It seems that the April 6 issue of Ami magazine contained a rather disturbing piece. The article is entitled 'The Impostors Among Us: Internet's Other Danger' and is penned by someone who could not possibly deserve the title journalist, one Rafael Borges.
You can read the article here.
The article's purpose is to discuss the phenomenon of Orthopraxy within the Jewish community. Those who define themselves as Orthoprax are, as the name suggests, those who practice the Orthodox lifestyle. They keep kosher, pray in shul and keep the halakhot. However, they do not share the same beliefs that those who would categorize themselves as Orthodox do. Those who are Orthoprax may, for example, not believe in God, Torah M'Sinai or a variety of other seemingly fundamental Orthodox beliefs.
Leaving aside the fact that Borges could stand to read The Limits of Orthodox Theology by Marc B. Shapiro, the man clearly demonstrates that he does not know the difference between reporting on a topic and writing a highly-opinionated, judgmental editorial piece. Rather than investigating Orthopraxy and offering clear insight into why people choose to belong to this category, he writes an article which is simply a form of blatant fear-mongering. A few of his choice quotes:
-"Sadly, the Gutbergs' can't have that kind of spiritual satisfaction because Aharon is a fraud. While he outwardly pretends to be a God-fearing, observant individual, he is nothing of the kind. He is an apikorus, plain and simple" (49).
-"But there still are intellectual threats posed by apikorsus, and the Internet has become a breeding ground for an ominous rebellion against the eternal truths of the Torah. Infected with the thought processes of secular philosophies, these heretics are among us as yeshiva bochurim and baalei batim, even in the higher ranks of our community."
-"He describes them [the Orthoprax] almost as mentally ill. 'To me, [the disbelief] is a sickness," he says.
-"The idea that an avowed atheist would still be attempting to marry a frum girl is more than unnerving. In addition to the fact that the girl would be marrying someone who has lost all traces of G-dliness, she would also be duped into a relationship established on dishonesty. She would be tied not only to an apikorus, but a fraud."
-"On this point the Charedim have it right; my skepticism was largely fueled by the Internet. The Internet allowed me easy access to all sorts of information that I might not even have thought of looking at otherwise. All the 'heresy' I could imagine was at my fingertips. I remember sitting for long hours surfing the web perusing all the information available, groping around looking for answers but just finding more and more heresy."
-"The Internet allows the Orthoprax to remain hidden and still maintain a support network, attacking the Orthodox world while feeding off it."
The article thus takes as its starting point the idea that anyone who questions Judaism and is not convinced by the 'proofs' there are to offer suffers from something akin to a mental illness. He also assumes that he knows better than God, forgetting the fact that every man is created b'Tzelem Elokim and claiming that the atheist or Orthoprax member is someone who has "lost all traces of G-dliness." He assumes that access to information or knowledge is the cause of the problem and that hiding information from children is the necessary precondition to their belief. In short, in some ways this piece is akin to that famous viral YouTube video "Bed Intruder": "Hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband cause they're raping everybody out here." The lyrics have just been changed to "Hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband cause they're thinking too much and we don't like what they think."
To demonize a group of people who are already struggling with their belief system, religiosity and theology is cruel. It suggests a total lack of appreciation for the legitimacy and authenticity behind people's struggles. You may disagree with the conclusions that your peers reach but who appointed you to be their God? And to some extent, isn't the fact that the Orthoprax are still connected to the community suggestive, at least in some cases, that their break with belief is not permanent? Perhaps if they could find the grounds, they might return to religion.
At the same time, I do not think it is right to mislead a community or people with whom one is in a relationship. It would be wrong to date a girl who is Orthodox when you are Orthoprax and not tell her. The Orthoprax Rabbi who blogs online is an untrustworthy specimen who betrays his congregants because of his own belief system. Such a man does not deserve to be the head of a congregation. As vile as this article is, it's correct when it talks about specimens like him. But I don't think he's an exemplar of the larger whole. My Orthoprax friends have made difficult decisions to try to accommodate others. Some have broken up with girls they really liked when they realized their philosophies would never accord. Others are concerned with the possibility of Yayin Nesach from their family's point of view and try to take care with this issue. To assume that everyone who is Orthoprax preys upon others is simply untrue.
In the hands of a competent person, this article could have been interesting and informative. It could have tackled issues that those who are Orthoprax consider and look at the reasons they don't believe in God, Torah M'Sinai or have difficulty reconciling Torah and Science. However, that would have taken intelligence and the ability to listen, both of which are in short supply in the self-righteous Charedi world. The frum kiruv presentations are laughable to anyone who actually has studied most of these issues intensively. Real questions deserve real answers. Struggle ought to be acknowledged. And pertinent issues ought not to be obfuscated but rather embraced, the challenge dealt with or at the very least, acknowledged.
I was also disturbed by the end of the article, which informs the concerned reader: "Since the writing of this article, appropriate steps have been taken to protect the public from this posek." This refers to someone who confided in Borges about his Orthopraxy and mentioned if not for the fact that people were looking over his shoulder when he gives psak, "I'm sure I would just be maikel for people if I felt like I wasn't being watched." Clearly, it's not ideal for an Orthoprax person who possibly doesn't believe in God to be acting as a posek for a religious community. On the other hand, the suggestion behind the statement that "appropriate steps were taken" is that this man was outed by the journalist, which is a horrific breach of journalist protocol. It's a bit like a doctor breaking HIPAA, in fact.
It also gives one pause when one considers that known child molesters are still permitted to teach at yeshivot lest we ruin their parnassah. Yet someone with dangerous beliefs will be ousted from his position of giving psak without regard to his parnassah. The double standard is breathtaking, and, I think, heartbreaking.
Hat-Tip: Rabbi Fink (whose piece, incidentally, I don't entirely agree with)