8/29/2005

The Name I Call Myself

The following question can be applied to any named group: Did they name themselves, or were they named by others? I think the answer to this question can go a long way to understanding the formation and development of the group.

As a very simple example, whites were the first to call blacks 'black', and vice versa. That's a no-brainer. Here are some others:

Ultra-Orthodox - nobody ever calls themselves Ultra-anything. This is a moniker invented by those who wish to believe that a certain group is extreme.
on the other hand, the term
Chareidi is a form of self-identification, originally applying the usage from the Book of Ezra, where the community of returnees refers to itself as those who 'tremble at the Word of God'. It appears several times throughout the book.

The term Orthodox in general was used by the original reformers to refer to halakha-observant Jews. It actually had (and to my mind, STILL has) a negative connotation of rigidity and self-importance. It doesn't do justice to the multiplicity of ideas and lifestyles that are possible within a halakhic framework. It's a bad moniker for halakha observant lifestyles.

It's not the first time that adherents of Rabbinic (or proto-Rabbinic) Judaism have been thus victimized. The term 'Pharisee' or 'Prushi' was invented by members of other communities (see 3rd Chapter of Mishna Yadayim; the only time that the term 'Prushi' is ever used by Chaza"l is when it's placed in the mouths of the Zadokites (who actually called themselves the 'Sons of Zadok')).

I think that understanding the origins and meanings of these terminologies help us to avoid being trapped by them. We're not going to be able to eradicate the somewhat derogatory term 'Orthodox' or 'Ultra-Orthodox' from the standard vocabulary; it is possible, however, to expand their meanings and allow these conventional terms to signify more than their original narrow meanings.
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