There is a movement among observantly “orthodox” Jews to pull themselves from the mire and confusion of the current Haredi-Hasidic world – its Eurocentric customs, extreme halakhic positions (humrot), and its obsession with and elevation of medieval “kabbalah” over every other religious concern. Instead, these brave people attempt to base their religious practice on the – often simpler – written sources of Hazal, the Geonim, and the Rishonim.
This movement takes various forms, the most common being the Talmidei HaRambam (“Students of the Rambam” or “Rambamists,” i.e. those who generally confine themselves to the sole study the Mishneh Torah). Others include “Gaonists” which, although not being an official group, represent a methodology that views the Geonic period as being a “golden era” of Judaism at its literature of central authority, the Talmidei HaGr”a (“Students of the Vilna Gaon”) who follow the unique source-based approach of the Gr”a, the Baladi Yemenites, the Dar Da`im, the students of HaRav David Bar-Hayim shlit”a and Machon Shilo who generally put an emphasis on the Talmud Yerushalmi in matters relating to life and customs of Eretz Yisrael, and there are others. In general, the adherents of these movements and schools of thought fall under the general label of mekori’im (“source-based ones” or “originalists,” from the Hebrew word mekor מקור meaning “source” or “origin”).
How does one become Mekori? Simply put, it is a decision to live by one’s own personal study (both independently and with qualified teachers) of the works of talmud and their direct expositors/codifiers. Hazal are viewed as the halakhic authority while all later rabbinic figures, and all exilic “minhagim,” while informative and possibly useful, may be dismissed in favor of the authentic practices expressed originally in the Talmudic literature.
Why does one become Mekori? Now that is another question altogether. In my own experience, having conversed and learned with many such individuals over the years, the question of why one chooses mekoriut never boils down a pure choice. What I mean is that the vast majority of the time individuals are either born into it (e.g. Baladi Yemenites, Talmidei HaGr”a, Dar Da`im) or they are “forced” into it by the atmosphere of Judaism around them. Because of often extreme moral and cognitive dissonance, these individuals seek out an observant alternative to their current Jewish path. Whether it is the near-absurd complexity of halakhic methodology as it has developed, the changing realities of living in Eretz Yisrael, the refusal to accept the cult-like authority structure of the Haredi-Hasidic world, or the infusion of irrational “kabbalistic” superstitions into the most basic areas of halakhah, those who are not born into a mekori tradition are usually driven to adopt one because of some trauma – whether physical, intellectual, or emotional – that they have suffered in the mainstream orthodox world.
I have never met anyone, however, who has decided to pull out of the mainstream rut because of mere curiosity or due to personal tastes, as if they were making a choice between vanilla or chocolate. Rather, the mekori movement is a movement of Jewish social necessity, and those who flock to it alternately view mekoriut as essential to the future of the Jewish nation, and a safe place where they feel like their religion makes sense and is authentic once again.
In this blog series “Becoming Mekori,” I want to discuss some practical elements of mekoriut, the demographic of its adherents, typical misconceptions by those within and without the movement, and some of the common pitfalls it presents to those who seek to adopt it.