Becoming Mekori – What It Isn’t

Being mekori does not mean joining a new Jewish sect. There is no such thing as “Mekori Judaism” or “Mekori Halakhah” per se. Mekoriut is not a sect or an “ism” and there are no charters, manifestos, or statements of faith attached to it. In fact, it is not a list of beliefs that one ascribes to, nor is it really a label at all. However, the terms mekori and mekoriut definitely do describe something. So, what is it?

The terms “mekori” and “mekoriut” are collective terms used to describe a social and religious phenomenon within the Jewish world. Perhaps it could also be described as a trend – a trend of returning to the texts of Hazal and their direct expositors in a search for simplicity, truth, and authenticity in halakhah and hashkafah. This phenomenon is most often a reaction to the overwhelming Euro-centrism that has come to stereotype orthodox Judaism along with the superstitious, dogmatic, and authoritarian approach that comes with it.

This return is largely taking the form of baalei teshuvah and gerim accepting upon themselves the ways of Sefardic and Yemenite Jewry – both of which tend to be more reasonable and markedly authentic [read, closer to the plain meaning of the Talmudic texts] in their determinations of halakhah. However, I am also aware of Ashkenazi/Haredi families that, being burned-out with excessive humrot and halakhic additions (many of which cause not only emotional strife, but financial strain), have begun to privately practice the simple halakhot of Hazal and the Rishonim in areas of shemirut shabbat, taharat ha-mishpahah, and kashrut. The Jewish populace is beginning to demand that their leadership be reasonable, and due to the fact that the Haredi/Hasidic world demands years of constant exposure to learning Jewish sources, they are unable to keep their adherents from accessing the information directly in the event that they desire to examine things for themselves. This dynamic often upsets their division of clergy versus laity, so they engage in shaming and scare tactics in effort to elicit obedience, but many are starting to see through the insecurity inherent in this approach.

There is also less and less tolerance for the [near obsessive] force of “minhag” in the orthodox world, especially when it is used by Haredi/Hasidic leaders to simply blot out, brush aside, or overturn clear halakhot that are recorded in the sources and were handed down to us by Hazal and their expositors. Religious Jews are beginning to tire of re-enacting the less-than-ideal conditions of Poland and the Ukraine when the actual observance of the halakhah as formulated in the Mishnah and Gemara is entirely within their grasp. Attendant to this is that a growing number of Jews want their religion to make sense and to be in step with reality, rather than the superstitious dissonance that the Haredi/Hasidic world often demands of its adherents.

Mekori” and “mekoriut” are not particularlistic terms meant to further divide, instead they are broad terms intended to unite. Just as “martial arts” collectively refers to any and every fighting style irrespective of national origin, or “Arabic” collectively refers to a variety of standard and dialectal forms of the language, or “phone” collectively refers to everything from a rotary to a smartphone, so also do “mekori” and “mekoriut” collectively refer to the scholars, halakhic decisions, modes of Jewish practice, and methodologies that share these trends in common. The inclusion of all mekori streams of halakhic Judaism under one umbrella is also not intended to create something distinct from the rest of Jewry, rather it is meant to engender teamwork and community around something unique that we desire to share with the Jewish world.

I believe that mekoriut is a major key to positive change within Judaism – only good can come from trying to be more faithful to Hazal and their wise direction – but it will be a tool for destruction if it becomes just another way to break off from the rest of the Jewish world and condemn them (has ve-shalom). This is also true of each movement or stream of mekori Judaism that decides that they alone have something to offer to the Jewish future – a “messiah” complex, so to speak. Throughout our history such sectarian neuroses have only led to Jewish deaths. This potential for destruction is even true of the Torah itself, as it says in the name of Rava, “…if you are a workman for [the Torah] then it is an elixir of life, but if you are not a workman with [the Torah] then it is an elixir of death” (cf. b.Yoma 72b – see also Rabbenu Hananel there). We have to be workmen on behalf of Torah values, not workmen on behalf of ourselves.

So, no sects, no groups, no “isms” – just Torah and authentic halakhah for all Jews. That is the vision and that is the phenomenon we see gaining momentum in orthodox Judaism today.

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