Wednesday, 22 February 2012

God didn't write my Bible, but James Kugel did

I'm kidding. He didn't. But How to Read the Bible was a great book. I will (have to reread it) and blog about it one day, but today I wanted to ask you what you think it means to be "frum" or "Orthodox", and whether you think the two are interchangeable. (Someone commented recently that 'frum' is the insider term, but 'Orthodox' is the outsider term).

In the Q and A part of his web-site, someone asked James Kugel to discuss Orthodoxy versus Orthopraxy.  Kugel answers: "I don't really buy into the distinction between 'Orthodoxy' and 'Orthopraxy' . . . you wouldn't call someone 'Orthodox' who sincerely believes that the Torah was given by God . .. but who does not keep Shabbat or the rules of kosher food." In other words, being religious is more about practice than belief. I think Kugel  would argue that you have to have both . . . But, for me, in the context of Judaism, since it is so practice based, I would say that practice trumps belief in defining who is Orthodox.

On a related note, I recently had a conversation with someone from Sweden - ah the internet is a beautiful thing! - and he made the following observation: "In Sweden, people in the Orthodox shul are not Orthodox. They keep kosher, but not shabbes. [They] get nervous when someone really starts to keep things. [They think] 'Oh my God! he's a fundamentalist!' [But] they talk a lot behind the back if someone eats pork, for example. According to them, that is too secular". I could easily replace Sweden with South Africa. As soon as he said it, I could picture people who fit the description to a tee. I have always thought of them as Conservadox. I was a bit surprised recently when one of my South African Jewish acquaintances who matches the description above quite well* referred to herself as Orthodox.  I guess for me (and James Kugel!), keeping shabbes (or the semblance thereof) would be one of the criteria of being Orthodox . . . Am I missing something? Is Swedish/South African Orthodox that different from North American versions of Orthodox? If being defined as Orthodox is about practice, what proportion of the practice should be maintained to meet criteria?

*Minus the talking behind one's back about the pork thing, since I eat pork, so that particular lashon haro would be saved for someone else.

Coming up this week . . .
I have lots of Questions! For those who have been kind/patient with me enough to take the time to comment/respond - thank you!!! I have lots of things that I want to ask, and so this week will be full of questions.

Also, I'm very excited, because one of the bloggers who inspired me to start this one - Shilton Hasechel - agreed to answer some of my questions re: Orthopraxy/Orthodoxy, and I will post the interview soon.


  1. So, I just checked out your glossary for the term Orthoprax. Do Jews who practice Orthodox Judaism and don't believe the underpinnings do so out of societal pressure?

  2. In other words, "Why do Jews who don't believe practice?", right? That was the question that got me hooked on reading blogs, and later blogging. (See my post Jan 1st). The reasons are varied. First of all, the degree of skepticism varies among individuals. In the case of my friend who introduced me to the term, it was a real love/appreciation for the history and culture. (And having grown up without celebrating any Jewish hoidays, and now seeing them through the eyes of my son as we celebrate them, I can certainly appreciate that). In blogs I've read other reasons have popped up. There's a blog called Undercover Kofer, where the author really does seem trapped by social pressure. From G*3's blog, The Second Son - and G*3, I don't presume to speak for you - please correct me if I'm wrong - my sense was that he is generally content with his life, and really doesn't feel a burning need to rock the boat. In any case, I'm still fascinated by the question, and people's experiences, and am happy to take interview volunteers if anyone who identifies as Orthoprax is interested!

    1. > my sense was that he is generally content with his life, and really doesn't feel a burning need to rock the boat. In any case

      That’s pretty much it. Though I havn’t thought of myself as “content.” The word has a good feeling.

      Pretty much anything I don’t want to do, I don’t. The rest is culture. All I really have to gain by going OTD is cheaper food, and I would lose the community, create problems with my family… it’s just not worth it. Ten years ago it would have been, but I was young(er) and (more) naïve.

  3. Orthodox people are obssessed with labels. Frum, yeshivish, conservative, frei, modern,

    Just be, and let others be


    1. I think you mean people in general are obsessed with labels. Not just Orthodox.

      The categories exist whether you choose to see them or not. A Modern Orthodox Jew is not the same as a Charedi or Conservative Jew. That's a reality.

      How you deal with the fact that there are different types of Jews is another question. I agree to a certain extent that we should be and let other's be. But no one follows this rule to the end. You yourself want others to "be and let others be", but what you're not happy with others being who they are in not accepting your principle of "be and let others be".
      The classic contradiction in many liberalists' thoughts.

  4. Everyone is obsessed with labels. At times, in the macro, you need labels.

  5. Read:
    Two Introductions to Scripture. James Kugel and the Possibility of Biblical Theology by Benjamin Sommer

    The last words of the article:
    "Revelation was real. The command that Israel perceived at Sinai was real. The rest—whether written by J or P, First or Second Isaiah, Akiba or Ishmael, Rashi or Ramban, Moshe Weinfeld or Meir Weiss—is commentary. It can add to Torah, but it can’t subtract, and so—Go, learn."

  6. E - I smell kiruv. Give me the take home message. What is the objective proof that:
    "Revelation was real. The command that Israel perceived at Sinai was real."


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