Tuesday, September 09, 2014

How Many Orthodox Jews Are Believers?

This is the logo of Reform Rabbi, Jeffrey Falick. Are there Orthodox versions of this?
I am beginning to believe that there are a lot more people who are observant that are not interested in theology in the slightest. That is the sense I have after reading the comments by observant Jews in my last post.

To my way of thinking, this is a mystery. And yet that seems to be the case. People do in fact behave in a certain manner for a variety of reasons many of which do not include matters of faith. What are those ‘variety of reasons’? That is a very good question. Rabbi Fink touched upon one of those reasons in his recent post. Which basically said that regardless of their beliefs, if someone loves what he does he will keep doing it. If not, he won’t. 

I added that while this may be true, there has to be an underlying belief in the theological principles underlying that observance. But I am starting to wonder if that is indeed true. I know it’s true for me. But am I in the minority?

One of the more surprising comments came from ‘tesyaa’ – a woman who is completely observant, but mainly because of her devotion to her ‘fundamentalist’ husband. She said that if he were to go OTD, she’s ‘outta here’. Which I assume means that she would stop being observant completely. How many people are like that, I wonder? Are there a lot of people who are only religious because it pleases their spouse? Or for other social reasons?

And how many people are there like Jay Lefkowitz – who are meticulous in their observance despite their doubts about the existence of God or the truth of classic Jewish theology?

I don’t believe that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews even think about matters of faith. Most are observant because that’s the way they were raised and continue to live in an observant environment.  But that can’t be the only reason. Can it? Doesn’t there have to be an underlying belief system to go along with that observance? Because without it what possible meaning can it have?

Is this a Modern Orthodox phenomenon or is this equally true for Charedim? Are there Charedim who will for example only eat from Hechsehrim given by the Eida HaCharedis and yet are not believers?

If this is as common as I now suspect it is, Is there any wonder why there is such a big OTD problem? If one does not have core beliefs… if one is only religious for social reasons, then there is nothing holding you back from dropping observance when your life circumstances change.  Is that what is happening?

I suppose that there is the factor of guilt. Sometimes guilt will keep you observant. But if you are not a believer what is your guilt about? Is it how your family will react to you? Is it about disappointing your parents? Is it about being ostracized by your community?

I don’t see how someone who is religious primarily for social reasons can be true to himself. How do you reconcile living a lie just to please family and friends?

I am aware of at least 2 atheists who are observant…at least where it shows. They do it because this is ‘where they live’. This is the community in which they were raised.  They are married, have children and raise them as religious Jews. They are part of their religious community. How many people are there like them? How many are hiding their atheism from their loved ones just so they can continue to be part of their community? How many do not hide it from their loved ones and continue to live together and appear to the world as though they are both believers?

I’ve always known that there are people like this. But I am beginning to wonder just how many there are. I suspect that they are a lot bigger percentage of the Orthodox world than anyone believes.

I recall 2 stories about people like this which came as a shock to me at the time. One was about a Charedi Posek in Bnei Brak who is an atheist (He no longer is - since his identity  was exposed in a Charedi Magazine article a few years ago). The other was a Modern Orthodox rabbi who loved his job and did not disclose his atheism to his congregants. In both cases they acted in accordance with their reputations as believers.

The Charedi Posek  answered Shailos based on the principles of Psak he had mastered. The MO rabbi gave sermons and served his congregation the same way. But both men were deceiving their public.  As far as I know that MO rabbi still has a pulpit and his congregants still don’t know that he is an atheist. Why did he continue to do this despite his atheism? Because he liked his job; his lifestyle; and his paycheck. How many other Poskim and congregational rabbis are there like this… who secretly believe one thing and preach another?

I have also been told that there are more than a few Avreichim in Kollelim who are not really believers, but continue to act as though they are. How many are there like that? And how fast is this problem growing?

I have decided to set up a poll on the top right margin for both Modern Orthodox Jews and Charedi Jews. I know that it is likely that one may not fit into either; or may fit into both;  or fit into variations in between. I also realize that many categories can be added that would make answers to those question more accurate. But in order to keep it simple please pick the category that most fits you. Please take a moment to pick a category. It will take less than a moment. And if you are so inclined, please explain your choice in the comments section.

I know this poll is completely unscientific. But I hope to get at some minimal level a sense of what my readership (which cuts across all Hashkafic lines) is like. It will be closed one week from today.