No Authentic Judaism Without Independent Scholarship

Becoming Meqori – Stones in the Path – Part I: The Illiterate Law Student

One of the many problems with those who decide to join the Meqori movement, and perhaps the central and most common, is that of illiteracy. People who can neither read nor understand Hebrew – many times unable to even recognize words without them being transliterated into English characters – decide to throw off all rabbinic guidance, determining instead to pursue a path where they interpret Jewish law as they see fit. Armed with Artscroll translations of the Gemara, the Touger English Mishneh Torah, and a Stone Chumash they decide to take on the entire world of orthodox Judaism.

Now, to be sure – as I explained in my initial post on meqoriyuth – the majority of people who join the movement do so because of personal trauma suffered by the Haredi community. Thus, many of those who make this poor decision are doing so out of desperation and an understandably diminished trust in the rabbinic establishment. But many of them also have another problem – they are arrogant and refuse to rely on or take direction from anyone. Hazal tell us that one who is arrogant cannot learn Torah. They also tell us that an ignorant person cannot be properly religious, making the combination an almost certain recipe for failure. The reality is, however, that many of them are simply afraid to admit how little they can actually read/interact with the sources, if at all.

Now, please understand that in this post I am attempting to point out a commonly observed pitfall with being/becoming Meqori. I truly do have compassion for such individuals, but I feel it is necessary to honestly and openly address the issue.

Most often, those who choose to act this way simply have a basic misunderstanding of what being Meqori means. Meqoriyuth is NOT Karaism. Being Meqori is NOT opting for a “do-it-yourself” Judaism where the individual becomes the rabbinic authority. It is a submission to HaShem, His Torah, and to those whom possessed Biblical halakhic authority (cf. Devarim 17:11) – Hazal. In fact, the Meqori movement exists PRECISELY because we DO NOT believe that any one individual can simply change or alter the law at will – and certainly not someone who is religiously illiterate.

Many of these individuals learn just enough to be dangerous. I once knew someone who learned what a qal wa-homer argument was and proceeded to just simply apply it independently across Jewish law in accordance with what made sense to his limited understanding. By misapplying this singular peice of halakhic reasoning, he proceeding to redefine many fundamental elements of halakhah and committed serious violations ofShabbath, etc. Ultimately, this exercise ended in failure and was a disaster for his family. His situation, however, was not due to the Meqori movement, it was due to his inability to admit his own level of learning coupled with a refusal to fulfill the directive of Hazal, aseh lekha rav wa-histaleq min ha-safeq – appoint for yourself a rav and remove yourself from doubt” (Avoth 1:16). Respecting and accepting competent rabbinic guidance is not only correct halakhically, but is smart as well. If a person truly desires to carry out the will of HaShem, then he will seek an expert to help him do so. But if a person really seeks to do his own will, then any answer – even a bad one – will be acceptable to him as long as it allows him to do what he desires without inhibition. This is something that every religious Jew must guard against.

Lastly, this kind of attitude defies the very nature of education. In order for someone to enter a profession or be considered capable of something, they must first submit themselves to proper education and training. A person cannot become a doctor without medical school, and certainly not if he has not familiarized himself with anatomy and the functions of the body’s various systems. The pursuit of halakhic knowledge is no different. Learning Hebrew is a MUST, as is familiarity with basic halakhic principles, and the ability to independently access the general breadth of halakhic texts – all the while conferring with and relying on a competent rabbinic expert. There is simply no other way to succeed.

But doing this takes work. There are simply no shortcuts to the goal. And if someone is beginning with little prior knowledge, then he must humble himself and learn from those more experienced than him. As Hazal teach us “Im eyn derekh eress eyn torah.”

Continue reading…

From Forthodoxy, here.

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