Orthodox Judaism vs. Rationalist Judaism
A while ago I heard of two people who were told about this website, and who assumed from its title - Rationalist Judaism - that it was an alternate movement in Judaism, opposed to Orthodox Judaism. In other words, just as people broke away from traditional, Torah-true Orthodoxy with the Reform and Conservative movements, it was assumed that this website represents a similar such break. Note that this assumption was not reached based on what these people had read on this website - for they hadn't read any of it - but based on the title alone. As such, a friend of mine was concerned and suggested that I change the name of this website to "Rationalist Orthodox Judaism."
After I had finished laughing, it occurred to me that, in a way, they had a point.
The term "Orthodox," as applied to Judaism, has two meanings - the colloquial meaning, and the academic definition. Colloquially, "Orthodox" simply refers to people who are committed to halachah and are part of the Orthodox community. But in the academic study of Judaism, "Orthodox" refers to a particular approach to Judaism which began with the Chasam Sofer as a reaction to Reform. There have been several proposed features of Orthodox society which were a novelty, including its practice of segregation from the larger Jewish community, its approach to halachic stricture, its opposition to secular studies, its new role for the yeshivah, and most of all its traditionalism - its fervent opposition to any change perceived as coming from the outside. (I recently wrote a paper on this topic, which I will be e-publishing on this website at some point.) The approach to Judaism practiced before that is referred to as "traditional Judaism."
Now, there is a question raised in academic circles as to whether "Orthodox" is an appropriate label for various forms of Judaism today. For example, if Orthodoxy is defined by its opposition to secular studies, can Modern Orthodoxy be defined as Orthodox? The same question could be raised with regard to Rationalist Judaism - whether one is referring to the Rationalist Judaism of Rambam and other medieval figures, or to the Rationalist Judaism that we are exploring on this website. Rambam was not an Orthodox Jew - but was he a traditional Jew, or a rationalist Jew? Is rationalism such a distinct approach that it can be considered a category separate from "traditional" and "Orthodox"? Or does it function on a different plane from such categories, which have more to do with practice and social features than intellectual differences?
Of course, there are no absolute answers to such questions. Still, it is interesting to ponder upon. In the meanwhile, I am not changing the title of this website!