Sunday, July 31, 2005

July 2005

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Don't Give Up the Booshas

Orthomom posts that the following Top Ten List of New York City's worst landlords is a 'Big Boosha'.

The boosha she is referring to is the fact that quite a few names on that list are clearly Jewish. However I would bet that the majority of the Jewish names are not just Jewish, but are also Chareidi.

In fact, committing an offense such as tax evasion, mortagage fraud, or just being an unethical landlord are not really counted as crimes in Chareidi society. After all, who are you really cheating? Just the goyim, and they are only background players, monkeys in sportswear, or a different 'min' entirely. It's not so bad.

Take this book for example: 'Don't Give Up', published by Artscroll. The author has allegedly been involved in multiple scandals, and has even allegedly served time in jail. Yet Artscroll desribes him as follows:

The author, Rabbi P, is a noted scholar and a man with great sensitivity and experience. He has known, consulted, and read the works of many of the greatest rabbis and spiritual guides of the last two generations - and distilled a wealth of wisdom into a book that provides guidance, hope, and optimism in the face of adversity.

You might think that being involved in fraud on multiple occasions would disqualify you from being an expert on spirituality. But no, not in Chareidi land. Fakhert! The trials and tribulations experienced at the hands of the goyish courts just makes you a man of 'great sensitivity and experience'. Sure.

Orthomom is right, it is a Boosha. But the Boosha is on the Chareidim.

Spirituality, a warm gooshy feeling

One of my commenters described Spirituality as a 'warm gooshy feeling'. And he is not alone. This attitude seems to be pervasive amongst Orthodox Jews, especially of the UO variety. What went wrong?

I think the answer is as follows: As usual, when the gentiles or irreligious pick up on something, the UO's run in the opposite direction. Zionism was picked up by the irreligious - so now Zionism is trief, and never mind about the centrality of Eretz Yisroel in Judaism. 'G-d loves you' is a theme of Christianity - so now we never talk about G-d loving us. Spirituality became a mass phenomenon amongst goyim and Reform - so now Spirituality is not something we want to talk about either.

If instead of Spirituality I said 'Dveykus', would that make you feel better? (it makes me feel worse).

Listen, Spirituality is not a 'warm gooshy feeling'. If you want a warm gooshy feeling, take a bubble bath. Spirituality is about being close to G-d, or at least the spiritual side of things, and about being less materialistic, with all the implications thereof.

One of my commenters insisted that Suicide bombers were spiritual. No! Suicide bombers may be religious fanatics, but they are not spiritual. Studies have shown just the opposite. They are usually disaffected teens who have been brainwashed. Perhaps they were also motivated by promises of 72 virgins in Heaven.

But that's hardly spiritual, is it?

Friday, July 29, 2005

The True Story of the Zohar

In the first edition of the Sefer haYuchsin, there is a detailed discussion about R. Isaac of Acre, a 14th century Kabbalist and student of R. Moses Nachmanides, which attempted to ascertain the authenticity of the Zohar.

R. Isaac went to Spain and to visit R. Moses de Leone in order to investigate the Zohar find. R. Isaac briefly met R. Moses de Leone. Soon after his meeting, R. Moses de Leone passed away. R. Isaac and a wealthy man, R. Joseph de Avila, hatched a plan to prove one way or the other regarding the Zohar. The plan was as follows: R. Joseph’s wife would approach both R. Moses’s widow and his daughter and propose that the daughter marry his son and he would also support R. Moses’s widow. The only condition to this proposition would be the actual manuscript of the Zohar. R. Isaac then describes how the plan was borne out:
On the next day and he said to her [R. Joseph’s wife], “Go to R. Moses’s wife and say to her: 'I wish for my son to marry your daughter, you will lack nothing for the rest of your days, we will provide you with food and clothing. I only request the Zohar manuscript'. You should approach the wife and the daughter separately, listen to their responses. This way we will insure that they are being truthful.”

She [R. Joseph’s wife] went and did this. R. Moses’s wife answered R. Joseph’s wife and said, “. . . this book was in my husband’s possession, but from the very beginning I realized he was the actual author. In fact, I confronted him and asked him why is that you tell people that you copied this work from a manuscript when it is really your own? Would it not be more beneficial to say that it is your own, will it not raise your honor? He answered, if I were to reveal this secret that I am the writer, no one will pay any head to the book, no one will spend a perutah on it, because they will say I made it all up. However, now that people hear that I am copying the Zohar that Rashbi [R. Simeon ben Yohai] with divine knowledge [wrote], they will purchase it for significant sums.” After she approached his widow, she approached his daughter . . . and her reply was the same.
Y. Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar, Israel 1957 vol. 1 p. 30 quoting Sefer haYuchsin, see page 28 note 2.

This testimony was deemed so damming that it only appeared in the first edition of the Sefer haYuchsin, published in 1566. In the second edition, published in 1580, the testimony of R. Isaac Acre is missing. In fact, in all subsequent editions this passage is missing and was only restored close to three hundred years later in the 1857 edition.

Spiritually Deficient People

It's sad that due to the various distortions of Judaism caused by the Ari, Chassidim, Carlebach and others, some people seem to think that Spirituality is either bad, nonsense, not a part of Orthodox Judaism, or not something to aspire to. I have noticed this attitude amongst a few ‘Rational’ bloggers. Unfortunately, in their zeal to throw out all the Kabalah crap, Carlebach crap, Chasidic crap and other crap that has accumulated over the years in Orthodoxy, they end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Of course the point of religion is to induce Spirituality.
Depending on how precisely you define Spirituality, that’s either the entire point of religion, or at least a major point of religion. And Orthodox Judaism is no exception. I think our overly rational friends need some education.

1. As the Rambam says many times in Moreh Nevuchim, only fools and sad people maintain that G-d had no intelligible reasons for giving us the Halachah. The Rambam goes to great lengths to show how the Halachah’s goal is to improve our character and intellect. The Rambam’s conception of ‘spirituality’ was a little more intellectually based than the typical definition, but the ultimate concept is the same. The Halachah is there to cause spirituality.

2. We may not always understand the reason behind a particular Halachah. The Rambam went to great lengths to discover as many Taamei Hamitzvot as he could, but even he admitted that some of them stumped him, but that he didn’t want to give up trying.

3. In those cases where we do not understand the point of a Halachah, we still have to keep it. Halachah would not be a workable system if each person made their determination about whether a particular Halachah was useful to them or not. The Framework is all encompassing, and is aimed at the general population. The Rambam himself in the Moreh says this, that Halachah does not always work for everybody. However the alternative to having a normalized system is anarchy.

4. Although one of the goals of the Halacha is to cause Spirituality, its quite possible to keep Halachah 100% and not be Spiritual at all, commonly called ‘Naval birshus Hatorah’. This is unfortunate, and should be avoided of course.

5. Likewise, it’s quite possible to be very spiritual without keeping Halachah. This doesn’t mean we can all just give it up. G-d commanded us to keep it and I assume He knows what’s best for us. However if you have a (theoretical) situation whereby someone was able to achieve a high spiritual (and moral etc) level, without keeping Halachah, it’s clear they won’t do too badly in Olam Habah. In fact they would probably do better than someone who was 100% Halachik but was still a Naval. This is not an argument for not keeping Halachah. This is an argument for keeping Halachah properly, and not being a Naval!

6. Accepting Spirituality doesn't mean wearing new age clothes and going to Carlebach Kumsiztes. Or reading the Zohar and wearing a red string. I am talking about true Spirituality. And if you can't comprehend what that is, then you need to go and find out. I think some of the Spiritual Skeptics are confusing Spirituality with a 'Feel Good Emotion'. Whilst being Spiritual may certainly cause such an emotion, they are not the same thing at all. You need to go and think about what Spirituality really is, and not what the uneducated masses mistakenly think it is.

7. The worst attitude of all is to discount spirituality, and say that we simply keep the Halachah because we are commanded to, and nothing more than that. The Rambam has some harsh words for people with that attitude.


THERE are persons who find it difficult to give a reason for any of the commandments, and consider it right to assume that the commandments and prohibitions have no rational basis whatever. They are led to adopt this theory by a certain disease in their soul, the existence of which they perceive, but which they are unable to discuss or to describe. For they imagine that these precepts, if they were useful in any respect, and were commanded because of their usefulness, would seem to originate in the thought and reason of some intelligent being. But as things which are not objects of reason and serve no purpose, they would undoubtedly be attributed to God, because no thought of man could have produced them. According to the theory of those weak-minded persons, man is more perfect than his Creator. For what man says or does has a certain object, whilst the actions of God are different; He commands us to do what is of no use to us, and forbids us to do what is harmless. Far be this ! On the contrary, the sole object of the Law is to benefit us. Thus we explained the Scriptural passage," for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day" (Deut. vi. 24). Again," which shall hear all those statutes (hukkim), and say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people" (ibid. iv. 6). He thus says that even every one of these" statutes" convinces all nations of the wisdom and understanding it includes. But if no reason could be found for these statutes, if they produced no advantage and removed no evil, why then should he who believes in them and follows them be wise, reasonable, and so excellent as to raise the admiration of all nations ? But the truth is undoubtedly as we have said, that every one of the six hundred and thirteen precepts serves to inculcate some truth, to remove some erroneous opinion, to establish proper relations in society, to diminish evil, to train in good manners or to warn against bad habits. All this depends on three things: opinions: morals, and social conduct. We do not count words, because precepts, whether positive or negative, if they relate to speech, belong to those precepts which regulate our social conduct, or to those which spread truth, or to those which teach morals. Thus these three principles suffice for assigning a reason for every one of the Divine commandments.

The Big Question: Spirituality

Lets kick off the analysis of the Big Question by discussing spirituality. Someone said recently that the only true spirituality is as attained through Halachah. However I think most people would disagree with that. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, in ‘Divine Law and Spirituality’, tells a story that after RYBS met one of the non religious Rothschild’s, he remarked that he was a very spiritual person, and I doubt RYBS was referring to some new agey type concept of spirituality. Also, the tradition is clear that ‘Chasidei Umos Haolam’ have a chelek in Olam Habah. It’s hard to imagine that these people get into Olam Habah without being in any way spiritual, and clearly the Halachah they keep is minimal, just the basics. So I think it’s safe to assume that it is indeed possible to be spiritual without keeping Halachah. The important question though, is whether Orthodoxy is more successful at achieving this goal.

Is Spirituality a common goal?
So, lets examine Spirituality in the context of Reform, Conservative, MO, and UO. I think it’s safe to assume that all denominations of Judaism which believe in G-d aspire to spirituality. Some may place more emphasis on it that others, but all agree it is at least a significant goal of religion. I also think that each group will have a fairly similar definition of spirituality. They may disagree on how to achieve it, but there is general agreement on what it is.

What is Spirituality?
In short, Spirituality is the experience of being close to G-d. More spiritual, less physical. An uplifting feeling. But it’s not just about feeling good, or being on a high, you can get that from drugs too. People who are spiritual are less concerned about the petty things in life. Less concerned about materialistic desires. More in tune with G-d. They feel more connected with other people, and are less selfish. They love their fellow man more, and are more inclined to put themselves out for other people.

Halachic Goals
I think its obvious that the majority opinion in Orthodoxy has always been that one of the goals of the Halachik framework is to instill spirituality. Just read one of the many mussar books or Chovos Halvovos, or even Moreh Nevuchim. Likewise, there is a long standing tradition that one can be ‘Naval Birshut Hatorah’, i.e. keep all the Halachot but still be a low life. So the question is whether Halachah is successful in its goal, and also whether Reform and Conservative Jews have found equally or even more effective ways at achieving spirituality.

Spiritual Quantity
In order to achieve spirituality, it seems one should concentrate and focus their efforts and thoughts towards G-d, away from materialism, towards their fellow man and away from themselves. All of these concepts are amply contained in the Halachah, and strongly reinforced through customs, minhagim and the daily Halachic cycle. For example, davening three times a day has the potential to reinforce a connection to G-d. Hilchos Loshon Horoh has the potential to reinforce a sensitivity to our fellow man. Clearly, following these Halachos with the right intentions will have the power to create Spirituality.

Halachic Framework
The lack of most of this framework within Reform and Conservative would therefore seem to be a problem. How will Reform and Conservative Jews become spiritual, in the absence of any framework? You could argue that Spirituality is an intensely personal attribute, and it’s better left to the individual to figure that out. But I think it’s clear that when you leave people to their own devices, they don’t do too well. People need guidance and reinforcement. Also, too often people confuse a ‘feel good’ feeling with spirituality. Attending a kumzits or equivalent guitar service may make you feel good but it’s not really spirituality.

Does Halachah achieve its Goals
So it would seem that a Framework such as Halachah is a good idea. Not having a framework would seem to be a bad idea. What happens in practice? I think we are all familiar with the Nevolim Birshis Hatorah people. They take great pains to ensure that they are technically compliant with the (at least public) minutiae of law, whilst in private they are really not that spiritual. However these people are the minority. When properly practiced, Halachah is certainly a good way of achieving Spirituality.

Shabbat has long been acknowledged as the epitome of Jewish spirituality. Some people like to complain about Shabbat. ‘Why does not switching on a light make it Shabbat?’ they complain. ‘How could such an insignificant act possibly make any difference?’ True enough, but they are missing the big picture. Without a clear definition and boundaries, there is no Shabbat. Everyone is free to do as they see fit, the unique spiritual quality of Shabbat would quickly be degraded. Clearly, as with anything else in life, one needs rules and boundaries to define the experience. Yes, it seems that sometimes the minutiae become absurd. But that’s the logical outcome of any legal system at its limits. The boundaries have to be drawn somewhere. If electricity is permitted, then Shabbat quickly becomes a TV day or worse. I think Chazal knew what they were doing when they delineated the laws of Shabbat.

Law & Spirit
It’s clear to me that it’s hard to be spiritual without any direction. And lacking a Halachik System, direction is hard to come by. This does not mean that keeping Halachah will turn you Spiritual, but it’s a good start. Those of us who keep Halachah need to constantly remind ourselves of it’s goals, rather than just focusing on the details of the technical observance.

Men & Spirituality
I think Men approach spirituality a little different than women. I like to draw an analogy to men’s hobbies. Ever read a fishing magazine, a golf magazine or a photography magazine? The emphasis is rarely on the fish, the photos or the sport. The emphasis in these magazines is always on the equipment: the best camera, the best fishing rod, the best golf clubs. Men like toys, it’s a fact of life, and I think our religion recognizes this. However it takes that mentality and channels it into more spiritual directions. The esrog, lulav and the succa are the religious equivalent of the golf ball, golf club and fishing rig. Everyone want the best equipment, with the greatest features. But rather than being just a physical acquisition, each of these artifacts are endowed with religious symbolism and significance.

I would argue that overall, Orthodox people are more spiritual. However there is a danger in purely technical ritual observance that should not be ignored. It’s just a means to the end, not the end in itself. Judaism heartily rejected the philosophy of Christianity, that faith& spirit is important but not the law. But that doesn’t mean only the law is important. You need to have both. Without the Law, I fail to see where one can become Spiritual, except through ad-hoc, individual and ultimately less successful efforts.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Chafetz Chaim's Relative Gives Mussar

UPDATE: Turns out Rebbetzing Carly Simons is mishpachah to the Chofetz Chaim. Here is someof her mussar from the 70's.

You walked into the bes medrash like you were walking down the block
Your hat strategically placed upon your head
Your reckle it was all black
You had one eye on the clock as you gave a gemarah shiur
And all the bochrim dreamed that you'd be their rebbe
You'd be their rebbe.. and

You're so frum, you probably think the world is about Jews
You're so frum, I'll bet you think the world is about Jews
Don't you? don't you?

I heard you several years ago when I was still quite naive
Well you said that Chazal were always correct
And in that I had to believe
But you banned away the things I loved and many of them were true
I had some books, they were banned by Gedolim
Banned by Gedolim, and...

You're so frum, you probably think the world is about Jews
You're so frum, I'll bet you think the world is about Jews
Don't you? don't you?

Well I hear you went up to Baltimore and Ner Israel naturally went frum
Then you flew on El Al up to Bnei Brak
And did a total eclipse of reason
Well you're where you should be all the time
And when you're not you're with
Some right wing fanatic or with R Elyashiv your close friend
R Elyashiv your close friend, and...

You're so frum, you probably think the world is about Jews
You're so frum, I'll bet you think the world is about Jews
Don't you? don't you?

Jewish Press on Daas Torah

The Jewish Press had an article on Modern Orthodoxy last week, which contained this passage on Daas Torah:

The gap between the authority of the rabbi and the lay person is a function of the knowledge and ability of the two, and not the mere fact that one is a rabbi and the other is not. I believe that a rabbi or posek earns respect and deference to his authority by demonstrating a comprehension of Torah, its values, and the reality of the world to which Torah is to be applied. These skills allow one (rabbi or lay) to insightfully navigate the complex world we inhabit in a way that our Creator favors; those without these navigational skills should seek the association of one who has them.

However, the Latin maxim 'quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus' (literally "sometimes even Homer nods), meaning that even brilliant people sometimes err – and yet remain extraordinary individuals worthy of praise, remains true and even the best of Torah scholars or rabbis can make mistakes; there is no obligation to follow their rulings when they are in error. Indeed, it is prohibited to do so – although one must always be meticulously polite when one indicates disagreement with a scholar. This is precisely what the Jerusalem Talmud means when it states:

"Is it possible that if the Sages tell you about right that it is left or about left that it is right that you should listen to them? Torah says to the right or to the left, meaning that one should follow the Sages instruction only if they tell you about right that it is right and about left that it is left." – Yerushalmi Horiyot 1:1; see also Shach, Yoreh Deah 242:31; Ran commenting on Avodah Zarah 7a s.v. hanishal lachacham; Hagaot Maymoniut, Talmud Torah 5:1-2; and Rosh Meluneil, Hilchot Talmud Torah 28.

This approach is a rejection of some rabbis conception of Da`as Torah, which assigns to rabbis a sense of rabbinic infallibility that creates an appearance that rabbinic pronouncements are nearly a manifestation of the Divine. This approach can be found in Sifri, Mishpatim 154 which states: " To the right or to the left : even if the Sages tell you that the right hand is the left and the left hand is the right, obey them," which is quoted by Rashi on Deuteronomy 17:11, Ramban in the introduction to his Hasagot Lesefer Hamitzvot and in his commentary on Deuteronomy 17:11 and Chinuch, Mitzvah 492.

Response from Dr Alan Brill

Many people noticed that Dr Brill's article below contained a mistaken quote from rashi. Some people went so far as to say that they questioned his scholarship because of that. I thought that was extreme since Dr Brill is well respected, and I assumed it must have been a simple mistake. I contacted Dr Brill and this is what he said:

Dear Gadol,

Thank you for fact checking. That is what journalists do. You may post this response.

I am in Jerusalem and responding from wifi, so I will keep this brief. In short, yes indeed, I know there is a mistake in Rashi. There are other mistakes as well. I am aware of them. I had to deliver the paper from notes on a Tuesday morning. But I had to deliver a copy to a non-Jewish transcription service-organizational planner by Thursday morning.

Know that the paper was far from where I wanted it to be on Thursday. And not a model of clarity. But in the world of politics you need to live in real time. They need to make a formal copy for distribution to give to the simultaneous translators into French and other languages (like at the UN).

I worked on it all weekend and had a list of those corrections. When I gave the paper, I received comments from former Chief Rabbi Lau, other Chief Rabbis and Rabbis who may not want to be mentioned, and scholars like Prof Schiffman. When I revised the transcription to hand in to BC, my goal was to incorporate the comments of the listeners. I did not catch the mistake in the Rashi section until after it was posted. It has long since been corrected in my copy.

When the newspaper makes a mistake in a governmental speech there is an errata the next day. Here there is not the time and funding for that. BC has at this point a 200 page version of the paper with the correction.


This is what genuine scholars do, they admit when they made a mistake. If Dr Brill had been chareidi, no doubt he would have claimed Nishtaneh Hatevah and the Rashi mysteriously changed. (Relax, just a joke).

Rabbi Mordechai Breuer on The Documentary Hypothesis

Rabbi Chaim Navon quotes Rabbi Mordechai Breuer on The Documentary Hypothesis. This is the only quote from Breuer in English that I have ever seen. He's pretty passionate about accepting the DH's findings, but not its conclusions:
That simple exegesis, which sees the Torah as one consecutive structure, without contradictions and uniform in style, has been irretrievably contradicted and rejected. The Torah's division into "sources" to which "were added" "interpretive comments" and "editorial supplements," is an irrefutable truth, which jumps out at the student, against his will, according to all linguistic standards and "the plain interpretations of Scripture that present themselves anew each day." All the forced harmonistic resolutions cannot stand up to the inner truth of the ingenious work of Wellhausen[3] and his colleagues. As midgets before a giant, as collectors of crumbs beneath the table of a wealthy man, so stand Cassuto and his colleagues, when they disagree with the school of biblical criticism…

Come and see the glorious wreath of the Torah, go and ponder the glory and splendor of its pages: they go and slowly spread out, page by page, each in its unique channel – and you find before you living expressions of that Divine quality that crosses generations: the trait of the Tetragrammaton, the trait of the name of E-lokim, and the trait of the name of E-l Shad-dai – hidden traits that embrace all the worlds and bestow their bounty on high and below… So too the contradictions in the Torah are but imaginary contradictions regarding the ways of God's providence!

Now, then, is it any wonder that the pages of the Torah clash, and the human intellect finds it difficult to reconcile the contradictions? Does not God's providence in the world – the visible expression of God's traits and holy names – does it not, as it were, clash with and contradict itself, God forbid, in the eyes of man and according to his human understanding? If the Holy One, blessed be He, embraces both justice and mercy, both lovingkindness and might, if He appears to Israel as an old man in a yeshiva and also as a young man at war, as merciful and gracious, and also as zealous and vindictive – how then can it be imagined that His Torah – all the letters of which constitute His holy names – will go forward in peace and calm, as a single continuum that settles in the heart of all?…

Were all the sages of the east and the west to assemble and seek a solution to the contradictions between the first two chapters of the book of Bereishit, they would not come up with even a broken shard.(Rabbi M. Breuer, "Emuna u-Mada Befarshanut ha-Mikra," De'ot)

Had He given us a homogenous book that could also have been written by a single person, such a book would have been appropriate for children who on any given issue are capable of seeing only a single truth. This, however, was not the intention of the Lawgiver. He wanted to give us a book appropriate for adults, who understand that every issue has multiple perspectives, and also contradictory truths, each one constituting truth, though only partial and one-sided truth. It is only the combination of such truths that gives expression to the absolute truth. (Rabbi M. Breuer, "Bikoret ha-Mikra veha-Emuna Betorah min ha-Shamayim," Daf Kesher #864)

There is only one way to confront the heresy of biblical criticism. Neither ignoring it nor fighting against it will work. Rather, we must follow the path outlined by the author of Or ha-Chayyim: We must "set our eyes" on the kernel of truth that is mixed into the falsehoods of the biblical critics… We must remove the slander from their mouths and restore the truth to its borders. For all their words are absolute truth, according to their assumptions. And therefore, with a change of form, they could become true even according to our assumptions. (Rabbi M. Breuer, "Torat ha-Te'udot shel Ba'al Sha'agat Arye," Megadim II, pp. 21-22)
Although Breuer bashes Cassuto as a midget when it comes to the DH, I assume he did hold of him in the whole counter-mythology strand of exegesis. Likewise, Joel Wolowelsky in this article seems to hold of it too, even though he is careful to say:
The Torah, after all, is not a history book. In saying this, we are not suggesting that the Flood story—or any other specific part of the Torah—is necessarily allegory rather than fact.
Note that he uses my suggestion of calling Cassuto 'Moshe David' rather than Umberto. Makes him sound much frummer. I would suggest Harav Moshe Dovid sounds even better.

Am I learning quiz


Not sure if you are learning? Take this handy chareidi quiz and find out!

My text is:

1) In Aramaic +10 points
2) In Hebrew + 5 points
3) In English 0 points
4) In Ugaritic – 10 points

My chavrusoh is:

1) Male and Orthodox + 10 points
2) No Chavrusoh 0 points
3) Male and Non Orthodox – 5 points
4) Female and Orthodox – 10 points
5) Female and Non Orthodox – 15 points

My location is:

1) Orthodox Bes Medrash + 10 points
2) At Dining Table or Shtender at Home + 5 points
3) In Armchair 0 points
4) In bed or lying on couch – 5 points
5) In University – 10 points

My subject matter is:

1) Halachah / Talmud + 15 points
2) Kabbalah + 10 points
3) Mussar / Tenach + 5 points
4) Jewish History –5 points
5) Jewish Scholarship -10 points
6) Anything by Slifkin or Marc Shapiro -15 points

My Derech Halimud is:

1) Traditional Chareidi + 15 points
2) Modern Orthodox 0 points
3) Critical / Scholarly – 15 points

My motivation is:

1) Purely lishmoh + 15 points
2) To acquire knowledge / spirituality + 5 points
3) I enjoy learning 0 points
4) To prove the chareidim wrong – 1000 points

My Medium is:

1) Book + 15 points
2) Torah Tape + 5 points
3) Internet Site - 5 points
4) Blog -10 points

My Author is:

1) G-d or any accepted Chareidi rabbi +1000 points
2) Anyone else at all (gentile /non orthodox / Chareidi but not accepted) -1000 points

Who said this?

We thought it worthwhile to expatiate on the truth of these matters. For since the sages of blessed memory were exclusively devoted to and immersed in the study of Torah and did not distract themselves by the conceit of idle talk or read documents about the remote past, it will not come as a surprise to us should they make some mistakes or give a shortened account of any of those stories. For when people are not interested in a subject, they do not normally engage in investigation of all its facets. They simply transmit the version that they themselves were given.

A similar opinion is expressed by the wise author of the Aqedah (Isaac Arama -Aqedat Yitzchak) when he accounts for certain errors that our Rabbis made in the field of astronomy. He writes: The rabbis of blessed memory only had recourse to that science in order to inform themselves about the intercalation of the calendar and the calculation of the equinoxes and new moons in accordance with the precepts of the Torah. As for the rest, they regarded it as alien and as a waste of time spent on extraneous matters that they were only permitted to study casually and at a time ‘that is neither day nor night’.”

Another Rabbi Feldman Response

Here is another response to Rabbi Feldman, from a choshuv guy. It gets a little kiruv clowny in parts (Chazal could have invented the atomic bomb had they set their minds to it) but he makes some very good points overall.

Rabbi Sander Goldberg studied for fifteen years in the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, has Yoreh Yoreh, Yodin Yodin and Hora’ah B’ Gittin from Rav Isaac Leibes O”bm, has Kabala in shichita, is a practicing sofer, mohel, dayan and to’en Bais Din. He is a Rav in Baltimore and the Mechaber of Sefer Nachal Chaim al HaTorah. He also has twenty years experience in the computer field, studied engineering, has several patents pending, and serves as a judge on the Maryland Tax Court.

Rabbi Goldberg studied for four years in Yeshiva Bais Hatalmud in Jerusalem and has known Rav Aharon Feldman, (a Maggid Shiur and Mashgiah in the Yeshiva) for the past thirty-six years. Rabbi Goldberg has published this critique only after having shared it with Rav Feldman for his response. This critique is written and publicized in accordance with the dictum of Chazal, “Kaul Makom Sh’yesh Chilul Hashem Ain Cholkin Kavod L’Rav.”

Response to Rabbi Feldman

The blood of my heart, the blood of my soul

Rav Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg in a letter to his friend, Professor Samuel Atlas, dated September 15, 1957, wrote:

I have bitter thoughts about the very existence of the nation and its hopes for the future. The entire world hates us. We assume that this hatred is due to the wickedness of the nations, and no one stops to think that we also bear some guilt. We regard all the nations as similar to an ass. It is forbidden to save a Gentile, it is forbidden to offer him free medical treatment, it is forbidden to violate the Sabbath to save his life, his sexual intercourse does not render a woman forbidden to her husband according to R. Tam because their issue is like that of horses. Can the nations resign themselves to such a deprivation of rights? It is permitted to deceive a Gentile and cancel his debt as well as forbidden to return his lost object! What can we do? Can we uproot our Torah teaching with apologetic formulae or clever deceptions? God knows that I have written this with the blood of my heart, the blood of my soul.

From Marc B. Shapiro, "Scholars and Friends: R. Jehiel Jabob Weinberg and Professor Samuel Atlas", The Torah U-Madda Journal, VII, 1997.

Extreme Chareidim: Goyim are evil

This story broke before my blog existed, but in light of recent discussions, I think its appropriate to review it at this time.

Read the following articles:
  1. news4a.html
  2. 0...9.lakewood.html
A few things stand out:
  • The perverted atmosphere in the extreme Chareidi world which allows or even promotes this kind of thing. I would bet that they only disavowed the book because of Darchei Sholom, not because they inherently disagree with it.
  • The spin by Rabbi Kotler after he realized his $500k was in jeopardy
  • The fact that Kotler admitted that his Haskamas are meaningless (also a lie though)
  • The scam by Lakewood to get $500k for a 'Holocaust Memorial Library'. What a bunch of baloney. As if anyone in Lakewood Yeshivah is interested in a Holocaust Library. It's just a scam to get money. Is gneyvus daas muttar? I guess from goyim it is.
  • The pathetic response of the Agudas Yisroel in attacking the Forward and defending Grama
It's really amazing. Was Grama put in cherem? Any bans on his book? The more I hear about Lakewood the more I realize how morally bankrupt that place is. To my Lakewood readers: You should be embarrassed to learn in such a place. You should leave and go learn in Philly instead.

Bashing The Gentiles

Alan Brill, in this article on Jewish-Gentile dialogue, says:
Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak, the great eleventh-century commentator on the Bible and Talmud is a standard in the Jewish curriculum. Because Rashi is seen as the indispensable commentator, it is difficult to overstate his influence on contemporary discourse. In traditional settings, Torah and, later, Talmud are approached first, and often exclusively, through the lens of Rashi’s commentary. He cites many of the polemical and negative rabbinic statements about gentiles or their typological equivalents in Noah, Esau, and Bilaam. Even his very first comment on the Bible contains his own gloss on the Midrash, viewing the gentiles as armed robbers. His particularism is shown in statements such as: “I ask from You that Your Shekhinah should not rest anymore on the nations of the world and we will be separate from all other nations. (Commentary to Exodus 33:16)

Rashi typified the particularism of many of his successors in Franco-German Jewish culture. I will not delineate these variants, nor will I relate all the negative images of Christianity left in the writings of medieval Ashkenaz Jewry. Ours is not the first generation of Jews bothered Rashi’s exclusionist, anti-gentile tone. Sifthei Hakhamim, by Rabbi Shabbatai Bass, a sixteenth-century commentary on Rashi, consistently reworks Rashi to impose a more ethical reading. However, the role of these comments of Rashi in the Jewish education system today remains problematic.
Ouch. While we are talking about this, let’s be honest: Chazal were pretty anti goy too. I don’t mean to criticize Chazal, in their day this attitude was understandable. Same goes for Rashi. But just like their science doesn’t apply today, likewise some of their social attitudes too. After bashing Rashi, Brill moves on to the Ari:
For Luria, the historical situation of exile is a manifestation of the cosmic reality of rupture and evil. The gentiles are not merely the Other, or the anti-Israel, as in the less metaphysical approaches of Rashi; they are the same stuff as the evil at the beginning of creation. The internal logic of this myth leads to the radical notion – unsupported by classical Jewish texts – that non-Jews have no souls.

While the influence of Luria on subsequent Jewish history has been overstated, his notion that non-Jews lack souls was a significant, and dangerous, innovation. It moved the exclusivity of Rashi to a new and potentially dangerous realm.
Finally he gives it good to Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, comparing him to Wahabi Islam and deeming his attitudes xenophobic:
Zevi Yehudah Kook resurrects many of the classic anti-Christian polemics with a vigor not seen for centuries. Among them: Christianity should be dismissed as an internal Jewish heresy; God the creator clearly cannot be a man; the Jewish God is alive whereas the Christian’s is dead. Christianity is the refuse of Israel, in line with the ancient Talmudic portrayals of Jesus as boiling in excrement.

If asked: What about the many arguments that, despite the falsity of Christian truth claims, the religion still constitutes a path to God? Like Wahabi Fundamentalism within Islam, Zevi Yehudah denies the continuous relevance of the cosmopolitan ages of synthesis, choosing instead to return to the polemical Midrash and Maharal.

Why was his position formulated at the end of the twentieth century? His theology shows the change that comes about from living in a non-Diaspora context that enables this rejection of western culture. The state of Israel can lead to a secure acceptance of the other, especially other religions, or it can also allow for a complete xenophobic rejection.
Just in case we have any non Jews reading, let me assure you that these attitudes are only prevalent today amongst the extreme ‘Chareidi’ section of Judaism, a somewhat distorted and backwards theological strain, and amongst some extremist Zionist elements. Here is a nice quote from Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch:
The Torah calls Israel a treasured nation. However, this does not imply, as some have mistakenly assumed, that Israel has a monopoly on God's love and favor. On the contrary, Israel's most cherished ideal is that of the universal brotherhood of mankind. (Nineteen Letters of Ben Uzziel, tr. Bernard Drachman [New York, 1942], p. 15.)

Bashing You Bashing Me

A critical outsider comments:
To any critical outsider, these discussions are just ways of raising the self-esteem of Jews who feel insecure about their own version of religious beliefs by putting the other versions down. The whole blogosphere is full of MO's and UO's and O's of all types who are constantly, if not subtly, bashing all the other versions. Of course, this is all done under the guise of "trying to improve ourselves".
Is this true? Maybe. But for good reasons. Judaism is important, and to Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Judaism is important. Our entire lives are wrapped up in it. What we wear, what we learn, where our kids go to school, what we eat, even what we think, are all affected by what strain of Orthodoxy we subscribe to. (And some people do find it a strain). I don’t spend my whole day thinking about this stuff. Well…. I guess I do. But that’s not normal.

Many people have criticized my blog (and others cough db cough) as being too negative and critical. But this is just a reaction to the prevailing chareidi triumphalist mentality which quite frankly pisses a lot of people off, even though they may be correct about many things.

Also, there is a long history in Judaism of ‘Machlokes Le’Shem Shomayim’. I find that in the outside (i.e. gentile) world, when you debate someone too vigorously, they get all offended and go off in a huff. This often happens at work. However with the Bes Hamedrash (or it’s modern equivalent, the jblogosphere), vigorous arguments are expected, even cherished. How can we win our arguments without vigorously arguing our positions? How can we get at the truth without vociferously debating the issues?

And most importantly, how can we score points without bashing our opponents?

Talmud Torah Kneged Culom

A debate is raging on one of my posts about the importance of learning. One commenter maintains that the tremendous emphasis on learning is yet another UO distortion, which MO people should reject. Personally, while I am quite happy to point out UO distortions, I don't think this is one of them. It's hard not to notice the centrality of Torah study within the Jewish Religion, at least going back to Chazal. I suppose you could say Chazal were Chareidi too, but I think we all know they were not. The first perek of Tehilim and Yehoshua both mention 'Toil' in Torah. We are not called the people of the book for nothing.

Of course I am not arguing that we should all sit and learn all day. But learning should be maximized where possible. It's easy for me to learn, I enjoy it and I'm quite academically inclined anyway. But many people just don't like learning. So for those people here is some advice:

1. It doesn't have to be Gemarah
Learning doesn't have to mean Gemarah. Its unfortunate that the focus on Gemarah in Yeshivot have created this impression that if you are not learning Gemarah, then you are not really learning. That's baloney. Gemara is just one type of learning. If you dislike or are unable to learn Gemara for whatever reason, there are plenty of other subjects you can study, including:
  • Tenach (with or without meforshim)
  • Mussar (It's not all just self help)
  • Machshavah (Ancient or Modern)
  • Kabbalah (OK its krum, but it's still better than watching TV)
2. It doesn't have to be in Hebrew
You don't have to learn in Hebrew (or Aramaic). While it's usually better to learn in the original language, if you have problems doing so it's not so bad. Sometimes this attitude of only learning in Hebrew is taken to the extreme. I have a chavrusoh who insists on learning Moreh Nevuchim in Hebrew, even though the original was written in Arabic.

3. It doesn't have to be difficult
In Yeshivah, you get the impression that unless you are shteiging away on a piece of Gemarah, with Rishonim & Acharonim, it's not real learning. If it's an easy to read book, then it’s not learning. Baloney! Breaking your head over poorly punctuated text, with 2000 years worth of overlaying commentary is not inherently a mitzvah. It might be good mental exercise, but its not inherently part of the mitzvah. It’s more akin to if you go live 5 miles from shul and think you are doing a great mitzvah by walking 30 miles every Shabbos. Sure, you may get some s’char halichah, but you would have been better off if you lived next door to shul and used the extra time to learn.

4. It doesn’t have to be be’chavrusoh
If you find your chavrusos annoying, or can’t find any good ones, or they keep canceling on you, or you shmooze too much, then just dump them. Many great things have been achieved by people on their own. Chavrusos are not mentioned in the Torah.

5. It doesn’t have to be ancient
You can read a modern book in English and still be learning. Try RYBS, RAL, Levinas, Rav Dessler or whatever takes your fancy.

6. It doesn’t have to be Orthodox
OK, I’m pushing it a bit, but there are some very good non-Orthodox writers, like Heschel. Sometimes you might come across a heretical idea, but then you can encounter those in life too, you should be immune to it, or use it as a challenge to see why you disagree.

7. It doesn’t have to be reading a text
If you really can’t stand reading a text, you can always combine learning with some other fun pastime, like blogging. Blog about Torah, and you might enjoy it more.

8. It doesn’t have to be learning
If all else fails, go do something constructive, like bikku cholim. True, it will be a lot harder and require more mental, emotional and physical effort. Sitting and learning a geshmak sugyah with your buddy is a lot easier and much more fun that shlepping to the hospital to visit some sick dude. But just think of the s’char! You will get a tremendous aliyah for your neshamah, constructively help out some poor nebuch, and generate a tremendous tikkun for the world.

Whoa ! Just hold on a minute. If chessed is so great, then why are we all spending so much time learning? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on going out and doing chessed, rather than sitting selfishly and learning?

What a great kashye! I think there’s a gemarah which talks about this, let me go and learn it ……..

My (Crazy) Schedule

Bluke has posted his schedule. Seems the guy is quite a masmid, and a hard worker too. Well, not to be outdone, I shall post my schedule. Here you will see my true gadlus.

5:30-6:30 Dream in bed before getting up about blogging / learning
6:30-7:15 Get up, while getting up I dream about blogging / learning
7:15-7:745 Help spouse get the kids up, while I dream about blogging / learning
7:45-8:00 Shachris (so I daven fast – you wanna make something of it??????????), try not to dream about blogging/learning
8:00-9:00 Take kids to school and drive to work, while driving I dream about blogging / learning
9:00-5:00 Serious blogging / learning, occasionally interrupted by some work
5:00-6:00 Drive home & pick up kids from school, while driving I dream about blogging / learning
6:00-8:30 Have dinner, play with kids, talk to spouse, while I dream about blogging / learning
8:30-9:00 Help spouse put the kids to bed, while I dream about blogging / learning
9:00-12:00 Serious learning / blogging (is there a difference?), occasionally interrupted by some housework
12:00-5:30 Sleep, have strange dreams about kannoim breaking into my house and attacking me

UPDATE: The same schedule applies to my wife, except that she doesn’t take the kids, and 9:00-12:00pm is of course a mixture of Jonathan Kellerman Novels, CSI and The OC. Just kidding! She does lots of cleaning, laundry, making dinner, and lots of other things too I’m sure, which I think just happen but really she spends a tremendous amount of time making sure they happen. (Did I get that right?). Not sure what she dreams about, probably housework. Or possibly having a husband who is not obsessed with blogging / learning.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Satyaman says:

I think the article below gives some insight into the move to the right. Maybe this move is not so much a rubber stamping of the Chareidi hashkafah as much as it is a visceral fear and disgust of the crudeness and vacuous nature of popular American or Western culture. As I commented earlier - People are not so much running to Emes as much as they are running away from Sheker. Obviously this is just one aspect of the culture. Thank G-d there is still much to admire about the US.

I would add that as much as I dislike certain aspects of Chareidi Haskafah, if there is one thing that will turn me into a raving Chareidi it is this issue of pritzus. It bothers me to say it, but it's a fact that the MO world in general is too lax on this matter, especially during the high school years. Whether there are any longer term effects can be debated. The only thing I can think of in response is that once you become desensitized to it, it bothers you less. But then you can say that about genocide too.

Note: this article contains some concepts which are offensive. However, if I take them out, it reduces the meaning of the article. I apologize if anyone is offended.


All too often, our children are exposed to the loud, frenzied, garish spectacle of adult sexuality.

By Gil Reavill

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an excerpt from Smut: A Sex-Industry Insider (and Concerned Father) Says Enough is Enough, released today.

Let me sketch out a day I spent with my middle-school age daughter. It started with an episode of a "tween" sitcom — that is, a show targeted for kids between the ages of nine and twelve. I passed through the room where my daughter was watching the program and just happened to catch a scene where twin seven-year-old girls tried out a new cheerleading routine they were practicing.

"Shake it, shake it, shake it," the seven-year-olds squeaked, sticking out their fannies, slapping them, and then reacting as if they'd just touched a hot stove. I looked at my daughter, who gazed at the tube with the vacant-eyed look that is, if statistics about TV watching are right, the most common facial expression in America. I felt upset at the clear sexualization of a pair of prepubescent girls, and especially annoyed that their antics were played for laughs. "Shake it, shake it, shake it," chanted the seven-year-olds.

Ha, ha, ha, went the laugh track.

"How cute" was the barely subliminal message being conveyed to my daughter. "Look at these tykes acting like a pair of pole dancers!"

Real funny, I posed my unspoken thought against the canned laughter. But I resisted the impulse to point out the inappropriateness of the message. Just the day before, my daughter and I had talked about a Ludacris song she liked, about thuggin' and clubbin' and ho's (street slang for "whores"), and I didn't want to come off as constantly preaching. In present-day America, we learn to swallow many of our responses to modern culture, so as not to appear prudish, vanilla, or outré.

A commercial interrupted the seven-year-old lap dancers. A trailer for The Girl Next Door, the latest theatrical movie from Fox about to open. "I want to see that," my daughter said. I let that pass, too. The movie is rated R, and my daughter is not allowed to see R-rated movies. The plot involves a porn star moving in next door to a teenage boy.

Why are they advertising an R-rated movie on a program aimed at twelve-year-olds? That was my thought, but again I said nothing out loud.

We got into the car for a drive, my wife up front next to me, my daughter in back with her beloved iBook laptop. She had just received the computer as a present for her birthday and had already downloaded seventy-five songs into her iTunes jukebox. She sang along as the iBook trolled automatically through her playlist.

My wife and I were talking, not really paying much attention to what was going on in the backseat, when I heard my daughter mouthing the words to D12's hit "My Band," featuring Eminem (who was born Marshall Mathers) as lead rapper. "I swear to *****n'God," my twelve-year-old sang, "Dude, you *****n'rock! Please, Marshall, please, let me **** **** ****."

"What was that?" I asked, twisting my head around and almost running off the road. In our household, which is not a free speech zone, we have well-articulated boundaries about what sort of words are inappropriate. "You don't even know what that means!"

"I do, too!" my daughter responded, even though I know she doesn't, and she knows I know she doesn't. It turned out she had downloaded "My Band" from the Internet, where there was a choice of the cleaned-up "radio" version (which she is allowed) and the unbleeped explicit version (which she is not allowed). My wife and I fell asleep at the switch, not monitoring which version our daughter actually chose.

But what happened next we could not have stopped or avoided through any action of our own. We drove into Manhattan along the West Side Highway, through a commercial district of warehouses and garages. The carriage horses that operate in Central Park are stabled here, and across the highway the military museum installed in the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Intrepid looms massively on the docks. Also located in this neighborhood, so that it acts like something of a portal to all of New York City, is Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, a sprawling burlesque house situated in a former automobile showroom. Flynt adorns the side of the building with a billboard-sized sign showing a woman, her mouth pursed, blowing on her hand.

I glanced back at my daughter, who was gazing out the window, keeping an eye out as she always does, for a glimpse of the carriage horses. What she got instead was a teasing display of adult sexuality. I didn't say anything, but I tried to imagine what was passing through her mind.

She had asked about the club before. "What's that?" How to explain a strip joint to your pre-teenage daughter? Keep it simple, my wife always advised, when communicating grown-up concepts to children. "Some men like to watch women dance," I had told her, back when she first asked about it.

Even for someone such as myself, with experience in the world of commercial sex, the explanation sounded lame and incomplete. I recall suddenly feeling unworthy of the charge of being a parent. How could I unravel the tangle of politics, morality, exploitation and hedonism that represents the knotted sexuality of America today? I had trouble explaining it to myself, much less to my daughter.

That specific day was not atypical. My family has been treated to X-rated movies on the DVD screens of cars in the lanes next to us. The Howard Stern radio show has boomed out of what seemed like nuclear-powered car stereo speakers when we were attempting to enjoy a morning in a riverside park. Now as I watched her gazing out at Larry Flynt's smut emporium, I realized the degree to which we have failed our children.

In a political sense, the young are powerless, voiceless, totally reliant on adults. In myriad important ways, in providing them with health insurance and legal protection, our record as a society is spotty at best.

But we also have left unfulfilled our function as guardians of their cultural environment. The boundaries of their world have been repeatedly breached, many times by people interested in making money and dismissive of all other considerations. All too often, our children are exposed to the loud, frenzied, garish spectacle of adult sexuality. They get their faces rubbed in it. So within the course of one hour of one very ordinary day, I had been treated to a vision of twin seven-year-old fanny slappers, a sex professional taking up neighborhood residence, and groupies begging for sex. I didn't like it. It made me mad. What had happened to my family that day was that we had been "culture-whipped," a term that measures the gulf between the expectations of the viewer (or listener) and the content of the media. When you whip your head around, asking "What was that?" not believing your eyes and ears, you've been culture-whipped.

In today's media climate, whether we want it or not, we are inundated, saturated, beaten over the head with sex. Television, our national public commons, has an ever-mounting percentage of explicit sexual content on cable, shading down to the mere leering double entrendre and snickering innuendo of broadcast sitcoms. It's difficult to find a program that doesn't reference sex. It's egregious, it's out of control, it's too much. Media, advertising art, and entertainment constantly shove images at me that I am just not interested in seeing.

The average child in America puts in a full workweek, forty hours, consuming media. That means our kids are getting a snootful of this stuff, all day every day, week in and week out. I am reminded of Groucho Marx, who once had a guest on his interview program You Bet Your Life, a woman who said she had nine children and that she and her husband liked it. "I like my cigar," Groucho responded, "but I take it out of my mouth every once in a while." In today's culture, the "cigar" of smut has been permanently and surgically stapled to our lips. We can't take it out of our mouths at all, much less every once in a while.

Modern Orthodox Analysis

The discussions going on over at DovBear's blog on Modern Orthodoxy are quite interesting and sometimes amusing. AskShifra, a former Chareidi, finally came out of the closet and admitted to herself what her friends apparently knew along, that she was in fact (or had become) Modern Orthodox. This generated many comments (somewhat of a record for DovBear), including the following from Bluke:

Here are some things that are accepted MO practices in many communities:
1. women don't cover their hair (most probably a chiyuv d'oraysa),
2. women wear pants
3. kids go to co-ed schools
4. emphasis on secular studies not torah

This earned him a fair amount of vitriol from some commentors who should know better. Of course Bluke is correct, to deny that is foolish. However it is not the whole story.

Likewise this quote from Prof. Waxman, originally quoted by House of Hock and picked up by Krum both on his own blog and also on DovBear, is flawed too:

"It is necessary to distinguish between two types of modern Orthodoxy. One may be called philosophical, while the other is more appropriately characterized as behavioral. Within the category of philosophical modern Orthodox, or centrist Orthodox, would be those who are meticulously observant of Halachah but are, nevertheless, philosophically modern. Within this context, being modern means, at minimum, having a positive perspective on general education and knowledge, and being well disposed to Israel and religious Zionism.

The behaviorally modern Orthodox, on the other hand, ore not deeply concerned with philosophical ideas about either modernity or religious Zionism. By and large, they define themselves as modern Orthodox in the sense that they are not as meticulously observant as the right wing states one should be. "

Waxman’s analysis is somewhat flawed because the exact same distinction can be made of the UO’s too. Plenty of UO’s talk the talk, but in their private lives are not really that ‘frum’. However due to social pressure they must appear to conform, at least publicly.

I guess it's going to take a Godol to sort this mess out.

1. The Basics
First, we need to cover some basics.

In every community, religious or otherwise, you have people who identify with that community for various reasons. Broadly speaking we can define the following categories:
  • Hereditary & Happy: People born into that community, and are happy to stay there.
  • By Choice: People who moved into that community by choice
  • Desperate To Leave: People who either were originally hereditary or born again, but now, for whatever reason are desperate to leave.
In religious communities, you also have further categorizations:
  • Serious: People who take the ideologies and practices of the community very seriously
  • Average: People who take the ideologies and practices of the community less seriously
  • Not Serious: People who don’t take the ideologies or the practices of the community seriously at all.
Clearly, there is some correlation between these two categories. For example, ‘By Choice’ people will often tend towards the 'Serious' category, since if they were not that serious they probably would not have moved into that community. This is less true though for people moving from right to left religiously i.e. A former UO might become MO because he is less serious in general, and so is more comfortable in an MO setting, rather than a strong identification with MO ideals. (Just an example).

To further complicate matters, as you move from left to right, ‘Prax’ (Practice) becomes increasingly more important as a defining factor, in addition to ‘Dox’ (Ideology). So, for example, people in UO communities will typically identify with both the Prax AND the Dox to a significant extent, while in a Conservative Community, since Prax is inherently less of a focus, identification is caused more by Dox.

In addition, you also have the fact that some people are just naturally serious, and some people are just naturally lazy. We can assume that those people are equally well spread out amongst all communities.

So, with that preamble, lets get down to business.

2. The UO Community

The most significant section of UO in the US is the Hereditary section, typically people with Eastern European ancestors, and typically people whose families moved to the US more recently, often since World War II. Its rarer to find UO’s whose families moved to the US in the 1880’s, though of course they do exist.

There is also quite a significant group of By Choice UO’s, mostly due to the success of the Kiruv movement, and the emphasis placed on Kiruv in the UO Community.

More recently, it has become apparent that there is also a small but vocal (at least on the web) minority who are ‘Desperate to Leave’, but can’t.

Now, here is where it gets complicated. We need to discuss which percentages of the UO community are ‘Serious’, ‘Average’ and ‘Not Serious’ (also termed ‘Faker’).

UO Communities clearly place a major emphasis on both Prax and Dox, and very specific interpretations and customs thereof. There is very little freedom of interpretation, either in Dox, (as the Slifkin ban has shown), or in Prax (at least publicly), as everyone is familiar with the various dress codes for example. Of course this varies by community, and there is more freedom in Flatbush than Bnei Brak for example.

The expected and aspirational standards of UO Prax and Dox are typically strongly and constantly reinforced through shiurim, education and social pressures to conform. This has the result of establishing a norm of Prax and Dox in those communities, which are very difficult to defy, at least publicly.

Of the main section of UO’s who are happy where they are, its fair to say that the majority identify strongly with both the Prax and the Dox expectations of their community, (whether LW, Center or RW UO). The Slifkin ban is interesting in this context because it is one of those rare examples where there was a substantial disconnect, between a ‘Dox’ which the UO community had come to accept as normative, and the sudden (and somewhat unexpected) announcement to the contrary of the Gedolim.

However, identification with a Community does not always lead to commitment to the Prax and Dox of that community, and we all know many UO types who, while they will strongly affirm that Gedolim, Torah and Mitzvos are the be all and end all to life, yet in their private lives, they fall far short of this ideal. When challenged, they will typically admit that they are ‘sinners’, but hope for better from their children. Very, very few people in the UO community will justify their lack of commitment from an ideological perspective, unless they belong to the ‘Desperate To Leave’ Group.

UO Conclusion
I think its fair to say in conclusion that there is a high percentage of Serious and Average people in the UO group, who, while they are UO for Hereditary reasons, are continually strongly influenced by educational and social factors to strongly conform to the accepted norms for UO Dox and Prax. There is also a large percentage of UO’s, who while outwardly will confirm the values of that community, in private fall far short of that ideal. The relative percentages of these two groups is very significant. Unfortunately I only have anecdotal information, but in the US I would say it falls out to be 30% Serious, 30% Average and 30% Not Serious (remaining 10% are desperate to leave and don’t count). If we categorize Average here as someone who conforms both in public and private to the generally accepted Prax and Dox levels of the UO community, this means that a good 60% of the UO community is really quite genuinely frum. Not a bad achievement.

Of course, we can always discuss whether the accepted norms for Dox and Prax as defined by UO are correct, but that is the subject of another post.

3. The MO Community

Untangling the MO community is more difficult. There is no doubt that a significant section of those people who identify as ‘MO’ are significantly less committed to their own communitie's Dox and Prax standard than the equivalent UO's. These are deemed ‘Behavioral’ MO by Waxman, and slammed by Bluke. The question is, why? Is it due to a weakness in MO Ideology, or some other factor?

The answer is complicated.

As we discussed, the bulk of the UO Community is Hereditary UO. Their Dox and Prax have been fairly standard for decades if not centuries, and throughout many parts of the World (though with some regional variances and an obvious shift to the right in recent years).

The MO Community has a much more recent and localized history. RSRH in Germany, Rav Kook in Israel, and RYBS in America all formed MO Style communities which were more location specific, and generally smaller than their UO counterparts. Each community had their respective slant, and were more heterogeneous than the various UO Communities which tend towards homogenization. Some MO’s are descendants of those communities, and in general these MO’s tend to be more committed to both the Prax and Dox standards of their communities. So for example, talmidim of RYBS or Rav Kook, and their immediate circles, can be seen to be very committed indeed.

On the other hand, you have a large constituent within MO who are there for other reasons. These include:
  • Descendents of emigrants from Eastern Europe UO communities who emigrated in the 19th and early 20th Century. These descendents have spent many years away from strong UO centers and have drifted, both in Dox and Prax. However they still wish to identify with Orthodoxy, as opposed to Conservative or Reform. Often, children of these people have moved to the right.
  • Former Conservative (and even reform) who have moved to the right to become ‘Orthodox’, but are still far less committed than the average Orthodox.
  • Some proportion of former UO’s who moved to MO because they preferred a more relaxed lifestyle (i.e. less commitment), and found the MO community a less judgmental place to practice that lifestyle. Personally, I think this group is very small. Recent ‘I am MO’ announcements from various people are misleading. Most of these people grew up MO, ‘frummed’ out in Yeshivah / Seminary, and are now returning back to their roots. Very few genuinely UO people turn MO in later life, the social pressure, ‘anti MO’ attitude and associated stigma are just too great.
A further, and very significant factor is that the MO ideology by definition is more nuanced and balanced. Its easier to convince people to learn Torah when the message is ‘Torah is everything’ and ‘Secular Learning is Trief’, than when the message is ‘Torah and Secular learning are both valuable and need to be balanced’. Fundamentalist values are simpler to convey, and have more effective consequences (to a point). Balanced values require more thought and dedication from the community, which is not always easy to achieve.

Of course some may take this as evidence of the correctness of UO ideology itself, in that it can be more effective in its goals. I wouldn’t go that far. Its quite possible for the ideology to be wrong, yet very effective, for example Islamic Jihad. This will be discussed in the ‘Big Question series of posts.

Due to the makeup of most MO communities as described above, the amount of emphasis and focus on commitment to Dox and Prax is unfortunately diminished. For example, giving a strong ‘mussar’ type drashah, extolling the virtues of Talmud Torah and Mitzvot in a UO shul, is acceptable and expected. Of course not everyone will listen, but it will get through to many people.

However such a drashah in an MO shul will not go over well. Many people would be offended, and consequently the Rabbi’s are more reticent to give such drashas. The same situation applies in the Schools. The MO community is fearful of a shift to the right, and consequently will resist any such movement. Instead Rabbis in MO shuls tend to focus on more philosophical and abstract issues, which are less offensive. Does this mean that the MO ideology is itself incorrect or flawed? Not neccessarily, however the social reality of the MO community prevents the MO ideology from achieving its goals more fully.

4. Conclusion
Its fair to say that the commitment to Prax and Dox is significantly stronger in the UO community than in the MO community. It is also fair to say that the UO community places more emphasis on promoting and reinforcing its own Prax and Dox standards through education and social pressure than does the MO community. This is somewhat due to social issues, and less due to ideological reasons, though ideological reasons (balance vs. fundamentalism) plays a part too. It is also true that many UO’s talk the talk, but in their private lives fall short of their own ideals. This is less true in MO, since there is less pressure in the first place to ‘talk the talk’ if you don’t really buy into it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Mitpachat Sefarim by R Yaakov Emden

Mitpahat Sefarim-partI.pdf

The Big Question: Defining Categories

In this post, we talked about performing an analysis as to which strand of Judaism achieves its goals better. This is an extremely important analysis, since in the absence of clear proofs, demonstrating practical superiority is of enhanced importance.

There seems to be genral disagreement as to the relative achievements of the various groups within Judaism. For example, here is a typical exchange, between I assume an Orthodox and a Conservative/Reform Jew (though in truth it makes no difference who they are):
Mr. Orthodox:
Maybe only 1% of Reform/Conservative Jews ask basic questions about Torah, life, purpose, etc. As a general rule, Conservative/Reform is religiously shallow, uninspiring, and meaningless with almost zero reverence for G-d.

Mr. Conservative/Reform
This is the statement of someone who is ignorant about the practices of Reform and Conservative Jews. It is a simplistic and convenient way to try and marginalize those groups so that you can prop up your own and is not based upon reality.
I shall try to be unbiased. I have a wide range of readers, with many UO’s, MO’s, Conservative and some Reform / Secular too who will hopefully keep me honest.

Clearly, it would be more of an apples to apples comparison if we could extract some common goals and determine which group does better. If each group has an entirely different set of goals, it won’t be easy to compare. As a reminder, here is our methodology:
  1. Gain a more concrete understanding and agreement as to the goals of life and Judaism
  2. Gain agreement as to which groups do a better job at meeting those goals
  3. Gain understanding as to what the causes are of some groups performing better
  4. Plan activities and group affiliations accordingly
To set the stage, we need to more clearly define the different groups we are talking about. Clearly, there is a continuous spectrum of ‘religiosity’, extending from Secular to Chareidi with everything in between. In fact, it is not really a spectrum, with many groups having overlapping and conflicting ideologies and practices. For the purpose of our analysis though, we must have some defined categories.

I propose the following categories, based on a series of posts back in February.

Primary Categories: UO, MO, Conservative, Reform, Secular
Secondary Categories: Left, Center, Right
Tertiary Categories: Serious, Average, Not Serious
Quaternary Categories: US, Europe, Israel

Not all combinations make sense or are statistically significant. For example Left/Right and Serious/Not Serious may not make sense in a Secular context. But we will try our best.

I shall ignore Chassidim, Chabadniks, Carlebachians, Cookniks and other odd groups beginning with the letter ‘C’. Also, I think we need to focus on the American Scene primarily, but we should take Israel and Europe into account where significant differences arise.

It is clear that the left and right often blend into each other at the borders, for example with Conservadoxy. We will have to deal with that too. How do I intend to categorize specific individuals or communities? Simple. Whatever label that individual or community attaches to itself will be the one I shall use, unless there are clear reasons why there has been an incorrect label applied.

Philosophy of Halachah

Rav Chaim Navon has an interesting series of shiurim on Philosophy of Halachah. This quote from Professor Ta-Shema, in the third shiur 'Halachah & Custom' caught my eye:

"According to the point of view described above, 'practice' precedes 'law' not only in importance, but in logic as well. This is not like the question, which came first – the chicken or the egg. For we know with certainty that the practices existed first, and only later were the halakhot formulated. The relationship between Halakha, that is to say, the Talmud, and actual conduct may thus be compared to the relationship between the rules of grammar and a living language. Our ancestors started with actual talk, and not with learning the grammatical rules, which are nothing but an a posteriori description of 'standard' linguistic practice. Halakha is nothing but an attempt to generalize in an abstract manner the wealth of diversified practices." (I. Ta-Shema, Minhag Ashkenaz Ha-kadmon, p. 69)

Although the shiur in general seems to be talking about Minhag, one of DovBear's pet peeves, this quote seems to be talking about Halachah. This is an interesting idea that we have spoken about before. Certainly there are significant similarities (and also significant differences) between certain laws in the Torah and other law codes of ancient times, in particular the Hammurabi code. But, like everything else, Judaism took the existing codes and cleaned them up.

Although some people may have their doubts about some Halachah, for example regarding homosexuality and the like, in general it's hard not to appreciate how well balanced everything is. I was listening to the radio this morning, to an interview with some British Imams. Radical Islam is a real problem in that country, and its getting hard for the moderates to reach out to the young. And this is in Britain, not some refugee camp in Gaza. Its easy to point to some pesukim about killing Amalek, and claim Judaism is a bloodthirsty religion too. But the proof is in the pudding.

100 Most Mispelled Misspelled Words

acceptable, accidentally, accommodate, acquire, acquit, a lot, amateur, apparent, argument, atheist, believe, bellwether, calendar, category, cemetery, changeable, collectible, column, committed, conscience, conscientious, conscious, consensus, daiquiri, definite(ly), discipline, drunkenness, dumbbell, embarrass(ment), equipment, exhilarate, exceed, existence, experience, fiery, foreign, gauge, grateful, guarantee, harass, height, hierarchy, humorous, ignorance, immediate, independent, indispensable, inoculate, intelligence, its/it's, jewelry, judgement, kernel, (colonel), leisure, liaison, library, license, lightning, maintenance, maneuver, medieval, memento, millennium, miniature, minuscule, mischievous, misspell, neighbor, noticeable, occasionally, occurrence, pastime, perseverance, personnel, playwright, possession, precede, principal/principle, privilege, pronunciation, publicly, questionnaire, receive/receipt, recommend, referred, reference, relevant, restaurant, rhyme, rhythm, schedule, separate, sergeant, supersede, their/they're/there, threshold, twelfth, tyranny, until, vacuum, weather, weird

Surprisingly, 'rediculous' didn't make the list. I guess that must be limited to people from Brooklyn.

Looking under the hood

I bought a new car a while back, and one day realized that I had never actually looked under the hood, or even taken note of any of its specifications. The car drove comfortably, had all the features I wanted, so I bought it. A friend of mine had a similar experience, with a car he had inherited from his father. One day he decided to look under the hood, but found such a mess in there that he longer drives the car. I guess he never really liked driving it in the first place. Probably he hadn’t kept up with the maintenance properly.

I do feel sorry for those people who bought a SAAB 97 though. Its really just a dressed up Chevy Trailblazer. Some people say there’s nothing wrong with that. SAAB took the Chevy, fine tuned it and added all the SAAB essentials that make it worth the extra money. However that would never suit me, it’s just not authentic.

So my friend gave up his car, and claims he is much happier not having to drive that pile of junk anymore, constantly worrying that it’s going to break down at any moment. I feel sorry for him though, now he’s just stuck at home, not going anywhere. He bought a bicycle instead, but that’s hardly going to take him and his family on any big vacations.

Recently, I looked under the hood of my car, and to my untrained eyes it looked like a mess too, I just couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. However my car drives really well, and consumer reports rated it one of the best buys, so I am not about to give up driving it just because I don’t understand how it works.

Vehamayvin Yavin.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The 13 Principles: Do I believe?

On The Main Line has a new feature in which he will be going through the 13 principles and discussing whether he truly believes in each one or not. That was actually an idea I had a while back, so being The Godol Hador, I shall have to do one better. I will therefore be starting a new series in which I will discuss 13 collections of 13 principles.
  1. The 13 principles of faith
  2. The 13 principles of Nia
  3. The 13 principles of Wiccan belief
  4. The 13 principles of success
  5. The 13 principles of effective treatment
  6. The 13 principles for brain-compatible teaching and parenting
  7. The 13 principles of a master
  8. The 13 principles of Wing Chun
  9. The 13 principles of remote access
  10. The 13 principles of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation
  11. The 13 principles of Herut
  12. The 13 principles of Ngati Whatua
  13. The 13 Principles of moisture transfer in multi-domain cereal systems
I shall not fail to be honest. Call me a heretic, but I'm not too sure about principle number 9 for brain-compatible teaching and parenting.

Seriously though, what is it with the number 13 and principles? Is it likely that Rambam davkah had 13 ikkarim, or maybe he just wanted to use a 'special' number? The same question could be asked of the Aseret Hadibrot, or the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation for that matter.

Other special numbers in Judaism:

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,18,any multiple of 18, 248, 365, 613, 770, 24,000 and 600,000.

Imagine if the Rambam had decided to use the number 10 instead, to parallel the Aseret Hadibrot, the whole of Orthodoxy might have turned out different. I guess we will never know. Still, we shouldn't complain. At least he didn't chose 18, or 770.

Not Frum Things are Evil

The debate about TV being evil is kind of stupid. In fact, it is stupid. Nobody (in their right mind) thinks that the technology is inherently evil. Also, nobody (with a clue) thinks that all TV programming is bad. Clearly some shows are good, educational and valuable. Really, the arguments are about what percentage of shows are bad, and is it realistic to think that we can successfully control what our kids (or ourselves) watch.

We can debate the former, and spill mountains of ink on the relative evils or harmlessness of sitcoms and cartoons, but that is all entirely subjective. As to the latter, the amount of ‘gezerah’ or ‘fence’ around something is also pretty subjective. At one extreme we all must live in caves, at the other extreme we give our kids total freedom and expect them to make the correct moral choices.

My personal opinion on TV, speaking both as an authority on TV as well as an authority on my own personal opinion, is that 95% of TV programming is crap: Boring, clichéd, displaying bad values, a waste of time, violent, overtly sexual, insensitive, and well, just crap. That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, personally I sometimes quite enjoy watching crap. Though I don’t usually feel too fulfilled afterwards. But I have to admit it’s crap.

As to the question of ‘gezerah’, I stake my position in the middle ground. A small TV (<27”) with occasional programming would seem to be sensible. You are free to disagree. Full Disclosure: I have a total of 88” of TV space in my house, but try and never watch any of it (except for Arthur).

A far more interesting question to me is the implication that the ‘good’ kids (i.e. the ones without the TV) would be better off not mixing with the bad kids (i.e. the ones with TV’s). Of course TV is not the only issue in this regard; all manner of things can come into play. When I attended Day School, completely irreligious kids were welcome. Nowadays, the same school won’t allow you in if you have a TV, or if your mother doesn’t cover her hair.

In schools which have a mixed student body (less religious & more religious), it’s often a gamble as to which way any individual year is going to turn out. Clearly, if your kid is the only ‘frum’ one in a year full of less religious kids, that’s going to be an issue. So is it just a matter of percentages? But sometimes, a small charismatic group can lead the entire class (in either direction). So do you need to do sociological and demographic studies to try and pre-determine which way the year is going to go?

This would seem to be impractical. Maybe it is easier to create homogenous schools, with strict intake rules, and that way you can be sure that your kid will always be similar to the norm, and not ever have to be exposed to less frum kids.

But some people claim that such a homogenous model is bad. Such schools will only teach intolerance for the other, and we need to have mixed schools where everyone is accommodated, so that the students are exposed to different varieties of Orthodoxy. My own personal experience is that the hashkafot taught in such a school tend to be so pareve as to be useless, as the School is always trying not to offend one group or another. Surely a strong Hashkafah (either right or left) is better than no Hashkafah at all.

In general, none of us want our kids to mix too intensely with other kids who we judge to have ‘poor’ values, no matter where along the spectrum of Orthodoxy we fit. On the other hand, bringing up our kids in an entirely homogenous environment would seem to be unhealthy, unnatural, and probably poor preparation for real life.

I have a friend who went to public school, and had private religious tuition afterwards. The experience left him with an incredibly strong Jewish sense of self, and now he is quite a respected Rav. Conversely, I know people who grew up comfortably in a religious environment where they were never challenged by anything, and their religious identity, while it seemed strong from the outside, was actually quite weak, having never been exercised. At the first challenge in later life they were defeated.

The same quandary applies to emunah. The emunah that most frum people have in the 13 ikkarim is actually ignorance, not emunah. They have never considered the alternatives, and in fact in most cases would never consider the alternatives, since that would be in itself an aveirah in their estimation (but see Norman Lamm: Faith & Doubt for another viewpoint on that). At their first exposure to any alternatives, they are not prepared to deal with it and their emunah is damaged. Again, we need to find a balance.

All the same questions apply to the Internet, all other forms of media, neighborhoods, schools, colleges and life in general. Life, and every part of it is full of bad influences, bad people, bad values, and simply ‘Not Frum Things’ in general. This is basically true no matter whether you are MO or UO, or even Conservative. You just draw the line in different places. Is exposure to all these Non Frum Things always damaging? Or sometimes can it be healthy?

So are ‘Not Frum Things’ in general evil? Probably.

But that’s not the hard question. The hard question is, how far should we go to stay away from ‘Not Frum Things’, and what other costs are we willing to bear in order to do so. That's the question.

Friday, July 22, 2005

TV is Evil

I promised the Chareidi Rav who wrote the Zohar article that I would blog about TV. So here I go. Rabbi Adlerstein has a post on TV here, in which he says:

On the other hand, there was pressure to segregate the kids from the “better” homes (i.e. ones without TV) so that they could achieve more of their potential without being subject to the educational drag of children from less spiritually rarified families. (The assumption was a gross generalization, but it harbored a good deal of truth.)

DovBear, in one of his regular 'I hate Cross Currents' posts, says:

What you mean is that kids with TVs are less holy, and that, too, is laughable. How many of us know kids who grew-up in the "spiritually rarified" air of homes that had no TVs but overindulged the moment they could? As one of your own commenters said, "The problem is not television. It’s bad television. If you restrict your kids... television can be a good influence." To which I'll add, lousy parents can ban their kids from watching TV, and if they are lousy parents the kids will still turn out bad. TV is not inherently evil.

I doubt anyone, even Rav Elyashiv, thinks that a cathode ray tube (or plasma if you have the money) is inherently evil. Obviously they are talking about the programming, not the medium itself. And everyone acknowledges that there are some educational and worthwile programs on TV. So the question is, is there enough good prgramming on TV to warrant having one. And if yes, can one successfully limit viewing to only the good stuff? Most people would say no and no.

As someone who tries not to watch TV (in fact I have almost watched nothing in the last year), but in the past watched a TON of TV, I have to agree with Rabbi Adlerstein. 95% of all TV is really quite bad. I would not want my kids watching it. Even the cartoons are overly violent and have an attitude. Have you ever seen 'Cyberchase'? I really don't know what I will do when my kids grows out of Thomas The Tank Engine and The Wiggles.

And as far as 'adult' TV goes, it gets even worse. The reality shows are moronic. Low class, white trash, exhibitionists finding love, danger or whatever. Who cares. Sure, I watched the whole series of Paradise Hotel, I really wish I hadn't though. Never again! The CSI type shows are twisted and disgusting. How do decent people get a kick from watching such horrific violence? The same goes for Jonathan Kellerman Novels and that whole genre. Sick and twisted. The sitcoms are mostly stupid, though sometimes you can learn something about social behaviors and how to deal with situations from some of the more sophisticated shows. Even the news is dumbed down.

The only things really worth watching are the Discovery Channel and old classic comedy reruns. is it worth having a TV for that? And can you ensure that the only thing your kids ever watch are shows about Dolphins and old episodes of Monty Python? Even something as harmless and popular as Friends and Seinfeld have issues. Remember the 'Master of your domain' episode? Do you want your 12 year old watching that? I think not.

So what about DovBear's claim that kids from 'frum' homes go off the derech too, and try and watch TV at every opportunity? It's a good question. Clearly, protecting your kids from harm does not always work. But you still have to try. I think I would advocate having a small TV, and occasionally allowing kids to watch something harmless, just so that it's not forbidden fruit. However the parents need to follow this example too. Having a large screen in the master bedroom will send a hypocritical message to the kids.

And what about DovBear's initial comment: "What you mean is that kids with TVs are less holy, and that, too, is laughable". If there is such a concept of "Holy", which I believe you must say there is if you are Orthodox, then it's hardly laughable. I don't want to get into defining 'Holy' right now. But whatever it means, I would argue with conviction that a teenager who spends hours each night watching the OC and similar shows absolutely has to be less 'Holy' than someone spending the same time learning, or even playing sports. If not, then many of the major tenets of Orthodox Judaism are a joke. Is DovBear arguing that Orthodox Judaism is a joke? I don't know, you will have to ask him that question.

I don't like Rabbi Adlersteins somewhat triumphalist chareidi tone, but I have to agree with the sentiment.

TV is evil and you should limit it as much as possible.

Breishis: Mythology or Lies?

The most frequent question I hear regarding the Cassuto mehalech is 'How could G-d have lied in the Torah'. Here is what Rav Chaim Navon has to say, quoted from this article

We are not dealing here with a "lie," God forbid, just as the creation story in Bereshit is not a "lie," even according to Rav Kook who maintains that it may not correspond precisely to the events that actually transpired. The Torah never claimed to mirror historical reality with any degree of exactitude; it expects its students to read it after they have already mastered its historical background. According to those who advocate this approach, God never meant to give us the impression that the biblical stories reflect historical reality. When both the author and the reader understand that the Torah does not reflect historical reality, there is no room to talk of a "lie." The key point is that the Torah and science, including historical science, are two separate realms, the objectives of which are entirely different, so that there cannot be any contradiction between them.

You may recall that there is no ikkar which says the Torah is historically true, just that G-d gave the Torah. Likewise, the 8th ikkar says that G-d 'dictated' the Torah to Moshe, which does not neccessarily preclude the texts having been existant in one form of another prior to that.

Note: This mehalech answers Science & Torah questions. It does not attempt to address Documentary Hypothesis questions, though it may be of value there too.

Gedolim Magic Quadrant Update

In light of recent developments, Gartner Group have modified their Gedolim Survey. Here is the new magic quadrant.

Cassuto: Breishis as Counter-Mythology

Long time readers of my blog will know that while I don't claim to have THE answer to all those Science vs Torah questions, I have always strongly felt that the most correct mehalech was not Schroeder or Slifkin (and obviously not Rav Shternbuch, Shapiro and Kiruv Clown friends), but was in fact Umberto Cassuto's mehalech.

Was Cassuto frum? Well, he had semichah, according to this:

Born in Florence, Italy, he studied there at the university and the Collegio Rabbinico. After graduating in humanities and receiving his rabbinic diploma, he took up teaching positions in both institutions. At this time his main research was on the history and literature of the Jews of Italy. From 1914 to 1925 Cassuto was chief rabbi of Florence and then in 1925 became professor of Hebrew language and literature in the University of Florence and then took the chair of Hebrew at the University of Rome. Here he began to catalogue the Hebrew manuscripts in the Vatican but the 1938 anti-Semitic laws forced him out of his positions and he continued his academic career at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He edited a Bible with Hebrew commentary that has remained an Israel school classic. His interests focused on Bible exegesis in which he contested the documentary theory of Wellhausen on the origin of the Pentateuch, postulating its redaction to a school around the 10th century BCE. Cassuto also made important contributions to Ugaritic studies.

Wikipedia has this to say (it needs some editing if you want my opinion):

He studied there at the university and the Collegio Rabbinico. After getting a degree and Semicha, he taught in both institutions. From 1914 to 1925, he was chief rabbi of Florence. In 1925 he became professor of Hebrew and literature in the University of Florence and then took the chair of Hebrew language at the University of Rome La Sapienza. When the 1938 anti-Semitic laws forced him from this position, he moved to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Umberto's son Nathan was also a rabbi in Florence. He went into hiding during World War II, was betrayed and perished in the Nazi death camps. Nathan's wife and children were saved and emigrated to Israel. One child, the architect David Cassuto (born 1938), played a key role in rebuilding the Jewish quarter in the old city of Jerusalem. In the 1990s he was for some years deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

Basically, Cassuto's mehalech, like Nahum Sarna in Understanding Genesis (also frum), and also like Chief Rabbi Hertz in The Soncino Chumash (also frum), see the stories in the first part of Breishis as a response to the prevailing Canaanite/Sumerian Mythology, which doubtless the Israelites would have been aware of. Each myth is taken, stripped of its polytheistic and other nefarious content and replaced with pure monotheistic content. I am not sure if Sarna and Hertz were influenced by Cassutto or not, it seems likely.

Is anyone aware of any other frum (or traditional) scholars who had a similar mehalech? Please let me know. I am not aware of any, so I was gratified to see Hirhurim link to this article on the Gush Virtual Bet Midrash site by Rav Chaim Navon. Rav Navon explicitly condones the Cassuto mehalech, at least with respect to the Taninim mentioned in Breishis.

Cassuto argues that the Torah does not totally reject this mythological tradition; but rather it modifies it. "New ideas were attached to it in consonance with the conscience and ethos of the Hebrew people" (U. Cassuto, Biblical and Oriental Studies, vol. II, p. 98). According to Cassuto, the Torah continues to use the Tanin and Leviathan as symbols of the forces of evil against which God contends. The Torah eradicates the idolatrous meaning of these myths and turns them into a symbol of the war against the forces of evil and suffering.

Also interesting is that Rav Dovid Gottleib in this article talks about Cassuto's book on the Documentary Hypothesis, but adds the following disclaimer:

[[Cassuto’s book does not represent the position of Traditional Judaism. Some of his remarks would be considered false textually, and objectionable religiously. Nevertheless, his critique of the methods and results of “Biblical Criticism” are devastating and deserve to be known. – D.G.]]

So was Cassuto frum? Well, there is a street in Bayit Vegan named after him, but I'm not sure if that proves it definitively. Either way, I continue to maintain that this is the most correct peshat in Breishis. As for those people (like Boruch) who counter 'Why would G-d write mythology in the Torah?', my response is that it's really no more of a kashye than asking why would G-d write long (and boring?) geneologies and travel itineraries in the Torah which don't seem to add much value. And the answer to those kashyes?

I don't know, go ask the Author, not me.

Frumteens on the Zohar

I found the following story from a commenter on Frumteens of all places !

There is an interesting story told about HaGaon Rav Yitzchok HaLevi, the author of a Torah-true history of the Jewish People, the Doros HaRishonim (written to counter the history of the maskilim). Rav Yitschok HaLevi was also an important figure in the founding of Agudas Yisroel. His living room was the setting in which gedolim from all parts of Europe and all sectors of Yiddishkeit (Chassidish, Litvish, Yekkish, etc.) came together to meet and discuss building a political organization that would represent Torah-true Judaism before governments around the world.

Anyway, according to the story, the Doros Harishonim said to Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk the following: "I am ready to swear on a Sefer Torah on Yom Kippur that R. Shimon Bar Yochai did NOT write the Zohar."

Rav Chaim's response: "You don't need to swear."

Frumteens response? It was written by RSBY's talmidim! Actually, if you read the whole thread, you will see the Moderator contradict himself quite clearly. In the beginning of the thread he says:

The Zohar was indeed written by Rav Shimon bar Yochai, as confirmed by all our Torah experts, including the Arizal, who was the greatest expert in Kabbalah ever.

Then, after being debated by people who were clearly knowledgeable on the facts, he changes his claim to the following:

That RSHBI didnt write the Zohar meaning the all the exact words are not written by him is pretty clear - and yes, you dont need to swear to that. The Zohar was clearly edited by students of RSHBI, or even Geonim (the Steipler said that).

So first, "all our Torah experts" confirmed that RSBY wrote it, and now "the Steipler said the Geonim edited it!". I guess the Steipler was not a Torah expert. All this stuff is bogus apologetics anyway. The mistakes, contradictions and chronological impossibilities show that substantial portions MUST have been written in the 12th or 13th centuries.

Mitpachat Sefarim by R Yaakov Emden

UPDATE: I will have the Mitpachat Sefarim online next week, iy"h.

I had never heard of this sefer until recently, but it is reasonably well known amongst the scholars. R Yaakov Emden wrote it to point out all the flaws in the Zohar, though ultimately he confirms the Zohar as holy, based I think on the Ari. Seems strange to me why he would bother writing the sefer then.

It seems that this sefer is extremely hard to get, the chareidi stores don't like to sell it anymore. I have a copy in Word document form, if there is significant interest, I can post it. I haven't read it. I found the following message from Rav Daniel Eidensohn on a Internet mailing list:

Date: Wed, 11 Nov 1998 18:48:08 +0200
From: Daniel Eidensohn
Subject: Zohar & R'Yaakov Emden

It was implied by a recent posting that Rav Yaakov Emden did not hold by the authenticity of the Zohar. This is not accurate. He did do an exhaustive analysis of the text and concluded that there were a number of statements which were written in relatively recent times - but he did not reject the validity of the Zohar. G Sholem writes "In Mitpachat Sefarim (1768), Emden concluded on the basis of a large number of specific errors in the Zohar that many sections, and particulary the Midrash haNelam were late although he still assumed that there was an ancient foundation for the main body of the book.....19-century scholars of Judaism, Zunz...& Graetz went further that Jacob Emden and saw the Zohar as a product of the the 13th century...." Rav Kasher wrote an extensive article on the validity of the Zohar (published in Sinai - Sefer Yovel) on page 51 he wrote "...I brought in the name of the Yaavetz from his Sefer Mitpachat Sefarim that many statements and terminology are in a later style and were introduced into the Zohar by scribes during transcription. ...There is no doubt that the scribes wrote these on the margin of the Zohar and it was integrated with the text by the printer. These types of additions are often found in medrashim. And even in the Babylonian Talmud there are additions and comments of the Goanim which were inserted into the text itself. On this basis the Yaavetz wrote to explain all the places where the form and style indicated that they were from a more recent period - that they were inserted by scribes and thus remove the problem [ of the authenticity of the Zohar] because the Zohar should not be judged invalid because of these additions."

Finally the Mitpachat Sefarim was republished two years ago. I saw it in a sefarim store in Meah Shearim and asked why they were selling such "maskilidic" sefarim. The owner got indignant and said that the sefer is important in *validating* the authenticity of the Zohar.

Daniel Eidensohn

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Best Mussar of the 60's, 70's and 80's

Forget Der Alter, the best Mussar comes from Harav Michoel Yaeger:

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

Chayal, ani ohevet otchah

I spoke to my niece who just returned from Kfar Maimon, where she spent the last two days. She said there was a positive atmosphere there, and she and her friends made sure to express their good wishes to the soldiers and police, shouting 'chayal, ani ohevet otchah' over and over, to try and ensure that there were no confrontations or bad feelings. (Maybe the soldiers were cute too). She grew up in the Shomron, so of course she is anti-disengagement, but she has a good attitude in general.

It's quite probable that if I was there now, I would feel very differently about the disengagement. Not due to reason, but due to emotion. Likewise, I am usually moved by the kabalistic piyutim and zmiros, and even by various kabalistic passages I have read. But I can't figure out if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Is it better to be passionately and emotionally involved, or does that just cloud your judgment? Logic tells me the latter is true, but if we all became dispassionately involved in every cause, not much would get done. On the other hand, if we all became intensely emotionally involved in everything, correct decisions would be hard to come by.

Perhaps this tension between emotion and reason is also reflected in religious life. We have the rational side, and we have the emotional, mystical side of religion. Although some of kabalah seems suspect, it's hard to believe that G-d would create the Jewish religion without a mystical aspect to it. Finding the correct balance is difficult, but one we should strive for.

The rationalists seem to suffer from a lack of emotion, which is probably why, during the trying and very emotional years of the 14-18th centuries, the Zohar won out over the Moreh Nevuchim. And again, during the turbulent years of the founding of the state, the people turned to Rav Kook, and his brand of emotional mysticism. Possibly if things calm down both in Israel and in general, over the next few (hundred?) years we may see a shift back to a more rational and less emotional/mystical Judaism.

Some people might wonder if I am confusing emotion and mysticism as if it were one thing. Why can't we have passion and emotion without mysticism? It seems to me that there are very strong connections between these two concepts. Sure, some people manage to get passionate over the minutae of Halachah on Shabbat, without any mystical connection at all. But that's only some people. And are they really enjoying Shabbat, or are they just obsessive compulsive? Most people need that warm spritiual feeling, and the spiritual/mystical connection is where they get it from. It's no co-incidence that the mekubalim wrote many of the most beautiful piyutim and zmiros.

So here's my compromise. Let's be honest about who really wrote the Zohar. But let's also not dismiss all kabalah and mysticism as entirely bogus. How about it?

Rav Loch Sheves be'emek habochoh vhu yachmol olayich chemlah

Survival of the Fittest Religion

John Scopes was found guilty of teaching Darwinism, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, in a Tennessee high school on this date in 1925. Though Scopes was fined $100, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the verdict on a technicality. The trial, which became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was tried by two very famous lawyers, Clarence Darrow for the defense and prosecutor William Jennings Bryan. The ACLU financed the defense. It was only in 1968 that the US Supreme Court overturned a similar law in Arkansas.

Charles Darwin, quoted on the picture, said:

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives,nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

Does this apply to religion too? Does religion need to be adaptable to change? Or is it just the contrary. Maybe a religion needs to stay strong and davkah not change, or else it's in danger of losing its way?

In general, being adaptable to change is important. In the corporate world, with the threat of reorganization always looming (yikes!), you need to always be prepared to work in a new team or with a new boss at the drop of a hat.

In personal life too, marriage, children and other life changing events clearly require adaptive skills. But what about religion? Should Orthodoxy adapt to the new morals of the west? Should Orthodoxy adapt to the latest historical findings on the Zohar and other aspects of religion?

The ikkarim and the Torah itself seem to davkah include a principle of non-adaptation, that the Torah will never be changed, no matter what. Extra 'fenceguards' are possible, there is some leeway in various things, and some smaller changes are possible, but major things such as Shabbat, or the sin of forbidden relations seem to be impossible to change.

It would seem that according to Darwin, this is a recipe for failure, for non-survival. Yet here we are 3,000 years later, still keeping halachot as strongly as ever (in fact more strongly).

Boruch Elokeynu Shebraanu Lichvodo, VeHivdilanu Min Hatoim, VeNosan Lanu Toras Emes, Vechayei Olam Notah Betochaynu

Ashrei Haam Shekocho Lo, Ashrei Haam SheHashem Elokov

Boruch Spinoza, in reference to the Zohar discussion, and the differences between criticizing The Zohar and Torah SheBaalPeh said the following:

Godol Hador in summary:

Logic is like a powerful weapon that can destroy buildings. I will only use this powerful weapon to destroy ugly and dilapidated houses. The houses that I like, I will not touch since I value them.

Mis-nagid in summary:

If something has a logical flaw, then that shows it’s crap, and if you ignore it you are just fooling yourself. So you should want to reveal any logical flaws in your beliefs no matter how much you value them.

Of course there are other differences between the Zohar and TSBP too. The evidence that the Zohar was written in the 13th Century is very, very strong. The ‘evidence’ 'against' Torah is much, much weaker. However Spinoza hits upon an extremely important point.

Skepticism, cynicism and logical arguments can destroy many beautiful things. In addition, cool hard logic doesn’t make the world go round. Most of the amazing man made achievements in this world came about through passion, commitment, faith and zeal. Discussing logic and reason can only get you so far. The emotional aspect of all this is sorely lacking from my blog, since it’s very difficult (and personal) to convey emotions on a blog.

This same issues apply to the Gaza discussion. While it’s easy from a distance to be cool, calm and critical, when you are actually in the midst of things, everything can look very different. Of course this can work against you too. However whenever I go to Israel, and frequently the Shomron too, it’s hard not to feel the powerful pull of the land. The emotions are very strong and not easily explained.

The same goes for Torah and Judaism. It’s a magnificent edifice, and there’s too much value in it to simply throw it away based on some skeptical arguments. One can say the same for the Zohar too. While it may not have been written by RSBY, it’s still a magnificent piece of work. That doesn’t mean we should blindly follow everything in it, or discard scientific facts in favor of mystical explanations, but we also shouldn’t be too quick to discard items of great beauty and value.

Furthermore, the idea of ‘Continuous Revelation’, and the great spiritual intuition of the Jewish people is a very powerful one. Although there have been mistakes and slip ups over the years (Shabtai Ztvi, The Lubavitcher Rebbe or Rav Kook depending on your POV), by and large, the mass of Klal Yisroel tends to stay on the right track. There are enough checks and balances that things don’t ever get too crazy. I may scream and yell at the Chareidim, but relative to Islamic Fundamentalism there’s no comparison.

The Chareidim balance the MO’s lack of commitment, and the MO’s balance the Chareidi tendency to mysticism and obscurantism. It may not be perfect, but compared to anything else, I am confident we truly can say with complete Kavanah:

Ashrei Haam Shekocho Lo, Ashrei Haam SheHashem Elokov

Two Sides, One Minyan

Irrespective of whether you are for or against the disengagement, we should all daven together for a peaceful and proper resolution to this issue. We should always remember:

'That which unites us is greater than that which divides us'.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Lonely Man Of Faith

It was sixty years ago today
R Soloveitchik taught at YU without pay,
The chareidim didn't like his style,
But the MO's will revere him for a while,
So may I introduce to you,
The book you've known for all these years,
R Soloveitchik's Lonely Man Of Faith Book.

Its R Soloveitchik's Lonely Man Of Faith Book.
We hope you will enjoy the read
Its R Soloveitchik's Lonely Man Of Faith Book.
Sit back and take it at a slow speed
R Soloveitchik's Lonely
R Soloveitchik's Lonely
R Soloveitchik's Lonely Man Of Faith Book.

Is this a good book? Some of RYBS's writing can be difficult. I especially don't like the word 'ontic' appearing in every paragraph, I suppose that was the cool buzzword back in the 50's. 'Hey you groovy cat, I'm ontic'.

Unfortunately it still seems to be out of print.

Kabalah 101: Yeneeka

1. The concept of YENEEKA and the importance to the place of birth and where one lives.

In the same way we eat and drink, giving our body energy to live and survive, our soul needs spiritual energy to survive .

יניקה מלמעלה - Yeneeka Milmaala - is the place where one receives ones energy from spirit world. It is a specific place in this physical world . This is the physical place where you should be living, and is the place your soul is yearning and searching for your physical body to move to.

If you are not living or were not born in that place, then you will find that you need to sleep more than most people, so that your soul can travel to that place whilst you sleep and feel recharged and energised ( especially in the daytime ) . These signs should identify to you that you must MOVE from where you are living.

However, before you contemplate moving, you need to ask yourself honestly, why have you been born and put in the situation you are in . Is it because you have made mistakes in your life and got SIDE-TRACKED (see "side-tracked" chapter) . Or have you had no choice, and this is where your life has placed you in this situation. In either case, now that you are with knowledge from spiritual learning. It is time to CHANGE, your soul is looking and ready to make the changes .

If you have been born in the situation and place you are in , then you must consider honestly the reasons why GOD and spirit world , put you in this situation . King David in Psalms, actually considers this place and compares it to being born AMONGST YOUR ENEMIES . King David, refers to the people around you as enemies because they are trying to kill your soul, draining your soul of any spirituality, vitality and life energy. Therefore, considering the danger to your soul, it becomes a critical emergency and vitally important to WAKE UP your soul to CHANGE.

You have been placed in the "wrong place" for a reason. GOD, spirit world and YOUR soul on a higher level, made the choice of your life circumstances before you were born. You chose the difficulties in your life, so that your soul would learn the lessons. These lessons are needed to learn from previous lifetimes, in order to release your soul from the past lives mistakes - making a TIKUN HAGILGUL.

The Place of Birth

In the spiritual concept of "YENEEKA", it is vitally imperative that you consider the place of your birth and if you can find out the place of your conception, ( if it's different, this is specially important - as your soul started its journey in one place, with the energy of that place and the energy of everywhere your mother travelled until your birth).

This is place where your soul started your physical journey in this world. This was the best place chosen by your soul to come to earth, in order that you would have this energy attached and infused in your soul.

In considering the place of birth, one needs to understand the energy that town/city is famous for and at the time of your conception and birth, the energy that was associated with that place.

For example:- Liverpool UK, everyone has heard of Liverpool after 1963 when the Beatles revolutionised the music world. The creative loving transformation they made, catalysed a whole generation to change. Rebelling against the past, encouraging freedom of expression life by living freely and lovingly.

Anyone born in Liverpool will be associated with that energy, however, anyone born in liverpool in 1963 and 1964 has the potential energy to catalyse a CHANGE in the world like the Beatles did for the music world, culture and society.

This has 2 reasons, firstly the harmonious astrological influences of planets of MARS and VENUS in 1963 and 1964 where moving - "dancing together" in the sky . These two planets of aggressive and assertive MARS and loving VENUS were travelling in each of the star signs together for 2 weeks in each month for 1963 and 1964, which has infused an energy withing ALL the children with that aspect throughout the whole world, with LOVE . An outlook of life that wants and can change the world with LOVE . All of these children are indeed becoming leaders of this next generation and influencing the world to change positively with love and peace.

The second reason applies specifically to children of Liverpool born 1963 and 1964, ( and for many years following as they are infused with the initial energy received from the whole world in 1963 1964) . The reason is that the whole world was fixated with the Beatles from Liverpool. The positive energy of the world was focused on Liverpool. Which energised the city and people who lived in Liverpool.

Other examples of places of birth, that just the name has implications and energies that are associated with it :

New York, considered be many to be the number 1 city of the world, with the tallest of sky scrapers on Manhattan. The centre of capitalist business and materialism in the whole world.

Paris, city of love and romance. Rome, thoughts of the Roman Empire and of religion of christianity. Istanbul, untrusting, deceitful and potentially dangerous to Christians and Jews.

Similarly, places can have meanings in peoples mind as places of death, tragedy, bad luck. Once labelled by our minds and thoughts, people born and associated with that place carry this negative energy. For example, Beslan Russia, Chernobyl, Izmit Turkey ( the 30,000 dead in earthquake in 1999), Bam Iran ( earthquake of Dec 26th 2003), Sri Lanka, Nicobar and all the places affected by Tsunami todal wave of Dec 26th 2004) . Even whole countries can have a negative and uncomfortable energy and label upon them, like Ethiopia, Turkey, North Korea, Nigeria. Even if the place has overcome its problems the label and energy is still there !

Constantly in the world there are energies transcending, places being given the gift of LOVE and life vitality, and those places that are a focus of negative emotions hatred violence and death.

Just think of the following places as potential holiday destinations, which of these appeal to you and which dont ( and ask yourself why? and why not ?) :- Paris, Rome, Brussels, Jerusalem, Bagdad, Istanbul, Chernobyl, Addis Ababa, Damascus, Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, New York, etc etc ., now do you understand ? that each place has an energy . A YENEEKA from heavens above, therefore :-

Learn about the PLACE of your conception and birth.

Learn about the history and events that occured in the world at the time of your conception and birth.

Learn about the history of the place you are currently living in, what energies are associated with this place? What lessons do you need to learn in living there? What type of energy is your soul receiving ? Is it life giving good and constructive or draining and deadly destructive ?

In the pages of CHANGE on this website, we discuss how easy it is to change and move home by connecting with a place that gives your soul strength vitality and a desire to love and live .


Lucky for me I was born in Liverpool in 1964 (the same day that 'I wanna hold your hand' was released), and not some bad luck place like Izmit or Addis Ababa (chas vesholom). I now have the power to change the world !

All together now (all together now):

You say there wasn't any evolution
Well, you know
It doesn't fit with the facts
You tell me that it was all a nes-nissayon
Well, you know
It just doesn't fit with the facts
And then you talk about spontaneous generation
Don't you know that you can count me out

Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the article
You ask me for my simple devotion
Well, you know
We're all doing what we can
But when you want tzedakah
for askanim with minds that hate
All I can tell you is Rabbi you have to wait

Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

ah, ah, ah, ah, ah...

You say we can't change our masorah constitution
Well, you know
We just need to change our heads
You tell me we need the Bnei Brak institutions
Well, you know
We should follow YU instead
But if you go carrying pictures of the Gedolai Hador
You ain't going to make it with anyone anymore

Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right
all right, all right, all right
all right, all right, all right

The Reverse Mesorah

NOTE: I am not attacking the Mesorah. Only the Zohar. Believing in the Zohar is not an ikkar. There's no chiyuv to believe in sheker.

We all know how the Mesorah works. Moshe Rabbeinu handed the Torah to Yehoshua, who handed it to the Neviim, etc etc, all the way down to us today. An unbroken chain.

What is more interesting is the Reverse Mesorah. How do we know the Zohar is authentic, against all the evidence? Because the Ari said it was.

And how do we know the Ari is correct? Because the GRA held of him.
And why do we know the GRA was correct ? Because Rabbi X held he was ...
And how do we know Rabbi X is credible? Because R 'Elyashiv held of him.

In other words, the Reverse Mesorah leads all the way forward to R Elyashiv. It has to, there is nowhere else it can go. So if we can only show that R Elyashiv is not credible, the whole Reverse Mesorah falls apart.

Now, I wonder how we could possibly do that?

Zohar is Fake: The Document !!!

NOTE: I personally removed the Author's name and the Gedolim's names from this document. Neither he nor they were anonymous in the document I have. The Gedolim are all household names. This document is 100% verified as the work of a genuine chareidi Rabbi who is not a crackpot.


Sorry for the delay with the Zohar document, it was a bit of a mess. Proof positive that the guy who wrote it is a Chareidi. I have fixed many spelling mistakes, and tried to create a table of contents and structure the document somewhat. Here is the table of contents:

1.2 MESORAH. 3

2.3.1 Rav Chamai Gaon 7
2.3.2 The Raavad 7
2.3.3 Rabbi Yitzchok Sagi Nahor – Rabbi Isaac The Blind 8
2.3.4 The Ramban 8
2.7 THE ARI 15



5.1.1 Rav M 39
5.1.2 Rav A 39
5.1.3 Rav K 39
5.1.4 Rav G 39
5.1.5 Rav S 40

This is going to be good.

My Logical Song

With apologies to Harav Yerucham Davies.

When I was young, it seemed that Kabalah was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was all so mystical, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily,
Joyfully, talking to the Ari.

But then I started to become much more sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

There are times when all the world's asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a rational man.
Won't you please, please tell me what you'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,
heretical, fanatical, modern-orthodoxical.
Won't you sign up your name, we'd like to feel you're
Acceptable, respectable, shidduchable, a fundie vegetable!

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

Zohar, Kabala, Ari: I Told You So !

I just got the most amazing document from a choshuv chareidi rav. He shows how the Zohar is mostly fake using many many proofs and other sefarim, and that the only reason we believe it is because the GRA said it was good. And the only reason the GRA said it was good is because he was relying on the ARI. And he shows how the ARI was clearly mistaken and how the Ari also made up a bunch of stuff, much of which is just wrong. Its a house of cards.

How could the great GRA have been so wrong, you may ask? Well, the GRA famously said that the Rambam was misled by Greek Philosophy. So surely, if the GRA could say this about the Rambam, we can say it about the GRA!

The author also asked a bunch of Choshuv Gedolim about this and they all said that while his proofs were basically correct there is a core of truth to the Kabalah and the Zohar, and anyway the Zohar has been accepted by Klal Yisroel for so long so what can you do.

I have to go through the document and edit it for clarity before posting it (its 27 pages long!), but it basically proves what I have been saying all along. For those people who thought I was a huge kofer for dismissing the Zohar and the Ari, I have one thing to say; Nya nya nya. This Rav is way more sharfe than I ever was.

I can think of a number of responses to the article:

1. The Tamar Ross Response
Its not fake, its continuous revelation. Moses DeLeon and the Ari were zocheh to new divinely inspired theologies, and they quite rightly became part of our mesorah. This is how it's supposed to work. Oh and by the way can we change Judaism to be more feminist, thanks.

2. The Gedolim Response
Kefirah! You're banned! (In other words, you have some very good points but we can't go around showing the flaws in the mesorah, it's just not healthy, so please don't talk about it and go learn something else. This is what one Godol basically said).

3. The Skeptic Response
See! The whole masorah is krum. You can't trust any part of it. A major section of Orthodox ideology turns out to be fake. Typical. I wonder what else is fake?

4. The Kiruv Response
Nu, so believing in Kabalah or the Ari is not an ikkar. If it really bothers you so much, so don't say Brich Shmei or Kabalat Shabbat, and make sure to wear Tefilin on Chol Hamoed. It's not such a big deal.

5. My Response
Again Chareidi Ideology turns out to be krum. Enough already! Lets ditch all the bogus Chareidi stuff and return Judaism to its rational roots.

Uncle Moishy on Gaza

Lets get out of Gaza today,
Lets get out of Gaza
Lets get out of Gaza today,
Lets get out of Gaza
Leaving Nezarim there and Gush Katif there
Lets get out of Gaza.

Seriously though, a commentator called Uncle Moishe had this to say:

The disengagement makes sense if you anticipate an ultimate resolution of "two states for two people" (or something similar). The next step will be to complete the security fence (shoulda been done long ago). Steps after that (e.g., negotiations, withdrawal from beyond the fence) will depend on the Palestinian response. Thus, I agree with Conservative Apikorus' take that Gaza is a pilot for the West Bank.

Is there an endgame other than a two-state solution? Maybe, but it would have to include a bad fate for the Palestinians: permanent grade B citizenship (non-voting); expulsion; maybe worse. As GH has already noted here, none of the rightists seem to have another alternative handy.

Those who ask when the US will be returning its land to the natives from whom it was usurped ask a legitimate question. Such possibilities are never taken seriously here or in Australia or New Zealand. Clearly, the passage of time and the current demographic balance push such questions to the background. But more recent experiments in British Colonialism (why are they always British?) haven't fared as well -- i.e., South Africa, Zimbabwe. Regardless, for the same logic to work in Israel, someone will have to slaughter the Palestinians, then hope that the other 21 Arab nations don't take it personally. Even if the latter could be assured (and let's face it, the other Arab countries care little for their Palestinian brethren), I for one am not volunteering for the assignment.

Regarding the argument that Gaza is sure to become a "terrorist state," my response is maybe, but maybe not. It's hard to predict the future. For example, in 1974, no one could have predicted that a peace treaty with Egypt would be signed within five years of the then-recently-completed Yom Kippur War. Some historians have claimed that it was the initial success of the Yom Kippur War that allowed Egypt to "save face" from its disaster in 1967 and negotiate a treaty with Israel in 1978 (Of course, in Egypt, the official history claims that those wars were won).

Another, more recent example, comes from the Israeli pullout from Lebanon. Rightists also predicted that southern Lebanon would become a terrorist launchpad after Israel pulled out. But the post-pullout reality has been mostly quiet and it's easy to understand why: the threat of the IDF re-entering Southern Lebanon if Hezbollah acts up too much. Moreover, having pulled back to a UN-certified border, Israel now actually gets UN support (imagine that?!) for its current border, despite Hezbollah claims over the "Shebaa Farms" area.

Another point: The rules for states differ from the rules for non-states. At some point a Palesinian government will be responsible for Gaza and for preventing hostile acts (i.e., rocket fire) into Israel. To the extent that said government fails to do so, the IDF is sure to respond, perhaps by reoccupying the northernmost strip of Gaza now being vacated. But if/when it does so, it will be purely as a matter of self-defense. There will be no legitimate counterclaim of occupation, nor of territorial expansion. I actually read somewhere yesterday (probably in Haaretz) speculation that Hamas has stepped up its rocket launches because they realize that after the pullout there will be pressure on them to behave too (ha-le-vie!).

Finally, there is what I term the "behavioral" argument. Many anti's on this issue note that it is easy for the Palestinians to view disengagement as a victory (see the link by a previous post to Danny Rubinstein's Haaretz article) and that that makes disengagement a reward for terrorism, and a bad "lesson" for the Palestinians to learn, just as giving in to your tantrumizing child only teaches the child to throw more tantrums. Further, as Mirty noted on her blog, the Palestinians' "culture of death" and their endless inculcation of hatred for Israel and its Jews are surely bitter pills that cannot be overcome in less than a generation's time. There is probably a lot of validity to these points.

However, I believe we need to be conscious of the extreme imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has a highly sophisticated and proficient army and intelligence corps, while the Palestinians' most (only?) potent weapon is the suicide bomber. While there probably isn't an Israeli who is more than two degrees of separation from a terror victim, Israel's society and economy continue to run on most of its cylinders. Tourists are back (try booking a flight or room for Sukkos this year), high tech remains a growth industry, daily life continues. In contrast, Palestinian unemployment is closer to 50% than to zero, there is talk of malnutrition in some quarters, and life -- let's face it -- pretty much sucks.

Of course, much of this can be laid at the feet of the Palestinians themselves, especially their leadership. I believe that Arafat's response to Camp David, particularly his not presenting a counter-offer and continuing negotiations, was a colossal blunder. His people will never get that offer again, just as they will never get the green line again, let alone the UN's original partition borders. But none of that alters the basic reality of occupation, which is subjugation by a military power, loss of freedom of movement and, it seems, confiscation of lands (talk about your eminent domain) for purposes of security (as defined by the occupation army) and colonization by settlers. And it is now twice as many years since occupation as it was between 1948 and 1967. Having made formal peace with Egypt and Jordan, with de facto coexistence in place with its other neighbors, and no real threat to its acknowledged military superiority (possible exception: Iranian nukes, but that's not for today), shouldn't Israel be taking the lead in defining an acceptable two-state solution to the only real issue that matters? Isn't that what Sharon is effectively doing?

In my (probably naive) mind, I often compare today's Palestinians with the Israelites of the Exodus (l'havdeel). As we know from our religious commentators, the Israelites had descended to the 49th (nearly irredeemable) level of impurity before their liberation from bondage. They were not prepared for freedom, nor to receive the mitzvot of the Torah, and ultimately, that generation was doomed to die out in the desert. It was only the next generation that was able to accept the concomitant responsibilities of freedom and who merited entry into Eretz Yisrael. If this analogy is even a little valid, then there is reason to believe that Palestinian society need not remain the way it is today forever.

Someday we may yet look back at the Palestinians' "victory" in Gaza as the first step towards a solution to this seemingly intractable mah-tzav.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Some moron is going around impersonating me (and other's) on other people's blogs (and mine). On 'Blogger' comments, you can tell if its really me or not by clicking my name. If its me, it will tell you my profile is hidden. If its the fake guy, you will just be linked to my blog. If you use 'Haloscan' comments, you will have to check the IP address, but please keep those confidential. In general, if you see a comment which is rude (to other bloggers), or rude (i.e. pritzusdick) then you can be sure it's not me. In general, IP addresses should not be disclosed or shared. However for an impersonator we should make an exception.

The following IP addresses has been proved to be an impersonator:

The Big Question

A commentator writes:
With all [of] Orthodoxy’s problems, and whether its doctrines are true or not, there is [still] real spirituality and a commitment from the [Orthodox] laity to what they perceive as G-d’s will (not their own). In the Reform and Conservative movement, especially among the laity, I find minimal spirituality and almost zero commitment to any religious ideal outside of their own personal desires. Maybe [only] 1% [of Reform/Conservative Jews] ask basic questions about Torah, life, purpose, etc. As a general rule, [Conservative/Reform] is religiously shallow, uninspiring, and meaningless with almost zero reverence for G-d. The leadership looks to sociology rather than Torah. I would achieve greater connection to G-d as well as greater opportunity to refine my character in a Church (even a liberal one), Mosque, Hindu or Buddhist temple than a Reform or Conservative temple.
I think this is a little harsh, especially the bit about ‘zero reverence for G-d’, and obviously there are always exceptions, even significant exceptions, but ultimately the above is generally true. Most Reform and Conservative Jews are simply less religiously involved than their Orthodox counterparts. I am not making a judgment here as to the correctness of Conservative / Reform doctrines versus Orthodox doctrines. However it certainly does seem to be the case that the more Orthodox you get, the greater the passion and commitment to the Jewish religion and to G-d.

Likewise, this same distinction seems to be equally true for Modern Orthodox versus Ultra Orthodox Jews too. The UO's are generally more committed, more passionate and spend more time on religious and G-d centered activities than their MO counterparts. Of course there are exceptions here too, sometimes significant exceptions. However in general it is the case that the more Orthodox are the more committed.

So, the question is, why? What is the nature of this correlation? Is it causal or incidental? If causal, how does this causality work? Does having a more rational view of religion automatically cause one to be less committed? Does keeping Halachah automatically cause one to be more committed?

I can think of a few answers to this question, probably all of which are true to some extent:

1. Rational Answer
From a purely rational perspective, those people who feel more strongly that Halachah is divinely ordained are obviously more likely to keep more of it. And since Halachah pretty much covers every sphere of life, its no surprise that this group of people are therefore the more committed.

2. Mystical Answer
Torah is not just a system of laws, but a divinely ordained framework, which has beneficial spiritual consequences in this world as well as the next. Those people who keep Halachah properly and have the correct Hashkafot will automatically benefit from these consequences and will be better, more committed Jews as a result.

3. Demographic Answer
By definition, those living in more Orthodox environments are the type of people who will tend to be more committed. Those in Orthodox environments who are not so committed, tend to drop out of Orthodoxy. Likewise, those in Reform & Conservative households are typically the less committed types. Those who wish to be more committed tend to become Baal Teshuva's and join Orthodoxy.

4. False Question
The question is false, since the definition of ‘more committed’ is pretty much the same as ‘more Orthodox’, so asking why ‘more Orthodox’ people are also ‘more committed’ people doesn’t make sense. It’s the same thing.

The other aspect of this which cannot be ignored is the question of what is the value of being more ‘committed’ anyway? Is it actually important to be more committed? To be more G-d centered? Does keeping more Halachah automatically translate into being more committed and more G-d centered, or are we confusing these concepts? To answer that question we have to have a common agreement as to the goals of life. If the two sides have two different conceptions as to the ultimate goal of life, then arguing over who is more committed is pointless, since each side will see themselves as more committed to their definition of the goal.

So, the methodology for this analysis should go something like this:
  1. Gain a more concrete understanding and agreement as to the goals of life and Judaism
  2. Gain agreement as to which groups do a better job at meeting those goals
  3. Gain understanding as to what the causes are of some groups performing better
  4. Plan activities and group affiliations accordingly
If no common ground can be found as to the goals of life and Judaism, then further analysis becomes pointless. However it is my expectation that we can at least find some common ground there, and in the next few posts we shall try.


I have resisted blogging about the Gaza Disengagement because my feelings are complicated. I have strong Zionist tendencies, but am also fairly liberal. However Jameel at the Muqata wrote to me this morning and said:
Its Jews being kicked out of their homes. Shuls, Yeshivot, and Mikavot being destroyed. Its transferring dozens of Jewish graves. Its an entire industry of kosher food produce (10% of Israel's total agricultural export) being destroyed.

Kfar Darom is a settlement in which ALL the people learn in kolell/yeshiva and are entirely financed by their greenhouses and successful businesses. No handouts needed! No government financing - they support themselves and their learning with this industry!

Where is the outcry? Thousands of Charedim will demonstrate over road construction which may affect Jewish graves -- yet where are they when it comes to evicting LIVING Jews from their homes of 30 years in Eretz Yisrael?

There are children's yeshivot in Gush Katif that learn 365 days a year- every single day of the year they learn. All of this is being slated for destruction?

Think about this. Post about this. Talk about this.

Daven about this.

And cry. May Hashem have mercy on Am Yisrael and prevent this evil decree from happening.

So here is my post:

Jonathan Rosenblum on Cross Currents writes about the effect of the planned Gaza withdrawal on the National Religious youth:
From the creation of the State (“reishit tzmichat geulateinu – the first flowering of the Redemption”) to the lightning victory of 1967 and the return to our historic heartland to the mass immigration of the early ‘90s, the national religious world has lived in a state of heightened expectations to which the writings of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook gave the most fervent expression. The dashing of those expectations could well prove to be the most tragic consequence of the Gaza withdrawal.
A commenter called Tzvi Noach wrote this:
Simply put, for those of us born after the Holocaust, this would be the most tragic and devastating event that the Jewish people will ever have experienced in our lifetimes. There is simply no parallel, no precedent, for the destruction of over 20 Jewish communities in our lifetimes. Dozens of shuls, yeshivos, kollelim, bais yaakovs, chadorim, and schools—not to mention a cemetery—are to be destroyed. Thousands of yidden are to be displaced, thrown out of their homes. And there are virtually no plans to replace or rebuild these communities or Torah institutions elsewhere, either on the part of the government, or on the part of the residents, who are still focused on fighting the expulsion.
To which Ori responded:
Sorry, but you’re overstating your case... But you’re forgetting the Yom Kippur was in 1973. About three thousand soldiers died. They didn’t lose their homes and have to find new ones. They got Beit Olam (= grave). They didn’t feel like the government betrayed them, if anything they felt the intense heat of a burning tank or the pain of a bullet. Their children did not have to put up roots in a new community. They had to grow without their fathers. I’m not saying being betrayed by the government and losing your home is easy. But I assume it is a lot better than dying in a war.
And Micha added:
WADR to Zvi Noach, the primary thing that caused this disengagement is American Jews. Arik Sharon (may H’ grant him the wisdom to lead our people) isn’t talking about disengaging from Efrat, Gush Etzion or Maalei Adumim. Rather, from Azza, where only 9,000 or so Jews live amongst a Palestinian population time bomb.
In PM Sharon’s eyes, giving up Azza is like amputating a gangrenous leg before it spreads. All the while one cries for the patient, even if you agree with its need.
But more than that, I’m feeling overwhelming guilt. The leg is in danger because of a lack of flow of lifeblood. The guilty party is not Arik Sharon, it’s myself—I chose to build a large family in the comfort and familiarity of a NY suburb. And so infection gained a foothold… And if we all had built communities in Aza or northern Shomron instead of all us self-proclaimed Zionists in North Jersey?
Yep, that pretty much sums it all up.

Personally, I think I agree with the withdrawal plan, and I do not buy into the almost knee-jerk MO (even Chareidi) reaction that if you’re frum you must be against it. It’s not a tragedy, it’s common sense. The tragedy will be if it degenerates into civil war, loss of religious faith and any one of the other bad consequences which are totally within our ability to control.

Comparing the Gaza disengagement to pogroms, the Holocaust or similar tragedies of Jewish history cheapens the memory of those atrocities and is a manipulative cheap shot. Its not the same thing at all. If you are against the disengagement for well argued political (or even religious reasons) then fine. But don’t go on and on about Jews being dragged from their homes, and yeshivot being destroyed. Its 8,000 settlers vs.1 million Palestinians. You do the math.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Nigunei Yirmiyahu Paige

There's a Rabbi who's sure the Gedolim are all pure
And he's trying to get into heaven
And when he gets there he thinks though his article really stinks
With protectziyah he can still get what he came for

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And he's trying to get into heaven

There's a sign on the wall that the Gedolim won’t recall
Which bans those who say ‘day’ has two meanings
In the tree by the brook there's a songbird who sings
And you must believe the Ari understands what its saying

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And he's trying to get into heaven

He feels rather meek when he looks to the east
And his spirit is crying for leaving
To Bnei Brak he has been, R Elyashiv he has seen
And he heard the voices of those in Bayit Vegan

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And he's trying to get into heaven

And he whispers that soon, if we all sing his tune
Then the Ari will lead us all from reason
And a new day will dawn for those who follow him
But the rationalists will echo with laughter

And it makes me wonder
If there's a chuckle in the backrow (of the Beis)
Don't be alarmed now
It's just letzonus for the Kanno-eem

Yes there are two paths you can go by
and in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on

Your head is humming and it won't go because you don't know
The Gedolim are calling you to join them
Dear Rabbi can't you hear the wind blow and did you know
Your path should lie on the intelligent side

And as we wind on down the road
Our sechel smarter than our souls
There walks a Rabbi we all know
He’s seen the light and wants to show
That he can be a true Godol

But if he listens very hard
The truth will come to him at last
He must heed the golden rule
To be a baal sechel not a fool

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And he's trying to get into heaven

Song for Rabbi Feldman

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the French I took
But I do know that the Torah is literally true
And I know that if you would believe this too
What a wonderful world this would be

Don't know much about geography
Don't know much trigonometry
Don't know much about algebra
Don't know what a slide rule is for
But I know that Chazal are always right
And if you are mevatel your daas without a fight
What a wonderful world this would be

Now, I don't claim to be the Godol Hador
But I'm trying to be
For maybe by being the Godol Hador baby
I can win your love for me

Gemarah Myths

Now, don't get me wrong. Gemarah is important. Chazal are important. Halachah is important. If you are Orthodox that is. But here are some myths I will try to debunk from within an Orthodox perspective. Obviously if you hold that Torah Shebaal peh is man made you will probably have a different perspective.

1. The Gadlus Proof
I don't buy it when people say 'Just read one line (or sugyah) of Gemarah and you will see the amazing gadlus', and from there try to bring a proof for the divine origin of Torah SheBaal Peh. Its a poor proof. There maybe some gadlus in seeing the entire worldview of Chazal, and seeing how sensible and on the money they were (mostly), considering the time they lived in and especially compared to some other faiths I could mention. They weren't perfect, and they didn't know 21st century science (or even 2nd century science in some cases), but they were still great men.

But you won't see that from one sugyah, or even many sugyot. Having multiple levels of confusing arguments because of lack of punctuation and clarity is not gadlus. It's just confusing. Having an additional two thousand years worth of multiple layers of commentary to add to the confusion might demonstrate the incredible passion and attachment that the Jews have for Torah (and might in itself be evidence of the divine nature of TSBP), but its not Gadlus either. Its just even more confusing.

2. Gemarah is everything
There have been plenty of debates throughout history as to how primary should the study of Talmud Bavli be. The Rambam seems to indicate that he thought he could do away with the Bavli entirely, and everyone would just learn the Mishne Torah instead. Others have also sought to limit Gemara study in favor of other disciplines, e.g Kabalah, Chasidut or Mussar. In the same way that Judaism has become slightly perverted in the over acceptance of Kabalah, I think we have also made a mistake in the over acceptance of Gemarah, at the expense of all other disciplines. Yeshivot need to cut down on the endless Gemarah and start to focus on other things too, including machshavah, tenach, spirituality and the like.

Maybe we won't get such bekiim in shas with such an approach, but at least we'll get more well rounded individuals, and as recent events have shown, we are sorely in need of some or even many of those. The super shas bekiim make poor leaders, and ultimately poor poskim too.

3. Gemarah is so much more complicated than Science
Someone who I couldn't possibly name here maintains that the different sedarim in shas are so different that each could be likened to a different branch of the sciences, e.g. Physics, Chemistry etc. Gedolim and Talmidei Chachomim have to be experts in each branch, and its rare if not impossible to find a scientist who knows more than one branch, or even one branch in its entirety. Therefore to be an expert in Shas you have to start learning a huge amount from early childhood. I hear this claim a lot. I don't have the evidence to dispute it, but my gut tells me its not true. I can well imagine plenty of scientists who have been 'learning' for many years 'behasmodoh' and 'beiyun' who have mastered equal or more complex amounts of subjects, and didn't start from early childhood.

The only way to do an honest and fair comparison is to come up with some objective means of quantifying knowledge, taking into account quantity (i.e. amount of facts to be memorized) and quality (i.e. complexity of facts), plus maybe creativity and some other things too. Then, and only then, can we compare science to gemarah and see which is really more complex. Just because Gemarah is written without good punctuation, with lacunae in the text, and in an ancient language, doesn't make it inherently more complex. It just makes it more difficult to study.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Responses Rip Rabbi Feldman

Two more responses were recently written to Rabbi Feldman's article, the first by Prof. Yehudah Gellman is here, the second by 'Meir Ben Tvzi' is here. Both articles pretty much rip R Feldman's article apart. I would reprint them in full, but I think it's a waste of space. No one I have spoken to has had anything good to say about Rabbi Feldman's article, and I still maintain he doesn't really believe it all himself.

Two other blogs are worthy of mention. Dark Blue Hat is doing a good job of responding to the ban, though at times his irony can leave one a little confused as to which side he is actually on. Another excellent blog of late has been Jewish Worker, who debunked the whole Nishtaneh Hatevah nonsense.

So, I guess I shall have to consign Rabbi Feldman's article to the folder titled 'Kiruv Clownery & Other Nonsense', where it can share filespace with R David Orlofsky and R Moshe Shternbuch's comedic works. Are the Charedi Olam incapable of fielding an intelligent response to Slifkin? Evidently. The longer this saga continues, the sillier they look.

The 'vital crisis' that Rabbi Feldman talks about is really only a crisis for the Gedolim and their followers. For everyone else, it's a positive development which provides some of the strongest and best evidence to date that the Chareidi conception of 'Daas Torah' & 'Gedolim' is not only a myth, but is actually a lie, as these so called 'Gedolim' have proved incapable of displaying common sense, and in some cases basic yashrus.

Actually I shouldn't be so harsh on them. In the primitive 16th century intellectual enviroment which they inhabit, this behavior is perfectly normal. If anything, we should probably commend them for their restraint. I mean, at least they haven't suggested we use one of those heresy tests from the middle ages on Rabbi Slifkin. You know, the one where they tie lead weights around his legs and drop him into a lake. If he drowns, he's innocent, but if he floats, he is guilty and must be burnt.

So does all this mean that 'Emunas Chachomim' has been destroyed? Of course not! There are plenty of Chachomim around. And it's now even easier to find them, since there are 23 less places you need to look.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Comfortable Myths

Bertrand Russel said:
There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dares not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.
I would love to use this against the fundamentalists, but then the atheists will just turn around and use it against me.

Its tough to be in the middle.

Hat tip: JewishAtheist

Loss of Innocence

My kids are gorgeous. I’m sure yours are too. But mine are more so. So sweet, innocent and cute. I delight each time they learn a new word, figure out a new trick, comprehend a new concept. I then watch movies of them when they were younger, and lament how much cuter they used to be, how much more innocent, how much more helpless.

What gives?

Do I want them to grow up and become wise to the world, or do I want them to stay young and innocent? Do I want them to graduate, leave home, get married and make a new home for themselves? Or do I want to continue to come home every night for the rest of my life and have my little cuties come running, shouting ‘daddy daddy’, so excited to see me?

I’m torn.

Is this the story of Breishis? Is this how G-d works? On the one hand, He wanted us to be naïve, innocent, simple, without sin. Hence the story of Gan Eden. On the other hand, we need to grow up, leave G-d’s care and go out into the world. Should we be simple, naïve, innocent? Or should we be all knowing, wise and inevitably a little bit cynical?

I don’t know. But I enjoyed thinking about it.

Good Shabbos.

Move a bit to the right, a little more, a bit more, more, a bit more, almost there

S, a.k.a. Mississippi Fred Macdowell, a.k.a. On The Main Line, a truly excellent blog, showed me this comment from

A while back Rabbi Aaron Feldman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel, addressed the yeshivah and admonished us for pursuing A's in school as we are only supposed to achieve the minimum necessary to pass. He also said that he doesn't know why we need degrees in the first place as most wealthy people he knows didn't go to college.

In other words Ner Yisroel is becoming more right wing by the minute and is not accomodating of college as they used to be.

It's startling how a rosh yeshivah could get up there and utter such nonsense...

It is true that many wealthy people didn't got to college. Bill Gates, one of the richest people in the world, dropped out of college. I don't think the Sultan of Brunei went either. Not sure about Richard Branson or Donald Trump. Or the Reichmans, the Tannenbaums and the Schottensteins.

However it is also true that the poorest people in the world, almost exclusively, didn't go to college either.

More poor logic from someone who should know better.

Just who are these wealthy friends of Rabbi Feldman anyway? Who are the top dogs in Baltimore ? We need to do a survey and find out if this is even true. Or maybe he's talking about Bnei Brak? Then its probably true, the wealthy people there didn't go to college.

But then again, should he really be promoting illegal money laundering as a career for NI graduates?

Serious Jewish Education Discussion

Ok, lets get serious.

All this talk of the Lawrence High School proposal has got me thinking. Just what are the important features of an Orthodox Jewish education?

1. Indoctrination

I use the word ‘indoctrination’ on purpose. Education is usually taken to mean the teaching of facts and figures. However indoctrination means much more. It’s the brainwashing of our children to be frum. We do it at home, and we do it in school. If we could brainwash them in any more effective (yet legal and non-painful) ways, we would. How could we not?

We specifically do not want to bring up our children to have options when it comes to religion. We want them to follow one path only, our path, with maybe some small tolerance for right/left leanings. Ach, who am I kidding. It’s a zero tolerance policy.

What is the ideal situation for this indoctrination? Clearly, everyone our kids come into contact with should be exactly like ourselves. This includes classmates and teachers. If we are secure in our religion, we may be comfortable in letting our kids have some contact with the ‘other’, but not too much. This applies equally well to Chareidim and Modern Orthodox. Neither camp is too comfortable if their kids are mixing with the other too much.

I may sound sarcastic, but this is reality.

2. Jewish Studies

A large part of the curriculum needs to be devoted to Jewish studies. But which Jewish studies? The current emphasis on Gemarah is very distorted. There is way too much Gemara taught at way too young an age. It has little value, and often succeeds in turning the kids off entirely. This is a holdover from the European cheder mentality and has no place in a modern school. The championing of Gemarah for girls in some MO quarters is silly. Not because they can’t or shouldn’t learn it, but because why should they be wasting their time too?

Instead, the kids should be taught a wide range of subjects: Tenach, Halachah, Hashkafah, Jewish History etc. They should learn Gemarah too, but just as one subject out of many. A few key sugyas is all they need to learn. They should be given as wide as an exposure as possible to as many different thinkers as possible. In addition, their classical and modern Hebrew skills should be top notch.

3. Secular Studies

Clearly this will be a point of contention between the MO’s and the UO’s. UO’s will generally be content with the barest minimum of secular education, while the MO’s will generally want a first class top notch secular education.

A more interesting topic is that of Jewish-Secular integration. MO types like to talk about that. But is that even feasible? 90% of Kodesh teachers are UO types. 90% of Secular Studies Teachers are not Jewish. Where is the integration going to come from ?

Plus, if you are MO, then you don’t see any conflicts in the first place! Evolution and Ancient Geology etc are no contradiction to true Torah values. And kids in Day School and High School are hardly learning anything more sophisticated such as Philosophy or Post Modernism. I think this is a non issue. Yes, ideally, it would be great to have this wonderful ToMa TiDE environment, but it’s not that realistic in the school environment.

4. Co-Education

Co-education is a much debated subject. I can hear both sides. Personally, I think it’s unhealthy for a male never to have had any contact with a female and vice versa. On the other hand, there are definitely issues that can arise with teenagers and mixed classed. There are no good answers here. Both ways have pros and cons. I don’t see this as a defining issue. Either way you will gain some benefits and also lose some advantages.

5. Hashkafot

Probably the most contentious area is Hashkafot. This can come out in the studies, and also in the general policies and attitudes of the school, teachers and students. Which thinkers are emphasized, attitudes towards RYBS and Rav Kook, attitudes to Israel, attitudes to goyim and secular culture, dress codes, etc etc etc. The list of things to get worked up about is endless.

Obviously MO’s will want more emphasis on Israel, more relaxed dress codes, more participation in the secular world and equal if not more time devoted to ‘modern’ Gedolim such as RYBS. There is no point in going into the differences here, we all know what they are.

Some people believe that a ‘mixed’ school environment is healthy, i.e. MO and UO kids together. I agree it has some advantages, but I find it hard to believe that such an environment is feasible in this day and age, considering the polarization between the two groups, and considering that some MO attitudes and beliefs are ‘kefirah’ in the UO world. Either the UO kids are in the minority and are not too comfortable, or vice-versa. How can one school possibly accommodate both groups comfortably?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Warning: Do not read this post

Warning: Note that, while I am Orthodox, I am not right-wing and those sensitive to left-wing Orthodoxy should not read the following post.
Caution: This post is la-halakhah ve-lo le-ma'aseh. Consult your rabbi before following any practices advocated here.
Disclaimer: In putting forward my opinions, I may choose words in which I have an interest. I believe that I will still be able to maintain objectivity but judge for yourselves.
Important Policy: This post is intended only for the interchange of ideas for the purpose of denigration of character. Comments in that spirit are welcome but those that entail Torah study, promoting enlightened public policy and/or the refinement of character are not welcome and if they appear will be deleted upon discovery. Since editing is rarely feasible, comments that are deemed inappropriate will be deleted entirely or, if possible, edited.

Okay, now what was it that I was going to say? I forget.

Ode to Eliyahu Zechariah

You never close your eyes any more
When shema is on your lips
And there's no tefilin like before
Wrapped round your fingertips
You're trying hard not to show it baby
But baby, baby I know it

You've lost that frummie feeling
Oh, that frummie feeling
You've lost that frummie feeling
Now it's gone, gone, gone

Now there's no yiddishkeit
In your eyes when I learn with you
And you're starting to criticize
All the mesorah too
It makes me just feel like crying baby
'Cause baby, something beautiful's dying

You've lost that frummie feeling
Oh that frummie feeling
Bring back that frummie feeling
Now it's gone gone gone
And I can't go on

Bring back that frummie feeling
Oh, that frummie feeling
Bring back that frummie feeling
Now it's gone...gone...gone...
And I can't go on...

Inspiration: DBH

100,000 !

Yoo hoo ! I made it. 100,000 hits in less than 6 months. I am fulfilled. This is the most successful thing I have ever done. Ooops, apart from my marriage and kids of course (sorry honey). Actually, it would be a lot more hits if you counted the Koton too. Doesn't it seem like he made a comeback recently?

I proudly accept this award, and would like to thank the following people for making it happen:
  • My boss. If he would have just given me some work to do, none of this would have been possible!
  • My parents. If they had only brought me up to be a well adjusted normal person, none of this would have been possible!
  • My rebbetzin. If she would just enforce her no blogging rule, none of this would have been possible!
  • My readers: Without you, where would I get my hits from? Hitting reload gets painful after a while.
  • Acharon acharon choviv: Our Gedolim. Thanks guys !
Maybe I should stop now?

Further Proposals For Yeshivah Education

I feel I didn’t go far enough with my money saving proposals. Here are some more:

  1. No Jews shall live in the Tri-State area, its much too expensive. We must declare the Tri-States Judenrein! New Orthodox communities will be established in Alabama and South Dakota, where the cost of living is much lower. Better yet, the Orthodox Jews should emigrate to South East Asia. I don’t recommend making Aliyah, Israel can be quite expensive.

  2. Food needs to be rationed. The kedoshim in the shoah had small rations, AND they had emunah peshutah too. We must eat less food and have emunah peshutah, just like them. I recommend potato soup (without potatoes).

  3. Clothes can be handed down. Its not as if we should be wearing the latest fashions anyway. Bubbie’s dress from 1930 is perfectly adequate, in fact it might even come back in style! (But if it does, you can’t wear it).

  4. All simchas must be banned, immediately ! The yetzer horoh to serve food is just too strong, there is no other way! Weddings, Bar Mitzvas and Brissim don’t require any kind of simchah. Just make the brachah, do the deed, and you’re done. Needless to say, Bat Mitzvas, Simchat Bats and the like are ossur anyway because of Chukas HaReform.

  5. Pesach Hotels must of course be banned. In fact, the entire Kosher Food & Catering industry must be banned. Our Alter Bubbies and Zaidies didn’t go to hotels! They didn’t go to restaurants! They didn’t have OU or Chaf-Kay! And they survived! Okay, so they looked like 95 year olds at age 40. Its not so bad.

  6. Technology items should not be brought. Period. Firstly, most of them are treif and have been banned by the Gedolim anyways. Secondly, they become obsolete within 6 months and are a waste of money. Here are some suggestions for alternatives:

    1. Car Radios

Not necessary. Just follow closely behind any ghetto mobile and keep your windows down. Gangsta rap may not be your favorite style, but just think of how much money you’ll save !

    1. PDAs & Laptops

Not necessary. Phone numbers are not required, since you won’t be making any phone calls anyway. For a calendar, you can just use the freebie calendars sent out by the various Yeshivos (don’t send any money back to them though, you will need to save it all). For a web browser, go to the Library. For Word, use a pen! Did Moses De Leon need Word? For Excel, use a pen ! Did Einstein need Excel?

    1. Digital Cameras

A waste of money! Do you know how many digital photos are sitting on PC hard drives, and will never be printed out ? 245 Trillion, trillion, trillion, that’s how many! Once everyone has cameras, the novelty fades. Just wait, in a few years nobody will be taking photos anymore. If you really need a photo, e.g. for a Chasnuh, I would recommend committing a minor crime inside an ATM vestibule or Grocery Store, and then copying the Security pictures from the paper the next day.

7. Our Bubbies and Zaidies lived through the Pogroms, the Holocaust, two Churbans AND the Spanish Inquisition. And you need a vacation ? Enough said.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Proposal for Yeshivah Education

D.B. (not DovBear), a nutty Hirhurim commentator, comments that the Lawrence School Proposal is a terrible thing, and that what we need to do about the high cost of Yeshiva tuition is cut back on our expenses. He suggests the following 'expense cutting' measures:
  1. Back to cake and shnapps Bar-Mitzvahs?
  2. Eating out once a year?
  3. Lowering the amount of suits in your wardrobe by 50%?
  4. Not buying the XLE model of your car?
  5. Buying stuff on sale all the time?
  6. Managing with less spacious homes and backyards?
  7. Not flying out to every cousin's Simcha?
  8. Less trips to Israel?
  9. Shopping around for the best prices?
  10. Taking less expensive vacations?
  11. Ordering less impulse buys off the web?
  12. Purchase of newest technology is a no-no?
  13. Second-hand is not a dirty word?
  14. Plying your kids with nosh on Shabbos only?
  15. Eating less even at home?
  16. Not making such lavish weddings?
  17. Don't get the human hair Shaitels?
  18. Isn't it enough to make a small Bris at home?
  19. Nice Kiddushim should be limited?
  20. Going to entertainment arenas should be off limits?
I find this list terribly insulting. Only a gashmiusdicke menuval from la la land would think of such a list. You call that expense reduction? That would be luxury for me! Luxury! When I was a lad, there were hundred and fifty of us living in a paper bag at the edge of a swamp.

Anyways, here is my list. I demand that Orthodox Jews adhere to this list ! We have no choice, we must support the Yeshivas! We must support the Kollel drop outs with no education and no career potential! We must support the 14 child families who don't know when to stop! Expect to see a pashkevil soon.
  1. Back to have an aliyah and that's it Bar-Mitzvahs
  2. Eating out at your Chasneh, that's it!
  3. You only need 1 suit buddy
  4. Car?! Did the Rishonim have cars?. Take the bus.
  5. Don't buy stuff. Period.
  6. Live in low income housing projects.
  7. No travel for simchas. Send a (home-made) card instead.
  8. No trips to Israel. When Moshiach comes you'll go for free.
  9. No Shopping, you megusham!
  10. No Vacations, you megusham!
  11. No purchases from the web, you megusham!
  12. No technology purchases, you megusham!
  13. Scavenging in the garbage dump is not a dirty word.
  14. Plying your kids with food on Shabbos only.
  15. Bahab fasting all year round.
  16. Cake and shnapps weddings.
  17. Shave & Snood only.
  18. Chopitoff then you're done. No food required.
  19. No Kiddushim, you megusham!
  20. No entertainment, you poretz!
Who'se with me on this one?

Rabbi Feldman Insults Chazal?

A fellow Blogger (not sure if he wants the credit), points out that Rabbi Feldman actually insults Chazal’s abilities tremendously in his letter. Rabbi Feldman writes:

The source of all the knowledge of the Sages is either from Sinaitic tradition (received at the Giving of the Torah) or from Divine inspiration. That they were in contact with such sources in undeniable. How else could we explain numerous examples where the Sages had scientific information which no scientist of their time had? How were they so precise in their calculations of the New Moon?

Chas Vesholom! How can Rav Aharon say such kefirah? Goyish atheist menuvaldick reshoim scientists can figure out the new moon calculations, and yet Rabbi Feldman is saying that Chazal, the most elevated and smart people who ever lived, they couldn’t figure it out without a Mesorah from Sinai, or Ruach Hakodesh? What about Einstein? He figured out Relativity. Does Rabbi Feldman ascribe Ruach Hakodesh to Einstein, an almost Atheist? Of course not! So Rabbi Feldman is saying that a lowlife like Einstein could figure out Relativity, but Chazal couldn’t figure out a new moon calculation?! Rabbi Feldman comes to elevate Chazal, but ultimately ends up insulting them. What a bizayon!

Yiden, Yiden; Steal Goyish Songs

Thanks to Orthoprax for reminding me of this great Mordechai Ben David clip. He's dressed a little strangely, I guess it was filmed while he was off the derech in the 70's, before the Lubob's got hold of him.

I wonder how many Chareidim would be suprised to hear that such a frum song was in fact written by goyim, and German goyim at that? Though I do seem to recall various bans and pronouncements from the Gedolim in the 80's denouncing the new Jewish music as being too goyish.

Considering the current state of the Jewish music scene, I guess the Gedolim failed (again). I recently visited Israel, and stopped by at my old time favorite music haunt, the Gal-Paz store in Geulah. They were selling all types of Jewish Music, including the latest Blue Fringe type stuff. And this in the heart of Geulah.

Some years ago, a shailoh was asked to Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, about 'goyish' music. His response was that Classical music was the closest goyim ever got to true music, but that modern 'pop' music had a treif 'beat', which aroused the yetzer horoh. I guess the Chareidi world doesn't allow Rav Matt to pasken their music shailos.

Personally, it disturbs me to hear yidden (the song) at chasunos and the like. I don't really feel like dancing to pop music, especially cheesy Eurovision pop music. I guess my taste in Jewish music echoes my taste in Goyish music, anything from the 60's, 70's and 80's is good, 90's is okay, modern stuff not. Does that make me an old fogey? No, just a connoisseur of fine music !

Here are my recommendations for fine Jewish music:
  • The Rabbi's Sons (AFAIK all original)
  • Sholomo Carelebach (Definitely original, but possibly drug induced)
  • The London School of Jewish Song (All original and completely excellent)
  • Pirchei New York (All original except the ones they stole from London)
  • Amudai Shaish ('Boruch Hagever' a.k.a 'I Love You' but it's so cute we'll forgive them)
  • Early MBD ('A couple of songs from Neshamah-Soul are rip offs)
  • The Diaspora Yeshivah Band (Hofachta Mispedi is apparently a rip off)

The Vision of the Chariot: Transcendent Experience and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

[Note: I found this article interesting. I don't neccessarily agree with it.]

Temporal lobe epilepsy has been linked to divine encounters, artistic creation and fearful visitations from other realms. Pickover examines some of the implications of current research into this mysterious disease.

by Clifford Pickover

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1999—Temporal lobe epilepsy has often been linked to a variety of transcendent experiences: ecstatic communion with the divine, epiphanies of artistic creation, fearful encounters with alien beings. Clifford Pickover examines some of the implications of current research now shedding light on the terrors and wonders of this mysterious disease.

Treading the Labyrinth

"With TLE, I see things slightly different than before. I have visions and images that normal people don’t have. Some of my seizures are like entering another dimension, the closest to religious or spiritual feelings I’ve ever had. Epilepsy has given me a rare vision and insight into myself, and sometimes beyond myself, and it has played to my creative side. Without TLE, I would not have begun to sculpt."

This testimony comes from a woman who suffers from — and, obviously, often exults in — temporal lobe epilepsy. This condition (TLE, for short), is caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain’s temporal lobes A significant proportion of people with TLE report that their seizures often bring on extraordinary experiences of transcendent wonder, luminous insight — or, at times, harrowing, uncanny fear.

Take, for example, the numerous reported cases of "alien abduction." TLE researcher Eve LaPlante has noted that many abductees feel mild, epileptic-like symptoms just before they are "captured." Some abductees feel heat on one side of their faces, hear a ringing in their ears, and see flashes of light prior to an abduction. Others report a cessation of sound and feeling, or an overwhelming feeling of apprehension. All of this is typical of certain kinds of epileptic seizures. In fact, LaPlante suggests that the most famous abductee of our time, best-selling author Whitley Strieber, suffers from TLE.

In 1987, Strieber wrote the book Communion which described his abduction by 3 1/2 foot aliens with two dark holes for eyes. In his account, Strieber exhibits various symptoms of TLE: jamais vu (the feeling of never having been in what should be a familiar place — the opposite of deja vu); formication (feeling bugs crawling under the skin); vivid smells, hallucinations, rapid heartbeats, the sensation of rising and falling, and partial amnesia. Magnetic resonance imaging of Strieber’s brain has revealed "occasional punctate foci of high signal intensity" in his left temporoparietal region, which is suggestive of scarring that could lead to TLE.

Such alien abduction stories can tell us about the workings of the mind. Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, found that people with frequent bursts of electrical activity in their temporal lobes report sensations of flying, floating, or leaving the body, as well as other mystical experiences. By applying magnetic fields to the brain, he can also induce odd mental experiences — possibly caused by bursts of neuron firing in the temporal lobes. For example, he has made people feel as if two alien hands grabbed their shoulders and distorted their legs when he applied magnetic fields to their brains.

Our modern fasicnation with other such phenomena, such as ESP, past-life regression, and out-of-the-body experiences, may also be the result of mild, undiagnosed TLE. It’s a fertile field, awaiting more research to bring such mysteries out of the realm of the "paranormal" and into the fascinating labyrinth of the brain.

Fear and Trembling

Has TLE changed the course of civilization? LaPlante and many other TLE experts speculate that the mystical religious experiences of some of the great prophets were induced by TLE — because the historical writings describe classic TLE symptoms. The religious prophets most often thought to have had epilepsy are Mohammad, Moses, and St. Paul. Dostoevsky, another famous epileptic whose works are filled with ecstatic visions of universal love (and terrible nightmares of uncanny fear and radical evil), thought it was obvious that Mohammad’s visions of God were triggered by epilepsy. "Mohammad assures us in this Koran that he had seen Paradise," Doestevsky notes. "He did not lie. He had indeed been in Paradise — during an attack of epilepsy, from which he suffered, as I do."

When Mohammad first had his visions of God, he felt oppressed, smothered, as if his breath were being squeezed from his chest. Later he heard a voice calling his name, but when he turned to find the source of the voice, no one was there. The local Christians, Jews, and Arabs called him insane. When he was five years old, he told his foster parents, "Two men in white raiment came and threw me down and opened up my belly and searched inside for I don’t know what." This description is startling similar to the alien abduction experience described by people with TLE.

Note that the overriding emotion experienced by Mohammed, Moses and St. Paul during their religious visions was not one of rapture and joy but rather of fear. When Moses heard the voice of God from a burning bush, he hid his face and was frightened. Luke and Paul both agreed that Paul suffered from an unknown "illness" or "bodily weakness" which he called his "thorn in the flesh." Many biblical commentators have attributed this to either migraine headaches or epilepsy. Paul did once have malaria, which involves a high fever that can damage the brain. Other psychologists have noted that likely TLE sufferers such as Moses, Flaubert, Saint Paul, and Dostevesky were also famous for their rages.

However, psychologist William James has argued that religious states are not less profound simply because they can be induced by mental anomalies:

"Even more perhaps than other kinds of genius, religious leaders have been subject to abnormal psychical visitations. Invariably they have been creatures of exalted emotional sensitivity liable to obsessions and fixed ideas; and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard voices, seen visions, and presented all sorts of peculiarities which are ordinarily classed as pathological. Often, moreover, these pathological features have helped to give them their religious authority and influence. To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value is quite illogical and arbitrary. [Because if that were the case], none of our thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our dis-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of the possessor’s body at the time. Saint Paul certainly once had an epileptoid, if not an epileptic, seizure, but there is not a single one of our states of mind, high or low, healthy or morbid, that has not some organic processes as its condition."

More recently, several TLE nuns have provided further evidence for an epileptic root of many mystical religious experiences. For example, one former nun "apprehended" God in TLE seizures and described the experience:

"Suddenly everything comes together in a moment — everything adds up, and you’re flooded with a sense of joy, and you’re just about to grasp it, and then you lose it and you crawl into an attack. It’s easy to see how, in a prescientific age, an epileptic or any temporal lobe fringe experience like that could be thought to be God Himself."

Even the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel had a TLE-like vision reminiscent of modern UFO reports — the famous, fearsome Ma’aseh Merkabah, the Vision of the Chariot:

"And I looked, and behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire enfolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.... Also out of the midst thereof, came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance, they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like the color of burnished brass."

The Light of the Storm

LaPlante is just one of a growing number of writers and researchers delving into TLE-induced religious experiences. For example, Professor Michael Persinger from Ontario does research on the neurophysiology of religious feelings, and believes that spiritual experiences come from altered electrical activity in the brain. David Bear from Harvard Medical School believes that "a temporal lobe focus in superior individuals (like van Gogh, Dostoevsky, Mohammad, Saint Paul and Moses) may spark an extraordinary search for the entity we alternatively call truth or beauty." Religion, then, is sometimes our interpretation of altered temporolimbic electrical activity. This is not to demean the mystical experience, because TLE personalities have obviously accomplished great things, whose depth and meaning have radiated far beyond the electric storms of a single cranium.

LaPlante, in her book Seized, aptly sums up the growing evidence linking TLE and creativity:

"Hidden or diagnosed, admitted or unknown, the mental states that occur in TLE seizures are more than simply neurological symptoms. In people like Tennyson, Saint Paul, and van Gogh these states may have provided material for religion and art. People with TLE, whether or not they know the physiological cause of their seizures, often incorporate their symptoms into poems, stories and myths. And the disorder does more than provide the stuff of religious experience and creative work. TLE is associated with personality change even when seizures are not occurring; it amplifies the very traits that draw people to religion and art."

Clifford Pickover received his Ph.D. from Yale University’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. His most recent book is Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen. His web site covering these and many other scientific topics can be found at:

Further Reading

Jamison, K. (1995) Manic-depressive illness and creativity. Scientific American, February. 272(2): 62-67.

LaPlante, E. (1993) Seized. HarperCollins: New York.

Mack, J. (1995) Abduction. (Revised Edition). Ballantine: New York.

Pickover, C. (1999) Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen. Quill: New York.

Pickover, C. (1997) The Loom of God. Plenum: New York.

Strieber, W. (1987) Communion. Avon: New York.

Wills and Ways

The Chazon Ish, quoted in the post below, maintained that Hilchos Mamrim and particularly the Halachah of killing an Apikorus no longer applies today, since originally when Hashgachah was evident in the world, killing an Apikorus actually achieved something good, but nowadays since G-d is hidden this will achieve more harm than good.

Naftali Zeligman (link?) accuses the Chazon Ish of being disingenuous:

“Although I understand the Chazon Ish's motivation in wishing to virtually do away with these murderous laws, his distinction seems untenable. One may speak of miracles and the Divine Voice during the times of prophets, or at the very most in the Talmudic era, but not in the period of Maimonides, and certainly not in the time of the Shulchan Aruch. So the Chazon Ish abolished a definite and well-established Halachic ruling, accepted for generations, because it conflicted with the modern human conscience of even the most observant Jews."

Naftali is correct, of course the Chazon Ish’s reasoning is a little bogus, but the important thing is that he paskened correctly. When it comes to ethics and morals, especially concerning human life, even the most extreme Chareidi poskim tend to pasken correctly. Not always, but mostly. This is in stark contrast to their Islamic counterparts.

Ironically, when you ask the same Poskim to change some Halachah or even a Minhag, for example regarding Women’s rights, since the reasoning behind it no longer applies, you are usually met with the stiffest resistance, and responses of how we can’t possibly do that, oh no. But here, the Chazon Ish is quite happy to do away with major Halachot without any problem.

My YU Chavrusoh often says that Chazal ‘darshened’ many Halachot out of existence, for example Ben Sorer Umoreh. In other words, they found these Halachot unacceptable in their modern day and age, so they created so many conditions that it became impossible to be fulfilled. Of course a Chareidi friend of mine called this view ‘kefirah’.

I think it’s clear that Blu Greenberg is correct. Where there is a Rabbinic will there is a Halachik way. There are all sorts of legal loopholes and bifurcations that Chazal, Rishonim, Acharonim and contemporary Poskim are willing to make when they deem it necessary.

Ultimately, I think this is a good thing. Hashem entrusted Halachah to man (Lo Bashamyim He), and enabled us to take charge. A certain level of conservatism (small ‘c’) is required, and also a certain level of Conservatism (capital ‘c’) is required too.

Luckily, Modern Orthodoxy sits right in the middle of these two opposing tensions, so we get it just right.

More on the Rav Feldman Debacle


My sources tell me that many people in Ner Yisrael and its alumni are rather upset with Rav Feldman's apparent about turn. I asked a well respected Rav about Rav Feldman's article. He told me it was not at all convincing, and that the only reason why Rav Feldman wrote it was because he was pressured to. Others have told me it was an act of 'bitul daas' to R Elyashiv, who Rabbi Feldman considers his rebbe.

In addition, I heard from various sources that both Rabbi Kaminetzky and the Novominsker Rebbe did not want the essay published. A number of people have written responses to Rav Feldman, some privately.

Here* is one response which is not private, written by Yehudah Gellman. I won't bother to reproduce it here since it's very long, but the arguments are obvious. You don't even need a professor to refute Rav Feldman's silly article, you just need some common sense.

* Apparently I don't have the final version. Link removed until I can confirm.

Again, I must stress that I find it hard to believe that Rav Feldman actually believes all of what he wrote. I think he doesn't, and I also think he tried to word it carefully so that mostly he comes across as a dispassionate observer reporting what other people think. Still, Rav Feldman has now lost a lot of credibility, and by extension, Ner Yisrael too somewhat. What a shame.

Shiur Chodosh Returns

A number of comments on various blogs have recently been left with the ip address of All these comments have been very right wing, contained numerous lies, and more importantly, have pretended to be other bloggers, impersonating amshinover, Krum and others.

Some investigation leads me to believe that this is the notorious 'Shiur Chodosh', a guy who even managed to embarass the Chareidim with his pritzus and over the top lunacy.

Blog owners should watch for the ip address.

Rabbi Gil: The bravest blogger of them all?

Continuing in my series of Mutual ADMIRATION.

Hirhurim was one of the first blogs I ever read. The name always bothered me, and it still does. I thought Gil Student was a fake name, but then I actually met the guy, and realized he was real, (unless he was really faking me out.)

I don't like the fact that he frequently deletes comments, but you have to admit, he's one of the few bloggers brave enough to actually use his real name. Yeah yeah, I know, he doesn't ever say anything too controversial, at least compared to DovBear. But you have to remember it's all relative. In his world, he's a pretty controversial guy.

Plus, the care and attention he puts into some of his posts is truly amazing, his bekius is outstanding. A great many people have benefited from his Torah, whether they agree with it or not.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Ayn Lo Chelek: Don't believe it !

I am sick and tired of fundamentalist nitwits going around yellling 'kofer' and telling people how they have no chelek in olam habah because of their beliefs. These fundamentalists are fools and sonei yisrael, who do more harm than good. The generally accepted view nowadays is that everyone is bgeder tinok shenishbah, and no one loses their chelek for any false beliefs.

Here is a quote from the Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah Hilchos Shechita 2:16. The Chazon Ish is referring to the din of Moridin (i.e. killing) a Heretic, but most contemporary Rabbanim (except perhaps the extremists) apply this equally to the concept of Olam Habaah too.

I believe that the law that we kill an apikores only existed in a time when Divine Providence was seen by all as self-evident, as in those times when overt miracles were abundant and the Heavenly Voice was heard, and when the rightous men of the generation were under the specific Providence that was visible to all. The heretics of that day were particularly spiteful in their rejection of Torah and pursuit of hedonistic values and amorality.

Then the eradication of wicked people was a way to protect the world, for everyone knew that the waywardness of the generation brought destruction upon the world;pestilence, war and famine.

However in a time when G-d's providence is hidden and when the masses have lost faith, the act of eradicating unbelievers does not correct a breach in the world, on the contrary, it creates a larger breach, for it will appear to others as nothing more than wanton distruction and violence, G-d forbid. Since the purpose (of killing Heretics) is meant to repair, this law does not apply when it fails to repair. We must instead woo back those who have strayed with love and enable them to stand upright with the strength of Torah insofar we can.

I said it before and I will say it again. If you have beliefs or doubts which are incompatible with Orthodoxy, that doesn't mean (according to Orthodoxy) that you lose your chelek in Olam Habah. Of course, if your views are truly not compatible with Orthodoxy, you may not care what Orthodoxy has to say about that anyway, or alternatively you may not believe in Olam Habah, anyways, so its a moot point.

However there are definitely people who, for whatever reasons, don't believe in some of the 13 ikarim but still worry about their chelek in Olam Habah. To those people, I say don't despair, as long as you are a good person, that counts.

And to the foolish person who discounted this on Hirhurim comments, I say: 'You fool. Are you trying to drive people away from Orthodox Judaism? Because with attitudes like that, that's all you will achieve. You should go speak to someone in kiruv (not a clown though) and get some sechel'.

Important Kefirah Survey


Q1: Breishis Reconciles with Science:

A. Completely, and here’s why.
B. Completely, but you’ll have to wait for Moshiach to tell you how.
C. Yes, but only b’dochek.
D. Not at all, which is fine since Science is all nonsense anyway.
E. Not at all, which is fine since Breishis is all nonsense anyway.
F. Not at all, and that really disturbs me.
G. Not at all, and that's okay, they are not supposed to.

Q2: The Zohar was written by:

A. G-d.
B. Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
C. Moses De Leon.
D. Ponce De Leon.
E. John DeLorean.
F. Phillip Berg.
G. Goldberg.

Q3: Lice spontaneously generate

A. Up until the 12th century, but no longer.
B. Never.
C. Only on Chareidi school children.


DovBear: What praise could I possibly lavish upon DovBear that hasn’t been lavished already? (And mostly by himself). The only Jblog you’ll ever need? Shockingly handsome? Your favorite blogger? Adolescently smug? (Okay, that last one was TobyKatz). But you get my drift: How does one promote the master at self-promotion? I guess I’ll just have to do my best.

DovBear: He may not be able to spell ridiculous, but he does know how to entertain.

DovBear: The inspiration for my blog! I remember it well, a winters day several months ago, reading his fine blog and thinking to myself, ‘Hey, if DovBear can post all sorts of crap, then I can too !’ And thus my blog was born. But wait a minute; this post is about DovBear, not the Godol.

DovBear: Remarkably well versed in politics, a subject which bores me to tears, but provides plenty of filler in between his other filler posts.

DovBear: A man with his Hashkafas in the right place. That is, assuming you think the right place is bashing Chassidim, superstition, the Zohar, spirituality and kugel. Which I do.

DovBear: Home of Popapalooza, Tobypalooza, and LazerBrodyPalooza. And after this post, the home of Godolpalooza too.

DovBear: If you only read one blog, read mine. But if you read two blogs, read mine and DovBear.

DovBear: Go there. You won’t regret it! Well, you might. In fact, you probably will. OK, so don’t go there already! You think so I care? Vaddya vant from me? Feh.

Moshiach, Moshiach , Moshiach, Ay yay, yay yay, Yay

הלכות מלכים ומלחמות פרק יב

א אל יעלה על הלב שבימות המשיח, ייבטל דבר ממנהגו של עולם, או יהיה שם חידוש במעשה בראשית; אלא עולם כמנהגו הולך. וזה שנאמר בישעיה "וגר זאב עם כבש, ונמר עם גדי ירבץ" (ישעיהו יא,ו), משל וחידה. עניין הדבר--שיהיו ישראל יושבין לבטח עם רשעי העולם, המשולים בזאב ונמר: שנאמר "זאב ערבות ישודדם--נמר שוקד על עריהם" (ירמיהו ה,ו). ויחזרו כולם לדת האמת, ולא יגזולו ולא ישחיתו, אלא יאכלו דבר המותר בנחת כישראל, שנאמר "ואריה, כבקר יאכל תבן" (ישעיהו יא,ז; ישעיהו סה,כה).

Why don't we hold like this? Maybe we do, but in my experience the whole Moshiach industry has turned into a some kind of super fantastic fantasy escape from reality. And it's not just the Chabadskers either. The whole of Orthodoxy is affected. A well known Rav told me a few months ago:

'People tend to think that Moshiach is an end-game scenario. Moshiach comes, and history is over. The Jews win and everything is great from then on. It's not going to be like that at all. Moshiach could come, and then things could get messed up again'.

Of course, if I was going to be really cynical, I would say that the whole concept is rather dubious. But since it's one of the 13 ikkarim, I won't. Ironic though. We accept the 13 ikarim as gospel, but the Rambam's views on Moshiach, no way !

Heshy Heshy Heshy

Typical Right Wing Nut
You're all kofrim, and you're all going to hell!

Heshy (Atypical Right Wing Nut)
You're all kofrim, and you're all invited to my house for Shabbos!

You gotta love Heshy

I also like his brand of Theodicy. He has an explanation for everything, the Holocaust, the tsunami, the bombs, even the recent hurricanes. Its the chareidi mentality taken to its logical, yet insane, conclusion. You couldn't invent a better mockery of Chareidim than Heshy. Plus he clearly enjoys winding up DovBear and company, so he can't be all bad.

Heshy, the real Koton Hador !

Monday, July 11, 2005

Why does the Godol believe?


I seem to be a magnet for people having Hashkafic crisis’. Recently I have received a number of emails from people asking for advice, and over Shabbos I met a couple of individuals who confessed their own lack of belief in various things.

What do I say to these people?

I say, ‘Go away you nut, I have enough problems of my own’.

No, just kidding. Here is what I say. Note that the following is based on my emotions, background, intellect, reason and probably a few other things besides. I am not a professional kiruv worker, and have not been trained in the fine art of brainwashing pursuading confused searching secular Jews into becoming frummies, so you might find this unconvincing. I probably would, if it wasn’t for the fact that I said it. If you read all this and still are not convinced, then try some kugel. I hear it works wonders.

1. Must a Jew Believe Anything?
Until the Rambam came along and formulated his 13 ikkarim, the dogma’s of Judaism were not clearly defined. Even after the Rambam, there was plenty of controversy. One of the most controversial aspects of the 13 ikkarim, was not so much the content itself, which few disagreed with (though for further discussions on this see Marc Shapiro’s book ‘Limits of Orthodox Theology’), but rather the Rambam’s assertion that anyone who didn’t believe in any of the 13 was going to Hell, or at least not to Heaven. Many other Rishonim felt that this was too much, and since many great and holy people had not always held of all the 13, the Rambam couldn’t say this. Despite the tone of some recent pronouncements from so called “Gedolim”, I think it’s safe to say that the normative Orthodox Jewish opinion is that as long as you are a good person you have a chelek in Olam Habah. So don’t worry too much about your hashkafas. Of course if you don’t believe in Olam Habah, then there’s nothing to worry about anyway. So the lesson here is ‘Don’t worry, be happy’.

NOTE: Obviously is you are a strong atheist or believe in Jesus that might be an issue. However if that's the case, I doubt you are struggling with Hashkafah issues.

2. Faith and Doubt
It’s quite possible to be frum and still have doubts. Very few people have no doubts, I certainly have doubts. In fact, only crazy or ignorant people have no doubts at all. However if you see value in the system, you will work to resolve your doubts. This is the key point which divides those who end up throwing it all away from those who remain within the fold. Nobody throws something valuable away, however many doubts they have. Only if you perceive no value in it, will you be likely to give it up. So lets’ talk about value first, before we go on to ‘proofs’.

3. Value

Is there is any practical utilitarian value in Orthodox Judaism ? Most Orthodox Jews would argue yes. Some small proportion of the community are bitter and disaffected, and dislike Orthodoxy and everything it represents. They see no value in the Halachot, and in fact find them burdensome. One of my guests over Shabbos said she found Shabbat to be boring, uninspiring, and her husband was in shul all day and wasn’t much help with the kids. (Note: This was not the Rebbetzin, honest!). This is a shame, because I am convinced that Shabbat is one of the most wonderful aspects of Judaism. Sure, there are minutae of law. There couldn’t be a workable system of Shabbat if everyone made up their own rules, it would quickly become anarchy, But there are very few rules which make shabbat a serious burden. Only those who are under-prepared, unknowledgable, or who live in a place without an eruv (like the UK) will find issues with Shabbat. For the rest of us, it is an amazing chance to recharge, spiritually, emotionally even physically, and reconnect with what’s important in life. (Hint: It’s not blogging). Likewise Kashrut, Niddah and all the other laws have value and meaning and utility, which I cannot go into here.

One only needs to contrast the Halachik system with the alternative to see the difference. What’s the alternative? Nothing at all. Giving up Halachah gives you nothing at all. No doubt a bunch of my Conservative and Reform readers will now get on and say how much value they see in life without Halachah blah-de-blah. However how can these values be reliably passed onto your children ? Or their children? Or for the next thousand years? The Halachik system has been remarkably resilient and successful in passing down a set of value in a tremendous variety of cultures and time periods. Of course things get distorted, Chareidi Judaism is a distortion. Sabbatism and Lubavitch are distortions. But ultimately Halachik Judaism stays on track. There are too many checks and balances for it to do otherwise.

Of course, if you have significant issues with some of the fundamental Halachik stances of Orthodox Judaism then you have a problem. For example, the Halachik stance on Women, or Homosexuality may leave you unimpressed or worse. To those people I would say the following: 1) Change is possible, work for change. 2) How do you know the Torah is wrong? 3) If you are absolutely convinced that the Torah and / or Chazal got something wrong, fine. You go your own way in that particular Halachah, and bear the consequences later. I don’t think any more than that can be expected from anyone.

4. Proofs
I have spent some time bashing the Sinai proof. However there are other ‘proofs’ which I find more convincing. Of course there are no absolute proofs of anything, just things that seem reasonable and sound persuasive.

Prophecies in the Torah
One thing I find persuasive is the prophecies in the Torah. Even according to the most skeptical analysis the Torah was written at least 2200 years ago, in a time and place very different from our own. Yet in the curses in Devarim it details how the Jews will be cast amongst the nations, how we will be a ‘talking point and an astonishment’ amongst the people’s of the world. How could someone living 2500 years ago have stated that with such confidence? Doesn’t seem likely to me.

Success of the Basic Ideology
The other amazing aspect is the success of the Jewish ideology. We are credited with the invention of the monotheistic idea, and certainly the popularization thereof. There were probably other monotheistic cults around back then, many people talk about Egypt and the worship of the sun god, Ra. However Ra didn’t really catch on, but YHWH did. Western Civilization is basically founded on Jewish ideology, which was obviously the starting point for much of Christian ideology. No other religion can claim such success, especially from such a small group of people.

Other Religions
I don’t find other religions convincing. Christianity seems to me to be a joke, I find it amazing that anyone believes in that. Buddhism and the other Eastern religions are really just systems of thought and practice, rather than traditional religions. Hinduism is a gigantic mish mash of anything and everything. Islam is monotheistic and similar to Judaism, but seems to be a poor copy. And anyways, no one is seriously considering Islam, are they? I doubt it. (Apologies to Jameel at the Mukhata). Critics will counter that Judaism is no more believable than other religions, which gets me to the Historical ‘proofs’.

Unique History
I find Jewish History to be unique. I’m not going to explain why. The arguments are well worn and obvious. If you don’t believe it, then there’s nothing I can probably say to change your mind. Its kind of like belief in G-d.

5. Study
Ultimately, you need to study. For every topic I have ever discussed, you can be sure there are tens if not hundreds of books discussing it from every conceivable angle, including Chareidi, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Secular. For every smart skeptic who studied all the sources and decided it was all bogus, there is a smart believer who did the same and decided there was truth to it. I don’t believe in everything that the Chareidim teach, obviously, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bunk. For those people who are struggling from within the Chareidi System, I have one word of advice: ‘What the heck are you doing?! Of course Chareidi Ideology offends your sense of reason. Become Modern Orthodox and you will feel a lot better.’ Okay, 25 words of advice. Some people have difficulty learning Gemarah, since they are not sure it’s really ‘true’. Fine ! So don’t learn Gemarah. Learn everything but Gemarah. Believe me, there are enough books on enough subjects to keep you occupied for a lifetime. And if you hate studying, go do some Gemilas Chasadim instead.


I don't have all the answers, and the point of this blog is to explore my own hashkafic questions, not to create new ones for my readers.

I think G-d said it best, so I will just repeat His words:

רַק חֲזַק וֶאֱמַץ מְאֹד, לִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת
כְּכָל-הַתּוֹרָה--אֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ מֹשֶׁה עַבְדִּי, אַל-תָּסוּר מִמֶּנּוּ יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול: לְמַעַן תַּשְׂכִּיל, בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ

Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law, which Moses My servant commanded thee; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest have good success whithersoever thou goest.

לֹא-יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ, וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה, לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכָל-הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ: כִּי-אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת-דְּרָכֶךָ, וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל.

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy ways prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

6000 Years + 6 Really, Really Long Days

Let’s talk about this theory, because apparently it’s a theory that Rav Aharon Feldman endorses.

The basic premise of this theory seems to be twofold:

a) An acceptance of all the Scientific evidence as to the age of the Universe.
b) A desire to continue to read Breishis as literally as possible

So, in examining this theory, we must ask ourselves, does it achieve its goals ?

Accepting the Scientific evidence means accepting the following. The earth is very, very old, probably around 4.5 billion years. During the last few million years or so, there were humanoid creatures walking around. During the last 30,000 years or so, these humanoids became quite intelligent, as copious findings of cave paintings, pottery, building remains, clothing remains and other such artifacts clearly show. Intelligent man lived in Europe, in Asia in the Americas and in Australasia. In fact, pretty much everywhere habitable. About 10,000 years ago, man started living in villages, which steadily grew bigger and bigger.

Now let’s look at the story that Breishis describes (we’ll ignore the inconsistencies between Breishis I and II for this post). The Torah describes 6 days of creation (really long days, sure), culminating in the creation of the first man, and then his wife. The first man was called Adam, and he lived in the Garden of Eden. He and his wife sinned, and were thrown out into the world. They would have lived forever, but since they sinned, their descendants all have to die. Then various genealogies are described showing how various things were invented. Other geneaologies show direct family trees from Adam to Noach and to Abraham.

Do these two accounts in any way really match each other? Of course they don’t. Only someone with a complete lack of Science knowledge or Torah knowledge would think they reconcile. They don’t reconcile at all.

Reconciling Breishis with Science by saying the days were really long is stupid. It doesn’t reconcile anything, except poor thinkers with dubious theology. Those two really get reconciled. For everyone else, there’s always Mastercard Cassutto.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Edah On Kabalah

This article traces the beginning of mysticism in main - stream Judaism to the martyrdom of the Rhineland Jews in 1096 during the First Crusade, showing that (1) the tosafist view of this event was not - as generally accepted - one of approval but implicit disapproval, (2) the martyrs’ mystical impulse that embraced fervor over reason was to escape Christianity's apparent triumph in the world and seek refuge and life eternal with their Parent in Heaven, (3) the mystical response, elaborated into a new mythology of Creation and the nature of the Godhead, inevitably became the dominant element of Jewish piety and religious thought in Christian Europe by the end of the 16th century as a defense mechanism in the face of continued persecution, and (4) this defensive psychological and cultural response must be reevaluated to determine whether it now provides more of a threat to Judaism and Jewry in the modern world than the benefit that it once provided to a despairing people.

Results of "What do Jews Believe" Survey

The reults of the "What do Orthodox Jews Believe" Survey are in ! And not surprisingly, it turns out that 95% of Orthodox Jews believe in all sorts of mystical nonsense. My results were validated by another web site, from which I grabbed this piechart.

The majority of the bogus "New Revelations" mentioned in the chart probably started from the Ari. Apparently more people than I had previously realized don't hold of his 'kaballah'.

Gershon Sholem said:

There is no justification for the theory, widely held by modern historians, that the principles Luria introduced are based on the traditions and ethical doctrine of the Hasidei Ashkenaz.

Meanewhile a friend of mine (in kollel) told me he thinks the Ari was insane, or at least hallucinatory, and of course he didn't really speak to Eliyahu Hanavi.

For those people who think that the Jewish mystical stories of the 15th through 18th Centuries are real, I have this question:

If the Ari and his friends were so great, the doctrine of Yeridas Hadoros would imply that the level of greatness during the time of the Rishonim should be even greater.

Yet during the time of the Rishonim, we have much fewer stories of people speaking to Eliyahu and the like. In addition, these stories peaked in Europe and environs, at about the same time as the rest of the "West" was also indulging in such stuff, whereas in the Rishonim's time when there was less of it in general, surprisingly the Jews didn't do it either.

Somewhat of a co-incidence, is it not?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Quefirah in Queens

Rabbi Nosson-Natan-Nathan-Nigel Slifkin is speaking tomorrow in Queens on Science & Torah. The lectures are advertised as "An Advanced Seminar for Adults", so I guess Rachak won't be able to attend. Sorry, Rachak, but maybe you can attend one of Rabbi Slifkin's day school presentations. I hear the snakes are really cool !


Best-selling and controversial author of Nature's Song,
Mysterious Creatures, Seasons of Life, The Science of Torah,
and The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax

Sunday, July 10th

11am-12:30pm Untangling Evolution
1:30-3pm Mysterious Creatures: Chazal and Zoology
3:30-5pm The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax

At Congregation Etz Chaim of Kew Gardens Hills
147-19 73rd Avenue

I think its important to attend these lectures for the following reasons:
  1. You will learn a lot.
  2. Show your support for intelligence over ignorance.
  3. Show the kannoim that they will not be victorious.
  4. You might meet me.

Friday, July 08, 2005

To ridicule or not to ridicule, that is the question


Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn, author of 'Daas Torah', an excellent book of hashkafah sources, wrote the following:

I strongly protest against your horrible and irresponsible attacks on yiddishkeit and our gedolim. As someone who has followed the Slifkin affair closely and who knows the people involved - your infantile ad hominem comments have done great harm to Rabbi Slifkin - as well as seriously interfered with an intelligent resolution of the conflict.

I wouldn't say "our" Gedolim, they maybe your Gedolim, but since they have deemed sections of your book kefirah too, I somehow doubt it. And since they have now deemed large sections of Jewry to be kofrim, are they really anybody's Gedolim at all, except for some narrow segments in Bnei Brak, Lakewood and Gateshead? What about followers of R Hisrch? A chareidi commenter write the following:

R Hirsch's view that chazal could err on science was very public, and it's a belief the entire yekkish kehilla accepts. Here is a community reknowned for its strong institutions, for decades the yekkes had the most reliable hashgacha in NY, and now their shchita is at least theoretically nonkosher according to the ban. Their wine is no good, they can't be counted in a minyan - the entire kehilla is passuled. Now some RW nut will write in to say that the gedolim thought this all thru and know what they are doing with this ban. Or tell us how even though they all believe kefira, they are not actually kofrim for some reason or other.

Exactly. How could the Gedolim take a perfectly reasonable opinion in the Mesorah and ossur it like that? Its ridiculous.

And I haven't attacked yiddishkeit either, that is a gross mis-statement of my stance. On the contrary, I have just attacked the fundamentalist conception of it, which I argue is not yiddishkeit at all, but rather a perversion based on a poor change of course a few hundred years ago, or even more recently. In fact, I would like to defend yiddishkeit. Both from the fundamentalists who are destroying it with their nonsense, and from the extreme skeptics who would like to do away with it all together.

Orthomom, mother of 4 from the 5 Towns writes:

I'm sorry, but it was the attacks against Slifkin that were horrible and irresponsible. I don't think any of the people GH is taking issue with would like to see any intelligent resolution of the conflict that falls short of Slifkin retracting his writings and slinking away with his tail between his legs. That would be tragic.

I quite agree. Mom's always know best.

The Godol Hador, just a regular baal habos with an interest in Science and Torah issues says the following:

I never claimed to be the pro Slifkin defence blog! It's just my blog where I talk about things that interest me. One of those things happens to be Science and Torah issues. That's all. In fact, one of my reasons for going over the top was to goad more choshuve people to step in and do something. If you recall, I said a few months ago "Someone needs to do something, because if they don't, I will, and it won't be pretty". I meant what I said. This ridiculous ban should be rescinded. Moderate voices (more than just R Zeff Leff, R Berel Wein and R Aryeh Carmell) need to speak up loudly. If they don't, the Gedolim and this ban will inevitably be the subject of more ridicule, not less.

In the meantime, I will try be more reasoned.

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

Rabbi Eidensohn does have a point.

However, considering the personal attacks that have been thrust upon Rabbi Slifkin, turnabout seems like fair play. Not that I would do it or am condoning it in any way. Lies and personal insults should be stopped by both sides.

I assume that when Yated Ne'eman revises its website and when accusations about Rabbi Slifkin being thrown out of yeshiva etc. are stopped, then Godol will remove his insults.

Frankly, pashkevilim attacking Gedolim from the right are not uncommon and the Gedolim sometimes take that into account in how they act. Godol is the left's answer to it, and maybe the Gedolim will start taking us more seriously before they act.

Daas Hedyot

I agree with R' Eidensohn to a point. I think you should stop the ad hominem attacks and the name calling, not because it's disrespectful, but because it detracts from your credibility. You have good points. You want to be taken seriously. "They" need to hear the reasons why we think they're so screwed up. But it's so much less likely to happen when you resort to emotional outbursts of infantile hysterics.

The gedolim should be attacked. But with reasoned arguments (which you have plenty of), not puerile insults (which you also have plenty of). We want them to take us seriously, don't we? To understand how badly mistaken they are. To appreciate the damage they're causing. Even if the "gedolim" aren't going to listen or change, the many people who believe in them can definitely be swayed to some degree if they have coherent and intelligent arguments presented to them.

Anonymous writes:

Intellectual arguments with the Gedolim are mostly a waste of time, since who are you to disagree with them? But name calling and ridicule is effective, because it hits them where it hurts, their kavod.

Can the ban be rescinded?

Some people seem to think that by deft maneuvering, it might be possible to get the Gedolim to rescind the ban. They claim that by ridiculing the ban and the Gedolim, that only makes things worse, because the Chareidim have this “under siege mentality”, and they just circle the wagons and hunker down, like they always do.

Personally I see no possibility of this ban being rescinded, and here’s why:

Although there was a reversal of the Sheitel ban, that’s because new information was uncovered by an emissary who traveled to India. It’s reasonable to rescind a ban based on new information, and the Gedolim don’t look too stupid. However what new information could possibly be ‘uncovered’ in this case? The Gedolim have effectively closed off all possible avenues of escape.
  • They claimed to have read all the books, or at least enough of them to have a valid opinion.
  • They claimed to have read all the sources, or at least the ones which they did not deem to be ‘forgeries’.
  • They claimed to have considered all angles.
  • They claimed not to have been misled by kannoim.
  • They used the word ‘Kefirah’ quite clearly, and Rav Moshe Shapiro even added a Halachick implication, that the books should be burned.
So how could they possibly rescind the ban without appearing really foolish, something which they certainly would never want to do?

It’s just not possible. The only possibility is that the more moderate Gedolim stand up and declare just as loudly that they disagree with the ban. However, with the recent reversal by Rabbi Aharon Feldman, this seems even less likely.

So the ban will stay, and no doubt will lead to further polarization between the moderates and the fundamentalists. According to the fundamentalists, the moderates are all now kofrim, or at least people who hold kefiradick views. I still don’t understand how it is possible to hold a kefiradick view yet not actually be a kofer – Can anyone explain this? It makes no sense.

I wonder what the situation will be in a hundred years time? Will the Chareidim conveniently forget this ban? Will a new generation of Gedolim arise and pasken the opposite? Or will the fundamentalists retreat further and further from reality and progress, quoting this ban as an unalterable position from the frierdicke Gedolim, who in a 100 years time will of course be untouchable due to Yeridas Hadoros.

For these people advocating a ‘behind the scenes’ approach, I have a question:

Just what do you think you can possibly achieve?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Look at me, I read my blog !

When I wrote my blog,
I thought I had everybody by my side,
But I went and blew it all sky high,
And now they won’t even spare a passing glance
All just because I wrote my blog

When big Rabbi came round just to put him down
Godol turned him into a clown
But no one ever wants to be up-shlogged
By a fool who went and wrote his blog

I know I shouldn’t mope around I shouldn’t curse
But the pain feels so much worse
But winding up with no-one is a lot less fun than a burn from the sun
Or sand in your buns!

Now I learned a lesson I won’t soon forget
Listen and you won’t regret
Be true to yourself don’t miss your chance
And you won’t end up like the fool who wrote his blog

I don’t actually read my own blog. I get flashes of inspiration, (somewhat like a kabalah master), thrash out an entire article directly into the Blogger text box (I like to live dangerously), hit ‘Publish Post’ and never look back. Amazing but true. I rarely edit and I rarely spend more than a few minutes on planning a post. And I hardly ever go back and read what I have written after I post it.

Some of my commentators know the contents of my posts better than I do. They sometimes accuse me of being disingenuous and contradicting myself, but honestly, I don’t always remember everything I write.

So imagine my surprise when I went back over the last few day's posts and saw how crazy some of them were. Yikes! I went a little over the top there. 99.4% Classic GH someone said. (Why only 99.4%?) Bloghd said I went “Ballistic”. Another friend said I was in a “Murderous Rage”. I say I was a little upset at seeing Rabbi Feldman, a man whom I had previously put a lot of faith in, seemingly go over to the dark side. My apologies to all concerned.

I hope to have some more rational postings in the next few days. In the meantime I’m off to annoy my fellow bloggers Squidward, Patrick and Sandy Gil, DovBear and Orthomom.

Footprints of 'first Americans'

Human settlers made it to the Americas 30,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to new evidence.

A team of scientists came to this controversial conclusion by dating human footprints preserved by volcanic ash in an abandoned quarry in Mexico. They say the first Americans may have arrived by sea, rather than by foot. The traditional view is that the continent's early settlers arrived around 11,000 years ago, by crossing a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Details of the latest findings were unveiled at the UK Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition.

Modern Orthodox Reaction: See! More proof that there were many people walking around all over the earth tens of thousands of years ago.

Chareidi Reaction: See ! The Scientists are always changing their minds. First they thought that the first humans came to the America’s 10,000 years ago. Now, they’re saying it was 30,000 years ago. Just wait. In a few years time they will say 5,000 years ago, right after the mabul !

The Chief Rabbi on Terrorism

It is not the weapon of the weak against the strong, but the rage of the angry against the defenseless and innocent. It is an evil means to an evil end.

Artscroll Presents Special New Siddur !

Hot on the heels of the new special woman’s siddur, Artscroll proudly presents a new siddur, The Pinter Edition Siddur ‘Ohel That’s Where I’m Going’.

As a kannoi, why would YOU want this Siddur?

You get all the benefits of the Classic ArtScroll Siddur plus all these great additions compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Kalmanowitz, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Ayn Torah vAyn Chochmah.

  • An inspiring new Overview by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, includes descriptions of which federal inditements will make you especially eligible for publication by Artscroll
  • Integrated Halachic sections and instructions for rechilus, loshon horoh and how to defraud the government with bogus mortgage schemes
  • Additional hard-to-find prayers NOT found in a regular Siddur, including prayers for:

Obtaining a ‘not-guilty’ verdict ■ Getting time off for good behavior
■ Raising Bail money ■ When visiting the shower in jail

  • The entire Tehillim/Psalms in an easy-to- read font size, laminated and waterproof in case you need it in the showers

The perfect gift for any kannoim who have recently been caught..

Heirloom edition: Printed on acid-free paper that will not yellow even after a sentence of Life+15 years.. Side-sewn and ultra-reinforced for use during hard labor.

What do Jews Believe?

Hot on the heels of the famous Commentary Survey, ok, 10 years later, here is my very own ‘What do Jews Believe’ Survey.

Please answer the following questions. You have 30 minutes. Please provide details of your thought process (assuming you have one).

Q1: Why do you think the Gedolim banned Slifkin

A) Age of the Universe ‘kefirah’
B) Science of Chazal ‘kefirah’
C) They didn’t like his tone
D) They thought he was too young
E) They didn’t like him using Kabbalah
F) It’s a machlokes Gedolim (explain)
G) They have no idea, they were misled by kannoim
H) R Shmuel Kaminetzky was the real target
I) They don’t like kiruv clowns or the new age kiruv movement

Q2: Who do you think is the driving force behind the ban and why?

A) Rav Moshe Shapiro, he has issues because of Daat Emet
B) R Elya Ber Wachtofogel, he’s just a kannoi
C) R Leib Pinter, jail time has left him with lots to do
D) R Yaakov Kalmanowitz, he enjoys destroying people with ‘secular thinking’

Q3: On a personal level, which of the following do you find disturbing?

A) Age of the Universe being 15 billion years
B) Science of Chazal being wrong
C) The Gedolim
D) The Kannoim
E) The Bloggers
F) The UO (Ultra Orthodox)
G) The OU (Orthodox Union)
H) The MO (Modern Orthodox)
I) The OM (OrthoMom)
J) DovBear
K) TobyKatz
L) The Google Hador

Q4: What do you find disturbing about the Age of the Universe being 15 billion years

A) Torah contains inaccurate information
B) Torah is non-literal, a slippery slope
C) Messes up my whole conception of Adam Horishon and other Breishis stories
D) Makes me question how come the mesorah could be so wrong
E) All of the above
F) Nothing at all, its poshut
G) Its not 15 billion years, its only 6,000 + 6 really, really, really long days

Q5: What do you find disturbing about Chazal getting Science wrong ?

A) Talmud contains inaccurate information
B) Talmud is inaccurate, a slippery slope
C) Messes up my whole conception of Chazal being supermen who knew everything
D) Makes me question how come the mesorah could be so wrong
E) All of the above
F) Nothing it all, its poshut
G) They didn’t get it wrong, Nishtaneh Hatevah !

Q6: What do you find disturbing about the Gedolim?

A) They are naïve / clueless
B) They make pronouncements on things they shouldn’t
C) They are too quick to ban things
D) They don’t have a good process
E) They are manipulated by askonim/kannoim/gabbaim
F) They only represent a very narrow section of Judaism
G) What Gedolim? There are no Gedolim!
H) Nothing, they are the saviors of Klal Yisroel!

Q7: What do you find disturbing about the Kannoim?

A) I can’t say, I’m too scared they’ll find me
B) Some of them are criminals
C) Some of them are criminals and are published by Artscroll
D) They have too much access to the Gedolim
E) They seem to be unpleasant people
F) As long as they don’t come after me, nothing at all
G) Nothing, they are the saviors of Klal Yisroel!

Q8: What do you find disturbing about the Bloggers

A) They are too skeptical
B) They are too radical
C) They should spend more time working and less time blogging
D) They are anonymous
E) They are unqualified to speak
F) Nothing, they are the saviors of Klal Yisroel!

Q9: What do you find disturbing about the UO

A) They place too much faith in the Gedolim
B) They are too wrapped up in Mysticism and Kabbalah
C) They are too intolerant and narrow minded
D) They are too smug and holier than thou
E) They are too ignorant and clueless
F) Sheitels and House Coats
G) Black Hats and Dark Suits
H) Yeshivish Speak
I) Double Parking and similar infractions
J) Nothing, they are the saviors of Klal Yisroel!

Q10: What do you find disturbing about the OU?

A) They’re too modern
B) They’re too frum
C) They put OU D on ICE Sorbet which has no milk in it
D) They banned Kiddush clubs

Q11: What do you find disturbing about the MO?

A) They’re too modern
B) They’re too frum
C) They aren’t makpid enough on Halachah
D) They are too invested in secular culture
E) Slits and Short Skirts
F) Shorts and Tiny Kippot
G) Nothing, they are the saviors of Klal Yisroel!

Q12: What do you find disturbing about the OM?

A) She’s too frum
B) She’s too modern
C) White Text on a Blue Background: Owww!
D) Too much Politics
E) Too much cribbing from Chatzpem
F) Enough with the Orthodox Heroine’s already
G) Nothing, she is the savior of Klal Yisroel!

Q13: What do you find disturbing about the DovBear?

A) He’s too frum
B) He’s too modern
C) Too much politics
D) Too much Pope
E) Too much TobyKatz bashing
F) Nothing, he is the savior of Klal Yisroel!

Q14: What do you find disturbing about the TobyKatz?

A) She’s too frum
B) She’s too modern
C) Too much DovBear bashing
D) Too right wing politically
E) Too tactless to be an Orthodox apologetist
F) Nothing, she is the savior of Klal Yisroel!

Q15: What do you find disturbing about The Google Hador?

A) Nothing, he is the savior of Klal Yisroel!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Read my Palms

Kabbalah and Palmistry

For almost all young people (and even old people in age who are not spiritual), when the question of Palmistry is mentioned they will have an instinctive attitude of "not believing" or a stubborn silly attitude of "not wanting" to know the future !!!

God would not have created the lines on ones hand if they were not meant to be studied and learnt !!!

The real reason why people are closed to "not believing" is that once they see the truth that there is destiny and a GOD who created the world with a divine plan, this will indeed turn their materialistic selfish lives upside-down, they will be forced to accept the need for change .

Ofcourse some people would rather leave this planet than change, referred to in Kabbala as the stubborn souls of "Dor Hamidbar", who were brought out from Egypt seeing the 10 plagues and receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, these souls still complained against GOD and worshipped the Golden Calf .

The other reason for "not wanting to believe" in Palmistry is that their souls still needs to undergo pain and situations that they need to learn spiritually . Once they have had those life experiences and successfully elevated their spiritual awareness , they will then be ready to learn and understand the GOD given gift of Palmistry .

I say, how about hair reading? I mean, G-d wouldn't have created all those strands of hair on our heads if they weren't meant to be studied and learnt. So what does your hair tell you ?

Mine tells me I need a shampoo.

The Strange World of Kabalah

Rabbi Feldman writes:

One of the most powerful reasons why R. Avraham’s opinion was rejected by most opinions, is the introduction of the wisdom of Kabbalah of the Ari Zal in the sixteenth century.... Before then, many authorities had held that the esoteric wisdom described in the Talmud as Ma’aseh Breyshis and Ma’aseh Hamerkava was science and philosophy. After the introduction of Kabbalah it became clear that these were the Sefer HaYetzira, the Zohar and the Tikkunim. This was accepted by the overwhelming majority of Torah scholars since then.

Amazing ! The Ari changed the course of Jewish history. Before the Ari, Science and Philosophy were regarded in high esteem. After the Ari, everyone was into Kabalah and Tikkunim. While this is not exactly true, it does have a lot of truth to it. All the biographies I have seen maintain that the Ari (through his chief disciple Reb Chaim Vital) was one of the foremost people responsible for the acceptance of Kabalah, and consequently the displacement of rationality.

So just who was the Ari? Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

He was born at Jerusalem in 1534 to an Ashkenazi father and a Sephardic mother; died at Safed, Israel August 5 1572. While still a child he lost his father, and was brought up by his rich uncle Mordecai Francis, tax-farmer at Cairo,Egypt, who placed him under the best Jewish teachers. Luria showed himself a diligent student of rabbinical literature; and, under the guidance of Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi (best known as the author of Shittah Mekubetzet), he, while quite young, became proficient in that branch of Jewish learning.

At the age of fifteen he married his cousin, and, being amply provided for, was enabled to continue his studies. Though he initially may have pursued a career in business, he soon turned to asceticism and mysticism. About the age of twenty-two years old, he became engrossed in the study of the Zohar, a thirteenth-century work of Kabbalah which had recently been printed for the first time, and adopted the life of a recluse. He retreated to the banks of the Nile, and for seven years secluded himself in an isolated cottage, giving himself up entirely to meditation. He visited his family only on the Shabbat, speaking very seldom, and always in Hebrew. Such a mode of life could not fail to produce its effect on a man endowed by nature with a lively imagination. Luria became a visionary. He believed he had frequent interviews with the prophet Elijah, by whom he was initiated into sublime doctrines. He asserted that while asleep his soul ascended to heaven and conversed with the great teachers of the past....

To this doctrine of metempsychosis Luria added the theory of the impregnation (ibbur) of souls; that is to say, if a purified soul has neglected some religious duties on earth, it must return to the earthly life, and, attaching itself to the soul of a living man, unite with it in order to make good such neglect.

Further, the departed soul of a man freed from sin appears again on earth to support a weak soul which feels unequal to its task. However, this union, which may extend to three souls at one time, can only take place between souls of homogeneous character; that is, between those which are sparks of the same Adamite organ. The dispersion of Israel has for its purpose the salvation of men's souls; and the purified souls of Israelites unite with the souls of men of other races in order to free them from demoniacal influences.

According to Luria, man bears on his forehead a mark by which one may learn the nature of his soul: to which degree and class it belongs; the relation existing between it and the superior world; the wanderings it has already accomplished; the means by which it can contribute to the establishment of the new moral system of the world; how it can be freed from demoniacal influences; and to which soul it should be united in order to become purified. This union can be effected by formulas of conjuration.

(Sparks of the same Adamite organ ? Marks on the forehead ! Demoniacal influences ! What the heck is that about !)

So just who was the Ari? A venerable old sage? No, he died at age 38. A man of the people? No, a recluse. Okay, but surely Reb Chaim Vital must have spent many years with him? No, they only learned together for 2 years. Okay, but the Ari must have really been a special person? Well, he claimed to have had frequent meetings with Eliyahu Hanavi. That's pretty special. And this is the person who is responsible for the direction of Chareidi Judaism today. Hmmmm.

This is so wacky that there are really only two extremes which make sense to me. Either the whole thing is a bunch of bogus baloney. Or it’s all true and I might as well agree that Nishtaneh Hatevah is the correct answer to life, the universe and everything. So far, I think I will stick with the baloney theory, (but I’m open to being convinced otherwise). However questionable you think Sinai and the Mesorah are, that’s nothing compared to the bizarre, wacky world of the kabbalists. Phillip Berg and his kabalah center seem positively normal in comparison.

For added entertainment, check these great sites out !

More Gedolim Gossip

A source tells me that it was in fact Rav Moshe Shapiro who put Rabbi Feldman on a guilt trip for going to the "left" in the States, nor Rav Elyashiv, and that was the driver for Rabbi Feldman's article. Also, Reb Elya Ber Wachtfogel was shown the Feldman article and he was very much against printing it. He claimed that the objective was to "kasher" Slifkin and it was much too kind to him!

I guess Elya Ber didn't like the fact that Feldman called Slifkin a 'fully observant, chareidi Torah Jew'. The mind boggles.

As bluke points out, Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch said the following:

In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal's statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of God's law - the receivers, transmitters and teachers of His toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine - except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai.

Rav Hirsch wrote this over a hundred years ago, when science was in its infancy, kal vechomer how much more true it is today! The Gedolim should be desperately grasping at statements such as these. Boruch Hashem, someone chosuv in the Mesorah gives them a way out of all the Chazal and science difficulties. Moiradick!

But, not only do they not agree with Rav Hirsch, they actually declare his view ossur, and even kefirah! Its crazy!

This kind of craziness would be enough to destroy any thinking persons emunas chachomim. Not only are R Wachtfogel, Shapiro, Elyashiv and friends discrediting Rav Hirsch, but also all the Gedolim of that period. After all, none of those Gedolim declared Hirsch to be ossur for that statement, so they must have at least been okay with it. So now, our current day Gedolim know better than all the Gedolim of the last century?

The Secret World of the Kabalah Masters

Rabbi Feldman writes about Slifkin:

These cosmological explanations have no basis in any commentary or Midrash and clearly violate the plain meaning of the Torah...

Interpretations which have no basis in the Written or Oral Torah and which contradict the tradition of the Midrashim and the commentaries are perversions of Torah ideas and may be classified as megaleh panim baTorah shelo ke-halacha (distorted interpretations of the Torah) which are forbidden to study.

However earlier in his article, Rabbi Feldman cites the Leshem, (grandfather of Rav Elyashiv), as stating that the "hours" of the six days of creation were vastly longer than present hours, and thus the "days" were not days as we know them:

Leshem Shevo VeAchlama, basing himself on Kabbala, states (without addressing the issue of the age of universe) that each of the 24 "hours" of the day during the days of Creation was at least a thousand times the length of present day hours...

So was Rav Elyashiv's grandfather a kofer? After all, saying that "hours" were not really hours and therefore the "days" were not really days has no basis in any commentary or Midrash and clearly violates the plain meaning of the Torah.

But the answer is simple. The Leshem based himself on kabalah. Those are the magic words right there. As long as you base yourself on kabalah, nobody can say anything against you, since kabalah is all sorts of crazy made up stuff anyway, and its all secretly passed down from Sinai, only a select few are privy to its secrets, and it changes every few hundred years or so, so how can anyone disprove you, as long as you ‘base yourself on kabalah’?

This was Slifkin’s true crime.

He attempted to provide some kabalistically inspired explanations, but admitted he knew nothing about kabalah. Fool ! That’s what got true kabbalists like Rav Moshe Shapiro all pissed at him. He should have stayed away from the kabalah. Or better yet, he should have just claimed to be a secret kabalah master.

After all, how could anyone possibly have proven that he isn’t?

Nishtaneh Hatevah Theory

I had a discussion with someone the other day as to what is actually the meaning of Nishtaneh Hatevah. In some places it is used to explain small, feasible changes in animal habits, infant mortality rates, and the like. This is quite understandable and quite possible. For example, until recently, severely premature babies had little chance of survival. Now the NICU’s routinely save infants from 6 months on. This usage of Nishtaneh Hatevah is quite reasonable.

However Rav Feldman and others are now using Nishtaneh Hatevah to try and explain the incorrect Science of Chazal. For example, the Gemarah which talks about lice spontaneously generating on Shabbos. This is quite impossible, and no amount of changes in diet or other environmental factors would have enabled lice to do that as little as 2000 years ago. (2 million years ago, maybe).

So the question is, when fundamentalists use Nishtaneh Hatevah in this (ridiculous) way, what is their intent? Do they mean to imply that scientifically this is possible? I think not, as no scientist would agree to that, and they seem to want to preserve science somewhat (though not necessarily common sense).

So clearly, they are talking about an act of G-d, above the laws of nature, since there is no reason to assume that the laws of nature would just suddenly and mysteriously change one day. This new conception of Nishtaneh Hatevah therefore means that G-d will at random change laws of Nature, for no apparent reason (at least not apparent to us).

The arguments against this are similar to those against the Gosse ‘Nes-Nisayon’ Theory of The Age of the Universe. Surely G-d would not trick us by changing some or all the laws of nature every so often. Its just ridiculous to suggest this.

So, my question to the fundamentalists is this.

If, in order to maintain the fundamentalist position, we must say that Nishtaneh Hatevah, and that G-d does ‘play tricks’ on us, then why all that hand wringing about days being longer, or the laws of the Universe being different at Creation, and all that junk? Just say Nishtaneh Hatevah!

Its simple. Science can’t prove anything about the past, since Science fundamentally assumes that the laws of physics etc are basically constant (except for the first few seconds after the Big Bang), and we know that isn’t the case. G-d messes with the laws all the time.

In other words, Nishtaneh Hatevah answers ALL the Science vs Torah questions, very neatly. If you are going to say Nishtaneh Hatevah anyway, you might as well just stick to that. Science teaches us that the simplest answers are usually the most correct ones anyway.

So here we have the simplest of all theories. It’s the Nishtaneh-Hatevah answer to live the universe and everything. It answers all Science and Torah questions!

Q. How come the Universe looks like its 15 billion years old ?
A. Nishtaneh Hatevah !

Q. How come evolution seems to be the mechanism by which man was created?
A. Nishtaneh Hatevah !

Q. How come all the evidence shows there was never a global flood?
A. Nishtaneh Hatevah !

Q. How come the numbers by Har Sinai appear impossible?
A. Nishtaneh Hatevah !

Q. How come all the archeological evidence shows no large scla invasion of E"Y?
A. Nishtaneh Hatevah !

Q. How come the Gedolim of yesteryear had sechel but nowadays they do not?
A. Nishtaneh Hatevah !

More Nishtaneh Hatevah

Many people diss the Rambam's philosophy, especially the parts about the moon and the planets being spiritual bodies. But let's remember, the Rambam was a Rishon. Everything he said was Torah MiSinai. His Science came from Sinai too. So how could the Rambam possibly have gotten it wrong?

Its no kashye !!!

Clearly, sometime between the Rambam's life and the first moon landing in 1969, Nishataneh Hatevah happened (or more accurately Nishtaneh Hayareach) and the moon changed from being spiritual to being a lump of granite. This is no less likely than any of the other applications of Nishtaneh Hatevah, and saves the Rambam's reputation.

Another answer could be that the Rambam was correct and continues to be correct. The moon landings were all hoaxes, filmed on a Hollywood movie set. The pictures below show some of the anomolies in the moon landing pictures, and why they are probably fakes. This is no less plausible than the theory that G-d faked everything with the dinosaurs.

Image hosted by

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

We're Machmir in Kefirah


Someone sent me an interesting sound clip from a recent shiur by Rav Aharon Feldman. He seems to be explaining the ban, and talks about the importance of emunah, and the destructivenes of kefirah. He says because kefirah is so destructive, we are machmir against it, even when the kefirah is not real kefirah, just a chashah kefirah, because klal yisroel feels its goal is to show Hashem Echod, and we're the only ones who are doing this (untrue, but never mind). He says "Our kavanah is leshem shamayim, even if we don't always find the right derech (the last word is unclear, it sounds like derech to me)."

Very interesting. So the Gedolim were just being machmir on chashah kefirah? Isn't that just a fancy way of saying "Witch-hunt?". And how about being machmir on dan lecaf zechus? Or being machmir on rechilus? Or common sense? Or yashrus? And doesn't this differ from his recent article, where he implied otherwise? And is he being mechulak on Rav Moshe Shapiro? And what on earth does R Elyashiv hold?

I'm still confused, and I don't think I'm the only one. Can anyone answer the following question? I will make it multiple choice so its really easy...

Shloime walks into shul one day and announces the following: " I believe that the universe is 15 billion years old".

Which of the following is correct?

A) According to all the Gedolim, Shloime is a kofer, and all the relevant halachos apply.
B) According to all the Gedolim, Shloime's views are kefirah, but Shloime is not a kofer himself.
C) No Gedolim hold that Shloime is a kofer, or that his views are kefirah. However they would not condone his behavior.
D) Rav Moshe Shapiro would hold he is a kofer, but Rav Aharon Feldman would hold he is not.
E) Rav Moshe Shapiro would hold his views are kefirah, but Rav Aharon Feldman would hold they are not. Both would agree that Shloime himself is not a kofer.
F) Rav Moshe Shapiro would hold he is a kofer, while Rav Aharon Feldman would hold his views are kefirah, but he is not a kofer.
G) The Gedolim would say he's a kofer, but they don't really mean it.
H) The Gedolim would say his views are kefirah, but they don't really mean it.
I) The Gedolim would say he's not a kofer, but really they think he is.

Anyone? Bueler? Anyone?

Science is from Sinai

Dovid Orlofsky is an ex NCSY Kiruv worker, his primary audience is teenage seminary girls. Rabbi Aharon Feldman on the other hand is Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Yisrael. Rabbi Meisleman is Rosh Yeshivah of Toras Moshe. We don’t have to be surprised that David Orlofsky couldn’t write a reasonable article on Slifkin, after all there is no real reason to think he could. Does NCSY require world class scholars? I don’t think so!

But Roshei Yeshivot? American educated? Oy Vey! That was really a surprise to me. For those people who still think the Chareidi world has the answers, this post should be an eye opener. It’s strange that Ner Yisrael, for years the most ‘left wing’ of the Chareidi Yeshivot, is now trying to outfrum Philly, a traditionally right wing place. What a waste of potential.

Some people claimed I only posted the poor bits from Rabbi Feldman’s article. Boruch Lokshenbrains even thinks the article is a positive move. Hahaha! That’s funny! The rest of this article about the Science of Chazal is even sillier.

Again though, let me add that I really can’t believe that Rav Feldman believes in this nonsense. Still, shame on him for allowing himself to be pressured like that. Unless it’s a really devious scheme to highlight what nonsense it all is. In which case, well done! I wouldn’t put it past him, after all his brother Rabbi Emmanuel pulled a similar trick with his letter from a Baal Teshuvah.

Micha Berger thinks the age of the universe is being debated more than the science of chazal since that’s where the ‘kefirah’ views were more prevalent, so people are more disturbed about it. I think it’s just the opposite. Even very chareidi friends of mine who won’t budge an inch on the 6000 years will agree that Chazal didn’t know all science, it’s just common sense. The amount of problems you cause by saying Chazal’s science was from Sinai are even worse than anything that gets solved. Bluke has some intelligent posts on this at

And now to Rabbi Feldman’s article. I wonder who blocked it at the JO?


There are many places in the Talmud where statements made by the Sages seem to contradict modern science. The most common are the cures and potions which the Talmud gives for various diseases. Our great halachic authorities have noted the phenomenon that these cures, in the vast majority of cases, do not seem to cure illnesses in our times.

The most widespread explanation offered for this is nishtanu hatevaim, “nature has changed” - cures that worked in the times of the Talmud are no longer effective.[1] There are many examples of illnesses and cures, which because of environmental and nutritional differences and physical changes to the body over the years are no longer effective.

Many examples of physical changes? There are? Could you please provide some? I am not aware of any in recent history. Of course millions of years ago our ancestors were all monkeys. But surely you are not talking about that, are you?

What a load of nonsense anyway. Ancient cures don’t work because they aren’t any good. Of course some ancient cures were good, the Amazon Indians and other remote tribes had excellent pharmacological knowledge of the local flora and fauna and were very adept at creating working cures. And it’s quite possible that some other ancient remedies may turn out to have value too. But don’t claim Nishtaneh Hatevah. There is absolutely no evidence for it, and plenty against it.

Another explanation is that we cannot reproduce these cures, either because the definitions or the amounts of the ingredient of these cures are unspecified in the Talmud.[2]

Yeah, that’s right. If only you would use two quarts of dove’s blood, and not one quart, you could cure hepatitis, no problem.

It has also been suggested that the cures had their effect on the inner, spiritual level of the affected person, and therefore were effective only for the people of the era of the Sages who were on a higher spiritual level than nowadays but not for later generations when increased physicality did not permit the cures to take effect.

It just gets better and better. Nishtaneh Hatevah AND Yeridas Hadoros. Brilliant !

The sad thing is that I respect Chazal. But by elevating their incorrect Science to the level of Torah SheBaal Peh you make a mockery of Chazal and of the Torah. And by dogmatically insisting on the truth of those parts of the Mesorah which were clearly inventions you make a mockery of the Mesorah too.

Against these explanations, there is another opinion which Slifkin uses explicitly and implicitly in his books. This theory goes as follows. The Sages based their wisdom on the medical knowledge of their times. This would seem perfectly legitimate, for why should they not rely on the experts of their time on issues not directly addressed by the Written or the Oral Law? Therefore, when subsequently medicine indicates that these cures are ineffectual, there would be nothing disrespectful in asserting that the scientific knowledge of antiquity available to the Sages was flawed..

This approach is mentioned by many eminent authorities in Jewish history. Rav Sherira Gaon[3] mentions it with respect to cures. R. Avraham, son of the Rambam, mentions it with respect to all science and the Rambam with respect to astronomy.

Pachad Yizchok[4] says that statements in the Talmud which seem to uphold spontaneous generation are incorrect, even though we do not change any laws based on their words. Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch applies this argument to animals mentioned in the Talmud which do not seem to exist nowadays. Finally, a conversation with R. Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler recorded by Rabbi Aryeh Carmel indicates a somewhat similar approach.[5]

So lets see. We have Rav Sherira Gaon, The Rambam, Reb Avraham Ben HaRambam, The Pachad Yitzchak (R Yitzchak Lampronti), Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch and Rav Dessler. And probably a few others too. Not too shabby for a ‘minority’ opinion.

This approach (henceforth, that of R. Avraham) is used often by Slifkin to explain many difficulties he has with the Sages’ statements.[6] With it he explains why we have no record of certain animals mentioned in the Talmud, and why certain rules of the Sages regarding animals seem to have exceptions. Because they based themselves on the information available at their time, they simply made a mistake.

This theory, more than the first, has caused the most misunderstanding. How could Slifkin be faulted for espousing a view stated by giants of previous generations?

The answer to this question is that although these giants did indeed espouse this view, it is a minority opinion which has been rejected by most authorities since then.

In Lev Avraham Dr. Abraham Abraham-Sofer,[7] discusses why the cures mentioned in the Talmud should not be relied upon in actual practice. As above, he explains that either a) the cures worked for the Sages but not for us; or b) following R. Avraham, that the Sages erred when they thought that these cures work. In a note to a later edition of this work, the world famous authority R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach asked to add the following comment: “The principal explanation is the other views; that which is written “when the Sages spoke etc.” [R.. Avraham’s view], should be mentioned in the name of yesh omrim.[8] This means that the view of R. Avraham is a minority opinion which only “some say.”

Ten years later, a scholar,[9] about to publish a book on the topic of Torah and health, asked R. Shlomo Zalman how an opinion held by such giants of Jewish history be relegated to the position of yesh omrim? Rav Auerbach responded in a letter stating that he did not remember his sources (it was ten years later), but he believes one source to be that it is the accepted opinion of poskim that we rely on the medical opinion of the Sages to violate Shabbos even though according to modern medical opinion the cures are ineffectual and we are violating Shabbos unnecessarily. Thus, for practical purposes we reject the view of R. Avraham.

There are other sources that this opinion is only one which “some say.” In countless places where the commentaries, whether Rishonim or Acharonim (Early or Later Authorties), are faced with a contradiction between the science of their times and a statement of the Sages, they commonly apply the principle, nishtanu hateva’im (“nature has changed”).[10] Had they held R. Avraham’s view, they would have simply explained that the Sages erred in following whatever was the medical or scientific opinion of their times.

The Rivash,[11] the Rashba [12] and the Maharal[13] write, as well, that it is forbidden to say that the Sages erred in matters of science.

Leshem Shevo Ve-achlama[14] writes:

The main thing is: everyone who is called a Jew is obligated to believe with complete faith that everything found in the words of the Sages whether in halachos or agados of the Talmud or in the Midrashim, are all the words of the Living God, for everything which they said is with the spirit of God which spoke within them, and “the secret of God is given to those who fear Him (סוד ה' ליראיו).” This is just as we find in Sanhedrin 48b that even regarding something which has no application to Halacha and practical behavior, the Talmud asks regarding [the Sage] Rav Nachman, “How did he know this?” and the reply given is [that he knew this because] “The secret from God is given to those who fear him….” [15]

The Chazon Ish, considered by many to be the posek acharon (final Torah authority) for our times, writes in his “Letters”[16] that “our tradition” is that the shechita of someone who denies the truth of the Sages whether in the Halacha or Aggada (the non-halachic parts) of the Talmud is disqualified just as is someone who is a heretic. He adds that experience has shown that those who begin questioning the truth of the Sages will ultimately lose their future generations to Torah.[17]

Wow. I guess that means that R Sherira Gaon, Rambam, Rav Aryeh Carmell and Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch’s descendents were all lost to Torah. Well, that certainly explains R Avraham Ben Harambam being such a kofer. But what about Rav Hirsch? Don’t his descendents live in Washington Heights? Are they lost to Torah? I guess so!

What a bunch of nonsense. ‘Questioning’ the truth of the sages obviously does not apply to their statements on scientific knowledge of their day. It means questioning their abilities on Halachah. How can you possibly hold that Chazal’s science was from Sinai? Here is a short list of reasons why this is total nonsense.

  1. How come the Science from Sinai exactly matched the Science of Chazal’s day? Isn’t that a bit strange?
  2. Why didn’t Chazal mention the Science of future generations? Were they forbidden from mentioning it before its time? Why? And why reveal it them at Sinai if they could never use it?
  3. If the mesorah is good, how come the future Science didn’t get passed down to the Geonim and the Rishonim? Why did Chazal not pass down this mesorah from Sinai? How come the Acharonim and present day Gedolim didn’t get the Mesorah of currently effective medical cures?
  4. How come the Rambam’s Science matched that of his day? Didn’t he know the ‘true’ Science? How come the Rambam held that the moon was spiritual? Was that Mesorah from Sinai? Or did he just make that up? But he was a Rishon, was he allowed to just make stuff up?
  5. Why didn’t Chazal record the inyan of Nishtaneh Hatevah? Surely if Science came from Sinai, then Nishtaneh Hatevah must have come from Sinai too? Shouldn’t they have recorded such an important concept?
  6. Why did Chazal record medical cures which are no longer effective? Shouldn’t they have at least mentioned that because of Nishtaneh Hatevah these cures have an expiration date? Why were they nichshal the rabbim like this? Isn’t that gross negligence?
  7. If Nishtaneh Hatevah, but Science is from Sinai, then that means that a part of the Sinaitic revelation is no longer valid. But how can this be? Isn’t one of the ikkarim that the Torah never changes? How could G-d have changed the Tevah and thereby invalidated part of the Mesorah?
  8. Did Chazal not know that G-d planned to change the Tevah? Or were they just forbidden from revealing it? If they knew, how come they didn’t mention it? If they didn’t know, how come? Didn’t G-d reveal all knowledge to Chazal?
  9. If the Tevah changed, how come no one else noticed it? Maybe only frum, Torah Jews changed, but everyone else stayed the same?!
  10. Is the Tevah still changing? If the Tevah can change and invalidate some previously valid Torah, what else could change in the future? What if animals change, will shechitah have to change too?

Isn’t it about time we admitted to ourselves that Nishtaneh Hatevah STANDS OUT as one of the MOST stupid bits of the mesorah ever invented? That’s right, INVENTED. And STUPID. Almost as stupid as the Gosse Theory. But at least Gosse Theory was invented by a Christian. We have to take the blame for Nishtaneh Hatevah.

Now before anyone gets stupid on me, of course evolution is possible. And small changes over long periods of time do happen. But that’s not the Nishtaneh Hatevah that we are talking about here. We are talking about wholesale physiological changes in humans over a period of a few hundred years, between the Amoraim and the Geonim. Changes not recorded by anyone else in history. And why? Because of “nutrition” and “diets”! The level of scholarship in this article is not much better than at an NCSY convention. Its embarrassing.

Why does mainstream opinion reject R.Avraham’s opinion? This is not because they considered the Sages greater scientists than their modern counterparts.

Rather, they believed that, unlike R. Avraham’s view, the source of all the knowledge of the Sages is either from Sinaitic tradition (received at the Giving of the Torah) or from Divine inspiration. That they were in contact with such sources in undeniable.

“That they were in contact with such sources in undeniable.” Well, actually it is quite deniable but we won’t go into that one here.

How else could we explain numerous examples where the Sages had scientific information which no scientist of their time had?

That’s right ! How else could we explain that Chazal knew how to build nuclear reactors and airplanes? How else could we explain that Chazal knew the exact value of PI ? Oh wait a minute, Chazal thought PI was 3, whereas all the goyish atheist reshoim scientists think its 3.14159…

What a bunch of nonsense! There is NOT ONE SINGLE CASE where it can be shown that Chazal had scientific knowledge that no one else had, and that they could only have gotten from Sinai. NOT ONE. I don’t have all the info here but it can easily be shown if required. All the oft quoted examples are as bogus as the Sinai proof. Of course, Chazal were keen observers and had some good knowledge. It’s even possible that in some cases they had figured some things that their Babylonian neighbors hadn’t. But ‘proof’ that their Science was from Sinai?! Don’t be ridiculous.

How were they so precise in their calculations of the New Moon? How did they know that hemophilia is transmitted by the mother’s DNA, a fact discovered relatively recently?[18] How did they know that “a drop exudes from the brain and develops into semen” [19] without having known that the pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, emits a hormone which controls the production of semen. None of this could have been discovered by experimentation Either they had a tradition directly teaching them these facts, or they knew them by applying principles which were part of the Oral Torah regarding the inner workings of the world.

Or they made a lucky guess. Or they did not what they were talking about. Or a hundred other explanations. And why did they think the sun disappeared behind the heavens at night? And why did they think lice spontaneously reproduce? These arguments are PATHETIC. You sound like a Kiruv Clown.

Thus they knew the precise cycle of the moon; they knew that there was a relationship between the coagulation of blood and motherhood; and they knew that there was a relationship between the brain and male reproduction.

Wow, a relationship between the brain and reproduction! How could they possibly have known that! Quick, get me some talmudical cures! I am a believer.

Furthermore, the Talmud is not a mere compilation of the sayings of wise men; it is the sum total of Torah- she-be-al-peh, the Oral Torah which is the interpretation of the Written Torah.

Fundamentalist claptrap! Where on earth do you get the idea that the Talmud is the “sum total of Torah SheBaal Peh”! Chas Vesholom!. The Zohar wasn’t even written until 1000 years later and that is Torah SheBaanPeh too !

Seriously though, there is no real mekkor for saying the Talmud is the “sum total” of RSBP. It’s another fundamentalist myth. Not all of TSBP is in the Talmud and not everything in the Talmud is TSBP.

It is, then, the word of G-d, for which reason we are required to make a birchas hatorah (a blessing) before we study it, which we do not make before studying other wisdoms. As the Leshem cited above says, if even regarding matters which are not related to halacha, the Sages say, sod Hashem liyerav, “G-d reveals the secrets of nature to those who fear him,” then certainly there must have been siyata dishmaya (Divine assistance) and even ruach hakodesh (a Divine spirit) assisting the Sages in their redaction of the Oral Law. It is therefore inconceivable, to these opinions, that G-d would have permitted falsities to have been transmitted as Torah She-baal-peh and not have revealed His secrets to those who fear Him.

Really?! Inconceivable eh? So how come Chazal didn’t know about Nishataneh Hatevah? How come Chazal recorded medical cures which are no longer effective? How could Hashem have let that happen? This is a fundamentalist house of cards. Because you take these crazy nonsensical positions, you are forced into a corner. Chazal’s science must be true, because it’s in the Talmud. And the Talmud must be true, because every word came directly from G-d. Oy Vey.

One of the most powerful reasons why R. Avraham’s opinion was rejected by most opinions, is the introduction of the wisdom of Kabbalah of the Ari Zal in the sixteenth century. This cast the Sages in another dimension. Before then, many authorities had held that the esoteric wisdom described in the Talmud as Ma’aseh Breyshis and Ma’aseh Hamerkava was science and philosophy. After the introduction of Kabbalah it became clear that these were the Sefer HaYetzira, the Zohar and the Tikkunim.[20]

Really?! “It became clear” that the Rishonim’s derech was wrong?! Amazing ! So how could all those rational Rishonim have been wrong? Didn’t they have a Mesorah MiSinai? Or did they just make it all up? But surely the Rishonim were an important link in the chain of Mesorah. If the Rishonim are wrong, then how can we rely on the Acharonim? Doesn’t this mean the whole Mesorah is bunk?

And if the Ari could make it clear that the Rishonim’s positions were all wrong, can we not make it clear one day that the Acharonim were all wrong, and that all this Kabbalah stuff was a bunch of bogus nonsense?

This was accepted by the overwhelming majority of Torah scholars since then. Kabbala made it clear that when the Sages spoke, they based themselves on their knowledge of the mysteries of creation.[21] This would give them an accurate knowledge of matters of natural science as well.

Oh. My. G-d.

And here we have it, Ladies and Gentlemen, the root cause of all this nonsense, the reason why the Chareidim and their Gedolim are such fools. The reason why they ignore reality, and prefer to base their faith on superstitious nonsense rather than rational enquiry.


Judaism has been perverted by superstitious nonsense from the dark ages, inspired by Christians and fools. What a shame. Its enough to make any frum Jew give it all up. Our religion has been perverted. The Rishonim must be crying in their graves. How could this happen? How could the Acharonim have dismissed the opinions of the Rishonim based on some dubious opinions from Tzefat?

In any event, R. Avraham’s opinion is a minority opinion, one of many which have fallen by the wayside in the course of the centuries and which we do no longer follow.

This whole line of reasoning is bizarre. Rabbi Feldman talks about “many opinions” which have fallen by the wayside. Were these opinions ever true? How could true opinions become false? Is there a concept of Nishtaneh HaTorah as well? Doesn’t this conflict with the notion of an eternal Torah? Maybe these opinions were never correct in the first place? But how could such illustrious Rishonim such as the Rambam be so wrong? How can we trust our Mesorah if such giants could be patently incorrect?

Thus, on the issue of the credibility of the Sages as well, the signatories to the ban were correct in terming Slifkin’s books as perversions of the correct approach to the Sages’ words.

It’s certainly true that the current day Gedolim can pasken any which way they want to. If they want to deem Nishtaneh Hatevah the true answer, and the Rambam etc as false, it’s their prerogative. If they want to drive Chareidi Judaism into fundamentalist nonsense they can. But don’t blame me when I say they are a bunch of fools for doing so.

At least the Rishonim and Acharonim had an excuse for being clueless about Science. In the past, Science wasn’t well developed or well known. Most people had no clue about it, the Gedolim too. However nowadays Scientific information is widely and easily available. There really is no excuse any more for an intelligent person to be so clueless.

R. Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, a signatory to the ban, was asked: if he considers Slifkin’s approach wrong how could so many earlier authorities have held it? He answered: “They were permitted to hold this opinion; we are not.”[22] In other words, they were authorities in their own right qualified to decide matters of Jewish law. We are not permitted to do so.[23]

Yes, this clearly makes a lot of sense. Rav Hirsch was permitted to follow this ‘minority’ opinion, but we are not. Based on what? Surely such a sweeping statement needs some justification? But no. No explanations at all. R Eliashiv has paskened that we are not permitted to hold off these opinions. Doesn’t it make a farce out of our Mesorah when some latter day extremist can passel an entire strand of Jewish thought? How can Rav Hirsh have been permitted to hold this opinion but not us? IT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE.

We are enjoined to follow the majority opinion and our tradition as to how we are to approach Torah.

Can an individual on his own decide to follow the minority opinion? No more than he is permitted to do so in any matter of Jewish law[24] and certainly not in matters which determine our basic approach to Torah she b’al peh which is the domain of the poskim (recognized decisors of halacha) of the Jewish people.

Oh please. This opinion of Rabbi Feldman is a minority opinion! The majority of Orthodox Rabbis don’t hold of it. So, by his own arguments, its ossur to hold like him!

What about the conflicts between science and the Talmud which Slifkin raised? Like all difficulties in our Torah studies, we are obliged to seek solutions.

Obliged to seek solutions ?!!! You kofer !!! Rav Mattisyahu said only midgets seek solutions. A true Ben Torah will just say tayku. What a farce. Do any of these “Gedolim” even agree with each other, never mind with common sense!

However, the solutions have to be within the parameters of the true interpretation of the Torah and of the proper honor to the Sages. The fact that we are faced with a problem does not permit us to compromise our obligation as to how to properly approach Torah.[25] In the meantime we can be sure of one thing: the answers which Slifkin proposed are not the right ones.

I would simply say this.

“However, the solutions have to be within the parameters of common sense and reason. The fact that we are faced with a problem does not permit us to compromise our obligation to be normal, rational human beings. In the meantime we can be sure of one thing: the answers which the Gedolim proposed are not the right ones.”

True to form, Feldman maintains the Slifkin bashing to the very end. Strange that he doesn’t mention Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky and all the other maskimim who have NOT retracted. So is Rabbi Feldman saying that Rabbi Kaminetzky and company have perverted Torah too? Or were they also misled by Slifkin’s campaign? Did Slifkin’s campaign start before the ban even came out? And what about all the other sources that Slifkin quotes? Is Rabbi Feldman sure that their answers are not the right ones? What a bunch of nonsense. Not even a well written article.

I still maintain I could write a significantly better anti Slifkin article than any of these clowns. It would be reasoned, accurate and convincing (To a point. Its hard to be totally convincing when you are wrong). But I’m not going to.

Finally, let us turn to the amazing footnote 25:

25) There are cogent answers to the questions which Slifkin raised but these will of necessity, G-d willing, have to be the subject of another article.

Oh. My. G-d !!!!!!! Oh. My. G-d !!!!!

Rabbi Feldman has the answers to Science and Torah !!!!!!!

Not just that, but “cogent” answers! I thought he said the answers were “elusive”? Oh well, I guess he figured it all out. We have all been waiting so long, and it seems that Rabbi Aharon Feldman had the answers all along! Strange though, why he didn’t just publish these answers months ago, or even years ago? He could have saved us all so much trouble.

Anyways, I mamash can’t wait for Rabbi Feldman’s next article! I am soooo excited! I can’t wait to read it and share my thoughts with you, my dear readers.

But that will of necessity, G-d willing, have to be the subject of another post.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Gedolim of Oz

Rabbi Aharon Feldman writes concerning the 'Slifkin' affair:

This was an extremely vital crisis since these authorities constitute some of the greatest Torah leaders of our generation, authorities upon whom all of the Jewish people rely for their most serious decisions.

I ridiculed this statement, since these authorities are not even relied upon by "all the Chareidim", much less "all the Jewish people". Some thought I was nitpicking, however this is really at the heart of the matter. Rabbi's Feldman, Meiselman and Orlofsky are intent on defending the honor of the Gedolim. But let's think about this for a moment. Why? Who on earth could the greatest Torah scholars of our generation possibly need defending against? Is there some other set of Gedolim threatening their power base? Some Sanhedrin of moiradick lamdonim who are greater scholars? Some sect of incredible tzadikim whose good deeds and fine characters put our Gedolim to shame ?

No! The greatest Torah scholars of our time apparently require defending against a 29 year old pisher. An eccentric zoo rabbi. A guy with a mediocre web site. He probably gets less hits than I do. From this the honor of the Gedolim needs defending? Surely, these are the greatest authorities of our time, the leaders of all the Jewish people, incredible scholars, amazing tzadikim, bearers of Daas Torah, revered by all the Jewish people! How could they possibly need defending from one guy and a web site? Are the bloggers the problem? Some anonymous nobodies with web sites they didn't even pay for? Some bored corporate dweebs with too much time on their hands? From this we need a defence?

Surely the Gedolim's actions speak for themselves? Surely their great wisdom, character and good deeds is testament enough to their gadlus? How could such a "vital crisis" be caused by one third rate rabbi or some bored bloggers? What on earth is gong on here?

And even more bizzarely, Rabbi's Feldman, Meisleman and Orlofsky only seem to be able to defend the Gedolim by bashing Slifkin. Incredible! Here we have the greatest lamdonim and tzadikim of our time, and in order to "defend" them, the defenders need to bash some 29 year old nobody. What on earth is going on !? And even more, Rabbi's Orlofsky and Meisleman felt the need to discredit Slifkin by repeating rechilus, that he was thrown out of his Yeshivah, (a 'fact' which the Rosh Yeshivah of that Yeshivah, Rabbi Gavriel Knopfler, was shocked to hear about). Unbelievable! Roshei Yeshivas spreading rechilus in public? How could this be?

What the heck is going on here? Why are the greatest leaders of our generation facing such a "vital crisis"? Why are their defenders forced to resort to lies to defend them?


The answer is obvious.

If the Gedolim were true Gedolim, their Gadlus would be undeniable. No way could one guy and a web site destroy the faith of the masses. However the unfortuante reality is that there is no real Gadlus here. There are no true stories of tzidkus, just pathetically hollow hagiographies from Artscroll, and whitewashed biographies from the Yated. In place of truth we get spin. In place of yashrus we get foolishness. Their only means of defence is attack.

These Gedolim are not the leaders of all Jewry. They are barely even the leaders of right wing Chareidi Jewry. They represent no one but their own narrow constituency. We have all been fed from birth a constant stream of Gedolim propoganda. We all remember and revere the true Gedolim of old, and naturally we feel the need to revere the Gedolim of today. The unfortunate fact though, is that there are no true Gedolim today. All we have is some Roshei Yeshivos, political figures and some very narrow minded poskim.

Destroying the reputation of these people is pathetically easy. Just a few well placed facts, a web site or two and the deed is done.

L'mah hadovor domeh? Remember the scene from the Wizard of Oz? Dorothy and her friends go to see the great Wizard, and are appropriately quaking in their shoes at his gadlus. But, while they are standing there and shaking, Dorothy's little dog, Toto, pulls back the curtain, and what do we see? A scared old man pulling some levers and pushing some button. There is no Wizard, just someone as lost as Dorothy is.

The nimshal is obvious. Slifkin is no great scholar. He had no campaign. He's just the little dog who unwittingly pulled back the curtain. And the Emerald City guards are desperately trying to put it back. But how can they? The facts are undisputed, the naivety and foolishness are undeniable. Slifkin has a clean record, telling lies about him just makes things worse. So what to do? The only possibility is to try and sidestep the entire issue, as Rav Feldman says:

If the books are forbidden and the ban is justified, then the other issues become secondary.

No, Rabbi Feldman. That is NOT true. The other issues, how the ban came to be, the reaction to the backlash, the lies, slander and general foolishness, these have become THE issues. By continuing with this nonsense, you are just perpetuating the farce.

The whole kefirah issue is clearly ridiculous. I'm not sure it's even worth going in to. Rabbi Moshe Shapiro and Rav Moshe Shternbuch say anyone who holds the world is older than 6000 years is a kofer. Rabbi Feldman quotes various sources which say the 6 "days" consisting of 24 "hours" might not have been regular days as we know them, or regular hours as we know them, but much longer periods of time, and then makes some pathetic diyuk that Slifkin's crime was not to call these "days".

But Rabbi Feldman, according to Rabbi's Shapiro and Shternbuch YOU are a kofer! Because its davkah 6 days and davkah 24 hours. Anything else is kefirah. What a farce! This one says that one is a kofer. That one says no, this one is a kofer. How can anyone take this seriously? As Rabbi Feldman himself admits, one only needs to look up on a clear night and see the stars to realize how old the universe is.

The reality is this. Slifkin had no campaign. He just reported the facts as he knew them. The veldt was not swayed by the bloggers, the veldt came to their own obvious conclusions and the bloggers were just a part of that. The notion of "Gedolim" is a farce. Sure, they are learned scholars, and have many other fine qualities too. But "Gedolim"?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

More of the Rabbi Feldman Letter

Here's some more. Lots more still to come.

Another source given for his theory of Creation is a cryptic statement by Rav E. E. Dessler, cited by Slifkin at least twice, that before man was created the idea of time was meaningless and the idea of “days” is simply man’s way of perceiving this pre-human “time”.[1] Slifkin implies from this his theory that the days did not really occur in the real world.[2] But Rav Dessler is not saying this. All Rav Dessler is saying is that humans perceive the “time” of Creation as “days.” He makes no mention of the days as being Divine concepts.

So Rabbi Feldman is now an expert on Rav Dessler ? That’s strange, because Rav Dessler’s greatest living talmid is Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, who AGREES with Slifkin, he even wrote an article specially to defend him. And Rabbi Feldman doesn’t seem to be much of an expert in Rav Dessler anyway, since he apparently hasn’t noticed this statement:

" 'Scripture does not teach us anything about the chronological order of events' – Rashi. The reason for this is that the ten utterances with which the world was created (see Avos 5:1) are the ten sefiros whose order is the order of distinguishing revelations (havchanas hagiluyim). The Torah instructed us according to this order in Maase Bereishis, not according to the order of physical time." (Michtav Me-Eliyahu vol. 5 p. 348)

Furthermore, says Slifkin, although the Torah relates that vegetation came before the luminaries (on the third and fourth days, respectively) and birds came before animals (on the fifth and sixth days, respectively), the actual order of creation follows the view of current scientific opinion, that the luminaries preceded vegetation and that animals preceded birds.[3] Slifkin explains that the Torah refers to G-d’s conceptual plan of creation, not to its actualization. In reality the luminaries and the birds came first; conceptually, in G-d’s mind, the order was reversed.[4]

To explain G-d’s mind, Slifkin suggests that birds and fish are more spiritual than animals since they “fly” through their media of locomotion, and also their habitats are blue (the sky and the sea) which is a more spiritual color.[5] He does not explain why vegetation is more spiritual than the luminaries.

Is Rabbi Feldman being sarcastic here? Methinks so. He says, “To explain G-ds mind”. Wow. And I thought Slifkin was just trying to give a peshat. But no! The arrogant kofer Slifkin is “explaining G-d’s mind”. What a kofer! How dare he explain G-d’s mind?! Only the Gedolim can do that.

In support of this theory that the actual order of creation did not follow the order written in the Torah, Slifkin applies the principle, Eyn mukdam u-me’uchar batorah – “The Torah does not follow a chronological order.”[6] This application borders on the absurd. The Talmud employs this principle only to explain why two separate portions of the Torah do not have to follow a chronological order.[7] In no way can it be employed to uproot the plain meaning of the verses which explicitly give a specific order for creation.

Really? “In no way”? Says who? You and the Gedolim? May I remind you that the Gemarah only EVER uses the concept of “dibrah torah keloshon bnei odom” with reference to double expressions such as “hikores ticores”, but the Rambam extends it to apply to all anthropomorphic expressions. Oh, I’m sorry, maybe he was a kofer too.

Slifkin goes on to posit that the Theory of Evolution in one form or another is a fact – only mentioning in passing those eminent scientists who have discredited this theory because the discovery of the DNA molecule make it statistically impossible.[8]

Silly argument. A minority of scientists have discredited it. The overwhelming majority of scientists accept it. Or does Judaism have to throw in its lot with a bunch of quacks? And its moot, since the peshuto shel mikrah clearly doesn't work by the age of the universe anyway.

According to Slifkin, when the Torah says that man was created, it means that the human species evolved until a certain point in time when this species was invested with a Divine spark which made it “human” in our sense of the word. [9] He does not explain why the first woman, who presumably evolved together with man, had to taken from his side, as the Torah teaches us she was.


These cosmological explanations have no basis in any commentary or Midrash and clearly violate the plain meaning of the Torah. Like the famous archer who painted the targets after the arrows landed and thereby ensured himself a perfect bulls-eye each time, Slifkin uses questionable sources as proofs for his a priori belief that the theories of modern science which he cites are indisputable fact.

Questionable Sources? Tiferes Yisrael: Questionable? Rav Shimshon Refael Hisrch: Questionable? Rav Kook: Questionable? Rav Aryeh Carmell: Questionable? Rav Gedaliah Nadel: Questionable? I guess so, assuming the question is: “Which latter day Gedolim agree with Rabbi Slifkin”.

This last paragraph of Rabbi Feldmans is especially disingenuous. Its a sweeping generalizations with no basis in fact, culminating in a broad attack on Slifkin. Yes, Slifkin is just a science freak who perverts the Torah to fit in with his bizzaro, kefiradik science. Yes, that’s exactly correct! And, Slifkin was the first person EVER in the history of Judaism to do that. The book “Challenge” must have just been a figment of our imagination. Rav Kook and Rav Hirsch too. Or maybe they are forgeries?

Interpretations which have no basis in the Written or Oral Torah and which contradict the tradition of the Midrashim and the commentaries are perversions of Torah ideas and may be classified as megaleh panim baTorah shelo ke-halacha (distorted interpretations of the Torah) which are forbidden to study.

The same thing can be said of Helicoentrism, you foolish man. Perhaps we should use this same argument to insist that the sun goes round the earth, and it is kefirah to say otherwise? Oh, wait a minute, someone did do that. It’s a sefer called “Maamar Mevo Hashemesh”. It makes the exact same argument.

Even if the Torah authorities who signed the ban based their ruling on excerpts which were translated before them, it would therefore appear that they were not misled. They were perfectly justified in terming his views inauthentic interpretations of Torah.

Rabbi Feldman appears to be saying that even if the Gedolim were misled by the kannoim, ultimately his analysis has shown that Slifkin really is a kofer. Brilliant. So the Gedolim were deceived? Or perhaps even though they were only read small translated excerpts, their incredible Daas Torah enabled them to pasken the shailoh correctly? Except for the fact that some of them didn’t even read the excerpts, but just signed because other people signed. Or maybe we are only talking about R Elyashiv? But if his Daas Torah is so amazing, why on earth did Rabbi Feldman fly to Eretz Yisroel to try to get him to rescind the ban? Is his emunah in R’Elyashiv’s Daas Torah so weak? Has he been reading the blogspots? Was he another victim of Slifkin’s evil campaign? Shame on you Rabbi Feldman!

Oh dear.

What a bunch of nonsense. Rabbi Feldman says its okay to talk about 6 days of 24 “hours”, where an hour could be a billion years (either because it wasn’t a normal hour, or because time flowed really quickly), but if you talk about 6 divine periods, then oh my gosh, kefirah ! But 6 days of 2.5 billion years each, that’s peshuto shel mikreh!!!

Does Rabbi Feldman even believe this stuff?

You know what? I actually don’t think he does. He was pressured to attack Slifkin and this is his response. You can tell his heart is not really in it. But it's a shame that the Rosh Yeshivah of one of the most prestigious yeshivot in the world feels the need to be "mevatel his daas" (at least publicly)to fundamentalism.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Rav Aharon Feldman's Letter

I had high hopes for Rav Aharon Feldman. Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Yisrael, one of the more enlightened yeshivahs in the chareidi world, brother of Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, one of the more enlightened communal Rabbis in the chareidi world, American born and educated.

However, unfortunately he has seemingly done a 180. It was one thing for the Bnei Brak right wingers to ban Rabbi Slifkin, after all, they live in an extremely sheltered environment, with very limited understanding of the western world, the discoveries of science, and what is commonly accepted as undeniable fact.

However when someone with Rabbi Feldman’s background and responsibilities joins in, that’s really inexcusable. Here are some excerpts from a recent letter of his. Not only does he avoid the real issues, he also attacks Slifkin, and displays ignorance of Science and basic logic.


By Rabbi Aharon Feldman

Probably the public issue most damaging to the honor of Torah and to its leaders in recent memory is what is known as the Slifkin affair.

Very true. The Gedolim looked like idiots.

Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, a talented young man still in his twenties, wrote three books in the past several years in which he attempted to justify certain conflicts between the findings of modern science and parts of the Torah and the Talmud. The author is a fully observant chareidi Torah Jew whose intent was clearly leshem shomayim (for the sake of Heaven), to defend the honor of the Torah.

(Wow ! Fully Observant AND Chareidi AND a TORAH Jew. Mamash amazing. )

Nevertheless, in September of last year a public letter banning the books was issued by some of the leading Torah authorities in Israel, and then shortly afterwards a similar ban, signed by many prominent American Roshey Yeshiva, was issued in the United States. The books were banned because they were deemed to contain ideas antithetical to Torah, and therefore forbidden to read because of the Torah commandment, לא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם (“You shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes”) which forbids tempting oneself with matters which might turn one away from the Torah.

The ban was met with resistance by Slifkin who vigorously defended himself on his Internet site on several grounds. First, he argued that there was nothing heretical in his books; his views were based on opinions already offered in the past by the greatest authorities in Jewish history. The ban was based, he claimed, on excerpts of the book taken out of context by extremists who manipulated the signatories, many of whom do not read English, into signing against them. Secondly, the ban was unjustifiably personally cruel to him: it damaged his reputation and caused him to lose his job as a teacher of newcomers to Judaism. Finally, he portrayed the dispute as pro- or anti-science, with himself as a champion of truth and his detractors as uneducated deniers of the discoveries of modern science.

All very true.

Slifkin’s campaign was eminently successful. In short time, most people were convinced that the ban had no basis or reason, and that Slifkin had been unwarrantedly victimized.

It was not Slifkin’s ‘campaign’ (if you can call his web site a campaign) that convinced people the ban had no basis. It was the obvious fact that the ban had no basis. There was no explanation, no discussion, no sources and it made no sense. Not one of the Gedolim was ever able to explain himself. Rav Moshe Shapiro contradicted himself on numerous occasions.

Please Rav Aharon, surely you don’t really believe this? In effect, you are attacking the individual. Its subtle, but its there. Rather than deal substantively with the issues you are twisting the facts and making it seem like this is a case of Slifkin vs. The Gedolim.

His campaign made the signatories appear easily swayed and naive.

It was the ban that made the signatories appear easily swayed and naive, not Slifkin. Many of them admitted they didn’t know anything about the subject, but only signed because others did. Do you really have no more sechel than David Orlofsky? How embarrassing.

Easily swayed, because they had relied on the “extremists” and had not sufficiently checked the accuracy of their claims. Naïve, because the tumult over the ban catapulted the books into best-sellerdom. The books had been previously virtually unknown but after the ban began selling by the thousands even at inflated prices – which meant that the ban accomplished nothing.

Quite true.

Blogspots, Internet sites (mostly anonymous) where anyone with access to a computer can express his spontaneous, unchecked and unedited opinion with impunity, became filled with tasteless, derogatory attacks on these authorities, at times to the accompaniment of vulgar caricatures.

Blogs, not Blogspots. Except that there were only really five original blogs that dealt with it:

Hirhurim – not anonymous and very respectful

Godol Hador – anonymous and not respectful

Failed Messiah – not anonymous and not respectful

Bnei Levi – anonymous and respectful

DovBear – anonymous and reasonably respectful

That makes me the only anonymous disrespectful site. And my vulgar caricatures were just jokes. Get a sense of humor already.

As a result, many thoughtful, observant Jews were beset by a crisis of confidence in the judgment of the signatories.

No ! As a result OF THE BAN. Not as a result of the blogs. I doubt many people had their minds made up by the blogs. People formed their opinions and stuck to them. The chareidi blogs fed the chareidi masses what they wanted to hear, and the ‘modern’ or skeptical blogs fed their audience what they wanted to hear. Possibly a few people in the middle made their minds up by reading the blogs, certainly not the masses. Stop shifting the blame. The ban was ridiculous, and the deceitful campaign of the kannoim has been well documented.

And, where do you think the bloggers got their opinions from ? From reading their own blogs? That’s how we became convinced about the ban? No. Of course not. The typical reaction of any normal well educated person was that the ban was ridiculous. All Slifkin did was to provide some STILL UNDISPUTED plain facts about how it went down.

This was an extremely vital crisis since these authorities constitute some of the greatest Torah leaders of our generation, authorities upon whom all of the Jewish people rely for their most serious decisions.

You say: “authorities upon whom ALL of the Jewish people rely”. That's not true. Even ALL the chareidim don't rely on these Gedolim.

More important, it threatened to make any of their future signatures on public announcements questionable. The irony of it all is that the books, which had originally been written to defend the honor of Torah, became one of the most potent vehicles in our times for weakening the authority of Torah.

No! The irony of it all is that the ban, which had originally been written to defend the honor of Torah, became one of the most potent vehicles in our times for weakening the authority of Torah.

Since very few matters could be more serious, it is important to examine the issues of this affair and to render them in their proper perspective.[1]

To attain this perspective, the foremost question to be addressed is: do the books contain anything which is antithetical to Torah - in which case the ban was justified, or do they not – in which case the signatories committed a grievous error.

If the books are forbidden and the ban is justified, then the other issues become secondary.

No! The other issues are PRIMARY. Whether the books are kefirah or not is clearly a matter of personal opinion, since many halachic authorities held that they were not. However the way this ban happened clearly shows an awful lack of basic yashrus and sechel in the Gedolim’s world.

The rabbis were asked if the book is permitted to be held in a Jewish home and were obligated to respond, as they are on any other halachic question. Their intention was not to halt the sales of the books, and it was not their concern if, as a result of their ruling, the book would sell more copies. If a rabbi is asked if a certain product is kosher, he is obligated to rule accordingly even if knows that there will be those who will rush out to buy the product for the thrill of eating something forbidden. Also, as unfortunate as is the loss of employment of the author, if his world-view on Torah is incorrect this would indeed disqualify him from teaching newcomers to Judaism.


There are two problematic theses in Slifkin’s books which brought about the ban. These are: a) his approach to cosmology (the creation of the world), and b) his approach to the credibility of the Sages. Each of these need to be examined separately.

OK. Here we go !


Most scientists believe that the world is 15 billion years old, and that the human species evolved from lower life forms. The Torah says that it is less than 6000 years and that man was created individually at the end of Creation.

Not exactly true. A literal reading of the Torah, doing all the math, implies the world is about 6,000 years old. But never mind, what you are about to say is sheer nonsense anyway.

It is quite obvious that the world appears older than 6000 years. One needs only look up to the sky and see stars billions of light years away for evidence of this. On the other hand, for a Torah Jew, because his ancestors experienced a revelation by G-d of Torah at Mount Sinai and the Jewish People bears an unbroken tradition of that revelation, there is no doubt that the Torah is true. If so, the appearances which make the world seem older must have some explanation.

Poorly worded, but okay.

In truth, explanations are elusive.

In other words, ‘I have no answer’.

Creation does not follow the laws of nature. According to natural law nothing can come into existence ex nihilo; therefore by its very definition creation is an act which defies the laws of nature.

The original moment of creation (the Big Bang) yes. Everything else, no.

The apparent age of the universe is based on observations made after the laws of nature came into being, and applying these observations to nature as it existed during the days of Creation is therefore illogical; for perhaps during Creation time passed at a greater speed, or perhaps natural reactions proceeded at a faster pace.

Is that it ? Is that your final answer ? Perhaps? The laws of nature came into being after creation, so all is explained? What about fossils? Where did they come from? Everything happened at a faster pace. Hey, here’s an idea, maybe 15 billion years happened at a faster pace, like in 6 ‘days’. Brilliant !

In spite of these considerations, several explanations have been offered by the great commentaries of the previous generations. Basing themselves on Midrashim which say that G-d created many worlds before ours and destroyed them, some say that the earth upon which these worlds were built was not destroyed.[2] Accordingly, the world is as old as the first world created while the six days of creation of the Torah refer to our present world. Along the same lines, sources in Kabbala state there are seven cycles in creation and that we are in the third cycle or, some say, in the fifth. Leshem Shevo VeAchlama,[3] basing himself on Kabbala, states (without addressing the issue of the age of universe) that each of the 24 “hours” of the day during the days of Creation was at least a thousand times the length of present day hours.

Wait a second! You put “hours” in quotes and clearly the Leshem is saying that the "hours" were much longer and therefore by definition the “Days” were much longer too. In other words, THEY WERE NOT REGULAR DAYS!

In fact, he says, longer “hours” continued, albeit at a reduced pace, until the Generation of the Mabbul (Flood). Still others have explained that though there were 24 of our present day hours in each day, but that time flowed at a different, more compressed speed during the days of creation; in other words more events occurred during the course of a day even though a day lasted from the light of one day to that of the next.[4] According to all these explanations, the world could appear to be vastly old and yet would still not be older than the age which the Torah gives it. All of these interpretations do not distort in any way the plain meaning of the Torah.

Oh please. This is getting really SILLY. By the time you are done with all your twists and turns you are right back to where you started! If time ‘flowed faster’ then in effect what you are saying is that 15 billion years passed. What exactly is a day? If time passes quicker during an hour, then how is that an hour? It makes NO SENSE. If you had been there, you would have experienced 15 billion YEARS. So for all intents and purposes it WAS 15 billion years. The only way you can say ‘day’ is maybe relative to G-d. So in other words, ‘day’ doesn’t mean 24 of our hours, but a day in G-d’s eyes, whereas really it was 15 billion years. Can’t you see how silly you sound?

Slifkin has a totally different explanation. Rather than saying that the six days of creation were literal days, i.e. periods of time extending from the beginning of one day to the next, which is the position of the above explanations and of virtually every commentary on Torah, he posits that they refer to actual 15 billion literal years during which the world evolved from the first Big Bang until the creation of man.

Wait a second! You just contradicted yourself AGAIN. You just defined ‘day’ as ‘periods of time extending from the beginning of one day to the next’. You specifically did NOT define day as ‘24 of our hours’. Therefore you are saying that ‘day’ in Breishis means a period of time i.e. 15 billion divided by six. How is this any different than Slifkin etc ? ITS EXACTLY THE SAME..

The six days of creation, explains Slifkin, do not refer to the real world but are concepts of creation which existed in G-d’s mind.[5] Accordingly, there were no six separate acts of creation, as the Torah teaches, but a seamless evolution put into action at the first moment of Creation, a single act which expressed six Divine concepts.

Ridiculous! You are saying THE SAME THING.

I will get to the rest of this letter in other posts.