What about the precise definition of Torah miSinai? "

    The fact that the Torah is actually very explicit about the nature of Torah miSinai, and the fact that what we are taught as kids in school, and what we repeat in schmoozes, is so vastly different than what the Torah says, really fascinates me.

    I really need to get access to more varied and older Chumash mephorshim.. but does anyone discuss the fact that only sefer Vayikra uses the word "Torah" as often as it does?

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  65. Natan Slifkin said...

    "And what if they have made up their minds that they genuinely do not believe? Then they should divorce their wives and leave Orthodox society?"

    If they genuinely don't believe they have already left Orthodoxy. They can lie or tell the truth. That's the uncomfortable reality. What they and their wives do is their business but him lying to his wife is both their business.

    Well Rabbi Slifkin are you going to just be an Orthodox enabler to bloggers who are not of the variety of Orthoprax you even have sympathy for or are you going to have articles explaining why to believe?

    The truth is the average so called skeptic blogger I encounter on the web is not really skeptical. Rather it is someone who is basically a believer no matter contrary evidence in some side's ability to channel the truth. They then usually parrot simple arguments they hear elsewhere. You can address those types or you can go beyond these masses and wax philosophical.

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  66. Levels of belief are obviously nuanced and complex. What I wonder is if people who identify themselves as “Orthoprax” act differently in any way.

    For instance, if their actions cannot be seen or discovered by anyone, would they transgress a commandment? A D’Rabanan? Would they do it for convenience purposes or only out of great necessity?

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  67. If they genuinely don't believe they have already left Orthodoxy.

    Well, obviously. Which is why I specifically asked if you are proposing that they should divorce their wives and leave Orthodox society. If not, then what exactly did you mean when you said that "they need to make up their minds instead of living duplicitous lives inside of the Orthodox world"?

    Well Rabbi Slifkin are you going to just be an Orthodox enabler to bloggers who are not of the variety of Orthoprax you even have sympathy for

    I don't think that I am enabling them in a post that specifically criticizes them!

    or are you going to have articles explaining why to believe?

    I am not going to be able to convince these people to believe. But there are other ways to help the situation. What is your proposal exactly?

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  68. Two people quoted:
    "Halevai oti `azavu ve'et torati shamaru"
    (Eichah Rabba, Petihta 2)

    I understood it as a call to abandon superficial, outward piety and keep the real Torah of Hashem. In no way is this a call to abandon the belief in G-d!

    What's that Torah? I think Hillel nailed it: unconditional love of G-d and Humanity the rest is details and commentary.

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  69. Michael A. SingerApril 13, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Rabbi -

    Your post is very well-done and passionate, but it assumes your readers are familiar with the Ami magazine and its readership. How large is the circulation of this magazine? Is it comparable to the Orthodox Union's magazine in tone and content? What "element" of Chareidi society is represented in its pages?

    I ask because if Ami is what we might term a "fringe" publication, then perhaps its viewpoints and essayists need not be taken so seriously, or at least might not represent a/the majority perspective in Chareidi society.

    Perhaps some regular contributors to this blog could enlighten me?

    Sincerely,
    Michael A. Singer

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  70. For instance, if their actions cannot be seen or discovered by anyone, would they transgress a commandment? A D’Rabanan? Would they do it for convenience purposes or only out of great necessity?

    Don't believers sometimes transgress despite believing that there is an onesh for their actions? Believers don't always transgress just because of irresistable urges. Sometimes they transgress out of convenience too - despite the fact they believe God is watching and evaluating their every action.

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  71. The article is obviously written for imbeciles. So dense are the cast of ignoramii featured in the article, that I suspect they themselves may be closet orthoprax. It is impossible otherwise to fathom how such foolish statements could be printed.

    The author writes of how the yeshiva students of the past had a great defense against heresy. "Lack of exposure". In other words -"total ignorance." Is this not the height of stupidty? The author is saying that the best defense traditional belief can mount is not to challenge or counter the opposition, but to hide from them. Incredible. This is the best defense orthodoxy can muster?

    This is very sad. An established magazine might be excused for letting an utter dud like that article through. But this is a brand new venture. This article is signalling the type of fare we might expect from it in the future, and brother, if that's the case - barring an immediate retraction - you might as well cease publishing now.

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  72. I agree with the gist of your post. However, I do disagree with this statement:" The Mishnah in Sanhedrin does declare that those who express certain heretical beliefs have no share in the World-to-Come. Interestingly, atheism and polytheism are not amongst them."
    The Mishna however does mention one who says that the Torah doesn't come from heaven & and an atheist certainly would fall in that category. Additionally,it does mention Apikores which according to Rambam's definition includes one who says that Hashem is not aware of human actions, so an atheist would certainly be included in that. In addition, A Braisa in Rosh Hashanah 17A also includes "Minim" which could include Ateists and Polytheists.

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  73. Interesting comments, but I am having trouble getting excited.

    Judaism is rich in choice: tz'a u'lemad. That there are cult-like enclaves that believe they alone embody what God wants is a Jewish tradition that goes back 2000 years.

    Some readers may also be interested in:
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/02/14/110214fa_fact_wright?currentPage=all

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  74. > "They still want to be good Torah Jews" is framed as a positive, but in context it must be very negative. Here are people who have stopped believing in God, and yet they refuse to change their practice. What good intentions could motivate someone to stand in a synagogue and call out the lie that there is a God to an empty sky?

    I can only speak for myself, but davening is not time spent lying about God’s existence, but time spent f mumbling words I’ve said so many times that I can easily spend the time daydreaming while standing, sitting, turning the pages and mumbling along with everyone else. The motivation? It makes my wife happy. She knows I don’t believe davening has nay real meaning, but she likes going to shul, and wants me to come along. And my kids like playing with the other kids in shul. And I like to socialize. So the cost of admission to this weekly social event is an hour or two of mumbling. So what?

    You say, “refuse to change their practice” as though the natural thing to do is to abandon Judaism. Why, though? Certainly, there are costs involved in being Orthodox, but they are (for me) outweighed by the costs of leaving. It’s not as though there’s a non-god who will be offended and punish me for continuing to keep the mitzvos.

    > Perhaps some quasi-humanist approach to morality can justify remaining in your community despite living a life of near-constant dishonesty

    Unfortunately, in the real world morality often has shades of gray. It is not so simple as dishonesty=bad: therefore do everything possible to avoid dishonesty. Is answering amen to a brocha truly so immoral that it warrants tearing families apart and causing pain to parents, spouses, and children? Pretending to believe when it’s necessary harms no one. Abandoning Judaism would harm many people. Which course of action do you think best serves the greater good?

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  75. Natan Slifkin said...

    "Well Rabbi Slifkin are you going to just be an Orthodox enabler to bloggers who are not of the variety of Orthoprax you even have sympathy for

    I don't think that I am enabling them in a post that specifically criticizes them!"

    Well I am glad you feel that way. Good backbone after all! Yasher Koach! Go from strength to strength.

    "If they genuinely don't believe they have already left Orthodoxy.

    Well, obviously. Which is why I specifically asked if you are proposing that they should divorce their wives and leave Orthodox society. If not, then what exactly did you mean when you said that "they need to make up their minds instead of living duplicitous lives inside of the Orthodox world"?"

    I didn't write that. That was another writer.

    "or are you going to have articles explaining why to believe?

    I am not going to be able to convince these people to believe. But there are other ways to help the situation. What is your proposal exactly?"

    Skeptic bloggers and blog commenters I encounter on the web for the most are not great philosophers. They are ordinary people relying mostly on a perceived consensus of opinion. They just basically pick a side. The better ones straddle them. If you challenge them and they are really serious about being led into skepticism out of sheer truth seeking you can succeed. If you are not going to challenge their beliefs then forget about helping.
    Many, perhaps most, will not be reached and you would not succeed with them before you even make your argument if they are not just disbelieving independent of their drives and life stories but some you will and that makes it worth it.

    If you abandon the field of Kiruv to the Discovery people then you have at least one less merit than them. Their trying and you have abandoned the field.

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  76. I we are to believe Ploni, who said that he read the article's first draft, it was originally an advertorial for Sapirstein and put down of Aish's Project Chazon.

    Published version is advertorial for Chazon, without reservation.

    Interesting.

    I wonder how that happened.

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  77. Don't believers sometimes transgress despite believing that there is an onesh for their actions? Believers don't always transgress just because of irresistable urges. Sometimes they transgress out of convenience too - despite the fact they believe God is watching and evaluating their every action.

    I’m sure there are believers that transgress, but they are then acting irrationally and are outliers. My point is that people who go through the motions of acting Jewish, but don’t actually believe (at least on some level), will be more likely to transgress in private. Hence, one’s behavior in private is a litmus test for one’s beliefs.

    There are various levels of belief ranging from “You never know”, which I would characterize as “Yeirat Ha'Onesh”, to “Something deep down in my soul is guiding me”, to rational philosophical belief. All of the above would make every attempt to refrain from sinning in private. I would only characterize as “Orthoprax” (as the word is being used in this discussion) as one who positively disbelieves, but nonetheless practices the lifestyle and goes through the motions of Judaism. I maintain that such an individual is unlikely to observe the mitzvot in private.

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  78. Joel rich- in response to your "there's a logic to it". - it seems like you are ready to defend dogmatically ANY intellectual endeavor or argument advanced by ANY component of frum society by some sort of so-called "logic" but in this case, (like I have seen in other cases where u have tried to 'explain the hava ameena' btw) - there really is an ILLOGIC to what you just proposed as a logic. Or to anyone without a definite need to defend this frum magazine and its approach to this issue, what you said cannot possibly be reasonable.

    I have to ask you, if an idea comes from within frum society is it always automatically justifiable and a good no matter what?

    What do you mean that secular ethical people "can't be trusted" ? Is that a statement of chazal or you are saying it? And "ticking timebomb or not" it would not make these orthopraxers in the article anything close to the terms used to describe them therein.

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  79. First to deal with the easy question:

    "I don't see why this topic raises that question any more than the fact of hundreds, if not thousands, of frum Jews who do believe in Torah (or believe that they believe in it) and yet are very bad people."

    You believe that Orthodox Jews will lie and steal purely through their commitment to Orthodox Judaism and/or intellectual honesty? That's a surprising statement for a religious man. "There is neither Judge nor Justice" solves a great many dilemmas but it would seem to require a significant reworking of Orthodoxy to accommodate that view.

    As expected, the point about nihilism requires more explanation. Conveniently, G*3 brings me a fair example:

    "You say, “refuse to change their practice” as though the natural thing to do is to abandon Judaism. Why, though? Certainly, there are costs involved in being Orthodox, but they are (for me) outweighed by the costs of leaving. It’s not as though there’s a non-god who will be offended and punish me for continuing to keep the mitzvos."

    So how do you answer a friendly non-Jew or inquiring Jew, who asks "Why do you believe?" You respond that you believe nothing, only that there is no moral imperative to act in accordance with your beliefs. That's a fairly nihilistic statement, and it can little but spread nihilism. Can I conceive of a moral system that takes all the acts of Judaism to be valuable, though there is no God? Yes, but it is a very long shot. For the most part an Orthoprax Jew must take his refuge in moral relativism - and every moral absolutist from Elyashiv to Hitchens would be justified in opposing them.

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  80. For a blog dedicated to "Exploring the legacy of the rationalist medieval Torah scholars," this post sure is ignoring an awful lot of that stuff. I'm sorry, but Menachem Kellner just doesn't count.

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  81. Frum guy without a whole lot of emunahApril 13, 2011 at 10:26 PM

    Rob

    >So how do you answer a friendly non-Jew or inquiring Jew, who asks "Why do you believe?"

    1. No one has ever asked me that. Inquirers about Orthodox Judaism correctly intuit and observe that the correct question is "why do you do?"

    And you know what? You don't have to say "Because Hashem commands us to wear tefillin" if you don't really believe that. If you say "Because this is how Jews have prayed for thousands of years" the answer is completely acceptable.

    2. That's hardly the most important thing in life. My family and marriage are infinitely more important than some busy bodies who appoint themselves the right to ask personal questions about my culture or religion. Even *if* it required some dissembling - and as I said in my first point that it never has - it would be totally worth it. My private life isn't more important than my supposed obligation to pass off spiritual, Orthodox answers to some person as if they are my private beliefs.

    >. Can I conceive of a moral system that takes all the acts of Judaism to be valuable, though there is no God? Yes, but it is a very long shot.

    Please. If its culture then it's no worse than just being a regular old American. You say tomato and I take off on Yom Tov (but make it up later).

    >For the most part an Orthoprax Jew must take his refuge in moral relativism - and every moral absolutist from Elyashiv to Hitchens would be justified in opposing them.

    For the most part a non-Muslim must take his refuge in the fact that his morals are not based on Allah's revelation to Muhammad, and therefore they're just making stuff up, and are really moral relativists, Elyashiv and Hitchens included.

    In other words, you don't get to teitch up my lifestyle in a way that makes it kosher to oppose me.

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  82. As far as SD's question about how the Ami article went from an attack on Project Chazon to promoting them, the answer is simple: Ami would have been attacked had they touched the Aish Hatorah industrial-complex. And according to my source, Sapirman backed out. In the original, there are a large number of quotes from him; in the final, not a word mentioned.
    Again, his science adviser is Jonathan Ostroff, so how much better could Sapirman be than Mechanic?

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  83. Ploni --

    What do you mean that Sapirman backed out?

    Backed out from what?

    Was he saying anything controversial?

    Was he "pushed" by the Aish Industrial Complex?

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  84. I don't know why people keep submitting links to the article. The link was already provided in an earlier comment.

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  85. "In another instance, an Orthoprax and self-described atheistic young man admitted to dating Orthodox girls because he relates to them better. That is an incredibly selfish decision, to date an Orthodox girl and lie to her simply because you can relate better."

    Know that many of the instances ami has "quoted" me, it is not the actual quote. Many of my words I actually said to the person who interviewed me are changed, edited, and distorted in the ami article to depict myself as well as other Orthoprax people in a negative light.

    I never said I would lie to anyone about my lack of beliefs, and those who have dated me were fully aware of them. I even told the interviewer that my virtually all my friends are aware of my Orthopraxy, but this coincidently never made it to the actual article. My "trickery" is pure fabrication on the part of Ami Magazine's editors.

    Please take what you read from Ami with a grain of salt before you make judgments.

    Sincerely,
    -Eli ("The impostor who may be coming to pick your daughter up tonight")

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  86. What Frum guy said.

    Anyway, let’s suppose that you’re right, and Orthopraxy depends on moral relativism. So what?

    You seem to be hung up on the idea that there is an objective morality, that all beliefs dictate actions, and that people should always act strictly in accordance with their beliefs. In the real world, morality is a combination of biological drives and cultural practices, the lack of belief in a Supreme Being dictates no particular action, and most people do what they do because that’s what they do, not because of any grand philosophy based on their belief system.

    Does that lead to nihilism? Maybe for some, but again, so what?

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  87. Two points:

    1) A different viewpoint appeared in YU's Commentator("The Modern Orthodox Response to Orthopraxy", Eli Putterman, November 6, 2009):

    "With this background, some policy questions can be considered. The first is the stance to adopt towards the individual Orthoprax Jew; it should be self-evident that he is not to be despised for his beliefs. On the contrary, in many cases, the decision to remain observant rather than depart for a less demanding environment, whether Reform Judaism or humanism, demonstrates a profound appreciation for the social, intellectual, and psychological aspects of Orthodoxy. Some even remain Orthoprax out of a feeling of deep connection to and identification with the Jewish people and its traditions, for which they deserve naught but our admiration. In sum, the Orthoprax serve as living disproof to the oft-cited contention that the truth of Orthodoxy is so obvious that its denial arises solely from the desire to follow one's base impulses unencumbered by its self-denying regulation"

    2)Also of interest, I googled "Ami Magazine and Orthopraxy" on Sunday, after having read the Ami article on Shabbos. I found the following communication on one site:

    "January 10, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Hi. I’m a writer for Ami Magazine. I’m doing a story on Orthoprax Jews and would be interested in interviewing you, with full anonymity.

    Thanks."

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  88. Frum Guy:
    “Everyone else is doing it” or “has done it” is never a “completely acceptable” answer. It is the answer a teenager gives for slowly killing himself through banned substances. No intellectually serious person would give that answer, especially if he knew that his ancestors prayed to a God they believed in, who does not really exist.

    I assume you will recognize that your final point is a bit silly. A Christian claims to act the way he does because he believes in the ultimate value of recognition of Jesus Christ and his salvation. Anyone who claims that a devout Christian is a nihilist is either deluded or being willfully obstinate. You, however, have staked no claim to a value system, and, on the face of it, your “religion” has none. I ask about morals and values and you respond with “culture-tomato,” which obviously fails to address my point. The most I can glean is that you value your own convenience (“My private life is [I assume?] more important”) -at best a plea to hedonism.

    Let me expand on the two meaningful words in your response - “family and marriage” - and make your argument for you: You have a fairly traditional humanistic value system. You hate to see people, or perhaps even animals get hurt, particularly if they are close to you. You have a wife and children and if you openly left Judaism they would be terribly hurt. That I can understand (which isn’t to claim that I consider it wise in the long run). But it still doesn’t justify prayer in private. It doesn’t make it okay to stand in one place muttering gibberish for 20 minutes while somebody waits for you. I understand a need for some people to keep their real beliefs secret. However, Slifkin refers to someone who keeps all the commandments, even in secret (“Not the kind who are looking to give up halachic observance - people who dress frum but eat treif or break Shabbos when nobody is looking”), and yet somehow feels that their keeping these commandments makes them better than one who does not.

    I should also explicitly exclude another category of person from this discussion. Someone who believes that there might be a God, though there probably isn’t, is not Orthoprax (and certainly not the Atheist I specified). He is taking his chances on a religious unlikelihood and can justify doing so. In fact, according to our dear friend Blaise Pascal, logic compels he him to act as if God does exists (and that argument has some value). I’m interested in the person who has positively concluded that God does not exist, and yet continue to act as if he does even in private.

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  89. When the Gemara talks about accepting converts, it requires only their commitment to the Jewish people and their learning of mitzvos and says nothing about their beliefs.

    If a prospective convert goes through the conversion motions without ever believing the Torah, his conversion was never valid and he remains a gentile.

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  90. Rambam was very much an aberration from normative Judaism in his great emphasis on beliefs.

    Please cite any authorities opposing Rambam on this point.

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  91. Kefirah, like Quantum Gravity is just a social construct

    I didn’t read the Ami article, and it doesn’t sound very good, but I disagree with your beliefs about beliefs. I will address them one at a time.

    Rambam was very much an aberration from normative Judaism in his great emphasis on beliefs.
    I don’t think the shulchan aruch looks kindly on heretics either.
    שולחן ערוך יורה דעה סימן קנח סעיף ב

    The Mishnah in Sanhedrin does declare that those who express certain heretical beliefs have no share in the World-to-Come. Interestingly, atheism and polytheism are not amongst them. Also interesting is that it describes people who "say" various heretical beliefs - not those who believe them.
    That’s not a very good diyuk. Suddenly you’re a super literalist? A simple Bar-Ilan search would have shown you there are places where “ha’omer” doesn’t have to mean that he literally verbalized the words. In the context of beliefs or thoughts, it just means something the person thought:
    ארבע מדות באדם האומר שלי שלי ושלך שלך זו מדה בינונית
    האומר אחטא ואשוב אחטא ואשוב אין מספיקין בידו לעשות תשובה
    According to you and Kellner, must the person verbalize his plan to sin and to teshuvah? Or maybe not all forms of hypocrisy merit the same amount of defensive reinterpretation?

    Menachem Kellner has convincingly argued that this Mishnah is a polemic against those undermining Jewish society - in that particular historical circumstance, by their expressing solidarity with Sadducee beliefs.
    Maybe its connected to the Sadducees, but that doesn’t mean belief is just a social issue. There may not have been a very large atheist movement back then, so the Mishnah may not have needed to address it. But it’s likely the mishnah would have considered it even worse. I see no proof that the whole thing is just a social issue.

    Some people may be motivated by their own personal predilections and therefore decide that chazal didn’t care about beliefs either. But Chazal do not actually give this impression. Beliefs are important. Do you think it would be OK for someone to belief in other gods as long as he doesn’t verbalize it? Similarly, to believe in atheism would obviously go against everything religion stands for. It doesn’t matter if he keeps the mitzvoth, because what meaning does it have? Why do we need such empty mitzvoth? The Mishnah applies the same rule to the belief in Torah MiShemayim and Techiyas HeMesim. People who lack such a fundamental belief do not belong to כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא.

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  92. SD
    According to my source, Sapirman and Mechanic both think that the other one's method is nuts:
    Sapirman thinks that giving a one-hour drasha in front of a bunch of 11 and 12 graders will do nothing but stir up problems and the process has to start when they're young with their rebbeim; Mechanic holds that the rebbeim will be stymied by the questions and it requires a "master presenter" like him or Milstein, his partner, to really answer the questions. So Sapirman wasn't backing out because of any damage to Mechanic.
    Supposedly he backed out because he was afraid that people would start suspecting their rabbis of being orthoprax. As stupid as that sounds, my source says that Ami Magazine got a call about a guy who says that his kids started asking him whether their rebbi might be orthoprax. So I guessed the Ami Magazine article worked after all. :)

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  93. If a prospective convert goes through the conversion motions without ever believing the Torah, his conversion was never valid and he remains a gentile.

    I'm not necessarily disputing that, but what's your source for it? And how come Chazal don't mention anything about it?

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  94. >Rambam was very much an aberration from normative Judaism in his great emphasis on beliefs.

    Please cite any authorities opposing Rambam on this point.


    Is Rashba good enough for you? See the discussion of his view in the footnote on page 150 in Kellner's essay here: http://www.zootorah.com/MAJBAAppendixRewardPunishment.pdf

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  95. A simple Bar-Ilan search would have shown you there are places where “ha’omer” doesn’t have to mean that he literally verbalized the words.

    Ari - OK, I accept the correction. I maintain that the point is true, but there is no diyuk to support it.

    Do you think it would be OK for someone to belief in other gods as long as he doesn’t verbalize it? Similarly, to believe in atheism would obviously go against everything religion stands for.

    Of course. I'm not arguing with any of that. A lot of people are misunderstanding my point. I'm not saying that beliefs don't matter. My point is that Chazal were not overly concerned with someone's beliefs, relative to their very great concern with a person's actions and with whether the person is a loyal member of the community or seeking to undermine it.

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  96. But he is conscientious, and makes sure that there IS someone looking over his shoulder!

    I specifically addressed this point in my post. If someone knows he has a real problem with performing a job, it is irresponsible to rely on the constant supervision of another person. What happens if the supervisor is not around? Is it responsible for a pilot to say, “Well, when no one is watching me I space out and would probably crash the plane, but that’s OK because someone is constantly supervising me?” Again, I agree with you that these people do not have malicious intent. But they are still acting irresponsibly.

    And what if they have made up their minds that they genuinely do not believe? Then they should divorce their wives and leave Orthodox society?

    That is an incredibly difficult question, and one for which I have no business offering an answer. Still, my point was that closet disbelievers will not and can not really stay closeted. In the two main cases discussed in the article, kofrim either deliberately put themselves in situations of religious responsibility, or failed to remove themselves from such positions despite the availability of reasonable alternatives (the posek in question should have thought about a career change). In your criticism of the article, you defended these people on the grounds that their doubt is entirely private, without affecting the broader society. The article demonstrates that this is not the case. And although I have no business deciding if a former-believer should divorce his wife and tear apart his family, it seems unlikely to me that in practice, sooner or later, his unbelief will lead to serious domestic problems.

    You asked, rhetorically, in your original post, “Can we really be hostile towards those who consider the challenges overpowering?” based on the assumption that private unbelief is truly private. But the facts on the ground, at least as presented in the article, demonstrate that private unbelief can and does become public. And as regards public unbelief, how can we not be hostile?

    When I said that , ” The point was simply that these people are living on the fence, and need to make up their minds instead of living duplicitous lives inside of the Orthodox world,” that was not my personal opinion, but rather my interpretation of Ami’s quotation from Melachim (in contrast to your assertion that Ami compared the kofrim to Baal-worshippers). Furthermore, the impression I received was that,” Judaism would be better off without adherents who privately reject its basic tenets,” a sentiment I think everyone can agree with in the abstract. Your formulation implies that the authors wished, if only wistfully, that they could interrogate every single person about their beliefs. I did not receive a similar impression.

    (As an aside, I certainly do not agree with Ami’s childish depiction of the hashkafic issues involved. But as you yourself pointed out, that is to be expected from a popular Chareidi magazine.)

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  97. Frum guy without a whole lot of emunahApril 14, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    Rob

    >“Everyone else is doing it” or “has done it” is never a “completely acceptable” answer. It is the answer a teenager gives for slowly killing himself through banned substances. No intellectually serious person would give that answer, especially if he knew that his ancestors prayed to a God they believed in, who does not really exist.

    Rob, are you trying to shame me into ruining my life? Drink the hemlock, Socrates. No thanks, Rob. You drink the hemlock. I didn't choose to be born into a frum family, sent to yeshiva for nearly 20 years, but that's what happened, and that's where my family, friends, and closest society is and that's where I'm staying. It costs me plenty of money too

    >The most I can glean is that you value your own convenience (“My private life is [I assume?] more important”) -at best a plea to hedonism.

    Absolutely. It's so hedonistic being frum. I'm going to have four cups of wine two nights in a row next week!

    Man, its so selfish of me not to give my pious mother an ulcer and estrange me from my wife. I'm sure Bes Din will be so fair to me too when I have to get divorced.

    Or - I can do none of that. Like I said, you can drink the hemlock.

    >But it still doesn’t justify prayer in private. It doesn’t make it okay to stand in one place muttering gibberish for 20 minutes while somebody waits for you.

    I only did that when I was a bratty yeshiva bochur who thought my avoda was more important then being a mentsh toward others. I don't keep anyone waiting, don't worry.

    And our friend Blaise Pascal meant Christ and his father, not Hashem.

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  98. The post by Eli just became visible after I had already submitted my most recent post. Assuming that is the real Eli, then Ami owes him an apology, and its readership a contrite retraction. And I likewise apologize for my unjustified condemnation.

    I think, though, my point still stands, although with even less anecdotal support than before. It is still not clear to me, as it is to R' Slifkin, that private unbelief will not have broad and serious ramifications.

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  99. G*3:

    Sorry, I didn't notice your comment before. In any case you seem to have gotten the gist of the view that I am trying to portray.

    So what? So I would expect a moral absolutist to appose moral relativism far more then, say, simple atheism, because he should consider it far more dangerous. And yet Slifkin oddly seems to prefer the former. That's my whole point.

    Frum Guy:

    Understand that that "bratty yeshiva bochur" acts as he does because he believes it to be the will of God which he considers the ultimate value. (Yes, a suicide bomber probably has similar thoughts.) By saying that you would never do such a thing, you put yourself neatly into Slifkin's category of "people who dress frum but eat treif or break Shabbos when nobody is looking" (i.e. someone who is hiding, rather than keeping every law of Judaism out of sheer inertia) And that's fine. I can perfectly understand what would drive somebody to become a Crypto-Atheist. That's simply not what is under discussion.

    I can't imagine that your last point is relevant to anyone, myself least of all.

    Please don't kill yourself.

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  100. The Rashba to which you refer says nothing about the importance of beliefs. I do not think the Rashba would appreciate the view you have attributed to him.

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  101. If you're saying that the Rashba does not say that beliefs are unimportant, then I agree, he says no such thing and I never claimed that he did. What he does say (correctly) is that Rambam was very much an aberration in the role that he gave to belief.

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  102. Ploni --

    Thanks.
    If I understand you correctly, you're saying that Sapirman's objection was to the inclusion (or focus upon) the Orthoprax Rabbi?

    Then, given that the article needed to have a "Rabbi hero" who was quick with an "antidote," Mechanic -- rather than Sapirman -- was thrust upon the white horse?

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  103. "What he does say (correctly) is that Rambam was very much an aberration in the role that he gave to belief."

    I haven't seen the Rashba's teshuva inside - only from Kellner's footnote which you referenced. From that quote, it seems to me that the Rashba is not saying at all what you present him to be saying. He doesn't say that the Rambam was an aberration in the role he gave to BELIEF - he says that the Rambam was an aberration in the role that he gave to PHILOSOPHICAL KNOWLEDGE. One can easily read that Rashba and STILL say that according to the Rashba one must believe in God, believe in Torah from Sinai, believe in hashgacha, etc. Your citation does not make the case you think it does.

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  104. What I meant is that the Rashba is entirely irrelevant to the present discussion. If your point is that the Rashba defines belief as "attitudinal" rather than "propositional," to use Kellner's terms, that is irrelevant to someone who has knowingly rejected belief in e.g., Torah min ha-shamayim. (This is one of the major problems in Kellner's book as well. But as Solomon Schechter already noted, for some, the only dogma of Judaism is that there is no dogma.) A relevant Rashba is the one cited by the Beis Yosef in YD 119:
    אבל משומד לחלל שבתות בפרהסיא או שאינו מאמין בדברי רבותינו הוא מין ויינו יין נסך וספריו ספרי קוסמין ויש אומרים אף בניו ממזרים
    but of course this is not helpful for proving that the Rambam is an "abberation."

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  105. Frum guy without a whole lot of emunahApril 14, 2011 at 5:22 PM

    Rob

    >I can't imagine that your last point is relevant to anyone, myself least of all.

    >Please don't kill yourself.

    Ehr, it's a metaphor. Socrates gladly drinking the hemlock out of adherence to abstract philosophical principles. It seemed that you were trying to shame me and others to justify my life on some abstract principles which, no doubt, being unable to do would mean that I am therefore obliged to drink the hemlock, as it were, and leave. I'm saying don't be absurd.

    But thanks for the concern. Probably some other frum people would read what I wrote and suggest that I please do kill myself. Because people can be that nasty. Of course that's neither here nor there, because why would I want to kill myself?

    Look, I understand why everyone doesn't like it. But what should I do? As I said, I didn't ask to be raised frum. It obviously is a lot easier to be frum if you really buy it. But even if you don't, it's not the worst life. I don't live in Riyadh or Kiryas Joel. I love many things about Yiddishkeit. Shabbos is fantastic. I don't feel completely alienated from frum society, although I admit that I've never met a shabbos morning drosho that I didn't think was completely dumb.

    PS I know why yeshiva bochurim do what they do. I was a yeshiva bochur. And yet most frum men grow up and find the proper balance between being frum and being a jerk toward others. Or at least that's my optimistic take on it.

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  106. If a prospective convert goes through the conversion motions without ever believing the Torah, his conversion was never valid and he remains a gentile.

    I'm not necessarily disputing that, but what's your source for it? And how come Chazal don't mention anything about it?

    Been a while since I learned that sugya, but isn't there an opinion that simply tevila l'shem geirus is enough?

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  107. There was a gushingly unfettered from reality puff piece in anticipation of the launch of Ami by a R. Adlerstein in one laughingly miss-named blog (Cross Currents - Feb 28). I gather from my few forays to such sites that he is considered to hold down the “left” leaning wing of a wide spectrum that runs all the way from offensive charedi to charedi apologia. But perhaps I am being unfair. (nah). On the same blog I noticed that R. A. Shafran is listed as an editor at large of Ami. Since R. Shafran’s reputation as a creative presenter of facts as Agudah’s public mouthpiece is well known and well deserved, I wonder whether the distortions and other editorial sins of both commission and omission described above may be laid at his editorial door. Certainly the offensively prejudicial mangling of the interviewee’s actual words described above is reflective of Agudist style representations of reality. But that is just speculation. I wonder if R. Adlerstein is still enamored of the product whose pre-appearance he so enthusiastically flogged.

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  108. it seems to me that the Rashba is not saying at all what you present him to be saying.... One can easily read that Rashba and STILL say that according to the Rashba one must believe in God, believe in Torah from Sinai, believe in hashgacha, etc.

    My goodness, what's the matter with everyone lately? Why on earth would you think that I was saying that acc. to Rashba one need not believe in God or Torah MiSinai?

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  109. What I meant is that the Rashba is entirely irrelevant to the present discussion.

    The request was for me to provide a single source showing that Rambam was not normative in the role that he ascribed to belief. If you want a source for something else, say so!

    A relevant Rashba is the one cited by the Beis Yosef in YD 119:
    אבל משומד לחלל שבתות בפרהסיא או שאינו מאמין בדברי רבותינו הוא מין ויינו יין נסך וספריו ספרי קוסמין ויש אומרים אף בניו ממזרים


    I'm curious. What do you think is the meaning of אינו מאמין בדברי רבותינו? And how do you think Rashba proposed evaluating whether a person meets that criterion?

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  110. I wonder if R. Adlerstein is still enamored of the product whose pre-appearance he so enthusiastically flogged.

    Suffice it to say that he liked my post very much.

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  111. "The request was for me to provide a single source showing that Rambam was not normative in the role that he ascribed to belief."

    But, as I commented earlier, the Rashba didn't say this. He said that the Rambam was not normative in the role that he ascribed to philosophy, he didn't comment on the issue of the Rambam's insistence on any particular belief. In other words, the Rashba didn't take issue with the Rambam's insistence on dogmas - he took issue with the Rambam's insistence that these dogmas be accepted specifically through philosophy.

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  112. DS

    Again, what I can glean from my source is simply that Sapirman backed out, and the whole idea of making Sapirman into the better of the kiruv options didn't pan out; hence Chazon got a free ride.

    But apparently there are several yeshivas that won't let Mechanic in, which was hinted to in the first draft, not naming names, but the implication was there.

    That's what I understand.

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  113. There seem to be two separate issues which are being conflated here. One is a question of public policy toward observant Jews who have fallen out of belief. Here, there are various arguments for why we should treat these people leniently, such as the Chazon Ish's about how we now live in a world without miracles, or the Gush version, about how we now live in a post-Kantian world.
    Separately, there is the question of the role of beliefs vs. actions in Judaism, not "halakha le-ma'aseh" what to do with deviants. Addressing this question, the Rashba is irrelevant because he does not argue with the Rambam about the centrality of belief. I think what was requested of you is to cite someone who argues with the Rambam about the centrality of belief in Judaism. As to what the Rashba means by אינו מאמין בדברי רבותינו, see the Chazon Ish YD 2:18 ד"ה ועיקר דין who discusses it.

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  114. I think that one more thing should have been added. The tragedy to me is that there will be parents Rabbeim, educators, brothers, sisters, therapists... from the community reading this article (Ami). There are two possibilities: One is that this is the way the community views sceptics, and the article is just a reflection of their view. Or, very little people could agree with the article or perhaps they have given little though to the subject, but could have their thoughts shaped by it. Either way the situation is sad. But just think about how such inaccurate depictions of sceptics could only worsen the damage and further alienate these sceptics. The yeshivish community must be able to admit that there are things we cannot prove, and marginalizing those that disagree with your poor arguments will not be helping people.

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  115. Rabbi Sapirman is trying to combat this, and explain the basics of our beliefs ... in a quite rational way, I might add:

    http://patentlyjewish.com/belief-jewish-basics-know-what-to-answer-yourself-cd-series/

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  116. Many people would see Rabbi Sapirman's approach as naive, and best suited only to those who don't need much convincing and deeply want to believe.

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