Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Orthoprax Rabbi

My gut instinct tells me this is a hoax. It can't be true. The deception would be almost impossible to pull off. But what if it isn’t a hoax? What if it's true? The following is a bio from the blog of a modern Orthodox Rabbi:

I wanted to introduce myself, I am the rabbi of a modern orthodox synagogue. I have traditional semikha, spent time studying in Israel, have written articles for various Torah journals, I am married (to the Orthoprax Rebbetzin) and have five kids (the Orthoprax Rabbi’s Kids).

This is all pretty unremarkable. But, I figured I would let you all in on a little secret, while my congregants are all Orthodox, to varying degrees, I am not. I don’t believe in any of it. I am an atheist. I personally don’t keep much of any of Jewish law.

How then can I be an Orthodox Rabbi? Simple. A rabbi is a job like any other. No one asks the plumber if he believes in plumbing or the attorney if he truly believes in his client. Instead, everyone understands that many people go into different professions for many different reasons.

Sure, there are those plumbers who view it as their calling or the attorney who only takes clients he can believe in. Most of us, however, aren’t that lucky. Instead, we take jobs that we think we can be good at, make money, get power or a host of other reasons.

I took this job because I am a good speaker, personable and have a background in Jewish stuff. My congregants all like me – or at least it seems so, I just received a five-year contract extension and raise - so what’s wrong if I don’t believe.

My belief doesn’t (for the most part, and I hope to explore some areas where it does) affect my job performance. I answer “she’elot” and give heartfelt dershot, officiate at weddings and funerals, and, as I said, people are generally satisfied. So do my beliefs matter?

I hope to explore this question and generally discuss my role as the atheist or, as some nice people have come up with a category for what I am – orthoprax, I am the Orthoprax Rabbi.

There are no other entries on this blog and it is certianly reasonable to conclude that this is a hoax. But it is not out of the realm of possibility that this guy exists exactly as he describes. It is a very plausible description of someone who is a real rabbi of a real Shul. If it is true then those who Daven in a modern Orthodox Shul whose rabbi fits the above description may have an atheist as their spiritual leader - and not know it.

This could be your rabbi!

Of course closet atheists do not only come from modern Orthodox backgrounds. There are plenty of Charedi and Chasidic closet atheists too. And their numbers seem to be increasing. They do not believe in God and yet lead Frum lifestyles. The reason they do that is because they grew up Frum and are comfortable with that lifestyle. Their friends and family are Orthodox. Many are married and have children whose peer groups are all Orthodox. They even send their kids to religious day schools. Somewhere along the way for any number of reasons they stopped believing. But they remain ‘Frum’. They even have a label: Orthoprax.

In pursuit of trying to find out why so many Jews have gone this route I have read some of the atheist and skeptic blogs and have seen various reasons stated as to why and how they got that way. One thing that seems clear to me about them is that they are not evil people. They have just reacted differently to questions than those of us who have retained our beliefs. And they do not wish to change. They do not miss their former beliefs and feel liberated from them.

So why did they stop believing? There are probably as many reasons as there are skeptics and atheists and it’s usually more than one. One of the more common reasons given is the perceived contradictions between Torah and science and after searching - not finding satisfactory resolutions to those contradictions. Another common reason is the arguments of the bible critics who use literary analysis to dispute the Torah’s Divine origin. Others reasons include social and emotional problems that stem from various life circumstances.

Some I suppose simply want to be Porek Ol – they simply do not want to be burdened with Mitzvah observance. But they all end up in the same place – as non believers. I am not here to argue with them. I would just say that belief is based on more than just logical analyses. And I feel sorry for those who by nature of their atheism see no purpose or meaning to life.

But what about this Orthoprax rabbi (if he truly exists)? I can understand why he became an atheist. But how can he justify preaching belief when he is not a believer? Is that not the height of deception and dishonesty? Being a rabbi is more than about making speeches - even heartfelt ones. It’s more than just a job. It is based on the desire to serve God and one’s community. How does an atheist enhance their spirituality.

He is lying when he preaches. He is lying by projecting a false image about himself. He is supposed to be a role model for his congregants. How long can he keep up his facade? What happens when his Shul members discover that he is an atheist? How will this impact them? Doers he not have any integrity? Is he any better than the Monsey butcher who sold Treif meat for Kosher?

A fellow blogger sent this bio to me with the subject-line: Creepy! It sure is!