Jewish Journal

The Ever-Narrowing Orthodox Mind.

by Rav Yosef Kanefsky

December 9, 2009 | 2:06 am

Another way that we are unnecessarily making Orthodoxy unappealing to folks is by tolerating the perception that Orthodox Jews are bound by a set of religious dogmas, many of which strike the modern mind as being highly implausible and/or deeply offensive. I’m referring to the alleged Orthodox dogmas which our children too often pick up in day school, and which become further propagated and entrenched with every ArtScroll publication that hits the shelves. When we fail to respectfully but vigorously assert that these are not Orthodox dogmas, we become complicit not only in a form of Chilul Hashem, but also in reinforcing the impression that Orthodoxy does best by the narrow-minded. (In truth, the consequences of our silence are more grievous still as these “dogmas” also seem to grant some of their adherents the license to engage in terrible behavior.)

Here are just a few examples of damaging “dogmas”, each of which is in reality only one opinion among other dissenting opinions that have been expressed in classical (= Orthodox ) sources. Your local Morethodox rabbi will surely be ale to point you to the sources that dispute the notions that:

(1) Jewish souls have a superior innate quality relative to non-Jewish souls. And only the former enjoy the benefits of eternal life.

(2) Every calamity that occurs on Earth is the result of an express Divine decision as to how and when it should unfold, and that God directly decides who shall survive it, and who shall not.

(3) When tragedy strikes, this is invariably the fault of somebody having sinned.

(4) Our biblical ancestors, most especially our patriarchs and matriarchs, never erred or sinned. Any act that they performed – including those which would horrify us if our spouses or our children did them - is righteous.

(5) It is prohibited to return lost objects to non-Jews, and one ought not extend tzedaka to non-Jewish individuals or causes as long as Jewish need exists. And that it goes without saying that there are no circumstances that under which parts of Eretz Yisrael could be ceded for the creation of a non-Jewish state.

(6) The Midrash and the Aggada are comprised of narratives that were passed down to our Sages from Sinai, to be regarded as possessing the same truth as the biblical narratives themselves, even when they thus compel us to negatively stereotype whole peoples (e.g. Ishmaelites), or require us to morally justify exploiting your twin brother’s weakness for lentils, for your own financial benefit..

(7) It is possible, utilizing mathematics and physics, to prove the scientific authenticity of the Torah’s account of Creation, and that to regard the opening chapters of Genesis as being anything other than literally true, is heresy.

(8) Jews who are not Orthodox would be better off not davening at all than davening in a non-Orthodox shul. Cause we know how God thinks about these things.

(9) [“Damaging” in the sense that our intellectual honesty is shot by this one..] The book of Tehillim, including the Psalms describing events surrounding the destruction and rebuilding of Jerusalem, were nonetheless somehow authored by King David. And the books of Mishlai and Kohellet were authored by King Solomon -  despite the fact that they are written in a Hebrew that belongs to the Second Temple period. And the issues surrounding Isaiah etc, etc.

If you’re reading this, the chances are that you’ve been troubled by all of these “dogmas” before. But don’t take them lying down. I believe that if we speak our piece, we can reshape what “Orthodoxy believes”. Artscroll did it. Why can’t we?

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