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Kol HaChadoshot

What's news and 'nu' in the Beth David community

February 2019

What does it mean to be orthodox? Does it suggest that a person is fully observant and compliant with all of the expectations of halachah and history, tradition and heritage? If yes, very few people are truly orthodox. Is it alternatively a statement about which synagogue receives a person's membership dues and attendance? In which case, it is a label that can be purchased with money and presence. In truth, both of these definitions lack any sense of spirituality or emotional connectedness.
     Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, recently wrote, "There are many who are proud to be Orthodox but I actually think there is a far more significant term than Orthodoxy. 'Orthodox' comes from the Greek, 'orthodoxos', meaning thinking correctly. 'Orthoprax' means doing what is right. And surely that is one step beyond Orthodoxy." What is the difference between "correct" and "right"? Correct denotes being accurate while right implies a moral or ethical virtue. Being correct is to be confident with facts while to be right is to be secure in a judgement. So, is it better to be orthodox or orthoprax?
     I would like to suggest that a person cannot be orthoprax without first being orthodox and being orthodox involves a sincere pursuit of knowledge and information. Perhaps this is one reason why Judaism places such emphasis on Torah study. Let us be reminded of the rabbinic teaching (Talmud Shabbat 127a) that "talmud Torah k'neged kulam / the study of Torah is in balance with [all other mitzvot]". Study is the proper precursor to every judgement that guides a moral and ethical decision. We cannot be right unless we are first and also correct.
     Moses declared (Devorim 6:18), "v'asita hayashar v'hatov ... / and you shall do the proper and the good ...". Rashi, among others, interprets this imperative as encouragement to live beyond the mere limits of law ("lifnim meshurat hadin"). Torah law is intended to be a guide, suggested Rashi, not a goal. The hope of the verse is that a commitment to live by the law will foster a deep and sincere desire to pursue the intent of the law. For example, the mitzvah to give charity encourages tithing; but the goal of the mitzvah is to engender a charitable attitude within a community. One who tithes is orthodox, one who lives with a charitable attitude is orthoprax. Building upon Rashi, Ramban wrote that the road to observance begins with meticulous attention to details. Beyond fastidious discipline, Heaven seeks our embrace of a Judaism that encourages good decisions because they are the right choices.
     Many Jews sway when they pray, this movement of body during prayer is called in Yiddish "shuckling". Some scholars relate this practice to a verse in Psalms (35:10) that encourages full body engagement in the service of God. Akin in thinking could be a proposal that a full body commitment to spiritual aspirations requires mind and heart, bringing the best and most sincere of thoughts and feelings into decisions we make and examples we set. In some lives, thinking guides feelings; in other lives, feelings guide thinking. In a life of orthoprax Judaism, what we learn should guide what we do and what we do should reflect what we feel is right. If it all sounds like a journey, that might be because it is a journey.

Tue, February 19 2019 14 Adar I 5779