Monday, November 21, 2011

Letter From an Acquaintance

There's a whole story behind this, but because I don't want to reveal this guy's identity, I have to be a bit vague. The following is part of a facebook messaging correspondence with a haredi fellow who, despite the impression you might receive, I don't know very well and who has never read Limits of Orthodox Theology. The message's contents make it clear that when he wrote this letter, he was unaware that I am an atheist and thinks I am still Modern Orthodox (I informed him in a follow-up message of that little development). I thought it would be a good springboard for some thoughts of mine on frumkeit. Actually, it's a really good springboard, gives me a lot to work with. The problem is that there's so much good material, it's a bit long. So I'm going to reprint the segment I'm going to work with here and then either later today or tomorrow, I'll do a post (might be a video post, not sure yet) on my thoughts regarding this letter:

...Baruch, I know you're a nice guy, however your perspectives worry me considerably. I believe that many of the things you are stating and possibly believing are heretical. I find it especially troubling with you because you had become frum and have started to go the other way. It also seems to be a considerably important part of who you are. It's not just that you happen to believe something heretical, you seem especially enamored with it and discuss it at length.
Even from our very beginning you had suggested I read the Limits of Orthodox Theology. I find this book to really be a divide and has unfortunately left many people confused and believing the most preposterous things about Judaism. In his attempt to bring harmony to people who don't follow the Rambam's 13 Ikkarim, he has in effect created a system where you can believe whatever you want as there is nothing to believe. I believe that he has many people under his sway under a facade of intellectualism and the prestige of his credentials; this is unfortunate. Mr. Shapiro will have a lot to answer for in the next world for his statements.
I became further shocked as our entire discussion over Wellhausen kept leaving a gnawing feeling that this wasn't just an argument in semantics (i.e. does Radday debunk Wellhausen or not) but that you actually believe what the Bible critics say about our holy Torah.
The more and more you and I had spoken the more I felt you were falling further away. The point of when I realized that you had fallen too far was when you affirmed possible belief in Wellhausen. I didn't have the guts then to do what I should have done, but I should have ended our friendship then, and not just the conversation.
This is not easy for me to do, but I cannot continue our friendship as things currently stand. I feel it is important that you immediately strive to gain some proper perspective and talk to some rabbanan who can give you proper hadracha on Judaism, but until that happens I cannot continue our friendship. I believe that your current group of peers cannot give this to you and are actually hurting you. I think you need to dissociate from these individuals immediately and attach yourself to others who can show you the truth.
I don't know if you're even going to consider this but please hear me out. Is there a possible emotional factor in some of your beliefs? I know you have had a pretty rough life being somewhat outcast by your family, and then when you came here you were outcast by the yeshiva. Is it possible that this might be an influence in some of your perspectives? I am not going to play psychologist and psychoanalyze you, but from many conversations with you it seems that you have somewhat of a vendetta against Orthodox Jews, especially Yeshivishe Jews...


  1. First of all, Wellhausen was refuted decades ago. If you're going to pick a Biblical critic, pick someone more recent and also someone who isn't a virulent anti-Semite and using those feelings as his motivation to discredit the Torah.
    Second, his summary of Shapiro is pretty much correct. In the academic world, sources all have the same weight unless there's something to discredit them. A researcher from outer Iceland has as much weight in a discussion about molecules as the head molecular biologist at Harvard. This is approach Shapiro brings to his analysis of Jewish sources. There is no question about his scholarship but the Jewish approach to sources does apply a concept of relative value to different rabbonim. As a result, while he might be academically correct he is not rabbinically correct.
    Third, keep in mind that there is a standard OTD path for the disillusioned that usually ends in one being virulently opposed to Judaism with the same fervour that one one loved it with. Be careful because if you end up like that you can't say you've actually changed who you really are, just what dogma you spout.

  2. It amazes me how many people misunderstand Shapiro's book. He explicitly says that he is not claiming that there are no dogmas; just that the list is not as straightforward as many people think. Why do people persist in claiming that he says that you can believe anything?

  3. Fuck, what a bigot! At least he is clear about where his friendships end...

  4. > Is there a possible emotional factor in some of your beliefs?

    Of course there’s an emotional factor. So what? Does he think that his belief in Orthodox Judaism is purely rational, unaffected by his emotions? The relevant question is not whether emotion leads someone to find certain arguments attractive, but whether those arguments hold up.

    It’s all pretty standard. You’re only allowed to believe certain things, everything else is wrong by definition, one can’t associate with those who think wrong thing, and if one thinks wrong things, it’s because of a flaw in that person.

  5. "Mr. Shapiro will have a lot to answer for in the next world for his statements."