Orthodoxy's Power

What is it about Orthodoxy that has kept it alive in a marketplace of beliefs?

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What Ought I To Do?

Here Orthodoxy has a very great deal to say, laying out as it does, detailed rules and prescriptions for most every conceivable human activity, anchoring them all in a transcendent order and powerful sense of community, grounded in God's Torah.

The halakhah, as a sacred dance through space and time, learned through the Torah, the universe-in-a-text which itself creates all of Creation in the very act of its being studied, recasts human action as almost unbearably significant, even at its seemingly most trivial. Via halakhah and mitzvot, people, things, and being are joined in a shared motion towards the will of God. In the Kabbalah, they can help the Divine Will itself and rescue it from the primordial catastrophes which yielded the fallen, fractured world we know.

In Orthodoxy, the halakhah in some fundamental sense lives outside of time, in two ways, which I call the 'transhistorical,' i.e. mitzvot are points of contact with eternity, lifting us above the regularly depressing realities of this world. and the 'ahistorical,' i.e. that the halakhah has taken shape outside of the categories of time and place that ordinarily shape our world of things.

Of course Orthodox halakhah recognizes the existence of change and context, but not as regards the very sources and basic claims of the law, or the values informing it. (Odd though this latter claim may seem to many moderns, the creativity, and regular genius, of centuries of Talmudists regularly make it work). Thus halakhah becomes uniquely meaningful and uniquely authoritative.

What Can I Hope?

To the extent to which I can know God's Will and even catch glimpses of His Mind, live by His Torah, and be joined to Him via mitzvot, I can live on in Him. While eternal life is beyond my comprehension, I can catch a glimpse of that, and even feel some of its comfort, through my participation in the collective life of the Jewish people. And at the end of the day, Orthodoxy regards itself as Verus Israel, the True Israel; after the ravages of modernity a saving remnant, but one which eventually will triumph.

Orthodoxy sees itself as the truest bearer of Jewish authenticity and intensity. Standing alone, or nearly so, among all the forms of contemporary Jewish life, it sees itself living a life of mitzvot that would be more or less recognizable to Jews of the past; it alone fills the lives of its adherents with day-in-day-out, minute-to-minute, obligation, commitment, and faithfulness.

It alone knows the real Jewish way to God, and through that knowledge, and the fortified will cultivated by that knowledge, will endure. When the Messiah comes, and he will, everyone will know.

History of Orthodox Judaism

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Yehudah Mirsky

Yehudah Mirsky, a former US State Department official, lives in Jerusalem and is a Fellow at the Van Leer Institute and Harvard.