Question: Publication date: 18-08-2009
Title:   Orthodoxy
Content:   dear sir;

Many books have been written, expressing the view that the creation stories and the patriarchs are pure mythology; that the exodus from egypt never happened or it only involved a small number of people; and that the conquest of canaan never happened as described in the bible. They use the documentary hypothesis to show that the bible/torah
was written by multiple authors many centuries after the events happened. More recently
I have seen books authored by "orthodox" jews making these same claims, the most famous to date is Dr James Kugel. My question is: how can one deny the basic tenets of orthodox judaism and still claim to be orthodox?
To be "orthoprax" is easily understandable because of the many societal benefits of the orthodox life-style; however, to be truly orthodox, one must hold the torah to be immutable and inerrent. are these people hypocritical or delusional or what?


Answer: Publication date: 18-08-2009
Title:   Orthodoxy
Content:   Dear RH,

Before arguing “how can one deny the basic tenets of orthodox Judaism,” one has to ask what those tenets are. Now, it is possible to quote a list of some articles of faith (Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles?). But whence the conviction that those are indeed the basic tenets of Orthodox Judaism? Taking Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles as an example, one should note that the fifth of these principles demands that all worship be directed to God alone. And yet, Jews who sing Shalom Aleikhem on the Shabbat evening are thereby imploring guardian angels to intercede on their behalf before God (barekhuni le-shalom…). So, are we to conclude that these Jews are not Orthodox?
The answer is obviously no. Belonging to Orthodox Judaism, like belonging to any other human community, is dependent on social parameters, normally set up by that community itself, usually through behavioral norms (the language one speaks, the things one does with his property, the spouse one marries, the education one receives for himself or gives to his children, the way one prays/dresses/eats/makes a living, etc.) rather than through specific claims of belief. This does not mean that belief is not important at all: e.g., in order to be considered an Orthodox Jew, one would probably have to say, when asked about it, that he considers the Torah to be of divine origin. But what he means by the Torah in this case is a whole complicated issue, not to be ever resolved in a single sentence. E.g., a considerable portion of Orthodox rabbis do recognize that the text of the Pentateuch had undergone some changes (even if only with regard to spelling) during its history. But if the spelling of individual words could change, why not the contents of some verses, or chapters, or even books? And what about the Oral Torah? Why cannot an Orthodox Jew believe that God had revealed some commandments (say, a set of “basic commandments”) to Moses at Sinai, but those commandments were initially transmitted as an oral teaching, and were later put to writing in some literary works, which were then combined in one way or another to form the Pentateuch as we know it? (One can even admit that in the process of transmission, disagreements arose over the nature of some commandments, like it happened later in the Talmudic period, and that these disagreements are manifested in the differing views on one and the same commandment which are often found in the different biblical sources.)
In any event, essentially, an Orthodox Jew is one whom other Orthodox Jews recognize as such, and judging by the general approach of those, there is no real difference between an orthodox and orthoprax.


Daat Emet