Becoming Mekori – What Is It?

What?

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?

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?

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.

6 thoughts on “Becoming Mekori – What Is It?

  1. What would be a suitable term in Hebrew for an inverse of a Meqori or those who add innovations and customs / stringencies potentially of foreign / Galuth-influenced origin?

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    • Haredi“? I mean, regardless of who was overseeing the orthodox world 50-60 years ago, the galuthi machine in our times in decidedly haredi. MO types are still quite open to the sources without such a penchant for humroth, as was the rabbinate of 50-60 years ago (e.g. Rav Mosheh Feinstein z”l, Rav Henkin z”l, etc.), but they still look for validation from the haredi world for their own existence so as a result they end up being dragged down with them. The meqori approach has always existed in various groups from the times of Hazal, but it is now emerging as an essential reaction to the near insanity that has become the haredi world. I plan to write a post about this in the near future, but for now I think the best term for the inverse of meqoriyuth is harediyuth.

      Kol tuv.

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      • Would not necessarily say Haredi or Harediyuth (perhaps Khumranim or Khumrayuth?), was under the impression that a suitable term or two already exists in Devarim about not adding (nor subtracting) to the commandments given to the Jewish people as well as possibly in Gemara: Sotah 22b.

        Agree with the idea of Meqoriyuth, since the constant call for Jews to return to the ways of our forefathers becomes annoying when certain Jewish religious leaders inconsistently define returning to the ways of our forefathers not to our pre-Galuth forefathers, but rather to our forefathers who resided in the ghettos of Europe or among the Muslims.

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      • I really do think that the haredi world already represents and engages in the opposite of meqoriyuth. And just to be clear, being Meqori is NOT a “do-it-yourself” Judaism, nor is it Karaism (has wa-halilah). And although I definitely sympathize with your feelings regarding “pre-Galuth” ways, we cannot frame it geographically or culturally since at every point of our halakhic tradition we have been influenced by cultures, technology, and world events that did not necessarily originate in Judaism or with Jews – and this is perfectly OKAY. What Meqori types do is seek to live by the records of Hazal since they were the last to have authority to make laws and change laws. I you haven’t already, I suggest reading more on the site in my “Becoming Meqori” series.

        Kol tuv.

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      • Was not advocating for a “DIY” Judaism or Karaism, thinking more along the lines of a consolidation of customs / traditions / etc currently maintained by various Jewish communities (Teimani, etc) that are known to have been part of pre-Galuth Judaism as a way of ending the petty divisions and sectarianism within Judaism.

        Whether it be a form of Hebrew closest to Hebrew used in ancient times, soft Matzah (instead of the current cracker Matzah), Kosher Locusts (and other overlooked kosher foods*), abolishing Kitniyot along with more controversially a debate on overturning the ban on eating fish and meat together that was originally instituted on outdated medical grounds.

        Until I read your Baseless Hatred of Clothing series, would have even included a return of religious Jews adopting a modernized form of indigenous non-Western clothing* as part of an overall De-Westernization (and a more consistent return to the way of our forefathers) though upon thinking it further would be pointless given the divisions it will create.

        1*- http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Features/Kosher-conundrums
        2*- http://www.torathmoshe.com/2010/02/the-clothes-make-the-man-of-god/

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      • I am definitely in general agreement with your proposed approach. I am always careful to explain, and perhaps overly so. As for the clothing piece, I think that while I certainly would (and do) encourage anyone who desires to wear traditional Middle Eastern or North African garb to do so, I simply do not ascribe to the idea that there is “originally Jewish” clothing. Not saying that you are implying this, but one of your links does. We have ALWAYS shared clothing styles with our Middle Eastern/Semitic neighbors throughout our history and the fact is that most people who are not “in the know” about historical Jewish dress will mistake anyone dressing that way as a Muslim because they are the only ones who have largely maintained their originally Semitic culture into modern times. Most of us – Sefardim and Yemenites included – have abandoned their traditional styles in favor of Ashkenazi ones. I myself have been mistaken for a Muslim numerous times and it doesn’t bother me; I still wear my traditional garb in certain contexts. I don’t think that this possibility should necessarily deter anyone. All that being said, I think that we need to both live modestly in our modern (often Western[ized]) context(s) while being proud of where we really come from – a family of Semitic nomads. Kol tuv.

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