Thursday, May 25, 2006

Orthopraxy - I

Can one not believe in God and simultaneously keep all of halacha?

It seems to me at first glance not. Never mind the particulars of specific mitzvot - whether tefillah counts as tefillah if you do not believe that you are directing your words to an Entity. That is something worth exploring in its own right. But just as there are some mitzvot that kohanim can only perform but Leviim and Yisraelim cannot (and vice versa - e.g. pidyod haben for Yisraelim), and there are some mitzvot that men can perform and not women and v.v., there seem to be several mitzvot for which a belief in God is quite clearly a prerequisite. Yet these mitzvot are taluy on every individual (there is no concept of being patur from them), and so someone who does not believe in God is not keeping all of halacha.

Looking at the Rambam, in hilchot yesodei haTorah, we find:
יש בכללן עשר מצוות--שש מצוות עשה, וארבע מצוות לא תעשה; וזה הוא פרטן: (א) לידע שיש שם אלוה; (ב) שלא יעלה במחשבה שיש שם אלוה זולתי ה'; (ג) לייחדו; (ד) לאוהבו; (ה) ליראה ממנו; (ו) לקדש שמו; (ז) שלא לחלל את שמו; (ח) שלא לאבד דברים שנקרא שמו עליהן; (ט) לשמוע מן הנביא המדבר בשמו; (י) שלא לנסותו. וביאור כל המצוות האלו בפרקים אלו.
Which of these positive commandments require belief in God? Obviously (1). (2) does not really require it. (3), we might say is an outward action fulfilled by saying Shema. (4) and (5) certainly require it. How can you love and fear God if you do not believe that He exists? The remainder perhaps one might argue do not really require belief.

So straight off the bat, at least 3 positive Biblical commandments cannot be fulfilled.

(Obviously, this is besides the fact that Rambam considers the first, belief in God, to be יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון).

What are the sources for these Biblical commands? From the first perek:
ד [ו] וידיעת דבר זה מצות עשה, שנאמר "אנוכי ה' אלוהיך" (שמות כ,ב; דברים ה,ו). וכל המעלה על דעתו שיש שם אלוה אחר, חוץ מזה--עובר בלא תעשה, שנאמר "לא יהיה לך אלוהים אחרים, על פניי" (שמות כ,ב; דברים ה,ו); וכפר בעיקר, שזה הוא העיקר הגדול שהכול תלוי בו.

from the beginning of the second perek:
א האל הנכבד והנורא הזה--מצוה לאוהבו וליראה ממנו, שנאמר "ואהבת, את ה' אלוהיך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים יא,א) ונאמר "את ה' אלוהיך תירא" (דברים ו,יג; דברים י,כ). [ב] והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו, ויראתו: בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים, ויראה מהם חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ--מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאווה תאווה גדולה לידע השם הגדול, כמו שאמר דויד "צמאה נפשי, לאלוהים--לאל חי" (תהילים מב,ג).

Are there other Biblical and Rabbinic commands that require belief, where such belief is predicated in belief in God?

I believe that there are. I hope to post some examples of these soon. Here is one - I would consider this a diOrayta, but perhaps others would say it is a derabanan. The Mishna in Pesachim 116b:

בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים שנאמר (שמות יג) והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים

How can one envision that he himself went out of Egypt, like his forefathers (with the explanation that if not for yetziat mitzrayim, he would still be there) if he does not believe in God and so does not believe in an Exodus from Egypt? A person is required to envision himself part of an imaginary event? Perhaps one might say that there was a (smaller) Exodus but God wasn't part of it. Yet God is explicitly mentioned in the verse as the cause of the Exodus. Perhaps one can kvetch out of this.

And there is an even easier way out of this particular one. Namely, the question is whether we should vocalize the word לראות as lir`ot or lar'ot. If the former, he must envision, which kind of assumed belief. If the latter, he must show himself as if he himself went out, by speaking in such a manner, namely by saying "asa hashem li, betzeiti, etc." If I recall correctly, there is a reading in the Rambam to that effect.

To be continued in further posts -- if I find the time...


Some Guy said...

The question that I think GH was raising on his blog related to the meaning of last term in the phrase "belief in God", which without an unambiguous interpretation makes the entire expression utterly empty. So you can require "belief in God" until the cows come home, but what does that mean exactly from a mental standpoint?

joshwaxman said...

I was not directly referring to GH. I don't often take the time to read his blog.

But there has to be some basic threshold of God's existence, at least in terms of relation to other mitzvot. If one is not convinced that there is a personal God on some level, how does it make sense to love Him? To fear Him?

For most people who are uncertain of the existence of God, what are the chances even of loving Him or fearing? They are caught in a state of uncertainty.

If one does not believe that God interacted with humans and took them out of Egypt, how can we one put oneself mentally in the non-existent historical event?

Some Guy said...

These are good questions. I think the Maimonidean answer would have to be that one does not love or fear God in the way that one loves or fears a person, because God is not a person. The essential problem with the personal God (I think) is the question of "Where is He?" If God is an agent who interacts with people, intervenes in events, etc., then why is his presence not evident to us? And why would one posit the existence of an intervening Agent when there is no evidence for any intervention? And moreover, in the absence of concrete information about the motives and circumstances under which this Agent intervenes, why would we chose to love, fear, or worship such an Agent? The Unknowable God handily solves these problems, but only at the cost of making Judaism and the Bible look ridiculous. I guess that's a price I'm willing to pay, though.

joshwaxman said...

it is difficult to maintain two discussions in tandem.

I was not intending to address some sort of Maimonidean-based conception of God in this post, or series. Perhaps I am wrong, but the average Orthoprax who doubts the existence of God does not get into these deep philosphical questions. He or she simply is unsure, or does not believe, that God exists.

Chazal (some) have a handy aswer to the "where is he" question in terms of hester panim and the associated Biblical verses. Whether one adopts that answer or not is another issue.

But I do not want to get off track of the purpose of this series, which is to explore whether absence of belief impedes following halachic practice.

The last or my examples, by the way - placing oneself in the historical Exodus - certainly seems to be impeded by a belief in a non-interfering God.

I have other examples in store.

Some Guy said...

I agree that Exodus is hard for the skeptical thinker (for many reasons!), but one can certainly imagine oneself being freed from bondage and one can certainly be thankful for that freedom.

Chaim B. said...

L'ma'am yed'u doroseichem ki basukkot hoshavti es BN"Y. According to the Bach, you are not yotzei the mitvah of sukkah without knowledge/belief (I think the 2 are interchangable here) in the reason. Same Bach is brought by hilchos tzitzis and tefillin - where the reason for the halacha is brought in shulchan aruch then awareness of the 'why' becomes essential to the practice of the 'what'. (L'ma'aseh the Pri Megadim says you are yotzei b'dieved in all these cases, but the point still stands that in these cases practice sans belief is incomplete). I posted on this issue as well, but had not thought of your approach with repsect to tefillah. Good insight.

joshwaxman said...

Some Guy:
sure, one can kvetch out some interpretation of it by which one fulfills, but I don't think this is what the normative understanding of "Chayav Adam Lir`ot" means (I could be wrong), in which case it is not Orthopraxy in the sense of fulfilling all the strictures of normative halacha.

Chaim B:
That was going to be my next one, based on the post in Hirhurim a year back!


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