It is a month since an article describing this supposedly new phenomenon was published in Ami Magazine. Some bloggers had taken the topic on their horns before Pesach. Others did it during Pesach and others soon after.
(I don’t know how they do it... how they can manage time for writing between learning, work, home, kids, Pesach and other responsibilities? I couldn’t, and on Pesach I don’t write, either, so now is the time to express my stranger’s view on “orthoprax.”)
I met them for the first time a quarter century ago in Judenrein Poland. No, not the ones described in the article in Ami magazine, but you will judge yourself after reading this post if my comparison is accurate.
I met them in my city’s shul. To get to this shul you would need to know the topography of the backyards of my city. It was located next to ruins of one of the most beautiful orthodox synagogues of pre-war Germany, but at that time it was falling apart as an result of Polish barbarism directed toward everything Jewish.
The shul was located where it wouldn’t be too easy to find, and was known only to those who attended. The people were hiding too: All were old, all were Holocaust survivors, some were orthoprax, none were Shoimer Shabos (observant).
How was this possible, to be orthoprax and not shomrei Shabos at the same time? They came to daven only on Shabos and Yomim Toivim (holidays). But there were also many Jews in the city who didn’t come at all. But again, why do I refer to people who were not observing other regulations of the Jewish Code of Law, as people “practicing” Judaism (the ‘prax’ part of the word orthoprax imply practicing)? Well, they were practicing, and with mesiras nefesh superior to that demanded by the Chumros observed in any of America’s Orthodox communities.
At that time I was still a Pole, and I knew the sentiment of my landsmen towards the Zyd. They were literally risking their lives just by admitting their Jewishness. But why did they come if they were not Shomrey Shabos? We cannot judge them or answer this question. Most of them declared their belief in Hashem and his servant Moishe.
Among them were a few whom I would describe as orthoprax: they came to Saturday prayers, sometimes even leading them and at the same time uttering statements which were in direct conflict with more than one 13 articles of Maymonides. But they were coming and reading the words of prayer to the G-d whom they did not believe in.
I never believed them—not they, nor any of the other self-declared Jewish Atheists—who fought G-d as if He was their personal enemy. I spent hundreds of hours with them. We were talking about faith and lack of faith, G-d and man, we were challenging each other. They challenged my faith and I challenged their declarations of disbelieve. I listened to an amount of apikorsis which even the Internet doesn’t dream of.
At this time, I came to understand that there is no such thing as an atheist. There are only rebels against the Creator. There are two kinds of rebels. One is rare and only because of the Holocaust which happened in my country I met so many of them. Those are the orthoprax of my shul in Wroclaw. I cried for them then as I cry for everyone I hear about here in the frum world.
Although I didn’t meet any of them personally here in America, I can imagine that one can go through experiences that shake his faith, and therefore his practice of Derech ha Torah will be affected. I can not Judge them and I don’t want to.
We have the example of one ultimate orthoprax in the Talmud. Elisha ben Abuya, aka the Acher. Before you will tell me that I don’t know the story, please wait. When he stopped Rabbi Meir from riding a horse on Shabes, it showed him practicing at least one Mitzva: preventing his fellow Jew from performing a sin. This is not a small Mitzva. He still believed in sin. Chazal’s attempt to explain Acher’s situation after his death shows only how tragic was his rebellion and how difficult it was to understand and to judge a person like him—even for Heaven. Can we judge any of the orthoprax? Can you?
But there are the other rebels who, as Chazal describes them, are those who first succumb to their somatic desires and only afterwards ask questions of faith. This is the more common species. From them apikorsim are recruited—the real ones. There are plenty of Chazal statements about them, and we may came back to this topic in future I-H. (I addressed one of them already in my ‘Pastures’ post.)
At this moment, I will say only that besides those cynics driven by their testosterone to ridicule everything that yesterday was holy for them, there is also second group with whom I can’t breath the same air: the convertibles.
Unlike the first ones, who can not stay with their frum brothers, the convertibles come to Bays Hamedrysh with their shtreimels and beketches. But their look tells us all. If they want, in the blink of an eye they may look like Six Pack Joe from a different neighborhood. These are the two kinds of creatures which are really, really ugly and dangerous for you and your kids. These are the ones you should look to expel from your community. These are the people poisoning your mind and your spirit with the superstition that it is possible and it is gantz git to enjoy both worlds, despite the ensuing moral destruction. These are the ones weakening the moral core of the holy nation. Orthoprax? Really, they are the major problem of our community? I don’t think so.
The article in Ami magazine in my understanding, was describing the long black, curled teeth of Internet bogeymen. The main goal of the author was to scare the hell out of you.
Other things were already said by bloggers within last month since Ami’s publication.
And another installment of Rav Hirsch's explanation of the Sfira.
"And they now looked around and drew comparisons. How greatly the value of the Torah increased when compared to everything else around which the life of the nations revolved. Century after century the Jewish People wandered like their first fathers once wandered "from nation to nation, from kingdom to kingdom." The peoples around our Fathers possessed freedom and land but were without the freedom and grounding of the Godly Law.
Alone in the midst of these peoples who were proud of their political freedom and powerful in their possession of land, the scattered flock of Israel had a Divine Law but no freedom or land. Yet what flourishing of the humane, which ennobles and blesses man, did they see among these free nations, strong in the possession of their land, when compared with the flowering that this Divine Law produced in them?
This humaneness flourished in the Jewish People even in times when their right to a spot of earth whereon to set the cradles of their children and prepare the graves of their parents was disputed, and they were permitted only as much justice and freedom as benefited the interests of the local government in the particular foreign country where they found themselves dispersed.—Were they not right when they clung with a doubly fiery ardor to their unique Divine Treasure, which protected them from barbarism and degeneracy which they saw proliferating everywhere? Were they not proved correct in their devotion when Torah produced in them a fresh spiritual life, a clear-sightedness, a moral purity, a mellow nature, a blissful family life, an upright brotherhood, of which the scoffing world of the nations had no inkling?
They saw how easily nations suffered the loss of their political freedom, and with it their land. Then, along with both, they immediately lost their existence as a people altogether, and disappeared like bubbles of soap, carrying with them all their power and dreams of glory. And
—with only the Torah in its arms pressed even farther toward its eternal dawn of rejuvenation, through night and mist, over the ash-filled urns and ruined tombs of the nations. Should then Israel have discontinued the counting of days and weeks from the festival of its freedom to the festival of the Torah? Their freedom had withered away very painfully since the time en Jews had swung the sickle over their own land which lived on only in their memory." Israel