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Cookin’ the “Orthoprax” soup

Ortho = correct

Dox = thought

Prax = actions

Orthodox Jews = those whose every thought is correct.  Ha ha ha.

And then, there are the “Orthoprax,” people accused of just going through the motions without necessarily meaning it.  This is the “religious but not spiritual” (RBNS) counterpart to the SBNR epidemic (one in five Americans, apparently).

But while SBNR is seen as thrilling and new-age and laudable, for some mysterious reason RBNS is seen as slimy, lying and/or just plain hypocritical.  Why?  We say “going through the motions” like it’s a bad thing.

I see two categories of SBNR folks.  One, like Orthoprax Rabbi, doesn’t believe at all:  the atheist – in his case, doing it for a paycheque, others, for family or community pressure.  Second, like Modern Orthoprax, admits to some degree of theism, or at least agnosticism, and affirms the value of some religious practice and ritual.

To be honest, I can’t relate much to the first group; the second feels closer to home.  I claimed agnosticism for most of my life simply because it seemed arrogant to deny God altogether.  And, frankly, I haven’t shifted that much towards actual, concrete faith.  I am extremely uncomfortable declaring things about God as actual, literal fact.  To me, that seems almost as arrogant as declaring that He doesn’t exist. 

Maybe my tiny brain simply cannot encompass God’s reality – and who’d want a God that we are capable of understanding, anyway?  The folks who stand up and announce that God told them to do something?  Those are the ones to keep your eye on.

(Previous related posts:  Thoughts on atheism, and More on atheism, which gives a bit of background as to where I’m coming from, religiously.)

Does that make me RBNS?  Maybe.  Sometimes.  I do stuff and sometimes I don’t know why or even if I do know why, it feels weird and awkward and frankly, like I’m making it up or even – gasp – just “going through the motions.”

Does that make me a hypocrite?

What it does make me of is leery of any term with the word “ortho” in it.  I take more exception to that than the “dox” or “prax” put together.  Because as Garnel Ironheart so lucidly points out, the word “ortho” – correct! – reflects nothing more than an extremely poor understanding of the halachic process, which is so rarely black-and-white.

If halacha itself isn’t ORTHO-anything, how the heck can I be?

Manis Friedman has used the term "arguing over how He likes His soup." 

Har Sinai was a marriage.  Hashem was the groom; b’nei Yisrael the bride, and the Bais HaMikdash was the honeymoon.  Then, the groom goes away.  For thousands of years.  He’s gone, and we have no clue where he’s gone, and we’re still bound to a man who has vanished off the face of the earth.  We despair.  We barely remember Him.

Then one day, the groom comes back, and he’s standing outside the door.  He’s listening.  And what does he hear?  He hears his wife making soup, debating, arguing with herself:  “No, he likes it with carrots.”  “No, he prefers potatoes.”  “Add a bit more pepper.”

Is he going to be angry that we’re not cooking it right?  That we’re arguing?  That we’re uncertain?  Or will his heart melt with love that we’re still cooking his soup after all these years? 

It’s a simple mashal, and I heard it from a Chabadnik, but I’m a sucker for a simple mashal and truth (Truth) can come from anywhere and everywhere. 

The minimalistic God I believe in will simply be full of love that we're still here after thousands of years, with so little true guidance, hanging in here, figuring out how to please Him.  Even if you don’t mention His name, or don’t say it often enough, does that mean it’s not ultimately all about Him?

That’s where I see orthopraxy.  That’s why I don’t condemn it; that’s why it feels a bit like home.  Because, for all its flaws, is the essential debate over how God likes His soup – or, if you will, side-stepping the debate altogether and just making soup, dammit.


  1. " I do stuff and sometimes I don’t know why or even if I do know why, it feels weird and awkward"

    When it becomes a PITA, I don't do it. I can't do it. Many years ago, I'd sit around with my frum friends dreading shabbosim that fell on the heels of a 2 day yom tov. Or how shabbat in the summertime take forever to end. I forget when, but at a certain point I tired of drudgery.

    However as a non-halachic Jew, I find it hard to strike a balance between observance and personal choice. Having an observant wife helps i.e. discipline does increase the chances of having a meaningful encoutner with ritual/prayer, but I'm far from the Jew I'd like to be.

  2. I thought Ortho meant straight. As in Orthodontia Orthopedics etc.

  3. Ortho: definitely; you're right. It *literally* means straight, which is great if you want to straighten teeth (dontia) or children (pedics) (okay, the practice of orthopedics has expanded a bit since Greek days, I guess).

    But in a metaphysical, metaphorical context, where we find ourselves here, the definition of "straight" really is something more like "correct."

  4. @Avrum: "far from the Jew I'd like to be" is exactly the kind of Jew I respect. Also, married to someone who challenges them. I'm sure you've heard that a wife is called "ezer k'negdo," a helper AGAINST him. You don't need a "yes woman," you need a (spiritual) opponent.

  5. @Jennifer

    You're a wise woman. Glad we're neighbors ;)


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