Thursday, March 31, 2005

March 2005

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Machshavah Cholent

It seems to me, based on my limited reading in such subjects, that machshavah, pnimiyus, jewish philosophy, hashkafah, kabalah etc, are all basically a similar phenomenon. Attempts by man to go beyond the mundane and create some kind of super-natural system of thought, either as a means to get closer to G-d, to understand G-d, or maybe just because its interesting.

Examples I can think of include the works of the Maharal, Rav Kook, Nefesh Hachayim, R YB Soloveitchik, AJ Heschel, all of Chasiddus etc. There doesn't seem to be much of this pre 12th? century though. Chazal did this a bit, but usually it was real short, just a pasuk and a quick 'homily'. Did no one before the Rishonim ever engage in this ?

Maybe some or all of this is somewhat divinely inspired, but its still a human creation. That doesn’t mean it doesn't have value, I just don't believe any of it came down from Sinai that’s all. When Rav Moshe Shapiro gives an awesome machshavah shiur for example, I am sure its valuable, but at the end of the day, its his invention, its not Torah Min HaShamayim. Take what appeals to you and leave the rest. (Maybe thats obvious ?)

The base side of this same tendency is all the stupid gilgulim / shaydim / kabalistic trickery / dibukim / superstition / mekubalim nonsense, which is also expressly forbidden by the Torah in my opinion, and has no value at all. Its amazing that the UO world is still so steeped in this. Are they still using pigeons in Eretz Yisrael to cure hepatitis ? Wasn't the whole point of Judaism to steer us away from all these kinds of things ?

The problem in the UO world is that they seem to be unable to distinguish between the good stuff and the bad stuff. The whole lot of it gets mushed together into one huge UO ideological cholent, and if you don't believe in any part of it, you are a kofer, or worse, a modernishe (chas vesholom).

Well, my advice is don't eat too much of that cholent, it's after effects can be quite, shall we say, unpleasant.

My views on science

Some people have accused me of having emunah peshutah in science. 'Not all science is proven' they say. 'Scientific theories change all the time', they say. 'You have more faith in Science than in Torah' they say. 'You are a fool for believing Science' they say.

I say, you haven't been paying attention.

Lets roughly categorize all of science into 3 groups of theories.

1. Proven
The first group we shall call "proven". This is simply a convenient name, so don't go getting all philosophical on me about how nothing can ever really be proven blah blah blah. I don't want to hear it. This group of theories are those that are accepted as true by the majority of the scientific community. The fact that some quack scientists or Kiruv Clowns might dispute these theories is irrelevant. Some simple examples (or rather ramifications) of 'proven' theories:
  • The world and the universe are many billions of years old
  • There were many thousands of intelligent human beings roaming the earth, in the US, Australia, Asia etc, 10,000 years ago
  • There was no global flood within the last million years.

Of course we can debate which theories belong in this group. However my measure is what the significant majority of scientifics think, not what you, I or the Gedolim think. If you think scientific opinion is all hooey, this blog is not for you.

2. Debatable
The second group we shall call "debatable". This group of theories is the subject of some debate within the scientific community itself, or alternatively, the scientific community itself accepts that these are not yet proven. Some examples of 'debatable' theories:

  • Some aspects of evolutionary theory (which aspects are debatable is itself debatable)
  • Possible lifespans of ancient humans

3. Theoretical
The third group we shall call "theoretical". These theories have been proposed, but there is no way of knowing (yet) if there is any validity to them or not. The mainstream scientific community accepts this. Some example of "theoretical" theories:

  • Multiverse theory
  • Some aspects of string theory (which aspects are theoretical is debatable)

My arguments regarding Torah have all been from the 'proven' group. This groups is to all intensive purposes established fact. Its not a question of faith, but of fact. If you disagree and have a well reasoned argument, I would be interested in hearing it. If you are simply a fundamentalist who rejects science out of hand, this blog is not for you, please leave.

I have never to my knowledge argued strongly against Torah in defence of a 'Theoretical' theory. If I have, I was mistaken. Sometimes I might debate the "debatable" theories, but not very often. This blog is about religion, not science, and I don't have much interest in debating scientific theories per se.

Scientific theories change all the time. However the fundamentals usually don't. They get refined, bits get added, bits get taken away but I think we can be secure in saying the world is round, gravity will always be, the world is very old, and things like that. To say that all science is hooey because it changes is the same as saying all halachah is hooey because it changes.

Another common fallacy is to take a genuine scientific debate and use it to void all opinions. A classic example is the debate over the age of the universe. Some scientists say 10 billion, some say 20 billion. Aha ! Say the fundamentalists. You see the scientists can't agree. One side could even be wrong by 10 billion years ! So maybe they are both wrong, and the world is only 6000 years old ! If you think this is a logical argument then again, this blog is not for you, please leave.

I hope I have made my views clear. Please do not clutter up the comments with silly statements about science. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Battle Heats Up !

Here is a great quote* from Rabbi Orlofsky, in a recent letter defending Rav Moshe Shapiro / attacking Rabbi Slifkin:
I have a rebbe and his kavod means a lot to me. One time, a new attendee to one of Reb Moshe’s shiurim was badgering him on a point, that Reb Moshe claimed he hadn’t said. The fellow said yes you did! I have the tape! Reb Moshe looked around the room and said "this week is the last shiur. I am not prepared to give this shiur anymore."

Two weeks later, when a few of the regulars got up the courage to speak to him, he explained, that he was shocked that everyone stood there quietly while someone accused him of lying. They answered that they were in shock, and they were just waiting for Reb Moshe to give it to him.

I subsequently told the story over to Rabbi Brown, a talmid of Reb Moshe’s for over twenty years and without hearing Reb Moshe’s response he said "I would have given it to the guy over the head".

If we are talmidim of Reb Moshe, which approach are we going to take?

So Rabbi Orlosfky is advocating physical violence ! If someone disagrees with Rav Moshe, 'give it to him over the head !' Such devotion to his Rebbe, mamash amazing. And he's not even a real talmid !

Also, this story is rather strange. He cancels a shiur because one guy argued ? If it were me, I wouldn't go around repeating that story. But then again, I'm not a Kiruv Clown.

Here is a good quote from the opposing camp, in a letter defending Rabbi Slifkin:

A well known outreach Rabbi in Israel has been teaching about Nosson Slifkin’s Books. Beyond discussing the issues, the Rabbi used the opportunity to publicly shame Nosson and scoff at him. Apparently this Rabbi thinks he is a shliach of Gedolei Rabbonim, and that this is what they want him to do.

I see this as a very dangerous escalation in what is already a terrible Chillul Hashem. I have spoken to many Gedolei Rabbonim about this mess, and personally heard several others speak of it, and never did I hear anyone suggest that it would be right to cause Nosson personal suffering.

I simply can’t stand by and allow this to go on, without a strident voice of opposition. Apparently the "Biryonim" feel that our passivity is a license for them to pillage and plunder with impunity, so here it goes:

What I’m about to say, I say for the sake of Kiddush Hashem, and after speaking with one of the Ziknei Harabonim, the choice of language is mine. If you are not one of the Gedolei Roshei HaYeshiva, or Ziknei HaRabonim, and are speaking about Nosson Slifkin in a way that personally attacks him, I will make it my business to stop you.

I will use whatever means necessary. If you believe that you have been sent by a Gadol to do what you are doing, go back to that Gadol, and tell him that you don’t know how to do that, without it spiraling completely out of control. I assure you, that it will spiral out of your control.

Wow ! This talmid of Rav Moshe is threating Orlofsky big time ! Mamash amazing.

I am glad I am in his camp. I would rather 'get it over the head' any day, than have someone 'use whatever means are neccessary' against me !

* Godol Hador only uses genuine 100% verified quotes.

Tradition, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, Science & Torah

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman was editor of Tradition magazine for many years. I believe he had editorial control, and would not allow heresy to be printed. Someone I know (Orthodox) once wanted to submit an article and Rabbi Feldman rejected it on the grounds that it was heretical.

This being the case, I assume that any article which did make it into Tradition under Rabbi Feldman's control were deemed to be not heretical.

Here are some relevant articles from Tradition, on Evolution and on Allegorizing Torah .

For those people who say that Rav Moshe Shapiro is correct, then by that definition, Rabbi Feldman is guilty of publishing kefirah. Do you really want to assume that position ? Maybe you should discuss this with him.

I don't always agree with my shverre, but I stop short of calling him a kofer.

Well, at least not online.

The Strange Mystery of Rav Moshe - Resolved !

Many people have been confused by Rav Moshe Shapiro’s position on the Slifkin affair. He is generally a fairly well balanced person, but in this case has been rather extreme. He called Rabbi Slifkin’s books kefirah gemurah, which even R Eliashiv did not do.

Well, after some amazing investigative reporting, I have painstakingly pieced together the puzzle ! (Okay, okay, so some anonymous individuals sent me some emails, but that doesn’t sound as good.)

There is a well known site on the Internet called Daat Emet. It is run by an Israeli called Yaron Yadan, a one time baal teshuvah who decided to go back again. Not only did he give up his orthodoxy, he decided that it was all a bunch of hooey, and it was a distortion of the true cultural heritage of Judaism. Hmmm, kind of like the way I feel about Chareidim.

Anyway, the entire Daat Emet site is devoted to proving that Rabbinic Judaism is false. Kind of like Mis-nagid actually, though without the sense of humor. If you think my blog is bad, its nothing compared to Daat Emet. Instead of ridiculing just the present day extremist Gedolim, Daat Emet ridicules all the Gedolim, including Chazal, and even tries to disprove the Chumash.

Interestingly, Daat Emet uses some of the Science vs Torah questionsin his arguments. And these are the exact same topics that Rabbi Slifkin wrote on, partly in order to try and refute Daat Emet, at the suggestion of Rav Bulman ztl.

Well, get this. It turns out that Yaron Yadan is an ex talmid of ...

Rav Moshe Shapiro !

Not only that, Rav Moshe was even his mesader kidushin ! Clearly, seeing his one-time talmid go off the derech in such a big way must be very upsetting to Rav Moshe.

In fact, my sources tell me, Rav Moshe has specifically criticized Rabbi Slifkin’s books, because Rabbi Slifkin conceded certain points to Daat Emet, for example that Chazal did get science wrong in some places. Rav Moshe has insisted that we not concede anything to Yadan.

So clearly, Rav Moshe is particularly sensitive about Daat Emet, Science vs Torah and that kind of thing. My sources also tell me that he is unhappy about the current state of Kiruv, where it seems that the kiruv clowns are happy to teach BT’s any old crap.

Finally, I think there is something that I agree with Rav Moshe about. Down with the Kiruv Clowns !

Rav Moshe also thinks that the standard kiruv apologetic of “we must teach the BT’s this peshat because otherwise we will lose them” is wrong. He thinks that the BT’s and the FFB’s should be taught the exact same thing.

Again, I agree entirely ! We should both be taught the exact same thing, namely that Science is correct and we should adjust our understanding of Torah accordingly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

More silly quotes from Rav Moshe's talmidim

More quotes from Rav Moshe's Talmidim (in italics). The level of silliness amongst Rav Moshe's talmidim is quite worrying. If he is so great, why are some of his talmidim so silly ? I guess by definition only the silly ones are speaking out. The smart ones realize there's not much to be said.

Rav Yitzchak Ezrachi, one of the Rosh Yeshivas of the Mir in Yerushalayim (and Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz’s son-in-law), describes Rav Moshe as someone who belongs to a previous generation.

Yeah. Considering his views on science, I would say somewhere around the 10th century sounds about right ! (Just a joke, don't get too worked up about it).

He said he thought through the consequences of such books and he did what he did for the next dor – the next generation.

Being that he belongs to a generation of the 10th century, I assume this 'next' dor is one from maybe the 11th.

Why did Rav Moshe choose to write davka against Nosson Slifkin? He explained that only Nossons books have impressive haskamos from talmidei chachamim.

Wow. Only Rav Nosson's books had impressive haskamos, so Rav Moshe just had to ban them !

He fears that it gives the impression that gedolei yisroel have entrusted the eidelkeit of understanding the agados of chazal and ikkrim in our mesorah to a novice in this field.

Well, they wrote haskamos. So yes, it quite rightly gives the impression that they have entrusted him, to some extent. That’s what a haskamah is for, you dummy.

I must stress that when he said this over he continued for several minutes about what a terrible chillul HaShem this has caused. He said we should sit on the floor and cry at what has happened. He said it was a travesty and a scandal. In his words, “HaShem is crying, 'You protest the kavod of books but you do not protest My kavod?!” He was very emotional as he spoke and when he finished his eyes were moist.

I say, 'Hashem is crying: You protest your honor but you don't give a darn about Rabbi Slifkin and Rabbi Kaminetzky's honor" (caveyochol). My eyes are moist as I say this.

Rav Yehoshua Kohl of Aish HaTorah in Philadelphia comments:

“Its very possible that a book like Nosson’s, with haskamos from gedolim, opens the door for very real kofrim to take tremendous amount of liberty with chazal and Torah as metaphoric (ala David Wolpe et al), birshus haTorah, because you see that gedolim were maskim
to Slifkin…”

I say, it is very possible, that bans like these, opens the door for some very real non kofrim to claim that our Gedolim are fools and their opinions irrelevant, because you see that the Gedolim deny reality.

I asked him why he didn’t try and speak to Nosson first. He said that since Nosson would not be a mekabel, it would be a fruitless endevour.

Not only is Rav Moshe an iluy, but also a mind-reader. He knew exactly what Nosson would reply. Amazing !

He gave other reasons which are not appropriate for this letter.

Oooh, what did he say ? Go on, pleeeease tell us. Pretty pleeeeease ! Was it Slifkin is a poo poo ? Slifkin Shmifkin ? Please, please tell us, so we may mock you some more.

I have a senior friend who is a brilliant Rosh Yeshiva and is a major force in kiruv. Many years ago Rav Moshe told him not to speak about the subject of Torah and science. Although it was very hard for him, he was mevatel his daas to that of his rebbi. He did this, not out of intellectual weakness but out of intellectual strength.

No, he did it out of cowardice.

This is something that can never ever, ever, be understood by someone who has not been meshamesh talmidei chachamim.

Boruch Hashem not.

In Rav Shternbuch’s words:

“It is not kefira against HaShem and possibly not kefira against the Torah, but it is certainly kefira against chazal.
Therefore it is kefira against the Torah because our Torah is based on chazal and without chazal we have no Torah”.

This sounds very illogical. Maybe it just gets lost in translation. Wait a second though, isn't Rav Shternbuch originally from England ?

He explained that without chazal one could take six days of creation allegoricaly. Chazal teach is that it took six days “kepshuto” and this understanding was accepted throughout the generations. Hence it is kefira against chazal to say that creation was billions of years in
the making.

Not true.

Rav Moshe Shternbuch has now written a three page teshuva explaining his position, where the bottom line parallels the approach of Rav Moshe. He concludes by saying that anyone who brings these books in to his house transgresses the Torah commandment of “lo tavi to’ayva b’vaysechah”.

I wouldn't mention that teshuva if I were you, it was not very well received.

In his (Rav Moshe Shapiro) words, “HaTorah hoo elokis” while science is transient and largely incapable of establishing facts.

Well, if that’s the case, I would strongly advise you against getting on a plane or taking advantage of any modern medicine. Maybe the facts of aerodynamics or cancer research are not accurate after all.

The gedolim of our dor overwhelmingly pasken that it is forbidden to say, for example:

(a) The world is older than 5765 years.
(b) That dinosaurs existed before 5765 years.
(c) The theory of evolution has any truth in any form.

I don’t think they do. But if you insist that they do, then will appear rather foolish.

Having worked in kiruv for decades, in his opinion these questions rarely come up.

Giving a shiur in pnimiyus to Roshei Yeshivah is hardly working in kiruv. Of course these questions come up all the time. And anyway, these questions come up in the regular FFB world, its not just about kiruv for goodness sake. What, only BT's have questions ?

Yiftach bedoro k’Shmuel bedoro – HaShem gives us the gedolim that our generation needs.

Well, considering that you said Rav Moshe belongs to a previous generation, I quite agree.

Yet we send our own children davka to these mosdos and would not dream of letting them be contaminated by secular education. Nur Torah – Torah has everything. Deep down we know that is right.

No, deep down we know that’s idiotic.Torah does not contain science or medicine. When you get sick do you visit a talmudic doctor ? Or preferably one trained in the finest secular education money can buy ?

Deep down I think we know, “daas baalei batim hefech Daas Torah”.

No, deep down I think we know that people who have never left yeshivah have no clue about the outside world and should be ignored. Furthermore, when they insist on talking about the outside world in nonsensical ways, they should be ridiculed and mocked until they stop.

The strange case of the talmidim of Rav Moshe Shapiro

Rav Moshe Shapiro is an interesting person. He is highly respected by all those who know him, and admired greatly, even worshipped, by his talmidim. His particular area of expertise is 'machshavah', deep, somewhat philosophical thinking into the hidden (and not so hidden) parts of Judaism. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the deeper thinkers amongst the so called ‘Gedolim’,with a good grasp of secular matters too. He generally does not get involved in bans and other foolishness. He lives in Jerusalem, has in the past been associated with various Yeshivot, and his wife is some kind of lecturer at a University.

Rav Moshe has many talmidim, many of whom are particularly well known in the fields of kiruv and education. These include Rabbi Menachem Nissel, Rabbi Yosef Brown, Rabbi Mordechai Becher and Rabbi Yehoshua Karsh, amongst many others. For many years, the majority of Rav Moshe’s students have been lecturing on various topics, including that of Science and Torah. Their general mehalech was not that different from Rabbi Slifkin’s, in fact Rabbi Orlofsky even recommended Rabbi Slifkin’s books for people to read.

So, you can imagine the surprise and dismay amongst these talmidim when Rav Moshe issued a ban on Rabbi Slifkin's book and approach, which was rather extreme, even by ‘Gedolim’ standards. Rav Moshe said that Rabbi Slifkin's books contained Kefirah Gemurah, were worthy of being burned, and were even muktzah on Shabbos. As with all the other letters and bans, he gave no reasons for any of his views, no alternate explanations, and no rationale for rejecting the various Rishonim and Acharonim that Rabbi Slifkin quotes. Rumor has it that this was all prompted by a visit from one of the Kannoim, who read some selective extracts from the books to Rav Moshe.

In subsequent shiurim, Rav Moshe further explained his position on the topics of Rabbi Slifkin's books. He stated emphatically that science is wrong about the world being millions of years old. According to Rav Moshe, the world is only 5765 years old, and dinosaurs (which he apparently accepts as real) lived just a few thousand years ago, concurrently with the people of the time. He is also of the view that it is absolute kefira to say that Chazal could have been mistaken on science, and he believes that the Rav Avrohom ben Rambam and Rav SR Hirsch sources quoted by Rabbi Slifkin are forgeries.

The reaction to Rav Moshe’s apparently strange behavior has been varied. Many of his talmidim, well entrenched in the kiruv world, and some even personal friends of Rabbi Slifkin, were at a loss. One of Rav Moshe's talmidim, Rabbi Lopiansky, had even written a haskamah for one of Rabbi Slifkin's books. Rabbi Lopiansky, under pressure from Rav Moshe, was forced to withdraw his haskamah and be ‘mevatel’ his daas.

Over time, the talmidim of Rav Moshe have split into two groups, which appear to be moving further and further apart. In one group, you have those talmidim who are ‘mevatel their daas’ to that of their beloved Rebbi, and will stop at nothing to ‘defend’ him, even going to quite unacceptable lengths as we have seen recently.

In the other group, you have those who believe that this ban was counter-productive and wrong, and have been working hard to find some resolution. These two camps have been quite bitterly opposed to each other for some time now. There have been numerous letters, counter letters, counter-counter letters and even some threats. I have been privy to most of these, and they make for quite entertaining and disturbing reading.

Yet another of Rav Moshe's talmidim, Rabbi G, wrote to me to tell me that Rav Moshe “knows all secular wisdom”, and I am foolish to think he knows less than Rabbi Slifkin, when in fact he knows so much more. Even more than that, claims Rabbi G, Rav Moshe himself says that he has “struggled with Science and Torah issues his whole life.”

Clearly, Rav Moshe not only does not know all secular wisdom, in fact he is quite lacking on some of the basics. No scientist in the world believes dinosaurs existed less than 6000 years ago, or that they co-existed with man. In addition, very few people believe that mice grow from dirt. However when asked, Rav Moshe replied that he believes that they can (or maybe could). Maybe Rabbi G meant to say that ‘Rav Moshe knows all secular wisdom is bunk’.

Considering that Rav Moshe has never studied science, and it is doubtful that he spends much time reading science books or journals, the claim that he knows “all secular wisdom” seems to be yet another case of a talmid having an irrational love for his Rebbe, which transcends all facts and reason. Another talmid, Rabbi N, writes “Philosophers and scientists seek his opinion on all areas of knowledge”. It seems that some of Rav Moshe’s talmidim have lost their sense of reason, at least when it comes to their leader. This phenomenon is well known in cults and similar groups.

There are so many choice quotes in all of these letters and email that I don’t know where to start. Most of the pro Rav Moshe content is asinine, insulting and often quite illogical. Here is one example:

Rav Moshe also spoke at length about another problem with the books and against those who talk about these issues who are not steeped in pnimyus. In his words, “HaTorah hoo elokis” while science is transient and largely incapable of establishing facts. Rav Zecharya Greenwald, dean of Ma’or seminary, explains Rav Moshes words in the following way:

“Torah is Toras Emes. ”Torah”, that which was given at Sinai, from HKB”H to Moshe Rabbainu, includes according to the Rambam (introduction to the Yad Hachazaka) everything in the Gemorrah, Midrash, sifri, sifra and michilta. “Torah” describes the Will of HKB”H in this world. The language of Torah is the language of this will.

Nowhere in Torah are Chazal interested in that which is not somehow related to better understanding that will. Anything that is stated in the Torah, that is a direct description of that will, i.e. a halachah, is a statement that can be related to as being quoted from HKB”H to Moshe Rabbainu.

Science on the other hand, is an attempt by man to describe with plausible explanation the observed world. The underpinning of the scientific process is that man can explain all observations, with an understanding that the inability to do so is a result of present lack of information. There is no room for explanation beyond human comprehension. HaShem is incomprehensible and therefore not an option as a part of the “scientific” equation.

Therefore, there is no need to attempt to synthesize these two worlds. These are two disparate languages; two entirely separate disciplines, achieving different goals. One, teaching us HaShem’s will, the spiritual purpose of creation, the other, attempting to understand the physical laws of the observed creation”.

Since this a huge subject and I feel this is not my place, suffice to say the bottom line. The gedolim of our dor overwhelmingly pasken that it is forbidden to say, for example:

(a) The world is older than 5765 years.
(b) That dinosaurs existed before 5765 years.
(c) The theory of evolution has any truth in any form.

This is quite illogical. According to Rav Greenwald according to Rav Moshe, there can be no conflict between Science and Torah, because Science is just describing the observed (physical) world, whereas Torah describes the spritual world. Therefore, why does the letter writer conclude that it is kefirah to say the observed world is older than 5765 years ? On the contrary, this should have no effect on the Torah, which is only talking about the spiritual world ! Maybe I am not ‘steeped in pnimiyus’ enough to understand this great wonderous peshat.

I say the following to those of Rav Moshe’s talmidim who think he is correct:

If Rav Moshe does have some amazing ‘pnimiyus’ peshat, invented after spending years in ‘hiding’, but its just too deep for us poor souls not steeped in pnimiyus to understand, then I say his peshat is basically of no use, at least for us laypeople.

If on the other hand, you are convinced that Rav Moshe is indeed ‘someone who belongs to a previous generation’, and a ‘gift to our dor’, someone ‘who knows all secular wisdom’, and is ‘someone who has struggled with these issues his whole life’, then he should presumably be quite capable of writing a good book on the conflict of Science and Torah. Maybe you should suggest this idea to him ? Alternatively, rather than wasting your time writing insulting letters about people, maybe as talmidim muvhakim you should write down your own impression of Rav Moshe's machshavah in these areas, in laymans terms, and then publish it. I for one would be very interested.

Just make sure that your Rishonim and Acharonim are not forgeries. I would hate for it to turn out to be kefirah gemurah. I like reading Science and Torah books on Shabbos.

Monday, March 28, 2005

We reject the extremist 'Gedolim', their methods, and their behavior. Its wrong.

I just listened to Rav Nosson Kaminetzky's shiur that he gave at YU a few weeks ago. He mamash says exactly what I have been saying, that ignoring scientific reality is wrong. He says we need to accept the reality of science, and then work to find answers.

He also says that the methods of the current Gedolim in EY are wrong, and if his father would have moved to Israel, such a situation would never have happened. Its not surprising that R Eliashiv and company don't like the Kaminetzkys.

I say, how much longer will we allow the right wing extremists to not only promulgate their distorted version of Judaism, but also to trash anyone who dares disagree with them ? When people are banned with the same lack of care as shietels and bugs, then something is seriously wrong. Can anyone in their right mind possibly justify the sorts of behavior we have seen ?

Maybe the Gedolim are entirely to blame. Maybe their Gabbaim are to blame too. Maybe its the Kannoim. Most probably its the whole system. Whichever way you want to cut it, the responsibility ultimately lies with the Gedolim. The buck stops there.

Maybe I am a nobody, maybe I am a letzan, or maybe I am a fool. But maybe it takes someone with nothing to lose to state the obvious.

Its time for the Orthodox community to stand up without fear and without embarrassment, and to say loudly and clearly: These so called Gedolim are wrong. This behavior is unacceptable. We reject these methods (and we reject these opinions). The Gabbaim and the Kannoim need to stop. Enough already !

This is not being mevazeh talmidei chachomim. This is standing up for emes and yashrus. Ultimately, this will increase Kavod haTorah, not decrease it.

Say it as sharf as you like. Or say it as politely as you can.

But say it.

Who are the Gedolim ?

Gil (Student) and Gil (Gul Koton Hador) both weigh in on this important issue. I am not anti-godol, one of the fundamentals of Judaism is having great sages who we can turn to for advice and leadership. Thanks to Gil and others for showing us that there are plenty of moderates who fit the bill. All criticisms of the 'Gedolim' that may have appeared on this blog were only in reference to the more right wing extreme elements, and not (chas vesholom) to all Gedolim.

Orthodoxy Fails to Respond to Reality

Reality, contrary to what some fools may say, is exactly what we see with our eyes. Philosophizing about the nature of reality, truth, sense perception and so on, is all very nice, and keeps philosophers in business. However for the average Joe, thats a bunch of hooey. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is a duck. Any attempt to reconstruct or deconstruct people's sense of reality will, in the long run, fail.

The fundamental laws of physics might change every few billion years or so (or every 5 minutes or so), it is possible that everything is all a great big nes and just faked up to look older than it is, we might all just be brains in a jar, but if you think like that, you may as well give up living in the real world, since nothing is as it seems. We cannot live life on the remote possibility that everything is all one big lie.

It is commonly accepted reality today, by the vast majority of scientists and educated laypeople, that the world is billions of years old. It is also reality that there was some form of evolution over billions of years, and that a global flood is impossible, not to mention completely refuted by all evidence. These are not just opinions, or religious beliefs but realities based on well tested science. None of these realities are in any way antithetical to our religious ideals.

By ignoring reality, Orthodoxy does itself a dis-service. By failing to deal with the facts, it appears that Orthodoxy has something to hide. By not allowing Breishis to be taken non literally, the fundamentalists are sending a message, that if the Torah were to be non-literal in part, this would do tremendous damage to the concept of Torah. To those of us who know that the Torah cannot possibly be literally true in the beginning of Breishis, this just reinforces the idea that there is something seriously wrong with the Torah.

My emunah, and that of many others I know, has been damaged by the Orthodox world's inability to deal with reality. Contrary to what some fools might say, Taiku is not an answer. Taiku is an admission that you don't have an answer, or at least not one that you like. Thats not the same thing at all.

The conflict between Science and Torah is not some deep esoteric conundrum, requiring teams of scientists, philosophers and Gedolim to deal with. Its really very simple. Breishis does not give a factual account of pre-history. Thats all there is to it. Thats reality. Considering that science before a hundred years ago had not developed to the point where this was obvious, it is of no surprise at all, or indeed of any relevance at all, that the Rishonim and Chazal did not know this.

The goal now of every thinking Orthodox Rabbi should be to describe what is peshat in Breishis, given this reality. Why did the Torah use certain stories, themes, parables etc to give over its message ? What, in fact, is the message to be learnt from all of this ? That would be a worthwhile endeavor. Throwing up our hands in the air and saying Taiku, postulating bizarre theories of unreality, or worse, sticking to a literal understanding of Breishis, is not only not worthwhile, but in the long run will prove to be counter-productive.

If the Orthodox world is unable to conceive of a strong, worthwhile concept of Torah which still confirms to reality, its going to have a lot bigger problems than Gedolim who appear to lack basic sechel and yashrus.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Message from Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

I received this a while back from Rabbi Orlofsky. He asked me to post it but I never did, because no one had posted the draft. Now that a couple of people have, (even though I asked them not to), I feeel it is appropriate to post it.


Someone is circulating a letter containing personal attacks against Nosson Slifkin purporting to represent me.

I have not authorized ANY letter to be distributed! I am working on a letter relating to this issue. That letter is NOT it. Please send this to whoever has a copy and ask them not to distribute this letter.

I apologize to Nosson and his family for the hurt they must have suffered from this action.


Dovid Orlofsky

Let me add the following: Much information in the draft were erroneous. Specifically comments about R Slifkin himself, his writings on the mabul, a conversation about yestizas mitrayim etc etc. In addition, it was a draft. I have many draft posts which I subsequently thought the better of. It is unfair to bury someone over a draft which was subsequently changed. I think the draft unfairly portrays both Rabbi Orlofsky and Rabbi Slifkin. It is really not menchlechkite to be circulating this draft. It will only cause more trouble which is not neccessary.

If you want something to get upset about, think about this:

If you were a Rabbi and you were told someone was speaking kefirah, what would you do ? If you had the slightest bit of sechel and yashrus, you would go speak to the guy to find out whats going on. If you were uncomfortable in speaking to the guy directly, you would go to his Rebbe or maybe close friend. If he wrote it in a book with a haskamah, you would speak to the haskamah writer. Would you just simply trash the guy and tell everyone his writings are forbidden ? Of course not. Its basic human decency and sechel to contact the person and find out whats really going on. How could the Gedolim have allowed this ban in the way they did ? If someone can talk to the Gedolim and get a reasonable explanation for their behavior, I think that would be very important. Because without one it appears that they lack basic sechel and/or yashrus.

Of course, a UO fundamentalist will just reply that since they are the Gedolim, its axiomatic that whatever course of action they chose, it must be correct, and they don't need to explain themselves to us. So even if we don't understand it, we must have emunas chachomim.

I say, if you can't see the emperor has no clothes, you better look again.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Tired-Taiku Theory

We munched on Myth-Moshol. We noshed on Nes-Nisayon. We wallowed in Weird-Wacky. Now its time to talk about Tired-Taiku.

Tired-Taiku (TT) is really more of an approach than a definitive answer. Teiku is actually roshei tevos for "Tishby Yetaretz Kushyas Ushailos" (Elijah will answer all questions). I have heard various discussions about what that means exactly, but in a contemporary setting, when someone says "Taiku is the answer", they generally mean one of the following:
  1. We have some reasonable answers, but no way of knowing which is correct, so lets just leave it.
  2. Any hope of finding any answer seems remote, so lets just leave it.
  3. I don't know enough about this topic, so lets just leave it.
  4. The obvious answer is clear, but we really don't like it, so lets just leave it.
  5. I can't be bothered to discuss this anymore, so lets just leave it.
  6. I don't want to to discuss this at all, so lets just leave it.
  7. This is not worth discussing, so lets just leave it.
  8. For some unrelated reason, I don't wish to answer right now, so lets just leave it.

For example, your average yeshivah bochur, after only a few moments on a science vs torah discussion will lose patience and say "Why do you bother with all this stuff anyway ! Just go learn a daf Gemoroh and forget about it, It has no practical halachic ramifications anyway. Lets just say taiku !". (True Story). Probably a 5 or 7 above.

When Rav Mattisyahu Solomon says "Taiku is an answer", he probably means to say that "I don't really know enough about it, the science seems pretty strong but I cannot possibly take Torah non literally, so lets not go there" i.e. Number 2 above. He may also mean 3 above, or maybe 6.

So is Tired-Taiku the correct answer to questions of Science & Torah ?

Taiku V8 !

Thursday, March 24, 2005

More on Nes-Nisayon

Some people like to suggest nes-nisayon theory for the creation of the earth. In other words, even though everything appears to be 15 billion years old, it is in fact only 6000 years old, but was created fully formed. As to why G-d would pull such a stunt, the answer is that it makes logical sense that the world would be created fully formed. There is even a makor for this in the gemarah which tooks about adam being created as a 20 year old. Many people have a problem with this approach, because they don't like to think of G-d playing tricks and creating fakery, such as fake dinosuar bones, fossils and cave paintings.

Nes-nisayon gets even more shverre when you get to the mabul. The scientific evidence for there being no possibility whatsoever of a global flood, and no local flood covering more than a relatively small area, and for the fact that there has been continous human habitation of many varied areas of the earth going back 10 or 20 thousand years (if not more), and that biologically we cannot possibly be all descended from one person 5000 years ago, is solid. Not to mention the impossibility of all animals fitting in a small boat, and then being dispersed across the globe.

Therefore, to propose nes-nisayon as the answer to the mabul, requires us to say that not only was the flood in itself a completely miraculous event, but also that after the flood had finished, G-d miraculously wiped away all evidence. But even more than that, after the evidence was wiped away, G-d changed signs of human habitation, geology, biology and a host of other things to make it appear beyond a shadow of doubt that no such flood ever occurred.

Now, I can understand why G-d might want to create a completed world, there is a certain logic to that. But why would G-d remove all evidence showing that a flood had occurred ? And not only that, but go so far as to also plant fake evidence to show beyond a shadow of doubt that no flood ever did occur ? This has no relevance to any 'completed world' theory, and would have to involve an incredible amount of 'fakery' to create such an unbelievable nisayon.

The nes part I can understand. We have always thought of the mabul as a nes.

But this would truly be a strange nisayon.

Happy Purim !

The Emperor Has No Clothes

1. Science has made some amazing diacoveries in the past century or so. Discoveries that have rasied serious questions on some of our cherished ideologies. For anyone with sechel, having such serious unanswered questions is quite disconcerting. R Slifkin was involved in some good work, trying to find some answers. He made sure to have good sources and good haskamas. He collected all the little tidbits about science and torah which had been floating around and presented them in a coherent manner. While there was really nothing significantly new in his work (except some analysis on the digestive habits of hares which I doubt many people actually read), the fact that there were haskamas and it was published by Feldheim made it a big deal. It forced people to confront the issues. Because the sources were so comprehensive, it was very difficult for anyone to really argue on them. The best they could say was essentially "Its forbidden but we can't tell you why".

2. No one, to my knowledge, had ever responded back to a ban before, at least not recently. People who have been banned pretty much just gave in, like R Reinman and R N Kaminetzky. R Slifkin actually defended himself (somewhat successfully I think), and did not just lay down and die. This coupled with the usual lack of process and care which goes into these bans, really exposed the ugly underbelly of this phenomenon for all to see. Its still not widely known that a couple of the primary instigators of the ban are actually quite unscrupulous characters. The frum world had never really dealt with one of their own, with a band of supporters, not giving in. They didn't know how to deal with it. Witness various letters and articles which only made things much worse. Note that R Slifkin did not attack the Gedolim, I think he was quite restrained. He cannot be held responsible for any letzonus which has occurred. I ridiculed the Gedolim somewhat, but if you pay careful attention to what I was saying the real targets of my mockery were R Uren Reich and R Moshe Shternbuch, neither of whom are Gedolim. I was careful not to attack Rav Moshe Shapiro or R Eliashiv. At times in some of my mockery I may have said the Gedolim are lunatics and senile and things like that. I was exaggerating for effect. I do not think R Elaishiv or the other Gedolim are lunatics or senile. (well one of them is actually semi-senile but thats unfortunate). I do know that they are misguided and misinformed (see below). The few Rabbanim who have written on this situation basically agree with me, though they may be more circumspect in saying it.

3. The kanoim and the Gedolim underestimated the widespread acceptance of these views amongst even the charedi world, especially in the US. The EY Gedolim, but also some of the US Gedolim, are very out of touch with the realities of the frum world today. They basically ended up looking misinformed, misguided, foolish or worse.

4. The few attempts at explaining the Gedolim's point of view have so far backfired. R Moshe Shternbuch's letter was widely ridiculed (not just by me). R Dovid Orlofsky's letter was leaked in first draft (NOT by me) and was pretty bad. Frumteens started attacking R Slifkin, various people picked up on it and then all sorts of ugly things about Frumteens came out. The moral of this story is not "don't mess with Slifkin", but rather that the people who are "messing with Slifkin" so to speak are for the most part quite unsavoury or don't know what they are talking about.

The reality is that the ban and the process that led to it was so bad, that any apologetics for it just make it look worse. NOTE to Would be Gedolim defenders: You would be doing the Gedolim more of a service if you just shut up already, and hopefully people will forget about the whole thing. Trying to defend the indefensible only makes it look worse, and makes you look stupid in the process. Plus the fact that many shiurim are on record from some of these defenders essentially saying the same thing as R Slifkin really makes them look stupid. Yes, I am sure they will say they have now been mevatel their daas once the Gedolim spoke and all that. Very admirable I'm sure. But you still look stupid.

A better approach would have been to have brushed off the ban as only applying to Bnei Brak and EY, and that in America things are different. Maybe this avenue could still work, but some US Gedolim who signed are going to look stupid in the process.

For any baal sechel its clear that the the reality is this. The Gedolim, whilst being great Talmidei Chachamim and all, live in a very different world. For all their greatness, the Gedolim come from a certain cultural milieu. One in which Torah is sacrosant and knowledge of science is mostly non existant. Someone like R Eliashiv, at 93 years old, is not suddenly going to change his life's hashkafah and declare that the world is 15 billion years old because a 29 year old pisher told him so. Looking at it from another angle, he views himself as one of the manheigei hador and in the final stretch to retirement is not going to jeapordize his stock options, so to speak. This is basic human psychology. Younger and more worldly Rabbanim are might change their minds, but its rare that someone emotionally invested in certain attitudes their whole life is suddenly going to change their outlook overnight. If anyone thinks that the basic rules of human psychology don't apply to Gedolim, well thats rather naive.

Couple this with the fact that the gabbaim of the Gedolim control who has access to them, and the fact that many of the kannoim either had access to the Gedolim directly or access to their Gabbaim or had other connections to them, and that R Slifkin, coming from a Modern Orthodox British family is essentially an outsider in that world, and you have a bad situation. The Gedolim were most definitely manipulated by the Kannaim. You would have to be stupid not to see that.

5. There is clearly a split in the Charedi world. You have R Eliashiv, R Wachtfogel and company on one side, and the Kaminetzkys and Feldmans and similar types on the other (lemoshol). Unfortunately, due to the atmosphere in chareid-land, moderates like R S Kaminetzky are fearful of speaking out. So you get a rather one sided view of things. Personally I am a little surprised that the haskamah writers, (and also Rav Aharon Feldman) haven't taken a more public stance. After all, they were the ones who approved the books. Thats the whole point of a haskamah. R Slifkin is just a young guy, shouldn't the haskamah writers be taking the heat ? Of course some say that the whole ban was really aimed at R S Kaminetzky anyway. However he doesn't seem to be taking much heat on it.

6. I think its still not too late for someone responsible from the chareidi world to step in and clean up the mess. R Berel Wein, R Aryeh Carmel and R Zeff Leff are all good starts, though I don't know how choshuv they are in that world. However I would like to see a major UO Rosh Yeshivah or equivalent weigh in, and not just in some private shiur or conversation. It would be somewhat of a personal risk for that person, as all the RW fanatics would immediately jump on him and call him a kofer, but if a critical mass can be reached, the olam might change their minds.

7. For the future, the chareidi world really needs to clean up their act. These bans are silly and counterproductive. Even worse, the process of getting a ban is appalling (actually non existant). Ideally we should ban the ban, but at the very least have some kind of process. Maybe the Aguddah should meet or something, I don't know. But the current non process is ludicrous. Its a bizayon for 'Daas Torah' that unscrupulous individuals can cause so much trouble. If people really cared about the Gedolim, they might want to start by providing better counsel for them.

8. Many people, including myself, have lost a lot of respect for the RW Rabbanim and their ideologies over this. Clearly there are some significant questions that have been raised by science and related disciplines. To simply say its forbidden to discuss these issues, or claim "taiku is the answer", evoking images of holocaust victims having emunah peshutah, is not going to work for many people, and simply demonstrates that the Gedolim don't have any answers, or are fearful of the discussions. Likewise, engaging in dubious pseudo-science or bashing the scientists also results in a lack of credibility. I can't decide which is worse, to give a false answer or to give no answer, they are both pretty bad. Ignoring reality is never a good approach. Of course its true that R Slifkin doesn't have all the answers, however his books were a valuable resource and comfort for many people, and in line with what many other people have been saying for a while. The fact that no one has really come up with a good alternate explanation is really serious.

To this day, no one has really been able to successfully explain an ideology which does not conflict with science and related disciplines, and still remain "within the fold".

Maybe we should have emunah peshutah that someone soon will.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

R Dovid Gottleib - Kofer !

R Dovid Gottleib's shiur on the age of the universe.

After ranting and raving about the inability of scientists to get anything right, he offers two resolutions to the problems of the age of the universe. The second is that God created it looking old.

The first answer is as follows:

Day means one sun cycle with respect to the earth. But it says in Genesis the Sun was only created on day 4. So what was day 3 ? One thing is for sure, its not what we call day. The Torah uses the word day. What does this mean ? Ah the torah means some anology, between what we call day and what the Torah calls day. You can say the anology is 24 hours if you chose, but it doesn't have to be that way, it doesn't have to be that way. The only think I know is that it was an alternation between light and dark. .... You are open if you like to take the first 3 days and be as long as you like. And what about days 4,5 & 6 ? ... If I can already take days 1,2 & 3 to be longer periods of time, then its acceptable on literary grounds to say days 4,5 & 6 are also longer periods of time. You can say that the 6 days were a much longer period of time. And indeed there are medrashim that say this, there are kabbalistic works that say this, that the world is much older than 5763 years !

R Dovid Gottleib, you are a Kofer !!!

He then goes on to explain that Adam was not the first human, but was the first human with particular characteristics such as morality and spirituality !

You double kofer !!!

All these UO Kiruv guys, Gottleib, Orlofsky etc are a bunch of clowns if you ask me. They just make it up as they go along.

No credibility at all.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky - Kofer !

I am sure R Dovid Orlofsky has now been chozer from these views, so its not like he is being hypocritical or anything, but its still fun to read. Gosh, there I go again, defending him, whats wrong with me ? I think it must be the letzan's code of honor or something like that. Anyway, enjoy !

Hat tip: grend123 and cycnic. Thanks guys !


Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

I teach the 7th grade in a Hebrew school, and Baruch Hashem, they are very sophisticated and ask a lot of tough questions. One question I seemed to stumble upon was when one of the students asked me where dinosaurs fit in with the torah, and whether or not science and Torah disagree or agree. I am hoping you can help me with this one!

Thank you so much.
Name withheld
Post Shalhevet - Summer 2001


Dear Everyone,

Well, these are certainly Rabbi Orlofsky’s favorite subjects: biology, and physics. Needless to say I have no formal training in these areas, and I am only repeating what I have heard from others.
Let’s start at the beginning (no pun intended). Where did the universe come from? Today people like to say “from the Big Bang” but that is nonsensical. The Big Bang theory maintains that there was an original mass of matter/energy that exploded about 16 billion years ago and expanded into the universe we see today. Okay, let’s say that is true. It doesn’t answer the question of where that primal matter came from. Just the opposite, it creates more problems for us. Because if the universe exploded at some point and is expanding all the time, eventually it will stretch all the way and burn itself out. If so, the universe is finite, not infinite. If it is not infinite, than like all finite things, it had to come from somewhere. So to say “I believe in the Big Bang instead of G-d is silly.

The next issue is the age of the universe, or more important to most people, dinosaurs. We know dinosaurs existed – we saw them in Jurassic Park. Also we have dug up a lot of big bones. They obviously belonged to someone. Based on all the big bones, I conclude that there were pretty large creatures that used to use those bones that have all died out. When did this happen exactly? That’s a good question. The Torah says that 5764 years ago Adom and Chava were in Gan Eden. What happened during the five and a half days before that is certainly a point of speculation. There are definitely sources that indicate that they were not our conception of days. Dr. Gerald Schroder in his books on creation and evolution suggests that using Einstein’s theory of relativity the six days could equal 16 billion years. That is an approach. Another approach is that no one can tell you how old the world is – only how old it appears. Hashem according to the story created everyone fully grown. So perhaps the world looks millions of years old but is really younger.

When it comes to evolution, I can likewise take a nonchalant attitude. Maybe things did evolve and that was the method Hashem used to bring about life. Personally, I feel there are so many problems with the evolutionary theory that it takes a lot of faith to believe in it. That is probably why whenever I have tried to discuss the problems of evolution with scientists they tend to get defensive to the point of sounding shrill. So I usually just nod politely. There are many classic works on the subject of problems with evolution – you can do a search on the web, I’m sure or try a library, if people still use those things.

I have been asked, why would Hashem create a bunch of dinosaurs and then wipe them all out? My personal feeling is that we needed fossil fuels and dinosaurs sure make great fossils!

Well, as always there is more to say, but I hope this gives you all enough material for a five-minute response to seventh graders or college professors. Then maybe we can deal with more important issues like having a meaningful life.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

1 Sivan 5764
Pomegranates, Science & Emunas Chachamim

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,

Judaism is full of spiritual representations including the claim that there are 613 pips in the pomegranates for the 613 Mitzvos. This is usually presented by parents and teachers to be a true and absolute fact. The scientific reality tends to be somewhat different (I have never personally counted but I have heard from people who have.)

My question relates to this anomaly in the broader sense. How are such statements from Chazal that contradict objective science meant to be understood? One can say that they are only meant symbolically rather than literally. However hardliners would decry this as iconoclastic and a lack of Emonas Chachomim. How then should such discrepancies be understood, and how should they be presented to young and older pupils.

Thank you for your time and interest.

Name & Seminary withheld


Dear Name Withheld,

Let me begin with a number of picayune responses to your question that doesn't answer the essence of the point you asked, but will hopefully make for some interesting reading.

The chazal never said that a pomegranate has 613 seeds. The gemera says that just as a pomegranate is filled with seeds, so even the empty ones of Israel are filled with good deeds.

Furthermore, every Rosh Hashana my daughter counts the seeds of a pomegranate and on more than one occasion claims to have found 613 seeds (I didn't check).

But for arguments sake, let us say they made this claim and it isn't true. There are more than enough such statements that you could have chosen. For example, a nursing woman will not menstruate because the menstrual blood turns into milk. That's one that the scientists haven't come up with yet.

There are three basic approaches that one can take to this issue.

1. They were wrong!

There have been many important Jewish thinkers over the years who have suggested that the chazal worked with the knowledge available at the time when they lived, and maybe they were wrong. For a more thorough discussion of this approach you can see Nosson Slifkin's "The Science of Torah".

2. They were right, but things have changed!

The converse of the above approach. The chazal described the scientific reality at the time but mishana habriyos - the world over time has changed.

3. You don't understand what they are talking about!

The chazal say there were 600,000 people at maamad har sinai. But there were more! Well, we aren't counting woman and children. But what about men over 80? The number doesn't even include Moshe and Aharon!

Obviously the chazal aren't trying to teach me a historical fact based on the population 3300 years ago. There is a significance to the number 600,000 and that's how many people were there, even if there were more. You have to delve into the meaning of the chazal and understand the message they are trying to teach, rather than understand them as explaining an exact scientific fact.

"Im Lavan garti, vitaryag mitzvos shimarti", Yaakov says on his return from Padan Aram. But he married two sisters! Many meforshim explain that Yaakov didn't keep the Torah outside of Eretz Yisroel. Then how can the chazal say Yaakov said he kept the taryag mitzvos! Obviously the chazal are telling us something deeper about the message Yaakov sent to Aisev.

So if there are supposed to be 613 seeds in the pomegranate than that represents something more than a simple botanical fact.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

More Sacred Cows of the Ultra Orthodox

11. Gilgulim, Dibbukim and Golems

Talking of gilguls, I should like to quote a famous Chazal: letzonim afilu bemaysoson nikraim letzim.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Sacred Cows of the Ultra-Orthodox

1. First 11 chapters of Breishis are literally true
2. Daas Torah / Emunas Chachamim
3. Yeridas Hadoros
4. Moshiach = Olam Habah = Miracles Galore = Grand Finale
5. Nissim bizman Chazal, Rishonim & Acharonim
6. Zohar Kabbalah is an authentic part of our mesorah dating back to Sinai
7. Chazal were all Chareidim (except for Acher)
8. Judaism doesn't ever change much
9. Men and women have different roles in Judaism
10. Jews and Goyim are fundamentally different in G-d's eyes

Cow number 1 is currently in the process of being slaughtered, and consequently Cow number 2 is not feeling too well either.

Any takers for the rest ? You can do it humanely if you like !

The Orlofsky Letter

I have not posted the Orlofsky 'letter' for a number of reasons.

1. It was an initial draft which was later subsequently changed.
I actually worked with Rabbi Orlofsky a little to ensure that the final draft was better. Although in some ways I was helping the opposition, I felt that a cleaned up letter would best all round. The final version was much better, and nothing to get too worked up about. I humbly offer my services to any other Rabbanim and Gedolim who would like their statements to be cleaned up.

2. The character assasination of Rabbi Slifkin is appalling, and untrue.
I have checked into it, and he was certainly not thrown out of any yeshivos as Rabbi Orlofsky had claimed. Although this is untrue, once bad allegations are thrown around like this its hard to convince some people that it was all lies. Hence my reticence to 'out' the Frumteens moderator.

3. The letter was never intended for public consumption.
It was sent to a select bunch of Rav Moshe Shapiro's talmidim, who are split into two camps, the for camp and the against camp. It was some of Rav Moshe's own talmidim who came out very strongly against the letter (and a subsequent one too from another talmid which I shall also not be posting).

Rabbi Orlofsky, and the Gedolim he represents, were misguided and misinformed. I think that has become clear. Level headed thinkers such as R Aryeh Carmel, R Berel Wein and Rav Zeff Leff have also said this publicly. Its a shame that none of the UO Yeshivah Heads have been able to say this. This demonstrates the increasing radicalization and fundamentalism of the UO world, and is cause for concern, both for RW MO's and LW UO's alike.

Hirhurim Comments & JewishWhistleBlower

Wow, when did Hirhurim Comments turn into JewishWhistleBlower ?

Ummm... Helllo [TellItLikeitIs is raising his hand] Is anybody here aware that the moderator of Frumteens in a very controversial figure who was forced out of his position as Rav of the local Agudah in ****** under very mysterious circumstances? Anybody aware that there a very serious allegation against him? Why are we giving Frumteens any attention? Feel how you want about the issues discussed above but please do not give FrumTeens any attention! Next topic!!
TellItLikeitIs 03.22.05 - 10:14 am #

There was no allegations, merely allegations that there were allegations. No Bais Din, no charges by anyone, no specific accusations, nothing like that. There was a very very heated dispute between two factions in the Agudah, about methods of doing Kiruv in general, and Rabbi ******'s approach, which meant driving his Firebird to pool halls and drug dens throughout the night dressed in a leather jacket trying to connect to Jewish kids, was opposed by most of the the lay leadership of the Agudah (and some rabbis), including Rabbi Moshe Scherer, but supported by most of the rabbonim, including Rav Faival Cohen, who was vice-president of the rabbinic presidium of the Agudah and also a Rosh Yeshiva in Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway at the time. The lay people (and some of the rabbonim) said a rabbi who does those things all night is not what Agudah rabbonim are supposed to be doing, and some even said that he must have simply snapped. The "allegations" were not allegations, but statements that any Rav that does such things must be off somewhere. The Rabbonim said in reponse that telling the Rabbonim what to do is not what the lay leaders should be doing. The whole issue became very very heated and all the old splits in the Agudah rabbinate were resurrected, involving Rav Belsky against Rav Svei and others. The entire staff of Project YES, the Agudahs kiruv kerovim organizaiton, were fired at that time for similar reasons. It was a madhouse. So they all agreed to call in an out of town Rav to deal with it, who was arms length from all the heat. Rabbi Moshe M Lowy of the Agudah in Toronto was chosen by all to investigate. When his inquiry was over, he said that there is no issue here at all, no allegations at all, and no midlife crisis, and Rabbi ***** and his supporters should be left to do their holy work, even if it is not what Agudah rabbonim are pictued as doing, and even if the Agudah is hurt by it.Rabbi ****** then wanted to secede his shul from the Agudah, an idea that failed terribly because the vast majority of his baali batim mostly refused to do it and it led to a split in his Shul. He and his supporters left, and the Shul remained an Agudah. Not so mysterious at all, and all confirmable by any of the above mentioned rabbis.
Mr. E 03.22.05 - 10:56 am #

Mr. E- Great (fluff) story but Rabbi ****** at the very least is a ******** and at the worst...well.... ask around long enough and you will find out...I personally know of people who have seen him in situations inappropriate for any frum person, let alone a rav. ******************
TellItLikeitIs 03.22.05 - 12:26 pm #

TellIt,Youre a sick person.
Mr. E 03.22.05 - 12:50 pm #

Well there you have it. This is a strange type of issue, because if its true, then its a mitzvah to publicise it. However if its not true, then its a terrible avaeiroh to publicise it. Not sure what the right approach is. Maybe people more familiar with the situation can do something. On the one hand there have been some very bad cases recently where it turned out that Rabbis really were abusing people, on the other hand, false accusations can unfairly follow someone around for the rest of their life. Even if the moderator turns out to be an enrliche yid, I still hold its wrong to have an anonymous web site aimed at teenagers, especially if there have been some allegations like that.

But my biggest question is this. What kind of erhliche yid drives a Firebird ? A Volvo is an ehrlicher car. A 20 year old Crown Victoria waggon too. But a Firebird ?!

Maybe Rabbi Adlerstein has some answers ?

Chareidi Wars: Episode 54

Check this out on Hirhurim comments

Recently, the Rosh Yeshiva of Brisk, R. Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik, said regarding the Slifkin issue and R. Shmuel's haskama, that "He (R. Shmuel) is modern, his father was modern, and the whole family is modern." I heard this from a few students present at the time. He also said about the Novominsker Rebbe that "under the spudik he wears a kipah serugah". So when we talk about the rift in the chareidi community, it is much more rifty than you may realize. It's Lakewood-Brisk one one side, and the Kaminetzkies and their followers on the other.

So my RW UO and LW UO analysis was correct after all. However it seems I was wrong about the center, it doesn't exist. Meanwhile in the MO world, we have the split between the LW MO guys and the RW MO guys.

It seems to me that the RW MO's and the LW UO's actually have a lot in common, maybe more in common with each other than with the extreme end of their own kind (i.e. the LW MO's and the RW UO's).

So, how about a merger of RW MO and LW UO ? We could call it the Union of Orthodoxy, or the Orthodox Union.

Gedolim manipulated by Kannoim

A while back, I said that the Gedolim were manipulated by Kannoim. (I said a few other things as well, but lets not talk about that right now.)

R Dovid Orlofsky, amongst others, ridiculed that notion, and said how could anyone believe such a thing about our Gedolim. Well, R Berel Wein and R Zeff Leff, both well respected Rabbis, said exactly the same thing recently.

R Berel Wein's article is below (its from his newsletter 'The Wein Press', its not online), here is a choice quote:

Many of these great men have relied upon the hearsay evidence of others when forming their opinion regarding the books in question, never having read the books themselves.

R Zeff Leff was even more explicit. In a shiur he gave recently, he stated that the Gedolim were misinformed by people with less than honorable intentions, quoting things out of context.

And Further Reconsiderations by Berel Wein

The Orthodox Jewish world has been witness over the past few years to a number of attacks upon observant orthodox Jews who have authored books that have raised controversy because of some of the contents of those books. The attacks against the books and the authors of these books have come from many great leaders and sages in the Orthodox world. Many of these great men have relied upon the hearsay evidence of others when forming their opinion regarding the books in question, never having read the books themselves. The books in question, like all human books, contain flaws, errors of judgment and personal opinion. Some of the personal opinions expressed in the books may not be in concert with current accepted wisdom or the traditions of many of the scholars who opposed the books. Nonetheless, it is one thing to disagree with a book and point out its errors; it is a much more serious matter to attempt to ban the book and vilify its author. What happens in this scenario of banning the book and vilifying the author is that the book is read now by many more people than it otherwise would have been while the author of the book is permanently and often unjustly scarred for life in Orthodox society. Criticism of books and ideas presented is valid and should always be welcomed in scholarly and civil debate. Destroying the life of the author, himself an observant, Torah knowledgeable Jew, is in my opinion not justifiable under any circumstances. And the rub of all of this is that in the history of the Jewish people, the banning of books, groups and individuals has always proved to be ultimately unsuccessful and counterproductive. It is a losing tactic and should be considered in that light before being continually exercised.

Many instances of book banning dot Jewish history. The works of Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, Azaryah di Rossi, Moshe Chaim Luzatto, Yisrael Lipkin of Salant, Shneur Zalman of Ladi, Zvi Hirsch Chajes, among others, all suffered bans and even burnings. Yet Emunot V'deyot, Moreh Nevuchim, Meor Einayim, Mesilat Yesharim, Igerret HaMussar and Tanya have all weathered the initial attacks upon them and become classics in the Jewish world in spite of their allegedly controversial statements and opinions. Great men criticized these works and their authors for writing them. But history has the final vote and the great critics were proven mainly mistaken in their attacks. In fact, as noted earlier in this article, it was the bans themselves that guaranteed the longevity of popularity of these books. Just as in the case of these recent bans, the popularity of the books banned has increased and not decreased. Thus the ban works against itself. Baruch Spinoza would be little known today if it were not for the ban imposed upon him and his works. All of the bans against the Chasidic movement only served to gain it more adherents. The bitter personal attack against some of the leading adherents of Mussar and their printed works undoubtedly hurt and stung but did not prevent Mussar from capturing the yeshiva world of Lithuania. The attacks themselves only served to eventually strengthen the Mussar movement. Benign neglect is also a powerful weapon - perhaps even a more powerful weapon than bans - in dealing with opponents and variant ideas.

The great Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, one of the leaders of the Mussar movement and the head of the Talmud Torah Beis HaTalmud at Kelm, Lithuania, wrote the following to one of his students in response to the bans placed on his institution by the rabbis who opposed his rational approach to Torah and Mussar: "We have seen the great work of Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim (The Guide for the Perplexed), about which he wrote in the introduction to his book that even if a thousand fools will not be helped by the book, and even if because of their lack of intelligence they may yet be harmed by reading it, nevertheless if there be one living person helped by it to become a true human being [the work is justified.] We see how great and holy this work was in the eyes of Rambam and yet many who did not understand his purpose and intellect, banned the book and forbade Jews from holding the book in their possession. Yet truth springs forth from the earth, (Psalms, 85, 14) and this thought should be sufficient to remove any criticism or complaints against our holy institution. I have also found in the responsa of Rambam the basic idea upon which our institution, Beis HaTalmud, rests. Rambam wrote: 'We attempt with all of our might to explain the Torah in a rational fashion and those parts of the Torah that we are unable to explain rationally we then assign to the realm of miracles and God's inexplicable command. I have seen Torah scholars whose sole intent is to deal with the Torah as being purely supernatural and irrational and their desire is to remove the Torah far away from logic and rationality.' Rambam mocked them for this position and stated that this was not his way of dealing with Torah. Those who understand our policy at Beis HaTalmud realize that our purpose is to present, as far as possible, Torah in a rational and logical fashion so that the truths of the Torah will be permanently established in the hearts of people - especially in the hearts of the young of out time. By so teaching, it will be established within them the faith and logic of Torah and those who truly understand [our times] will realize how great and exalted this task is."

From a purely tactical sense, we must admit that even the justified nineteenth-century bans issued against Reform have in no way seriously damaged the movement and the issuance of those bans probably further radicalized Reform. Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant said: 'I would have not banned Reform. Rather, I would have attempted to build a study hall for Torah study in every Reform temple." In any event, Reform's failure in preserving itself - there are unfortunately very few descendants of nineteenth-century Reform Jews who are affiliated with any type of Judaism today - is mainly a product of its own doings and policies and is in no way related to the bans issued against it.

Cognizance should also be taken of the effect that the publication of these bans have on the image of Orthodoxy in the non-orthodox and non-Jewish world. In a society that has forced Hollywood and the Catholic Church to abandon codes and bans, it is difficult to justify tactically the continued use of bans by Orthodox Jewry. The Orthodox world does not live in a cocoon of isolation. Every action and statement of Orthodox leaders is subject to scrutiny and criticism by the outside world. In the present atmosphere of media Orthodox-bashing, which is so prevalent in Israel and America today, it seems to me that issuing bans only provides more grist for the anti-Orthodox mill. The non-Orthodox world win only see this as a further attempt to impose medieval clericalism on a secular, free society and it will help justify thereby in their minds their non-adherence to halacha and tradition. In a world of Muslim fundamentalist fatwahs against books and authors who do not meet the standards of the Iranian mullahs, bans of books just do not resonate well in our present society. And the damage done to kiruv organizations and outreach projects by such strident bans is incalculable. Aside from the facts that at least in two of the recent incidents, the books in question have great kiruv value in themselves, it is becoming increasingly difficult to speak to the non-Orthodox world and give it a true appreciation of Torah and Judaism from a backdrop of a society that condones bans of books and personal attacks and vilification of other observant Orthodox Jews and recognized scholars with whom we may not agree.

Orthodox leaders have to finally make up their minds as to whether they really are committed to outreach and spiritual help to other Jews - most of who are unfortunately far distanced from Torah and tradition. If such a true commitment is present, then the tactics of bans and personal attacks upon those whose views differ from those of the banners have to be severely modified if not entirely abandoned. This is truly a difficult reconsideration but I am convinced that it is one that should be considered and analyzed by the leaders of Orthodoxy.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Hirhurim Debates

Do you ever read the comments on Hirhurim ? Indecipherable for mere mortals like me. Here is a real live example:

If you read RES's ZTL on RYBS, FWIW RAK & RSK did not agree with RIETS, RSZY and RYBM.
Anonymous 10:25

How can you say that ? Its well known that RSK and RYBS together went to see RTBK, who said RMS and RSMS did not want to say sholom to RWED, but I can't say why vehamavin yovin
Anonymous 10:27

You are both wrong. RIETS RSBY and REGT did not say GTW HIKK to WERFY in Riverdale, that was RSM, RSM and RSM in the Bronx. Of course RETY KHJRFV and FHDG:L together with ORUDHDS cheese sandwhich KFGUKLG and UYRDJK, but UYEIU KJFFIDU pickles RUYRR in the OU convention FGYUEHF wearing a green ski mask UEW CFYD:L vehamvin yovin.
Anonymous 10:35

New York Times on Slifkin !

Gosh, they interviewed Rabbi Adlerstein and Gil, but not me ! I could have given them the best quotes of all, what a lost opportunity.

Religion and Natural History Clash Among the Ultra-Orthodox
Published: March 22, 2005

It was early January when the posters went up in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem's largest ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, and they signaled the start of a bad year for Rabbi Nosson Slifkin.
Twenty-three ultra-Orthodox rabbis had signed an open letter denouncing the books of Rabbi Slifkin, an ultra-Orthodox Israeli scholar and science writer. The letter read, in part: "He believes that the world is millions of years old - all nonsense! - and many other things that should not be heard and certainly not believed. His books must be kept at a distance and may not be possessed or distributed." Rabbi Slifkin, the letter-writers continued, should "burn all his writings."

Fundamentalist Christians have long championed a literal reading of the Bible that suggests the planet is thousands of years old, rather than millions. But the denunciation of Rabbi Slifkin has publicized a parallel strain of thought among ultra-Orthodox Jews, a subset of the Orthodox Jewish community that is deeply skeptical of modern culture, avoiding television and the Web and often disdaining college education.

Rabbi Slifkin has made a career of reconciling Jewish Scripture with modern natural history. He teaches a course in biblical and talmudic zoology at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah, near Jerusalem, and gives frequent lectures, sometimes wearing a boa constrictor along with his black hat and jacket. With nine books to his name at age 29, he is a young up-and-comer in the sober world of Jewish scholarship.

The controversy surrounding him has pitted Jews who are skeptical of science against their more cosmopolitan brethren, who may follow ultra-Orthodox traditions but hold jobs as doctors or teachers. "My sense is there are literally tens of thousands of people who are upset about the ban," said Dr. Andrew Klafter, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, who is ultra-Orthodox. "I'm very, very puzzled by it."

In the days after the ban, Rabbi Slifkin's publisher and distributor dropped the three books mentioned in the open letter. He himself lost several speaking engagements and saw his own rabbi pressured to expel him from his synagogue. "He was crushed," said a friend, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, a professor of Jewish law and ethics at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "Do you know what it's like to walk through the street and see posters branding you a heretic?"
Three of Rabbi Slifkin's books, published from 2001 to 2004, were singled out in the letter or in related materials: "Mysterious Creatures," "The Science of Torah" and "The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax."

Predictably, the banned books have become hits. A copy of "Science of Torah" recently sold on eBay for $125, or five times its cover price. And Rabbi Gil Student, whose company, Yashar Books, has taken over the distribution of the other two books, said he had done a year's business in a month selling them.

Rabbi Slifkin's books seek to reconcile, rather than to contrast, sacred texts with modern knowledge of the natural world. But in the process, he has sometimes cast a critical eye on those texts. In "Mysterious Creatures," Rabbi Slifkin discussed fantastic animals mentioned in the Torah and the Talmud - among them, the unicorn and the phoenix - and suggested that, in reporting their existence, Jewish sages might have relied on the erroneous writings of ancient naturalists.

He gently debunked the claim, found in a medieval text, that geese grow on trees, explaining that it was "based on the peculiar anatomy of a certain seashell." And he examined the Talmudic doctrine that lice, alone of all animals, may be killed on the Sabbath because they do not sexually reproduce - a premise now known to be false.

In "The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax," Rabbi Slifkin examined the difficult separation of animals into kosher and nonkosher, and discussed apparent exceptions and contradictions to the claims of Jewish law. (The aardvark and the rhinoceros, for example, meet one test for being kosher but not another.)

And in "The Science of Torah," he took a scientist's eye to the Torah. Evolution, he wrote, did not disprove God's existence and was consistent with Jewish thought. He suggested that the Big Bang theory paralleled the account of the universe's creation given by the medieval Spanish-Jewish sage Ramban. And Rabbi Slifkin wrote, to quote his own later paraphrase, that "tree-ring chronology, ice layers and sediment layers in riverbeds all show clear proof to the naked eye that the world is much more than 5,765 years old."

The latter statement was particularly galling to the rabbi's critics, who support a literal reading of Genesis that they say puts the earth's age at 5,765.

The rabbis who signed the letter denouncing Rabbi Slifkin are widely respected Torah authorities; one of them, Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, 91, is a leader of Israel's United Torah Judaism Party and one of the most respected scholars in Orthodox Ashkenazi Judaism. As a result, the letter has had repercussions far beyond the congregations of those who signed it. Rabbi Slifkin's publisher, Targum Press, and his distributor, Feldheim Publishers, have stopped carrying the books. Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox outreach organization, has removed most of his articles from its Web site.

Revered though they are, however, most of the rabbis signing the letter are not known as community leaders or public voices; only one of the Americans, for example, sits on the eight-member Council of Torah Sages at the head of Agudath Israel of America, an influential national Orthodox organization. Rather, they represent the most unworldly segment of the ultra-Orthodox community, in which learning is prized and contact with the secular world, including secular education, is shunned.

The letter against Rabbi Slifkin is not the only recent outburst against science among the ultra-Orthodox. Last November, during the annual conference of Agudath Israel, Rabbi Uren Reich, the dean of Yeshiva of Woodlake Village in New Jersey, said, "These same scientists who tell you with such clarity what happened 65 million years ago - ask them what the weather will be like in New York in two weeks' time."

Many science-minded ultra-Orthodox Jews say it is spiritually wrenching to see leaders they revere endorsing views they oppose. Rabbi Adlerstein of Loyola said: "I know rabbis, I know teens in yeshivas who were on the verge of quitting" when the letter first came out. "They look at themselves in the mirror and they say, 'What have I been representing?' "

Everything I know about UO Theology I learned in Kindergarten

One of my commentators declared that I had a 'Kindergarten level grasp of UO theology'.

Well, he might be right. Even though I went to a UO day school, a UO high school, and spent 4 years in UO yeshivot, there was never any attempt at all to provide a systematic course of theology / religion / philosophy.

I spent years and years learning baba kamah and baba basrah, but never once was Moreh Nevuchim, Saadia Gaon or The Kuzari even mentioned. I didn't even know these guys existed until I was in my 20's.

And it wasn't just the rational 'Modern Orthodox' philosophers who were ignored. The Chazon Ish, The Besh"t, in fact everyone and anyone and their views on hashkafah were entirely ignored almost all the time. Except for the occasional shmooz, or possibly if there was some aggadatah dealing with a philosophical / theological issue.

But there was certainly no systematic presentation, and of course it goes without saying no discussion of opposing views. Where did these institutions think I was going to get my hashkafah from ? And these were not in general lousy institutions. In fact they were very highly regarded.

So my view of UO theology ? I can sum it up in a sentence:

"Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere !".

Well, at least I got that part down okay.

Frumteens on Olam Habah

Frumteens on what it takes to get olam habah:

If you do not believe in one of the 13 Ikarim, or if you are even in doubt about any of them, you are not considered part of Klal Yisroel, you lose your share in Olam Habah, and all your Mitzvos don't count.

OK, I'll be frum, honest ! Please don't hurt me Mr Moderator !

Seriously though, is this a true representation of even UO hashkafah ? Surely not.

Its a hard life being a charedi apologist

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein (of the Association of Charedi Apologists and Kiruv Workers) has done it again. In an article in this month's Jewish Action magazine, Rav Yitz manages to write a glowing review of our favorite hate site, Frumteens.

Oy vay. Is this the Frumteens that called Rav Kook a kofer (and also quotes the Chofetz Chaim saying Kook Shmook (v'yesh gorsim Kook Shnook) ? That said goyim were background players in the quest to make Klal yisroel get moshiach ? That advised an office worker not to praise her goyish colleagues ? That said learning maddah is trief ? That attacks Modern Orthodoxy but defends Neturai Kartah ?

Is this the Frumteens with the anonymous moderator who remains anonymous so that people will accept his views based on their truth, rather than because of who he is ? (After all, if they knew he was a direct descendant of David Hamelech how could they not accept his views ?!). The same anonymous (male) moderator who seems to take a particular interest in the problems of teenage girls ? Is Rav Yitz serious ?!

However, I think this is all a front. I have been keeping tabs on Rav Yitz, and his opinions are decidedly non-charedi. In fact, I don't see a lot of distinction between him and my MO rabbi. I think this Frumteens article is a decoy, designed to throw us off the trail. So come on, Rabbi Adlerstein, praising Frumteens is not fooling anyone. Why don't you just be a man and admit what we all know already ?!

You are a secretly modern-orthodox charedi jew !

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Torah Min Hashamayim

When it come to Torah Min Hashamayim (TMH), many people quote the Rambam's ikkarim where he says that we believe G-d dictated every word of the Torah to Moshe and thats exactly what we have today.

Its strange that in general the UO world rejects the philosophy of the Rambam, but when it comes to the 13 ikkarim suddenly he's the man. The Rambams formulation is so extreme here that its doubtful he even meant it literally. For a good discussion see Marc Shapiro's book on this subject, The Limits of Orthodox Theology.

Joshua Golding also has an interesting article about when we can take the Torah non-literally, and concludes that we can only do that if it does not inteferre with the basic principles of Orthodoxy.

This got me thinking, what are the limits of Modern Orthodox theology, as applied to the concept of TMH ? Well, following Golding's conclusions I would say as follows: Any explanation of TMH that doesn't destroy any of the key principles of Orthodox Judasim is okay. Of course this definition is insufficient, since what are key principles of Orthodox Judaism anyway ?

In the interests of getting somewhere, I would tentatively posit the following: Any explanation of TMH which still maintains a belief in Halacha min Hashamyim (HMH), and maintains a strict process for changing that halachah, is within the bounds of Modern Orthodoxy. Of course this is still very vague, since it doesn't really define the scope of 'halacha' or what is a 'strict process'. However for our purposes this will currently have to suffice.

Why am I putting all the emphasis on HMH ? Because I think that all the issues that people have around this topic are really with respect to HMH. In other words, if we can change some of the definition of TMH, without affecting HMH, that would be okay, at least to a large proportion of MO. TMH itself is not the issue, HMH is.

But why would we want to move away from the traditional concept of TMH i.e. that every word was directly dictated by G-d and must be taken literally ? Well, if you don't know that, go read the rest of my blog.

So, I think we can discuss various explanations of the concept of TMH, as long as we maintain the concept of HMH. To some that might sound apologetic, or wishful thinking. However to lose the concept of HMH is to lose Orthodoxy, at least according to most people. And that is not where we are going here.

So, when talking about TMH, we can discuss the following 10 dimensions:
  1. When was the Torah written ?
  2. When was the Torah delivered ?
  3. Who wrote it ?
  4. What was the level of divine inspiration ?
  5. Was every word intended to be important ?
  6. Was every word intended to be taken literally ?
  7. Has it changed at all since it was delivered, and if so how ?
  8. Are there hidden (mystical) meanings behind the plain sense ?
  9. How much flexibility do we have in interpreting its meaning ?
  10. What is included in the scope of Torah min Hashamayim ?

I would propose that you have a certain amount of flexibility with the above, as long as you maintain HMH. Various MO Rabbis and individuals have developed interesting peshatim which give untraditional answers to some / all of the above in various ways, but all pretty much keep the concept of HMH.

Louis Jacobs tried to keep halachah but said it was man made, but that didn't fly. So I think we can be somewhat creative with the above, but if we want to remain within the bounds of Orthodoxy, (which I do, see previous post) we can't go too far !

For reference, the standard UO answers to all these dimensions are as follows:

  1. Before creation
  2. At Har Sinai
  3. G-d
  4. Word for word dictation
  5. Yes
  6. Yes, except for anthropomorphic references to G-d and obvious exagerations e.g. Ad Leshomayim by Tower of Bavel and similar.
  7. Only in some extremely limited kri/ktiv type cases
  8. Absolutely.
  9. Very limited. Only within the confines of TSBP and current Daas Torah.
  10. Torah Shebictav (5 books) and Torah She Bal Peh. There is some machlokes rishonim about the extent of halachah lemoshe misinai vs new laws created by chazal, but typical UO view is that the majority came from Sinai. A complicated topic which I cannot go into here.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Why are people religious ?

We have talked a bit about faith and reason. Now its time to talk about emotion. No, this is not just a pathetic attempt to attract female emotion-sensitive readers to my blog, I would have used a lavender font if that was my purpose.

What I am talking about is the emotion of religion.

Why do religious people typically stay religious ? I would say primarily its an emotional attachment. For anyone who has felt the buzz of spirituality, holiness, G-d, or whatever you want to call It/Him/Her, whether by quiet spiritual contemplation, loud davening, intense learning, shaking a lulav, or whatever gets them going, its an emotional feeling that is real. As real as any logical argument.

They feel the value of the religion, and adjust their beliefs accordingly. Of course, if it could be absolutely proven that the religion is a sham, then that might change things. However to give an analogy, its kind of like asking someone to believe that their life-partner is a fake. Unless you have strong evidence, they are not going to believe it.

Likewise, why do the people return to religion ? In my experience its as much an emotional decision as a logical one, if not more. They are attracted by the feeling of community, of meaning, of warmth, of spirituality or similar. Of course there are people who study the subject rationally and arrive at thier conclusions, but they are in the minority.

Conversely, the people who leave religion, they have lost the emotion, or maybe they never had it in the first place. Or maybe some other negative emotions crowded out the positive emotions they once had, for example a bad experience. Either way, in most cases (not all) its an emotional decision.

I added the words 'not all' because I am sure I will get a whole bunch of skeptics telling me that they came to their conclusions through a purely logical process, and in fact were emotionally reluctant to give up their beliefs. However, is it honestly believable that all the people who return to religion, or stay in religion, only do so out of pure emotion and lack of reason, whereas all the people who leave, do so out of pure reason and not emotion ? I doubt it.

So is this a bad thing ?

Well, the most important decisions in life are often emotional, for example choice of life partner. Few people partner due to a logical process alone, and those who do, probably have less than fulfilling relationships. Maybe emotions are in fact more accurate than reason ? And in fact, much reason is often emotion in disguise. Who hasn't felt certain of a logically deduced course of action, only to realize later that what appeared to be reason was actually emotion ? In fact, how do we distinguish between reason and emotion ? There is a large body of research on this topic, I just haven't read any of it.

Skeptics will say this is just the Appeal to Emotion Fallacy, i.e. saying that something is true just because people feel good about it. I say, if a religion can induce such positive feelings about it in most people who have truly lived it, then that must count for something. Ignoring emotions is the Ignoring Emotions Fallacy.

So do the positive feelings I have about our religion make me believe its all true ?

I think so. Or maybe I just feel so.

To be honest, I can't tell the difference.

When is emunah peshuta ok ?

Although I have spoken against emunah peshutah on a few occasions, I believe it may be warranted under certain conditions.

For any orthodox belief X, emunah peshutah in X is warranted if:
  1. The hard evidence for and against X is unconvincing AND
  2. A major tenent of orthodoxy would be undermined without X

This is somewhat similar to the Principle of Belief Conservation, (though not identical)

For any proposition, [p]; If

  1. Taking a certain cognitive stance toward [p] (for example, believing it, rejecting it) would require rejecting or doubting a vast number of your current beliefs,
  2. You have no independent positive reason to reject or doubt all those other beliefs
  3. You have no compelling reason to take up that cognitive stance toward [p]

Then it is more rational for you not to take up that cognitive stance toward[p].

So for example. emunah peshuta in the world being 5765 years old is not ok for 2 reasons (though either one would be okay):

  1. There is hard evidence against it
  2. No major tenents of orthodoxy are affected by it

Emunah peshutah in a revelation at har sinai is okay:

  1. There is no hard evidence for or against it
  2. Halachah would cease to be divinely ordained without it

Clearly, if hard evidence was ever produced which shows Har Sinai to be a myth, that would change things.

But we have emunah peshutah that won't ever happen.

Someone once asked me, with regards to believing in science, "And what if the scientists proved there was no Har Sinai, then what ?". When I answered "Well if it was absolutely proved it didn't happen then it didn't happen", he was horrified. What an idiot. The point is, we believe that it could never be proven that it didn't happen, because it did happen. I might as well ask him, "If Hashem Himself appeared and said Har Sinai didn't happen, then what ?"

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Point of It All Executive Summary

Especially for consultants and high level executives.

The point of life is to improve yourself, and thereby the world. Or maybe the world, and thereby yourself. Either way you want to think of it is fine, as it amounts to the same thing, since we are the world.

How do you do this ?

1. Improve your character = Gemilas Chasadim = Bayn Odom LeChavero
2. Improve your mind = Talmud Torah = Bayn Odom Leatzmoh
3. Improve your spirituality = Avodah = Bayn Odom LeMokom

We can argue over which of these is just foundational and which is the ultimate goal. There are ample statements in Chazal stressing each of these individually, plus many movements over the years which focused on one or another. For example, 1) Mussar Movement 2) Litvish Yeshivah 3) Chasidim. A broad perspective of Jewish history shows that a synthesis of all 3 is most likely where the truth lies.

All of humanity have this task, and all of humanity are equal with regards to this task. However they were not doing too well at it, so G-d chose one people to be his ambassadors and show how it could/should be done. Consequently Judaism has copious amounts of rules and regulations for 1,2 and 3 above.

In addition, Judaism has a unique 4th component:

4. Keep it going = All the things that make Jews unique = Yomim Tovim, Kashrut etc etc

This is a very important component, because without it the Jewish people would be lost. Plus it is demonstrative in its mechanisms and produces good effects in 1,2 & 3 above too.

One of the key mechanisms in Judaism is symbolism = taking the mundane and making it spiritual.

Unfortunately many people, espcially fundamentalists, confuse all this, and believe that 4 is the ikkar, the external ritual / physical aspects of 3 are to be focused on, and 1 is simply a nice-to-have, but not that mandatory, especially when it conflicts with the other aspects.

In addition, they narrow the definition of 2 to the point at which it becomes an exercise in not using your brain, making up lies, and ignoring facts, thereby thwarting the whole objective.

For more detail see below.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Point of Life

I finished off the last post with the following comment:

They confuse the point of Judaism with the point of life.
These are two entirely different concepts.

I then omitted to explain the point of life. Sorry.

The point of life is to become a better person.

What does it mean to be a better person ?

We can roughly divide this into 3 areas, roughly corresponding to the 3 amudim of the world. However it should be realized that these are not 3 completely distinct categories, but are somewhat intertwined.

1. Man to Man = Gemilus Chasadim
Clearly you need to be good at bayn odom lechavero. This can be a lifelong struggle. However you may ask, is this the true goal, or just the foundation for the goal ? Thats debatable. Based on numerous pesukim, I could construct an argument showing this is the true goal, or at least a significant part of it. But thats for another time.

2. Man to G-d = Avodah
You need to get a close connection with G-d, bayn odom lamokom. This is a spiritual, non physical, devekusy type of thing. As I have posted previously, I am have a semi-yekkish, semi-litvish, intellectual type of background, so I have no real concept of what this means. If I feel G-d is in my head, does that make me spiritual, or just certifiable ?

3. Man to himself = Torah
One needs to perfect / improve ones internal self, which basically means the mind i.e. the neshomoh, since your body is going to decompose one day. This can be done through Torah, maddah, intellectual speculation etc. Similar to the Rambam's philosophy of what makes someone a tzadik. However the Rambam stressed this above all else, I would take a more balanced approach.

Now here comes the interesting part.

Ask any UO whats the point of Judaism, and he will most likely answer 'learn Torah and do Mitzvos'. Then ask him 'whats the point of life', and he will look at you somewhat confused, and repeat 'learn Torah and do Mitzvos'.

But thats not it. G-d put man on the earth for a purpose. Its a bit cryptic in Breishis, but you can get the rough gist of it. You need a lot of medrashic help and good dose of drush. But things didn't work out so well. So G-d decided to create the Jews as a special people to set an example. (Note whether or not this actually happened is besides the point somewhat. Either way I contend that this was the idea of Judaism).

The heavy focus in Tenach on being apart from the goyim was in order to create an identifiable people. The heavy focus in Chazal on dislike of the goyim was because, well Chazal disliked the goyim. They were only human (chas vesholom). I am not advocating intermarriage, but the anti-goy attitudes are more due to 2000+ years of persecution then any notion inherent in the religion. The neviim were often quite universalist. And some of them made it into tenach.

So Judaism is composed of a number of elements, designed to show mankind the types of things one needs to do to become a better person, thus fulfilling the universal goal of life.

These elements include the following aspects. Again these are not completely distinct, but are somewhat interwoven.

1. Gemilut Chasadim = Improve Your Character
There's a lot of this in the Torah, many obvious examples. The whole point here is to improve your character.

2. Avodah = Improve your spirituality
I would include tefilah and possibly shabbos in this category. The whole point here is to become more spiritual and get a closer connection to G-d.

3. Torah = Improve your mind
The concept of learning for intellectual improvement and refinement. The whole point here is to improve your mind.

However, by neccessity, Judasim also had to include a 4th element:

4. Jewish Identity = Keeping the Dream Alive
Yomim Tovim and associated Mitzvot, Tzitzit, Kashrut etc. All the things that set us apart. The whole point here is to maintain our Jewish identity.

Number 4 is where people get confused. Number 4 is the unique set of additional commandments that the Jews have which the goyim don't, nor do they need to. These are required to maintain a strong sense of Jewish identity and purpose, or else the notion of peoplehood will be lost and the goal of Judasim will fail.

So the point of life is to become a better person through 1,2 and 3 above. These apply equally to everyone on the planet, Jews and Non-Jews alike. Remember that the saying is 'On 3 pillars the world rests', not the 'Jewish people rests' but 'the world rests'. The 3 pillars are universal.

The point of Judaism is to set an example in 1,2 & 3 type things to the rest of the world. To do that we have a bunch of 1,2 & 3 type mitzvot which assist us in demonstrating these things.

The point of 4 is to maintain Judaism as a viable concern, so that we can continue with our goal. However 4 is a means to an end, not the end itself. Jews, especially frum Jews, tend to confuse 1,2,3 and 4, and the various goals, and think that goal of being Jewish is to be Jewish and seperate. This is almost the opposite of what the point of being Jewish is.

Thats my philosophy. But if you don't like it, I have others.

The Point of Judaism

If the point of the religion of Judaism could be summed up in a sentence, then this would be it:

To take the physical and mundane, and invest it with spirituality and meaning, and by doing so set an example to the rest of the world.

This is why we indulge in the physical and and make it holy.
That is why we take goyish customs and turn them into minhagim.
That is why our Jewish purpose in life is to set an example to the goyim.

That is why we have the Jewish Religion. Because the Jewish Religion takes a people and invests them with holiness, thereby illuminating the fact that the rest of the nations can be holy too.

That is why Shabbos is a fundamental of Judaism. Because Shabbos takes a day and invests it with holiness, thereby illuminating the fact that the rest of the week can be holy too.

That is why the Bes Hamikdosh is/will be a fundmental of Judaism. Because The Bes Hamiksdosh takes a place and invests it with holiness, thereby illuminating the fact that the rest of the earth can be holy too.

This gets distorted by the fundamentalists in the following ways.

They lie about the origins of the customs.
They look down on the goyim and feel they are just background players.
They ignore the meaning and focus entirely on the externalities.

Most importantly:

They confuse the point of Judaism with the point of life.
These are two entirely different concepts.

Emunahpeshuttia - Its for real !

Remember my post a few weeks back about Emunahpeshutia, the new FDA approved drug for people with emunah issues ? You know, three doses a day for the rest of your life, not suitable for people with Modernorthodoxitis, an overdose may cause brain death ?

Of course you remember !

Well the Godol is even smarter than he himself realized. Its all true ! Mamash amazing.

See the article below. Michael Shermer is President of the Skeptics Society and is not a quack, though when the Frumteens Predator heard about him he is reported to have said "Shermer Shmermer", to which Michael responded "Shapiro Shmapiro".

Paranormal Beliefs Linked to Brain Chemistry
by Michael Shermer
New Scientist 24 July 02

Whether or not you believe in the paranormal may depend entirely on your brain chemistry. People with high levels of dopamine are more likely to find significance in coincidences, and pick out meaning and patterns where there are none. Peter Brugger, a neurologist from the University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, has suggested before that people who believe in the paranormal often seem to be more willing to see patterns or relationships between events where skeptics perceive nothing. To find out what could be triggering these thoughts, Brugger persuaded 20 self-confessed believers and 20 skeptics to take part in an experiment. Brugger and his colleagues asked the two groups to distinguish real faces from scrambled faces as the images were flashed up briefly on a screen. The volunteers then did a similar task, this time identifying real words from made-up ones.

Believers were much more likely than skeptics to see a word or face when there was not one, Brugger revealed last week at a meeting of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies in Paris. However, skeptics were more likely to miss real faces and words when they appeared on the screen. The researchers then gave the volunteers a drug called L-dopa, which is usually used to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson's disease by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain. Both groups made more mistakes under the influence of the drug, but the skeptics became more likely to interpret scrambled words or faces as the real thing. That suggests that paranormal thoughts are associated with high levels of dopamine in the brain, and the L-dopa makes skeptics less skeptical. "Dopamine seems to help people see patterns," says Brugger.

However, the single dose of the drug did not seem to increase the tendency of believers to see coincidences or relationships between the words and images. That could mean that there is a plateau effect for them, with more dopamine having relatively little effect above a certain threshold, says Peter Krummenacher, one of Brugger's colleagues. Dopamine is an important chemical involved in the brain's reward and motivation system, and in addiction. Its role in the reward system may be to help us decide whether information is relevant or irrelevant, says Franse Schenk from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

As the percentage of skeptics and atheists amongst the general population is low, this leads me to believe that it’s the skeptics who have the abnormal levels of dopamine, and not the rest of us, so they are the ones with the problem. The fact that extra doses given to the believers didn't help confirms this too.

So, here's a special message to all the chemically imbalanced atheists and skeptics out there:

Its time to get doped up guys !

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Playing Hide & Seek with G-d: Part II

So G-d is hidden. You can look for Him in The Universe, or in History, but good luck finding Him in the Bible.

So the next question is, why ?

The standard answer is that if G-d were to appear it would remove our bechirah, and consequently our lives on this earth would be pointless.

There are a number of problems with this answer:

1. Dor Hamidbor saw G-d, what about their bechirah ? Likewise the Avos, Moshe Rabbeinu, etc etc.

2. It’s a fact that the majority of people who are born into a strong ideology stay that way. Xtians remain Xtian, Frum Jews remain Frum Jews, Moslems remain Moslems. Of course major changes in lifestyle such as a Moslem emigrating to the US might cause someone to lapse, but in general, given a stable, well balanced life, people tend to stay with what they were indoctrinated in as children. That being the case, and considering the immense effort we put into chinuch, and keeping our kids away from any bad influences, its hard to say that our kids (and ourselves) have so much bechirah. Plus, R Desller’s vort about the Nekudas Habechirah is so true. We would still have a Nekudas Habechirah even if G-d appeared.

3. He wouldn’t have to scare us to death, just a little sign to let us know He is there. An unequivocal sign that is. Something that shows on ‘It’s a miracle’ wouldn’t count. Likewise apparitions in Tortilla Chips won’t quite do it. Just enough to remove the doubt, but not enough to remove our bechirah. Impossible you say ? Well, what about Gedolim and simple people who have 100% faith ? Do they have no bechirah ?

I suppose you could say another answer, that its all a nisayon, to test our emunah. This avoids the above problems, but maybe makes us feel like rats in a maze.

People ask me what do I believe ? Well, intellectual musings aside, I was very well indoctrinated from early childhood. I see G-d everywhere. No dead people though. (Thank G-d.)

I stub my toe, it’s a sign from G-d. I get the good parking spot, another sign from G-d. Mysteriously and unexpectedly inspired to make fun of the fundamentalists ? G-d again. Put me on a plane at 36,000 feet and send some turbulence ? I say tehilim with more kavanah than a meah shearim bubbe on the number 1 bus to the kotel. (Of course at the kotel she's too busy shnorrering to say the tehillim).

Anyways, I must go now, G-d says its time to turn off that darn computer and go to bed.

OK I lied, that was actually the Rebbetzin.

But G-d told me to listen to her this time.

More from Frumteens

Another gem from Frumteens:

The Chofetz Chaim, the paragon of Shemiras Halashon, who as far as we know did not publicly or privately declare Rav Kook to be an Apikores, responded, when presented with one of Rav Kook's infamous statements about the "holiness" of the chiloni soccer players, quote: "Kook shmook". That's from the Chofetz Chaim.

I find it hard to believe that the Chofetz Chayim of all people said that. But if the Frumteens predator I mean Moderator says so, then I guess it must be true !

Shame I'm not the Koton. I could have had so much fun.

Playing Hide & Seek with G-d: Part I

G-d is hidden. There is not much doubt about that. Unless you are some looney who thinks G-d visited you for tea yesterday.

The question is, can we find Him ? And if so, where is the best place to look ?

The Universe
We look at the universe, and are amazed. 100 billion galaxies, some with 100 billion stars, and that’s just the part we can 'see'. Then zoom in, and contemplate how each speck of dust is composed of a 100 billion quarks, and that’s just the part we can 'see'. OK, my numbers may be a little off, but you get the gist. Not only that, but the incredible diversity and interwoven-ness of everything. Not to mention how aesthetically beautiful it appears to be, at least to us homo sapiens.

All of this leads, and has historically led, a significant portion of humanity to conclude that there can only be one cause, i.e. G-d. Non believers see the same 'evidence'. They are not ignorant of the details, nor devoid of the appreciation of the scale, wisdom and beauty of it all. However the conclusions they draw are entirely different. Its all either random or inevitable (depending on your viewpoint), necessary or contingent, or some mix of the two. It all traces bag to a big bang, which in turn maybe part of an infinite number of 'bubble' universes. Amazing, yes, but G-d ? No.

The more we find out about the details of the universe, the more believers are in awe and see G-d. Likewise, the more the non believers are convinced it all just happened.

Likewise, when looking at history, the same phenomena occurs. Believers see the hand of G-d in many places, its all part of a grand plan. The shoah, the state of Israel, the incredible survival of the Jews, the incredible persecution of the Jews, all point to G-ds involvement in the world, and verify the accuracy of the prohecies in Tenach.

Non believers however, see the same history, but have an entirely different take. Its all just random events, some inevitable based on prior events, some wholly unpredictable, some a mixture. However no evidence of G-d at all. If anything, the opposite.

The Bible
Then we get to the Bible. Here things are a little different. Unlike history, where maybe we expect G-d to work in mysterious ways, and unlike the Universe, where we don’t expect to see ‘Made by G-d’ stamped on every atom, with the Bible, we might expect to see some evidence of G-d. After all, He did directly dictate it word for word, didn’t He ? Surely the direct word of G-d should look, well like the direct word of G-d !

However G-d is entirely hidden in the Bible. And not because there are some apparent inconsistencies, repetitions and boring bits. Not because from a literary standpoint it might appear to be the work of multiple authors. Even if the Bible had been a great work of literature, with no mistakes, no seemingly meaningless repetitions, and a gripping read from beginning to end, G-d would still be entirely hidden in it. After all, it doesn’t take G-d to write a decent novel. Nobody opens up a Bible and says, wow this is so amazing, only G-d could have written it !

This is why the Rishonim direct us to look at the universe for signs of G-d, and maybe in some cases history too. Of course, depending on your viewpoint, you may or may not find Him.

But no one ever said look in the Bible.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

5 things that the MO don't like to think about

  1. Biblical Criticism
  2. Bris Milah
  3. Anti-Goy attitudes in Shas & Halachah
  4. Korbonos (and all tefillot wishing for their return)
  5. Rambam that all kofrim should be killed on sight

Monday, March 14, 2005

Emunah Peshutah, Modern Orthodox Style

I lifted this from LukeFord's site. I can't figure out Luke Ford. He has so much detail about everything that it sounds very believable. On the other hand, some of the stuff he claims is so extreme that you just don't want to believe it.

Anyway, he says the following as part of a longer article about Dr Isaiah Gafni and Dr James Kugel. This I am inclined to believe, as I have experienced similar attitudes myself:

Dr. Kugel says he often hears from young Orthodox Jews that they want to study Bible in a critical way so that they can refute the critics (who say the Bible is composed by human beings and edited by human begins over centuries). Dr. Kugel advises them against this because there is something inherent in studying text with critical methods that shakes one's traditional faith.

Professors Kugel and Gafni avoid publishing on matters that are taken for granted by their scholarly peers because it would place them outside of the Orthodox community. I find fascinating the impossible dance of those Modern Orthodox who take both Modernity and Orthodoxy seriously (a distinct minority of Modern Orthodox) and try to reconcile them.

Modernity and Orthodoxy can not be reconciled (though tens of thousands of Modern Orthodox think they can and lead lives of delusion by avoiding asking difficult questions).

I have had some opportunity recently to ask various MO Rabbis, some quite well known, about Biblical Criticism, and none of them gave me a particularly convincing answer. And, the MO Rabbi's that I know who have seriously studied it tend to have rather non Orthodox viewpoints which they do not publicize. Its Nes-Nisayon all over again, except this time the MO's are the ones advocating emunah-peshuttah.

All that being said, I still support the MO's over the UO's. At least they appear intelligent. And if you prove to me that MO's are also full of it, I shall be left with no choice.

Don't worry, I am not going to go Atheistic, the Rebbetzin would never approve of that. And anyway, 'Life is meaningless and then you die' is not my idea of a good time. No, I shall be forced to join the Spazmim.

Actually, the Rebbetzin wouldn't approve of that either. There really isn't much she does approve of when it comes to drastic life-altering changes in our lifestyle, apart from getting married, leaving the city, abandoning my family for hers and having kids of course. Thats all fine. But a change in hashkafah, no way !

I guess I would have to become a Secretly Charedi, Modern Orthodox Jew instead. Oh the shame and humiliation I would suffer if that ever got out. So, save the Godol from a lifetime of fake israeli accenting and pretending to read Torah uMaddah magazine, show me that Luke Ford is wrong !

Were Chazal Charedi ?

Considering the Charedi attitude towards history in general, their tendency for revisionism, rosy-glasses-nes, and just plain old distortions and lies, its hard to trust their view of anything which happened prior to, lets say, yesterday morning.

So when the Charedim say that Modern Orthodoxy is a recent 'treif' invention, we know they are talking baloney, and we can quote copiously from many Acharonim, Rishonim and Chazal to prove our points. Well maybe not me, but someone like Gil, a 'pisher with a computer' (his words not mine) can run circles around them.

When it comes to Chazal though, both the MO's and the UO's alike tend to paint the past in their image. My MO Rabbi told me that all this fundamentalist nonsense is only a recent phenomenon, and even most Acharonim, and certainly Rishonim and Chazal had their heads screwed on straight, and were more Modern Orthodox than Chareidi. Of course the Rambam is held up as the quintessential Modern Orthodox Jew. Even Yosef is described as the first MO Jew, since he went to work in Pharo's court.

However I find that hard to believe. Just like we have the MO/UO divide today, I believe the same arguments can clearly be traced back through the Acharonim, Rishonim and on to Chazal, and maybe even beyond. I have no doubt that a part of Chazal had right wing fundamentalist ideologies. Like wise another part had the Babylonian equivalent of Modern Orthodox ideologies.

Hence we find conflicting statements in the Gemarah on all the dividing issues of MO & UO, for example attitudes towards secular studies, attitudes towards Goyim etc etc.

This is why I find it amusing when people quote a Rashi, or some Rishon, or some Maamar Chazal to back up some ridiculous fundamentalist viewpoint. I say, so what ! So they were fundamentalists too ! A buddy of mine in YU claims he has sources for every single MO / UO 'machlokes' in the Gemarah. I will post them as soon as he gets them to me.

So my answer to the question "Were Chazal Charedi ?", is that yes, no doubt some of them were, and some of them were MO too. Makes no difference to me, MO is the correct hashkafah now, and it was the correct hashkafah back then too. Who knows, maybe the various churbans and goluyot were all caused by the charedi element being 'off the derech'.

Really, the only relevant question on this issue is, were the Avos charedi ? And to that, the answer is clearly no, they were MO. How do I known that ? Because MO is the right hashkafah, and of course the Avos would have had the right hashkafas, wouldn't they ?

The Difference between 'Us' & 'Them'

No, not Goyim & Yidden. The Frumteens Predator ermm I mean Moderator has already told us that Goyim are a different 'min'. So no confusion there.

What I mean is the differences between UO and MO. Are they a different min ? Based on what I have seen recently, maybe.

Seriously though, what I am interested in are the ideological differences, which sometimes are reflected in halachic differences too.

Without getting into all the details, I see differences in the following areas:
  1. Relationship with non jews
  2. Relationship with non frum jews
  3. Women's roles in Judaism (and in general)
  4. Acceptance of Maddah / Science
  5. Reliance on Gedolim / Daas Torah
  6. Attitude towards the State of Israel / Zionists
  7. Doctrine of Yeridas Hadoros
  8. Literal readings of Torah / Midrashim
  9. Moshiach / Olam Habah
  10. Chumrah vs kullah in general

Any others ?

Frumteens on goyim II

Frumteens on the purpose of life for the 4.9 billion other people on the planet:

The purpose of Akum is not to serve us, but rather to play the same type of role that all other creations (i.e. animals: ED) in the world play in Olam Hazeh - background players whose actions and fate are all designed by Hashem to assist the Divine Plan for the world to come to fruition. That is, the success of the Am Yisroel in sanctifying themselves and the entire world, thereby causing the coming of Moshiach and Olam Habah.

This is so twisted. The whole point of goyim is as background players to help the yidden get moshiach and olam haboh. Is this what people really believe ? I though the whole purpose of the yidden was to spread the word of G-d to the goyim, in effect we serve them rather than the other way around.

Frumteens on goyim

More disturbing nonsense from Frumteens. Maybe they should rename it 'FrumSatmarInfluencedExtremeRightWingTeens'.

HappyGirl Posted - 01 December 2002 1:12
1. I got free holiday greeting cards from the American Heart Association. Am I allowed to give them to a goyish co-worker? I don't really have anything to gain by giving it to her, other than that they won't go to waste.

2. Am I allowed to compliment a goy when she's not around (so obviously I have nothing to gain, i.e. commenting that she did a nice job to someone else)?

MODERATOR Posted - 01 December 2002 1:20
1. No

2. You should say something like "G-d gave her a lot of energy" or "G-d gave her talent", rather than complimenting the goy directly.

Funny, this came right after another post where the moderator explained that 'goy' is not in any way pejorative.

Metzizah Bapeh

I am no expert on milah. I don't remember my own, and was somewhat out of it during my son's bris. Its just another one of those things that its best you don't think about the details too clearly. Like politics and the making of sausages. That's why you won't see any posts on this controversy here.

While it would be a great opportunity to further my agenda, I simply don't know enough about it, except to say that sucking someones blood out of an open wound doesn't seem particularly healthy, for either party, and I seem to remember 'vochai bohem' as being a miztvah somewhere.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Torah, science and intellectual debate

Excellent article by ELLIOTT MALAMET (Canadian Jewish News).

Two recent events within the Orthodox community shed light both on its educational triumphs and its failures. On March 1 came a celebration of Siyum HaShas, the monumental accomplishment of the completion of the Talmud cycle over the course of more than seven years, based on the learning of one daf (page) of Gemarah per day.

The diligence and commitment to study that this entails is reflective of an impressive religious passion and seriousness regarding Torah. Thousands of people worldwide devoted themselves to covering the breadth of the Oral Law and, in doing so, demonstrated the primacy of God's word in a culture in which materialism often obscures the significance of the spiritual. This can only be seen as a resounding success.

At the same time, a rather thoughtlessly cruel article appeared in a Toronto Jewish newspaper - essentially a reprint from a haredi publication - which tacitly endorses what can only be seen as the tragic banning of a series of books by Rabbi Natan Slifkin, a well-known author on issues relating toTorah and science.

It appears that Rav Slifkin had the temerity to suggest that earlier Torah authorities may not have always had the most accurate scientific views in certain instances, a thought that is entirely unoriginal, given that this echoes similar criticisms held by Maimonides and others. Rav Slifkin also proposes that it is a viable - but not exclusive - Torah position to assert that the world may not literally be 5765 years old. Such a position is of course a given in scientific circles, and one would be hard pressed to see in it any halachic or even theological ramifications, such as a violation of one of Maimonides 13 principles of faith.

For his "thought-crimes," Rav Slifkin has suffered a kind of Orwellian erasure: labelled a heretic; slandered and ridiculed by many who have neither read his work in its full context nor seem to exhibit the requisite sophistication regarding the pertinent issues that he raises. This is the polar opposite of the glory of what Siyum HaShas represents - the Orthodox relationship to knowledge now exposed at its most fearful, agonizingly simplistic and vindictive. A student of mine was so disgusted by the whole affair that he wondered that people wouldn't turn away from religion all together based on the kind of horrendous behaviour exhibited by those who are quick to throw out charges of heresy without reckoning on the consequences of such rashness. I found that I had little to offer in the way of response, and in truth felt ashamed both at the suppression of Rav Slifkin's books and the chilling attempt to outlaw intellectual debate of all kinds.

Currently, the haredi world faces a fork in the road. Does it wish to lead and inspire Jews through an engagement with the complexity of God's universe with the wisdom and tenacious desire that were its traditional hallmarks? It is uniquely suited to such leadership and can be a shining model of religious integrity and sacrifice for higher ideals. Or will the disturbing trend of heresy- hunting and a remarkable constriction of what is considered"Torah true," which has increasingly dominated its discourse in recentyears, ultimately hold the day? The choice is a fateful one and will resound for years to come, leading either to further alienation or the ability to communicate with power and dignity to all Jews everywhere.

Introducing the Ultra-Dumb-odox


Our UO friends do excel at keeping the prax. I will admit that. However, when it comes to the dox, they seem to be the intellectual equivalents of, well, morons. Ultra-Orthodox ? More like Ultra-Dumb-odox if you ask me.

Here is an extract of a speech from the siyum hashas: (Note this is not a spoof, though as usual it sounds like it is)

[The Holocaust victims] died with emunah in their hearts, with as much Torah as they could salvage for themselves and their children. Throughout the camps, a song of emunah was passed around, Zeidim helitzuni. miTorascha lo natasi [Wicked ones have scoffed at me, from Your Torah I have not swerved].

Rabbosai, Gemara is not a relic of ancient texts. Shas is emunah-based knowledge. When faced with the most difficult questions, we don't take the easy way out. We would rather wait for Eliyahu to come! Why settle for a makeshift answer, if we will be handed the reliable solution at a later date? Teiku is an answer! From the graves of these giants of wisdom and purity, Abaya andRava, emerges the truth that can never be repudiated by the midgets of our generation.

Without Torah sheBa'al Peh, there can be no Written Torah. This is what our kedoshim expect from us.

This is so dumb, I could easily make fun of it. However since he mentions the shoah, I won't. Instead, I will just insult the sheer stupidity and offensiveness of his speech.

Rabbosai, Gemara is not a relic of ancient texts. Shas is emunah-based knowledge.

This doesn't make mush sense. Emunah based knowledge as opposed to what ? Fact based knowledge ? And this is a good thing ?!

When faced with the most difficult questions, we don't take the easy way out. We would rather wait for Eliyahu to come!

What difficult questions ? Science vs Torah ? Finding solutions is the easy way out ? However 'lets just wait and do nothing', no, thats not the easy way out ! Does he even think this makes any sense ?

From the graves of these giants of wisdom and purity, Abaya and Rava, emerges the truth that can never be repudiated by the midgets of our generation.

Who does he mean by midgets exactly ? The scientists ? Slifkin ? Kamineztky ? Or actual midgets ? Maybe he is talking about the Koton Hador. That wouldn't be any more dumb.

Without Torah sheBa'al Peh, there can be no Written Torah. This is what our kedoshim expect from us.

Evoking images of shoah martyrs to attack what I assume must be Slifkin and his supporters is highly offensive.

With all due respect, this speech is dumb and offensive.

I just can't understand how such learned people can be so stupid. I guess when you are surrounded by adoring sycophants its easy to start believing the hype.

I still have not heard a single well reasoned argument from these guys. What a bunch of losers. And these are supposed to be the elite. More proof that chareidi society is intellectually out to lunch. And it doesn't seem they are coming back any time soon.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Inherent Paradox of Evolutionist Hashkafa

The evolutionists can't seem to get away from G-d. When they try and show how random everything is, and how man is only here by an incredibly small chance, and if we were to 'rewind' the tape and play the universe over again its likely that we would never have existed, then the religionists use that as evidence that G-d must have had a hand in it, because the odds are just too low.

On the other hand, when the evolutionists try and say that evolution is not so improbable, and that given the self organizing behavior of things its quite likely that homo sapiens would have evolved, the religionists point to that as evidence of the anthropocentric design of the universe, and that G-d must have had a hand in it, because its just too amazing that the whole universe seems designed for human life.

It is dealing with this paradox that causes much of the intellectual gymnastics, tension and hysteria of contemporary Evolutionist spokesmen.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

G-d doesn't play dice, but how about charades ?

Einstein said that G-d doesn't play dice with the universe. He was referring to Quantum Theory and uncertainty principles, but that doesn't mean he believed in a personal G-d like we do. For example, he also said the following:

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own - a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in Nature.

So it appears that Einstein was some kind of Deist, i.e. Believes in some kind of G-d that created the world, but is not involved in the day to day affairs of man. This is of course antithetical to traditional Jewish belief.

The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim talks about Hashgacha Prattis (HP):

Now consider how by this method of reasoning we have arrived at the truth taught by the Prophets, that every person has his individual share of Divine Providence in proportion to his perfection. For philosophical research leads to this conclusion, if we assume, as has been mentioned above, that Divine Providence is in each case proportional to the person's intellectual development. It is wrong to say that Divine Providence extends only to the species, and not to individual beings, as some of the philosophers teach. For only individual beings have real existence, and individual beings are endowed with Divine Intellect; Divine Providence acts, therefore, upon these individual beings.

He holds that of course G-d does involve himself in the affairs of man, but that this is dependant on their level. Those who are closer to G-d (in the Rambams philosophy this means intellectually) have more HP. Those who are far from G-d, become like animals, and have no HP. The Ramban famously disagrees and hold every blade of grass has HP, and certainly animals and low level people too.

I am unsure whether the Rambam means that the true elite always get a good deal, or that they just get more HP, for better or for worse. For example, suppose two people were in a car accident, a Koton and a Godol. The Koton, by virtue of his being far from G-d has no HP, so he happened to be a random victim. The Godol has HP, but was still a victim because that is what G-d decreed and enacted through HP.

Whatever your views of HP may be, most people UO, MO and even some Secular, tend to agree that G-d has a hand in things in general, i.e. Hashgachah Clalit (HC). Whether it’s the churban, the Holocaust, the State of Israel or some other event, many people see the hand of G-d ever present.

So my question is this. The Hand of G-d is not clear at all. Even when an event may be clearly the Hand of G-d, e.g. the State of Israel, its not clear how it works. For example, did G-d influence the UN, or just arrange circumstances like so, or were the Zionists really tzadikkim ? We can't know. However if you have any belief in HP or HC at all, which most people do, you are thereby saying that G-d, unseen and in various hidden or tricky ways, is subtlely arranging things as per His plan.

So whats wrong with that ? Well, this is not too different from claiming that everything is a Nes-Nisayon. I am a passionate believer in HP and HC, yet I have ridiculed NN. Is that consistent ? The only difference I can think of is that G-d is not creating fake evidence with HC and HP, just arranging things a bit.

OK, arranging things a lot. However with NN you have to believe in fake evidence, which is a whole different game. However that answer doesn't really appeal to me.

At the end of the day, if you believe in HP and or HC, G-d is running things in mysterious and hidden ways. Maybe fake cave paintings and fossils isn't too much of a jump from that perspective.

Note: This post is not about whether G-d exists or not. It is about HC, HP and NN assuming that He does exist. Comments to the tune of 'G-d doesn't exist' are therefore pointless in this context and will be deleted.

The Inherent Paradox of Chareidi Hashkafa

Chareidi hashkafa states that everything said by a Tanna, Amora, Rishon, Acharon, or Godol, is Daas Torah i.e Its Hashem's opinion, sacrosanct and Absolute Truth, by definition.

On the other hand, many prominent Tannoim, Amoraim, Rishonim, Acharonim, and Gedolim have said that various other views stated by equally prominent Tannoim, Amoraim, Rishonim, Acharonim, and Gedolim, are mistaken, wrong, or even heretical.

It is dealing with this paradox that causes much of the intellectual gymnastics, tension and hysteria of contemporary Charedi spokesmen.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Frumteens on being a smart monkey

Wow, I could spend the rest of my life copying crap from Frumteens and making fun of it. Here is a great quote from the Frumteens moderator.

A monkey may not be obligated by law to believe what his human superiors tell him, but if he's a smart monkey, he will trust their intellectual superiority.

I guess the nimshal of this moshol (assuming that its okay to allegorize Frumteens) is that the human superiors are the Gedolim / Chazal, and Charedim are the smart monkeys.

This is actually quite consistent with the Charedi view of evolution (remember the Rabbi on the airplane story). They start with Adam being perfect, and with yeridas hadoros are slowly de-evolving. Currently they are smart monkeys, but eventually they will end up quite brainless. Maybe sooner rather than later.

Frumteens Hardcore

I don't like to visit Frumteens at work, I worry that our Internet group might mistake it for an undesirable site, if you know what I mean. Actually, it is RW UO hardcore, so maybe you really shouldn't go there.

The ultra RW nonsense that the moderator spews out is ridiculous. However, considering that his fan club consists mostly of teenage Beis Yaakov girls and Yeshivah Bochrim, its probably not worth getting too upset about. Plus many of the questions are actually made up by the moderator himself, so its hard to take him seriously. Don't bother commenting there, the moderator moderates all comments too.

Those with good memories might recall that the Koton even did a spoof on it once. Pravda Neeman has a post on this issue, complete with (what appears to me) to be bogus comments from trolls. Hirhurim has a post on Frumteens too, though Gil is too politically correct to mention it by name.

The one worrying thing is that Frumteens is influencing a whole section of RW teenagers with his nonsense.

I guess there's nothing one can do about that.
Or is there ?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Clever-Clever Theory

There is another theory as to the conflict of Science and Torah. It says that there is some really clever answer, but I, or we, or maybe humans in general, are just not clever enough to figure it out. I call this the Clever-Clever Theory.

Clearly, humans don't know everything. Well, the Rebbetzin Hador does, but that’s a different topic of discussion. A few hundred years ago, or even more recently, many humans could not conceive of a theory of relativity. In fact most people still can't. Likewise in the religious sphere, we don't know everything. For example, the problem of evil, or understanding G-d, or G-ds omniscience vs free will, are all out of bounds of human intellectual ability, (at least according to our tradition).

Even in everday life, there are some things we just cannot figure out. Like why did I dream I was being chased by a deranged chimpanzee the other night ? Strange.

So, some people claim, given our inability to understand certain things, isn't it possible that there is some amazing answer to the conflict of Science vs Torah, we just either haven't found it yet, or maybe its beyond our ability ever to grasp ? Maybe an answer that only G-d could give ?

Well, maybe. However I don't think its likely. The Torah clearly implies that the universe is 6000 years old (taken literally). Science clearly implies the universe is 15 billion years old, give or take. 6000 vs 15 billion is a fairly easy concept to grasp. Although time is relative, in the context of the earth itself, it was either 6000 or 15 billion. It can't logically be both.

The Rambam says that the class of things which are logically impossible (e.g. 1+1=3, or G-d commiting suicide), are impossible for G-d too. Other Rishonim argue and criticize the Rambam for 'limiting' G-ds powers so to speak. They say its foolish to assert that there is something G-d can't do. I guess according to those Rishonim, it would be possible for G-d to have some answer as to how it could be both 6000 and also 15 billion. However I still don't think its likely.

But, just like Nes-Nisayon, this one is impossible to disprove.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Weird-Wacky Theory

Apart from Nes-Nisayon, Myth-Moshol and Emunah-Peshutah, you also find various weird and wacky theories or answers as to the conflict of Science and Torah. They are not worth a full blog each, so here is a compendium.

Science is physical truth, Torah is spiritual (or moral) truth
Personally, I think this is baloney. Breishis either happened like it says or it didn't. If it didn't, then just admit its a myth-moshol and stop trying to be so clever.

Torah is truth, Science is Poetry
The geniuses at Yated came up with this one. Amazing. Amazingly dumb that is. An instant classic.

We are not worthy
We don't know everything about science. We also have only the barest understanding of Torah and Chazal. So don't ask any questions. Basically emunah peshutah with a bit of mussar thrown in for good measure.

There is no conflict but I can't explain why
Torah and science both come from G-d. So there can be no conflict ! Sorry, end of discussion. Basically emunah peshutah with a bit of a pro science attitude thrown in for good measure.

Science & Medrash Geek Theory
Lots of afficianados here. From Gerald Schroder to R Dovid Brown. Its the magical mystery tour of arcane science, arcane midrashim and bad logic. With some clever physics, or possibly some bogus physics (who can tell), and with some clever midrashim, or possibly some bogus midrashim (who can tell), every word in Breishis fits perfectly with science. Parshas Breishis that is. The Science geeks get off the ride at that point. But there's no stopping the medrash geeks. They're going all the way.

My Rebbe Said

So many people loved my poem that I just had to write another one.
This one is especially for Michoel.
Any similarity to Vogon poetry is purely coincidental.

"My Rebbe Said" by The Godol Hador
(With apologies to Hal Sirowitz)

I asked my Rebbe,
My dear Rebbe,
How can I be sure the Torah is accurate ?
My Rebbe said,
My dear talmid,
You must have emunah peshutah.
I asked my Rebbe,
My dear Rebbe,
How can I be sure you are correct ?
My Rebbe said,
My dear talmid,
You must have emunas chachomim.
I asked my Rebbe,
My dear Rebbe,
How can I be sure you are a chochom ?
My Rebbe said,
My dear talmid,
You must have emunah peshutah.
And stop asking me dumb questions.

A Poem

I am prepared to say that the fundamentalists are not (all) irrational lunatics.
I am even prepared to say that the fundamentalists might have (some) good reasons.
I am even prepared to say that the fundamentalists do know (some) science.
I am even prepared to say that the fundamentalists are not (totally) manipulated by kanoim.
I am even prepared to say that the fundamentalists are not (all) senile.

However, I still have not seen a single, well reasoned response from them.

I have seen silly bans full of insults.
I have seen silly photocopies with silly scrawls.
I have seen a simple one sentence 'It is forbidden' without any explanation.
I have seen a half page comparing Slifkin to Dei Rossi
I have seen a seven page ridiculous diatribe against atheist scientists.

But nobody has yet produced any reasonable explanation for their side.
(Sorry, but 'You must listen to us' doesn't quite cut it.)

The ironic thing is,
I could write a pretty good article on their behalf.
Not that I would.
But I could.
Strange that they can't.

My theory is this.
They are too afraid to discuss the real issues.
That will just open up a whole new bunch of questions.
Ones which they do not want to get into.
So they are forced to just say its forbidden.
And hope the whole thing will simply go away.

Maharal vs R Mattisyohu

A person should not reject something which is against his own views, especially if it is not presented as an attack on religion but is simply an honest expression of the other person's beliefs. Even if it is against his own religious beliefs and faith, he should not say, "Be quiet and shut your mouth," because there will not be a clarification of that person's religious understanding. In fact, in such cases we should tell a person to speak his mind freely and fully express how he feels, such that he should not feel that he has not been able to fully speak his mind. If sincere questions are silenced, this is indicative that the religion is weak, as discussed earlier. This attitude is the opposite of what some people think. They mistakenly think that forbidding people from discussing religion strengthens religious faith, but this is not the case. Suppressing of dissent and prohibiting people from speaking is a weakening of religion. Thus, we find with our ancestors that even if they found something in books against religion they would not simply reject it. (Maharal, Be'er HaGolah 7)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Alter of Slabodka joins the Blogveldt

Yes, the Alter has a blog. Amazing but true !

Sorry, I had to delete the picture of the Alter. Gedolim pictures make me nervous.

Sorry, I also had to delete the picture of the Slobodka field, it was too large.

If you like, you can picture a man with a beard and large kippah, strolling through an Eastern European field sometime last century (or maybe the one before that), thinking deep mussar thoughts.

If you would prefer not to picture that, please feel free to continue picturing the sort of things that you generally picture when reading this blog.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Thats nice, but is it learning ?

If I sit down with my chavrusoh and learn a daf gemoroh, is it 'learning' ? I think most people would say yes. I am yotze vehogiso bo with that for sure.

How about if I learn Mesilas Yeshorim ? Most people would still say its learning, but maybe I shouldn't spend so much time on mussar, gemarah should be the ikkar. OK.

Now, how about if I read a self help book on how not to get angry, written by Rabbi Twerski ? Seems like good mussar to me. So thats still learning, right ? But what if its a book on the same topic written by a non jew. Is that still learning ?

What if I read a book on Summerian Mythology. Doesn't seem like learning, does it ? But what if I read it to get a better understanding of the ancient middle east, so that the Torah makes more sense. Is that now called learning ?

What if I read a science book. Not learning ? What if I read it and get a sense of the wonder of creation. Now is it learning ?

Best of Dilbert. Not learning. Thomas Friedman, learning ? Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, not learning. R Dovid Brown's Mysteries of Creation, learning ? (what's the difference)

So whats the nafkah minah ? Its not whether I should make the brochoh in the morning, I do that anyway. Its not whether I am yotzeh vehogisoh bo, I am anyway. No, the real question is regarding the Rebbetzin Hador.

You see, the Rebbetzin does allow me the occasional time off from doing the laundry and looking after the kids. But only if I am doing something worthwhile, like watching the OC with her or maybe learning.

As the OC is possibly the trashiest TV show ever produced, I chose to learn. However she gets offended when she sees me lying on the sofa reading a paperback on the development of Kabbalah or something like that. 'Thats not learning' she says, and then turns back to see Cohen and some shikse hitting it off.

In her narrow minded perception of learning, I only can only qualify if I am sitting hunched over a gemarah, shteiging away with a chavrusoh. Lying on the sofa, reading a paperback, written by a goy, can't possibly qualify.

So, am I right ? Is it learning ?

And should I even be learning at all ? Maybe for sholom bayis I should watch the OC with her after all ?

Tough questions to think about over the weekend.
Good Shabbos !

Har Sinai: A Case for Emunah Peshutah ?

Check out the hundreds of comments on this post (woo-hoo, I broke the 100 comment limit !).

I had intended to make a seperate post on the subject, but since everyone is going at it over there, I will post here, but urge you to loook there at the comments.

A well known argument / proof / indication that has been used by Aish and various other places for a while is the one about Har Sinai. You know, the one that says since (the claim is that) so many people were there, it can't possibly be false. Plus it was handed down father to son, generation after generation. These are really two seperate arguments.

I was impressed by this argument when younger, I think I saw it in the Uri Zohar book, not sure. I also think its brought down in various seforim (The Kuzari ?). Nowadays, I am not so sure if its such a great argument. I am not debating Har Sinai (chas vesholom), just the extent of how great that particular argument is. Maybe we just need a good dose of emunahpeshutiah. (Make sure to take it with food or else you might get nauseus).

On the plus side, there doesn't seem to be much scientific evidence opposing Har Sinai, assuming a more reasonable number of people rather than 3 million, so no need for the pygmy midgets to get involved here !

Senile Dementia

Some people complained that the Koton depicted (some of) the Gedolim as old and senile. Well, many of them are old, and I have it on good authority that a certain Godol's speech at the Daf HaYomi siyum in Jerusalem this week was embarrassing, and it was obvious that he was not with it at all. Many in the audience were horrified and upset.

Now before anyone has a fit let me clarify. Of course senile dementia is a terrible thing. And of course nobody with this terrible illness should be made fun of. I have known people with this illness and it is heartbreaking, especially when you remember how lucid and alert they used to be. Considering that some of the Gedolim actually are old and senile, it was unquestionably wrong of the Koton to make fun of that. Hashem should save us all from this terrible affliction. Hopefully there are some (atheist reshoim) scientists somewhere working on a cure.

The point is that we should be aware that there are a few Gedolim, who unfortunately are now quite elderly and are not quite with it. There are also various other behavior related illnesses that can affect the elderly, which we should be cognizant of. Some of these Gedolim are unfortunately manipulated by their gabboim. I was going to give a list but I will refrain. Hamayvin Yovin.

My knowledge on the elderly and their afflictions is poor. I am reasonably young and healthy, and am not yet at the stage of having to care for elderly parents or other relatives. However I have heard that excercise, both mental and physical can help to ward off senile dementia. Of course the Gedolim get plenty of the former, but maybe less of the latter. Still, the Gedolim do seem to live longer than the average man, which is interesting. I can't think of any major Godol dying young, and can think of quite a few who lived well into their 90's.

So what should we do about it ? A Fletcher Memorial Gedolim Retirement Home ? A publicly available list of which Gedolim are with it and which are not ? Clearly not practical or sensible, or ethical. I guess its up to the poster writers, banners and others not to manipulate those who are past their prime and should not really be manipulated.

Revealing Information

It is interesting to think about the different approaches that can be taken when wishing to convey some deep or contentious information, which might not be appropriate for all readers, or which not be able to be grasped directly, or which needs to be spread secretly.

One can imagine the following possibilities:

1. Allegorize It
Much religious literature, and depending on your point of view the Bible too, was written in an allegorical form. The allegories could have two very different puposes. Either the allegory was used in order to explain a subtle and sublime concept in simple terms, or alternatively the allegory was used to conceal the deeper meaning from the average reader. In some cases, both the simple meaning and the deeper meaning might be true. The Rambam talks about this subject in Moreh Nevuchim, and distinguishes between those allegories where the plain meaning and details are relevant, and those where they are not.

2. Confuse It
Some books were deliberately written in a confusing way, complete with riddles, contradictions and the like. The Rambam discusses this in Moreh Nevuchim, which itself he says was written in this way. Contemporary scholars of the Rambam have attempted to discern the Rambam's true views on a number of topics, with some debate, due to the confusing contradictions in the work.

3. Humor it Up
A more contemporary approach is to hide deeper messages in jokes and other forms of humor. This is similar to the allegory above, however in this case the allegory is intended to be humorous, whereas the deeper meaning is usually not. Often humor is used when the deeper meaning would be offensive if said directly, however many people find humor to be offensive anyway, so not much is gained there. Humor can be an incredibly effective medium though.

4. Bury it
Some documents attempt to hide deep secrets or truths within many pages of other less contentious, and quite boring material. For example much Government documentation is produced in this way. Few people have the time or patience to read through all the material, so the author is able to slip some hidden or contentious messages in there, without the masses realizing it. DovBear's blog is like this too, though maybe that’s not deliberate.

5. Encode It
You can hide information by using codes. For example spies do this all the time.There are many famous example of this during WW II. The best code is where the original text seems to make sense too. Some people claim that the bible is full of codes.

6. Misinform
Simply lie. Tell the masses that no such information exists, however those in the know realize that this is just for the masses, but the elite have their own secret publications and meetings where this is discussed.

7. Hyperlink It
(Only applicable to the Internet) One can hide information through the use of hyperlinks and similar tricks. Making the hyperlink not specially formatted in any way will certainly throw people off the trail. This concept was used in a movie (can't remember the title), where some secret web site was accessible only if you clicked on some non descript pixel in some photo.

8. Subliminal Messaging
One can use clever psychological tricks to get a message across. For example referring to certain people in a certain way, constantly and subtley reinforcing a message, those kind of things. This can work very well over a period of time. The subtler the better.

9. Say It Straight
Sometimes, you can get away with saying the most incredible things straight out, if people aren't expecting it. For example if they are expecting to hear something else, their brains will interpret what they want to hear, as opposed to what you actually said. I have done this a couple of times and it can work well. Very risky though.

10. Hint at it
Give some vague hints. Then add 'veHamayvin Yovin' or alternatively, 'Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more'.

So whats the point of this post ? I shall be using some of these methods to hide some deep secrets, that are not appropriate for the masses. Deep secrets about Life, the Universe and Everything. In fact, I have been doing this for a while, but no-one really noticed. If you carefully read all my old posts, you would discover some things. Shame I deleted them all.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A Confession !

I have a confession to make.

I tried explaining it all away.
I tried saying it was all a nissayon.
I tried pretending it was all a moshol.
But these are all just wishful thinking.

The evidence is simply just too great for me to ignore.
No, I am not talking about Judaism.
I am of course talking about DovBear.

I mean, just look at his blog.

The feminine pastel shade of turquoise.

The cutesy-wutesy bear picture.

The lavender, pink and orange title colors.

Which Doesn't Belong and Why

The endless posts with feminine topics.

Anything boys can do, I can do better!

The numerous female commentators.

SuraMalka, RenReb, Shifra, Cara, Sarah, Alice

The evidence is too great.

I finally have to admit it to myself.

DovBear is no man's man.
DovBear is a girly-girl !

(I win).

With the Koton gone, how can I go on ?

With the Koton gone, the real funny stuff had to go too. You know, that stuff which made fun of the people-who-are-not-to-be-made-fun-of. So I have to ask myself, is there any point in going on ?

I tried lomdus, but Hirhurim beats me hands down on that.
I tried heresy, but Mis-nagid goes way further than I'll ever go.
I tried philosophy, but AddeRabbi is much cleverer at that than I am.

I guess I could change my template to something pink, write lots of women-themed articles, get myself a cute snuggle-bear picture and attract the female crowd, just like Dov Bear did.

But that really would be sad and pathetic, wouldn't it !

So what should I do ?

Rav Mattisyahu was right !

Rav Mattisyahu was right after all ! My sincere apologies.

Those science and torah nuts are a bunch of pygmies, midgets and dwarves, and I can prove it !

Pictured below, from left to right:

Dr Gerald Schroeder, Rabbi Nosson Slifkin and Rabbi Aryeh Carmell !

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Emunah-Peshutah Theory

We navigated Nes-Nisayon. We mulled over Myth-Moshol. Now its time to ponder Emunah-Peshutah Theory (EPT).

This one's quite simple to understand really.
  • Age of the Universe: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah.
  • Evolution: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah.
  • The You Know What: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah.
  • Statements of Chazal contradicting science: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah
  • Actions of our leaders: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah.

Like Nes-Nisayon Theory, this theory is quite convenient, as it answers pretty much every question very neatly.

Clearly Myth-Moshol has been banned in the Fundamentalist world. However, do they advocate Nes-Nisayon or Emunah-Peshutah Theory ? I was pretty convinced they were going with NNT, but now it seems it might be EPT.

Perhaps there is a split between the US and the EY Fundamentalists. The US guys, who are a little more cognizant of science, prefer EPT. The EY guys who are less familiar, are happier with NNT.

Faith & Reason Part 1

Finally, someone with some sechel talks about Faith and Reason. Pity I don't understand a word of it. (From Hirhurim Comments)

I am glad to see a collection of different positions to shed light on the Greek-based dichotomizing of Judaism known as "fact vs. faith", where Yahadut is posited as "scientific" and "rational" (neither of which are hebrew terms), as opposed to being Divine in origin and outside imposed temporal dichotomies. Many who try to use the "faith v. fact" dichotomy (Kiruv often), adopt whole-heartedly materialist definitions for both terms, implying that the two exhaust all possible modes of knowing, under the pretentions of "fighting the enemy on their battlefield".

It is far too easy in such a intellectual skirmish to fall victim to the Cliffordian maxim of an unconditional demand for empirical evidence (terms needing tradition-bound definition), for ANY and all beliefs at all times, despite the obvious impossibility of such a life. It's likewise too easy to be pressured into an ultimately Fideistic trap of "I simply believe", despite reason and reality.

EVERY doxastic system to be systematic must posit a fundamental Given which is reasoned FROM not reasoned TO; this holds for "secular" systems as well as (explicitly) religious systems. Roy Clouser gets into this in his "Myth of Religious Neutrality" and a little bit in his "Knowing With The Heart" (KWTH is more xtian polemic and argues on other peripheral issues). Kelly James Clark (xtian) argues against the fallacious nature of the Evidentialist "fact v. faith" approach and the Cliffordian Standard in his "Return To Reason". R. Eliezer Berkovits is a Jewish source who'd written very briefly around similar themes in parts of his "God, Man and History". (N Paulovic)

I think I was doxastic once, but then I took some tylenol and felt much better.

At times like these I really wish I had listened to what my philosophy teacher told me.
Why, what did he tell you ?
I don't know, I didn't listen.

Seriously though, I think I get what he is saying. That all systems rely on some givens, which cannot be proven, and that either extreme of ultimate rationalism or simple faith is bad.

Bored with Breishis ? Nonplussed with Noach ? Leery of Lech lechah ? Vacillating about Vayerah ? Had enough of Hayei Soroh ?

Lets jump straight to Yisro, because that’s what its all about.

There is no scientific evidence which can prove that matan torah didn't happen. Lucky break there ! Archeological evidence deems it unlikely that millions of people fled Egypt and camped in the desert for 40 years with no evidence. However we all know they ate mon, so there were no empty plastic bottles or McDonalds boxes for the archeologists to find.

Seriously though, the numbers by matan torah could be exaggerated, in those days certain numbers were 'idealized' e.g. the number 6. In our days it’s 42. So its quite possible that many thousands of people left Mitzrayim, had a revelation at Sinai, and there would be no scientific or archeological evidence to disprove this.

As to what the revelation actually consisted of, now that's a whole different question.

Cultural Misunderstandings

If R Solomon really did say pygmy, we should not criticize. Clearly, different cultures use words differently. In order to avoide future scandals, and people making fun of things, I have compiled a useful dictionary. Simply translate all speeches from the right wing using this dictionary, and you will feel much better:

Right wing to English Dictionary

Daas Torah: Political power
Gedolim: Political leaders
Godol Hador: The leader of the party
Kofrim: The opposition party
Kefirah: The ideology of the opposition party
Pygmy: Honorable gentleman of the opposition

With this dictionary, R Solomon's speech was quite acceptable. He was merely stating that he does not agree with the politics of the honorable members of the opposition party. Nothing worse than anything you will hear in the Senate or the House of Commons.

And positively pareve in comparison to the Knessett !

Its official: We are no longer kofrim

Reb Mattisyahu Solomon has officially declared that people who try and reconcile Torah and Science are no longer to be called kofrim.

No. From now on, they shall be called pygmies instead.

There is nothing to be made fun of here. He said it, I reported it. End of story.

However, in other news, Atheists are now to be called cannibals, Modern Orthodox shall be named bushpeople, and Heretical Hasidim shall be called small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.


It seems likely that the word was midgets, not pygmies. Also, this was only one small part of the Siyum Hashas, so nothing to get to worked up about.

Avraham Avinu and Emunah Peshutta

Ford, a highly intelligent being from another planet (well he is a yekke), makes an interesting point. He says that Avraham Avinu (founder of the Jewish religion) was not content with the simple emunah peshuttah (in idols) of his day. He constantly asked questions, until he came to a new and better understanding.

Douglas Rushkoff in his book 'Nothing Sacred' makes a similar point. He says that Judasim was founded on iconoclastic behavior (i.e. Avraham), therefore we must all be iconoclasts, to be true to Judaism.

It sounds like a good argument, though it can be taken too far. For example Rushkoff takes it to mean that we have to completely re-invent Judaism and form a new religion, because after all, thats exactly what Avraham Avinu did.

Not sure that I want to go there, however the point about Avraham and emunah peshuttah is worth thinking about (but not too deeply, just in case). Shouldn't we investigate, like Avraham, or is it too dangerous ?

Is there a correlation between those who investigate, and those who went off the derech ? In other words, did everyone who investigated end up going off the derech, and those who are still here didn't really investigate much ?

We have heard a lot from those who investigated and left. Can we now hear from someone who investigated and stayed ? Anyone ? Anyone ? Bueler ?

Anyone ?

New: FDA approved Emunahpeshuttia !


  • Struggling with doubts and questions
  • Unable to face life
  • Not sure what its all about
  • Overly concerned with questions on Science and Torah, Faith and Reason or the you know what
Take 3 doses a day , for the rest of your life. In case of nagging doubts, you may take additional doses. Do not exceed 6 doses in 24 hours, or brain death may occur. May be taken together with Viagara and Daastora.

Side effects:
Patients may experience nausea, lack of critical thinking skills and disinterest in solving life's problems.

Emunahpeshuttiah may be taken by any adult or child over the age of 6. Emunahpeshuttiah is generally not required for small children or infants. Not suitable for patients with a history of ModernOrthodoxitus, Atheisiphalis or HasidicHereticus.

Don't Think It, Just Believe It !

Well, it was inevitable. Once the dust cleared, and the enemy had a chance to regroup, we are now getting the counter attacks. No, I'm not talking about the terrorists in Basra, I'm talking about the fundamentalists in Bnei Brak.

Reports say that Rav Mattisyahu Solomon at the Agudah convention talked about developing an emunah peshutah based on the concept of teiku. Or to put it english for those of you whose hebrew / aramaic is poor:

We don't have any answers, so don't ask us any questions !

Gil cites plenty of support in the Rishonim for simple faith. Well, its one thing to have faith in something without being able to prove it, for example the existence of G-d. However its another thing entirely to be faced with difficult questions, and instead of searching for answers, we just fall back onto simple faith.

Actually its worse than that. Not only do they not provide any answers, but they ban people who attempt to provide answers. Is this an admission that there are no good answers at all ?
I find it hard to believe that we are endowed with such amazing brains (well some of us at least), and yet we are not supposed to use them, at least not along certain avenues. Is the brain just another nisayon, a physical aspect of our existence to be shunned ?
  • Lets not think, because that might cause us emunah problems.
  • Lets not investigate, because we might not like what we find.
  • Lets not analyze, because the analysis might not agree with us.
I have no doubt this attitude goes back to the Rishonim, some of them were fundamentalists too you know. It’s a shame that this is what it all ultimately boils down to.

I think I liked it better when they were pushing the Gosse theory. At least they gave the illusion of actually having an answer. I almost believed it some days. I mean, it is possible isn't it ! Now they admit that there are no answers.

I had a debate with a talmid of Rav Moshe Shapiro. He claimed that Rav Moshe, who knows all secular wisdon, has been struggling with these issues his whole life, and is therefore an authority on the matter. Well, in that case I asked, how come Rav Moshe doesn't write a good book on the subject ?

I guess the answer is that "I don't have any answers, just believe in Daas Torah and take two does of Emunah Peshuttah a day for the rest of your life" wouldn't make a very good book. Thats why he hasn't published yet.

Though I think that perhaps Artscroll could publish it. With a nice picture of Rav Moshe on the cover (similing sweetly of course), 20 pages of "Donated In Memory" stuff at the front, a 15 page introduction by R Zlotowitz and you could make it look like it has something to say. Especially if they add a nice leather binding and make it coffee table size.

Update: Thanks to Gil for pointing out this article.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Emunah Peshutah vs Chakirah Amukah

Rabbi Adlerstein on Cross Currents says:

Secondly, our fallback position in so many areas has to be emunah peshutah. None of us is smart enough, or well read enough, to answer all the questions.

This is quite true. This is why I get on a plane. I have no idea how the darn thing stays up in the air, nor do I have the time to find out. I have emunah peshutah in the legions of engineers who designed and tested it.

Likewise, if the Torah vs Science question has been dealt with properly, with expert inquiry into all areas, I would have emunah peshutah in this too.

Can someone therefore please point me in the direction of a sefer which seriously explores all these issues, and comes up with some credible peshat ?

The only Sefer I found so far (with haskamas of course, and also which hasn't been banned) is R Dovid Browns 'Mysteries of Creation'. I give R Dovid credit for dealing with the tough issues, even the ones no one talks about (Hint: My 2 year old's blanky deals with it). Unfortunately some people dismis his sefer as having no basis in reality, science, mesorah or indeed common sense.

Secondly, there seems to be a correlation in the confidence and ability of leaders to address difficult questions, and the reliance on emunah peshutah.

For example, in medieval times, the Rishonim were a pretty cool bunch of guys. They took on the difficult issues and tried to address them. I guess they were confident (rightly or wrongly) that they had some good answers. Nowadays, we don't get good answers, or even good attempts at explanations, but rather rhetoric, bans and appeals to emunah peshutah.

I guess the confidence level nowadays in actually being able to answer any of these questions properly is quite low.