Two articles appeared in the December 12, 2007 issue of The Jerusalem Post—one by Orthodox Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, the other by Reform Rabbi Elyse Frishman. (How strange: notice the second syllable of their respective last names, although Elyse is female.) The two articles reminded me of something I wrote for my grandson fourteen years ago before his bar mitzvah, when he asked me “What is an ultra-orthodox Jew?”
The term “orthodox” is of Greek origin and is derived from two Greek words: orthos, meaning “true,” “correct,” “straight”—think of “orthopedics”—and doxa, meaning “opinion.”
- 1. To describe any Jew as “orthodox” is to say, in effect, that he has true or correct opinions.
- 2. Hence, to call any Jew “ultra-orthodox” is absurd.
- 3. Now, since the opinions of orthodox Jews are, by definition, true, the opinions of non-orthodox Jews are, by definition, untrue.
- 4. Of course, we all know that non-orthodox Jews reject many of the opinions of orthodox Jews. Which means they reject many true opinions regarding the Torah, for example: how Jewish men and women should conduct their lives as individuals; how parents should educate their children; how they should relate to non-Jews; how they should relate to Israel and to G-d.
- 5. But since non-orthodox Jews regard many of the opinions of orthodox Jews as untrue, then they should not call orthodox Jews “orthodox” but “non-orthodox” (or “semi-orthodox”). Conversely, since non-orthodox Jews regard their own opinions as true or correct, they should call themselves “orthodox” Jews!
- 6. But this last point poses a difficulty. You see, there exist today a great variety of non-orthodox Jewish movements, such as Reform, Conservative, Progressive, Reconstructionist—and even varieties of these varieties, such as Gay, Lesbian, and Secular Humanism. Many of the opinions of these non-orthodox Jewish movements not only contradict each other, but they change from time to time, and from place to place, and of course from individual to individual. Hence, none of these non-orthodox movements can logically call themselves True or “orthodox” (as suggested at the end of point 5 above).
- 7. Since none of these non-orthodox Jewish movements is True, their leaders advocate “religious pluralism.” But “religious pluralism” is itself an opinion. So, if no opinion regarding Judaism is True, neither is “pluralism.”
- 8. Accordingly, non-orthodox Jews must continue to call orthodox Jews “orthodox.” They must continue to imply that the opinions of orthodox Jews are true or correct or straight, while implying that their own (non-orthodox) opinions are false, incorrect, or crooked. Nor is this all.
- 9. By definition, various non-orthodox rabbis get paid for teaching non-orthodox or false opinions. Which means they are “twisted” in thought as well as in deed, for they make other people believe in, and live by, false or twisted opinions.
- 10. Of course, non-orthodox rabbis do not believe that the opinions they teach are false. They regard them as true. But we have already seen that non-orthodox opinions are, by definition, untrue. Hence it would be more accurate or more honest for these non-orthodox rabbis to say that their opinions are “convenient” or “useful.” And, of course, when their opinions cease to be convenient or useful, they change them.
- 11. But now we must ask: convenient or useful to whom? To the non-orthodox rabbi? To the majority of his or her congregation, or to the most powerful or richest members of his or her congregation? Who decides what opinions are “convenient” or “useful”? The Jews themselves, or the social forces or non-Jewish influences around them?
- 12. Whatever the case, because of all this Jewish “pluralism,” various Jews call for Jewish “unity.” But how can there be unity or logical consistency between those who have true and false opinions? How can one compromise between correct and incorrect opinions? How can one be a “little pregnant”?
- 13. Besides, those who call for Jewish unity presuppose that Jewish unity is “good.” But this, too, is an opinion (as much so as “pluralism”). Logically, the diverse Jewish movements cannot advocate Jewish unity except with respect to opinions they may have in common. For example, all Jews are concerned about the physical safety of their children. To this end they may combine, say to promote safe neighborhoods. But many non-Jews are concerned about this sort of thing.
- 14. Hence, without denying the value of Jewish unity for promoting non-controversial causes, the idea itself is superficial when divorced from basic doctrinal truths—which brings us back to orthodox and non-orthodox opinions.
- 15. The greatest Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, made a distinction between “opinion” and “knowledge.” A person might have a true opinion without understanding the grounds of his opinion. Such a person lacked knowledge.
- 16. Which suggests that a person may be an orthodox Jew and yet lack profound knowledge of the Torah. Hence the need for yeshivas or Jewish academies: to ascend from true opinions to knowledge and thereby to promote the all-embracing way of life of the Torah.
- 17. Only by showing that the Torah is the paradigm of knowledge and the Tree of Life can Jews achieve true unity.
- 18. Only then will the dichotomy of orthodox and non-orthodox Jews disappear along with the basis of this parody.