Thursday, May 29, 2008

How Normal People Think

So I was hanging out with a group of friends last night, discussing, inter alia, my theories about mashiach, the wisdom of cutting one's own hair, and how one should cope with the fact that women are basically second-class citizens in Judaism.

[The last discussion was interesting enough to merit its own post, but I have no patience at the moment for chick stuff. B'Kitzur, my friend came up with 4 basic options: 1)Make up and/or believe fluff about it being about how women different and special and spiritual; 2) throw out the whole thing; 3)start picking and choosing within the system based on what appeals to you; 3) work within the system to make it less problematic. We basically chose 4, with a dash of 5) suck it up.

Did you know the etymology of suck it up? Fascinating.]

But what struck me was how similarly we were able to approach the issue. I mean, we were all able to pretty frankly admit the facts of the case, reject the fluff, discuss the historic reasons for such practices, debate the pros and cons of each option, and try to define the boundaries of legitimate action within the system. And, more impressively, we were able to joke about the limits of our own intellectual honesty (just enough to stay frum, to be exact).

And then I asked them all- do normal people think like this? I mean, I'm pretty sure that they don't, certainly not within the Orthodox community. But how not? I mean, how can one be moderately intelligent and not come to these sorts of conclusions? I mean, obviously not my personal conclusions, because they are frankly quite odd, but conclusions of the same general order of magnitude, if the term makes any sense. I understand if one rejects thinking about certain things, but how exactly do intelligent Modern Orthodox people seriously think about Judaism without reaching some opinions- any opinions- majorly outside of the mainstream way of thinking?

This is one of my less coherent posts, and I would delete it, but I really do want to know, and also I have not posted for ages, so I'm just going to let it go, and hopefully some sense managed to emerge.

15 comments:

Larry Lennhoff said...

Well, no one has ever come to me asking for how normal people think before. I think the most realistic depiction of behavior on TV is "The Big Bang Theory" just so you know where I am coming from.

That said, I guess that
1) lots of people actually believe the 'fluff'

2) many modern O compartmentalize rigorously. This is even a problem in C - Rabbi Gordon Tucker's (rejected) teshuva on homosexuality said in effect that we say we believe in biblical criticism, and then we insist that the text of the Torah expresses Hashem's will perfectly.

3) There is strong social pressure in many MO communities to keep divergent opinions to yourself - a sort of don't ask don't tell policy for theology

4) Some people rely on theological modesty - "It doesn't make sense to me, but it does to the Rav/Rambam/insert your rabbi here who is much smarter than I am, so I trust them.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

I wouldn't say Modern Orthodox Judaism has no logical backing. If you read more Hirsh and Solevechik you would see a more mature approach to Orthodox Judaism.

Anyway- people convince themselves of everything. Heidegger thought killing Jews was OK. Much of the world is still Christian or Muslim, even though a lot of it is very "WTF?!-like"(!). If anything, Orthodox Judaism is one of the more logical modes of thought (in theism).

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

What are the essential problems about women in Judaism that you sense though?

[As an aside I think it's important to mention that even according to the most Orthodox the Torah was written for it's place in time, as were the Mishna and Talmud.]

Tobie said...

I guess there is plenty of compartmentalization. I do it myself to a large degree, although I try to keep it within the bounds of logically justifiable. I don't even mean my conclusions regarding feminist issues- just in general, the idea that intelligent people can buy all of the fluff and all of the apologetics and never once look at themselves and ask 'Really?'

And as for people deferring to their rabbis, I was somewhat under the impression that Modern Orthodox at least pretended to do that less.

Shlomo HaTza'ir (seriously, man, get an acronym)- it's not any particular issue about feminism, it's just that I don't think that one can honestly deny that Judaism, as a whole, is shaped around male being the default. The religion is written to men, for men, with women figuring in as their relation to men. I can try to pretend otherwise, but it's pretty obviously the case.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

yo man, women didn't know how to read back then! Anyway, from the beginning (אדם וחוה) till the end (תלמוד ופוסקים) much import is given the other sex in Judaism. I don't think that's too much of a טענה though, every religion is the same in that manner).

e-kvetcher said...

1)Make up and/or believe fluff about it being about how women different and special and spiritual; 2) throw out the whole thing; 3)start picking and choosing within the system based on what appeals to you; 3) work within the system to make it less problematic. We basically chose 4, with a dash of 5) suck it up.

Is #4 a secret? Because you have two #3s.
:)

Yosef said...

I think that your main problem is assuming intellegence for anyone else.

It also seems to me, from my five minutes' observation of m Orthodoxy, that they handwave everything so that they can function on a day-to-day basis, mouthing the party line while tacitly assuming that no-one follows it and therefore they themselves are similarly not bound to follow it. Why, then, should they bother to find explanations for things they don't believe nor follow?

Tobie said...

Shlomo: yeah, women are "the other sex" for every religion. yay?

E-Kvetcher: :P

Yosef: Gosh, that's a dark possibility. I hate to assume that about nearly everybody I know.

anonym00kie said...

how about 6) you accept the premise that the torah as it is expresses truth and g-ds will, and that women are not always presented in a light we necessarily agree with or understand or want to accept, and we and are fine with it.
no fluff, no apologies, no denial, just acceptance in the premise that it emanates from a source of truth and therefore is ultimately ok. that coupled with a desire to try and make sense of it makes it possible to accept those pieces that dont seem to make sense.. until they do.

i have a question for you though - im not agreeing or disagreeing, but what brings you to 1)? maybe it is made up fluff - but what brings you to that conclusion?

Tobie said...

Anonymookie: if I personally believed that Judaism as it currently exists completely represents the will of G-d, it would depress me terribly. but you're right, this could simply be the result of my current biases. However, I just don't like all aspects of it.

I do believe that there are some legitimate differences between men and women. But the whole torah is addressed to men. It isn't like women are treated separately, it is simply that men are the default and women are more and less left to fend for themselves. Women are left out of the process and seem in many ways to be guests of the system, rather than members thereof, if that makes any sense.

Miri said...

anonymookie:
Fluff- a lack of real basis in primary sources. Most of the stuff taught to the modern jewish woman to try and convince her that she isn't a second class citizen is apologetic philosophy based loosely in one or two vague texts. Essentially, "bc we said so." I have a hard time buying that as Divine Will, no matter what your seminary teachers told you.

m00kie said...

what they told me? :)

other shlomo said...

"But the whole torah is addressed to men. It isn't like women are treated separately, it is simply that men are the default and women are more and less left to fend for themselves. Women are left out of the process and seem in many ways to be guests of the system, rather than members thereof, if that makes any sense."

Perhaps because I'm male, I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean by this. Can you give examples?

Larry Lennhoff said...

Other shlomo:

Most laws in the Talmud are given or discussed under the assumption that they are talking about men. When necessary, the 3 special classes - the slave, the katan (minor), and the woman - are mentioned as exceptions to the rule. These are people who in an important sense are not full members of the society, and hence may have different privileges and responsibilities.

There are no cases where the rule is given in general and then an exception is made for adult males. The closest thing I can think of doesn't occur until the Shulchan Aruch (1500 or so) - where the default is women light Shabbat candles and the case of what to do when there are no women is discussed.

Mikewind Dale said...

I've thought of exactly the same thing. I used women in Torah as a springboard for whether Modern Orthodoxy or Haredism has the foremost claim to authenticity: it all depends on what you consider "authentic" Orthodoxy. See my http://michaelmakovi.blogspot.com/2009/01/for-some-time-ive-been-troubled-by.html.

I have also seriously wondered how other people do not realize these matters. Similarly, it was but from my routine studying of the "standard" dogmas and teachings on Torah She'be'al Pe that I arrived independently at the position that would underlie Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits's approach. (My explanation of this would reqire its own brief essay. Perhaps another time.) I fail to understand how I'm the only one who's arrived at this.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט hits on a crucial point: "[As an aside I think it's important to mention that even according to the most Orthodox the Torah was written for it's place in time, as were the Mishna and Talmud.]" See what I write at my post.