Thursday, July 1, 2010

On the Orthoprax Rabbi, Part II: Would you buy a used car from this man?

[This week’s Toronto Torah is here; enjoy!]

I’ve been asked to flesh out one point from Part I regarding The Orthoprax Rabbi: The unethical and unhealthy character of serving as a rabbi while thinking that Judaism is wrong.

Some have compared the rabbi to any other tradesman or professional, like a lawyer who renders technical legal advice regardless of his own faith in the legal system. But as I see it, a Rabbi is not only a technical functionary, a suited officiant; a Rabbi is also a marketer for Judaism, a salesman, on two levels, and on both levels a salesman must believe in his product:

• The rabbi markets practice: The rabbi is a role model, his example proving that the lifestyle he promotes can actually be lived. He’s like a car salesman who can proudly state, “I drive one, too.” And a rabbi who is not practicing is selling people a lifestyle he isn’t actually living. The Honda dealer is telling people he drives the Honda he is selling, but he actually drives a Chevrolet.

• And the rabbi markets belief: The rabbi is a resource to answer questions of philosophy and resolve Judaism’s internal conflicts. He’s like a car salesman who explains how the car operates and resolves any doubts about its function. And a rabbi who justifies pesukim and resolves doubts while not believing his own answers is like a car salesman who insists the transmission is fine while hiding a defect in the engine.

This is an unethical proposition; would you buy a car from this man? No one would want to buy from a salesman who thought his product was poor quality, who lied when he said that he drove the car, too, or who concealed defects from the consumer.

And this is an unhealthy proposition, because a normal human being who makes a living marketing defective products as though they were high quality will ultimately come to despise himself.

I suspect that this conflict is also what has led The Orthoprax Rabbi to start his blog. If I may play pop psychologist for a moment, I think he’s trying to find a way to vent what’s inside, to convince himself that he is living an honest life on some level. I don’t think it will work, though; doing it anonymously, and part-time, will not suffice as an outlet for a life of dissembling.

What could he do? Certainly, there are non-salesman aspects to the rabbinate. The Orthoprax Rabbi could become an officiant-for-hire, or an academic, or a writer of sefarim. But he should get out of Sales, for his shul’s sake and for his own, until he resolves his doubts to the extent that he achieves some level of personal confidence.


  1. I would add, if I may, that he is also building a house of a cards for those who buy into what he is preaching. If his congragants - whom he is inspiring - find out that he doesn't believe in it all, it will all come crashing down for them as well. The foundtion needs to be sturdy, and in this case I fear it is not.

    Additionally, I think it is the Emes L'Yaakov who says that the reason Noach was not able to convince anyone to do teshiva - even though the midrash quoted by Rashi says it took him 120 years to build the teiva so people would ask a bout it - is because HE idn't fully believe. That's why only once it started raining was Noach compelled to go into the teiva.

  2. Sounds like a deed/creed thing - are you what you pretend to be? If the community likes you and they can't tell the difference ...

    Put another way - should we be measuring results or intents?

    Joel Rich

  3. Living a double life such as the one the Orthoprax Rabbi is living is 1)not healthy for him and 2)not healthy for his congregants. It's not healthy for him because his life's foundation is based on deception and lies. He pretends to be one thing in the world visible to his congregants but is something else altogether in his private practices. No human being is so strong minded that there will never be any bleeding between the two, and smudging of the strict wall that separates them. And that's where it becomes unhealthy for his congregants.

    If a congregant is having a crisis of faith and needs shoring up by the rabbi, what is to guaruntee that the rabbi will will say everything that is necessary to say and do everything that is necessary to do when it goes against the grain to be doing it? Even in a simpler case, a kashrus question, would there not be a question that this man might be maikhil when being machmir is called for or vice versa not based on a reasoned study of the relevant halacha but on what he personally has a tolerance for?

    And what's with the Orthoprax label? Why not be honest and say he's an atheist--the word fits just fine. Somehow, it seems to me, that new label is being used to legitimize what can't really be legitimized.

    Last one in the world to quote psukim to you, but isn't there something in the Rambam where he says you may not have a non-believer as a representative of klal, in a position of authority?

  4. Put another way - should we be measuring results or intents?

    We should measure both.

  5. While the Orthoprax Rabbi claims he really exists, I could see it being fake written by somebody who is "Anti-Rabba" creating such a blog to prove that although there is nothing in Halacha that says this guy can't be a pulpit rabbi, it doesn't mean we should allow it.... Afterall, he can adequately perform the same roles as any believing Rabbi, just as a female Rabbi can do just as good a job as a male one can do.

  6. Anonymous 10:50-
    I agree that it would cause problems for his congregation. Not because they would be surprised that someone didn't believe, but because they would have difficulty trusting future leaders.

    I don't see it that way. It's unethical to sell someone a car by claiming you drive one, when you actually don't. And it's bad for your own personal psyche.

    Agreed on all counts, and Yes.

    Yup. It's what I believe and what I do that define me.

    Anonymous 5:13 PM-
    I don't know about that particular scenario, but yes, I could see all sorts of hidden agenda behind this. Or, it's for real. Don't know.

  7. It's unethical to sell someone a car by claiming you drive one, when you actually don't.
    Is it unethical to sell a car you don't drive by pointing out all the claims for the car? I doubt that very many people ask what the rabbi himself believes. In a way it's like when I talk about kabala (except that I say I can tell you what the words mean, I can't tell you I understand how it works)
    Joel Rich

  8. Joel-
    I'd have to disagree. People do want a rabbi who drives the car, and that is absolutely their assumption.

  9. not to beat a dead horse, they certainly think that way, i'm asking if it's a mekach taut if they can't tell/don't experience a difference in the product.
    Joel Rich

  10. Joel-
    My answer is Yes. Fraud is based on the consumer's expectations.