Orthopraxy, the practice of Judaism without believing in God, is generating much conversation these days.
But there is a real problem with Orthopraxy and its not what most people think: namely, the lack of belief in God. It’s also not even the problem of getting children to invest in a Judaism without God (good luck with that).
Doubting the existence of God, or doubting whether He communicated his terms of a relationship with us (what we call the giving of the Torah), is actually perfectly acceptable.
It is only human and natural.
But here is where Orthopraxy, Social Judaism, or whatever term you wish, goes wrong.
Orthopraxy creates a movement, a way of life, out of that doubt.
In so doing, they validate, concretize and systemize a sub-par experience.
Doubting God is perfectly fine as long as one is committed to continue the journey and process of coming to know God.
You see, if we believe that doubt is so terrible, so egregiously unacceptable, the only thing left is to desert Judaism or … create a movement of Judaism predicated on a lack of belief.
But there is a third way. A way that embraces the agonizing doubts we sometimes have by saying, “It’s ok to doubt. It’s ok to not know. But keep coming, keep showing up, keep being involved. Don’t leave because you’re not sure today. There is a process here, a journey, a practice. Not just a practice of action, but a practice of belief and thought and heart and mind that, if you stay the path, will come to you. Or it won’t. But don’t create a distorted Judaism that says, there is no God.”
My teacher, the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory, told the story that a chassid of the Tzemach Tzedek (his great-great-grandfather) was told not to worry that he doubts God since the doubt is what bothers him to explore it more. Or as the Rebbe himself told someone who asked for a blessing to have his doubt removed: “I should take away your doubts so you can forget about God?!”
In other words, it’s a relationship. You need to develop your own inner bond with God. Struggle is good, struggle is real, and struggle keeps you present and intimately growing with God.
I’ll close with this witty chassdic story:
A self-proclaimed atheist came to the Tzemach Tzedek complaining that he’d been struggling with doubts in faith in his atheism, he felt his atheism weakening. The Rebbe told him to put negel vasser by his bed, wash in the morning, and drink the negel vasser. He did; and sure enough it restored his atheism fully.
Eventually the guy put two and two together and figured out that there was something to this impurity business… and grew to become a believer.
Let’s not honor our weaknesses by validating them into a system. If we feel weak in faith, that’s ok…or its not. But it’s definitely not ok to have Judaism, as a system, as a path, without God.
He’s kind of important.