What I Believe
I received an email from a man I greatly admire, although I often disagree with him. David Klinghoffer wrote with a suggestion, which I'll paraphrase: "Why not write a post on what you actually believe rather than simply bitching about every rabbi in the world?" Fair enough. This post will explain my "theology," so to speak. But there will be plenty of bitching involved, because what I complain about has so shaped my worldview that I cannot make my case without mentioning it.
I'm evolving. If you'd asked me three years ago, I would have spouted rhetoric largely indistinguishable from Avi Shafran, but with some carping about nepotism, cronyism and the missed opportunities generated by same added in. But that was then. I've seen enough since then to realize that my initial revulsion at the business of the haredi world, suppressed so long ago, was well justified. And I've seen that non-haredi Orthodoxy is no better.
I've also learned that many if not the vast majority of "facts" presented by the likes of Aish HaTorah, Agudah and Chabad are false, nothing more than slick, often cult-like PR.
Jewish belief is based on a mesora, on tradition handed down from father to son, teacher to pupil, from Mount Sinai until today. But a mesora is based on trust, on the honesty and credibility of the fathers and teachers who pass it down.
The lies of the kiruv movement and the lies and misbehavior of the so-called gedolim, the deification of a false Brooklyn prophet, and all those criminal convictions, indictments, investigations, abuse coverups and the like have real impact – they destroy the mesora, break the links in the chain, so to speak, that once bound us. If today's rabbis lie to us, why not Rashi? Why Not Moses?
And, indeed, if the findings of archeology, genetics, astronomy, and so many other scientific disciplines are to be believed – and they should be, in part because they independently confirm each other's work – our forbearers did quite a lot of lying. Either that, or they spoke in the language and style of their day, using myths to teach spiritual truths, never intending those myths to be taken as literal truth, And this, David, is what I believe. Those myths contain some of humankind's earliest memories, often in fragmentary form, of what came before civilization after the great ice age ended and humans discovered agriculture, built the first cities and began to live for the first time in groups larger than an extended family or band. They tried to make sense of their world and to communicate in a non-literate society important information to their children and grandchildren in ways it would be remembered without writing – through myth.
Our unique contribution to these early myths was to emphasize the power of God over the powers of the demigods, stars and other natural forces. It was to bring God into this world. Most cultures viewed the Creator or Sky God as being too remote, unknowable and unreachable to be dealt with – hence the pantheons of the ancients. Jews returned God to this world where we are commanded to make a home for him, both in our hearts and in our actions. We are also commanded to carry this message to the nations of the world.
But we do neither, instead obsessing over ridiculous minutia in halakha and defining ourselves down in the process. Worse yet are the lies and corruption, the stealing and fraud, the Abramoffs and the Lanners, the Balkanys and the Kolkos, rabbis Lau, Amar and Metzger, Elyashiv and the seemingly endless list of other black hatted and black garbed fools we call leaders.
So there you have it. I no longer believe in the mesora as preached in Orthodoxy. I follow halakha for the most part due to simple inertia. I find little religious inspiration in Judaism. Yet I still believe in God the Creator who many billions of years ago made room for specks of dust like us and started the process that brought us – and brings us – into being.
Think of the words of the marvelous Eric Bazilian song made famous by Joan Osborne:
What if God was one of us / just a slob like one of us / just a stranger on the bus / trying to make his way home…
God is in exile because we put Him there. He's with those poor children as their rabbi fondles their penises and as other rabbis lie to cover it up. He sits in the fraudulent beit dins and in the special assemblies called to fake non-existent lunch programs. He was there with Abramoff as he stole from poor Indians and gave to rich Jews and He was there when rabbis looked the other way. We, all of us, those who stole and those who lied, those who abused and those who covered up, and those who just closed their eyes and would not see – have turned God into a lonely old man riding a bus, a liar, irrelevant, lost.
I can't bring God home, but I can stop covering for and associating with those who abuse Him.
That is what I believe.