Saturday, May 21, 2005

May 2005

Saturday, May 21, 2005

So long and thanks for all the comments

Well, I guess its about time to wrap this up. This is for a number of reasons:

1. I finally figured out the answer to life the universe and everything. Well, at least all the Science and Torah stuff, anyway.
2. Work is getting busier. I had a few months quiet, but that's coming to an end. There's no way I can keep up with my work and all the blogging.
3. The Rebbetzin wants me to stop (reason enough on its own).
4. I used to learn a lot more, and the blogging is taking up too much of my learning time.

I'd like to say a big goodbye to all you intelligent lifeforms out there,
and for the rest of you, the trick is to bang those rocks together guys!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Boruch Hashem I'm An Atheist

I find it funny how atheists always think they know more about G-d than theists. Almost every atheist argument I have ever seen goes something like this:

"G-d would never do/be like/want/have said/have written that. Therefore He does not exist !"

Atheists say that its irrational (or maybe non-rational) to believe in G-d. However all things have a creator or beginning, so why not the Universe. If instead of G-d, I was to say "A super-powerful alien being from another dimension yet to be discovered by Science" would that be more rational ? Of course, you would still have the question of where did that being come from. But maybe in his/her dimension that wouldn't be such a question.

G-d Save The Queen

Readers of my blog might notice a slight hint of Anglophilia. (No, not Angelphilia, thats Mordechai Plaut). Its true, I like the Brits, in fact some of my best friends are Brits (well one of them is). One day I would love to visit the UK, however the Gedolet Hador is not too keen. Once, we were stuck in Heathrow airport on a connecting flight to Israel and the smoking in the airport was awful. Also the teeth, the hair and the clothes. But enough about my wife ! (just kidding, honey). Whats with those guys ? Can't they learn how to dress properly ? I though the Brits were supposed to be dedicated followers of fashion ? They all seemed to be wearing nylon sportswear.

Anyway, I do find them quite funny, especially Harav Dovid Adams and Harav Menachem Nachash. Likewise, I find the British Blogs to be funnier than the Yanky blogs. Being an international sort of fellow, (I was born on a non-registered vessel in international waters off the coast of a privately owned island to two refugees with no citizenship), you can hardly accuse me of bias.

The difference is even noticeable in the Hasidic Heretic blogs. While the Yanky Hasidic Heretic Blogs are all quite dark and depressing, the British ones are very funny. Even while the Brits are 'hanging on in quite desperation' they manage to maintain their sense of humor. Must keep a stiff upper lip and all that. As long as you've got yer health, mate. You gotta laugh. And so on.

Two funny blogs are The Shaigetz and Frummer. The writing is so good its amazing. Where does a Stamford Hillbilly who probably learnt English as a second language learn to write so well ? Also, I was particularly surprised to see that the shaigetz is a Roger Waters fan. I suppose my listening to Nigunei Chasidei Belz is just as strange. Hurrah for multiculturalism !

And now its time for 'elevenses. I must go and 'ave a nice cup o' tea and a biscuit, and call the trouble and strife on the old dog and bone. (I know, that was probably an awfully bastardized concoction of British slang. Perhaps one of my British readers can set me straight as to the correct usage).

Cheers mate. Ta-ta !

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Comments on Commentators

Updated ! Yet Again ! And Again !

Here are some comments on my commentators, in no particular order. These are just people who commented recently, and / or I have an opinion. If you want to be included, let me know, unless you are concerned as to what I might say. However, being a DovBear like friendly blogger, I will change the comment to anything you prefer.

Nachum Klafter: Very smart, very knowledgeable.
Steve Brizel: Interesting comments and expert on YU scene.
S: S is totally me. I don't know if we have ever really disagreed.
DovBear: I have to include DovBear or else he'll get upset. Plus DovBear is me.
Conservative Apikores: Even though he has a double strike against him, he has some interesting comments.
Joshua: Always posts the same kind of comment, (Who is G-d ? I don't understand !) but I can't deny he has some good points.
tafkaa: tafkaa was great. What happened to her ?
shifrah: Shifrah is very funny, and was the uncredited source of the famous 'goyim are monkeys in sportswear' line.
orthomom: I don't know why, maybe its just the name. Who couldn't like a mom ?
mikeskeptic: A more restrained version of Mis-nagid.
eemie: Interesting. For many reasons.
The Hedyot: Another me. Though a little critical recently (also me).
ploni almoni: Has good sources, but is starting to realize that maybe the flood wasn't global.
yoinosonschreiber: A more restrained Mis-nagid who seems to be getting less restrained.
Dude: Can't figure him out. Some days he's me. Other days he's a pain in the butt.
Kishke: Some days he's a pain in the butt. Other days he also a pain in the butt.
sideliner: Not sure about him. Seems mostly okay, but sometimes is very critical.
Avi: A would be Mis-nagid. Repent before its too late !


Orthomom: Inventor of Kefirah Lite. Not really a big deal but she is convinced it is.
Lawrence: Inventor of 'Brain Farts'.
marc: Decent fellow, not to be confused with Lawrence.
Frumteens: Is he the moderator ? Or is he an impostor ?
Shiur Chodosh: The world's most pritzusdike yeshivah bochur
bishel akum: Unusual. Who is this guy ?
Steg: What the hell does dos iz nit der steg mean anyway ? Intelligent guy.
grend123. Very funny guy. What happened to you ?
allen: Another lawrence, though less rude. Or is that alan ? I get confused.
joe schick: Occasional comments, especially when I criticize the old man
Gil: I'm lucky if I get one sentence a week from Gil. And how about a link ?????
HAGTBG: Used to be interesting. Now seems to have turned into a regular fundamentalist.
Mr Prosser: Works for the local council
Zem: A mattress
Wowbagger the infintely prolonged: Hasn't posted much recently
ScientificTorahBlogObserver: Nachum Klafter like quality comments

Who else did I miss ?


Orthomom: Is she cool or what ?!
Boruch: Annoyed the hell out of me, but he did have some intelligent things to say, I have to admit. Though 'Literal but imprecise' wasn't one of them.
Lipman, Hayim, Bob The Builder, imainish, Jay, DZ, Ari: Sorry guys, but maybe you haven't been around long enough yet, or said anything provocative enough yet for me to have formed an opinion. Maybe you'll make it on the next round.
rebeljew: How could I have missed rebeljew ? One of my biggest fans.
frummer: Another fan. And an Englishman. And a good writer and funny too.

Another Update:

Lkwdguy: Seems very balanced for a Lakewooder.
ADDeRabbi: An under-appreciated genius. Or maybe an over-appreciated smart-alec. Who can tell ? I like him.
An MO Rabbi: Not my MO Rabbi but certainly could be. I wouldn't mind.
Ford: How could I forget my old friend Ford ? Intelligent, caring and annoying. Always has been. Always will be. I think he enjoys it.

Yated Lies about the Gedolim

This post is really more appropriate for Pravda Neeman but it's so incredible I feel I have to post it here.

First was this Yated biography of R Gedaliah Nadel, which totally whitewashed all his 'heretical' opinions.

Then I saw this Yated biography of Rav Hutner which does not mention a word about how close he was to Rav Kook.

Finally, Hirhurim points out that this biography of Rav Wolbe completely ignores the fact that he went to University and was a BT.

And those are just the ones I know about.

Whats really bizzare about the last case is that you would think this would be a good thing, but they still won't include it.

Frummie Political Correctness

Nachum Klafter hits the nail on the head again with this comment on Hirhurim:

Something is seriously wrong and sick in the Torah world. It is a sort of insidious disease which has taken over the thinking of many people. A shorthand term for it might be “political correctness.” Certain views which are really quite extreme and radical, and the basis for which in divrei Hazal are quite unclear, are becoming the norm. Radical anti-Zionism and anti-secularism, extreme insularity, suppression of true information about the lives of our Gedolim, the naïve and blind acceptance of the most preposterous and foolish stories of miracles and supernatural powers (which, I am troubled to admit, closely resemble, lehavdil, stories which are told about Joseph Smith, the Catholic Saints and Protestant evangelists), etc.

The exponents of this new Frummie Political Correctness would have us believe that it is not respectful to examine and question the thinking of Gedolei Torah. And I am not talking about when someone has received a personal pesak—I am talking about chiddushei Torah and ideological and polemical writings. According to my understanding, it is extremely dangerous to outlaw critical analysis of the writings of Gedolei Torah. I really have no idea what goes through the mind of a person while studying a sugya in sha”s if he believes that he has no right to challenge the logic of a Rishon’s chiddushim. If Abbaye and Rava had simply accepted, with no challenge, everything that Raba taught them, how many key sugyas in the sha”s would have never come into existence?!

We need a devoted group of individuals to re-claim a normal approach to Torah study, where the parameters of pesak halakha are maintained with integrity, but where people are encouraged to cultivate their common sense, reasonable knowledge of science and history, and a more normal/humane view of the ideal image of a Gadol ba-Torah.

RAL and RYG battle it out

I'm not too familiar with YU politics past or present, having been brought up most of my life believeing that YU was treif. Maye Steve Brizel can help us out. However there seems to be an interesting debate going on between Rav Aharon Lichtentstein and Rabbi Yitz Greenberg as pointed out by Gil on Hirhurim.

This passage neatly sums it up:

In his recent response, R. Aharon argues that low tolerances for religious exploration preserve Orthodoxy. I believe that when the limits are too tight, in the resultant climate of opinion, fresh new thinkers in Modern Orthodoxy are constrained and are not free to articulate approaches that effectively deal with new issues such as in theology or historical-critical studies or feminism, etc. - because they risk being delegitimated. When a variety of responses are not developed and Orthodoxy appears to be not listening or incapable of responding, we lose credibility and we lose people.

I guess I have to agree with Rabbi Greenberg on this one. Does that make me LW MO ? No ! I'm Rational Religious. Its completely different.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Shir HaShirim Asher LeHuman League


Have you ever read Artscroll Shir HaShirim ? Its all allegorical, and not a love song at all ? Well, this concept has been radically expanded in a new sefer, 'Shir Hashirim Songs of the 60's, 70's and 80's'. Here is a sample:

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you

G-d to Israel : Avodim hoyetem leParoh Bemitzrayim.

I picked you out, I shook you up, and turned you around
Turned you into someone new

G-d to Israel: I took you out of Mitzrayim, gave you the Torah and brought you to Eretz Yisrael.

And so on.

This also works well with the Pina Colada song.

Update: In other words, you can allegorize anything, even a somewhat risque love song. Allegorization is dangerous, and its quite surprising that Shir HaShirim was ultimately included in the canon.

The Point of the Bible

Mis-nagid said:

Frum is believing that God uniquely revealed himself to humankind by writing a book in which He talks about slaves, talking animals, sex, genocide, dietary laws, witches, killing unbelievers and *lots* of animal sacrifice. Because those are the most pressing issues for the creator of the universe. Along with hairstyles.

In other words, if G-d were going to write a book, do you really think he would waste pages and pages on animal sacrifices and hairstyles ? Shouldn't that book contain something deeper, such as the answer to life the universe and everything ?

However I think Mis-nagid is making the Genre Mistake. As Rashi brings down in Breishis, the Torah is really a law book. It doesn't attempt to prove the existence of G-d, or go into any deep philosophical explanations of things. In fact (at least on the surface) its pretty basic.

There are a number of possible explanations for this:
  • The Torah had to be understood by simple idolatrous slaves coming out of egypt
  • G-d gave us the rules, but the deep philosophy he left to us to figure out for ourselves
  • The Torah is man's account of the revelation, not G-d's (a bit heretical but better than nothing)
  • The devil, or in this case G-d, is in the details. G-d does care about hairstyles and what they represent, and so should we.

Frumkeit: Cult or Culture ? II

Some people like to claim that Frumkeit is a cult. Typically, cult is a word which is used in one of two ways. Either to describe some ancient religious group e.g. Druids, or to describe a modern day dubious religious sect such as Hare Krishna. Both are wrong.

In terms of the latter meaning, its hard to justify calling Frumkeit a cult. There is no sleep deprivation, financial pressure, food deprivation, mind control or any of the usual facets of modern day cults. Any pressures that an individual feels, are common, everyday, 'cultural' peer pressures. Just like the peer pressure for a white person to marry white, in some communities. Would we say they are part of the white cult ? Of course not.

Likewise, those who think frunmkeit is a religion are also wrong. Its mostly a culture. Many if not most of the things that differentiate 'Frumkeit' from Modern Orthodoxy are cultural, rather than having a serious grounding in halachah.

Frumkeit: Cult or Culture ?

cult [ kult ] (plural cults)


1. religion: a system of religious or spiritual beliefs, especially an informal and transient belief system regarded by others as misguided or unorthodox

2. religious group: a group of people who share religious or spiritual beliefs

3. idolization of somebody or something: extreme or excessive admiration for a person, philosophy of life, or activity ( often used before a noun )
a cult following

4. object of idolization: a person, philosophy, or activity regarded with extreme or excessive admiration

5. fad: something popular or fashionable among a devoted group of enthusiasts ( often used before a noun )
cult status

6. ethnology system of supernatural beliefs: a body of organized practices and beliefs supposed to involve interaction with and control over supernatural powers

7. elite group: a self-identified group of people who share a narrowly defined interest or perspective

[Early 17th century. Directly or via French from Latin cultus “worship” (the original sense in English), from colere (see culture).]

[ kúlchər ]

noun (plural cul•tures)

1. the arts collectively: art, music, literature, and related intellectual activities
Culture is necessary for a healthy society.

2. knowledge and sophistication: enlightenment and sophistication acquired through education and exposure to the arts
They are people of culture.

3. shared beliefs and values of a group: the beliefs, customs, practices, and social behavior of a particular nation or people
Southeast Asian culture

4. people with shared beliefs and practices: a group of people whose shared beliefs and practices identify the particular place, class, or time to which they belong

5. shared attitudes: a particular set of attitudes that characterizes a group of people
The company tries hard to avoid a blame culture.

6. growing biological material in special conditions: the growing of biological material, especially plants, microorganisms, or animal tissue, in a nutrient substance in specially controlled conditions for scientific, medical, or commercial purposes

7. biology biological material grown in special conditions: biological material, especially plants, microorganisms, or animal tissue, grown in a nutrient substance culture medium in specially controlled conditions for scientific, medical, or commercial purposes

8. tillage: the cultivation of the land or soil in preparation for growing crops or plants

9. improvement: the development of a skill or expertise through training or education
physical culture

Frum is .....

A guest post from Mis-nagid. Due to Mis-nagid's wishes, I have to post the complete post first, without fisking. Following the post is my commentary.

Frum is believing that God uniquely revealed himself to humankind by writing a book in which He talks about slaves, talking animals, sex, genocide, dietary laws, witches, killing unbelievers and *lots* of animal sacrifice. Because those are the most pressing issues for the creator of the universe. Along with hairstyles.

Frum is not knowing what the word "frum" means, but knowing how God wants you to cut your toenails.

Frum is a woman leaving an envelope with her phone number on it in a rabbi's mailbox with a rag doused in her v**** j**** inside -- for modesty's sake.

Frum is ritually winding leather straps on your arm while worrying about the encroaching influence of cults.

Frum is being so acutely attuned to wigs that you can spot one 45 feet away, from behind, through traffic, Jewish or otherwise.

Frum is believing that thanking Hashem for not making you a slave, gentile or woman is praiseworthy.

Frum is spending mid-3 figures on a 60-cent citron. Frummer is examining it with a magnifying glass.

Frum is thinking that community issues means debating about an eruv.

Frum is being able to tell the precise subsect of a frum yid by the style, tilt and make of his hat.

Frum is never having a black friend growing up. Or anyone who isn't frum.

Frum is seeing kids *without* beenies as weird.

Frum is opening a Gemara and calling it learning Torah, despite having long ago lost track of what's Chumash and what's Midrash.

Frum is calling yourself "Torah true" and not noticing that you don't actually do much of what the Torah says.

Frum is really believing the first mishna of Pirkei Avos and being oblivious to the existence of non-Orthodox Torah scholarship.

Frum is not knowing why those go together.

Frum is associating kissing doorposts with piety and assigning deep moral implications to a light switch while cheating on your taxes.

Frum is thinking that it makes good sense to have seperate dishes, sinks and cutlery for meat and dairy because your rabbi said that his rabbi said that the sages said that the Torah says that Hashem said that the prohibition against cooking a baby goat in its mother's milk means that.

Frum is packing tuna fish sandwiches for a trip through a modern city, knowing the provenance of 15 different local hechshers, but refusing to pull into a McDonalds to get a map when you get lost.

Frum is calling gefilte fish a delicacy and lobster a sin.

Frum is a principal insisting that none of his students have TVs while the halls echo with discussion of last night's shows.

Frum is being punished for asking sharp questions that aren't just about the blatt.

Frum is nodding your head when ayn mukdam u'me'uchar and nishtaneh hatevah is the teretz.

Frum is scorning the vast masses of non-Orthodox Jews, while knowing nothing about the historical variety of Judaism.

Frum is being taught Noah's flood as Jewish history.

Frum is thinking that someone with an accounting degree and tie who believes in creationism is modern.

Frum is skipping chapters in your high school biology class.

Frum is grandparents shepping nachas from a grandson who can recite the rules of ritual animal sacrifice by heart, but can't speak of word of English.

Frum is fighting with your parents to *let* you go to college, while the school you just graduated from struggles to find parents who can afford to pay full tuition.

Frum is always saying "Jewish" when you mean "Frum" -- and not appreciating the difference.

Frum is thinking that reform lost and faded away, while 90% of Jews left Orthodoxy.

Frum is thinking that frumkeit is so obviously correct that the only reason anyone would disagree is because they can't resist their desires.

And, most importantly:
Frum is thinking that frum is normal.

Perush HaGadol

Frum is believing that God uniquely revealed himself to humankind by writing a book in which He talks about slaves, talking animals,sex, genocide, dietary laws, witches, killing unbelievers and *lots* of animal sacrifice. Because those are the most pressing issues for the creator of the universe. Along with hairstyles.

Slavery was common in those days and the Torah takes a very humane attitude towards it. No other culture at that time, or even the US less than 200 years ago had such a humane attitude towards slavery.

Talking animals was a vision. Read the Rambam. It might also have been a later addition. Mainstream Orthodoxy might hesitate to hold of this opinion, but there is no reason why you couldn’t. Especially if a talking donkey is coming between you and your religion.

Whats wrong with sex ? Or more correctly, sexual ethics and morals. One of the most pressing issues of our time, and all times in fact. If the Torah hadn’t given us instruction on that subject, it would have been a major omission.

Genocide: I assume you are talking about Amalek ? They are evil. It’s a Christian mentality to turn the other cheek to evil. Its good to fight evil. Would you have encouraged pacifism during the second world war ?

Dietary laws: Az mah ? Whats wrong with some dietary laws ? The Rambam explains that some of the prohibitions were against certain idolatrous practices. Others are there to remind us of good. Instead of stuffing our faces, we first make a brachah to thsank G-d. And afterwards we thank Him again. Of course if He does not exist, there is less point. But if He does, it makes a lot of sense.

Witches: If I recall correctly, the Torah prohibits witchcraft. Rambam explains that the Torah only mentions women because that was more common, but of course it applies to men too. Understanding the context of the day, it makes more sense, since witchcraft and associated superstition and idolatrous practices were very harmful. We are not talking about some poor Winona Ryder like teenager in the 16th century. The Christians took this too far and started persecuting innocent old women. Is that our fault ? Did the Jewish community ever burn a witch at the stake, in the last 1000 years ?

Killing unbelievers: Not so straightforward. The person would have to be a mazid lehachis. Some innocent person with doubts would not get killed.

*lots* of animal sacrifice: That was common back then. Again, Rambam explains that this was in order to wean the Jews off of idol worship. You denigrate Judaism, but fail to take into account the rational side of things.

Along with hairstyles.: I assume you are talking about peyos. Again, an idolatrous custom which the Torah wanted people to keep far away from.

Frum is not knowing what the word "frum" means, but knowing how God wants you to cut your toenails.

Superstitious nonsense. Ignore.

Frum is a woman leaving an envelope with her phone number on it in a rabbi's mailbox with a rag doused in her v***** j**** inside -- for modesty's sake.

OK, that one is a bit icky, I’ll agree with you there. So learnt the halachot yourself and you don’t need to do it.

Frum is ritually winding leather straps on your arm while worrying about the encroaching influence of cults.

Funny. But real cults use high pressure techniques such as starvation and sleep deprivation. Judaism feeds you well. Haven’t you ever been to a Pesach hotel ? And Tefilin is a bit wierd.

Frum is being so acutely attuned to wigs that you can spot one 45 feet away, from behind, through traffic, Jewish or otherwise.

True. Wigs are retarded.

Frum is believing that thanking Hashem for not making you a slave, gentile or woman is praiseworthy.

What, you would prefer to be a slave ? As for the woman thing, I agree that should be changed already. The ‘kirtzonoh’ apologetics thing is bogus. And, since Jews have a special mission and a potential for special reward, wouldn’t you rather be one ? But bI agree, in this day and age maybe some better wording could be found.

Frum is spending mid-3 figures on a 60-cent citron. Frummer is examining it with a magnifying glass.

There is certainly a concept of hidur mitzvah. Every religion has it. Its clearly better to have a nice esrog than a crappy one. But I agree, its not the ikkar in life. And spending 3 figures is quite obscene. I spent $40 on the set if I recall. Not much more than I would spend on a nice dinner.

Frum is thinking that community issues means debating about an eruv.

Real issues are debated too. Though certainly not enough, I agree.

Frum is being able to tell the precise subsect of a frum yid by the style, tilt and make of his hat.

True. Hats are retarded.

Frum is never having a black friend growing up. Or anyone who isn't frum.

Black: That has nothing to do with being frum, don’t be ridiculous. There are plenty of all white non Jewish suburbs and schools. I grew up amongst goyim and there were no black people around. If it really bothers you then move to Dimonah and hang with the Ethiopians.

Frum: Depends. I went to schools which had none frum kids. Plus there were always neighbours and relatives.

Frum is seeing kids *without* beanies as weird.

Not weird, just not frum or not Jewish. But its true that frum kids are probably too sheltered and don’t have enough experience at mixing with the outside world. Unfortunately there are so many problems with sex, drugs and violence in the outside world that when it comes to kids, even I’m happy to be super frum.

Frum is opening a Gemara and calling it learning Torah, despite having long ago lost track of what's Chumash and what's Midrash.

Its Torah she’baal peh. What’s the issue ?

Frum is calling yourself "Torah true" and not noticing that you don't actually do much of what the Torah says.

True for some sections of Judaism, certainly. Good point.

Frum is really believing the first mishna of Pirkei Avos and being oblivious to the existence of non-Orthodox Torah scholarship.


Frum is not knowing why those go together.

Huh ?

Frum is associating kissing doorposts with piety and assigning deep moral implications to a light switch while cheating on your taxes.

Agreed 100%. Its ridiculous to the extreme. Probably one of the most serious deficits in Orthodoxy. People assign so much importance to minor rituals, but then miss the major things. However these are the bad apples. No genuine person or Rabbi would condone such behavior.

Frum is thinking that it makes good sense to have separate dishes, sinks and cutlery for meat and dairy because your rabbi said that his rabbi said that the sages said that the Torah says that Hashem said that the prohibition against cooking a baby goat in itsmother's milk means that.

Maybe. But it’s not the end of the world to have separate dishes. Maybe it would be better to be vegetarians anyway ?

Frum is packing tuna fish sandwiches for a trip through a modern city, knowing the provenance of 15 different local hechshers, but refusing to pull into a McDonalds to get a map when you get lost.

That’s silly. Most normal people I know will go into a McDonalds for directions, a coke or to let the kids play in their playground if it’s a long trip, though you probably shouldn’t do that without ordering something. In town there might be an issue of maros ayin.

Frum is calling gefilte fish a delicacy and lobster a sin.

I doubt many people see gefilte fish as a delicacy. And the way lobsters are boiled alive is a sin. It’s disgusting.

Frum is a principal insisting that none of his students have TVs while the halls echo with discussion of last night's shows.

Where is that? If they don’t have a TV, how do they know about it?

Frum is being punished for asking sharp questions that aren't just about the blatt.

Punished? What kind of school did you go to? Not in my school.

Frum is nodding your head when ayn mukdam u'me'uchar and nishtaneh hatevah is the teretz.

I agree. Those are bogus.

Frum is scorning the vast masses of non-Orthodox Jews, while knowing nothing about the historical variety of Judaism.

I agree.

Frum is being taught Noah's flood as Jewish history.

Traditionally yes. I think more people are realizing its myth/moshol.

Frum is thinking that someone with an accounting degree and tie who believes in creationism is modern.

Hee hee. Too true.

Frum is skipping chapters in your high school biology class.

My high school was so frum we didn’t even study biology.

Frum is grandparents shepping nachas from a grandson who can recite the rules of ritual animal sacrifice by heart, but can't speak ofword of English.

I agree. Too much emphasis in korbonos is wrong.

Frum is fighting with your parents to *let* you go to college, while the school you just graduated from struggles to find parentswho can afford to pay full tuition.

I agree. Total hypocrisy. The frum world relies on frum professionals and businessmen to keep them afloat and in learning. But they are quick to denigrate those lifestyles. Its amazing how many holier than thou people are in kollel, being supported by their parents. If their parents cut off their support they would soon leave. A bunch of hypocrites.

Frum is always saying "Jewish" when you mean "Frum" -- and not appreciating the difference.


Frum is thinking that reform lost and faded away, while 90% of Jews left Orthodoxy.

True. Its funny how in today's triumphalism people don't realize that.

Frum is thinking that frumkeit is so obviously correct that the only reason anyone would disagree is because they can't resist their desires.

True. But don't discount emotions and desires either. Definitely a major factor both in being frum and also in leavinf frumkeit. Very few people (if any) are purely rational.

And, most importantly:

Frum is thinking that frum is normal.

Well, its normal if you are frum. What is normal anyway ? Atheism ? Only a small fraction of the world’s population is atheist, and has ever been. Christianity ? 3 billion Christians believing that some Jewish guy was really G-d ? Is that normal ? There are 1 billion Chinese in the world, are they normal ? How would you define normal ?

Nobody is normal except you and me. And I'm not so sure about you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Fundamentalist Skeptics & Sacred Cows

I have spent much time criticizing the right wing fundamentalists, some would say too much time. In the process, some people have gotten confused. They think I am out to show how Judaism is all myth and madness. But nothing could be further from the truth. My aim is to save Judaism from the fundamentalists, who turn it into such a non-credible or in-credible collection of myths and fairy tales that no sane person can accept it.

But this does not mean I am advocating giving it all up, or throwing it all away (on your bar-mitzvah day). The point is to try and figure out how it could be true, or what part of it is true.

Some people think this is intellectually dishonest. However they fail to see the incredible advantages in Judaism. Once you give up on it, and especially on the divine authority / inspiration aspect, there’s nothing left. We all know people who gave up on Judaism. But what did they replace it with? Did they get a new religion? A new vision? A new sense of purpose?

No. They threw it all away and they replaced it with nothing. They took a religion which gives a purpose and meaning to life, and replaced it with pop culture and a meaningless existence. We are all just random acts of nature, and it doesn’t really matter what we do or don’t do.

And I’m not buying into this Carl Sagan like baloney about being a part of the Cosmos, of us all being Stardust, and how incredibly meaningful that all is. What a bunch of hooey. I’m also not buying into this ‘Torah is sacred literature” baloney. That’s bogus (by their standards) and they know it.

One thing I know for sure: You give it up, you got nothing. That doesn’t mean you’re going to hell, in fact you could still get into heaven quite easily. But it does mean you got no real purpose in life. I suppose if you do manage to delude yourself into feeling that your life has meaning, and you are a good person, you might do okay. Still, I wouldn’t advise it.

I know some people who are having some serious doubts. Of course there are some significant issues which should be addressed. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! In my opinion, the skeptics who give it all up didn’t ever find value in the religion in the first place, or it became devalued in their eyes, otherwise they could not have walked away.

If you are truly sensitive to the advantages of a Jewish lifestyle done right, and truly sensitive to the advantages of a Jewish community done right, and truly sensitive to the advantages of a Jewish nation done right, then you couldn’t possibly throw it all away.

I hate to sound like Bishel or Allan, but if you look at the vast sweep of history, over the last two thousand years, you would have to be blind not to see the significant differences in behavior, morals and ethics amongst the Jewish communities and their non Jewish neighbors. I am not saying this to denigrate them, or to laud ourselves as being superior. However there is no question that the Jewish lifestyle done right really does work.

Of course there are always exceptions. There are fraudsters in Far Rockaway and molesters in Monsey. There are bad apples in every barrel. But these are not statistically significant. If you look at the past two millennia, across different cultures and countries, different peoples and political systems, the same picture always emerges. And it’s as dumb to ignore this fact as it is to ignore the scientific evidence of the age of the universe. In fact, skeptics who value nothing but their skepticism are as fundamental as the fundamentalists.

So, as Jews, we need to find a balance. Between traditional fundamentalism on one side, and skeptical fundamentalism on the other. I imagine that many people in the center feel they have the right balance. I do not claim to have found that balance yet. But I do claim to at least value (if not always adhere to) these two statements:

• I will endeavor to be as rational as possible
• I will endeavor to be as religious as possible

I’m also not concerned about sacred cows. If it looks like hamburgers, I’m going to slaughter it.

I refuse to prove that I exist, says G-d

The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (entry on G-d):

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. Q.E.D."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

I hear this concept a lot. Here is a comment that someone left on my site recently:

"by definition, religion is belief in something that cannot be definitively proven"

But this isn't true at all. Certainly not for the Jewish religion. The Orthodox belief is that G-d appeared to the whole nation at Har Sinai, 'proved' He exists and gave them the Torah.

Its only more recently, with the passage of time, that the 'evidence' has been lost and doubt has arisen. But its certainly not a fundamental tenent of Judaism that we must have pure faith without proof. The classical faith that Chazal talked about was more along the lines of 'faith in', i.e. trust in G-d, rather than an 'emunah peshutah' type of faith.

I think this pure faith without proof concept is more Christian than Jewish.

Slippery Slopes

Revised. Again !

One of the issues related to all the discussions of Science & Torah is that of the slippery slope.

This slope is one of the slippiest of all, a veritable East coast double black diamond, with a thin layer of ice over hard packed snow. Once you are on the slope, its real hard to get off. You begin to pick up speed, sliding faster and faster downhill until everything becomes a blur of confusion, questions with no limits and answers with no boundaries.

There are actually two trails on the slope, the Critical Questions trail and the Apologetic Answers trail. Experienced instructors generally advise novice skiers to stay away from both trails, as they can soon get into trouble. The Critical Questions trail simply leads to more and more questions, so its better to just not ask any questions in the first place. The Apologetic Answers trail can also get you into trouble too, so its better not to give any answers, even if the questions have been asked.

There are few stopping places on the slope, though at the bottom there is a nice ski-in trail to the local reconstructionist temple. The blogveldt is a good vantage point from which to observe the less experienced skiers tumbling down the mountain like (kefirah) clowns unable to navigate the treacherous twists and turns, arms flailing and feet akimbo.

At the bottom of the slope, lie a group of bruised and battered skiers, yelling 'faster', 'faster' at the novices above. At the top of the slopes, enjoying the scenic vistas, and the inevitable sense of superiority one feels at being on top of the world, are the local yokels. Never having learnt to ski, they see no temptation at all in being on the slopes. They are content to remain isolated on top of their little mountain. Sometimes they catch a glimpse of something exciting going on below, however not wishing to navigate the slopes, they remain unable to participate. Occasionally one of the locals falls off the side of the mountain by mistake. Lacking any skiing ability at all, he quickly falls to the bottom.

Its a fact that critical thinking is a dangerous thing, especially when applied to religion. Many religions have claims which are unverifiable at best, and quite provably wrong at worst. It is clearly safer to stay away from the slopes. Very, very few people are strong enough skiers to be able to navigate safely. However, many people find themselves on the slopes already, its too late to tell them to get off. Some got there by design, some by accident, but they're there. And desperately in need of some ski instructors.

To make matters worse, the local yokel ski resort management has forbidden the instructors from accessing the slopes, leaving the poor unfortunates who ventured out there to fall to their deaths. Instead, the management stand at the top of the hill, and yell down instructions. This might have helped, except that the instructions are typically the following:

'Gravity does not exist. It was invented by atheist reshoim. Just listen to us and you'll start to slide up, not down !'

Meanwhile, some expert skiers near the top have their own advice. "Here are some instructions", they shout. "True, they were written hundreds of years ago, for people with simple wooden ski's skiing down 20 foot bunny slopes, but they should apply here too. I mean, surely there's no difference between a bunny slope and a double black diamond. Its all just downhill isn't it ?"'

Watching me watching you

First there was Frumteens, an anonymous site dedicated to spreading lies and slander about anyone the author doesn't like.

Then, there was FrumteensWatch, an anonymous blog by someone who is not me dedicated to reporting problems with Frumteens.

Then came FrumteensWatchWatch, an anonymous blog by the Frumteens moderator dedicated to reporting problems with FrumTeensWatch.

Finally we have FrumteensWatchWatchWatch, a blog by the Brooklyn Wolf which was going to be my idea before he stole it. Hey Wolfman, give it back !


You knew it was coming ! FrumTeensWatchWatchWatchWatch !

I'll be there in a minute. Honestly.

I have been getting attacked from all sides recently, which my Rabbi tells me is always a good sign that you're onto something.

Those to the right of me accuse me of heresy for not paying enough respect to our ancient traditions. Those to the left of me accuse me of intellectual dishonesty, since my starting point is that the general claims of Orthodoxy are true.

Those who have been there before say there is no solace, and all I will find is more confusion. Those who haven't been there tell me to quit wasting my time.My Rabbi actually encourages me, though he cautions that I should spend more time constructing my own theology, rather than deconstructing others. And the Gedolet Hador simply says that as long as I do the laundry, it doesn't matter what I think, and will I please get off the darn computer and come help her already.

So to the right, I say this: It’s a little late for me and many others to go back to close minded fundamentalism. The pandora's box of critical thinking has been opened. Actually, it was opened about 400 years ago, but we're only just joining the party.

To the left, I say this: There is too much beauty and value in the religion to just give it up. From a cold, intellectual viewpoint, if this was simply some type of business analysis, I would say sure, you are correct. However this is a 3,000 year old tradition. Its not just a question of deciding which brand of Linux to go with. You don't dismiss something as valuable as that so simply.

To my Rabbi I say this: I don't see how that’s possible. Surely we have to first figure out what the problem is, before we attempt the solution ? At least that’s what I was taught in Project Management school. Maybe I can do it with a little less criticism though.

And to the Rebbetzin I say this: OK honey, I will be there really soon, just one more post. Honest. Just a couple more minutes. I'll be right down. Just a second. OK, one more second. OK ! I'm coming already. Really. Just one more second and I'm done. OK, I'm here ! What, you finished already ? You should have waited for me !

Monday, May 16, 2005

DovBear Commenting

In which I will deconstruct DovBear's latest post, On Judaism and Absolutes.

Section 1. Vaguely relevant pop culture reference designed to show that author is hip and with it.
Section 2. Provocatively worded argument designed to provoke the extremists into commenting.
Section 3: Quotes from some gemara's and medrashim, designed to show author is actually quite scholarly.
Section 4: Open ended question, designed to promote comments.

Of course, my posts are completely different.

Not like that at all. Oh no.

13 Middos: Number 8

Here is an idea I have heard a few times. It seems true.

Every time you find an entity which has been separated from the greater whole for a purpose of more kedushah, it appears that in fact that entity has actually been seperated to show the kedushah in the rest.

Some examples:

Cohanim - Separated from Klal Yisrael for a special task. Are they holier than the rest ? In a way, sure. However their mission in life is to serve klal yisroel. Would anyone say that klal yisrael were background players, and the cohanim the main act ? Of course not.

Beis Hamikdosh - Separated from the rest of Eretz Yisrael for special kedushah. Is the Beis Hamikdosh holier than the rest of the country ? In a way, sure. However its purpose is to house the shechinah, to bring glory to all Israel. Would anyone say that the Beis Hamikdosh is what its all about, and the rest of Eretz Yisrael is just second rate land ? Of course not.

Shabbat - Separated from the rest of the week for special ruchniyut. Is Shabbat holier than the rest of the week? Sure. However its purpose is to remind us that G-s is in our lives the rest of the week. Would anyone say that the week is just a waste of time, and Shabbos the main event ? On the contrary, Shabbat is what helps us survive the rest of the week.

Jews - Separated from the rest of humanity for a special mission. Are they holier than the rest of the world ? In a way yes. However their mission is to show the rest of the world what G-d is. Would anyone say that the rest of the world are just background players to help Jews ? On the contrary, the Jews are there to help the rest of the world.

In all these cases there is a common theme. The singular is both superior to the general and subservient to it. The singular is seperate from the general, yet its whole focus is on behalf of the general.

I think a similar idea was expresed by Rabbi Yishmael (Introduction to Sifrah):

Anything that was included in the general, but was then singled out from the general to teach something, was not singled out to teach only about itself, but to apply its teaching to the whole generality.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Faith & Reason Confusion II

Faith and Reason are not a dichotomy. They are not even a continuum. Behind every article of faith there is some reason, and behind every reason there is some faith. There is no such thing as pure reason, ultimately you get back to some fundamental premise which is unprovable. Likewise, there is no such thing as pure blind faith (for sane people), there is always some reason behind it. Its all just a matter of degree.

So, we can talk about Faith-Reason-Postulates (FRP) which are relatively more convincing and those FRP's which are relatively less convincing. Of course, 'convincing' depends on your point of view, and ultimately depends on a whole framework of other FRP's.

So, all reasoning is somewhat circular. Why be rational ? Because its rational to be rational. However its also irrational to be irrational, so whats the difference ? Hmmm. OK, lets try this then. Forget all this philosophy stuff, lets just appeal to common sense. But what is common sense. Is it not just another system of FRP's ?

I think I need to lie down for a bit.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Faith & Reason Confusion

Another important post.

One of the most significant underlying themes running through many of our discussions here has been that of Faith, Reason and Doubt. However I think many people, both on the right and the left are making a fundamental mistake here.

Clearly, there are aspects of religion that require faith. G-d’s existence is difficult to prove (or disprove), faith is appropriate and rational. There are also areas where reason fails us. For example, explaining how a perfectly good G-d can tolerate or even cause evil in the world is beyond human comprehension. I have no issues with having faith in matters which are beyond our ability to resolve. Science too has such areas, for example Quantum Physics is pretty strange. And, if you are an Atheist, you still have to expplain where everything comes from.

However, I think many people are confused on this issue. I keep seeing comments from people saying that reason will get me nowhere, I must just have faith.

I agree that the paradox of free will vs hashgachah, or the question of bad things happening to good people, may be inherently unresolvable. But the question of what happened 6,000 years ago, or what happened 65 million years ago are not. It may be difficult, there may always be gaps, but its not inherently a paradoxical or unresolvable situation.

If archeologists or scientists uncover reliable evidence as to historical events, it is disengenuous to claim that we must have faith, and trying to resort to reason won’t get us anywhere. Its simply not true.

If you have emunah that Orthodox Judaism (in some form), is true, and if you have emunah that Science (in some form) is also true, then it is quite realistic to expect both of these ideas to work well together, with few contradictions. Figuring out peshat in Breishis is not some paradoxical mystery that we can never solve as humans. Trying to discern what exactly happened with the Mesorah since Sinai is not some deep unknowable seceret. All of these events are events that happened to real people in the real world (or not). To claim that these are deep issues which we can never understand is simply not true.

My point is this:

While I am happy to discuss issues such as hashgachah prattis, G-ds existence and the like, I realize that ultimately reason may fail us with these topics, and we have to resort to faith. I have faith, and I am happy with it.

However, in trying to figure out whether there was a global flood or not, reason can be used quite reasonably. If it didn’t happen, and the Torah seems to say it did, then we should be able to be rational and figure it out.

Ku Ku Kuchu


The original post just had the chicken poster, with me wondering whether it was for real or not. But comments by kishke ridiculing me for thinking it could possibly be real got me thinking.

One poster says that believing the world to be millions of years old is nonsense. The poster on the right says clucking like a chicken will make you happy. No reason for either statement is given, and in fact both statements are contrary to reason.

Both posters seem to make a faith-based claim. So why should there be any difference ? Is it the fact that the ban poster has some signatures ? If so, would kishke do the chicken dance if that had signatures too ?

Customer Satisfaction Survey: Important

This is important. At least relative to some of my other posts. Most of the comments posted on my blog expressed support for my current mix of content. However in private, quite a few people have voiced complaints. These complaints include:

  1. Too much kefirah (lite)
  2. Too much godol / chareidi bashing
  3. Too much deconstructing other people's ideologies and not enough constructing my own

Let me address each one of these in turn.

1. Too much kefirah

Its true, I do push the envelope. Intentionally. I find it stimulates debate. And many of my opinions are not actually kefirah at all. Many times I have been called a kofer, and have double checked with my Rabbi only to find that its a legitimate opinion held by some Rishon or Acharon. Of course, from a fundamentalist standpoint, its all kefirah. Thats why I used to have a warning on the title, 'Not for Fundamentalists'. If you are a fundamentalist, and aer not interested in debating the issues, this blog is NOT for you.

Let me state again, very explicitly:

This blog aims to explore hashkafah. To do so, we need to explore various areas of thought. I will sometimes (often?) post provocative ideas, intended to spur discussion. I am not advocating kefirah, nor am I advocating that poeple give up being frum. This is not a skeptic, anti-Torah, or anti-frum web site. On the contrary, I am very interested in constructing a rational, frum hashkafah. That is one of my main goals. I am frum, and I intend to stay that way. I do not mean to give anyone doubts. If by reading this blog you have new doubts, STOP READING ! I cannot be responsible for your doubts. And anyway, if your entire emunah dissolves from reading my blog, I think you may have bigger problems.

2. Too much godol / chareidi bashing

Its true, there has been some of that. They deserved it ! However we should let bygones be bygones. I will still bash certain attitudes, but as they say, “Hate the sin, not the sinner”. I will try to avoid bashing any individuals or groups. I will remove any offending comments or posts. Even the Kiruv Clowns will not be attacked. After all, as one commentator noted, aren’t I just a Kefirah Clown ?

3. Too much deconstructing other people's ideologies and not enough constructing my own

I reject this accusation. I have spent a lot of time presenting new ideas. However for people to be receptive to new ideas, I think you have to show them what’s wrong with their current ideas. Also, I think there is a general lack of realization of what the problem is. To get to a solution, you first need to acknowledge you have a problem. Kind of like the 12 step program to a new Hashkafah ™. Still, I will try to place more focus on construction and less on destruction.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Machshavah Lives ! But only if you're Christian

I recently received a catalog from Eisenbrauns, a publisher and book store specializing in scholarly books on Middle eastern and Biblical Studies. Its eye-opening to see how many people are studying such Toyradick subjects in great detail. Of course their conclusions and thought patterns are not so Toyradick. However, are we to discount their opinions, just because they are not frum, or in many cases not even Jewish ?

Lets say we have a Rabbi, with a good, broad knowledge of Judaism. And then lets say we have a Professor of Bible studies who is a practising Christian. The Rabbi has learnt Koheles a couple of times, probably in Shul on Succot. The Professor has spent 20 years studying nothing else. Whose insights will be better ? Who has more credibility ? Can one possibly study Koheles (or any other Jewish text) without a deep appreciation for Judaism as a whole? Without being a practicing Jew ? Without being Orthodox ?

Contrary to my usual stance, I'm not even going to fake a confident opinion on this one. I could hear it both ways. However, its certainly a bizayon that we have killed machshavah, whilst the non Orthodox and Christians are shteiging away.

Anyway, here are three books that caught my eye. Are they valuable ? Or will they be so far from my worldview as to not be worth reading ? The only way to decide is to read them I guess. Its my birthday soon, and if you enjoy my blog, this might be a nice way to show your appreciation. Alternatively, if you don't like to spend your money on possible kefirah, the new Artscroll Ramban looks nice too.

Creation and Destruction
A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory in the Old Testament
David T. Tsumura

In 1989, David Tsumura published a monograph entitled The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A linguistic Evaluation, in which he demonstrated that the oft-recited claim that the early chapters of Genesis betrayed a background or adaptation by Israel of mythological terms and/or motifs from other ancient Near Eastern literature could not be supported by a close examination of the linguistic data. Despite the book’s positive reception, the notion that the Chaoskampf motif lies behind the early chapters of Genesis continues to be rehearsed in the literature as if the data were incontrovertible. In this revised and expanded edition of the 1989 book, Tsumura carries the discussion forward. In part 1, the general thesis of the original work is restated in a significantly revised and expanded form; in part 2, he expands the scope of his research to include a number poetic texts outside the Primeval History, texts for which scholars often have posited an ancient Near Eastern mythological substratum. Tsumura’s conclusions are important reading for all who work in the biblical texts dealing with creation.

The End of Wisdom
A Reappraisal of the Historical and Canonical Function of Ecclesiastes
Martin A. Shields

Through the ages, the book of Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) has elicited a wide variety of interpretations. Its status as wisdom literature is secure, but its meaning for the religion of the Hebrew Bible and its heirs has been a matter of much debate. The debate has swung from claiming orthodoxy for the book to arguing that the message intended by its author is heterodox. There are a number of passages in the book that present difficulties for any comprehensive approach to the work. Martin Shields here fully acknowledges the heterodox nature of Qoheleth’s words but offers an orthodox reading of the book as a whole through the eyes of the author of the epilogue.

Deuteronomic Theology and the Significance of Torah: A Reappraisal
Peter T. Vogt

One of the few areas of consensus in modern Deuteronomy scholarship is the contention that within the book of Deuteronomy there is a program of reform that was nothing short of revolutionary. Although there are divergent views regarding the specific details of this revolutionary program, most scholars agree that, in fundamental and profound ways, Deuteronomy was radical in its vision. This vision was expressed in key ideas: centralization of worship, secularization, and demythologization (of earlier traditions). However, Vogt argues that these ideas fail to account adequately for the data of the text of Deuteronomy itself. Instead, he claims, at the heart of Deuteronomic theology is the principle of the supremacy of Yahweh, which is to be acknowledged by all generations of Israelites through adherence to Torah.

Hello. Is there anybody out there ?

It seems that I have some very devoted and regular readers who just never leave any comments. I'll excuse the Roshei Yeshivot, its a little pass-nisht for them. However the rest of you, what gives ? Some have told me that they feel intimidated by their lack of knowledge. Well, that hasn't ever stopped me ! Some are concerned that they will get jumped on. So here is a special post just for you. Comments to this post require no knowledge, wit or anything else. Just your name, and some info as to what you like. And nobody will get jumped on, I promise.

Also, for those people concerned about their identity, a poster cannot be identified by another poster, unless you leave some identifying information. I am the only person who can see your IP address, but that only identifies the company you are using for internet access, so unless you work for a one man company which owns its own servers, there is no way for you to be identified. Sometimes its possible to identify someone's location at the city or county level. So unless you live in a one man city or county, you needn't worry about that either.

Finally, some people are scared to make the jump from observers to participators. What can I say ? No pain, no gain.

When did CRoss-Currents turn into Pravda Neeman


Wow. I just saw this on Cross-Currents. Whats up with them ? Are they turning into a Chareidi bashing site ? When did Marvin Schick turn into Menachem Plaurt ? I think someone needs to investigate. If Cross-Currents takes over the Chareidi bashing I will have no choice but to start MO bashing.

OK. I'm just kidding. he didn't. However he does have some very relevant criticism for the Chareidi comunity:

Is This What G-D Wants of Us?

Filed under:
General — Marvin Schick @ 4:17 pm
The current issue of Yated Ne’Eman (U.S. edition) has a letter from a fellow who extols the trips that were available during Chol Hamoed. He writes: “It comforted me that we were surrounded by Yidden only, and were not exposed to the hashpa’ah of some of the parks and sites that were not open exclusive to Yidden on Chol Hamoed. Next year, may we be in Yerushalyim Ir Hakodesh.”

(I will not dwell on the inadvertently mistaken reference to Jerusalem. Alas, if the letter writer were there during Pesach and went to the places frequented by charedim – as a notable example, the Zoo – he will for sure encounter a significant number of people who are not Jewish. I hope that he does not decide against going to Israel on this ground.)

It is understandable that people want to be together with those who whom they are comfortable, whether the other people are friends or colleagues or of the same age group or the same ethnic group. This is an acceptable and far-reaching social phenomenon. If an Orthodox Jew wants to go to an event or a place where the other people are Orthodox, that too is certainly acceptable. I believe that the message conveyed in the letter to Yated is not acceptable because essentially it speaks not of wanting to be together with one’s own but not wanting to be with people who are inferior. Putting aside the relevant question as to whether such a position is legally defensible, I believe that it is despicable.

We have been on these shores for approximately two generations. We have benefited from the blessings of liberty, from the ideal of tolerance. Do we expect that others will respect us if we can’t show a modicum of respect toward them? I am increasingly pessimistic about what is happening in much of Orthodox life. I do not want to develop this theme, except to say that dislike of others is a dynamic force. What will be in another two generations?

Is this what G-D wants of us?

Marvin says " I am increasingly pessimistic about what is happening in much of Orthodox life." However I think anti-goy attitudes are nothing new, they are fairly normative, based on 2000 years of our mesorah. Of course there are good reasons, including much anti-semitism over the years. However the numerous anti-goy statements in the mesorah cannot be denied. Complaining about current anti-goy attitudes is valuable, however I think we also need to address the real reasons behind it, and acknowledge that some of our mesorah may be to blame.

Fawning Customer Satisfaction Post

My company just completed their Customer Satisfaction Survey. Guess what ? We suck. Oh well. However, that got me thinking: Just how much do people like my blog ? Am I satisfying my customers ?

I have a very diverse readership on this blog. It includes Gedolim, Roshei Yeshivot, other bloggers, Kiruv Clowns, skeptics, the staff of Cross-Currents, heretics, yeshivah bochrim, RW MO’s, LW UO’s, LW MO’s, RW UO’s, many characters from the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, the Pope, DovBear, my parents, my siblings, my Rabbis, my neighbours, my friends, my enemies, men, women, teenagers (though under 20’s are officially banned), my wife and small furry creatures from alpha-centauri. Just kidding, of course my wife doesn’t read my blog. But the rest do, just check the list below if you don't believe me.

One problem I have with such a diverse readership is that some people like the letzonus and funny stuff, but others hate it. Some like the hashkafah but others find it boring. Personally I like focused blogs. When I go to Hirhurim I go to see Torah. I don’t go there for jokes and I don’t want to see jokes there either. DovBear on the other hand has all sorts of stuff, which is interesting, but you never know what you will find.

I was discussing this recently with a female commentator and she remarked that she is the opposite. She likes a well-rounded multi-dimensional blog like DovBear, but is less interested in a one issue blog.

This is probably a man-woman thing. Women commentators like intimacy and personality from their blogs. Men commentators like focused issue-oriented blogs. This explains why DB gets so many women readers.

So, in the interests of reader satisfaction, which of these do you like?

a) Letzonus
b) Humor but no Letzonus
c) Hashkafah (classic)
d) Hashkafah (mine)
e) Kefirah (lite)
f) Pop culture references (mostly 70’s rock I’m afraid)
g) MO vs UO commentary
h) Chareidi bashing
i) Pesach Hotels & Food
j) Cross-Currents bashing
k) DovBear bashing : ^ )
l) Personal stuff

Also, a big thank you to all my commentators. I may sometime be rude to you, but I enjoy your comments. And, lets face it, a blog without comments is pretty sad.

&, מכון &, ..., .com Jew, 4jkb4ia, a, A Nonny Mouse, A poshut Yid, a reader, a.j, aaron, abdullah, abiebaby, ADAM, ADDeRabbi, Agno, Akiva Atwood, Al Gore, Alan, Alan Scott, Allan, almoni, Amazed, AMSHINOVER, AMSHINOVER\\\'s 2nd grade rebb, An MO Rabbi, Andrew, Anon, anony, Anonymous, Anonymous #3, Anonymous 2, Anonymous II, Anonymous III, Anonymous IV, anonymous543, AnonyOne, ar, ari, aryeh calvin, Avi, avian30, AviB, Avraham, baalabus, BaisYankevGrrrrl, Barefoot Jewess, Been There, BeenThere, Ben Avuyah, Ben Sorer Moreh, ben-david, Benjy Mouse, Billy Bob, Binyomin, bishel akum, bishul akum, bkochba, Bloggeroo, bluke, Bnei Levi, bob, BobtheBuilder, bored, Boruch, Brit, BrooklynWolf, Bruce Lokeinsky, Carl, Chabad Skeptic, Chaim, chaim klein, challenged, ChamsiBoy, chill_out, chugubugi, Classico, commentator, Conservative (Masorti) Apikori, Conservative Apikoris, Conservative apikorus, Cosmic X, curious, cynic, d, Da\'as Hedyot, Da'as Hedyot, daat y, Dan, Danny, Dash Riprock, dave, David, Deeni, DentArthurDent, Der Alter, DiffAnon, dilbert, Dirk, Dirk Gently, Divrei Yashar, DNA, Does It Matter, Dov, DovBear, Dude, DZ, Eemie, El Chacham, elf, Eli, Eli7, Eliyahu, Emes, Enigma, Enigma4U, Enimga, Essie, f, f. greenstein, Ford, Foxtrot, Franky, Franky Mouse, from zurich, FrumAdults, Frummer, Frummer?, Frumteen, Gag Halfrunt, getting nowhere, Gil, Godol Hador, grammar and granpa, grend123, HAGTBG, HAGTBGF, Hanan, hayim, Herbert, Heshy Grossman, I WAS FIRST, imainish, Inquiring Mind, INterested, Irving, Isaac, J, j mason, Jabez, jboogs, JC, Jewish Exile, jewishwhistleblower, JJ, Joe, joe blow, Joe Schick, Joe Socher, JoeCool, John, Jonathan, Jordan, Josh, joshua, jScott Trapp, Just passing by, Just Passing Through, just wondering, Justice, justpassinby, Kane, Karl, King Edward, kishke, klal yisrael, kochav, ktonton, Larry Lennhoff, Lawrence, Lawrence Kaplan, ld, leapa, Levi, Lipman, Lisa, littleme, LkwdGuy, lonevoiceofreason, LostSpirit, Lumpy Rutherford, MagicThize, marbeh shalom, Mark, Marvin, Masorti, Matisyahu Rosenblum, Matt, Matzav, mayer, me, MegaYid, mendel, micha, Michael, Michael Agishtein, Michoel, Mikeskeptic, miketab, Mirty, misnaged, Mis-nagid, MK, MO, mochiach, Modeh B'Miktzas, moishe, Moshe, muoyg, My take on this, nachum klafter, nahari, nameless, NCO chassid, Neklaf, Ner Guy, NH, NIRCRules, nitpicker, No One Special, Nosson, Not A Fan, npaulovic, Observant, Observer, original anon, orthomom, Orthoprax, p_almonius, Paul, pbp, PeerHador, Perplexed without a Guide, Ploni, Ploni Almoni, Plonimus, PN Staff, Pope Benedict XVI, postdoc, Pravda Ne'eman, PreShabbos, Prostetnic Jelz, psychotoddler, pw, pysillium, pysllium, Q, Questioning, Rabbinical Authority Consortiu, rachack, rashi's daughter, reading this, Reb Yudel, Rebecca, rebeljew, rebelmo, ReelRabbi, Rene LaGroop, repost, reuven, Reuven Klein, Ricker Aish, Rivka, rmanber, ROBERT, Ron Mann, Roosta, Rube Vogel, Rupert, rusker, S, S., Sam, Sam I Am, Sara, Sarah, sattvaman, Schmarty Pants, ScientificTorahBlogObserver, ScientificTorahBlogObserverPer, SephardiLady, Several Unnamed Gedolim and at, Shayne Shiksa, Shifra, Shimon, ShimonMoshe, Shistly, Shiur Chodosh, Shloimy, Shlomo, Shmarya, Shmilu, sholombare, sideliner, sigal, Silver Spring, SK, Skeptic, SL Aronovitz, SMS, Someone who doesn't understand, SP, SpaceFalcon2001, SS, Stam, Statler, Steg (dos iz nit der steg), Steve Brizel, stevie wonder, still wonderin', stillwonderin', Stu, Student of R. Samet, Stx, sultan_knish, SYS, ta, tafkaa, tafkaa, MVP (OC), thanbo, The Jewropean, The Hedyot, the junior, The Rabbis Kid, thom, tmeishar, Toby Katz, Traveler, UT, vaynreykh, VOS IZ NEIAS, Vroomfondel, Wasting Time, well, duh, anonymous, Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolo, Y. Meyerowitz, yaak, yaakov, yingele, Yisrael Asper, Yisroel, Yitz, Yitzhak, YK, yoinosonschreiber, Yoni Doe, Yos, yoseph leib, Yossi, you know who, yummy, Zal, Zalman, Zaphod, Zem, Zev, Zvi, Zvi Aaron.

The Machshavah Index

I have been thinking about this idea for a while. There are hundreds and thousands of Seforim, Books, Magazine articles and other sources on all the various aspects of Machshavah / Hashkafah. Some are well known in layman's circles, such as Moreh Nevuchim, and some are less well known such as Cassutto's commentary on Breishis.

What is sorely needed is some kind of index to all of this content. The index would reference the best works on each topic, with a brief summary. The index should include representative material from all strands of Orthodox Judaism, and possibly some Non-Orthodox stuff too.

With a project of this nature, its easy to get lost in analysis paralysis, or become the victim of scope creep. But have no fear, I am a highly experienced project manager who regularly manages multi-million dollar projects on time and within budget. Ok, that was a wee lie, they are always late and over budget, but hey, thats typical.

I have already assembled quite a library at home, though if I spend much more money on Amazon my wife will get really mad, so I need to be careful. I can no longer afford to buy a book just on a whim. So this index is important.

I shall be Project Manager, but I need content providers. Is anyone up for the job ?

Here is the plan.

1. Determine Technology & Process
2. Determine Categorization Scheme
3. Develop Index Framework
4. Develop Content (ongoing)
5. Review and post content.

Please let me know what you think, and if you can help.

Thanks !

Out of Date Machshavah Mavens

Some people seem to be Machshavah Mavens. I don't want to single out anyone in particular for fear of insulting anyone else, but these people seem to know all the various sources backwards, at least as far as the Rishonim and Acharonim are concerned. I know some Moreh Nevuchim quite well, but I'm pretty weak when it comes to Ramban, Maharal and others.

As I explained previously, I learned in UO schools and they just don't teach that stuff, at least not the schools I went to. So, how is one supposed to figure out where the good sources are ? Is there some reference work, or do I have to read the entire works of the Rambam, Ramban, Maharal and everyone else for that matter ? How did these guys get so darn knowledgeable ? (Probably by sitting and learning as opposed to Blogging I assume).

For the Science and Torah debate, thanks to the efforts of Rabbi Slifkin and others, there is now a nice collection of sources all in one place on that topic. But what about miracles, hashgachah prattis, techiyas hamaysim and other such topics ?

Also, its patently obvious that the Rishonim were highly influenced by the surrounding Wisdom and Science of their day, especially the Rambam. Its also patently obvious that the Science and Wisdom of today is radically different. No one can reasonably deny either of those two statements. So it seems likely that if the Rishonim were alive today, their views on some of these topics might be radically different too.

Therefore, being mavens on the Rishonim, and even the Acharonim, must ultimately be of limited value. It would be ludicrous to base our entire worldview on medieval or even 18th Century philosophy. It requires to be updated.

Of course some things are timeless, and we can't change our Hashkafah for every passing fad either, but I get the sense that all we are seeing nowadays is sanitized, Godol approved, fluff. Nobody has any trouble jettisoning half of Rambam's philosophy about spheres and the like. So who says the rest of it is good ? We clearly need contemporary (Orthodox) works which deal with these issues properly.

Are there any 'honest' current (Orthodox) treatments of these subjects ? Or is all we have lobotomized Artscroll compilations ? Even RYBS is somewhat out of date, having based much of his Science views on pre-war and immediate post-war Science. Is there anyone today honestly and sensibly addressing these issues (in English) ?

Or is Machshavah / Hashkafah really dead and buried ?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

We have become comfortably numb

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Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?

The last 100 years or so have seen amazing advances in all areas of secular knowledge. In fact, in some areas, our knowledge is now doubling every decade ! Things which seemed in the realm of Science Fiction just a few years ago are now reality.

Come on now.
I hear you're feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain,
Get you on your feet again.

However, it must be acknowledged that along with this new knowledge come some disturbing discoveries. We now know more than ever about our current world, and also our past. Some of this new knowledge directly contradicts some of our cherished beliefs and opinions.

I need some information first.
Just the basic facts,
Can you show me where it hurts?

So what is our reaction ? Do we proceed cautiously, examining the new facts carefully ? After all, in a religion which values truth, that would seem appropriate. Do we consult with the experts ? Perhaps people trained in these new disciplines, but also sympathetic to Torah ? No ? Do we then search back in our own tradition, for great scholars who have faced similar challenges, and analyze their reactions ? What’s that you say , no, no, no ?!

When I was a child I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I got that feeling once again.
I can't explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

So what do we do ?

We run in the opposite direction ! New knowledge ? New machshavah ? Chas Vesholom ! Treif ! Kefirah ! Forbidden ! If the Rishonim didn’t say it, then how can we ! After all, we are not the Rishonim ! No, we must base our reaction to modern science on 1,000 year old opinions. We musn’t think anything new ! Chas Vesholom.

But wait. Aren’t there some rationalist Rishonim ? Haven’t we heard of some rationalist Acharonim ? Some bright sparks in a millenia of medieval and Eastern European superstition ? Some courageous individuals who dared swim against the flow ?

There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're sayin'.

No ! We can’t hold like them. We can’t follow their mehalech. We can’t develop their machshavah. Chas Vesholom ! We must be as fundamentalist as possible. We must reject change. We must reject new thought. We are too little. We are too small. What can we do ? We can’t. We just can’t.

Ok. Just a little pinprick.
There'll be no more ...Aaaaaahhhhh!
But you may feel a little sick.
Can you stand up?
I do believe it's working. Good.
That'll keep you going for the show.
Come on it's time to go.

But don’t get depressed. No need for that at all. We will become so foolish, that we will actually think our positions are rational ! A global flood ? Sure, it could happen. Two million people leaving Egypt, an army of 600,000 men, the largest fighting force ever assembled in those times ? Sure ! Plus, we can prove Har Sinai. How many other religions claim such a mass revelation ? None ! So it must be true ! And anyway, our Gedolim are experts in all secular wisdom. They know more than the Scientists after all. So no need to worry at all.

When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

If we are sincere Jews, then we must believe that some form of Judaism is correct. If we are rational thinkers, then we must believe that much of the Science is correct too. If both are correct, then some form of Judaism, coupled with some form of Science must correlate. It cannot be possible that G-d expects us to use our rational powers in all areas of life except for religion. There must be an attempt to reconcile Judaism with the facts.

Its not kefirah. It’s a chiyuv.

Sideliner describes Judaism

The following summary of Judaism was written by one of my commentators, sideliner. Its a pretty accurate account of the state of Judasim today, and in fact fairly accurately describes the state of Judaism for the last 3000 years.

And so dear friends, we have a new religion emerging, or should I say being discovered. We don't know where it's heading, science must keep leading the way. Our sources are in the dark, and what they really are saying will constantly be reevaluated based on our new discoveries of the world. The facts, the basic premises, the history, all of it, is constantly changing.

The ironic thing is that sideliner thought he was being sarcastic.

Its all a miracle !

Bluke writes: Here is a very partial list of supernatural events described in the Torah and Neveim. Please say whether you believe that they happened or not and how you understand them. If you do believe in these then how is this different then the stories about the Ari, if you don't then do you think you are still orthodox?

1. Mabul: A local flood in mesopotamia. There were many such floods. Whats the big deal ?
2. Dor haflaga: Probably a comment on Babylonian culture. See Sarna, Cassutto et al.
3. Avraham fighting against the 4 Kings and winning:He had a better fighting force, plus siyato dishmayo. How is this equivalent to talking trees ?
4. The Akeida: Firstly, nobody really understands the akeidah. Secondly, the facts are easily explained. Abraham had a vision to go sacrifice Yitzchak. As he was about to do it, he had another vision to stop.
5. Yaakov fighting with a malach: Nobody really understands this either. It could be a moshol of some kind, or a vision.
6. The whole story of Yosef's sale: Az mah ?
7. Yosef being the second most powerful man in Egypt: Quite possible. Read 'Israel in Egypt' by Hoffmeier.
8. The story of Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim: Read Hoffmeier. Obviously midrashim about them having 36 babies at one time are not to be taken literally.
9. The burning bush: Minor volcanic vent underneath the bush.
10. The Makkos: Read 'Miracle of Exodos' by Colin Humphrey. Very explainable, even has a theory for Makat Bechorot.
11. Krias Yam Suf: Read Humphrey. Freak wind caused waters to recede.
12. The manna that they ate for 40 years: Humphrey. You missed the amud esh and amud anan. Also Humphrey (volcanic eruptions).
13. The be'er that they drank from in the midbar: Humphrey.
14. The fact that Bnei Yisrael were in the midbar for 40 years : They got lost ? Seriously, what the kashye. Of course there weren't 2 million of them. Bedouins live in the desert.
15. Revelation at Sinai: Thunder & Lightening, Vision. Of course I am not denying Torah miSinai. However you don't need to define this as an above nature miracle. The Rambam and others were very interested in figuring out a theory of nevuah.
16. Who made the luchos?: Moshe.
17. The sun stopping for Yehoshua:I believe the Maharal has a whole sefer where he tries to explain this. Anyone familiar ?
18. Eliyahu hanavi bringing down fire from heaven: Questionable, not sure.
19. Elisha and the miracle of the oil: Not sure. Haven't looked into it.
20. Elisha and Eliyahu resurrecting the dead: They weren't really dead. Just in persistent vegatative states.
21. Hashem talking to Moshe panim el panim: Vision.

Of course we don't have good explanations for all of these yet. However I am confident that one day we will, with advances in our understanding.

What is interesting, is that the vast majority of cases of miracles in the Torah are speciifcally NOT bizzare things such as talking trees or two headed monsters. Compared to other mythological works of that period, the Torah is very different. If weird miracles were common place, why would the Rambam take bilaams donkey to be a dream ? Can G-d not make a donkey talk ? Clearly, all the great baalei machshavah such as the Rambam and the Maharal tried to limit miracles as much as possible. We may not have all the answers yet, but one day we will have. I am sure that it will turn out that everything was bderech hatevah. Of course, derech hatevah is itself one big miracle, being mechadesh bchol yom.

Regarding the Ari. Vital was probably speaking allegorically. We talk about body language or the language of love, the language of birds and trees is no different. Speech of angels could certainly have been a vision. Tzfat and communities like that were steeped in mysticism and superstition. Its only natural that it rubbed off on people. Funny how the stories of Gedolim with super powers always seems to correlate with the surrounding culture's attitudes to superstition. Kind of like how alien abductions always seem to happen to white trash in trailer parks. How many WASP's from Connnecticut have ever been abducted by aliens ? How many rationalist Gedolim had magic powers ?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Can one be rational and frum ?

Rabbi Chayim Vital on the ARI:

"The Ari overflowed with Torah. He was thoroughly expert in Tanach, Mishnah, Talmud, Pilpul, Midrash, Agadah, Ma'aseh Bereshit and Ma'aseh Merkavah. He was expert in the language of trees, the language of birds, and the speech of angels. He could read faces in the manner outlined in the Zohar (2:74b). He could discern all that any individual had done, and could see what they would do in the future. He could read people's thoughts, often before the thought even entered their mind. He knew future events, was aware of everything happening here on earth, and what was decreed in heaven. He knew the mysteries of gilgul [Reincarnation], who had been born previously, and who was here for the first time. He could look at a person and tell him how he was connected to the Supernal Man, and how he was related to Adam. He could read wondrous things [about people] in the light of a candle or in the flame of a fire. With his eyes he gazed and was able to see the souls of the righteous, both those who had died recently and those who had lived in ancient times. With these he studied the true mysteries. By a person's scent he was able to know all that he had done, an ability that the Zohar attributes to the holy Yenuka [Child] (3:188a). It was as if all these mysteries were lying in his bosom, waiting to be activated whenever he desired. He did not have to mitboded [seclude himself] to seek them out. All this we saw with our own eyes. These are not things that we heard from others. They were wondrous things that had not been seen on earth since the time of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. None of this was attained through magic, heaven forbid. There is a strong prohibition against these arts. Instead, it came automatically, as a result of his saintliness and asceticism, after many years of study in both the ancient and the newer Kabbalistic texts. He then increased his piety, asceticism, purity and holiness until he reached a level where Eliyahu HaNavie (Elijah the prophet) would constantly reveal himself to him, speaking to him "mouth to mouth," teaching him these mysteries. "

Clearly, irrational nonsense is not limited to the current extremist Gedolim. There is a long tradition of it in Orthodox Judaism. Can one be rational and frum ? Maybe, but you probably have to cut out large chunks of the mesorah to do so.

Look Before You Leap

Its amazing how much nonsense is still being talked about the ban. If you want the facts, read this.

Not one Godol has ever written a pesak of 100% kefirah on the books, nor will they ever. I guarantee it. R Eliashiv told R Feldman that the books were kinda like kefirah. R Moshe Shapiro used strong language in his letter, but privately has told people its not really actual kefirah mamsh. The Gedolim have all agreed that Slifkin does not have a din of kofer. Use your brains people. If the books were kefirah mamash, then obviously Slifkin would be a kofer, wouldn't he ? The obvious truth is that the books are not actual kefirah.

However, it is equally true that these Gedolim are quite insistent in that they want to ban the books. More importantly, they want to ban the line of thinking that the books represent i.e. That Science can trump mesorah and that Chazal were fallible. Clearly, they used strong words in the hope of impressing people. If they had said 'The books are technically okay but we really don't want people reading them' it wouldn't have been much of a ban now, would it ? Use your brains !

As the artist presently known as Anonymous said on Hirhurim: 'Its a social policy issue'. Dead right. Its not about who said what, or which Rishonim or Acharonim can be dredged up. Its about what the Gedolim feel is the correct mehalech for 'Torah True' Judaism in the 21st Century. Period. Thats what it is.

Quoting the Rambam, the Tiferes Yisrael, Rav Kook or Dr Kenny is a waste of time. I think the Gedolim, at least the ones who matter, are quite aware of these sources. However its completely irrelevant. As they are the Gedolim, its well within their purview to make any kind of social policy statement they wish.

There are various reasons why these Gedolim want the ban. Of course it varies from Godol to Godol. Some just signed to go with the flow. R Eliashiv and R Moshe Shapiro are clearly the principle authorities here, most of the other signatories can be ignored.

Trying to discern their exact reasoning like some kind of pilpul is ultimately an exercise in frustration though. Its like trying to figure out why someone likes the color blue. They have a feeling that they don't like the books, based in varying degrees on a variety of reasons. Some Gedolim are concerned about the tone of the books. Others about the slippery slope. Most don't fully appreciate Science and think its an anti-religion movement. Some were persuaded with stories from the kannoim. Most lack the courage and or the desire to legitimize a strain of thought which could get quite tricky from their point of view.

This is the reason why no Godol has ever come forth and explained in detail why the ban exists. Its because there is no technical reason. Its a long list of facts and feelings, which varies from Godol to Godol. Kinda hard to explain that to the masses, isn't it? From the Gedolim's perspective, the exact reasoning shouldn't really matter anyway, since we are supposed to hold them in high esteem and listen to them regardless.

I think its quite possible that had they not been gotten to by the kannoim, and instead been given a good course in Science and social reality of the 21st century, we would have had quite a different outcome. But thats not going to happen. They have articulated their policy and they are going to stick with it.

As its abundantly clear that the Science is correct, it would appear to most sensible people that pursuing such a policy is short sighted at best, and downright dangerous at worst. But this is the inevitable result of handing the reigns of leadership to a bunch of elderly scholars, with an extremely narrow range of education and a very sheltered existence. What exactly did you expect ?

Of course, if you regard these scholars as having Ruach Hakodesh, then there is no debate either. They are clearly correct and there is no point in arguing. The debate only starts if you hold the Gedolim are fallible.

Within the context of the Chareidi community, there is really nothing wrong with the content of the ban itself, since the Gedolim have the requisite authority and capability to decide such things. The process of the ban appears to some chareidim deeply flawed and is quite troubling to them, others take the approach that its the Gedolim so they must be OK.

Of course from outside the community, both the process of the ban and the content of the ban appear quite wrong.

Where Orlofsky screwed up was in trying to rationalize the ban. From a purely rational perspective, the Gedolim, the process and the ban all appear foolish and wrong. One can only justify the ban through a leap of faith, i.e. faith in the Gedolim and their judgement. You can't possibly debate reason and expect to win.

Being a fairly rational person, and not one prone to leaps of faith, I see little reason to trust these Gedolim's judgement in this issue, and many good reasons not to, so I don't. Leaps of blind faith are always very dangerous, and should be approached with extreme caution, and attempted only when absolutely neccessary. There are plenty of other Gedolim who don't hold of the ban, and it seems far more reasonable to hold like them. No leaps of faith are neccessary here.

Orlofsky is kinda stuck, since his Rebbe is the one requesting the faith. So Orlofsky has to decide if he's going to do it or not. If so, thats his choice. But call it what it is. Faith in a particular individual, against a good amount of reason. Not a position I would like to be in.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Progress !

Although I gave Clownofsky a hard time, I must admit a certain amount of progress has been made.


January Clownofsky: They are THE Gedolim so they MUST be right.

May Clownofsky: They are Gedolim so one mustn't criticise.

Who knows ? In another few months he may be back to quoting Slifkin on Jemsem again !

The Return of the Great Clownofsky !

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Its mamash min hashamayim. I was feeling that I had nothing to post, and then our favorite Kiruv Clown, Orlofsky, publishes a new letter !

A Letter From Rabbi Orlofsky

Dear JEMSEM Readers,
First of all, I would like to apologize for my less than perfect attendance record this past year. I have too many obligations and unfortunately, my JEMSEM responsibilities has been among the casualties.

READ: I have been spending all my time writing nasty letters about people !

One issue that has occupied a disproportionate amount of my time has been an unfortunate situation that I would like to address publicly for the first time. That is the issue of the kol koreh that was released some months ago regarding three of the works by Nosson Slifkin. I stress “publicly” because apparently two drafts of my letter were released to the public and so I have been thrust into responding to letters that I never meant to release. I am finally, as a result of the drafts that have been floating around, releasing my letter officially on JEMSEM, since this is the only official forum I have.

So he finally admits that they were his drafts !

First, I would like to establish a general approach to my answers offered on JEMSEM. Rabbi Tendler, who answers the “Ask The Posek” questions once sent me a question and asked me to respond. I told him it was a halachic question; I am not qualified to answer halachic questions. If he will tell me what the halacha is, I will do my best to explain why it is that way.
I suppose this approach could be described as apologetics; I prefer to see it as humility. In the words of the Sheriff in “Cool Hand Luke” (ask your grandparents) “A man has to know his limitations”.

Yes, you are very humble.

I have been accused on occasion as having no theology, meaning I don’t innovate a new approach to religion.

No, you have been accused of having no theology, meaning you have no clue, and simply regurgitate what other people say without ever thinking about it.

I agree. I have always tried to follow my Rebbeim and be true to their views, and I am neither a scholar nor perfect. None the less, I think I have done some good over the years presenting Torah positions in a way that people can understand and accept.

Very true. Your platonic relationship tape was very well received.

On JEMSEM we have discussed approaches to many questions. All the views expressed in my column represent my own understanding. I am sure I have made mistakes. Sometimes they are simple mistakes based on the fact that I have no editor. When I wrote an article for the HaModiah, it sometimes took weeks of writing and back and forth with my editor, as well as with the editorial board, before my articles were published.


On JEMSEM, I shoot off a response, sometimes stopping to reread it, sometimes not, before clicking the “SEND” button and that is it. No doubt all of my responses in the archives could use a good review and editing, but that is a task I must leave to others or I will never have time to write anything new.

Can we get to the point ?

Recently, however, it has come to my attention that I may have misled my JEMSEM readership. Several months ago, a letter was signed by many gedolei Torah establishing a halachic position regarding Torah and Science. The attitude that Chazal can be wrong when it comes to science was deemed to be illegitimate. Among the signatories was the person I consider to be my Rebbe, HaRav Moshe Shapiro Shlita.

As such, I have asked JEMSEM to take down my two responses regarding Torah and Science and request that those whom I may have misled please accept my apologies.

Finally, the kefirah comes down ! Shouldn't you be on your knees begging for forgiveness !

Let me make clear; I am not saying you have to accept my view on this subject. There are gedolei Torah who disagree and feel that it is acceptable to espouse such a view. But though I try to present all the Torah views on a subject, I personally try to express the views of my Torah authorities .

I will shortly be posting my latest draft of my “letter to no one in particular” on my understanding of the Slifkin affair. If you are interested, you can read it; if not, then don’t waste your time.

Oh please no. Not more letters !

I wrote this letter to clarify the issues for myself and for a number of B’nei and B’nos Torah who felt their emunas chachamim had been shaken. Usually there are two sides to an issue; Gadol A says this and Gadol B says that and everyone follows their Rebbe. In this case for some reason it became gedolim A say this and they are stupid, evil, irresponsible, etc.

You can agree with these gedolim or not, but it is inappropriate to attack them or question their competence.

This is where you are completely and utterly wrong. Do you still not get it ? The process was deeply flawed. Their behavior was irresponsible at best. By continuing to defend it, rather than trying to change the process, you are part of the problem, not the solution. Nobody else really agrees with you on this one. It may be innapropriate to be rude about them, but thats the extent of it. Their competence has certainly been called into question, by people greater than I.

That was my motivation for writing the letter. To allow those who wish to still believe in the gedolei Torah to at least understand their point of view.

Again, your fundamental mistake. These are not THE Gedolai Torah. In fact they may not even be Gedolai Torah, considering how they behave. One can certainly reject these people and still believe in Gedolei Torah.

Many people have chosen to close their eyes and wait for this all to go away. I considered that. But if there is one individual whose opinion I can affect and restore their emunas chachamim, then all the time I have spent and all the abuse I have been subjected to, is more than worthwhile.

If there is one individual whose opinion I can affect and make them realize that these people are not Gedolim, then all the time I have spent and all the abuse I have been subjected to, is more than worthwhile.

Sincerely,Dovid Orlofsky

Sincerely, Godol Hador.

Farewell, Yeshivah Bochrim

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Bayn Hazmanim is at an end, and all the Yeshivah Bochrim are going back to Yeshivah. Their erudite comments, impeccable civility and broad knowledge of both Torah and Secular subjects will be sorely missed.

Have a great zman guys !

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Driving on Saabath

Image hosted by I just got the latest issue of Viewpoint, the magazine of the Young Israel. It contains a number of articles and a full page ad about an electric wheelchair / scooter thingy which can be used on shabbos. The electrical system has been modified to use gramma, which is okay when there is a great tzorech. The system was approved by R Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.

The scooters have a large sign on them explaining what it is, I assume to prevent maaros ayin, embarassment, and possible stoning. The whole thing seems a little strange. Of course I applaud the efforts of the Zomet institute to find solutions such as these, and physically challenged individuals have my deepest sympathies, but it seems like trickery to me. Anyway, if R Auerbach says its okay, it must be.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIn other news, General Motors are working on a new Saab model. This one will be called The Saab-ath 97, and will have a modified engine developed by Zomet.

Drive to shul in style !

Time Travel Blues

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Some clever folks at MIT arranged a Time Traveller conference last night. The idea was that people (or other beings) from the future would travel back in time to the conference, thereby giving us proof that Time Travel will one day be invented. I heard about this last week and had really high hopes, but unfortunately it seems that no Time Travellers showed up.

If I had a Time Machine, the first thing I would do is go back to Har Sinai to see whats will haven going been on (time travel grammar can get quite confusing). Then, if everything checks out okay (I assume it will) I would-have-will go back to year 0 and see if I could find Adam. I wouldn't set the dials further back than 5765 years ago, just in case Gosse and the Lubavitcher Rebe was-were correct. I mean, I wouldn't want to bet my life on it ! So, unfortunately I would never be able to prove the age of the universe.

Anyway, then I would go forward in time to the 12th century and see what the Rambam would will say about Breishis in light of modern science. Then its off to 1990 to buy a ton of Microsoft Shares, and then on to 1999 to sell them all again.

Finally, I would go back to last week, find that post I wrote about my shverre and delete it, because the Rebbetzin just found it and she is mad as hell. Ouch.

Let this be a lesson to you (ok, me). Don't insult the in-laws. Unless you have a Time Machine.

The Death of Chareidi Machshava

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One of the key doctrines in the chareidi world is that of Yeridas Hadoros. Basically, this doctrine argues that each successive generation is lowlier than the preceding one, so we have less ability to argue or be mechadesh anything new. The practical upshot of this is that ultimately, the level of new discovery and thought in Judaism must by definition grind to a halt.

Traces of this are already evident. For example, Rav Elzas, a hyper-fundamentalist Rav in Israel criticized someone for daring to analyze the words of Rav Dessler. Also, look at the dearth of any new major baal machshavah in the Chareidi World. And fluffy Artscrolls such as 'The Mashgiach Speaks' which are nothing more than rehashed old stuff don't count.

One can also point to the MO world and argue that there are no new major baalei machshavah in evidence. However one could certainly arise, the barriers to entry are not that great. However in chareidi land, any original thought is punished by cherem or worse. Its unlikely that anyone will attempt it.

I give it maybe 50 years at most. After that there will be no new chareidi machshavah at all. Only new piskay halachah, and those will probably be chumras.

Meanwhile, the outside world is clearly operating on a notion of 'Aliyas Hadoros', or evolution. The level of knowledge and 'chiddush' in each successive generation is rising exponentially. I read that the sum total of all scientific knowledge is doubling every 20 years or so.

Currently, we have a bit of a gap between Science and Torah. However if you compare the relative trajectories of Torah Knowledge versus Secular Knowledge, it can only get worse. Much worse. This is a great shame.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Ma'amar Mevo Hashemesh

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Ma'amar Mevo Hashemesh

In which it is shewn that it is kefirah to believe the earth goes round the sun. Seriously. Its not a purim joke. A modern work, not from the 12th century. Author unknown.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Cross Currents

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Cross-Currents is an unusual blog. First of all, unlike many of the other JBlogs, it has a team of experienced writers. Secondly, all the writers appear to have a similar agenda. Third, comments are very tightly controlled. So who exactly is Cross-Currents ?

Cross-Currents provides a list of their contributors on the main page. However clicking on their names just produces a list of their posts. There is no bio. So I have had to research this myself. My method of research is as follows: I type the name into Google and see what comes up. I am generally too lazy to click to the second page of search results, but if its not on the first page, its probably not worth knowing anyway.

Emanuel Feldman
Rabbi Feldman needs no bio. He is a well known and respected Rabbi, formerly of Atlanta and now of Jerusalem. I would suggest he is the most senior member of the group. I'm not sure if really deep down he is quite modern in perspective, and just pretends to be more chareidi, or the other way around. Possibly both.

Eytan Kobre
Eytan writes many articles on various sites. However all I could find out about him is that he is a Manhattan based Attorney who lives in Queens.

Gedalia Litke
Another New York attorney. Don't know much else but he doesn't post much anyway so I don't really care.

Jeff Ballabon
I have no clue who he is.

Jonathan Rosenblum
Well known Chareidi Apologist, writes a column for the Jerusalem Post. A decent guy in my opinion (apart from the Chareidi Apologetics of course).

Marvin Schick
Marvin's own blog says "Marvin Schick has been writing on political and social issues affecting Jewish life in America for more than four decades" Well, I've been writing on political and social issues affecting Jewish life in America for more than four months now, and I'm just as well qualified to comment as he is.

Nosson Scherman
Rabbi Scherman is of course of Artscroll fame, he of the flowery introductions and chareidi-ized commentaries. I have heard that he is not as bad as Zlotowitz, who is the real right winger at Darkscroll. However I also heard he pulled out of Cross-Currents months ago, and indeed hasn't had a post since December, so I don't know why they still list him.

Shira Schmidt
Is this Shira Schmidt of Netanya, a haredi woman with a masters degree in engineering ? No idea.

Toby Katz
Editor of the monumental Encylopedia Slifkinnica. Lives in Miami and teaches at the Bays Yaakov. Other than that I have no idea except to say that she does have a sense of humor which is always a good thing.

Yaakov Menken
Seems like a decent kiruv type of guy.

Yaakov Reinman
Famous Author of "One People, Two Worlds". Learns with Rav Mattisyahu Solomon I believe. Seems like a decent fellow. Also got banned but he seems to have recovered. I guess being banned is like being attacked by a bear. If you lay down and play dead you might survive.

Yitzchok Adlerstein
Rabbi Adlerstein isn't really a Chareidi at all. He just plays one on Cross Currents, it’s all part of his act. Rabbi A, when are you going to come out of the (chareidi) closet ? Also has a good sense of humor (I hope !).

The Blogachover
Although not listed on the main page, the Blogachover wrote the earliest posts on Cross-Currents. Who is the mysterious Blogachover ?

The content of 90% of the posts is similar. Chareid apologetics, dressed up with references to pop and classic culture to make it sound cultured and/or hip. Of course, I do that too. However I really am cultured and/or hip, so thats different. They just pretend to be to capture people's attention. Kind of like the Kiruv Clowns really.

The real problem with the blog is that most of it is fluff. When the real important and 'hard' issues come up, such as the recent bans, most of the contributors are too chicken to go near it. As one commentator famously said: "This is not the appropriate place to discuss and debate these issues !" Sad. Even worse, when Rabbi Feldman did have the courage to voice some criticizm of the Chareidim, he only could do so by pretending he had received an email from some imaginary BT. Sad that one of the most choshuv community Rabbanim in America is so scared to voice his true feelings.

I hate the Cross Currents format. Its ugly. But the worst thing is that security password. Its so darn difficult to read ! And by the time I finally get it right, they go and delete my comment anyway because I disagreed with them. That’s why I was delighted to see the new cross currents blog,, which has the exact same content, but with uncensored comments and no security password. Its great ! Well done Cross-Currents for listening to your readers.

Hey, it would be a great idea if the new blog put up biographies of all the Cross-Currents commentators, along with an anthology of some of their more interesting opinions.

I think I will suggest it to the site owner.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Which is worse: Kefirah or Pritzus ?

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As is our custom on Thursday nights, the Rebbetzin insists on watching The OC (the world's trashiest TV show), while I look after the kids. This week the show was particularly trashy (I caught glimpses out of the corner of my eye, honest). I asked her how she could justify watching such pritzus. She replied, 'And how can you justify reading such kefirah !'. Touche.

That got me thinking though. Which is worse, Kefirah or Pritzus ? My gut feel is that pritzus is worse than kefirah, but apparently I am wrong. As Frumteens explains, Kofrim are worse than child molesters. Considering Frumteen's general outlook on life, this is not surprising.

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Odom Horishon: Man or Myth ?

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In this post, I would like to explore how compatible the story of Odom horishon is with modern science. Some people are under the impression that the two stories can fit. They basically give a peshat that although there were humans before Odom, and although the world is billions of years old, these humanoids were lacking some kind of soul, and so the Torah is not interested in them. Odom was the first person to have a neshamah, and that’s why the Torah talks about him as the first man. So lets see how well this fits. I shall skip the first perek of Breishis because its very general and could be explained any which way, Odom could mean mankind, so its inconclusive. So lets go straight to the second perek.

ה וְכֹל שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה, טֶרֶם יִהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ, וְכָל-עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה, טֶרֶם יִצְמָח: כִּי לֹא הִמְטִיר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָרֶץ, וְאָדָם אַיִן, לַעֲבֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה

The Torah says clearly that there was no man to till the ground until Odom Horishon. This is strange, since farming developed more than 5765 years ago. maybe the story of Odom happened, lets say 10,000 years ago ? Only if you take the text non-literally. Perhaps the Torah is talking about advanced farming techniques which developed about 6,000 years ago. Only Odom knew these.

ז וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה

The Torah is describing how G-d created Odom. I guess even though there were plenty of people around all over the world, we could say there was a Nes and a new type of person was created specifically by G-d.

ח וַיִּטַּע יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, גַּן-בְּעֵדֶן--מִקֶּדֶם; וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם, אֶת-הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר יָצָר.

So this new type of person is placed in a special garden, somewhere in the East. Although there were plenty of other people around, maybe they were not allowed into the garden ? A little strange.

יח וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, לֹא-טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ; אֶעֱשֶׂה-לּוֹ עֵזֶר, כְּנֶגְדּוֹ.

Although the other humanoids all had female companions (obviously), this new type of human didn’t, so G-d created one. A little strange.

כה וַיִּהְיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם עֲרוּמִּים, הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ; וְלֹא, יִתְבֹּשָׁשׁוּ

Although everyone else around is wearing clothes, for some reason this new type of human doesn’t realise he is naked. A little strange.

א וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן.

Snakes outside of Eden at this point did not speak, but inside the Garden we have a speaking snake. Also strange. Maybe all snakes spoke up till that point ? Or was this a special garden variety of talking snake, indigenous to Gan Eden but not found anywhere else ?

כג וַיְשַׁלְּחֵהוּ יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִגַּן-עֵדֶן--לַעֲבֹד, אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח, מִשָּׁם.

So Odom and Chavah get banished from Gan Eden, and have to go out into the world. There, I guess for the first time, they come into contact with the other humanoids, who don’t have the special souls. The other humanoids are intelligent though, and have pottery, paintings, social life, etc etc. But they don’t know how to farm the land. I guess they were all carnivores.

א וַיְהִי כִּי-הֵחֵל הָאָדָם, לָרֹב עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; וּבָנוֹת, יֻלְּדוּ לָהֶם.
ב וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם, כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה; וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים, מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ.

This strange story is often taken to mean that the sons of Odom (called Bnei Elokim) started to marry the humanoid daughters (called bnos ho’odom), which was bad, because they didn’t have souls. It’s a little confusing. Also, the first posuk talks about man spreading across the earth, however the humnaoids had already spread across the earth a long time ago, it was really the Bnei Elokim, the descendants of Odom HaRishon who were now spreading. I guess we could just switch back to the Artscroll translation here and Bnei Elokim just means Sons of the Rulers, and this story is really about the ruling class grabbing wives from the working class.

Other difficulties with this mehalech are many. If only Odom and his descendants had souls, what about the native Americans and Aboriginess who didn’t come into contact with modern man until relatively recently ? Do they not have souls ?

Some people like to answer that in fact from Odom onward, then everybody got a soul at the same time. If so, why are Odom and Chavah unique ?

Also, this is such a dochek way of explaining the text, its worse than saying it’s a moshol. The Torah is clearly describing the very first man and woman. Its not describing two special people in a special garden, who are then released into an already populated world.

I think its abundantly clear that even without science, this story is a moshol / myth. With science, kal vechomer it is. How people can possibly believe that its describing actual events is beyond me.

Yom HaShoah

Tonite is officially Yom HaShoah. The frum community doesn't really observe it, as far as I can tell for one or more of the following reasons:

1. It was invented by the Zionists
2. Its in Nissan
3. We don't change our tradition
4. We commemorate tragedies on Tisah Be'av anyway

(2) I can understand. It’s a shame that it worked out this way. (1) is bogus but I don't want to concentrate on that now. However I have a real issue with (3) and (4). We have a number of fasts and other rituals commemorating relatively minor events. Many people observe signs of mourning during the omer for 24,000 talmidim of Rebi Akivah who died 2000 years ago. Yet 6,000,000 people died 60 years ago and we don't have anything special to commemorate it ? That’s messed up whichever way you look at it.

Although many shuls now incorporate a kina on Tisha Be'av for the Shoah, that’s way too little in my opinion. We say many more selichos and kinos for much more minor events. Maybe because we are so close to it we just can't deal with it. I read that Rabbi Avi Weiss has been working on a Shoah Megilah / Kinos, and The Conservative movement has had one for a while now. Also, when the frum community do talk about the Shoah, I'm not too impressed. For example, some comments at the Siyum Hashas.

Its also strange how the recent Tsunami prompted many discussions about Hashgacha and Tzadik V'ra Lo. We are living in the shadow of the Shoah, and people are asking questions prompted by the tsunami ? That’s bizzarre.

The truth is, if you really think about the Shoah, it gets way too depressing. Its almost impossible to function normally if you really delve into it. Yet another area where denial (emotional denial, not chas vesholom Holocaust denial) to some extent seems to be the only reasonable coping mechanism. I really hope this isn’t an insult to the victims.

I get way too depressed thinking about it all, and nothing I can ever do or say is going to change what happened so I'm going to stop now.

The Making of a Godol

An interesting discussion developed last night on the subject of Chief Rabbi Sacks, MO and UO Gedolim. What makes a Godol ? What's the difference between a posek, a yadaan, and a leader ? What are the qualities we should expect in our Gedolim ? As usual, Not the Godol Hador comes to the rescue with a detailed analysis, which will no doubt immediately be shot down by all and sundry, but will ultimately prove to be right on the money as always.

As I am a seasoned analyst, I will approach this methodically. We will have a number of categories and sub-categories. Obviously not all of these carry the same weight. The biggest debates will be on the relative importance of each category and sub-catgeory. Also, no one person has everything. After we develop the categeories, it will be important to then identify various types of individuals, and discuss their suitability for different roles, based on their various scores. If I could host files, I would turn this into an Gartner Style Excel spreadsheet and allow people to submit their evaluations.

1. Jewish Knowledge

1.1 Torah Shebictav & Torah ShebaalPeh

1.1.1 Tenach: All books of Tenach, including all major commentaries.
1.1.2 Shas: All shas, including all major commentaries.
1.1.3 Halachah: Shulchan oruch, and subsequent halachic authorities

1.2 Machshavah & Hashkafah

1.2.1 Medieval: Rambam, Ramban etc
1.2.2 Kabbalah: Zohar, Ari and other kabbalistic systems
1.2.3 Chassidut: Works of the Besht, Baal Hatanyah and other Chasidic Rebbes
1.2.4 Contemporary: Rav Kook, Rav Hutner, RYBS, Chazon Ish etc

1.3 Jewish History & Current Events

1.3.1 Jewish History: Includes all strands of Judaism, including rise of reform, enlightenment etc
1.3.3 Contemporary Events: Must have a good grasp of contemporary issues and demographics of Judaism

2. Secular Knowledge

2.1 Science & Technology

2.1.1 Hard Sciences: Should have a good laymans grasp of Math, Chemistry, Physics etc
2.1.2 Soft Sciences: Should have a good laymans grasp of Philosophy, Archeology, Sociology, Psychology etc

2.2 Arts & Culture

2.2.1 Classic: Should have a good laymans grasp of the classic novels and other classic cultural articfacts
2.2.2 Contemporary: Should have a good laymans grasp of contemporary culture

2.3 History & Current Events

2.3.1 World History: Should have a good basic understanding of all world history
2.3.2 Contemporary Non-Jewish Events: Needs to know whats flying in the world

3. Middos

3.1. Bayn Odom Lamokom

3.1.1 Anovoh: Need to be humble
3.1.2 Taavah: Needs to be not a baal taaveh
3.1.3 Kedushah: Needs to be holy / spiritual

3.2 Bayn Odom Lechaveroh

3.2.1 Chesed: Needs to be a baal chesed
3.2.2 Tolerance: Needs to be very tolerant of others
3.2.3 Personable: Should have a good 'personality'

4. Abilities / Qualities

4.1 Health

4.1.1 Physical Health: Needs to be in acceptable physical health, have energy etc
4.1.2 Mental Health: Needs to be in excellent mental health, no depression etc

4.2 Sechel

4.2.1 Common Sense: Basic common sense, street smarts, not naive
4.2.2 Political Sense: Good political sense, when to fight, forging alliances etc etc

4.3 Leadership Abilities

4.3.1 Charisma: Must be inspirational, motivational etc
4.3.2 Organizational: Must be well organized, methodical, stable etc
4.3.3 Communication: Good speaker / communicator
4.3.4 Courage: Stand up for whats right, not always go with the flow

4.4 Intellectual Abilities

4.4.1 Analytical: Must be able to analyze things well
4.4.2 Artistic: Should be able to write well, have a sense of the asthetic

Just to start things off, lets talk about the extremist Gedolim. Clearly, they do very well in Category 1: Jewish Knowledge, though I suspect they are weak in 1.2.1 Medieval Jewish Philosophy. However they fail miserably in Category 2: Secular Knowledge. I will be dan lechaf zechus and say they are good in Category 3: Middos, though I suspect Artscroll & Yated over-hype this aspect, plus signing onto lies about someone is surely some type of middos defficiency. Clearly, Category 4 is where the real issues are, especially 4.2 Sechel (both types), and 4.3.4 Courage. Also, one or two are starting to fail on 4.1.2 Mental Helth. This is of course unfortunate, but its a fact.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Ladies and Gentleman, the Chief Rabbi

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The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth (i.e. the UK), Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, has an article on Torah and Science, entitled 'Creation - Where did we come from? - 6 February 2001' (click on the Faith Icon and you will see it).

In it, he says:

And, if the universe is very old indeed, that destroys a literal reading of many of the stories of Bereishit, certainly Creation in six days, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, and so on.

S'what I've been saying all along. He then goes on to explain how the story of Adam is a moshol. And some people thought it was radical of me to say Adam wasn't real ! Please.

Nobody serious in MO land believes the first chapters of Breishis to be real events. At least nobody who has ever really thought about it. And very few in left wing UO either.

The only ones who still think its real are the fundamentalists, or the masses who learnt the little midrash says in day school and haven't progressed since then. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if the Gedolim think its a moshol too, but they don't tell the masses for fear of the ramifications.

Does Science help Emunah ?

A debate is raging on Hirhurim whether studying modern science is conducive to Emunah or not. Various quotes from the Rambam are being bandied around. Well, here is my opinion.

Firstly, it is a fact that the Science of today bears no relation at all to the Science of even 100 years ago, and certainly not the Science of 1,000 years ago. The Rambam's Science was a mix of neo-Aristotilian concepts, angels, spiritual beings and all sorts of other strange stuff, by todays standards.

So if the Rambam were alive today what would he say ? That’s hard to answer. He might be Rabbi Moses Maimonides, head of Eidah, but then again he might be HaRav Moshe Maimonovitch, head of the Eidah Charedis. Then again he could be Moses Mann, Dean of Hebrew Union College, or he could be Dr Moses Maimon, head of Oncology at Mount Sinai and respected community member in Teaneck. There is no way to tell. So lets ignore the Rambam for the moment and use our sechel instead.

Science is a broad term. For the purposes of the Torah vs. Science debate, I have divided Science into 3 broad categories:

1. Proven
2. Debatable
3. Theoretical

The arbitrators of which Scienctific theories fall into which categories can only be the experts, i.e. the Global community of non-biased Scientists. Biased Scientists, such as those on the payroll of Creationist Movements, or Dr 'Kenny' in Lakewood, or raving Atheists, need not apply.

Some people make a distinction between the 'hard' sciences, such as physics and chemistry, which rely on experimentation and facts and figures, and the 'soft' sciences, such as the social sciences, which rely more on opinions and beliefs. However there is a lot of gray area here, especially when it comes to topics like archeology and textual analysis. I would still prefer to stick with the three simple categories above, in all cases.

So for example, if the worldwide community of expert, non-biased archeologists all agreed that:

A) A radical change in culture is ALWAYS followed by radical changes in pottery styles
B) An extremely thorough search has been done over large parts of E"Y and ALL pottery styles have been uncovered
C) Between 1500 and 1000 BC there are NO changes of pottery style

THEN its reasonable to conclude that there were no radical changes in culture in E"Y between 1500 and 1000 BC. (Luckily the worldwide community does not agree with all 3 above).

So, looking at the broad expanse of 'Science', is the study of Science in general conducive to Emunah ?

The answer is no, not really. In fact studying some of these subjects can be downright damaging.

Even James Kugel has stated that frum students should not take his courses since it will give them emunah issues. And any serious study of archeology will uncover some very difficult issues too. Plus, even if you remain with the hard sciences, with their emphasis on experimentation and provability, you will start to wonder about large parts of the Torah and Mesorah.

The Chareidi response to all of this is simply to stick their heads in the sand, ban anyone who brings up the subject, and hope it will all just go away. Clearly it won't. In fact, it will probably get worse. What we need is more frum scientists, text scholars and archeologists, who are able to deal with the new findings and theories in a responsible way, while still maintaining Judaism. There are some individuals around, but they are few and far between. Plus many of them are too afraid to be honest about what they really think. I know this for a fact.

What we need is a 21st Century Rambam. Unfortunately, our current Gedolim are not even 12th Century Rambam's.

I think that for the forseeable future, we may be screwed.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Kuntrus HaTzad HaYareach HaShachor

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWe talked about learning Machshavah from the media. In that spirit, I present a popular maamar from a work produced in the 70's entitled Kuntrus HaTzad HaYareach HaShachor. This vort is entitled Maamar Hazman. I have included my perush, called Perush Hagadol.

A chareidi bochur in a very right wing yeshivah introduced me to this work (true), and he used to roam the yeshivah dorm listening to a recording of it on his walkman. He is now a choshuve guy in Lakewood, so if you have any complaints, complain to him.

Maamar HaZman

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way

Its very true. Many people waste their lives going through the motions, never stopping to think about anything too seriously.

Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

Its amazing how the right inspiration and role models can make all the difference in the world. Look at the talmidim of famous Rabbanim (right or left). They by and large went on to do great things. How many people were inspired by RYBS ? Or Rav Hutner ? Or even Rav Moshe Shapiro ?! However without close contact to an impressive role model, its much harder to find the way.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today

Most people in the thirties or younger feel like this. Dying is for old people. There is no sense of urgency. I saw a mussar vort which said that the reason for mortality is that otherwise nothing would ever get done.

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

I am in my 30's, starting to think about life more seriously. I mean, I'm halfway to 70 already ! I wish I had woken up in my 20's.

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Zechor es borechoh bemai bachurosechoh.

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the english way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say

Thats why english people are mostly under-achievers. Forget the quiet desperation, go do something !

I hope you enjoyed this maamar. Up next: Likutei HaOni HaGadol, HaShir HaChochmait:

At night, when all the world's asleep,
The questions run so deep, for such a simple man.
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned.
I know it sounds absurd, but please tell me who I am.

Now watch what you say,
Or they'll be calling you a radical, liberal, fanatical, a criminal.
Won't you sign up your name,
We'd like to feel you're acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable!

Slifkin is one sided ?

Some people have commented that the Slifkin version of events as posted below is one sided and therefore suspect. Well, in all the months of this affair I have NEVER seen ANY other version of events. Even Dovid Orlofsky, who went to great lengths to defend the Gedolim, had no different version of events.

Don't you think that if the facts were radically different someone would have investigated that and pointed it out ?

Instead, Orlofsky could only lamely repeat that since the Gedolim are the Gedolim, then by definition they must have taken everything into account and must know what they are doing. Yeah, right. And people like Lawrence repeatedly come on this blog and keep screaming and yelling how we are all kofrim and are going to burn in hell. Yeah right. But does Lawrence and company have any different versions of events ? No, of course they don't. All they can do is yell insults and insist that Slifkin must be wrong or lying.

So, let me challenge Lawrence and all the other extremist morons out there.


If so, lets hear it. I will post it.

If not, shut up already.

New revelations from Slifkin

Just when DovBear thought the Slifkin thing was over, it crops up again. I just saw this on Slifkin's website. I grabbed the text in case the kannoim force him to take it down. Very interesting. Rabbi M.L is Michael Lyons, I believe he learns in R Elzas's yeshivah in Bnei Brak. I think this story clearly shows how desperate the kannoim were not to allow Slifkin to have any contact with the Gedolim, since then they would have seen that he was just an innocent yungerman, albeit one with some strange pets.

An Account of Events

On the morning of Tuesday, September 21st, 2004, (the sixth of Tishrei) I received a phone call from a Rabbi M. L. in Bnei Brak who said that he was acting on behalf of several askanim (people who busy themselves with communal affairs). He politely informed me that he would be faxing me some letters from four Gedolim - Rav Elya Weintraub, Rav Michel Lefkowitz, Rav Yitzchak Shiner and Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, stating that I must retract three of my books - The Science of Torah, Mysterious Creatures, and The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax. He added that I would have until the end of the day in which to agree to withdraw my books and publicly apologize. If I refused, he said, I would face public scandal and humiliation, with the letters being publicized and names of other Gedolei Torah being added. I received the four letters, which spoke sweepingly of the books being full of utter heresy, with Rav Lefkowitz adding that the Gedolei Torah who wrote haskamos for my books had since withdrawn them.

I was astonished and shaken at all this. First of all, as far as I was aware, none of these three books even contained any significant novel points - they are simply based on the writings of Rambam, Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Rav Dessler, etc. They were not, of course, the mainstream Torah viewpoints which are usually presented, but they were nevertheless fully "kosher" views which were necessary for the intended audience of my books - people who have been dissatisfied with normative approaches, and many of whom experience crises of faith.

Furthermore, everything I wrote was carefully checked by many distinguished Torah scholars, who approved it all, and some of whom wrote haskamos. Yet the letter from Rav Lefkowitz stated that the haskamos had been withdrawn. I contacted all the rabbonim who had written haskamos - Rav Yisroel Belsky, Rav Aryeh Carmell, Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein, Rav Mordechai Kornfeld, Rav Aharon Lopiansky, Rav Chaim Malinowitz, Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, and Rav Sholom Kamenetzky. None of them had withdrawn their haskamos, and only one of them, Rav Sholom Kamenetzky, had actually heard that there was any controversy going on. (He had been instructed by Rav Weintraub, who is his rebbe, to revoke his haskamah, but he had not done so.)

Of course, it is always possible that my books contain some errors, which I am always more than eager to correct when they are pointed out to me (and which is why I submitted my books for rabbinic approval in the first place). But a few errors here and there would surely not disqualify three books as being "full of utter heresy." I also found it inconceivable that anyone, especially Gedolim, could be willing to publicly condemn me in such strong terms without meeting me first to discuss the matter fully - to explain their objections in detail, and to hear my explanations and Torah sources. I therefore immediately began to contact the four signatories to arrange meetings.

In the morning I called Rav Weintraub's home and spoke to his wife. She said that Rav Weintraub is not willing to meet with me and that he says I must speak to Rav Wachtfogel. I asked if I could send a fax to Rav Weintraub, and in the background I heard him instruct her not to receive it. I then called Rav Shiner and asked to meet with him. He agreed and we made arrangements to meet at 7:45 pm.

Subsequently, Rabbi ML called me back and said that he had heard that I was trying to arrange meetings with these Rabbonim. I explained my position (as I had worked it out in consultation with my own rabbonim), that it would be inconceivable to publicly condemn someone without meeting them first, and that I was fully willing to meet with all the Rabbonim at their convenience to discuss the matter, and if they showed me anything that I wrote which was wrong or mistaken, I would gladly retract it. I faxed this to Rabbi ML as my official response to the ultimatum:

I have been told that the letters from Gedolei Torah concerning my books will be made public. But it is inconceivable that anyone, especially Gedolim, would condemn someone without meeting and talking with them. I am ready to meet with these Gedolim at their convenience and to hear what their objections are, and to discuss the matter fully. I am certainly willing to retract from anything in which I am proven wrong or mistaken, and kal v'chomer if I am proven to have written something that goes against the fundamentals of emunah, chas v'shalom. Surely to condemn someone without meeting them goes against both the spirit and the letter of Torah and Shulchan Aruch, and would be an unbelievable chilul Hashem befarhesya, and will be widely recognized as such. I spoke with my Rav, Rav Chaim Malinowitz shlita, and he fully concurs with the above. I therefore assume that the Gedolei Torah would wish to discuss the matter with me first, and I repeat my readiness to meet with them, together with my rebbe'im, whenever they want. I am independently making every effort to contact all of the Gedolim signed on the letters. Sincerely, Nosson Slifkin

Rabbi ML then told me that none of them would be willing to meet me. I replied that this was incorrect, as Rav Weintraub's wife conveyed a message from him that I should speak with Rav Wachtfogel. Rabbi ML replied that this information was superseded by a later statement that nobody, not even Rav Wachtfogel, would meet with me. I countered that this could not be true, as I had already arranged to meet with one of the signatories that evening. Rabbi ML was very eager to find out who this was, but I refused to tell him. However, since his team was in touch with all these people, it wasn't too difficult for him to find out who I had arranged to meet.

A short while later, Rav Shiner called me to cancel his meeting with me. He said that I would just try to argue and defend myself. He also said that he was concerned that I might use his words against him. He added that he is not a gadol and is not really the leader of this, and I should meet with Rav Elya Weintraub. I said that Rav Elya is not willing to meet with me. He said, "He will if you come in remorse and willing to retract everything, not if you are going to argue." Rav Shiner added that I had done "a terrible thing." Despite my protests, he refused to meet with me.

Meanwhile, I had been trying all day to arrange a meeting with Rav Lefkowitz, via one of his assistants. Eventually his assistant called me to say that Rav Lefkowitz would not meet me because he wasn't actually familiar with any of my material (he does not read English) and was simply relying on Rav Weintraub for everything. The assistant explained that for me to meet Rav Lefkowitz would give the misleading impression that Rav Lefkowitz was actually conversant with the subject of the condemnation. He said that it was Rav Lefkowitz's way to place complete trust in Rav Weintraub. The assistant added that Rav Lefkowitz would investigate my statement that the Gedolei Torah who wrote haskamos for my books had in fact not retracted them, and that this sentence would be removed if it turned out to be innaccurate. (In fact the sentence stayed in even though it was not true.)

The only person left to contact was Rav Wachtfogel. Although Rabbi ML had made it clear that Rav Wachtfogel would be unwilling to speak with me, I did not want to take his word for it and I made efforts to contact him. I managed to leave a message with his wife that I wanted to meet with him to discuss the matter, but she refused to take my phone number, saying that "the Rosh Yeshivah does not return phone calls." Despite many further attempts, I was unable to reach him. There was no further contact between myself and Rabbi ML or any of the Rabbonim.

Three days later, on erev Yom Kippur, posters with the letters from Rav Weintraub, Rav Lefkowitz and Rav Shiner were placed in several shuls in my home neighborhood of Ramat Bet Shemesh. (Such posters are traditionally put up on erev Shabbos/ Yom Tov as if they remain unnoticed until Shabbos/ Yom Tov begins, it is impossible to then remove them.)

(to be continued)

Muppet Machshavah

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Machshavah is generally not taught in any systematic way in our schools, especially the UO ones. I guess our kids are somehow expected to imbibe machshavah from their parents. That might work if your family name is Soloveitchik, Kook or Hutner. But what if its Slifkin ? You are doomed to be an apikores !

The reality is that kids pick up their machshavah from their surroundings. Parents are obviously an important source, but there is nothing more potent than the media. Some of my machshavah comes from Jewish music. My views of miracles are as sung by Judaea, in the Hand of Hashem. My appreciation of the shortness of life comes from Diaspora's "Usually later never comes", and also Pink Floyds "Time". My understanding of Chasidus is entirely predicated on Raaya Mehemna's classic "He was a holy man" (duh duh da da, dee da).

Of course I'm kidding. Its also based on the Belz shabbos niggunim tape. However its definitely true that some basic beliefs that people have are gained in early childhood, and sometimes from some unlikely sources. How many people radically change their belief systems when they grow up ? How many atheists turn believers or vice versa ? Very few. The vast majority of people stick with the beliefs they learned as kids. What does this say about our beliefs ? Are they real ? Or just the result of childhood brainwashing ? I suspect the latter.

So what did I learn from the muppets ?

Its not easy being green. (Or any other color).

Plaut to Metatron: I Love You !

Mordechai Plaut, pseudo-scientist and muck-spreader extraordinnaire, in an essay on his web site, Loshon Horoh V'Rechilus, oops, I mean Sheker V'Chozov, (or is it Deah V'Dibur ?), writes the following about angels:

I must be hallucinating
Watching angels celebrating
Could this be reactivating
All my senses dislocating
This must be a strange deception
By celestial intervention
Leavin' me the recollection
Of your heavenly connection

Alright, maybe it was actually Annie Lenox who said that. However Plaut, in this article, quoted by Hirhurim, really does say this:

This is not the place for an extended digression on angels, but suffice it to say that to know them is truly to love them.

I may be an Anglo-phile, but Plaut is clearly an Angel-o-phile. (Is that legal ?). Plaut says that when people quote the Rambam's view that Science can lead one to a love of G-d, they are misreading the Rambam. The Rambam's science was all about angels and heavenly spheres, and as Plaut says:

The Rambam presents insights of form and matter, a discussion of the hierarchical organization of the natural world, and especially a detailed description of elevated creatures including heavenly bodies and angels.
The Schroedinger Wave Equation, Goedel's Incompleteness Result, or Shannon's Capacity Theorem are all poor substitutes, however stunning and useful they are. Even more, since they are basically beside the point, too much effort spent on them and their ilk — since they are quite interesting — can be profoundly distracting from thoughts of Hashem, in a way that extended contemplation of angels can never be.

So according to Plaut, the Science of today is all about facts and figures, and is specifically devoid of angels and supernatural beings, hence it is not suitable for arousing true Ahavas Hashem. According to Plaut's view of the Rambam, only studying Angels leads one to true Ahavas Hashem.

To the uninformed, this might sound quite reasonable. After all, the Science of the Rambam did mix the spiritual with the physical, he believed the moon was a spiritual being. I heard from a Temani friend of mine that Temani Mekubalim, who are huge Rambam'nicks, did not believe the moon landings were real, since they could not accept the Rambam was wrong on this point. And certainly, the Science of today is devoid of any spirituality. So maybe Plaut is correct about the Rambam's views ?

Luckily, Nachum (not to be confused with Andrew) Klafter comes to the rescue, with this awesome quote from Moreh Nevuchim Part II, Ch. 6:

How bad and injurious is the blindness of ignorance! Say to a person who is believed to belong to the wise men of Israel that the Almighty sends His angel to enter the womb of a woman and to form there the foetus, he will be satisfied with the account: he will believe it, and even find in it a description of the greatness of God's might and wisdom; although he believes that the angel consists of burning fire, and is as big as a third part of the Universe, yet he considers it possible as a divine miracle. But tell him that God gave the seed a formative power which produces and shapes the limbs, and that this power is called" angel," or that all forms are the result of the influence of the Active Intellect, and that the latter is the angel, the Prince of the world, frequently mentioned by our Sages, and he will turn away; because he cannot comprehend the true greatness and power of creating forces that act in a body without being perceived by our senses. Our Sages have already stated-for him who has understanding-that all forces that reside in a body are angels, much more the forces that are active in the Universe.

Plaut did not respond. I guess he is too busy working on his next masterpiece:

I sit and wait
Does an angel contemplate my fate
And do they know
The places where we go
When we're grey and old
'cos I have been told
That salvation lets their wings unfold
So when I'm lying in my bed
Thoughts running through my head
And I feel the love is dead
I'm loving angels instead.

Or was that Robbie Williams ? Like I said before, modern chareidi ideology sometimes seems to have more in common with trashy pop songs and Hollywood movies than it does with true Judaism.

UPDATE: Plaut did respond, and quite well at that. Maybe he is correct after all, in his understanding of the Rambam ? See my next post for my reaction.

Monday, May 02, 2005

My Hero

Know that these prophecies and similar matters that we say are allegorical - our words are not a decree, for we are not basing ourselves on a prophecy making it known that they are allegorical, and we did not find a received tradition for the sages from the prophets that the details of these matters are allegorical. Rather, I shall explain to you what brought us to this concept - and that is our efforts, and the efforts of select individuals,which is in contrast to the efforts of the masses. For with the masses who are people of the Torah, that which is beloved to them and tasty to their folly is that they should place Torah and rational thinking as two opposite extremes, and will derive everything impossible as distinct from that which is reasonable, and they say that it is a miracle, and they flee from something being in accordance with natural law, whether with something recounted from past events, with something that is in the present, or with something which is said to happen in the future. But we shall endeavor to integrate the Torah with rational thought, leading events according to the natural order wherever possible; only with something that is clarified to be a miracle and cannot be otherwise explained at all will we say that it is a miracle.

Rambam, Letter Concerning the Resurrection of the Dead

I believe in miracles, miracles .......

I am always amused and amazed when seemingly intelligent people believe in silly nonsense like angels, or magic, or miracles. Its the stuff of pop songs, trashy TV shows, medieval superstition and modern day Hollywood, its not real life. Don't you guys get it ?! None of these things exist in our world.

Now of course, its always a posibillity that there is some higher spiritual plane which we don't understand, much like a plant can't understand an animal, or an animal understand a man. However, this higher spiritual plane does not exist in our world, by definition. We live in a physical world, governed by science. What goes on in the higher planes is beyond our comprehension, and its mostly a waste of time to speculate about it. Our time is better spent doing physical things like chesed and learning.

Magic does not exist, nor has it ever. Miracles are not G-d doing magic tricks, they are manifestations of nature, with good timing and / or consequences. G-d works with nature, not around it. What is perhaps the most famous miracle of all ? Kriat Yam Suf. And how does the Torah describe it ?

Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the L-rd drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground.

A wind blew all night, and forced the water apart. Is the Torah describing an outright miracle ? No, not at all. The Torah is describing a highly unusual natural occurance, which happened at precisely the moment it was required to. The Bnei Yisrael rightly recognized it as the hand of Hashem. Its the same with everything else. Just remember that great Judaea song - The Hand of Hashem !.

Of course we don't yet understand all the miracles, but we are getting closer. Colin Humphreys has a great book called The Miracles of Exodus which gives a good overview. A highly entertaining read, and not very expensive either.

And what about Angels ? The Torah does not describe the creation of Angels, or any other spiritual beings for that matter. The Torah describes animal, vegetable, mineral and man. And for good reason. We live in a physical world. Hashem does intervene, certainly. I am not denying a personal G-d. However He intervenes through Science, not by skipping around it.

And, most if not all, the stories of Angels in the Chumash are strange to say the least. The Torah seems to constantly confuse the Angel with G-d's presence. In the middle ages, much ink was spent on describing angelologies. It was all the rage, Metatron, Gabriel and so on. The Christians were at it, and so were we. Where is all this now ? Did you ever hear a shiur on Metatron ? Of course not. It was all bogus.

Its time we grew up.

Final Farewell by Mis-nagid

I received this from Mis-nagid. I think its a poem.

No, my blog was not hacked.
It was deleted, making the domain available.
Yes, I'm really gone.
No, I was not outed.
Yes, I deleted my blog by choice.
No, there are no interesting conspiracies afoot.
Yes, I'm really closing up shop.
No, I've not had a change of heart.
Yes, you can email me, but I do not promise to reply.

Do you believe in magic ?

I had the opportunity to spend the last days of Yom Tov with some frummie relatives, at the fabulous, 5 Star PESACH HOTEL. As my readers know, the Pesach Hotel delights in stuffing its guests with large quantities of beef, chicken, fish, salads and coconut macaroons. This is presumably all part of the effort to stop the guests getting bored, since the pool and beach are (officially) out of bounds on yom tov.

During one such stuff-your-face-meal, my frummie relative told a nice dvar-torah. Basically, his message was that if we believe in something it can come true. As a proof for this fantastic psychological insight, he brought down the gemara that if you believe in mazikin / shedim / insert other babylonian superstitious nonsense here, then they are real. I jokingly replied, and what if you believe in magic, is that real ?! He looked at me as if I was crazy. 'Of course magic is real !', he said. When I told him that no one had ever seen it, he responded that magic is well known in the "orient". And this is from a Ner Yisrael guy, not some fachnyokte Lakewooder.

We are raising a generation of nincompoops. What next ? Alien Abductions ? Facilitated Communication ?

And the worst part of it is that my rebbetzin agreed with him. Oy vey.

Well, honey, maybe you can magic me up some decent dinner tonite ? I demand at least 6 courses, with a choice of beef, chicken or fish. And don't forget the macaroons. Thanks.

It’s the mesorah, stupid


I think I finally realized what the Slifkin controversy is all about. Maybe this was obvious to everyone all along and I'm just stupid, but it only just struck me with clarity. I was talking to a frummie relative of mine, who was saying that the world couldn't possibly be billions of years old, because we have had a mesorah for hundreds, even thousands of years that it was only 6000 years old, and it was impossible that Chazal, the Rishonim, the Acharonim, the latter day Gedolim, and in fact the entire chain of mesorah could be so wrong.

And that’s when it struck me.

The problem with Slifkin is not that he attempted to explain pesukim non-literally. That’s really not so disturbing, there are places where we have a mesorah to do that and its okay. The problem with Slifkin is not that he said contrary to Chazal. If we had a mesorah to do that, that would be okay too, and nobody would be too disturbed either. The problem isn't even evolution (non random), or an ancient universe per se. There is nothing intrinsically unacceptable about either of those concepts.

No, the real problem with Slifkin, is this:

The mesorah is quite clear that the world is 6000 years old, my frummie relative is correct. Chazal, The Rishonim, The Acharonim, and every (chareidi) man, woman and child for the past 2000 years has held this opinion. Its undeniable.

The various sources that Slifkin and friends bring down, R' Yitzchak me'Acco, the Rambam, The Tiferes Yisrael and so on, are all pretty much irrelevant. R Eliashiv and Rav Moshe Shapiro & company are correct to deny that these sources are acceptable mesorah, they are not, and never were. There have always been obscure kabbalists, medieval philosophers and other Rabbi's who said all sorts of strange and weird things, however these have been rejected by the majority of klal yisroel. Likewise, while the Rambam's halachah reigns supreme, his philosophy has been completely rejected. And I hardly need to mention Rav Kook and Rav Hirsch !

So the bottom line is this:

The age of the universe and other scientific discoveries categorically, unambiguously and undeniably (assuming you are normal) show that the accepted mesorah for the past 2000 years was completely wrong on these subjects. That’s all there is to it. When Slifkin and friends drag out these obscure sources, or rely on individuals such as Rav Hirsch and Rav Kook, they are just digging themselves in deeper. There is no acceptable mesorah for evolution, a local flood, or a billion year old earth. It simply isn't there.

And this is what really bothers the fundamentalists, because once you have proven the mesorah is wrong, what comes next ?

We needn't worry however. The mesorah has been proven wrong many times before. For example, the mesorah until a few hundred years ago held that the earth was flat and was the center of the universe. Because a round earth which orbits the sun is taken for granted these days, people tend to forget this. However I recently received a sefer called "Maamar Mevo Hashemesh", which shows how our mesorah held absolutely that the earth is at the center, and that it is kefirah to say otherwise, especially since it was a goy (Copernicus) who claimed this !

Clearly, the mesorah has been wrong before, and it will be wrong again. Its not the end of Judaism as we know it. But R Eliashiv & Company can't admit to this. The concept of a 'perfect mesorah' is a cornerstone of their fundamentalist ideology. To accept that the universe is billions of years old means accepting that the mesorah was wrong.

And that my friends, they really do find disturbing.

NOTE: This post is talking about the mesorah (small 'm' i.e. what orthodox Jews have traditionally believed), not the Mesorah (capital 'M' i.e. what G-d told Moshe at Har Sinai). However since our knowledge of the Mesorah is only through the mesorah, I'm not sure there is any practical difference. Still, when I say the mesorah is wrong, I don't mean the Mesorah. Also, chareidi fundamentalism has clearly elevated the mesorah to the level of the Mesorah, and that's my point, its wrong, and thats okay.