Wednesday, August 31, 2005

August 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Beware of Sholom Auslander

[Disclaimer: This is a short story. it is fiction. It does not represent my views or the views of this blog. Read it at your own risk].

The Pope lay on his death bed. His breathing was labored, he knew he was about to die. The Vatican was hushed, in fact the whole Vatican City was enveloped in a strange quiet. In the church next door, bishops and priests said psalms. Finally the moment came, the Pope said his last rites, and prayed to Jesus to save his soul. He died, and as he did so, his spirit left his body and floated into the air.

He had always expected an afterlife, but was still taken aback at the site of his own dead body on the bed a few feet below him. Presently he became more oriented, and realized he was a kind of spirit pulsating with soft light, yet no one could see him. Then, in the distance, he saw an amazing white light. It was so beautiful, and it bathed him from head to toe. This was clearly the light of Jesus he thought. He slowly drifted towards the light and anyway from the earth.

The light began to communicate with him. ‘Have you had a worthwhile life?’ it asked. ‘Did you study?’, ‘Were you good to your fellow man?’ The pope answered affirmatively. ‘Yes my Lord Jesus, I studied the New Testament religiously. I shepherded the global community of Catholics’.

The Spirit responded ‘But why the New Testament? That was just the work of a few men in ancient Palestine & Syria. It doesn’t contain anything much of value. And why did you spend all your time with the Catholics. Do you think my grace and love is only for Catholics? Oh, and stop calling me Jesus, that’s not my name!

The Pope grew silent, as he realized the full and awesome truth of the Spirit’s real identity. If only he had known. ‘But can I get into Heaven?’ he asked, trembling from head to toe. The Spirit pondered for a moment. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he answered: ‘Okay my son, you believed in me, and you were good. You can go in’.

The Godol lay on his death bed. His breathing was labored, he knew he was about to die. The Yeshivah was hushed, in fact the whole of Bnei Brak was enveloped in a strange quiet. In the shul next door, Rabbonim and Talmedei Chachamim said Tehillim. Finally the moment came, the Godol said his last shema and viduy, and prayed to Hashem to save his neshama. He died, and as he did so, his spirit left his body and floated into the air.

He had always expected Olam Habah, but was still taken aback at the site of his own dead body on the bed a few feet below him. Presently he became more oriented, and realized he was a kind of spirit pulsating with soft light, yet no one could see him. Then, in the distance, he saw an amazing white light. It was so beautiful, and it bathed him from head to toe. This was clearly the light of Hashem, he thought. He slowly drifted towards the light and anyway from the earth.

The light began to communicate with him. ‘Have you had a worthwhile life?’ it asked. ‘Did you study?’, ‘Were you good to your fellow man?’ The Godol answered affirmatively. ‘Yes Hashem, I studied the Gemarah religiously. I was manhig the global community of Chareidim’.

The Spirit responded ‘But why the Gemarah? That was just the work of a few men in ancient Palestine & Syria. It doesn’t contain anything much of value. And why did you spend all your time with the Chareidim? Do you think my grace and love is only for Chareidim? Oh, and stop calling me Hashem, that’s not my name!

The Godol grew silent, as he realized the full and awesome truth of the Spirit’s real identity. If only he had known. ‘But can I get into Shomayim?’ he asked, trembling from head to toe. The Spirit pondered for a moment. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he answered: ‘Okay my son, you believed in me, and you were good. You can go in’.

The Chief Skeptic lay on his death bed. His breathing was labored, he knew he was about to die. The room was hushed, but the rest of the city was business as usual. In the building next door, everyone went about their normal activities. Finally the moment came, and the Skeptic said nothing, and prayed to no one to save his soul. He died, and as he did so, his spirit left his body and floated into the air.

He had never expected an afterlife, and was quite taken aback at the site of his own dead body on the bed a few feet below him. Presently he became more oriented, and realized he was a kind of spirit pulsating with soft light, yet no one could see him. Then, in the distance, he saw an amazing white light. It was so beautiful, and it bathed him from head to toe. This was clearly the light of something, but he didn’t know what. He slowly drifted towards the light and anyway from the earth.

The light began to communicate with him. ‘Have you had a worthwhile life?’ it asked. ‘Did you study?’, ‘Were you good to your fellow man?’ The Chief Skeptic answered affirmatively. ‘Yes urrrrm White Light Spirit kinda thingy, I studied Science religiously. I shepherded the global community of Skeptics.

The Spirit responded ‘But why Science? That was just a human conceptual framework for describing the behavior of the universe. It doesn’t contain anything much of value. And why did you spend all your time with the Skeptics? Do you think my grace and love is only for Skeptics? Oh, and stop calling me White Light Spirit kinda thingy, that’s not my name!

The Skeptic grew silent, as he realized the full and awesome truth of the Spirit’s real identity. If only he had known. ‘But can I get into Heaven?’ he asked, trembling from head to toe. The spirit pondered for a moment. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he answered, with an evil laugh: ‘Buwahahahah. I make no claim’.

The Chief Skeptic was horrified. This was terrible! He was going to Hell! Suddenly the Spirit burst out laughing. ‘Fooled you! You can go in’. The Chief Skeptic walked on into Heaven. ‘Damn skeptics’ said the Spirit, ‘They always did annoy the heck out of me.’

Kefirah Clowns and Kiruv Clowns

Just saw this on Geoff Arnold's blog:
Perhaps the most disheartening statement by Flew was this: I am very much impressed with physicist Gerald Schroeder’s comments on Genesis 1. [in Schroeder's The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom] That this biblical account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is revelation. The idea that Flew believes Schroeder's laboured interpretation of Genesis might be "scientifically accurate" simply shows how little Flew knows of science. Schroeder's bizarre notions of probability would cause him to fail Statistics 101, and his howlers in genetics and relativity are equally juvenile. (For a thoughtful analysis of Schroeder from a religious - Jewish - stance, I recommend R. David Hazony's review in Azure.)
Flew was convinced by Schroeder! Amazing. A Kefirah Clown gets convinced by a Kiruv Clown. Sometimes I think we are all just a bunch of clowns ....

Update: Flew retracted slightly:

Flew also makes another admission: "I have been mistaught by Gerald Schroeder." He says "it was precisely because he appeared to be so well qualified as a physicist (which I am not) that I was never inclined to question what he said about physics."

Phew, that was a close call. My faith in the clownliness of Kiruv Clowns has been restored.

One down, Several Thousand to go

OK, I know this is old news. But I didn't have a blog in 2004! And how many Gedolim have ever turned Atheist?

Atheist Philosopher, 81, Now Believes in God

By Richard N. Ostling
Associated Press
posted: 10 December 2004
09:31 am ET

NEW YORK (AP) _ A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God -- more or less -- based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article "Theology and Falsification," based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis.

Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain, in visits to numerous U.S. and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates.

There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.

Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?"

The video draws from a New York discussion last May organized by author Roy Abraham Varghese's Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas. Participants were Flew; Varghese; Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jew; and Roman Catholic philosopher John Haldane of Scotland's University of St. Andrews.

The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote.

The letter commended arguments in Schroeder's "The Hidden Face of God" and "The Wonder of the World" by Varghese, an Eastern Rite Catholic layman.

This week, Flew finished writing the first formal account of his new outlook for the introduction to a new edition of his "God and Philosophy," scheduled for release next year by Prometheus Books.

Prometheus specializes in skeptical thought, but if his belief upsets people, well "that's too bad," Flew said. "My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

Last week, Richard Carrier, a writer and Columbia University graduate student, posted new material based on correspondence with Flew on the atheistic Web page. Carrier assured atheists that Flew accepts only a "minimal God" and believes in no afterlife.

Flew's "name and stature are big. Whenever you hear people talk about atheists, Flew always comes up," Carrier said. Still, when it comes to Flew's reversal, "apart from curiosity, I don't think it's like a big deal."

Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American "intelligent design" theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life.

A Methodist minister's son, Flew became an atheist at 15.

Early in his career, he argued that no conceivable events could constitute proof against God for believers, so skeptics were right to wonder whether the concept of God meant anything at all.

Another landmark was his 1984 "The Presumption of Atheism," playing off the presumption of innocence in criminal law. Flew said the debate over God must begin by presuming atheism, putting the burden of proof on those arguing that God exists.

Song for Hanan

When I think back
To all the proofs I learned in Aish HaTorah
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of intellectual sophistication
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

It gives me objective morality
It gives me spirituality
Makes me think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a BT background
I love my new community
So mama don’t take my EmunahvBitachone away

If you took all the religions I tried
When I was single
And brought them all together for comparison
I just know they’d never match
My sweet Judaism
And everything looks better in black and white

It gives me objective morality
It gives me spirituality
Makes me think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a BT background
I love my new community
So mama don’t take my EmunahvBitachone away

Godol Does Cosmological

Here is my common sense, down to earth take on the cosmological argument.

All things have a cause in the physical world. Things don’t just spring into existence. We can extrapolate from there to the Universe as a whole because the Universe as a whole is not some fundamentally different object than all things within it, it is just the collection of all things. Extrapolating that the Universe must have had a cause then gets us into the infinite regression of what was the cause’s cause and so on till infinity. Clearly, an infinite regression is impossible, so ultimately there must have been a first cause which did not in itself need a cause.

At this point an objection may be raised. If the first cause did not need a cause, then why not just say that the Universe itself does not need a cause? My answer to that is that our Universe is physical and physical things need a cause. The first cause must be non physical, and that non physical (albeit incomprehensible) first cause does not need a cause.

In the interests of simplicity and invoking Occam’s Razor, I would furthermore add that there is no gain in imaging a very long line of causes with the first cause some ways back, you may as well imagine just one additional cause of the Universe and make that the First Cause.

Of course this still doesn’t tell us very much about the First Cause, and there is always the possibility that the First Cause caused the Universe and then went away. That will all have to be dealt with later. However I think it is reasonable to imagine an Uncaused First Cause. It makes logical sense and there is no reason to assume that some non physical being beyond our comprehension couldn’t be an uncaused first cause, and many reasons to assume that the physical Universe we experience could NOT be an uncaused first cause.

Got it?

[I think a similar argument works in terms of our current Universe too, but I'm less sure about it. We don't actually need to go back in time, but just look around us. Everything is composed of something else: Moelcules, Atoms, Quarks etc. The same with forces, they all reduce down to collections of other forces. Thinking about matter and particles, we have the same exact problem as with causation. If you continually deconstruct particles you will go on to infinity. As an infinite regression is impossible, ultimately you must hit upon something that is indivisible. As an indivisible entity is not possible in this physical world, the only option is to make that entity non physical. Hence the foundation of our current physical world must be non-physical, and therefore beyond our comprehension.]

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Experimental Brain Blog Part 3

Personality: You know I am quite exhausted from debating all these skeptics.
Reason: Yeah me too. But maybe they have a point?
Faith: No! They are very hurtful to me!
Reason: Ah, quit your whining.
Personality: So what's the decision guys?
Reason: They seem to be correct, I am having a hard time beating them.
Faith: No way! They are full of it. Don't listen to them.
Emotion: I can't listen to them. But I can't not listen to them. I'm so conflicted! Arggggh.
Desire: What you need is a really good movie.
Faith + Reason + Emotion (in unison): GO AWAY!
Desire: (Leaves, mumbling about how everyone will regret it later).
Personality: Well guys, you really are no help. I never trust you anyway for the really important decisions. I'm going with my gut on this one.
Gut: Good decision! I say the Skeptics are wrong.
Faith: Fine by me!
Reason: Oh well, I guess I have some homework to do, I need to rationalize this one pretty quick.
Gut: Don't worry, you'll figure it out.
Faith: Hey, thats my line!
Desire: Now can we go watch a movie?
Conscience: No, you've already wasted too much time on the blog. Go learn something.
Personality: OK, will do. Goodnight all!

Hypocritical Skeptics

It's quite amazing how hypocritical skeptics are. I am not accusing them of doing it consciously, I think they are fooled by their emotions and don't realize it. I recently had a conversation with a Skeptic who doesn't believe in G-d. He is a Weak Atheist who holds that since there is no Strong Evidence for G-d, it is not rational to make any claim that G-d exists. We might wish for it to be true, but that does not make it so. OK, fair enough. Hard to argue with that.

However his reaction to my 'turtles' post was quite interesting. He maintained that while of course we cannot be sure that Science would discover the fundamentals of things, he 'hopes' and 'thinks' there is a 'good possibility' of that occuring.

Can anyone spot the logical fallacy here? You need to have a decent understanding of what Science is. So let me explain. Science works by observing behaviors, and then constructing theories based on those behaviors, and then testing those theories out, for example by predicting behaviors. Sometimes the theory comes first and the observation come second. There are also other permutations, but at its core, Science is always describing what happens, rather than why it happens.

For example, why does water boil? Simple, you may respond. Because the atoms are excited, and they turn into gas. But you haven't really answered the question, you have simply replaced it with another question; why do the atoms get excited? It's kind of like explaining how the Universe came to be by answering that G-d did it. Well where did G-d come from? It doesn't help. It turns out that Science has never actually explained any fundamental at all, and there is absolutely no evidence that it ever will.

Of course Science is extremely useful, but that is still not evidence.

Sure, we can 'hope & think' that there is a 'good possibility' that Science might one day uncover some fundamentals. That's great. But 'hope & think' and 'good possibility' are code words for 'faith'. Why does my Skeptical friend 'hope & think' that there is a 'good possibility' that Science will uncover the fundamentals one day, yet refuses to 'hope & think' that there is a 'good possibility' that G-d exists?

His answer to that question was not that logical. He claimed that Science might uncover something in the future but G-d was here and now. That makes no sense. He also claimed that it's possible the Human mind could comprehend the fundamentals but G-d was incomprehensible. That also makes no sense. There is an infinite regression to the the question of fundamentals, and it is no more comprehensible than G-d.

I think the evidence clearly shows a bias here. Skeptics will be skeptical of religion, but will not practice the same skepticism with Science. But, they object, Science has been so incredibly successful, whereas religion is just annoying.

That says it all.

History of Halachah

Moshe Halbertal has an interesting article describing different viewpoints of how Halachah evolved. Here is a summary:

1. The Retrieval View
The Geonim hold that all Halachot (except for Takanot) were received at Sinai. Over time some of these got forgotten and Chazal attempted to ‘retrieve’ the original Halachot by using analysis (13 rules etc). Different schools performed different analysis and hence you have machloket in the Gemarah. Key point of this view is that all Halachah is from Sinai, but some of it got forgotten later.

2. The Accumulative View
The Rambam strongly disagrees with the Geonim and says chas vesholom that any Halachot received at Sinai were forgotten. On the contrary, those were all perfectly preserved. The machlokes we see in the Gemarah is for new Halachot, which Chazal deduced after Sinai, when different schools deduced them differently. The key point of this view is that it’s possible for Chazal to deduce new Halachot after Sinai, and these Halachot have subsequently been the subject of debate, but it's impossible that anything received from Sinai was forgotten.

Rambam doesn’t like the Geonim’s explanation because by saying everything is from Sinai, you have to say that there are problems with the Mesorah, which is pretty bad. But then acccording to the Rambam you have to say that Chazal can make up new Halachot, and argue about them.

Many disagreed with the Rambam, since there are Midrashim which say explicitly that Halachot were forgotten, e.g. after Moshe’s death 3,000 Halachot were forgotten. So the Rambam is incorrect about Torah being forgotten, and even worse he says that many Halachot are not even from Sinai.

3. The Constitutive View
The Ramban says that all sides of each machlokes were given on Sinai, and it is up to the Chazal of each generation to determine which is the most appropriate pesak for that generation. All arguments in the Gemarah are about which view to hold, but ‘elu velu divrei elokim’. Furthermore, whatever is eventually decided becomes the correct Halachah, by definition.

This view is better than the Rambam or the Geonim because according to this view nobody has forgotten anything, all Torah is from Sinai, and the only debates are about which Torah miSinai view we should apply in any one generation.

However the problem with this view is that if you hold Halachah is based on some reality, i.e. something Tamei is really Tamei and vice versa, then it doesn’t make much sense. How can there be two equally valid but opposing views? The object is either ontologically Tamei or it isn’t. You are forced to say that nothing is really Tamei, just the Halachah makes it so.

4. The Hirhurim View
Hirhurim reviewed Halbertal’s article and disagrees. He thinks Halbertal takes it too far. He says everyone agrees with the Geonim that some of the Torah from Sinai was forgotten, and was retrieved through analysis, which led to arguments. Rambam adds that through analysis we can also create new laws and interpretations when necessary, which is a substantial divergence from the Geonim’s approach. The Ramban only holds of ‘elu v’elu’ in cases where there was a significant debate, but in all other cases only one opinion was given at Sinai [GH: not sure why this makes sense]. There are differences between the views but they are not as wide or as fundamental as Prof. Halbertal made them seem.

So what do I think? I have no clue. But we sure didn’t learn any of this in the Yeshivah I went to.

Modern Orthodoxy is Old Fashioned

It takes time for ideas to percolate. It takes time for people to achive Gadlus. It takes time for new visions to gain acceptance in the Jewish world. Lots of time. This means that by definition, any vision of Modern Orthodoxy will be outdated, by the time it gets to be widely accepted.

Nachum Lamm, on this Hirhurim post, made the following comment:

There's a well known criticism of the Rambam - that he was all for modernity, but in his context, that of glorious medieval Islam. Rav Hirsch made this criticism - and then fell into it, defining "modernity" not objectively, but as glorious 19th-Century Germany. .... It seems to me that R. Lichtenstein has fallen into the same trap, seeing modernity as some sort of sixties academic intellectual thing. He's thus fossilized himself.

This is very true. The Rambam nowadays looks less rational than some of the other Rishonim, with all of his theories about the moon and the planets being spiritual beings. And Rav Hirsch's love of German culture seems particularly misplaced in this post Holocaust world. And RYBS's writings are full of out of date references to the theories of the 40's and 50's. Not to mention that words such as 'ontic' are really not cool anymore. RAL and R Carmy too seem a bit out dated to me.

So what is the solution? Are all attempts at Modern Orthodoxy doomed to be outdated? Doomed to look as stylish as kipper ties, paisley shirts and bell bottoms? Do RAL and RYBS now look as ridiculous as you did in your 1982 high school yearbook photo?

I guess this is inevitable. And there is no good solution. Each generation is mechayev to take the best of the secular world at that time and see if and how it can 'shtim' with Judaism. If we don't, we might not look as ridiculous as you did when you dressed in platform heels, but looking like Polish noblemen of the 15th Century, or like Babylonian Merchants of the 2nd Century is hardly any better.

Orthodox Community: Shut Up And Eat Your Kugel

Larry Lennhoff (OMG that's his real name!!! Is this guy suicidal or what?!) writes:

Why is anonymity so important in the O Jewish blogosphere?

I keep hearing (and experiencing) how great it is to be a member of a caring community. But I have to ask, how wonderful can shabbat kugel taste if you are choking back the words that you want to say? How warm and supportive is a community that requires outward conformity on pain of ostracism?

Larry is speaking of the great taboo of Orthodoxy: Expressing what you really think about things, especially fundamentals such as emunah. I have been quite surprised over the past few months to receive emails from all sorts of frum people from all walks of life who confess to having serious doubts or even being secret skeptics.

Just how widespread is this problem? Is everyone really a skeptic, but no one wants to speak up because they think everyone else is a true believer? Do we need a Jewish Observer article about the secret but growing problem of skepticism within the Orthodox community? Do we need Rabbi Abraham Twersky to create some kind of rehabilitation program?

We need answers!

Everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask

A couple of readers wrote to me to say that they are generally intimidated to ask questions and present opinions here because of the high level of knowledge, debate and critical thinking that often goes on. Well, this week some particularly critical thinkers are on vacation, and I am feeling magnanimous, so please consider this post an 'Amnesty' post. Any stupid opinion or question that you have been afraid to ask may be asked here and I (or other commenters) will endeavour to answer fairly and non critically. Don't hold back!

Just who are you guys?

Over the past few months I have had many spirited debates with many commentors about a variety of issues. Occasionally, people (including myself) get a bit rude and offensive to each other, but generally we keep it good. Even the people who were offensive usually turn out to be quite decent when you get to know them personally.

I often wish we could all just drop this anonymity thing and get to know each other better. We could all hang out and discuss Hashkafah face to face. Wouldn't that be great? On the other hand, maybe a lot of the good discussion only flows because it is all anonymous and online. Maybe in the real world we would all be embarassed or tongue tied, or maybe scared to say what we really think.

Anyway, if there are any of my commenters who would like to write in and tell me their life story, that would be welcome. It helps me put some context around people's comments and understand where they are coming from.

Of course it would only be fair to tell you a little bit about myself too. So here goes:

I am a middle aged, middle class, middle of the road type of guy living in one of the middle states, in a fairly middling sized community. Of course I am a middle child, on a middle income, and I drive a mid-size car. I come from a very varied background, and have a varied nationality and varied family.

Now that I have revealed so much about myself, please do write in and tell me all about yourself. Thanks!

Monday, August 29, 2005

The price of success

by Jonathan Rosenblum
Mishpacha Magazine
August 25, 2005

Reading the lead essay in the June issue of The Jewish Observer, "Struggling with Success," by Rabbi Mattis Roberts, I was reminded of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts, they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." In a series of essays in The Jewish Observer in recent years, Rabbi Roberts, the Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshiva Shaar HaTorah in Queens, has established himself as a thinker of exceptional depth and insight.

Rabbi Roberts guiding insight is that the task of yeshivos has changed greatly from that of the yeshivos in Europe. The European yeshivos were "designed to serve an elite, to mold a select few into the Torah leaders of the next generation." Those selected into the major yeshivos had already demonstrated "outstanding scholastic ability." The European yeshiva can be likened to the Mishkan – a gathering place for loftiest of human endeavors, the learning of Torah lishma.

By contrast, the modern American yeshiva has had to take on a completely new function. It is not only a Mishkan, but also Noach's Ark, a place of refuge from the pernicious influences of the surrounding society. Far from being elite institutions, modern yeshivos are institutions for the masses. As a consequence, students of differing abilities and from widely divergent backgrounds are all gathered under one roof.

Fulfilling the dual function of producing outstanding Torah scholars and serving as an ir miklat (city of refuge) from the surrounding society has not been easy for the yeshivos (and by extension the kollelim). The fulfillment of the latter function derogates, to a certain extent, from the former.

As Rabbi Roberts observes: "Today's yeshiva bochur has no need to validate his decision to stay in learning: 'Everybody is doing it.' Consequently many never undergo the intense soul-searching that once preceded such a decision and the solemn commitment it involved. Accordingly, they also do not experience the ascent to true greatness that such commitment produces."

Ironies abound in Rabbi Roberts' account of the changing role of the modern American yeshiva, and his insights have implications for beyond his topic. The current challenges are largely the result of the remarkable and totally unforeseen successes of the American yeshiva system over the past sixty years. With the possible exception of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt"l, no one foresaw in the early 20th century that the yeshiva system would one day "mushroom into a mass movement."

Well into the '50s, over a decade and a half after Rav Aharon Kotler, zt"l, began his lonely struggle to plant the ideal of long-term Torah study lishma in America, there were barely a hundred young Torah scholars in America engaged in long-term yeshiva or kollel learning. Today, there are thousands.

The temptation in the face of such success is to simply continue on the path that has given rise to that success in the first place. But the matter, as Rabbi Roberts shows, is not so simple. For growth involves more than a change in quantity; it involves a change in quality as well. The small intense core group that heeded Reb Aharon's call did not just grow into a larger group of similarly committed and gifted individuals. Rather it gave rise to a large society of many different types and capacities, and of varying spiritual levels.

And that diversity is a major challenge. Rabbi Roberts sums up the matter well: "[T]he larger our society grows, the more different types of people it includes. And the same dynamic that benefits some is extremely harmful to others."

GENERALS, IT IS SAID, ARE ALWAYS FIGHTING THE LAST WAR. The classical example is the Maginot Line built by the French across their entire eastern border with Germany between World War I and World War II. The Maginot Line was believed to be impregnable, and indeed it was never breached. Unfortunately, the German forces, at the beginning of World War II, simply went around the line, through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, and brought about the surrender of France in a matter of weeks.

Our Sages were acutely aware of the problem of relying exclusively on the tactics of the past. That is why they tell us, "Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his." Each generation is provided with its own Torah leaders because it is never possible to just go on doing what was done before.

Reb Aharon Kotler once told a father who complained to him that his son had answered Reb Aharon's call, "Mi La'Hashem Alei," and had failed to find himself as a kollel yunge man, "We are in the midst of a war, and in any war, there are casualties." As a consequence of the war Reb Aharon waged, the entire vibrant American kollel world came into being.

But that doesn't mean that today's war is necessarily the same, or that the same tactics will prevail. It is one thing to lose soldiers in the heat of battle, and another to lose them after the war is already won. I once heard the late Rabbi Nachman Bulman, zt"l, say, "I want to take out a full-page ad in all the chareidi papers: 'The War's Over. We Won.'"

[I think someone should tell that to his daughter]

That does not mean that a change of tactics will ever be easy or rapid. Rabbi Roberts surveys the solutions that have been offered to the challenges he describes, and concludes that they are either unrealistic or will only generate even worse consequences of their own. He rejects, for instance, the idea of a two-tiered Torah educational system consisting of yeshivos on the traditional European model for the most talented or dedicated students and another system designed to produce Torah layman, infused with Torah values but prepared for interaction with the world beyond.

Such a system would exclude many who only blossom into outstanding students after years in yeshiva. In addition, it ignores the immense impact of intense yeshiva study even on those who go on to become baalebatim, and through them on the entire community. And finally, it is unrealistic in today's Torah society to think that any parents or students will opt for what is viewed as the "second-tier."

[There are not many options here. You just rejected about the only other feasible alternative for 3 good reasons. Bemoaning the problem but refusing any solution is basically a waste of time.]

We must never forget, as Rabbi Roberts points out, that many cures are worse than the disease. But certainly no cure is possible without a clear understanding of the "disease." We are indebted to Rabbi Roberts for his razor-sharp clarity in analyzing one of the many challenges facing the Torah community in an ever changing world.

[The patient must want to be cured. If the patient is so terrified of doctors and hospitals that he refuses all surgery, then diagnosing the disease is a waste of time].

Mis-nagid is Mechazek Emunah

Wow! Ellul must be coming, because even Mis-nagid is being Mechazek my Emunah. He sent me the following article from the San Francisco Chronicle. It is a bit gay (well, it is from Cisco), and the author doesn't like conventional Christianity too much (but then neither do we), but on the whole he makes a good point. People have an innate drive to spirituality, meaning, and a need for a connection to a Divine source. Sure, that could all have come from evolution. But I don't think so.

There is this upwelling. There is this delicious rebellion. It is not yet loud and it is not yet conventional and it is certainly not yet dominating the national political dialogue and it is not yet making the headlines and maybe it never will and this is probably a good thing.

But it's happening. I have seen it. Maybe you have, too. I am, in fact, a part of it. Maybe you are, too. And lo, it is righteous and delicious and good.

It is this: Whole happy unfettered slews of people, young and old and in between, both genders and all genders and those who have yet to figure out just which gender they are, they are dancing to their own cosmic tune and blaspheming against the quo of status and taking divine matters into their own tingling and luminous hands because, goddammit, it's the right thing to do.

This is what's happening: Millions are defying what many think is the religious norm, giggling in the general direction of all those silly apocalyptic "Left Behind" books and rolling their eyes at the "intelligent design" nontheory and ignoring the syrupy chants rising from all those creepy megachurches across the land -- and they are, instead, defining religion and spirituality for themselves, against all odds and against all baffled militant true believers and against the president's very own bewildered-monkey stare. Imagine.

Oh sure, they've been doing it for years. Decades. Centuries. Spiritual self-determination among the intelligent and the educated and the independent- minded in this country is nothing new -- hell, it was the impetus for the Aquarian '60s, the happy drug of the '70s, the mantra of the New Age '80s, the sacrum tattoo of the '90s, the whale song of the '00s. It is, of course, one of the founding tenets of this nation, one apparently long forgotten and/or beaten into a bloody pulp by the neocon right. But still it flourishes.

But something feels different now. There is this palpable sea change. There is this deep simmering electrical pulse. There is the return of the divine feminine, the flip of the cosmic coin, what the mystics and the seers call the Great Awakening, happening within the next decade or so (for those who are ready). Or maybe it's just a giant and wise recoil away from bogus notions of a warmongering homophobic paternalistic God. Whatever.

I have seen it at the radiant retreats of Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi), the world-famous Hindu guru and "hugging saint" who has literally touched the lives of tens of millions of followers. I have seen it at Burning Man (and I will see it there again, next week), where more than 30,000 glittered and cosmically dusted revelers gather every year to celebrate the rather obvious idea that "god" is nothing more than a raw hot energy that permeates all things at all times in all places and it is meant to be shared like a [] kiss across all genders and locations and hairstyles.

I have seen it at yoga retreats and Wicca gatherings and in all related offshoots, Druidism and pantheism and animism, etc. I've heard it in the talks of modern gurus and nontraditional pastors and felt it in our deep cultural fascination with mystical powers and dream energies and supernatural phenomena, and it is perhaps most visible in the Religion & Spirituality aisle of your bookstore, the most explosive section of the publishing market, $2 billion worth just a few years ago alone, countless thousands of titles shooting up like flowers and very few having to do with how to kneel in abject guilt- addled faith to a solitary sullen disapproving deity and instead almost every single one having to do with how to take some sort of larger view -- or rather, a deeper, inner view, profoundly personal and free of typical religious dogma and churchy groupthink and send us your money now so the pastor can make his Lear payments.

I have seen it, furthermore, in the latest Newsweek cover story, where poll after poll and piece after piece reveal how many Americans are changing the rules, mixing it up, increasingly seeking ways to have very private, one- on-one connections with some sort of divine source -- decidedly not a domineering God, not a collective blind faith, not a white-robed all-powerful deity who stares down from a gilded throne and judges all they do and frowns at anal sex and sweaty dancing and female nipples under threat of fiery spanking punishment.

[Note: Judaism doesn't really frown at any of those. And I'm sure the author is not advocating complete immorality. So this point is basically stupid].

Millions are doing it, especially the young. They are shucking "religion" and taking up "spirituality." They are mixing Buddhist meditation with nontraditional Catholicism, eco-friendliness with Jesus, racial tolerance with Allah, ancient mysticism with Judaism, divine sex with Hinduism -- with an overarching sense that there is far more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in most organized religion's meager philosophies. It sounds good because it is.

[The author shows his ignorance of Judaism. You can hardly call the combined weight of the Rambam and Kabalah 'meager'].

So then, why not mix and match? Why not let spirit evolve as you evolve? Why not casually defy, say, the new and hard-line Pope Benedict XVI, who recently declared it very, very wrong to customize religion to suit one's personal wiring, one's perspective on the world? This is, essentially, the modern rule: If it's cultural and it's individualistic and the pope scolds against it, you know it must be juicy and right.

After all, "true" religion is, perhaps more than anything else, supposed to be empowering, is it not? Of course it is. They all say so. It's in all the brochures. My lovely recovering-Harvard-scholar significant other and I discuss it all the time and she's even written a book for youngish women, all about reconnecting to self and igniting that divine nonreligious spark ("The Red Book," coming this spring from Jossey-Bass, shameless plug), and we both agree that this empowerment idea is the major attraction of religion as well as its most fatal shortcoming.

Because here's the catch, here's what they won't tell you in Sunday school: Religion is supposed to be so goddamn empowering that it could very well empower you right out of the very belief system that's doing the empowering. It should catapult you back into yourself, whole and gleaming and so reconnected to your higher self (which is, of course, God, in miniature) that you don't even need religion anymore. Possible? Crazy, I know.

[Yeah, crazy.]

Look. Religion is not the answer, the law, the inflexible iron rod of pious justice. It is, rather, a hint, a nudge, a suggestion, a possibility for exploration meant to be sifted through for clues to the Mystery and maybe some great techniques for sitting quietly and shutting the hell up for a minute and listening to your breath so you can better touch the stars.

[Sure. As my Rav says frequently, Religion / Halachah is the foundation, the base, the floor. It is not the ceiling. G-d is the ceiling].

So then, let us celebrate. Let us champion the new non-ideologies, acknowledge the need to be reminded that despite all the militant fundamentalists who stab at the nation's soul and despite a warmongering president whose own unhappy God tells him to bomb foreign lands and despite the prevailing ethos of black/white, red/blue, Christian/sodomite, boxers/briefs we are, in fact and by and large, far more spiritually exploratory than we've ever been before.

In other words, it would appear, as far as the divine is concerned, that we are opening rather than closing, inventing rather than devolving, experimenting and thrusting and whispering new secrets to the moon rather than quivering in the corner, afraid of our own divine shadows, slouching toward death, unaware that our cosmic shoes are untied. Can I get an amen? Or maybe an om?

How about an Omayne? I think it's great that the world has realized that materialism and secularism are dead ends. Hopefully all this spiritual seeking will result in true spirituality, and not just a lot of naked dancing around bonfires.

The main problems with the do-it-yourself (DIY) spirituality that the author is so enamored of are obvious:

1. Many people wouldn't know where to start. They need guidance.
2. People like to do things in groups. They don't like to be alone.

The above two problems are major. If DIY religion really took off in a big way (it probably won't) then it's quite obvious what would happen. Small groups of like minded individuals would form. Then larger groups. The better groups would get more popular. Experts would write books and lay down rituals and behaviors. In time you would have organized religion again. It's unavoidable.

Still, it's nice to see that so many people are interested in spiritual matters. Mis-nagid is fond of prophecying the death of religion and the advent of Scientism. I don't think so. Science doesn't really provide any of the things that Religion does, it's not a substitute. A better vision is one where we get Science AND Religion. That way we can reap the benefits of both. It's impossible to ignore either Science OR Religion. My prediction is that those strands of Religion that can successfully integrate the two will be the most successful in the long run.

Frumteens is back!

Lets take a break from the Atheist debates and revisit an old friend of ours, Frumteens. He is back in fine form with this gem:

And so, just as Eretz Yisroel taken wrongly can c"v become "Zionism", people can take Kiruv, which is a great thing, and make it into "Kiruvism", where making non-religious people frum becomes an Ikar, or the Ikar, or much more of an Ikar than it actually is in Judaism. Ther are very very greast merits in doign Kiruv Rechokim, but we always must rememebr that Kiruv is just one part of doing the Will of Hashem, and that it makes no sense to violate or distort the Will of Hashem in ordfer to make people frum. Kiruv Rechokim does not supercede Judaism.

So no twisting the Torah in order to make someone frum. No giving him anti-Torah answers to his questions because he will “accept” them more than anything else you can think of. If someone asks you a hard question, find out the real answer – don’t distort the Torah. You cannot tell people that the Torah believes in evolution, that the world is billions of years old or that Chazal didn’t know what they are talking about. A problem occurs when people doing Kiruv do not know the real answers to the theological quesiotns being asked to them. Some questions are not easily answered without great knowledge of Torah, and bear in mind that just because someone is not frum does not mean they can’t ask a question that needs serious Torah scholarship to answer.
What an idiot. So Rav Hirsch and Rav Kook and the Tiferes Yisroel and the Rambam were all practising 'Kiruvism'?

I would say this

A problem occurs when insane extremist Satmar idiots doing Kiruv do not know the real answers to the theological questions being asked to them. Some questions are not easily answered without great knowledge of Torah, and bear in mind that just because someone is not frum does not mean they can’t ask a question that needs serious Torah scholarship to answer.

Appeal to Consequences

Weak Atheists are fond of linking to the Appeal to Consequences Fallacy. Basically, the fallacy is when people say X must be true, because otherwise some really bad things might happen. For example, G-d must exist, because otherwise morality has no basis.

Clearly, this kind of reasoning has no place in determining absolute truth. But it has every place in determining actions or decisions. Formerly Frum Skeptics who have gotten themselves into a state of extreme Skepticism about religion and G-d would do well to remember this. They may feel they have no belief in G-d, and they may feel that there is no point in continuing on with their religion, but do they stop to think of the consequences?

Jewish Atheist once had a post about the positive benefits of leaving frumkeit. They were mostly ridiculously pathetic, such as one can mix with different types of people (I do that already), or one can eat at any restaurant (big deal, go to New York and have some decent kosher food), or not having to worry about Science and how it reconciles with Torah (I have a solution there too).

Lets look at the real consequences:

Loss of any ultimate meaning
Sure you can invent your own meaning, but how are you going to convince your kids? And how valuable is your own meaning, when life is basically an random accident and when you die that's it?

Loss of any objective morality
Morality now becomes entirely subjective. People are moral only because of evolutionary pressures and practical considerations. There was nothing really evil about the Holocaust, it just went against social conventions (but only those of of his opponents) and was not practical.

Loss of community
A confirmed atheist can't really daven. Can't really celebrate Shabbos or Yom Tov. He can fake it, but that's not very satisfying. He can leave the community entirely, but that's even worse. Even Jewish Atheist admits he's more comfortable with people of his own kind, and would probably marry a Jew.

Loss of goals
Without a religious framework, there really aren't many driving forces to grow spiritually, morally or ethically. I don't see many Secular Atheist Temples where people study ethics and morality. And why should they? Its all just subjective and practical anyway. You only need to do the barest minimum to get by. There's no need to strive to be a supremely ethical and moral person, it's just a waste of time. Do the basics and then enjoy the hell out of life because it's the only one you are ever going to get. There is no after life.

Obviously, if someone doesn't believe in G-d, then appealing to consequences is not going to make him believe. However the consequences should make him think twice before giving up on a 3000 year old system because in his mind, he can't figure out how it works. What he should do is continue to struggle, to investigate and realize that he doesn't have any answers either.

I've got some bad news for you Atheists, nobody knows how Science works. Don't you realize that? Science ultimately fails at explaining the fundamentals. It's turtles all the way down, no matter which way you look at it. Science has never explained any fundamentals, and there is no evidence that it ever will.

What do the Atheists respond?: 'Well Science might get some answers, and I hope they do.' Brilliant! Such hope and/or faith. Meanwhile your choice to be skeptical requires you to believe that there is no objective basis for morality. None. This means that you cannot condemn the Holocaust except for personal subjective reasons, and even worse, you have to admit that someone else can equally well support the Holocaust for the opposite personal subjective reasons.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

It's turtles all the way down!

A Weak Atheist wrote this to me recently:
Science keeps explaining more and more, and better and better. Religion keeps scrambling backlwards, dropping claims ("it wasn't literal!") and abandoning fields (e.g. biology). There's nothing left for religion to claim to explain to an educated person. Not that religion ever did or ever will actually explain anything, but even claiming to explain is futile when an actual explanation is available.
This comment is quite incredible. I'm afraid the author is just as fundamentally blind to the facts as the Gedolim are. When are the Skeptics and the Gedolim going to get it? Religion and Science address two entirely different areas. And don't get all hung up on the first few chapters of Breishis mythology, or some random Science statements of Babylonian Rabbis circa 400CE . Judaism does not attempt to explain Science, and in fact Science can never explain the whys of anything, not even of Science itself.

When are the Skeptics going to admit it? Science can only ever explain things in terms of other Scientific concepts. How does gravity work? Because of gravitons. How do gravitons work? Because of quarks (or whatever). It's turtles all the way down.

Science can never fundamentally explain why anything works, or what anything is. What is a quark? It's composed of doodles. And what are doodles? Why, they are composed of wiggles. Whether you descend via particle deconstruction, or via force/energy deconstruction (things fall because of gravity which works because of gravitons which work because of whatever) it's the same thing. Turtles all the way down. The only ultimate explanation for Science is outside of Science, in other words, its super-natural. It has to be.

Please note that I think Science is amazing and I hold of all good Science 100%. This is not about the value of Science. Its about the ability of Science to fundamentally explain anything. It can't.

Religion on the other hand explains all sorts of things. Like why we are here and what the goal is in life. And who created all this amazing Science in the first place.

You may not like the explanations, you may think the evidence is weak, but that's a different issue.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Chief Skeptic is Mechazek Emunah

Michael Shermer is editor of Skeptic Magazine, director of the Skeptics Society, and author of a number of books. One of these is entitled 'Why People Believe Weird Things'. He has chapters on alien abductions and Holocaust deniers, but strangely, not on Atheists.

His discussion on the Holocaust deniers is very interesting. He explains that for every piece of evidence, a Holocaust denier can always discount it. Papers can be fake, pictures can be fake, testimony can be fake. The key to discounting the deniers is a concept called 'Convergence of Evidence'. This concept shows that when many different pieces of evidence from many different areas all point to the same conclusion, then that in itself is good evidence.

So for example, evolution is proved by the convergence of evidence from geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, herpetology, entomology, biogeography, anatomy, physiology, and comparative anatomy. Likewise, the Holocaust is proved by the convergence of written documents, eyewitness testimonies, photographs, physical evidence, and demographics.

So, even though any one single piece of evidence can always be debated, and doubts can always be raised, the convergence of multiple pieces of evidence is a lot stronger. The game that the Holocaust deniers play is to attack individual items of evidence on their own.

This was a fantastic chizuk to my emunah, as I realized that this is the same game that the skeptics play. For each piece of 'evidence' provided for G-d, they discount it with questions and doubts. However we must look at the convergence of evidence for the full picture. Here is my initial list of convergence evidence for G-d, I'm sure there is more.

Existence of the Universe

How can the universe be here? In the natural world, it seems impossible that a natural entity can simply spring into being, or alternatively be eternal. Hence it seems more likely that something supernatural created the Universe.

Intelligence in the Universe
The Universe exhibits remarkable intelligence. And I'm not talking about Intelligent Design. Just the incredible laws of phsics, nature, biology, evolution, human intelligence. It's all amazing. How could this possibly have sprung from some basic atoms? Seems more likely that something super-natural was the cause of it all.

Conception of G-d
Almost all cultures, in all ages, in all geographies have conceived of a similar idea, that there must be something super-natural creating/running the world. Why should this be? Sure, it possibly could have happened through evolutionary pressures, but it is one more point on the convergence scale.

Morality & Ethics
Humans have a deep sense of morality and ethics. Even Atheists. Where did this come from? Seems incredible that mechanistic by-products of a natural universe should exhibit such traits. Sure, it possibly could have happened through evolutionary pressures, but it is one more point on the convergence scale.

Humans have a deep sense of spirituality. Where did this come from? Seems incredible that mechanistic by-products of a natural universe should desire such lofty goals. Sure, it possibly could have happened through evolutionary pressures, but it is one more point on the convergence scale.

Human Testimony
Many humans have testified that they experienced G-d personally. You may ask, why is this any different than alien abductions? Because the alien abductees all have a very similar demographic, which leads me to be suspicious. Very few Harvard proffessors are alien abductees. However a great many proffessors, nobel prize winners, garbage men and people from all walks of life believe in G-d or have experienced G-d.

The history of the Jewish people is quite remarkable. Prophecies written thousands of years ago have come true. The Jews have survived against all odds. The Jews have made unequalled contribution to world ethics, morality, spirituality and religion. The Jews are responsible for the Bible, one of the most (if not the most) influential books of all time. The Jews are responsible for many of the basic beliefs of Western Civilization, which looks to be the dominant civilization. The Jews are the originators of ethical monotheism. The Jewds spawned the two other major ethical monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam.

No doubt the skeptics will come on and try and disprove each piece individually. They will raise doubts and questions. But looking at the big picture provides a different view. Let me conclude by thanking (HaRav) Michael Shermer for his Divrei Chizuk. It is much appreciated in the run up to Ellul.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Dorky Dawkins


This months Discover Magazine has an article on Richard Dawkins, a very eloquent defender of Darwin and Atheism. The problem is that Dawkins is an idiot. Here is a quote from one of his articles:
In any case, the belief that religion and science occupy separate magisteria is dishonest. It founders on the undeniable fact that religions still make claims about the world that on analysis turn out to be scientific claims. Moreover, religious apologists try to have it both ways. When talking to intellectuals, they carefully keep off science's turf, safe inside the separate and invulnerable religious magisterium. But when talking to a nonintellectual mass audience, they make wanton use of miracle stories--which are blatant intrusions into scientific territory.

The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the raising of Lazarus, even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used for religious propaganda, and they are very effective with an audience of unsophisticates and children. Every one of these miracles amounts to a violation of the normal running of the natural world. Theologians should make a choice. You can claim your own magisterium, separate from science's but still deserving of respect. But in that case, you must renounce miracles. Or you can keep your Lourdes and your miracles and enjoy their huge recruiting potential among the uneducated. But then you must kiss goodbye to separate magisteria and your high-minded aspiration to converge with science.
Is this guy a moron or what? Miracles are blatant intrusions into Scientific territory??!! Miracles are violations of the normal running of the natural world??!! Hello! Anybody home? That's what a miracle is you dummy. Its a violation of normal science, enabled only by G-d.

Its no wonder that Dawkins is an embarassment to the Scientific community. Strange that some Weak Atheists I know like to quote him. I guess even the Weak Atheists are blind to reason when it comes to defending their own fundamentalism.


Even more ironic is the fact that the entire Scientific enterprise is founded on miracles. How does Gravity work? Because of Gravitons? How do Gravitons work? Of course Science has no answer. All Science can do is predict outcomes and consequences. It has no idea why at the most fundamental level anything actually works. Its a miracle! This applies to absolutely everything in Science. So ultimately, it is Science that is intruding on religion, not the other way around.

Oh the irony!

Skeptical of Selective Skepticism

Long time readers might have noticed a change in tone here recently. More Atheist bashing and less Chareidi bashing. As one commenter noted, conveniently just in time for Ellul! Am I simply playing the Ellul game, trying to score some points with G-d before judgement day? Hoping that defending His existence will gain me some favor, and blot out all those comments when I bashed His beloved ones?

Well, I would be lying if I said that the possibility of the speculation of that thought hadn’t crossed my mind. But honestly, there is much more to it than that. I have spent the last few months taking a very critical look at some of the claims of Chareidi (and even Modern) Orthodoxy. This was a huge change in my world view, since until recently I was pretty much your average frum from birth ex Yeshiva guy who had never thought much about anything (blame it on my UO education). I had some vague ideas about Torah and Science, but had never really thought about them seriously. Then along came the Gedolim’s ban on Science & Torah and that really got me thinking. (See, it was all the Gedolim’s fault).

So I embarked on this journey of Skepticism. I realized that Torah miSinai wasn’t as proven as Aish had led me to believe. I realized that the Zohar wasn’t written by Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, and started to think that maybe all Kabbalah was bogus. One skeptical thought led to another and soon I was even questioning the existence of G-d. So did I back off because I got scared? No, it was more than that.

The skeptical thinking didn’t stop at religion. It pervaded every aspect of my life. I soon found myself getting ultra-skeptical at work. After all, my team hasn’t accomplished much recently. You can tell that by the amount of spare time I have to blog. It’s not that I’m goofing off, I’m not that kind of guy. I simply have nothing to do for much of the time. So I started getting really skeptical of my team’s abilities and mission in life. I even started making comments at staff meetings. My boss got annoyed and told me I was too skeptical and pessimistic. But reason and ration were on my side! He had no evidence that his team was successful. He was simply making a faith based claim! I sunk deeper into my skepticism.

But the skeptical thinking didn’t stop at work either. It overflowed into my personal life. My friends weren’t really my friends. The Rebbetzin was only interested in the OC. My shverre was just a Charoses freak. My community was no good. Even DovBear wasn’t worth reading anymore. There was no end to my skepticism.

Finally I realized.

Skepticism is a disease. If left untreated, it can ruin your life. You may ask, ‘So why aren’t all Skeptics miserable at work, or at home?’ Well, many of them actually are quite miserable. Their Skepticism has ruined their lives.

And those Skeptics who aren’t miserable, they are only so because they are selectively skeptical. The things they hold near and dear are accepted without serious critical thought. But religion and G-d, which they generally despise, become targets for hyper-criticality and obscure philosophical thinking, modes of thought they rarely apply to other areas of their lives.

They claim to never hold any beliefs which cannot be ‘proven’, but yet maintain strong convictions and beliefs about morality, ethics, politics, family relationships and all sorts of topics.

They are Selectively Critical. And thus Hypocritical.

So what is the cure for Skepticism? There are medical options. Dopamine has been shown to decrease levels of skepticism. However, for most Skeptics, such extreme measures are probably not required. The typical Skeptic is usually highly intelligent, very cerebral, and very sure of his own opinions. A good dose of humility, coupled with respect for generations of ancestors, will probably do the trick.

So am I going to refrain from ever being skeptical? Of course not. I couldn’t even if I tried. Plus, there are certainly good questions on the standard Chareidi or even Modern Orthodox Theology which are worth investigating. My conclusions might be non Chareidi or even non Modern Orthodox, I am prepared for that. But no way will I give anything up because of doubts. Life is too short, and religion to valuable, to throw it all away because of some unanswered questions. At worst I will remain FBD (Frum, but doubtful).

As long as Skepticism is a path to intensive analysis and searching for G-d, it can be valuable. But once it becomes the excuse for discarding the religion of your ancestors, a religion where people died and sacrificed over many generations just so you could live as a Jew, then it has gone too far. Norman Lamm had an article on this, but I said it better. Or, as my Chareidi friends might say, ‘I said good’.

Use Skepticism as a tool, but beware of Skepticism as a way of life, there are no answers there, only endless questions.

Cross Currents Criticism

Is Cross-Currents a success? In many ways they seem to be an abject failure. Toby Katz’s sometimes insensitive comments are always good fodder for DovBear, and now Rabbi Feldman’s recent article comparing Gaza (ever so slightly) to the Holocaust was appallingly off base. Even his apology wasn’t much better.

Cross-Currents was formed to present and/or defend the ‘Torah’ way of life. Unfortunately, I haven’t read too many of their posts which actually accomplish this. Usually they just provide more ammunition for the anti-Torah forces with their often insensitive and poorly thought out posts.

On the really important issues, they are too chicken to say anything at all. I give Toby Katz credit here, she did post some reasonably intelligent material on the Slifkin affair, though it was painfully full of disclaimers. However she did a lot better than Rabbi Feldman, who could only resort to a pathetic trick in quoting an imaginary friend of his, and Rabbi Adlerstein, though a fully fledged supporter and close friend of Rabbi Slifkin, seemed unable to say much at all on the subject, with the lame excuse that the blog world wasn’t the appropriate place to discuss such issues! That must have been the most disingenuous line I have ever seen.

I feel sorry for the Cross-Currents crew, the version of Orthodoxy that they try so desperately to defend is not really an Orthodoxy that they fully buy in to. We know this for a fact. Yet they still try day after day to defend it. Some people might say the same about me. What makes a rational person try and defend something so irrational so passionately?

I guess Cross-Currents and I do have one thing in common. We both recognize the amazing value and goodness in Orthodoxy. Of course there are problems and questions, but the core is worth defending. I just wish the people at Cross-Currents were a little more sensitive, and a little more honest about their true views.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

My Evidence is Real, Yours is Bogus

Stephen Jay Gould said the following much quoted comment about debating Creationists:
Debate is an art form. It is about the winning of arguments. It is not about the discovery of truth. There are certain rules and procedures to debate that really have nothing to do with establishing fact—which they are very good at. Some of those rules are: never say anything positive about your own position because it can be attacked, but chip away at what appear to be the weaknesses in your opponent’s position. They are good at that. I don’t think I could beat the creationists at debate.
Thats funny, because that's exactly the way I feel when debating the Weak Atheists. They make no claim, hence there is very little to attack. The bottom line though is clear, Weak Atheists have no justification for ethics and morality other than pragmatic or utilitarian philosophies i.e. The system works best when everybody is nice to each other. However what about when no one is looking? Doesn't seem to be much reason to be good then.

How do they justify their position? They say that since there is no evidence for G-d, there is no justification for believing in Him. What about all the many people over the years who experienced G-d? They say, that's not evidence, they were all delusional. What about the complexity of the universe? That's no evidence, there could be lots of universes. I hate to make the comparison, but since Michael Shermer did the same, I feel I can too. The Weak Atheists sound like the Holocaust Deniers, denouncing every bit of evidence as no good.

For example, one Weak Atheist wrote: "There is no rational argument to support any supernatural claim. Not even a vague creator. None." However, many distinguished scientists feel otherwise. Even if they don't agree with our conception of G-d, and even if they are not sure if there is any G-d, they certainly agree that there are rational arguments, based on the nature of the universe, to posit a designer! So you have evidence which a lot of genuine experts find very significant, and which a Weak Atheist completely denies.

Some people say that the extraordinary nature of the physical laws of the universe is not evidence for a Creator, because there could be an infinite number of universes. But, of course, it's also possible that there is not an infinite number of universes. So there is clearly an argument for a designer; it's just that they have a counter-argument.
All the evidence suggests that this is not just any old universe, but one which is remarkably well adjusted to the existence of certain interesting and significant entities (e.g., stable stars)… The situation becomes even more intriguing when we take into account the existence of living organisms. The fact that biological systems have very special requirements, and that these requirements are, happily, met by nature, has been commented upon at least since the seventeenth century. It is only in the twentieth century, however, with the development of biochemistry, genetics...

The ordered regions in the infinite or oscillating model universes are separated by such huge expanses of space or time that no observer can ever verify or refute empirically the existence of many universes. It is hard to see how such a purely theoretical construct can ever be used as an explanation, in the scientific sense, of a feature of nature. Of course, one might find it easier to believe in an infinite array of universes than in an infinite Deity, but such a belief must rest on faith rather than observation.
(Paul Davies, The Mind of God, pp. 173-174.)
So the question becomes, which evidence is compelling, and which arguments are more compelling, not whether there is any evidence or not. You can always be skeptical of any evidence, as Holocaust deniers have shown, and in the same way that we cannot talk definitively about 'proof', likewise we cannot talk definitively about 'evidence'. One man's evidence is another man's bogus claim.

A great example of this is the Documentary Hypothesis. The fact that there are doublets in the Torah seems straightforward. The reason for the doublets advanced by the DH (conflicting points of views, Moses as Henotheistic etc etc etc) are just theories. There is no 'evidence' for the DH at all. Yet see how dogmatic our Weak Atheists friends get around the DH. They are absolutely convinced of its veracity, despite not a shred of real evidence, just conjecture and theory.

The more I debate with the Weak Atheists, the weaker their position seems to be. Human intuition has got us this far, and it takes a foolish man to discount thousands of years of human intuition. Sure, at various times in history whole cultures have believed in all sorts of nonsense. But the G-d idea (in its various forms) has remained pretty constant.

Ultimately, as I wrote a few weeks ago, the basic fact of our existence is utterly incomprehensible no matter which way you look it. If there is no G-d, where did the Universe come from? If there is a G-d, where did G-d come from? We simply don't have the capacity to understand. Neither model provides all the answers. But at least the G-d model gives us a firm basis for ethics, morality and something to live for.

I feel sorry for the Weak Atheists. As much as they claim to be ultra rational, they are only human after all, and for whatever reasons, Humans need meaning. They claim to develop their own meaning in life, but I don't find that entirely convincing, and I suspect neither do they. If G-d does exist, then they are fighting against reality. If perchance G-d does not exist, they are struggling against 100,000 years of Human religious evolution, and not for much gain either. What is the pot of gold waiting at the end of the Atheist trail? Some incredible bounty? Some enlightening, uplifting knowledge? Perhaps the secret to life, the universe and everything? No! Life is ultimately meaningless and then you die. Oy.

So here is my advice for the Weak Atheists:

Don't be so sure of yourselves. As Chazal said: 'Al Taamin Beatzmechah ad Yom Moschah'. Many far more intelligent and better educated people than you have believed in G-d, and not just because of blind faith. G-d might be hidden now, but at one point in history many people were convinced He was there for all to see. We all like to think that we have the answers, and everyone else is just plain stupid (I think like that too), but when it comes to the really big questions, a little humility is in order. Actually, when it comes to the really really big questions, a lot of humility is in order.

For anyone born Jewish, you have 3,000 years of Jewish ancestry behind you. Many of your ancestors people died for their religion, and many endured tremendous hardship and sacrifice to ensure their descendents would perpetuate the faith. Don't throw it all away because you have some doubts. Sure, you can spend all your time reading skeptical books and thinking skeptical thoughts, and its no wonder that you have become absolutely convinced that your skepticism must be right. But you have to realize that its a viscious circle, and at some point you lose your ability to be objective.

I've seen many highly intelligent people in my line of work fall into this trap. In fact, this syndrome seems particularly prevalent in my line of work. But many times, these highly intelligent skeptics, these techno primadonnas, these business wunderkinds, they make fundamental and quite incredible mistakes. I've seen it happen. It's quite fascinating to watch, because these mistakes rarely cause these people to stop and think. You can see their brains working and almost hear their thoughts: 'Wow, I was wrong, how could that have happened?' they ask in absolute puzzlement. 'I'm always right!'. And then they move on, aboslutely convinced that this was just some bizzare abberation which won't ever happen again. Business literature is full of stories of wunderkind so convinced they were right about everything, until they woke up one morning to find their company bankrupt, their jobs downsized, their ideas a failure.

There is a world of religion and religious experience out there which has uplifted mankind for thousands of years. No one person can possibly study and experience all of it. Even studying and experiencing everything in Orthodox Judaism alone would be impossible for one individual. To discard all of this because you have become trapped in a downward spiral of skepticism is a huge mistake. There are no answers in Weak Atheism, only a pragmatic philosophy at best, and then you die. If all you can do is 'Make no claim', then you would be better off continuing in your faith, and continuing to search for the answers to your questions, because as a Weak Atheist, you clearly haven't discovered any answers at all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I Make No Claim

It turns out that the philosophy of the Weak Atheists is rather pathetic.

'What's the meaning of life? you may ask them, 'I make no claim' they reply.
'Why are we here?' you may ask, 'I make no claim' is the reply.
'Why be moral'?' you question, 'I make no claim' they reply.

As Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine notes, secular philosophy has yet to come up with any system of morals and ethics which is 'satisfying'.

It's rather ironic that Weak Atheists bash Orthodoxy and claim that the Orthodox will have problems teaching their values to their children. I wonder what kind of problems the Weak Atheists will have trying to teach basic ethics and morality to their children:

Weak Atheist Dad: Be good!
Smart Kid: Why?
WAD: Because evolution has conditioned us to be good. Good people survive!
SK: But evolution conditioned us to believe in G-d, yet you say that's all bull and we need to progress beyond that. Maybe being good is also bull and we should move beyond that.
WAD: You need to listen to your father.
SK: Why? Because Judaeo-Christian morality says honor your parents? But you taught me that all of Judaeo-Christian morality was premised on erroneous propositions. Why should I listen to you?
WAD: Urmmmmm ......

The bottom line is that there are only two current possibilities for morality & ethics in a totally secular world: Either (a) They are 'natural' modes of thought and behavior brought about through evolution (b) They were artificial constructs invented by religion. Either way, the Weak Atheists are screwed. If (a) is correct, then what's to say we continue these modes of behavior? Out of respect for evolutionary processes? Well, religion was wrought through evolution yet they discard that as a load of nonsense. Why keep morality? Because its useful? Says who? You are only conditioned to believe its useful because the bedrock of Western civilization is Judaeo/Christian (and other religious) morality. If (b) is correct, then since Religion is all bull, why keep on with inventions of religion such as morality? After all, there is no evidence for morality being correct, so they should make no claim!

In fact, the conversation above should go like this:

SK: Dad, can I beat the crap out of my brother?
WAD: I make no claim.
SK: Dad, can I sleep with my sister?
WAD: I make no claim.
SK: Dad, can I steal all your money?
WAD: I make no claim.

Pathetic. What's even more pathetic is that we have workable system of ethics and morality, fine tuned over thousands of years. Sure, there are problems and issues. But to discard it all because the current evidence is lacking is rather absurd. What's their response to all this? 'We have faith that philosophy will one day construct a meaningful and satisfying system of ethics and morality'. Ahhh, the emunah peshutah of the Weak Atheists. How ironic!

You know, if the Weak Atheists had a good replacement for religion I might be interested, but they don't. All they can offer is Science. But I already have Science, all of it. No part of Science is of any bother to me. All they can offer me is 'I make no claim'. But somehow 'I make no claim' just doesn't do it for me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science

New York Times
August 23, 2005

At a recent scientific conference at City College of New York, a student in the audience rose to ask the panelists an unexpected question: "Can you be a good scientist and believe in God?"

Reaction from one of the panelists, all Nobel laureates, was quick and sharp. "No!" declared Herbert A. Hauptman, who shared the chemistry prize in 1985 for his work on the structure of crystals.

Belief in the supernatural, especially belief in God, is not only incompatible with good science, Dr. Hauptman declared, "this kind of belief is damaging to the well-being of the human race."

But disdain for religion is far from universal among scientists. And today, as religious groups challenge scientists in arenas as various as evolution in the classroom, AIDS prevention and stem cell research, scientists who embrace religion are beginning to speak out about their faith.

"It should not be a taboo subject, but frankly it often is in scientific circles," said Francis S. Collins, who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute and who speaks freely about his Christian faith.

Although they embrace religious faith, these scientists also embrace science as it has been defined for centuries. That is, they look to the natural world for explanations of what happens in the natural world and they recognize that scientific ideas must be provisional - capable of being overturned by evidence from experimentation and observation. This belief in science sets them apart from those who endorse creationism or its doctrinal cousin, intelligent design, both of which depend on the existence of a supernatural force.

Their belief in God challenges scientists who regard religious belief as little more than magical thinking, as some do. Their faith also challenges believers who denounce science as a godless enterprise and scientists as secular elitists contemptuous of God-fearing people.

Some scientists say simply that science and religion are two separate realms, "nonoverlapping magisteria," as the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould put it in his book "Rocks of Ages" (Ballantine, 1999). In Dr. Gould's view, science speaks with authority in the realm of "what the universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)" and religion holds sway over "questions of ultimate meaning and moral value."

When the American Association for the Advancement of Science devoted a session to this idea of separation at its annual meeting this year, scores of scientists crowded into a room to hear it.

Some of them said they were unsatisfied with the idea, because they believe scientists' moral values must inevitably affect their work, others because so much of science has so many ethical implications in the real world.

One panelist, Dr. Noah Efron of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, said scientists, like other people, were guided by their own human purposes, meaning and values. The idea that fact can be separated from values and meaning "jibes poorly with what we know of the history of science," Dr. Efron said.

Dr. Collins, who is working on a book about his religious faith, also believes that people should not have to keep religious beliefs and scientific theories strictly separate. "I don't find it very satisfactory and I don't find it very necessary," he said in an interview. He noted that until relatively recently, most scientists were believers. "Isaac Newton wrote a lot more about the Bible than the laws of nature," he said.

But he acknowledged that as head of the American government's efforts to decipher the human genetic code, he had a leading role in work that many say definitively demonstrates the strength of evolutionary theory to explain the complexity and abundance of life.

As scientists compare human genes with those of other mammals, tiny worms, even bacteria, the similarities "are absolutely compelling," Dr. Collins said. "If Darwin had tried to imagine a way to prove his theory, he could not have come up with something better, except maybe a time machine. Asking somebody to reject all of that in order to prove that they really do love God - what a horrible choice."

Dr. Collins was a nonbeliever until he was 27 - "more and more into the mode of being not only agnostic but being an atheist," as he put it. All that changed after he completed his doctorate in physics and was at work on his medical degree, when he was among those treating a woman dying of heart disease. "She was very clear about her faith and she looked me square in the eye and she said, 'what do you believe?' " he recalled. "I sort of stammered out, 'I am not sure.' "

He said he realized then that he had never considered the matter seriously, the way a scientist should. He began reading about various religious beliefs, which only confused him. Finally, a Methodist minister gave him a book, "Mere Christianity," by C. S. Lewis. In the book Lewis, an atheist until he was a grown man, argues that the idea of right and wrong is universal among people, a moral law they "did not make, and cannot quite forget even when they try." This universal feeling, he said, is evidence for the plausibility of God.

When he read the book, Dr. Collins said, "I thought, my gosh, this guy is me."

Today, Dr. Collins said, he does not embrace any particular denomination, but he is a Christian. Colleagues sometimes express surprise at his faith, he said. "They'll say, 'how can you believe that? Did you check your brain at the door?" But he said he had discovered in talking to students and colleagues that "there is a great deal of interest in this topic."

Polling Scientists on Beliefs

According to a much-discussed survey reported in the journal Nature in 1997, 40 percent of biologists, physicists and mathematicians said they believed in God - and not just a nonspecific transcendental presence but, as the survey put it, a God to whom one may pray "in expectation of receiving an answer."

The survey, by Edward J. Larson of the University of Georgia, was intended to replicate one conducted in 1914, and the results were virtually unchanged. In both cases, participants were drawn from a directory of American scientists.

Others play down those results. They note that when Dr. Larson put part of the same survey to "leading scientists" - in this case, members of the National Academy of Sciences, perhaps the nation's most eminent scientific organization - fewer than 10 percent professed belief in a personal God or human immortality.

This response is not surprising to researchers like Steven Weinberg, a physicist at the University of Texas, a member of the academy and a winner of the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his work in particle physics. He said he could understand why religious people would believe that anything that eroded belief was destructive. But he added: "I think one of the great historical contributions of science is to weaken the hold of religion. That's a good thing."

No God, No Moral Compass?

He rejects the idea that scientists who reject religion are arrogant. "We know how many mistakes we've made," Dr. Weinberg said. And he is angered by assertions that people without religious faith are without a moral compass.

In any event, he added, "the experience of being a scientist makes religion seem fairly irrelevant," he said. "Most scientists I know simply don't think about it very much. They don't think about religion enough to qualify as practicing atheists."

Most scientists he knows who do believe in God, he added, believe in "a God who is behind the laws of nature but who is not intervening."

Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown, said his students were often surprised to find that he was religious, especially when they realized that his faith was not some sort of vague theism but observant Roman Catholicism.

Dr. Miller, whose book, "Finding Darwin's God," explains his reconciliation of the theory of evolution with his religious faith, said he was usually challenged in his biology classes by one or two students whose religions did not accept evolution, who asked how important the theory would be in the course.

"What they are really asking me is "do I have to believe in this stuff to get an A?,' " he said. He says he tells them that "belief is never an issue in science."

"I don't care if you believe in the Krebs cycle," he said, referring to the process by which energy is utilized in the cell. "I just want you to know what it is and how it works. My feeling about evolution is the same thing."

For Dr. Miller and other scientists, research is not about belief. "Faith is one thing, what you believe from the heart," said Joseph E. Murray, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1990 for his work in organ transplantation. But in scientific research, he said, "it's the results that count."

Dr. Murray, who describes himself as "a cradle Catholic" who has rarely missed weekly Mass and who prays every morning, said that when he was preparing for the first ever human organ transplant, a kidney that a young man had donated to his identical twin, he and his colleagues consulted a number of religious leaders about whether they were doing the right thing. "It seemed natural," he said.

Using Every Tool

"When you are searching for truth you should use every possible avenue, including revelation," said Dr. Murray, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy, which advises the Vatican on scientific issues, and who described the influence of his faith on his work in his memoir, "Surgery of the Soul" (Science History Publications, 2002).

Since his appearance at the City College panel, when he was dismayed by the tepid reception received by his remarks on the incompatibility of good science and religious belief, Dr. Hauptman said he had been discussing the issue with colleagues in Buffalo, where he is president of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

"I think almost without exception the people I have spoken to are scientists and they do believe in the existence of a supreme being," he said. "If you ask me to explain it - I cannot explain it at all."

But Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary theorist at Oxford, said that even scientists who were believers did not claim evidence for that belief. "The most they will claim is that there is no evidence against," Dr. Dawkins said, "which is pathetically weak. There is no evidence against all sorts of things, but we don't waste our time believing in them."

Dr. Collins said he believed that some scientists were unwilling to profess faith in public "because the assumption is if you are a scientist you don't have any need of action of the supernatural sort," or because of pride in the idea that science is the ultimate source of intellectual meaning.

But he said he believed that some scientists were simply unwilling to confront the big questions religion tried to answer. "You will never understand what it means to be a human being through naturalistic observation," he said. "You won't understand why you are here and what the meaning is. Science has no power to address these questions - and are they not the most important questions we ask ourselves?"

U-Madua Lo Yaresem


In the past year a Rabbinic ban was placed on works of Jewish scholarship that attempt to reconcile Torah with modern scientific discovery. The ban has been accompanied by attacks on a rationalistic approach to Jewish hashkafa while demanding allegiance to a mystical approach. This mystical approach is most clearly articulated in the works of Ramban, while the approach that is to be rejected is that of Rambam. The thesis of this article is that Ramban was no less a rationalist than Rambam and that, were he alive today, he would be at the forefront of opposition to this ban.

Hakirah Magazine. Can anyone send me a copy?!

Science & Faith

Things have gotten a little confused recently, so lets recap.

1. Science

One can divide Science into 3 broad categories:

1. Proven Science
Those Scientific Theories that the vast majority of experts in that field hold to be sufficiently proven.

2. Debatable Science
Those Scientific Theories that there is significant Scientific debate about whether they are proven.

3. Theoretical Science
Those theories where the majority of Scientists agree the theory is just a theory, there is no good evidence (yet).

Note that the determinants of the categories MUST be the experts, i.e. the Scientists themselves. We cannot consult a Priest or a Rabbi to determine which Scientific Theories are proven, that would make no sense. Likewise, we cannot rely on quack or fringe Scientists who are outside of the mainstream.

In all cases of proven science, it makes sense to agree with the Science. Proven Science certainly includes the following facts:

1. The world is significantly older than 6000 years.
2. There were many intelligent humans walking around all parts of the earth 10,000 years ago.
3. There was no global flood.

The implications of the above is that Breishis cannot be literal. You can 'kvetch' peshat into Breishis to make it fit somewhat. For example, you can claim 'day' means 'era', you can claim that Adam & Chavah existed, but so did many other people, you can claim that the whole story of Noach only meant a small local flood. But all these claims raise more questions than answers, and ultimately don't really ring true. The only reasonable explanation is that the early parts of Breishis are mythology.

This fact does not have much bearing on the question of who wrote the Torah. There are plenty of facts about the Torah which seem to imply human authorship, including:

1. It's a book. We have evidence that Humans write books, however nobody has evidence that gods write books.
2. Style and content are pretty similar to other Human written books of the Ancient Near East.
3. Inconsistencies, contradictions, maculations, the Documentary Hypothesis etc etc.
4. Strange that in the one book He gave to mankind, G-d would spend many pages writing travel itineraries and other seemingly useless information, yet fail to talk about the purpose of life or the afterlife.

Given all the above, and the lack of evidence that Sinai happened, holding Torah Min Hashamayim is mostly a 'Faith' based claim. Sure, there are lots of reasons why we hold that claim, including:

1. Tradition was passed down generation to generation without break
2. Torah is (one of) the best selling books of all time
3. Prophecies in Devarim seem quite amazing
4. Mass revelation claim seems fairly unique in world history
5. Torah & Judaism seems to be quite incredible and unique

None of the above are proofs of course, and all can be debunked in one way or another. In fact I have debunked some of them too. However these are just reasons why people decide to make the faith based claim of Torah MiSinai. Those and some childhood brainwashing.

Given all the above, I don't see that holding Breishis is mythology really makes much difference one way or another. Either way, you need faith that G-d wrote the Torah. And G-d can certainly write mythology.

Secondly, once you realize that Breishis HAS to be Mythology because of Proven Science, there is not much need to debate the Debatable Science. For example, some aspects of Evolutionary Theory may be debatable. However there is not much point debating them (from a religious perspective), since there is no reason not to hold of evolution once you hold Breishis is mythological.

The only other aspect of Evolution which some may find troubling is the 'random' aspect of it. But that is easily dealt with from a Religious perspective - what appears random was in fact directed by G-d. Of course there is no evidence for this (low probabilities can be endlessly debated), it is also a faith claim. But its not contradicted by Science.

So, we have seen some examples of where we believe in Proven Science, and even in Debatable Science, and what the implications are. The next question is, where do we believe Faith claims?

2. Faith

If I am to believe in Judaism does that mean that I might as well believe in Mormonism? If I believe in G-d, does that mean I might as well believe in Fairies? If I believe in the Torah, does that mean I might as well believe in the Zohar?

Clearly, we need to distinguish between different categories of faith. This is more difficult than with Science, since by their nature, Faith based claims don't have much (if any) strong evidence.

So how do we distinguish between a faith claim that is 'reasonable' (don't get hung up on that word!) to hold, e.g. Torah, and one that isn't e.g. Fairies? Of course, a Skeptic will tell you that there is NO distinguishing feature, and that believing in Torah is EXACTLY like believing in Fairies. However, this question is not addressed to Skeptics, it is addressed to Believers.

So, the question is, as Believers, how do we distinguish between different categories of faith based claims?

Let's try the same type of categorization that we used with Science.

1. Proven Faith
Those faith based claims that the majority of experts in that field hold to be true.

2. Debatable Faith
Those faith based claims on which there exists considerable debate amongst the experts in that field.

3. Theoretical Faith
Most experts agree that these are not valid.

Who arec the experts in faith based claims? Well, if we are talking about Orthodox Judaism's faith based claims the experts would have to be Chazal, Rishonim, Acharonim and Gedolim.

Does this work? Lets try a few examples and see.

Torah MiSinai, is held by the vast majority of Orthodoxy, and therefore it would make sense for an Orthodox Person (who agrees to hold faith based claims in principle) to hold it. Lubavitcher Rebbe being Moshiach, is held only by a tiny minority, so therefore we can discount it.

The Zohar and Kabbalah, is held by most to be authentic. Even the Mitnagdim held of it, they just didn't feel it was appropriate for the masses. The GRA in fact was a huge Kabbalist. So we do not see any major stream of Orthodoxy discounting Kabbalah. Ouch. We could claim that The Zohar's author is debatable, but we can't discount all of Kabbalah.

This does seem kind of pathetic, especially when the 'experts' we are relying on (i.e. The Gedolim) are the very ones we reject when it comes to Science, but I can't think of any other objective standard. Clearly, Faith based claims cannot be evaluated on their evidence. Perhaps there is some notion of 'internal consistency' that can be used, for example the Zohar must 'shtim' with all other pieces of faith within the System, and since it doesn't, we can know for sure it is a fake. However that still doesn't help us with fairies.

So how does an Orthodox person know fairies don't exist? I guess because there's no mesorah. If there was, we would have to believe in them.

To be continued ....

Monday, August 22, 2005

Experimental Brain Blog 2

Faith: Hey, Reason, want to continue our conversation from the other day?
Reason: What's the point? We never get anywhere.
Faith: Well, I was thinking. We all agree we need G-d, a Soul, Revelation and an Afterlife, right?
Reason: Errr, I guess so. I don't like it, but the alternative is pretty bad.
Faith: And none of those are particularly Scientific concepts, right?
Reason: Well, science doesn't exactly contradict them, but there is no evidence for them, so it's kind of unscientific to believe in them without any proof, if that's what you mean.
Faith: Yes, thats exactly what I mean. So if we are going to be all unscientific anyway, because we have to be, why even bother being rational? We should just buy into everything. I mean, either it's all true or it's all bogus, right?
Reason: Well, the truth could be somewhere in the middle, no?
Personality: No! The truth is never 'somewhere in the middle'. Its either black or white, true or false. Make your mind up guys! I can't stand this wishy washy stuff.
Reason: But what if some of it is true, for example G-d, Soul, Revelation, Afterlife, but all that Kabalah stuff is hooey? That could be the case.
Personality: No! I like things to be clean and clear. True or false. This 'somewhere in the middle' stuff is just too messy. How can I tell what's true and what's not?
Faith: Just listen to the Gedolim!
Reason: Are you serious?
Faith: Ha! Just kidding. Even I know they don't have a clue.
Reason: But why not? Maybe the truth is that they are correct, how do you know they aren't?
Faith: Well, the evidence for an old earth is overwhelming.
Reason: That's true. So science is right and the Gedolim are wrong. So how do I know the Gedolim are right about anything?
Faith: I know, its a problem.
Reason: I feel we are going round in circles again! There must be some way out of this mess.
Out of the Box: Maybe I can suggest something different? Something, shall we say 'out of the box'?
Faith: What's that?
Out of the Box: Maybe watch a good movie or TV show, that might clear your mind.
Faith: Hey, you're not Out of the Box, you're just Desire!
Desire: Fooled you! Still, a movie would be really good. You could relax, take your mind off things, who knows, maybe the answer will come to you?
Reason: Hmm sounds tempting
Faith: Yes, it does a bit.
Conscience: Guys! Will you listen to yourselves! TV? Isn't that for mindless Jerks?
Personality: Let me just add that I am NOT a mindless Jerk, and I do NOT consent to partake in any activities which might make it appear that I am.
Reason: Yeah, I'm not a mindless Jerk. No way I'm watching TV.
Faith: Yeah, me neither. TV is a waste of time.
Desire: OK, you're right, TV is for morons. How about a delicious snack?
Faith: Ummm, OK.
Reason: OK.
Conscience: Hey, what about solving the answer to life the universe and everything?
Faith: Later dude, we're hungry. Im ayn kemach, ayn Torah.
Reason: Yeah later dude, I can't think on an empty stomach.
Personality: As long as its a cool snack I'm okay with it.
Reason: What the heck is a cool snack?
Personality: Something sophisticated, not just potato chips.
Desire: How about pastrami?
Personality: Urmmmmm. Thats not so sophisticated.
Desire: With Boars Head Mustard on Rye? With some half sour pickles?
Personality: And what to drink?
Desire: Urmmmm.... Soda Club Peach Flavor?
Personality: I'm sold!

Rabbi Mayer Schiller on Seperatism

Hat Tip: RYGB

Rabbi Mayer Schiller has some interesting views. Many people have accused him of being a racist. In this article he explains why he isn't.

"Bigotry and Racism - Beyond the Cliches"

by Rabbi Mayer Schiller

To hate a human being because of his race, religion or nationality is a horrible thing. The history of all mankind is marred by the outbreak of unspeakable violence against people perpetrated, not because of anything they did, but merely because of who they were. Bigotry is a vile thing, its prejudgment of a man in direct violation of Judeo-Christian morality as well as the norms of Western Civilization.

Yet, it is also clear that so much of what makes life worth living is to be found in group identity. We are who we are not only as individuals, but also as members of larger entities, i.e. families, neighborhoods, towns, nations, races, religions and civilizations. No man is born into a total vacuum of identity. We are the products of genetic, familial and cultural forces. In the end meaning is provided solely by these extra forces which provide our perceptions and action with conceptual or at least visceral coherence.

Whether these extra personal loyalties be of a metaphysical nature deriving their essence from an essentially spiritual (God centered universe) or be they merely an inherent part of the rational world is a question beyond the confines of this brief essay. What is relevant for our purpose is that man needs identity, meaning and purpose and becomes confused and demoralized without them.

Accordingly it is one of the moral imperatives of our era to articulate a philosophy and seek to implement a policy which will allow men to realize themselves in a group without falling prey to hating or harming other groups. This is far from an easy task. Indeed, there are those who would maintain that the enmity which often goes hand-in-hand with group identification is inevitable and it is best to pursue policies which will inexorably weaken those loyalties. It is an alluring position and one to which the "respectable" media and politicians of our era are all pledged.

It is, an illusory, immoral and unnatural agenda, however. Illusory, for history's testimony is that widely diverse people cannot and will not live peacefully together. Immoral, because its ultimate results will be the end of the truths and virtues of the world's various faiths, races and nations. Unnatural, because group identity is a fundamental need of all men.

The way out of our current impasse on matters of race, ethnicity, etc. would seem not to lie in the direction of totalitarian coercive mixing, but towards voluntary disentanglement by men of good intentions.

All any man really desires is a sense of physical security, some orientation towards a life of meaning, a community whose ways are familiar and pleasant to him and a place to call his (and his peoples') own.

Sadly, today all the above is granted certain groupings but not others. Europeans, White people and those attached to traditional faiths and lifestyles of the West are told by the powers-that-be that they alone among mankind's tribes are forbidden to have or even articulate a collective identity.

Perhaps this is due to their having overstepped the proper boundaries in the past, or alternatively to their own current weakness and gullibility. Whatever the reason none can deny the current threat to Western Man. Other peoples define themselves as groups, only European Man is forbidden to do this.

A solution to our crisis will be found to the degree that all of the world's assorted tribes can say to each other: "You have your way of life and your place to live. We wish you well. Now let each of us live among our own. We bear you no ill will."

It is in the spirit of separation founded on mutual respect that I have attempted on a personal level over the past decade to communicate with nationalists (White and Black), to patriots of many nations and to committed members of many faiths. My goal has been to strip group identity of hatred and the responses I have received have been almost uniformly encouraging. I have found that when you face a man and say; "Your people are a people with a unique identity. They have a right (perhaps an obligation) to survive as a people. Yet you must realize there are other peoples in the world who have similar yearnings. How can we work this out?" - that most men are willing to act in a positive fashion.

To sum up, groups should speak to each other as groups (away from media terror and self-seeking politicians). Far more important than speaking, though, is listening. To hear the other as we remain ourselves is our contemporary task.

Salon on Ruse

Ruse's new book, "The Evolution-Creation Struggle," comes as something of a surprise. On one level, the book is a fairly standard intellectual history of how the 18th century Enlightenment led to a crisis of faith in the Western world, which led in turn to two responses: a turn toward fundamentalist, evangelical religion on one hand, and a turn toward increasingly non-theistic reason and science on the other. The two forces have effectively been in combat ever since, which carries us up to science textbooks, school prayer, abortion and homosexuality, sacrilegious TV sitcoms, the last two presidential elections and the rest of today's "culture wars."

Above and beyond that, Ruse makes a heretical argument in "The Evolution-Creation Struggle" that will not endear him to members of his own team. Creationism and evolutionism, he says, are siblings, born of the same historical crisis, and they provide distorted reflections of each other. "The two sides share a common set of questions and, in important respects, common solutions," he writes. More explosively, he thinks both are essentially theological in character; they are "rival religious responses to a crisis of faith -- rival stories of origins, rival judgments about the meaning of human life, rival sets of moral dictates, and above all what theologians call rival eschatologies -- pictures of the future and of what lies ahead for humankind."

Ruse is drawing a crucial distinction between evolutionary science, narrowly considered -- which need not have any religious or spiritual consequences -- and evolutionism, the secular, atheistic religion he says often accompanies and enfolds Darwinism. Leading evolutionists like Dawkins, Ruse believes, have failed to draw clear distinctions between the two, and have led many to believe that Darwinian science is fatally allied to an arrogant atheism and a hostile caricature of religious belief. In essence, Ruse believes that fundamentalist evolutionists like Dawkins and W.D. Hamilton hold similar beliefs to fundamentalist creationists -- both sides would agree that Darwinism is a "dark theology" that removes ultimate meaning and purpose from the universe and augurs the death of God.

You might say that, in this new book, Ruse is calling for a Reformation within the church of evolutionism. He himself honors the truth claims of science and is "a hell of a lot closer" to atheism than to religious belief. But he thinks evolutionists must purge themselves of reflexive anti-religious fervor, and acknowledge at least the potential validity of the classic Augustinian position that science and theology can never directly contradict one another, since science can only consider nature and God, by definition, is outside nature. Without this consciousness, Ruse suggests, evolutionism is in fact a secular religion, a church without Christ. And if that's what it is, what is it doing in biology class? The current Supreme Court, trending ever rightward on questions of religion in public life, may wish to address this question sooner rather than later.

Science for Fundamentalists from Feldheim

By M. Kenan

Do you know a child who likes to ask a lot of questions? Want to share with your children the wonder of Hashem’s Universe? At last: A full-color, absorbing science book for children that doesn’t need to be censored or edited by Jewish parents! This beautifully done book features excellent photographs, clear explanations, and really good questions that older children will just love. Why does salt make us feel thirsty? Which is the fastest animal in the world? How can we see an object at night in a place where there is very little light? What makes diamonds glitter? How do we taste food? Enjoy 181 really good questions--and excellent answers--that will fast become your children’s favorite, and eminently educational, book!

Wow. Science books that need to be censored! Sounds awful. I think when they say 'Jewish parents' surely they mean to say 'Extreme right wing narrow minded fundamentalist Jewish parents'. Also when they say 'really good questions' what they mean is 'really good questions which have non controversial answers'.

Hey, Mr (Mrs?) Kenan, I have some really good questions, could you please answer them:

  • How old is the Universe?

  • Did Dinosaurs really exist?

  • How come all the evidence shows no global flood ever happened?

Maybe you should write a sequel: "A really good question, but a totally crap answer".

Judaism as Menschlichkeit

[See the text in bold where Rabbi Cardozo agrees with me that we have too much focus on Talmud and too little focus on everything else. ]


As Israel stands at a crossroads, its existence challenged as never before, it is time to realize that the national trauma surrounding disengagement is only a symptom of a much deeper and dangerous problem – the liquidation of the inner spirit of the Israeli Jew.

Israelis may be exposed to plenty of information about Jewishness and tradition, but one cannot build an everlasting future for a nation solely on knowledge. We need to cultivate inner values.

Israeli society, including a large part of its Orthodox segment, has become hijacked by a mass culture that has captured the minds of old and young. Hollywood, Madison Avenue and materialism have become a threat to our spiritual freedom. We're seeing a spiritual boredom resulting in this quest for extreme materialism, cheap entertainment and lack of sensitivity towards one's fellow men.

There is a deep need for spiritual audacity, educational guts and defiance which will create a radically different atmosphere in Israeli society. And it is suicidal to argue that unless the climate favors these principles, there is no chance to successfully make major changes.

The environment has never been conducive to spiritual concepts. It was Abraham, the first Jew, who declared war against spiritual indolence and desensitization. His daring personality created the greatest revolution in human spiritual history. Although aware that he had everything against him, nothing disheartened him, knowing that the inner spirit of man could be rescued.

How was Abraham able to become the founding father not only of Judaism but of much of the moral value systems of other monotheistic religions and Western civilization? He realized that there was little worth in starting to teach people about the oneness of God. To superimpose that important value would fall on the deaf ears of his generation. Monotheism was totally alien and irrelevant to most people of his generation.

So Abraham searched for a common dominator on which all men could agree and concluded that this could only be found when he was able to reach the inner life of his fellow men, the core of their being. To cultivate their souls and not just their minds. Abraham knew that, deep down, man is searching for meaning, looking for empathy and reverence and, above all, needing to do good toward his fellow man. Only then would man discover his real self.

And so Abraham started a "Tent Revolution," which became the educational backbone of Judaism. It was through his astonishing dedication to bathing his fellow man in goodness and showing love even to the most crude of idolaters that he won hearts and thereby took the world by storm.

What Israel needs is to return to Abraham's Tent Revolution. We needs to build tents of Abraham throughout the country in which inspired teachers and laymen – Orthodox, liberal or secular– teach, debate and exemplify the great Jewish ethical values as found in the classical sources of Judaism. Not as academicians or scholars trying to decipher an ancient text, but as feeling human beings looking for ways to craft a society in which menschlichkeit has the upper hand.

CONTRAST THIS vision with today's reality. There are too many yeshivot and too few (if any) tents of Abraham. Most yeshiva students should, after elementary studies, be motivated to prepare themselves for the great task of bringing Jewish ethical values back into the center of Israeli life.

We can no longer afford for most of them to study Talmud for its own sake. Unless we make these tractates relevant to the overall needs of the Jewish people, we badly underestimate the power of the Jewish tradition and rob our fellow Israelis of what Israeli society needs the most, namely Jewish ethics.

The need to study the great classical texts of Jewish weltanschauung must become the center of yeshiva studies. Whether these are found in the writings of Yehuda Halevi, Maimonides, the Maharal, Abraham Joshua Heshel, Franz Rosenzweig or Joseph Behr Soloveitchik is of secondary importance. What is important is that all of them focus on the powerhouse of Jewish ethical wisdom; not as dry texts but rather as moving, passionate teachings.

SINCE THE mass media are by now the most powerful way to create public opinion, we need to find the means to initiate programs on radio and television that inspire audiences to aspire to emulate Israel's sages. Jewish tradition holds an infinite storehouse of highly inspirational stories showing the sages' sensitivity towards the feelings of their fellow men.

Posters on bus stops and in shopping centers should ask Israelis whether they smiled this morning at their fellow men ("He who shows his neighbor the white of his teeth [who makes him cheerful] is better than he who gives him milk to drink," Ketuvot 111b); helped an old woman cross the road, gave charity to the poor, a lift to a soldier, dropped in to see an old acquaintance, said thanks to the waitress.

While some Israelis will identify a person with sensitive character traits as a freier – a soft-hearted sucker – they can come to learn that these freiers are the backbone of a healthy society. Better an Abraham complex than a Narcissus complex.

There is an extraordinary need for coherence and unity in Israeli society today. This can only come about when we return to our ethical and compassionate roots.

The great question in Israel is not whether there will be a Palestinian state, but whether the State of Israel will be a Jewish state.

The author is dean of the David Cardozo Academy in Jerusalem.

RAL's letter to RAS

[GH: Here is a great letter from Rav Aharon Lichtenstein to Rav Avraham Shapira, who had 'paskened' that soldiers should disobey orders if asked to evict settlers from Gaza. It's not just Haredi Gedolim who publish ridiculous bans and psak halachot. The Dati Leumi Gedolim are just as guilty. Sigh. Emunah Threat Level: High]

(Hat tip Romach)

BS"D 11 Menachem Av, 5765

Question Sent to HaGaon Rav Avraham Shapira, shelita

To the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav
HaGaon Rav Avraham Shapira, shelita:

A halakhic ruling issued a few days ago by His Honor has been brought to my attention. With His Honor's permission, I wish to raise several questions of clarification, so that I may understand His position more clearly. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I come not, God forbid, to provoke, nor in the role of one who feels insulted or offended. May Heaven be my witness that were it not for the importance and urgency of the matter – many see it as bordering both on a breach of the honor of God's name and on issues of life and death – I would have remained silent. My objective is merely to clarify positions and draw people closer together.

I have questions regarding a number of specific points, and I hope, towards the end of my remarks, to relate to several examples. My primary bewilderment, however, relates to the general line that characterizes the aforementioned ruling. Many of the assertions found in the ruling are clear and obvious to any schoolboy – that one is forbidden to steal, to demolish a synagogue, to assist in the commission of a transgression, and the like – and they are equally accepted by men of learning who oppose refusing orders. As for the relevancy of these directives to our case, however, two arguments may be raised, which, to a certain degree, have a common denominator.

1) With respect to values and principles that divide Israeli society, regarding which there is no agreement that defines a particular initiative as patently illegal or immoral, selective refusal of orders is impossible. Refusal on the right invites refusal on the left, and vice versa. The result is a divided and disjointed army, part of which dissents and abstains from an initiative in one direction, and the other part from an initiative in the opposite direction. The damage to the unity and cohesion of the army and to the readiness for mutual dedication and sacrifice is clear. And as a result, the I.D.F.'s ability to carry out its missions and its power of deterrence become eroded. One need not be a great general or statesman to understand the significance of the possible consequences. In short, argue the proponents of this position, when we consider the issue from a wider perspective, in depth, and in the long-term – and let us not forget, they warn, Rav Chayyim permitted the performance of biblically forbidden labors on Shabbat in order to save a person from being sent to jail because of which he is liable to die in another twenty years – we are dealing with a concern about the loss of human lives and the weakening of the state and its army.

2) At the same time, argue the proponents of this position, there are military and political professionals who maintain that there is a reasonable chance that the present government's plan will save – again, in the long term – human lives, and/or it will preserve the Jewish demographic character of the state. There is no certainty regarding these issues, but in the opinion of many, there is also no certainty in the opposite direction. It is difficult to predict the future, and only a few days ago we read of prophets who saw "vain and foolish visions," and, as opposed to Yirmiyahu, fed the public, who thirsted for their words, "burdens of falsehood and deceit." In any event, according to this argument, we should define the present decision as one involving the possible saving of lives (they obviously admit that there exists a danger to lives in the opposite direction, that in the short term the disengagement might put people's lives in greater danger, but, according to them, the matter remains uncertain), and examine every halakhic ruling connected to the matter accordingly.

The ruling that His Honor has issued totally ignores these arguments. Thus, I come to my first question: Does His Honor simply reject, in absolute manner, the possibility of these scenarios, he being convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that rightness and logic are to be found exclusively among the professionals with whom he has consulted? And if so, here the son asks, what is the basis for this absolute certainty – a realistic appraisal of the situation, faith and trust, or God's secret revealed to those who fear Him? Or, alternatively, does His Honor agree that the dangers exist, but they do not suffice to tilt the balance when deciding the Halakha - either because of the severity of the prohibitions, that does not allow them to be set aside by the possibility of saving lives, or because of the importance of preserving the integrity of the Land of Israel, the weight of which is greater than that of saving lives.

In a similar context, a parallel question arises. His Honor asserts that whoever fails to obey His ruling "will not be cleared" (lo yenake). This expression is exceedingly harsh; it is what moved our Sages to include the prohibition of taking a false oath, because of the prohibition of taking God's name in vain, among the severe transgressions, even though it is a simple negative commandment. What are the principles and sources, on the basis of which even the evacuation of a settlement in the Land of Israel is included among the severe transgressions, when both the Sages and the Rambam mention only the prohibition of taking God's name in vain as being exceptional in this regard? From one point to another, but within the same general topic, I assume that His Honor's ruling was given to someone who regards himself as subordinate to His authority. Does He think that the ruling is valid, and to the same degree of severity, for members of other communities, whose leaders have not expressed themselves in the spirit of His Honor, and perhaps have even ruled in the opposite manner? For example, what advice would His Honor give to a disciple of my revered teacher, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, ztz"l, who resolutely asserted that there is no prohibition to hand over portions of the Land of Israel to the nations of the world when there are considerations of saving lives, and even said that when we come to define these considerations, we must take into account the views of military and political leaders? And if someone thinks that, from a purely political perspective, the prospects of removing the settlements are greater than the dangers, and he anticipates that it will contribute to the saving of lives, and he wishes to participate in the initiative relying on the Rashba (Responsa, I, 413): "And even the most pious of the pious are not permitted to do their work by way of trust [in God], but only in the manner of the world" – does His Honor think that such a person may be granted an allowance?

I am aware that His Honor presumably rejects this appraisal of reality, and I too am not convinced that it is correct. But is it so simple to say that anyone who adopts it and acts accordingly "will not be cleared"? Is there no room to clear him, even according to the assumptions of His Honor's ruling, in line with the Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 2:16): "If a person heard that a child drowned at sea, and he spread out a net to rescue him, but he only caught fish, he is exempt from all liability" – that is to say, that in cases where a person's actions are motivated by the desire to save lives, he is exempt from liability because we take into account his motivation? Or perhaps a distinction must be made between a failure in execution and a mistake in appraising reality?

In conclusion, with His Honor's permission, I wish to receive clarification, with respect, for example, to two specific points:

1) His Honor opens with the assertion that removing Jewish settlements is forbidden by Torah law because of the prohibition of "Lo techanem"? However, it is common knowledge that His Honor permits the sale of land in the Land of Israel in order to deal with the problems of the Sabbatical year, and that He even encourages people to rely on this allowance. The problem of "Lo techanem" also arises in connection with this sale, and as is known, the leading halakhic authorities have discussed the issue since the days of Rav Kook, ztz"l. Among the arguments in support of the allowance, it has been suggested that the prohibition only applies to the seven Canaanite nations, or, at the very least, that it is limited to idolaters, a category that does not include Moslems. I believe that some authorities maintain with respect to allowing non-Jews to acquire property as do the Ramban and others with respect to a gift, that there is no prohibition when the donor is motivated by his own needs and benefits as opposed to the needs of the recipient. Does His Honor reject these positions outright, and allow the sale of land for the Sabbatical year for different reasons, or does he rely on them only in a case of dire need – and were he to believe that a security need exists in the present situation, he too would rely on these positions to resolve the problem of "lo techanem"?

2) His Honor asserts as obvious that someone who demolishes part of a synagogue building or its accessories violates a biblical prohibition. This appears to be the position of the Rambam, as noted in his count of the mitzvot (though this point is omitted both in Sefer ha-Mitzvot and in the Mishne Torah, as has been discussed at length by the Acharonim). But many Acharonim have suggested that according to some Rishonim we are dealing here with a rabbinic prohibition. This is especially true according to those who maintain that the very sanctity of a synagogue is only by rabbinic decree, but perhaps it is so even according to those who think that a synagogue's sanctity is by Torah law. For the Gemara only mentions one who demolishes one of the stones of the Sanctuary or of the Temple courtyard, or burns consecrated wood; and minor sanctuaries, i.e., synagogues, were not explicitly added. Does His Honor ignore these opinions because He accepts the view of the Yerei'im that the sanctity of a synagogue is by Torah law? Or is He of the opinion that while the sanctity of the synagogue building itself is only by rabbinic decree, demolishing a synagogue is forbidden by Torah law, because it is intended for Divine service, and its destruction involves an insult, as it were, to God - this being precisely what is forbidden according to a close reading of the verse, "You shall not do this to the Lord, your God"?

Furthermore, the Rambam clearly states, both with respect to demolishing a stone of the sanctuary or the courtyard and with respect to burning consecrated wood, that a person guilty of these offenses is not liable to lashes – and, presumably, does not even violate a biblical prohibition – unless he acted "with destructive intent" [derekh hashchata] (Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 6:7). This expression appears in several areas of Halakha, and its precise definition is unclear. Does His Honor think that it comes only to exclude one who demolishes in order to build? Or perhaps, whenever there is no malicious intent to inflict damage, it is not called "with destructive intent"? If we adopt the second understanding, is it unreasonable to suggest that a soldier who destroys a synagogue, innocently thinking that his action is part of a positive mission, is not defined as acting "with destructive intent," even if in objective terms, he is in fact mistaken, so that the halakhic conclusion on this point as well revolves around one's appraisal of reality?

Despite Chazal's assertion that at the time of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, God performed an act of lovingkindness with the Jewish people when he spilled His wrath on wood and stones, limiting thereby the loss of human lives, there is no doubt that in our case the fate of the synagogues is especially painful – both because of their own sanctity and because they symbolize the social and communal fabric that is liable to be destroyed as a result of the evacuation. The problems stems especially from the fact that on the face of it, according to all opinions – including those who maintain that the disengagement will in the long term have a positive outcome – the desired results can be achieved even if the synagogues remain standing. From here there arises halakhic and emotion confusion that is not simple. If the disengagement plan is indeed executed – a scenario that His Honor obviously prefers not to consider – and if we assume that the future of the synagogues of Gush Katif has no security ramifications or political significance, where is the way that light dwells and which of the two difficult options, each like wormwood and gall, is to be preferred? From a purely halakhic perspective, if there is no third alternative (for example, agreement regarding the fate of the synagogues after they are transferred, similar to what is stated in Megila 27b regarding the sale of a synagogue), and there exists a reasonable danger that if they remain standing they will turn into mosques, in which will be sounded words of incitement and blasphemy against God and His anointed one – is it preferable to destroy them – and especially so that "they tell not in Gat" and "lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph"? Or perhaps, because of the fear of violating the prohibition of demolishing a synagogue, mentioned by His Honor, it is preferable to adopt a sit back and do nothing (shev ve'al ta'ase) approach, despite the emotional difficulty of seeing the entry of desecrators, which, especially in this area, pushes us towards a scorched earth policy? And what is the weight to be given in this situation, one way or the other, to the view of the Ramban that a synagogue that no longer serves its purpose loses its sanctity, like an etrog after the holiday of Sukkot, and other things used for mitzvot that may be thrown away after their time has passed? From His Honor's ruling regarding the prohibition of demolishing synagogues in our case, I understand that he did not take this position into account. It is not clear to me, however, whether this is because He maintains that this view was not accepted as normative law, or because His Honor thinks that even according to the Ramban, the matter depends upon the will of the townspeople, and not cruel reality. I do not know the extent to which the decision-making process regarding this matter rests today in the hands of the halakhic authorities. I do, however, see importance, both halakhic and ideological, in voicing the Torah's position on this complicated and painful matter.

I conclude in the same manner as I began. I have not come, God forbid, to provoke, but to clarify and seek elucidation. In the event that His Honor will agree to relate to my questions and is able to take the time to answer them, it will contribute to the understanding of a complicated issue that deeply touches our very souls. Would that the Master of the Universe grant us to discuss more joyful and heart-warming issues, in an atmosphere of calm and tranquility, both personal and communal.

With the blessing of Torah and mitzvot,
And with amity and esteem,

Aharon Lichtenstein

(Translated by David Strauss. This translation has not been reviewed by HaRav Lichtenstein.)

Guest Post from HAGTBG

To analyze the withdrawal one must look at whether it will accomplish what it set out to do. But it can also be seen as a benchmark for how Israel views the world as having shifted against it. For withdrawal is primarily not about being against terrorism but about stopping the terrible implications of an idea.

Let us set forth in the beginning the proposition that the precise basis for the withdrawal is murky. We know the left's reasons but we can only guess at Sharon's. It is breathtaking that he has never simply and forthrightly said why his views have changed; why he now views the withdrawal as necessary as opposed to before his election. So the world can only speculate as to motive.

Some who have commented here believe that it was because Sharon views this as the best means of lowering terrorism or even because of Sharon's humanitarian principles. I beg to differ.

I submit withdrawal is occurring to make the idea of the 'One State' solution one that does not mean the end of the Jewish State. It is occurring now because of a cost-benefit analysis.

The One State solution, as most of those who read this forum no doubt know well, is a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish State (and presumably - in a good scenario - the breakdown of the Jewish community in the land of Israel coupled with massive Jewish flight). Gaza has well over a million Palestinians and only a few thousand settlers. Now the Palestinians will have their own polity.

Even if Israel is later on compelled to absorb the West Bank Palestinians, the Jewish State can survive. Not so with Gaza in the mix.

The timing of the withdrawal is happening because of three reasons, two of which are Palestinian successes. First, I believe Sharon has concluded that withdrawal is necessary and wants to be the one that sets its parameters. Second, the intifadah has kept Gaza and the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) in the news and in the minds of Israelis; meaning ideas about it continue to change in the eyes of the world. Third, there is a cost to the terrorism and security concerns that require a large military presence in Gaza.

There are considerable flaws in the analysis of withdrawal. First, bringing the Palestinians closer to statehood does not mean the international community or the Palestinians will be any less concerned with the ultimate status of Palestinians viz-a-viz the Israelis - in fact, its more likely to raise the issue to a higher status. Second, for the Palestinian's to be truly independent, they would have to be able to control at least some aspect of their connection to the international community - and any such hole is a means of bringing in more and better weapons. Third, the success of terrorism in hastening withdrawal will mean its use will accelerate in the West Bank. Fifth, the cost of any actions in Gaza – and Israeli military force may well need to be employed – has now considerably increased.

The Israeli right's dilemma in all of this has been its failure to face the fact that while the withdrawal has massive flaws, they have done a poor job dealing with the fact that the current situation would have eventually broken down and continuous failure to deal with the Palestinian territorial claims would have been seen as intolerable by the global community.

So what is Sharon trying to get at the end? I'd say he's abandoned the idea of most of greater Israel. His actions only make sense if he's trying to save the buffer around Jerusalem and maybe part of the Jordan Valley (though I doubt it).
In essence, we have the eventual contours of the Barak plan being imposed without an accord with the Palestinians. By Sharon. Claiming its good for the Jews.
Which brings me to the idea that the Israelis see the world as against it. Especially, now the EU.

So the withdrawal may save the State of Israel but only in an eventual world where Israel's border is close to the '67 line. We are talking about a weaker Israel as Israel's strategic choice.

Yesha (or, now, Yesh) knows this. And it is this, more then the actual withdrawal that has disturbed them and led them to back the protest against withdrawal.

So maybe a better question isn't whether the withdrawal will work but the historical one of whether Arafat was right to turn down Israel's offer at Camp David II.

[GH: I basically agree with this analysis. I take issue with all those people who say Sharon is doing this for personal reasons, or that the Government has stabbed the settlers in the back etc etc. The situation has changed, and even hawks like Sharon have finally woken up and realized that a greater Israel is untenable. Sharon is making the best move possible under the circumstances. There is no other option.

Furthermore, I think he aims for a complete disengagement, with the 'wall' being a border of sorts. That would be a good idea too, though I hope we can save as many West Bank Settlements as possible. East Jerusalem should be given back to the Palestinians as their capital, and the Temple Mount could become international, or remain disputed.]

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Aliyah Record Beaten


The record for largest North American Aliyah in one day has been beaten. The previous record was held by Nefesh B'Nefesh, having brought 550 people via El-Al one day in July. But last week 640 North Americans left their homes in Chutz Le'Aretz and made their way to Eretz Yisrael! Mamash inspiring!

Like all Aliyot, this one was difficult. They had to leave behind their beautiful spacious homes in Chutz Le'Aretz, and move into small Israeli apartments. Plus, like all olim, they will have to start their lives over, finding new jobs and making new friends. Aliyah is always difficult, but ultimately very rewarding.

So please join me in wishing the new olim a 'Mazal Tov' on their Aliyah and much Hatzlachah in integrating into Israeli Society. And remember guys, there's no going back to Chu"l now, especially since your former homes are being bulldozed as we speak.


An entire article showing how the settlers are just like rape victims who have been 'gang raped' by the Government of Israel.

What is wrong with you people!?

I have sympathy for the settlers. But don't tell me they are just like Holocaust victims. Or just like rape victims. Because they are not. Here's an analogy, if you really crave one:

The settlers are just like Olim. They left behind their comfortable homes in Chutz LeAretz (Gaza is Chu"l by the way) and now have to start their lives over in Eretz Yisrael. New jobs, new communities, a new life. It's tough, but no tougher than any other oleh. Plus they speak the language, and now no longer have to worry as much about being bombed or shot at.

Experimental Brain Blog

Reason: You know Science has proved that the earth is billions of years old
Faith: Okay, no problem, I’ll just read Breishis allegorically.
Reason: Well, if you do that, you may as well take all the parts of Tenach which contradict Science and/or reason allegorically.
Faith. That’s okay, as long as I can still believe in G-d…. I can still believe in G-d, can’t I?
Reason: Well, G-d’s not very rational, but He is outside of Science, so I guess its okay.
Faith: Great, I’ll just believe in G-d then.
Reason: Don’t you want a soul?
Faith: Of course I want a soul. I’ll believe in G-d and a Soul.
Reason: That’s not very scientific.
Faith: Well I’ve got to have a Soul. I can’t give up on that. How about it, G-d and a Soul, please?
Reason: No way. It’s just not scientific.
Faith: Oh come on, please?? Be reasonable.
Reason: Hey, reasonable is my middle name mate. OK, I’ll give you G-d and a Soul.
Faith: And Revelation.
Reason: Why Revelation?
Faith; Well I can’t discard the Torah, and that requires at least some Revelation, or at the very least Divine Inspiration. Come on, it just follows logically. If you have G-d and a Soul, the next thing is Revelation.
Reason: OK, OK. I’ll give you Revelation. But that’s it! No more. I’m feeling way too unscientific already.
Faith: OK, that’s all I wanted.
Reason: You sure?
Faith: Absolutely, that’s it: G-d, a Soul and Revelation. With everything else I’m going to be 100% rational.
Reason: No Kaballah or Mysticism or anything like that?
Faith: No, no, no. That’s all bogus. Dibbukim, Gilgulim, the Ari; All bogus. I don’t need that.
Reason: But if you believe in a Soul, why not believe in multiple bodies per Soul? Why should there be a limit of one physical body per soul?
Faith: Well…. I guess so. OK, I’ll take Gilgulim too.
Reason: And Dibbukim. No reason why they can’t be real also!
Faith: OK, Gilgulim and Dibukkim.
Reason: So if Souls, Gilgulim and Dibukkim are all real, why not the rest of Kabbalah?
Faith: OK, I guess so. I might as well believe in all of it. Why not? It’s only logical. And we want to be logical.
Reason: Sure we do, the worst thing is to be illogical. That really wouldn’t do.
Faith: Okay, so G-d, a Soul, Revelation, Kaballah and of course an Afterlife, or else what’s the point, you know?
Reason: Of course, no point in getting out of bed in the morning if there’s no afterlife. You gotta have your afterlife mate.
Faith: You know, if I’m going to believe in all that, I might as well just believe what the Gedolim tell me.
Reason: Sounds logical to me.
Faith: So we’re holding that Breishis is literal after all?
Reason: Well, I guess so. No, wait a minute, the evidence is overwhelming. It can’t be literal.
Faith: Okay, no problem, I’ll just take Breishis allegorically!
Conscience: Hey, what’s that noise in the background?
Faith: Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing.
Reason: Sounds like the Rebbetzin to me.
Conscience: Shouldn’t we listen?
Faith: But this is important! I think were finally getting somewhere!
Reason: Getting Somewhere! Don’t make me laugh. We’ve been going in circles for months now.
Faith: No, this time I feel we’re onto something, really!
Conscience: Guys!!! I really think we should pay attention to the Rebbetzin!
Reason: OK, what’s she saying?
Ears: She says to stop day-dreaming and help with the laundry.
Desire: I say we do it. Get us in her good books.
Conscience: No I say we do it, because it’s the right thing to do.
Desire: Well we can’t both be right. What do you say reason?
Reason: That’s an interesting question. That would be perfect for a blog. Hey Blogger!
Blogger: Yeah, what’s up?
Reason: I just had a great idea for a post!
Blogger: Give me a break, don’t you think we should slow down a little?
Conscience: Yeah, you know you’ve been wasting far too much time at work recently. How can you justify that – and with Ellul coming up soon! You should be ashamed of yourself!
Reason: Oh give it a break. I’ve had it up to here with your pompous preaching.
Ears: Hey guys, She’s getting louder!
Desire: Come on guys, don’t mess this up, please!
Reason: Feh, you’re a waste of time Desire. You’re never satisfied anyway.
Conscience: I say we listen to the Rebbitzen.
Desire: I second the motion.
Faith: Well, I suppose it is a mitzvah to do laundry, sholom bayis and all that.
Reason: Makes sense to me.
Reason: Hey Arms & Legs we need you. NOW!
Arms & Legs: Reporting for duty, Sir!
Reason: It’s laundry time. You should be able to handle that on your own.
Arms & Legs: No problem sir. I’ll get right onto it.
Faith: OK, well good night everyone.
Reason: Good night all.
Conscience: See you tomorrow.
Desire: Yeah, I’m going to call it quits too. Good night.
Arms & Legs: Hello? Anybody there?
Arms & Legs: Well errr, I guess we’re on our own now. Now how does this laundry thing work?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Rav Kook on Kefirah

by Rav Hillel Rachmani


We have seen that "kefira," i.e. denial of God, often results from the search for something great and sublime. This week, we shall analyze Rav Kook's claim that "kefira," in essence, is a denial of a particular notion of God, a rejection of the pre-conceived idea of God developed by the person. Therefore, it is correct to say that to a certain extent "kefira" is really combating an immature notion of God.

Light And Darkness

Rav Kook views all forces in the world as emanating from one pure source of radiant, white light. These forces contribute to the building and development of our world. Each force, be it art, science, music or literature, has its own character. Each represents a different hue of refracted white light.

In contrast, "kefira" is not another color of refracted white light, but rather is pure darkness. It has no place in the spectrum of creative and constructive forces represented in the plethora of colors which emanate from the pure white light. This notwithstanding, Rav Kook explains that there still does exist a certain spark of light in "kefira" which can indeed build and does not necessarily destroy.

"Kefira" defined

What exactly is "kefira," and what is the spark which can emanate from it?

"Kefira," in essence, is man's refusal to embrace his personal concept and perception of God. The non-believer simply denies the idea of the Divine which he has developed and portrayed in his mind. Indeed, every human being has a certain perception of the Divine. When he rejects God, he cannot say that God does not exist, but rather that he refuses to accept his own perception of God.

This being the case, Rav Kook argued that the non-believer can never reject the true image of God. For a monotheistic God, a priori, can never be defined. The moment one characterizes God (i.e. "Almighty," "Never-ending" etc.), thereby ascribing some form and shape to God, one has created a false image (see Rambam, Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 1:7-12). The non-believer, therefore, can at best deny a form of God which he has developed in his mind. This is indeed true, because in order to negate a concept one first needs to define that which he denies, prior to declaring that it does not exist. Once a person paints a static picture of God, by definition he has limited God: the real character of God can never be defined by human faculties.

Rav Kook argues, however, that the arguments of the non-believer do have subsequent positive value. Since the non-believer has successfully shattered an image of the Divine, which may in fact be a common image in the religious community, he has assisted the world in re-thinking its concept of the Divine. This non-believer has actually smashed a popular image, and forced the religious man to find a more complex and deeper perception of God. The heretic denies the standard religious notion of God, thus requiring the development of a new, refined conception. Ironically, the religious community gains nourishment from the non-believer.

This dynamic is similar to the initial hesitation of the religious world towards science. Science posed an initial challenge which eventually broadened and deepened the beliefs of the religious community.

Being that the non-believer serves a necessary function for the religious community, why do his contributions lie in the category of "darkness"?

The answer seems to relate to the following idea:

When the heretic smashes his "idols", his preconceived notion of God, his activities are accompanied by danger. A concept of God has been shattered - and it must eventually be rebuilt. This brings the momentum of a religious community to a halt. Instead of continuing to climb ever higher on their pathway to spiritual uplifting, the religious community must now rethink its direction, as well as its confidence.

While the heretic is unable to destroy God, his arguments and critiques destroy the normative systems and patterns of belief. The heretic rejects the precepts and commandments of Torah and thereby brings into question any redeeming value that they appear to have. These commandments are the religious community's guideposts for spiritual growth, and the heretic weakens them, if he does not destroy them completely.

Let us try to understand this by way of an example:

The commandments of the Torah can be understood as a ladder. While it is acceptable to break the rungs, which represent simple to complex images of God, it is forbidden to abandon the ladder. The heretic dares to do just that: he rejects the entire ladder each time he successfully shatters a rung. The road towards God is neverending, and even though each station along the way may, in the end of the day, be rejected, the road itself must never be forsaken. The danger of the heretic is his hurry to abandon the road and at the same time to drag others down with him.


Denial and negation of God is a force which is dark, yet contributes some positive spark to the world. Denial of God is a negation of life itself, leaving heresy no place in the spectrum of forces which build our world. Apostasy leaves the religious community directionless, for it destroys the very path upon which the community travels.

Rav Kook, however, argues that a positive spark does emanate from the depths of the non-believer's arguments. The non-believer challenges the religious man's concept of the Divine, forcing the religious man to re-assess his perceptions. Not only does this strengthen the religious community by demanding a re-evaluation, it is also necessary for the community's continued development. Since God is a priori undefinable, the religious community's perceptions of the Divine, and their consequent behavior, must constantly be revised. Hence heresy, "kefira," is the only dark force capable of contributing to world perfection.

Friday, August 19, 2005

He's Aint Heavy, He's My Brother

I don't know much about the UK and Europe, so I try to listen to the BBC World Service on the radio to get more educated, and sound more intelligent on my blog. It works great! There was an interesting interview this morning with some guy called Lord Tebit. Not sure who he is, but he is a Lord so I guess that makes him quite choshuv, at least in British society.

The discussion was about the issue of Britain being multi-cultural, and how the recent London bombings would affect that. Tebit responded that a multi-cultural society is impossible. Society is defined by it's culture, so if you have two cultures, then by definition you have two societies. There is no such thing as a multi-cultural society, and any time you have two cultures living in the same territory, you are going to have problems. How depressing.

Here in the US, the great melting pot, we still have some very distinct cultures, but they have strong shared values and a very strong sense of tolerance. It may not always seem like it, but compared to Europe and Israel it really is much better. This is what makes America great. Ideally, the more shared values the better, but even in a homogenous society you are always going to get different groups with different values. I think you can have a multi-cultural society, as long as there is respect between the cultures, adherence to a common law, and at least some significant shared values (Family, G-d etc).

Michael Shermer, in 'Why People Believe Weird Things', says since there are no clear definitions of race anymore, and the boundaries between the races are very blurred, there is no sense in attributing characteristics to race (e.g. White have higher IQ, Blacks are better at Sports etc). To me this sounds a little too PC, but certainly I would expect to be able to assign characteristics to cultures (Germans are punctual, Italian's cook well etc). If you can't point out the differences between cultures, then what makes them different cultures?

So, I think we can safely assume that even according to the PC'niks, different Cultures have different characteristics, different values, different strengths and weaknesses. It's probably still not very PC to point out the flaws in other cultures though.

So where am I going with all this?

I have spent quite a few months ranting about certain Gedolim and their supporters. This has given some people the erronious impression that I am some rabid-anti Chareidi. I am not. The Chareidi culture has some very powerful positive elements, that hardly exist outside of it. In fact, one of the reasons that I rail against the extremist Gedolim and other aspects of the Chareidi ideology is because apart from those aspects, it really is quite a marvellous culture.

No other strain of Judaism has as much passion and commitment to Judaism. Period.

Of course, if you believe it's all bogus then maybe that's not such a great accomplishment. But here, on this blog, we don't believe it's all bogus (only some of it).

A good example is that of the 'temimusdike yid'. Now, I am not claiming that there are no MO or Conservative (or Gentile) Temimusdike people. Of course there are. However every time I meet a really temimusdike guy, who really focuses on every detail of both his bayn odom lamokom and bayn odom lechaveroh begaviour, he tends to be Chareidi. There's no denying it.

As the world becomes more and more multi-cultural, whether in the US, Europe or in Israel, the successful societies will be the ones where the sub cultural groups are able to be tolerant of each other. We have all witnessed the terrible intolerance in Israel, between the Chareidim and the Chilonim, and between the Right and the Left.

So how do we foster tolerance? Some might respond, Certainly not with a blog like this! This really pains me, because while I like to point out flaws in my opponents ideologies, and debate vociferously with them, I don't like to cause intolerance. I feel that personally I am able to debate the issues, without getting carried away in my own personal life. However I fear that some people read my blog and are unable to make that distinction. I wish I had a good solution to this problem, but a blog which is all about how nice everybody is doesn't sound too interesting.

So please take this message to heart:

I don't hate the Chareidim. I don't hate the Settlers. I don't hate the Skeptics. In fact, some my closest friends and relative are Chareidim, Settlers and Skeptics (not at the same time though).

They are all my brothers, and I love them.

Good Shabbos.

The road is long, with many of winding turns
That lead us to (who knows) where, who knows where?
But I'm strong, strong enough to carry him - yeah
He ain't heavy - he's my brother

So long we go, his welfare is my concern
no burdon is he to bear, we'll get there

But I know he would not encumber me

He ain't heavy - he's my brother

If I'm leaving at all, if I'm leaving with sadness

that everyone's heart isn't filled with the gladness

of love for one another.

It's a long, long road, from which there is no return

While we're on the way to there, why not share?

And the long doesn't way me down at all

He ain't heavy - he's my brother.

Finally !!!!! The Next Ban (And This Time I Agree)

Psak Halochoh

In response to the halachic query from the Modi'in Illit— Kiryat Sefer rabbonim about playing games and looking at all sorts of movies on computers, the following is our opinion:

1) Use of Computer for Playing Games

The gemora (Brochos 28b) teaches us: "Prevent your children from [engaging in] higoyon." Rashi explains this saying of Chazal to mean: "You should not accustom them to study Chumash too much since it appeals to them."

If Chazal instruct us to deter children from studying Hashem's Torah in an easy and appealing way since it prevents them from laboring over Torah study, surely they forbid children's playing various sorts of valueless games that cause them to detach their thoughts from Torah study. Playing such games cause a tremendous decline in the child's level of spirituality.

2) With Regard to Looking at Movies on Computers:

Even if the movies do not contain anything that is specifically forbidden to see, it is still forbidden to look at it based on what the Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim (307:16) rules: "It is forbidden to read war stories on Shabbos, and even in the middle of the week it is forbidden since it is a moshav leitzim (occupation of frivolous people), and by reading them one transgresses, "Do not turn to the elilim" (Vayikra19:4) — "You should not remove Hashem from your mind" (Shabbos 149a).

The Mogen Avrohom (par. 22) writes: "This includes visiting theaters and circuses that are types of entertainment as we find in Avodoh Zorah 18b." The Meiri (Shabbos 149a) writes: "These things [pictures of people fighting wars and the like] appeal to his heart, cause him to waste time and make him despair of avodoh to his Creator."

The Chayei Odom (Hilchos Shabbos 61:1) writes: "These things appeal to a person's heart and annul his yiras Shomayim."

What difference is there if he goes to see a movie somewhere or instead he sits at home and looks at it, like those people who waste their time? See the gemora (Avodoh Zorah 18a) that teaches us that the punishment for this is tremendous, that Hashem torments him, and that his livelihood decreases, Rachmono litzlan.

3) Women and Girls:

Doing this harms even women and girls and distances them from yiras Shomayim. (See Tosafos, Avodoh Zorah 19a, that teaches us what is included as prohibited in the posuk, "How fortunate is the man who walked not in the counsel of the wicked . . . and sat not in the session of scorners" (Tehillim 1:1) does not exclude women from the prohibition.

4) The conclusion from all the above, is that halochoh forbids using a computer for playing games and looking at movies even if they do not contain anything that is intrinsically forbidden for us to look at.

5) Educators of boys and girls are well aware of the fact that computers distance the soul of the children from Torah and yiras Shomayim. We therefore warn parents and educators not to use the computer for entertainment purposes at all.

I join the above appeal,

HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv

* * *

We hereby sign on the above,

HaRav Nissim Karelitz,

HaRav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner

* * *

Menachem Av, 5765

And also I join,

HaRav A. Y. Shteinman

HaRav Shmuel Auerbach, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky

* * *

The Torah writes the obligation to study Torah in, "If you follow My decrees" (Vayikra 26:3), and Rashi cites the teaching of Chazal (Toras Cohanim 26:2), "You should toil over it." Besides this command itself that is the Creator's will that itself obligates us, without toil over one's studies and investing efforts one cannot attain depth and understanding of them, since this depth is attained only as a gift from HaKodosh Boruch Hu, as Chazal (Nedorim 55) expound on the posuk, "And from Midbar to Matonoh . . . " (Bamidbar 21:18).

It is therefore obvious that halochoh forbids using a computer for playing games and seeing movies even for those that are intrinsically permitted. Through being careful in this matter one will be zocheh to fulfill what Chazal (Avodoh Zorah 5b) write: "Tana Dvei Eliyahu teach: `For Torah learning a person should always put himself like an ox with a yoke [on its back] and a mule carrying a burden.'" And even with regard to women it is cited above what Tosafos in Avodoh Zorah write, that these things distance them from yiras Shomayim.

Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz

* * *

And also I join,
Harav (Not the) Godol Hador

Computer games are a waste of time, and so are movies. Have your kids do something more useful or more educational instead. And that goes for adults too.

I do permit sports and board games though, in limited quantity. And of course there is a special heter for Star Wars. But thats it! No other movies at all. Except for Hitch Hikers and Monty Python Movies, they're okay too. But nothing else! OK, maybe Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter too. But nothing more. Definitely!

Taize Hallel

There was some shocking news this week in France, a 90 year old priest called 'Brother Roger' , who founded the 'Taize' Church based on the idea of peace and love for all (now there's a novel idea), was stabbed to death during a prayer service, apparently by a mentally disturbed woman. Ironic really.

Here is what the BBC has to say about Taize:
The most characteristic - and copied - aspect of Taize worship is their kind of song-prayer sandwich. The leader says a short prayer, then the congregation sings a short chorus, such as:

O Lord, hear my prayer,
O Lord, hear my prayer,
When I call, answer me.

And then they sustain the last note, or continue humming, as the leader says the next prayer. This combination, say the brothers, "can form a kind of 'pillar of fire' at the heart of the prayer".

Bible readings from the Psalms are often treated the same way, a chorus being sung after each verse.
Doesn't this sound like Hallel?

Another characteristic of Taize is stretches of silence. A prayer service may have a ten-minute silence in the middle. The brothers explain the reason for this: "If with a childlike trust we let Christ pray silently within us, then one day we shall discover that the depths of our being are inhabited by a Presence."

Shmoneh Esreh?

There is also a "hymn to the light of Christ", during which children light oil lamps. Everything is designed to foster meditation.


Another characteristic is that everyone, including the leaders, is supposed to face the front, to emphasise the fact that they are praying to God, [not] to one another.


None of this sounds particularly innovative compared to a typical shul davening. Maybe Brother Roger was really Reb Boruch in a previous life.

Chareidi Shenishbah Bayn HaGedolim

I have a few Charedi friends and commentators who routinely make very typical (though sometimes quite disturbing) comments about Goyim, Modern Orthodox etc etc. Some people ask me why do I allow this? I also frequently get asked why I tolerate the Skeptics. I think there are two very different answers here.

I tolerate the Chareidim because mostly they are in the category of Tinok Shenishbah. They have been brought up from birth to believe in certain things, and it's really not their fault. Of course they will find this very patronizing, and will insist that its me who is a Teaneck Shenishbah, but that's only to be expected.

The Skeptics are the exact opposite. They have specifically rebelled against what they were brought up to believe in. So why should I tolerate them? I think the answer is that I feel sorry for them. Of course they will find this very patronizing, and will insist it's they who feel sorry for me, but that's only to be expected.

Also, where else can you get Skeptics, Modern Orthodox and Chareidim all debating the same issues? OK, you can on DovBear's blog. But at least here you don't have to wade through all that political junk.

Don't Make Me Laugh: Michael Shermer

Its not just religious fundamentalists that make me laugh, skeptic fundamentalists can do it too. Michael Shermer in 'Why People Believe Weird Things' says:
If there were only one thing skeptics, scientists, philosophers and humanists could do to address the overall problem of belief in weird things [i.e. G-d, religion, heaven, an afterlife etc.], constructing a meaningful and satisfying system of morality and meaning would be a good place to start.
Duh. That's exactly the point. Science and secular philosophy have never and will never create a satisfying system of morality and meaning. That's why people choose religion and G-d. If we are all just freak accidents of nature, there is really no good reason to be moral or ethical, other than practical / utilitarian philosophies, which are not particularly satisfying.

Shermer, don't make me laugh!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ayn Somchim Al Moshiach

I hate to steal comments from other Blogs, especially from DovBear, but Uncle Moishy is the Nachum Klafter of the Gaza Disengagement. He sums it all up quite succintly:

I think the two most important points to make are as follows:

1) Hashem no longer communicates directly with mankind. The presumption that He endorses the subjugation of the Arabs in Yesha is merely that -- a presumption, with no basis in fact. It's entirely possible that He is quite displeased with what is being done in His name by Israel to the Palestinians, since the Palestinians are His creations too.

Further, there is a religious school of thought that says Jews have no business reestablishing a political entity in Eretz Yisrael prior to the coming of Mashiach. Nowadays it's only a fringe opinion, because the combination of the Shoah and Hakamat Medinat Yisrael changed a lot of minds on this front. But it's an opinion that's well-grounded and was once held by many mainstream rabbeim (including R' Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, I believe). So the notion that any frum Jew must believe [otherwise] is nonsense.

2) Even if we all agreed, [] that under international law and Torah law Israel has a valid case for annexing all lands captured in 1967, the question remains as to what will become of 3.5 million Arabs in Yesha. Implicit in the disengagement is a recognition by the Israeli gov't that a "two-state solution" is the alternative of choice in this regard. For those who oppose disengagement the following alternatives present themselves:

A) genocide
B) expulsion
C) permanent grade-B citizenship
D) a one-state solution

Most settler-advocates will choose C in public (some whisper B to sympathetic ears). But I don't think that C works when the ratio of grade A citizens to grade B citizens is about 1:1, as it is now west of the Jordan -- at least I can't name a country anywhere where it does. And when the grade B's become the clear majority, you end up with situations like South Africa and Zimbabwe (nee Rhodesia).

So in my mind, disengaging from Gaza or not really is an existential issue for Israel, just not in the way that [the settlers] think.

Again, let me ask the anti-disengagement people, just what is your plan? I don't hear any viable alternative being proposed, except 'Lets just wait it out and hopefully Moshiach will come'.

Ever hear of 'Ayn Somchim Al Hanes'? Well how about 'Ayn Somchim Al Moshiach'. It's basically the same thing.

Kfar Darom Kraziness

I spent lunch watching FOX news in the break room at my office. The room was filled with the usual assortment of lower level employees of various ethnic groups. The scenes were of course heart rending.

I was in two minds what to do. Was this a huge Chillul Hashem? Did I have a chiyuv to change the channel? The screen was filled with images of settlers in kipot and tzitzit attacking or resisting the army. All very unpleasant. On the other hand, it showed a fierce determination and loyalty to the land, which while misplaced, is certainly admirable. I polled some of my colleagues, most seemed sympathetic.

Eventually, it turned almost farcical, with people throwing oil, sand and paint all over each other. It looked like a food fight scene from a National Lampoon movie. Some people even started to laugh. Again I thought to change the channel, what a bizayon, what a shandah! But the scenes were too riveting.

Luckily, it seems to have ended okay, with no major injuries. I'm glad I watched, but next time (if there is a next time) I think I'll leave the TV on the Weather Channel.

Oh no, Judenrein!

Certain areas of the South Bronx which formerly had been very Jewish are now completely Hispanic and Black. The Jews, along with many of the other white and middle-class residents, moved out en masse in the 60's and 70's for the outer suburbs.

Oh my gosh, these areas of the South Bronx are now Judenrein!

My old Jewish neighborhood used to extend all the way down to the highway. But now the center of the Jewish community moved more eastward.

Oh my gosh, those streets near the highway are now Judenrein!

We moved out of our apartment a few years ago. In our apartment building were three other frum families. The other frum families have since moved out also.

Oh my gosh, that apartment building is now Judenrein!

We had frum neighbors who moved to a nicer house last year. Their house was sold to non-Jews.

Oh my gosh, our neighbor's house is now Judenrein!

I moved to a new cube at the office last month.

Oh my gosh, my old cube is now Judenrein!

If you think this is all just a joke in bad taste, then you clearly don't get it. I'm tired of hearing people using Holocaust terminology here. Not only is it an innacurate representation of what is going on, it also demeans the language and more importantly is an insult to the victims of the Shoah who really did suffer Judenrein.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Dumb Arguments


.... But we didn't start the 1967 war


.... But we won the 1967 war fair and square

.... But the Arabs don't let Jews live in their countries

.... But the Arabs have huge countries, why can't the Palestinians go live there
(those aren't Palestinian countries, they don't want them)

.... But the Arab nations created this problem by not accepting the Palestinian refugees
(no, Israel created this problem by building a new state)

.... But Israel has always been a Jewish country
(hardly, we captured it from the canaanite nations, and didn't hold on to it for very long)

..... But G-d promised us this land

(irrelevant on the global political stage)

..... But the Halachah says we can't give any land back
(irrelevant on the global political stage plus you can twist the Halachah any which way)

.... But if we give them Gaza and the West Bank, they are going to want Haifa & Tel Aviv
(not realistic that they will be given that)

.... But if we give them back Gaza then it's a victory to terrorism

(no, it's a victory for democracy and human rights)

.... But many Western Countries were captured from their original possesors
(irrelevant, plus the present day ratios of capturers to capturees is entirely the opposite of the situation in Gaza and the West Bank)

... But the Arabs expelled their Jews, so why can't we expell the Arabs?
(Two wrongs don't make a right)

.... But the Arabs are all evil terrorists who just want to destroy us, so why should we care about them?
(Because we are moral decent people, even if they are not a.k.a Two wrongs don't make a right)

Dysfunctional Disillusioned Disengaged

Ira Rifkin has a thought provoking article in this month's Jerusalem Report Magazine. He compares two books: 'The Oslo Syndrome' by Kenneth Levin, and 'The Question of Zion' by Jacqueline Rose. He says:
Despite their clashing literary styles and political views (he's right wing, she's left), both authors agree on this: Jews are a psychologically damaged people in need of immediate counseling - if not shock treatment - if their self-destructive tendencies are not to cause Israel's demise.

Levin & Rose concur that the root of the trauma is centuries of violent anti-semitism, compounded by what they regard as the Jews' dysfunctional responses. But after that, they diverge.

For Levin, the dysfunctional response is the unending appeasement in pursuit of unattainable acceptance, and a doomed identification with the opppressor.

For Rose, it's a refusal to amend a nationalist vision that is blind to the opposition it engenders, a Napolean complex masking the deep seated insecurity picked up during millenia of being picked on.
In other words, Jews have a lot of serious emotional baggage, that either makes us act like the classic abused spouse or child, always trying to appease our unappeasable abuser, or alternatively like the child molester, who now abuses other children since he can only feel his own pain, not that of others.

I think we have a bit of both dysfunctions going on, but with Gaza I would have to agree with Rose.

This morning I heard a clip of a Gaza settler hysterically screaming at whoever would listen how terrible this eviction was. Ironically, she had an American accent. A little later, there was a clip of a Gaza arab, bemoaning the fact that he had been evicted from his home in Israel proper many years ago with almost no hope of return, and yet no one seemed to care about his pain.

Is it really right that American or Russian immigrants should displace native Palestinians? Of course not. Unfortunately, 2000 years of oppression have left us so damaged that we think it is.

Or is that all just the thinking of a dysfunctional abusee?

Dear friends - we made a mistake


Dear Friends: I look at the pictures of the looting from the settlement of Nisanit, which has already begun, and I know that the coming weeks will be too difficult to bear. The demolition of the houses and the communities built in the Katif region in the past 36 years, the expected clash with the IDF and the celebrations of the Palestinians – all these are a sure recipe for terrible heartbreak.

This heartbreak will no doubt give rise to a great desire to lay the blame for this collective disaster on somebody. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has already been chosen as the obvious target for the feverish hatred among many of us, who speak of him as of the Roman general Titus, but born of the Jews. However, a keener observer of reality may raise the possibility that this disaster was also of our own making.

In the years following the Yom Kippur War we came to believe, with true sincerity, that we were the flag-bearers of the Jewish people. After all, we had not forgotten the Torah of Israel and its values; we knew from whence we came and where we were going; we had more humility, we were imbued with faith.

The Yom Kippur War had not badly shaken our world of beliefs, as it did with the leading strata of Israeli society up until then. Just the opposite. That war actually strengthened us. The more mature among us discerned a leadership and ideological vacuum, the need for a new ideal to "uplift the people's spirit" – then at an ebb in wake of the war's tragedy – and charged toward the new and exciting goal: settling Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Thus the great internal disengagement of religious Zionism began.

This disengagement had many and varied aspects: On the one hand, it strengthened our branch of Israeli society in a truly amazing fashion. We built extraordinary communities and large families. Our people grew strong and became part of all facets of society: academia, the media, the army and politics.

The economic situation of many of us improved unrecognizably. Our various educational networks, the state-religious and the national-haredi schools, became more powerful, both because of the fact that they were given more money than the regular state schools, and because many of us give education the highest priority and devote their lives to it.

ON THE other hand, this internal disengagement exacted a high price from the national and sectarian levels: the establishment of communities with a clearly religious nature and separate religious neighborhoods in the cities, with all their beauty and internal splendor, led to a sharp sense of distance between those who lived in them and broad sections of society.

The ideology of Merkaz Harav Yeshiva was strengthened in these places, which saw the settlement of all of the Land of Israel, here and now, as the central front of the Jewish people in this generation. Other goals were added, including strengthening the religious-Zionist institutions, fostering a culture of modesty, fighting a bitter battle against the permissive values of the liberal-modern world, strengthening the IDF by means of directing young religious youth to command positions, mainly in the infantry, by means of pre-army academies.

All this was done consciously by the leadership out of an internal sense that "our people" were worthy of replacing the old and corrupt elites in power, who lacked the true values, the values that we held.

The combination of an internal sense of power, of knowing the way, and the hatred we felt from the old elites who fought against our dream of settling the entire land caused many of us to stop dealing with the weighty questions on our doorstep. For example: What would we do with three and a half million Palestinians lacking civil rights?

Very few among us related to this weighty question with the proper seriousness. This, perhaps, is the main reason that the helm of power has still not come close to being in religious-Zionist hands.

On the other hand, the seclusion, combined with a deep internal sense of being in the right without asking for or needing external confirmation, caused a deep blindness in many of us.

We feel that the Israeli world outside our communities is gradually losing its contours. Corruption in government is intolerable; endless commercialization and leisure culture is destroying every good thing; the state education system is in terrible shape; the media is not how we would like it to be, and the list goes on.

THE QUESTION, therefore, is which is the egg and which the chicken? Did we not cause, by our very isolation, some of the above things to happen? Did we not have a decisive hand in the fact that the entire Israeli agenda for the last 30 years has focused only on the issue of the Land of Israel and the communities we built? And how else can the demand of the religious residents of Gush Katif – to be separated from the secular in the site for the evacuees in Nitzan – be understood?

If we were less cut off and more humble; if we didn't have an immediate answer to all the hard questions; if we had the guts to look straight at our people, at the real people who live here, and stop preaching to them about the amazing things going on in our own world – we might have noticed the fact that we have here, in our Israel, an ocean of problems in which we have taken absolutely no interest. If our rabbis had been less preoccupied with the internal discussions among themselves and others like themselves and had emerged to try and understand the real situation of Israeli society, perhaps today we would not be facing the tragedy on our doorstep.

Embarrassing as it is to admit, we fell in love with ourselves. We have strong communities, good schools and devoted teachers. We have a path, we have a destiny. We know how things should progress, and if events don't move the way we think they should, we will volunteer to show reality the way.

DEAR FRIENDS, this is so difficult for me to write: We were wrong, and we misled our society. On the way to redeeming the land of our forefathers, we forgot our people. We looked out for ourselves and our children very well, and we forgot so many children of other people.

We tried to give new life to the Torah of Israel so it would suit the tasks of this generation, but the generation of rabbis that were born to us disappointed. Our Torah is not relevant to the real situation of the great majority of the Jewish people in this generation. Its language is cut off and its thoughts not directed to the simple and basic and existential troubles of our society.

The terrible truth is that this generation of rabbis created a fictitious agenda for us, one that scorns the issues of the simple Israeli man struggling to earn a livelihood, his identity and his dignity in a country still in its early stages of consolidation.

While we were busy with the Land of Israel and settling and fostering our ostensibly ideological identity, so isolated from those of other people, awful things took place. There are a million and a half impoverished people in Israeli society, and the overwhelming majority of them are not among our ranks.

We looked out for ourselves, did we not? The beautiful settlements we built, the huge and ostentatious houses in so many of them, we thought this was something we deserved by right. While our schools flourished – and we made sure our children received more and more hours of schooling – there was no one to look out for the other children.

We strengthened our own small and prestigious state religious schools and national haredi schools and neglected, even when we held the Education Ministry portfolio, all the other school systems. We acted like any self-interested sector, not as a worthy leadership.

We have no interest in the rights of workers, which are gradually being eroded – not of Jewish workers and certainly not of foreign workers; we have nothing to say about Israel being a world leader in the trading of women, and we of course have nothing to say about the Palestinian issue.

Except for a very few in our society, we don't even notice their existence. The Palestinians are invisible. They are a phenomenon of nature. We only see them when they strike at us.

And to all this it must be added that the institution closest to us, the one our people still control, the rabbinical courts, function like the legal system of a third world country, and we do almost nothing to change this disgrace.

The behavior of so many of us in the last few months shows that we have lost our wits. The hysterical demonstrations, the tacit consent to sending children to block roads and clash with security forces, all this attests to a deep sense of insult – as if society had betrayed us, the best of its sons.

And yes, many of us are indeed the best of its sons; but we betrayed society first. Innocently. Out of genuine idealism. But also out of arrogance. We disengaged first.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Sha’ali Serufah

NOTE for Dummies: This post is serious. It's not just a joke. If you don't understand why it is serious then think harder. Duh.

AddeRabbi has written a Kinah for the Gaza evacuees. Not to be outdone, I have written a Kinah in memory of the banning and [advocation of] burning of Science & Torah.

Oh Book that has been consumed by ban
Seek the welfare
Of those who mourn for you
Of those who yearn to dwell in the court of your habitation
Of those who gasp as they lie in the dust of the earth
Who grieve and are bewildered over the banning of your papers

They grope in the dark, bereft of light
Indeed they wait in longing
For the daylight that will shine upon them and upon you

Seek [the welfare] too
Of the one who sighs and weeps with a broken heart
Who bewails increasingly the pangs of your agony
And who howls like the jackals and ostriches
And cries out bitter lamentations for your sake.

How was it that you [O Science & Torah],
Given by [Rabbi Nosson Slifkin]
Should be consumed by bans of Gedolim?

As is well known, the Rishonim attributed the burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1242 as a punishment for the burning of the Moreh Nevuchim some years earlier. A kind of Midah Kneged Midah.

You would think that people would learn a lesson from that, but sadly certain elements are still advocating book banning and burning. I guess when it comes time for retribution the bonfire will look something like this:

Kut Out The Kinnos

Brooklyn Wolf asks an interesting question, 'How come there are no Kinnos for the ten lost tribes? One could likewise ask 'How come there are no Kinnos for all the many pogroms, massacres and other tragedies of the past two thousand years?'. True, there are a couple of Kinnos about the Crusades and the burning of the Talmud in 1242, and Rosenfeld even has a Kinnah for the York & Bopart massacres, but there are so many other tragedies which don't get a mention.

I think the answer is mundane. It's hard to write a Kinnah. You need copious impenetrable midrashic references, interwieved with quotes from Eichah, all laid out in a double reverse acrostic, with your name appearing in there somehow. Not easy! I would imagine that after most massacres people had better things to do.

But seriously, the Kinnos have got to go. How many people can read a Kinnah and get any meaning out of it? Even those 'Explanatory Kinnot' minyanim that have become so popular are a waste of time. Five minutes of explanations (often taken from the Artscroll notes) and then we mumble the kinnah anyway. It's a waste of time.

Some skeptics like to say the same thing about Davenng, but Kinnot are entirely different from Davening. Davening (mostly) is very straightforward (but I will talk about Yomim Noroim later) and easy to understand. Plus there are many good reasons for Chazal to have instituted a standard nussach. But with Kinnos there is no mitzvah in saying the actual kinnos, the real mitzvah is to mourn.

In ancient times, mourning was accomplished by the saying of kinnos, that's what they did and that's fine. Nowadays, either we need some updated kinnos, or we should focus on other types of multimedia. Watching Schindler's list is way more moving than reading Kinnos.

Also, it's hard to relate to the Churban directly anyway. Even such a holy Jew as Bluke admits he can't get worked up about the Churban. As DovBear points out in the name of Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch, we should rather mourn the causes of the Churban than the Churban itself. And those causes are still present today, and manifest themselves in all the other tragedies that have occurred over the past two millenia.

I can understand the Chareidim not wanting to change anything, after all, 'Chodosh Ossur Min Hatorah' is their catchphrase. Artscroll even go to some lengths in their commentary to justify why they have added a Kinnah for the Shoah. But why are the MO's so reticent about changing things?

Some shuls, even Chareidi ones, have taken to showing movies on Tisha BeAv afternoon. MO shuls show Holocaust movies, the Chareidi shuls typically show Rav Mattisyahu & Rav Frand shmuezzen. Ironically Rav Matt this year talked about not judging someone until you speak to them personally. Maybe he should take his own advice next time he signs a ban.

Here is my suggestion for a more meaningful TishaH Be'Av program next year:

8am: Shacharis not followed by Kinnos
9am-12pm: Schindler's List
12pm-2pm: The Pianist
2pm-4pm: Zonnenshein
4pm-6pm: Life is Beautiful
6pm-8pm: Exodus
8pm: Mincha & Maariv.

And if all all that doesn't put you in a mournful mood, you need to see a psychiatrist.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Jew vs. Jew

If you are looking for some Tisha Be'Av reading, this is it. Samuel Freedman documents story after story of inter Jewish feuding. I actually know some of the communities and people mentioned in the book, which made it all the more real for me. Triumphalists will no doubt be uplifted by the book's conclusion, that the Haredim will become ever more successful. At the end of the book, the author give his prediction of the future of American Jewry. He mentions the Haredim, and the 'Conservadox', but not Modern Orthodox. It seems he believes that the RW MO's will be absorbed into the Haredi group, while the LW MO's will join with the RW Conservatives to form a new 'Conservadox' grouping. In other words, he is forecasting the death of Modern Orthodoxy. He may be right, MO doesn't have the passion or conviction of the Haredim, nor the intellectual openess and ability to change of the Conservatives. Likewise he predicts that the LW Conservative will join with the comitted Reform to produce a new group he calls 'Reformative'. This is an intruiging idea, that the edges of the various current groups have more in common with the near edge of their neighbouring group than with their own center.

Assuming that Modern Orthodoxy is on a decline, what should we do? Which is an easier task - To join with the Haredim and work from within to curb the excesses of thier fundamentalism and incorrect ideology, or to work on the MO's to have more passion and commitment?

Sometimes both seem impossible.

The Longest Golus

Is G-d unhappy with the Jews because of the irreligious Jews not keeping Torah?

Is G-d unhappy with the Jews because of the religious Jews not keping Torah properly?

Is G-d unhappy with the Jews because the religious Jews and the irreligious Jews can't get along with each other?

All of the above?

The Longest Hatred

Gentiles have been hating Jews for millenia. Of course not all of them, but enough of them.

Non religious Jews have been hating religious Jews for millenia. Of course not all of them, but enough of them.

Jews have been hating Gentiles for millenia. Of course not all of them, but enough of them.

Religious Jews have been hating non religious Jews for millenia. Of course not all of them, but enough of them.

What is the cause of all this hatred?

Is it the Jews fault for being obnoxious, pushy, exclusivist? Is it the Gentiles fault, for hating the other, for not liking the fact that the Jews gave the world a conscience?

Is it the Religious Jews' fault for being holier than thou, and trying to force their restrictive standards on the less religios Jews? Or is it the less religious Jews fault for not liking the fact that the more religious Jews make them feel guilty about their own lack of observance?

Is anti-semitism comparable to anti-chareidism? Is anti-goy comparable to anti-chiloni?

All of the above?

Friday, August 12, 2005

I just noticed that Mis-nagid's old blog has turned into a Yeshivish joke site. Rachak, what are you thinking? Even Mis-nagid's old blog had more Torah there than you do.

Most of these jokes are bad, and all of them are old. but some are actually funny. Or maybe they just seem funny because it's the 9 days. (I NEED SOME MEAT). Some of my favorites (please don't read till Monday after Chatzos):

Last week, my former ninth-grade rebbe was just walking arond the beis medrash, saying, "Good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, etc." So I asked him, "What are you doing?" He replied, "I'm saying good!!!!"

Question: What do you call somebody who grew up in a Modern Orthodox setting and is so stuck in this derech that he can't see the emes of the yeshivishe velt?
Answer: Teaneck she'nishba!

How many Sharfman's Girls does it take to change a lightbulb? That was a lightbulb? I thought it was a cupcake!

V'yesh gorsin:

How many Sharfmans girls does it take to change a lightbulb? Is that regular or LITE bulb?

(Note: The Rebbetzin did not go to Sharfmans.)

Guest Post from Mis-nagid (It's okay!)

Licking Lubavitch or Licking Lubavitch?

The JBlog world was given a jolt of energy by the banning of Rabbi Nosson Slifkin's books. This popular blog got its start by covering the issue, as did many others. Orthodox Jewish bloggers were able to use their anonymity to speak loudly about a topic that others were happy to simply slink away from. Enough has been said about the ban; I only bring up the topic to ask a question:

Why did the "Gedolim" put out such vigorous denunciation of R' Slifkin's "kefira," while remaining virtually silent on the widespread and growing kefira in Lubavitch? Where are all the chas v'sholom chas v'sholoms regarding them?

As everyone likes to point out, R' Slifkin's claims have a basis in the mesorah, even if only by cherry-picking. The idea that a specific dead man will rise again to be the Mochiach ben Dovid is not only in violation of one of the ikkarei emunah, but undoes a crucial distinction used to deny Christianity. Where's the outrage? Nor has it stopped with messianic claims. Claims of the ex-Rebbe's divinity have sprung up and are flourishing. Right at this moment, Christian scholars are avidly observing Lubavitch to see for themselves how something like a empty tomb dogma could have arisen (pun intended) so quickly.

Very few Orthodox leaders have risked speaking up on the Messianism issue. Rav Shach blasted Lubavitch in the 1980s, saying their wine was yayin nesech and that the religion most similar to Judaism is Lubavitch, but it had almost no effect and was a nearly unique event. That was before the Lubavitcher Rebbe died, and it's gotten even worse since then, with even greater silence. There have been some stirrings worth noting, even if just to highlight how sparse and tame they are. The RCA put out a statement and the OU published an article in Jewish Action. R' Elya Svei had a go at them, a rare exception to the no-speaking-up rule. The Moetzes said something bland (intentionally ignoring the MO groundwork), but did nothing substantive.

One reason Chabad has been given a pass is that they're so useful. Want to find some kosher food in Bangkok? A minyan in Kansas? Open the phonebook and look for the local Lubavitch house. In a sense, they've infiltrated the infrastructure, becoming too hard to remove without losing the patient. Like mitochondria in a cell that carry their own DNA, Chabad mashichists are powerhouses of foreign material that was absorbed into the body, converting (no pun intended) a symbiotic relationship into an integral one.

Another reason for the laissez-faire attitude is looks. Lubavitchers look and dress yeshivish, and are meticulous in observance of halakha (for now? They're already changing the liturgy). This causes people to let their guard down; after all, how bad can they be if they're frum? The irony of this attitude is that it's backwards. The reason why R' Slifkin got hit so fiercely is because he's chareidi and/or frum, or at least is thought to represent them. His books can thus be sold in seforim stores, stocked by shul libraries, etc. By coming from the inside, his ideas are thus able to pierce the reality distortion bubble. That's the very danger of Chabad. They look frum, so their heretical ideas can infect the Orthodox. Like a virus sheathed in a human protein disguise, their familiar look avoids an immune response, allowing them to subvert the cellular machinery for their own ends.

This R.D.B. is also why outsiders like Shmarya of Failed Messiah have little effect. Just like Tamar Ross is not going to get anything done with her feminist agenda because she's not Orthodox, no one outside Lubavitch can really influence their direction. At this point, half of the readers are thinking, what the heck (no cursing on GH's blog!) do you care? Actually, I don't! In fact, it's a bit encouraging to see how rapidly Orthodoxy can be taken down. Still, since you True Believers are slacking off on the job, I've decided to help you out.

Here's what you need to do:

The only way to end a messianic movement is with a humiliating crisis. Not just a pedestrian crisis like the death of the purported messiah. No, Christianity has shown how easy that one is to work around. That won't do the trick; these nuts are hard to crack. Had Shabetai Tzvi just died rather than converting, his movement might still be going strong. If you want to put an end to the mashichist movement, you need to embarrass them so badly that no excuse will be enough.

Find a charismatic actor who once was frum. Train him extensively in Lubavitch mythology, terminology and set him loose. Set up a fake following of those who claim that he's the Second Coming of the Rebbe, what everyone's been waiting for. Use astroturfing [phony grassroots support] to build up his reputation, letting rumor and hope do their job. If done right, an undeniably large segment of the mashichists will latch onto him as the answer to their prayers. Let the snowball avalanche into huge proportions, climaxing with a breathlessly awaited address to the Hassidim. This speech will be the crescendo, the time and place where he announces himself to the world as the Messiah. That speech should go as follows:

"Hi, my name is Jonathan Stern. I'm an actor, not a rebbe, and certainly not the messiah. You've all been punked."

Then he tosses off his yarmulke and walks off stage and screen. That should do it, don't you think?

It's a good bet that by the time you read this, this post will have a disclaimer placed above it by GH. Pay it no mind; it's just what I do to keep people from realizing we're the same person.

Ha! Fooled you Mis-nagid. The disclaimer is below your post. Actually, there is not much to disclaim. You are right, I don’t think many (non Chabad) people would argue with that, certainly not David Berger.

The question is, why are the Gedolim ignoring such a serious threat? Is it really because Chabad look frum and do useful kiruv work? Is there perhaps a more sinister reason?

Weak Atheists & Halachah

A Weak Atheist is someone who doesn't believe in G-d, but also doesn't believe in no G-d, in other words they have no opinion either way. (I didn't make these definitions up. Personally I would just call them 'Agnostics').
  1. Can a Weak Atheist be counted towards a minyan?
  2. Can a Weak Atheist be a baal tefilah?
  3. Can a Weak Atheist have an aliyah?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Weak Gedolim are okay!

NOTE: This is a joke. Not a very good one, but it is the 9 days so I can't be too funny.

It turns out that just like with the Atheists, there are really two types of Gedolim, Strong Gedolim and Weak Gedolim.

Strong Gedolim actually hold of the opinions they speak about in public, and also the opinions expressed in bans they sign. Weak Gedolim don't really believe in it, they just sign up because they feel pressured to toe the party line.

90% of all Gedolim are actually Weak Gedolim, so I have no problem with that. It's hard to resist peer pressure in any group, and I can't blame them for that failing.

Scientists' Belief in God Varies Starkly by Discipline

By Robert Roy Britt
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 11 August 2005
02:24 pm ET

About two-thirds of scientists believe in God, according to a new survey that uncovered stark differences based on the type of research they do.

The study, along with another one released in June, would appear to debunk the oft-held notion that science is incompatible with religion.

Those in the social sciences are more likely to believe in God and attend religious services than researchers in the natural sciences, the study found.

The opposite had been expected.

Nearly 38 percent of natural scientists -- people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology -- said they do not believe in God. Only 31 percent of the social scientists do not believe.

In the new study, Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed 1,646 faculty members at elite research universities, asking 36 questions about belief and spiritual practices.

"Based on previous research, we thought that social scientists would be less likely to practice religion than natural scientists are, but our data showed just the opposite," Ecklund said.

Some stand-out stats: 41 percent of the biologists don't believe, while that figure is just 27 percent among political scientists.

In separate work at the University of Chicago, released in June, 76 percent of doctors said they believed in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.

"Now we must examine the nature of these differences," Ecklund said today. "Many scientists see themselves as having a spirituality not attached to a particular religious tradition. Some scientists who don't believe in God see themselves as very spiritual people. They have a way outside of themselves that they use to understand the meaning of life."

Ecklund and colleagues are now conducting longer interviews with some of the participants to try and figure it all out.

THE DISPUTATION: Toward Theological Evolution

By David Klinghoffer
August 12, 2005

The passionately contested scientific critique of Darwinian evolution called "Intelligent Design" is hotter than ever. Yet in this controversy, with its profound moral and spiritual implications, the Jewish community has remained curiously abstracted and irrelevant.

Our irrelevance stands out when you consider how many Christians, from President Bush to Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, have weighed in on the intellectual issue itself or on the more practical question of whether American public school students should be familiarized with Darwinism's serious shortcomings. But it's not just in comparison to Christians that Jewish silence on Intelligent Design is so notable. It is also a departure from our own tradition of engagement with scientific and theological questions of just this kind.

Intelligent Design, as most readers must be aware, is not creationism. It fully accepts that what we know of the earth's great antiquity and of the interrelationship of species can't be squared with a literal reading of the Genesis creation account. Rather, it asks probing questions about whether natural selection operating on chance genetic variation can explain the development of complex life, questions as yet not convincingly answered by Darwin's modern champions.

The fight over Intelligent Design is on the cover of this week's Time magazine, and the rest of the media is full of the subject. Nowhere, though, have I seen a Jewish contribution to the discussion that could be held up alongside last month's Op-Ed essay in The New York Times by Schonborn, the archbishop of Vienna and an influential Roman Catholic theologian. He cogently sets forth his church's reasons for affirming design in nature. Where, I wonder, are the scholars of Yeshiva University, Orthodoxy's flagship educational institution that was founded to make Torah confront the issues raised by modernity? On Intelligent Design, Y.U. is so far AWOL.

When I say that Jewish abstraction from the debate betrays our heritage, I have Maimonides in mind. His "The Guide of the Perplexed," completed in 1190, was addressed to Torah scholars, fully committed to Judaism and fully conversant with science, who wanted to understand how our tradition could be reconciled with the scholarship of the day, notably Aristotelian cosmology.

A hefty chunk of the book is devoted to eviscerating what Maimonides considered to be the vacuous theological science then being taught by Muslim scholars. He held this "science" in as high regard as today's Intelligent Design theoreticians and Darwinists alike hold creationism. This was all by way of clearing the table for a critique of Aristotle's theory of the world's origins — or rather, its nonorigins.

In Aristotle's view, physical matter is eternal, without a beginning, thus obviating the need for a creator in the biblical sense who produced the universe from nothingness. Maimonides gave his reasons for refusing to jettison the belief in a biblical creator. This refusal was not, he said, because Judaism imposes a fundamentalist obligation to read Scripture literally. It doesn't.

Rather, he upheld the doctrine of a divine creator and designer for two reasons. First, because Aristotle's teaching "has not been demonstrated," as Maimonides argued in great detail. On this, of course, he turned out to be right. Secular science took more than 700 years to catch up, but now all agree that in the beginning there was a Big Bang.

And second, Maimonides retained the concept of a created universe because without it, a religion of commandments is rendered nonsensical. He wrote, "The belief in eternity the way Aristotle sees it... destroys the Torah in its principle, necessarily gives the lie to every miracle, and reduces to inanity all the hopes and threats that the Torah held out." If the eternity of the university could be proved, then "the Torah as a whole would become void, and a shift to other opinions would take place. I have thus explained to you that everything is bound up with this problem."

Darwinian evolution, whose purpose from the start was to show that no creator or designer was necessary for the development of life, remains undemonstrated. This is the conclusion of Intelligent Design's expert advocates — biologists, chemists and paleontologists — a minority in those sciences but a learned one, daring to challenge those among their colleagues who, like professors in other fields, fiercely defend the sources of secular academic prestige.

Yet the Intelligent Design question might remain merely an academic one were it not for the fact that Darwinism — with its reliance on random genetic variation as the root source of complex life — would render Judaism, or Christianity, void as surely as Aristotle's eternal universe threatened to do. In his 1871 book "The Descent of Man," Charles Darwin himself spelled out the ramifications of his idea.

Without a designer, our moral precepts are simply the product of natural selection. As Darwin explained, we could have evolved differently. If we had done so, then our ideas even about fundamental ethical issues such as murder might be unrecognizable. "We may, therefore," Darwin wrote, turning to another moral question, "reject the belief... that the abhorrence of incest is due to our possessing a special God-implanted conscience." In Darwinism, there can be no moral absolutes.

Everything, as Maimonides said in a different but related context, is bound up with this problem. America's moral future is being debated and we Jews remain untouched, barely aware. Our failure to engage the issue in a serious way is one of the sadder observations you can make about Jewish intellectual and religious culture today.

David Klinghoffer is author of "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History" (Doubleday).

Weak Atheists Are Okay!

Theism means believing in G-d. Atheism means not believing in G-d. Therefore an Atheist denies the existence of G-d and can't be frum, right?


A Strong Atheist denies the existence of G-d. However a Weak Atheist doesn’t hold a belief in the existence of G-d or a belief in the Non Existence of G-d. He has no belief either way.

Since a Weak Atheist doesn’t have a belief in the existence of G-d, he can technically call himself an Atheist, since he does lack belief in G-d. However this does not mean he believes G-d does NOT exist, he just has no opinion either way. This is quite misleading, since in popular parlance when someone says I am an Atheist one automatically assumes it means they believe that G-d specifically does NOT exist.

A Weak Atheist sounds similar to a Weak Agnostic. A Weak Agnostic is someone who has no knowledge of G-d’s existence or not. A Strong Agnostic is someone who believes its impossible to ever have knowledge of G-d existence or not. The difference between a Weak Atheist and a Weak Agnostic is that it is technically feasible for a Weak Agnostic to believe in G-d, without knowledge, whereas a Weak Atheist specifically does not have a belief in G-d.

Personally, I think this is all baloney.

Whether someone is a Weak Atheist or a Weak Agnostic, it boils down to the same thing. They are not sure whether G-d exists or not. They find the arguments for G-d’s existence unconvincing, and they likewise find the arguments for G-d’s non-existence unconvincing. They might claim to have no opinion either way, but that is really because they aren't sure. No intelligent adult can claim to have no opinion at all either way. My 2 year old can, and my goldfish too. But not an intelligent adult. If you have no opinion, it's because YOU ARE NOT SURE.

So the next time someone tells you they are a Weak Atheist or a Weak Agnostic, don’t be too shocked. They simply are not sure about G-d, which is understandable. And, more importantly, they are not oiver on any of the ikkarim according to many shittos, since to be oiver an ikkar you have to have the opposite belief, and not just be unsure.

Getting into Gaza

While most people are thinking about getting out of Gaza, quite a few are getting in. I just spoke to my young nephew who snuck into Gaza yesterday and is planning on staying there for as long as possible. He pretended to be a resident, answered a few questions correctly at the checkpoint and he was let in. Until the demonstrations start, he is helping people out (he's a good kid). He helped one family paint their house, and another family pack up. I guess there are a mix of optimists and pessimists there. Or maybe it's a mix of crazy people and realists.

Either way, I certainly don't support people illegally going there, and certainly not children. The settler's biggest crime in my opinion is allowing their children to be on the front lines of this debate. Children are too young to have a clear idea of why this is right (or wrong), and are being manipulated by the adults. The situation is appalling. It only needs for one child to get hurt or chas vesholom worse and then there will be plenty of hand-wringing and talk of 'how could we let this happen'.

One of the main criticisms leveled at the Palestinians these past decades was that they used their children to fight, and it showed their basic lack of respect for human life. Remember that famous line: 'When the Palestinians love their children more than they hate us there will be peace'? I think someone needs to remind the settlers.

Rabbi Reinman - Don't Make Me Laugh

Rabbi Yosef Reinman, in "One People, Two Worlds", responding to Ammiel Hitsch's claim that Orthodox Jews fear open access to new ideas:
We in the Orthodox world do not fear your ideas as much as you would like to think we do. The only attraction you hold out to our children is the license to indulge in forbidden pleasures. The problems our Rabbis have with the Internet are pornography and online relationships with strangers; the easy accessibility of almost limitless information is only a plus. I told you this when we met the first time, but you found it hard to accept. Nonetheless it is true.
No, it's not true at all. Reinman's book was banned shortly thereafter. 'The easy accessibility of almost limitless information is only a plus'; Are you serious?! The Gedolim even ban seforim written by Bnei Torah with Haskamos!

Don't make me laugh.

Anyway, apart from stupid statements like that, the book is quite interesting. I'm only part way through, but so far Hirsch has mostly waffled on about choices whereas Reinman has bashed him pretty good. The book is basically an extended blog type discussion except that it's easier to follow since both sides are not insisting on calling themselves 'Anonymous'.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Don't Make Me Laugh No. 23

Rabbi Yonasan Rosenblum in the Jewish Observer:
The Orthodox community has benefited in recent years from the infusion of the skills of ba’alai teshuva with broad secular educations and from their demand for sophisticated answers to the deepest questions of faith.
We have benefited from their demand for sophisticated answers?! I must have missed that one. Sophisticated answers my ****. We are back at emunah peshutah. Always have been and seemingly always will be. The only good answers pre-date the Baal Teshuvah movement, and are mostly rejected by the UO community anyways.

Don't make me laugh.

UPDATE: This article was written in 1996. Krum points out that it needs be updated for 2005 by adding the following:
..and from our declaring as kefira said sophisticated answers to said deepest questions of faith and our putting in cherem of those attempting to formulate said answers.
Krum, I said don't make me laugh!

The Problem of Israel

The Beit Hamikdash got destroyed 2000 years ago. Israel was ruined, and we were mostly banished from the land. For 2000 years the Jews desperately prayed for a return to their homeland. And then suddenly, on one fine day in 1948, we got what we asked for.

Amazing! The culmination of a 2000 year old dream. Moshiach must be here ! (Or close). Golus is at an end! After 2000 years. Incredible. Everything is now different.

Except that it isn’t. Not very much is different at all. Life goes on as normal. People live in the US, people live in Europe, some people go to Israel where life is hard. Nothing happened. We still seem to be in Golus and now the Arabs hate us too.

The problem is that mainstream Orthodox Judaism hasn’t figured out what to do with Israel. The vast majority of Orthodox Jews are blasé about it. In this regard I have more respect for both Neturei Kartah and the Settlers. They both think that returning to Israel after 2000 years is a momentous event. The NK'nicks think it’s a terrible sin, and the Settlers think its Reishit Geulah. But both groups attach tremendous significance to it.

The rest of us are just clueless. Israel is just a place you go for Yeshivah or Sukkot. You can get a kosher Whopper. Its nice. Ein Gedi has some good hiking, and don’t forget the Kotel for a quick prayer or a Bar Mitzvah. El Gaucho has great steaks, and Mini-Israel is fun. The Biblical Zoo is a nice little zoo, and Park Hakofim is great for the kids. Malchah has some good shopping, and Rechov Meah Shearim is great for religious chatchkes.

All very pleasant. But what is the significance of Israel? Well, if it's not a terrible sin, and it's not the beginning of the Geulah, then what is it? I guess it just is.

No big deal really.

Torah vMTV

In this fascinating article , Rabbi Mayer Schiller writes:
The average lad in yeshiva/Hassidic world is clearly committed to halacha and reasonably knowledgeable in Torah. The average Modern Orthodox boy lags far behind. There is simply no comparison between the 2 worlds when measured by any objective standard of Torah and mitzvos.

I know this is a painful truth. I wish it were not so as it argues strongly against the feasibility of Torah im Derech Eretz. Yet wishing cannot alter readily observable realities.

The open schools are inferior in learning, davening, shmiros hamitzvos and loyalty to ikrei Emunah.

I cannot escape the sense that a shitah that which assents to and embraces all of God's creation will produce a better talmid of greater shleimus in his service of Hashem. This will be difficult to know of course, until the day when we will be worth of seeing Torah im Derech Eretz or Torah uMaddah mosdos in actual operation. However, the ignorance of Hashem’s world and its peoples in the “Torah only” world seems to be at variance with the Glory of G-d and the true extent of his Divine Love. On the other hand, given the lower standards of Torah, prayer, halakhic commitment and Torah beliefs in the “open” world, we must, I fear, wait a bit to see this ideal realized.

Is it possible? Can devotion to depth-pursuit of the blatt, appropriate tefillah, avodas hamiddos, Emunah, bitachon, kedushah and taharah, spiritual immersion in Shabbos and Yom Tov co-exist with, or be enhanced by the pursuit of knowledge, beauty and experience, by the dignity and clarity of European civilization at its best and by concern for humanity as a whole?

[Schiller has also written some very crazy articles, hung out with some very crazy organizations, and has been accused by some people of being a racist. He’s probably more of a ‘separatist’ than an out and out ‘racist’, still his views are a little extreme. The article above though makes a lot of mention about loving all humanity, so it’s a little strange.]

The obvious truth is this: If you stress nothing but Torah and Mitzvos, you are going to get people very committed to Torah and Mitzvos, but who are clueless about everything else. If you have a balanced curriculum where students spend half their day studying science, geology etc, then you will have more balanced students, who are less involved in Torah and Mitzvos. There is no magic here, its just a numbers game. Spend the hours, reap the rewards.

What you do depends on your focus. If you want to produce Talmidei Chachamim who know nothing about anything besides Gemarah then spend all day teaching them Gemarah. If you want to produce well rounded individuals then teach them other things too. But complaining that the well rounded individuals are not as big Talmidei Chachamim as the students who spend all day learning is just stupid.

So the question becomes, how much do we want to dilute the Torah with the Madah? Clearly, the majority of people need to work, so everyone needs some kind of trade or vocational training. Lets ignore that aspect for the moment. Is there any Madah besides vocational training that is useful? Clearly History, Philosophy, Science etc are all useful and important subjects.

However, for every hour you spend on those subjects, it’s one less hour on Torah. You can’t have it both ways. If we increase the Madah, you decrease the Torah. You will get more well rounded individuals, but then they won’t be as big bekiim or lamdanim as the right wingers. Of course, there will always be some very bright individuals who can be brilliant at both, but that’s just an elite. And even that elite still won’t be as brilliant in either subject as the equivalent elite who only focused on one subject.

The second issue is what exactly is Maddah? Its not just the Hard or Soft Sciences, it includes the ‘High Culture’ too. But how many people besides RAL read Milton? Nobody I know. So does Maddah include Tom Clancy? Or Jonathan Kellerman? I sure hope not. Discovery Channel? Yes. MTV? No. Though I have been able to derive much mussar from the hits of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as my readers, I’m sure, appreciate. I think the olam is a little confused here. In a subsequent post I shall define Maddah.

Finally, I sense a contradiction or inconsistency in MO. A favorite MO vort is that the Jewish People are ‘Mamlechet Cohanim vGoy Kodosh’. This means that just as the Cohanim were set aside to serve the rest of the Jewish people, likewise the Jewish people are set aside to serve the rest of Humanity. That’s nice. But were the Cohanim well rounded individuals? No! They were dedicated to Avodah. Nobody expected the Cohanim to be experts at Farming or Shoe making.

Likewise, (according to this vort) the Jews are supposed to be experts at Torah, and Torah only. Nobody expects the Jews to be so well rounded as to be experts in Science AND Torah. So the emphasis should clearly be on Torah. The only caveat is that the Torah-Only experts need to realize very acutely that while they may be experts on Torah, they know ****-all jack-squat about everything else.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Greatest Mussar Hits of the 60’s,70’s and 80’s: I am a Yeshiva Man

This is one of the best. Enjoy! (but not too much, it is the 9 days).

Harav Reuven Davies: Hakefufim

I think I’m sophisticated
'cos I’m living my life like a Modern Orthodoxian
But all around me everybody’s skepticizing
Till they sound all atheistic man

So I’m no better than the skeptics and the heretics
Like JTS and Saul Lieberman
’cos according to the Bochrim and the Gedolim and the Poskim
I am a Kofer man.

I think I’m so educated and I’m so civilized
’cos I’m a strict rationalian
But with the over-complication and doubtation and vexation
And the strong agnosticians

I don’t feel safe in the moderne world no more
I don’t want to lose my ikkarim 1 through 4
I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an Israeliman

I’m an Edah man, I dig R Saul Berman
I’m a YU man
I’m a Torah Madah man, I’m an RYBS fan
I’m a T.I.D.E. man

But compared to the bochrim that learn in Lakewood
Compared to the masmidim who learn as they should
Compared to the Mirrers and the Briskers learning good
I am a shvacha man

In man’s evolution he has created the cities and
Multiverse Theora, but give me half a chance
And I’d be putting on my hat and living in Arzei Habirah

’cos the only time that I felt at ease
Was sitting and learning by Reb Tzvis
Oh what a life of luxuries, to be a Yeshivah man

I’m a Kol Toyrah man, I’m a Ponovitche man, I’m a Gateshead man
I’m a Brisker man, a real AJ fan
R’Dovid is my man

I read all the blogs, but I can’t see how or why
’cos the skepticism is a fogging up my eyes
I want to get out with my emunah alive
And make like a Frum man

Come on Rebbetzin, be a good Bays Yaakov girl,
And we’ll be so happy in our Torah True world.

I’m a B’nai Torah man, I’m a Chaim Berlin man, I’m a Telzer man
I’m a Toras Moshe man, I’m an Ohr Sameach man
I’m a Chappels man

I’ll be Yissachar, You’ll be my Zevulun
You’ll keep me paid and I’ll keep you frum
I’ll sit in the Beis and learn Torah all zman
Just like a Yungerman.

I’m a Chofetz Chaim man, I’m a Ner Yisroel man, I learn by Rav Feldman
I’m a Mercaz man, I’m a Mishcan man
I’m a Pachad Yitzchak man.

I don’t feel safe in the moderne world no more
I don’t want to lose my ikkarim 1 through 4
I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an Israeliman.

9 Days Depression

I don't know if it's the lack of meat, the 9 days or maybe the weather but I'm feeling all depressed. First, I couldn't win the debate aginst the Atheists. The Rebbetzin said to me, 'Whats the problem? Just prove to them that G-d exists and you'll win the argument.' Oy. My reply? 'Thanks honey, no problem, will do.' (That's what I always say). Then some stupid hacker starting messing up the comments. And now it seems MO is dwindling, right after we got a new recruit (Hmmmmm - is there a link?).

What next?

I always get a bad feeling during this time. It really does seem as though bad things happen. Remember TWA 800? I had a bad feeling about the Shuttle landing but luckily they seem to have survived. Plus the obligatory 3 weeks major plane crash didn't kill anyone this year, so that was a relief. And the disengagement is scheduled for after the 9 days, proof positive that it must be a good thing! I did get a flat tire this morning, so hopefully I am yotzeh with that.

I know its superstitious, but this is how I think. So sue me. (Or blame my UO upbringing).

Chareidi Modern Orthodoxy?

Guest Post from Literati

This blog has taken note of the laxity in halachic observance that is manifest by many who describe themselves as "Modern Orthodox." Reasons were given for this weakness in the "Prax," among them that many, seeking modes of observance that are less demanding, find shelter under the mantle of Modern Orthodoxy and that the "Dox" extolled on this space is not at all a contributing factor to this diminutive mode of observance. I'd like to continue this.

Certainly, by the less knowledgeable in halacha and Jewish theology, GH's explanation makes perfect sense: people view halachic observance as onerous and with little interest, and are content with the bare-minimum. They embrace Modern Orthodoxy's rejection of divestment from larger society and its exhortations to boldly confront the world, and see this as a cachet for their flouting of "arcane" and "archaic" observances. What can be said, though, of those well versed in the minutiae and hashkafa of Orthodoxy, who, nonetheless, are lax in Torah observance, and are content with the body of knowledge they possess, for whom meticulous practical observance doesn't pique their interest?

I personally know some of these people. I believe that this type of laxity stems from the intellectual freedom Modern Orthodoxy espouses. You obviously can't suppress inquisitiveness and the desire to rationally arrive at the truth. Nevertheless, it's inevitable that doubts will arise, the lingering feeling of not being sure of the veracity of your beliefs.

People who are intellectually honest and seek the truth are considerate of divergent and non-conventional views. The strength of their conviction ebbs and they pay heed only to the more stringent and "important" of mitzvot. This, because they're comfortable with Judaism, having practiced and studied it in their youth, but now face difficult questions and, naturally, approach the mitzvot with less alacrity. Some, define their continued observance as a character quirk, a mere idiosyncrasy of their personality.

Godol Hador Responds
I posted on this point a couple of times. There does seem to be a correlation between Fundamentalism and Commitment. As you move from UO to MO to Conservative, the level of commitment drops. And this is not just due to ideological focus i.e. less focus on Halachah, officially MO requires as much Halachah as UO (except for chumros).

It seems that once you open up the brain to multiple ideas its hard to get as passionate about religion as people who have more simplistic fundamental attitudes. I haven't clearly figured out all the reasons for this, but it does seem intuitive.

This is definitely a very serious issue. There are some individuals who seem to be able to escape this trap. I know a few MO's who are tremendous Masmidim and also tremendously makpid on Halachah. But they are the minority.

So what's the solution? We need to keep the MO ideology but stress Halachah and Learning like the UO's do and give sharfe mussar to those who don't follow. Could such a UO / MO hybrid even work? Or would it be a hideous hybrid of frankenstinian proportions?

Has anyone tried this, institutionally or familiarly? Any Chareidi MOs who can provide any anecdotal evidence? (I assume Gil and Steve Brizel at the very least).

Is it possible to be Chareidi Modern Orthodox?

Torah, All Day and All of the Night

Ha'aretz has an interesting article on Lakewood. The following quote amused me:
A young scholar I spoke to said he left Yeshiva University after a single visit to Lakewood. "I was astounded by the level of learning. I didn't think that Talmudei Chachomim (talmudic scholars) on the level of those I met here existed anymore in the world. "It goes to show," he continues, with a subtle swipe at modern Orthodoxy's philosophy of joining Torah learning with secular studies, "If you combine Torah with anything else, it takes away from the depth of learning."
Duh. Of course if you combine learning with other studies it takes away from the learning. However if you reject all other studies, you end up an expert in learning, but a complete ignoramus in everything else. And sometimes the world of everything else and the world of learning coincide and then all that learning is not going to help you.

I think its great that some/many people devote their whole lives to learning. We absolutely should have people like that. However those people need to realize that they are experts only in learning, and need to defer to the experts in other subjects as the need arises.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Letter to Gary Rosenblatt

Whats with the Jewish Week? I like your paper but recently it has been rather pathetic. As Orthomom pointed out, you ran the Blue Fringe story without even mentioning that your son is in the band.

The 'top ten' joke spot on page 2 has to go. The jokes are bad, really bad. I could maybe take that kind of thing on Purim or April Fools day, but every week?! What are you thinking! Please cancel that column, it's not even remotely funny, and its not appropriate to have silly jokes on page 2 of any serious paper. It makes it look cheap.

Lastly, your back page colummn has really gone downhill. Two weeks ago was some silly piece about a guy and his black hat. Boring. Last week it was about how amazing the Five Towns is because they have kosher food. More boring. These columns aren't even as good as an average amateur blog post.

I'm not going to threaten to cancel my subscription, but you need to improve. Hopefully its just a summer thing.

Battling the Atheists Round Two

Well, we had some good discussions last night and this morning, until I had to go to a meeting all afternoon. While I was away, some fool calling himself 'nauseated' (nauseating?) posted some quite rude insults, and then faked a comment from another poster agreeing with himself. You dummy! Posting fake comments to agree with yourself kinda kills your credibility. Plus one of the kannoim tried to destroy my blog again. Fool! All you are doing is proving that you kannoim are a bunch of scumbags.

Anyways, I thought I did quite well against Ben-Avuyah last night, but Mis-nagid was a lot tougher today. We wasted a lot of time figuring out that Mis-nagid is not actually an Atheist, but simply has no opinion either way. I can respect that more, since there is rather a lack of clear evidence.

Its also possible than an Agnostic is not actually outside the pale. I saw somewhere (where?) that its only Strong Atheists who are outside the fold, but people who just don't know or have no opinion are still okay (though not ideal). I'm sure Mis-nagid will be glad to hear that.

Anyways, we kind of got off track, because my post was never meant to be a personal one. It was meant to be discussions of the generic issues, not people's personal opinions.

Here is a summay of where we got to.

I maintained that since my theory of G-d is no more or less unreasonable than the theory of no G-d, then its prefectly rational to chose to believe in G-d. The skeptics countered that there is no evidence for G-d, and making up the concept of G-d without evidence is in itself not rational. I could just as well make up the concept of a Giant Taco Chip, or maybe the Universe is a giant marketing experiment.

I don't feel that I made any significant headway in this argument (some might call this 'getting my butt kicked big time' but I much prefer the term 'lack of significant progress'), so let me try a different tactic.

Here is my new argument. Its an oldie but a goodie:

The universe shows signs of intelligent design. This does NOT mean that everything in the Universe is perfectly designed. Far from it. There is plenty of bad design (just look in the mirror). And of course everything might have evolved through evolution. However there is enough intelligence in human/animal design, and (maybe more importantly) in the fundamental laws of nature, to make it a reasonable assumption that this intelligent design had an Intelligent Designer.
The numerical values that nature has assigned to the fundamental constants, such as the charge on the electron, the mass of the proton, and the Newtonian gravitational constant, may be mysterious, but they are crucially relevant to the structure of the universe that we perceive. As more and more physical systems, from nuclei to galaxies, have become better understood, scientists have begun to realize that many characteristics of these systems are remarkably sensitive to the precise values of the fundamental constants. Had nature opted for a slightly different set of numbers, the world would be a very different place. Probably we would not be here to see it.

More intriguing still, certain structures, such as solar-type stars, depend for their characteristic features on wildly improbable numerical accidents that combine together fundamental constants from distinct branches of physics. And when one goes on to study cosmology – the overall structure and evolution of the universe – incredulity mounts. Recent discoveries about the primeval cosmos oblige us to accept that the expanding universe has been set up in its motion with a cooperation of astonishing precision.

Paul Davies, The Accidental Universe
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1982), preface

The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and electron… The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life… It seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life.

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 138-139
Ding ding ! Round Two !

9 Days of Debunking Atheists

During this period of the 9 days, when we mourn all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, it would be appropriate to stress Jewish unity. Therefore it would not be right for me to criticize my usual targets, Gedolim, Chareidim (whom we love) and right wing settlers. However, one of the basic tenets of Judaism has always been a belief in G-d, and rejecting this belief would seem to put one beyond the pale of any type of Judaism.

Being a skeptic and an iconoclastic, I can’t last 9 days without debunking something or someone, going without meat is bad enough. So I have decided to devote my 9 days to debunking the claims of the Atheists.

Of course I do not intend to prove the existence of G-d, that would be difficult if not impossible. Nor do I intend to disprove the Atheists, that would likewise be difficult if not impossible. But what I do intend to show is that Theism is just as reasonable as Atheism. It really bugs me when Atheists go on about how rational they are and how everyone else is just ridiculous for believing in some super-duper invisible G-d.

Even more annoying, they insist on linking to various ‘Fallacies’, most if not all of which are Fallacies in themselves. The final straw for me was when one Atheist started ridiculing the idea of praying to an invisible being. Enough!

Its time for the Atheists to get their butts kicked.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Divine Fallacy Fallacy

I'm really tired of Atheists quoting the Divine Fallacy at me. The Divine Fallacy is itself a Fallacy, and from now on when people quote the Divine Fallacy at me I shall simply provide this post as a link to the Divine Fallacy Fallacy.

So just what is the Divine Fallacy, and why is it a Fallacy? The Skeptics web site says that the Divine Fallacy is when someone says:
I can't figure this out, so God must have done it. Or, This is amazing; therefore, God did it. Or, I can't think of any other explanation; therefore, God did it. Or, this is just too weird; so, God is behind it.
So why is this a Fallacy? Because we all agree (Skeptics too) that the Universe (or Multiverse or whatever theory you prefer) is really quite amazing. And it's reasonable to assume that a really quite amazing thing such as the Universe/Multiverse/Whatever didn't suddenly just spring into being one morning from nothing (actually less than nothing, the absence of nothing), but rather it was created.

Created by who you may ask?

Well, its reasonable to assume that it was created by some kind of 'being' capable of creating a really amazing thing such as the Universe/Multiverse/Whatever.

The Skeptics now get all worked up because they immediately start thinking of the Judaeo-Christian conception of God and religion and it makes them real uncomfortable. So they invent Scientific sounding terms such as the 'Divine Fallacy' to make them feel better.

But ultimately, saying that G-d/Intelligent Being/Whatever created the Universe/Multiverse/Whatever is quite a reasonable thing to do. The Atheists can't accept this simple point, since like all true Fundamentalists they are unable to admit that people who hold opinions that are different than theirs might have a point.

Anyways, next time an Atheist quotes the 'Divine Fallacy' at you, be sure to quote him back the 'Divine Fallacy Fallacy'. You probably won't convince him (he is a Fundamentalist after all), but you might annoy him, and its always fun to annoy the fundamentalists.

What do the Gedolim, the Atheists and the Settlers all have in common?

Answer: They all say 'Taiku'.

The Gedolim say that the Science and Torah explanations are all kefirah, but when asked how they reconcile Breishis with Science, they have no good answer, they just say 'Have patience, one day Moshiach will come and all will be resolved.'

The Atheists criticize the concept of G-d, but when asked where did everything come from if not G-d, they have no good answer, they just say 'Have patience, one day a new Scientific theory will come and all will be resolved.'

The Settlers criticize the disengagement plan, but when asked what their alternative plan is, they have no good answer, they just say 'Have patience, one day something will happen and all will be resolved.'

Well I say, unless you have a credible alternative answer, don't knock mine. If all you can say is Taiku, I'm not interested.

Rational Choices

Seems to me that the basic fact of our existence is incomprehensible, no matter which way you look at it. Scientifically, why and how does anything exist at all? Religiously, what is G-d and why would He create us?

Either way you look at it, it makes no sense to us. The Atheists and the Theists are both faced with the same ultimately unanswerable question: 'How are we here?' There is no difference between having faith that there is some scientific explanation for it all, or having faith that some intelligent moral being created it all. Both are equal attempts at explaining the incomprehensible. Both are equally irrational to our feeble minds. Both require faith.

So which faith should one chose? The faith of Theists, or the faith of the Atheists? Well, the Theists have one important advantage; according to them, life has meaning. And faced with a choice of a meaningless, directionless existence, or a meaningful goal oriented existence, which do you think is a rational choice?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Rav Kook

The purely righteous do not complain about evil, rather they add justice.

They do not complain about heresy, rather they add faith.

They do not complain about ignorance, rather they add wisdom.

(Arpilei Tohar )

Rambam on Purpose of Halachah

There is a group of human beings who consider it a grievous thing that reasons should be given for any law; it would please them most if the intellect would not find a meaning for the commandments and prohibitions. What compels them to feel thus is a sickness that they find in their souls, a sickness to which they are unable to give utterance and of which they cannot furnish a satisfactory account. For they think that if those laws were useful in this existence and had been given to us for this or that reason, it would be as if they derived from the reflection and the understanding of some intelligent being. If, however, there is a thing for which the intellect could not find any meaning at all and that does not lead to something useful, it undoubtedly derives from God; for the reflection of man would not lead to such a thing. It is as if, according to these people of weak intellects, man were more perfect than his Maker; for man speaks and acts in a manner that leads to some intended end, whereas the deity does not act thus, but rather commands us to do things that are not useful to us and forbids us to do things that are not harmful to us.

However, [in truth,] He is far exalted above this; the contrary is the case … as we have explained on the basis of the Torah's dictum: "For our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day" (Devarim 6:24). And it says: "Which shall hear all these statutes [chukkim] and say: Surely this great community is a wise and understanding people" (Devarim 4:6). Thus it states explicitly that even all the statutes [chukkim, understood as mitzvot which seem to have no rational reason] will show to all the nations that [all] the mitzvot have been given with wisdom and understanding. Now, if there is a thing for which no reason is known and that does not either procure something useful or ward off something harmful, why should one say of one who believes in it or practices it that he is "wise and understanding" and of great worth? And why should the religious communities think it a wonder?

Rather, things are indubitably as we have mentioned: every commandment from among these six hundred and thirteen commandments exists either with a view to communicating a correct opinion, or to putting an end to an unhealthy opinion, or to communicating a rule of justice, or to warding off an injustice, or to endowing men with a noble moral quality, or to warning them against an evil moral quality. (Guide of the Perplexed III:31)

Friday, August 05, 2005

(With all due respect), Gil & Krum Get it Wrong

UPDATED: Gil updated his post, so now I have to update mine !
UPDATED AGAN: I see that it's all Krum's fault !

Hirhurim says:
I saw another blogger ask the question: Why do we do mitzvos?

The real primary answer, and not the one we give to people who are looking for something comforting or emotionally satisfying, is simple: Because God told us to.

The rest is commentary.
As I commented there, thats like saying 'Why don't we kill people? Because it's against the law. The rest is commentary'. In other words, the statement is technically accurate, yet entirely misleading.

The real answer to the question is as follows:

The reason we do Mitzvos is because they are the means through which G-d commanded us to achieve moral, ethical, spiritual and intellectual perfection in this world.

For more details please see the Moreh Nevuchim, Horeb, and many other seforim.

Update: Don't confuse the goal with the method, the 'why' with the 'how'. In other words, the ultimate goal is certainly our improvement as mentioned above, and the Mitzvos are the means to this end. How exactly each Mitzvah achieves this can be debated, and in some cases we don't even know the reason anymore. However this does not alter the fact that they do imrpove us, it just means that we don't always understand how.

Belief Summary Q2 2005

Some new people have joined the party recently and seem to be unclear about some of the discussions that have been going on here. One new commenter even asked if I believe Bilaam’s donkey spoke (no). So here is a brief summary of what I believe.

[Suprisingly, it turned out to be exactly 13 principles. Who woulda thought it?]

1. Breishis & Science
Does Breishis reconcile with Science? Of course it does. The Science of ancient Mesopotamia that is. In those days people believed the earth was enclosed in a dome (the rokiah), and that the suns and stars were embedded in the roof of the dome. (See Breishis Chapter I or the Enuma Elish for more details). They also thought that the earth was a flat disc, and it kind of floated above some primeval waters. Many people believed that this was all due to various gods fighting one another, so along came the Torah and said it was all due to the one true G-d. Much of the Torah’s account can be seen as specifically targeting the ancient Mythology (see Umberto Cassuto for more details). Attempts to reconcile Breishis (and Noach) with modern science are rather futile, since even a cursory understanding of Breishis and Science show this is impossible, unless you kvetch like crazy and really distort the peshat.

2. Shmos & Science
Shmos has a number of issues, including various miracles, plagues and a rather incredible amount of people moving through the desert, none of which is attested to in any other document or other archeological source in the ancient world, with some small exceptions (some plagues mentioned in the Ipuwer Manuscript). Also, its all Scientifically impossible too. It is possible to view all these events as natural occurrences on a smaller scale, but that does require kvetching peshat in various places in Shemos. Alternatively you can say it’s all a great miracle, as our tradition attests, and we have to ‘blieb shverre’ as to why there is an almost total lack of corroboration from other sources.

3. Chazal & Science
Chazal were great scholars, and were certainly closer to Sinai than we are, but they too believed in the standard myths and beliefs of their day concerning science and the like. This is no surprise, since they were not Scientists, but Talmedei Chachomim. The fact that Chazal didn’t know today’s Science is quite obvious, since today’s Science hadn’t been discovered then, plus Science didn’t come from Sinai either. In some cases, we have Halachot which were paskened on the basis of faulty science. We can either say the Halachah is wrong and should be changed, or that the Halachah is fixed and we can’t change it, or that the Science was just an ‘asmachtah’ and the Halachah is correct even if we don’t understand why.

4. Torah Min Hashamayim
There are a number of issues which lead some people to conclude that some or all of the Torah was written by man. These include the faulty Science in the Torah, the Documentary Hypothesis (DH), various contradictions and irregularities etc. Various theories have been proposed to answer this, including Rav Mordechai Breuer who says the Torah was davkah written that way, and Umberto Cassuto, who argued vigorously against the DH.

Debates on the DH are usually characterized by the pro DH side saying that the evidence is overwhelming and every single Bible scholar in the world agrees to it (in some form), whereas the anti DH side say the whole thing is complete and utter nonsense. In cases like these, I often think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but then others argue that no, in cases like these one side is completely and utterly wrong (typically the other side).

Some people (Hirhurim) say that parts of the Torah (Breishis) existed before Sinai and Hashem incorporated them (with some editing perhaps) into the Torah. Others (Halivini) say the Torah was originally perfect but it got messed up during the 1st Golus and Ezra had to reconstitute it as best as possible. Still others say the Torah evolved over many years. My opinion? Not sure yet. The kashyes sound better than the tirutzim most of the time. On the other hand, the prophecies in Devarim are amazing, and the Bible is one the most (if not the most) influential and best selling books of all time, (even outselling the Encyclopedia Galactica). What you might expect from the book that G-d wrote.

5. Kabalah & Zohar
Most of Kabalah is invented. This can be seen quite clearly in that at different stages in the last two thousand years, kabalah was all about completely different things, usually things that the Christians or other groups were interested in at the time. So early kabalah was abut the vision of the Chariot in Ezekiel. Later kabalah was all about the Angels and Heavenly beings. Later on the Sefiros were invented and then the Ari came along and had all sorts of new stuff (Lurianic Kabalah). There are some ancient traditions, but it has been conclusively proved that the Zohar was written during the 13th Century (albeit based on some of those ancient traditions). As to whether any of this at all came from Sinai seems doubtful, but luckily believing in Kabalah MiSinai is not one of the ikkarim. In fact, parts of the Zohar and Kabalah may be against the ikkarim.

6. Demons and Dibbuks
Incidence of belief in superstition, demons, angels, miracles and the like over the past two thousand years pretty much mirrors the surrounding population. So for example, in the 16th century, when there was a high incidence of supposedly ‘super natural’ phenomenon including demons, devils, saints etc etc in the Christian world, you find the exact same thing in the Jewish world, eg Stories of the Ari. In times when overall superstition was lower, there are fewer stories in the Jewish world too. For example in modern times, or even in the 11th -13th centuries, there were far fewer stories. The same applies to individuals too. Rational Rishonim such as the Rambam (who didn’t believe in Magic) had no miracles, whereas Mystical Acharonim, such as the Ramchal had all sorts of crazy stories with Magiddim etc. In general, I don’t believe a word of it, it is all clearly just the result of the fantastical imaginations of superstitious peasants and deranged individuals. The Golem of Prague was actually a late 19th Century invention.

7. Rationality vs Mysticism
Judaism was on quite a rational track in the 12th and 13th centuries, with the Rambam at the head. Unfortunately, Rationality wasn’t very motivating, especially in times of great tzores, such as most of the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18, 19th and 20th centuries. So the people turned to Mysticism instead. This is rather unfortunate, since most of Mysticism is quite bogus. In addition, many minhagim from the Ari and the Chassidim have made their way into mainstream Judaism (see DovBear for more details). As one wag said, Judaism is not about Chassidus and Mysticism. It’s about learning Torah in Lithuania.

8. The Gedolim
While we have been privileged to have some great Gedolim in the past, there are very few if any nowadays. The people commonly called ‘Gedolim’ nowadays are in fact a group of fairly extremist Rabbis, of various positions of authority, mostly Roshei yehsivos. Like Chazal, they are experts in their field (Talmud & Halachah), but cannot be expected to know about much else (e.g. Science). This especially applies to the ones in Bnei Brak and Lakewood, who are especially sheltered. Consequently their opinions on much of the above are quite wrong, and they cannot be relied upon. This is unfortunate.

9. The Chareidim
The Chareidim are a very dedicated group of Jews, who have an excellent track record on Shemiros Hamitzvos, Talmud Torah and Gemilus Chasadim. This track record is marred by an unwillingness to face facts, and also a propensity to idolize certain leaders and ignore any issues with their community. Their ideology is also fairly inaccurate. Still, we love them all the same.

10. The Modern Orthodox
The MO’s have a more accurate ideology, and a more sensible approach. However they are marred by the fact that a large proportion of people claiming to be MO are not that passionate about Judaism, and not that committed to Halachah or Talmud Torah. We love these guys too.

11. Conservatives/Reform
Conservative and Reform Jews are a great example of what happens when you try and pursue a very accurate and rational ideology and set of beliefs, fully consistent with all the findings of Modern Science: Everyone pretty much gives up religion. Why rationality reduces religious commitment is a very interesting topic and one which I think about a lot. As one wag said: ‘When people don’t believe in it, they stop doing s***’. We don't hate these guys, but secretly we do feel sorry for them.

12. Learning
Learning is very important. Contrary to popular (and my Rebbetzin’s) opinion, learning does not have to exclusively mean Gemarah in Aramaic with a Chavruso in the Bes Medrash. Learning can also be reading a book by Heschel in English on the Sofa. Both types of learning certainly absolve the practitioner from doing laundry, since as we all know ‘Talmud Torah Kneged Kulom’.

13. Mussar
Mussar is extremely important too. Mussar can also be found in many places, in particular the songs of Harav Pheival Floyd have some excellent mussar in them.

I hope you have enjoyed this light hearted (but very serious) summary of my beliefs. I know I have.

Good Shabbos !

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Chareidim and Gaza

A lot has been written about the lack of Chareidi support for Gaza. It's really no surprise, here are the reasons, in no particular order:
  1. The Gedolim haven't come out strongly against the disengagement, and are supposedly keeping the hordes at bay and not allowing any major protests.
  2. There are no Chareidim in Gaza. Why should they care?
  3. The Chareidim were never invested in the 'Greater Israel' philosophy in the first place. They have a more pragmatic view and are more willing to do a land for peace deal if it will save lives. This is one of the few areas where I agree with them 100%.
  4. They are secretly happy that the Daati Leuimi are losing big time, and that the DL's are getting dissilusioned with the State, and even saying that they should have stuck with the Chareidim. The sweet smell of vindication.
  5. The major protests are being organized by the DL's, and the Chareidim don't want to side with them.
  6. If all the DL's were pro the disingagement, you would probably see the Chareidim taking the opposite stance and screaming about how its completely ossur to give up even one inch of Eretz Yisroel. The same thing would happen if Gaza was full of Chareidim. Halachah is wonderfully maleable to your political opinions.
The level of rhetoric coming from the anti-disengagement side is embarassing. Its the kind of hysterical nonsense we are used to seeing from the Chareidim, not the National Religious. I guess it shows anyone can lose their heads when they get too emotionally involved in something.

With all the Holocaust comparisons, 'end of the world' feelings, suicide pacts, violence against the army and arabs, its getting totally out of hand. For the sake of unity the anti-disengagement side should tone it down big time.

Guest Post from Bishul Akum

Bishul Akum learns in Lakewood and is a regular reader of my blog. He has submitted the following guest post. The opinions set forth in this post are not neccessarily those of this blog. However because I love Chareidim, I would like to give Bishul a chance to air his views.

The enigma of two brothers

In the last generation we were fortunate to have 2 Gedolei Torah, RYBS and RAS. Their pedigree was first rate, their brilliance in all fields was unparalleled. They were known for their lomdus and their dikduk in mitzvos. They inspired the masses. All this is undeniable. Yet has klal yisroel ever produced such people who are claimed by so many different camps? As a prominent RY asked: 'What did they really hold?' Well, that depends who you ask.

For example, RYBS is portrayed by some, (such as Rav Shurkin, RHS and his own nephew R' Meiselman) as someone who was primarily faithful to his brisker rearing. Yet, in other camps, RYBS is portrayed as a bastion of modernity (e.g. Irv Greenberg et al). RAS was known to be so engrossed in learning, that he would get off at the wrong subway stop. Yet we have seen comments on the blogs that he advocated TV in the house as good chinuch and even enjoyed inane sitcoms such as "Who's the boss?".

The real question is, who were the real Solveitchicks?

If we were to look at RYBS from a purely scientific/psychological perspective, I would venture to say that RYBS exhibited all the traits of a classic "people pleaser" who told people what they wanted to hear. Of course, I am not saying he would distort halacha, yet his answers would be somewhat nebulous in order to leave people with the impression that heard what they wanted to hear. Interestingly enough, I have not heard this analysis from the crowd who were quick to embrace Marc B Shapiro's portrayal of R' Yecheil Yackov Weiberg as an individual torn "between the yeshiva world and modern orthodoxy".

Now, my personal belief is that RYBS was an Odom Godol as well as a very complex and deep thinker who was obviously misunderstood. Alternatively, one of the camps who claim him as their own are being disingenuous. Or perhaps a bit of both. Since it is not my habit to bash men who are far better and greater than myself,I choose to "blieb shver". As all people trained in the Brisker method of RYBS know: "one does not die from a kashe".

I Heart Chareidim

Recently, some people have accused me of hating Chareidim. That's not true! I just dislike them intensely. No, I am only kidding. Some of my best friends, relatives and chavrusos are Chareidim.

I grew up somewhat Chareidi and certainly see much value in that lifestyle. Any negativity on this blog towards Chareidim is directed at the ideology and NOT the individuals, (except for the kannoim who deserve it). If I have gotten carried away I sincerely apologize.

Some of the people I admire most in the world are Chareidi. They are passionate about religion, are meticulous about Halachah, (both bayn odom lamakom and bayn odom lechaveiro), and in general are a complete kiddush hashem in every aspect of their lifestyle.

In general, the approach of the Chareidim in many areas of life, their emphasis on Halchah, Mitzvot, Talmud Torah, Prishus etc are things that I admire. If there was nothing there of value, I certainly would not be blasting them all day long, I would be totally disinterested. You don't see me blasting Reform, because there's not much point. They do what they do and I don't have much sheychus to that. But I am very involved in the Chareidi world, and hence get annoyed at the flaws, which mar an otherwise very strong group.

Some people reading this blog don't seem to get that, and think that I hate Chareidim with a passion, more than I hate Arab terrorists. After all, I don't go and criticize the terrorists as much as I criticize the Chareidim, so I must hate Chareidim more! Please, don't be silly. Certain things I take for granted, maybe that's not so obvious to my readers.

Other readers are convinced that I'm a closet Heretic, or I am in denial of my Heresy. Again, that is not really true. I certainly have doubts and questions, but I basically regard myself as Orthodox, (even if the Gedolim might not.)

So here are my basic assumptions. I cannot validate or even defend all of these, these are simply my own basic assumptions that appear true to me, based on my life experience so far.

1. G-d exists. I feel that to be true. I also sense that even firm beliefs are subject to doubt, and currently I have enough doubts, so I am not too interested in getting into debates about it. Is that intellectually dishonest? I don't know. However it's my life and I can chose what to think about.

2. I was born and brought up as Orthodox Jewish (borderline UO/MO), the end of a long chain of people who did likewise. Therefore I consider that I have a very serious responsibility to continue in that tradition, and certainly not throw it all away based on some doubts. If it was ever proved to me beyond all doubt that the tradition was completely and utterly false, then I would re-evaluate. However since there are tens of thousands of books arguing every which way, I certainly will not give up such an important responsibility before reviewing all (or at least most) of them. At my current rate of reading, that will take several lifetimes.

3. I think ideology is important. AddeRabbi posted an article recently which argued that ideology is bad, and we should go back to a kind of mimetic based Judaism. I disagree strongly with that for reasons I posted on his blog. Ideology and beliefs are important. Of course, actions speak louder than words, and actual learning and gemilus chasadim are more important than talking about ideology. However this blog is about ideology, not about gemilus chasadim. Though we may talk about the ideology of gemilus chasadim, its unlikely that we will actually be doing any on this blog.

4. I have plenty of criticisms of Modern Orthodoxy too. I just haven’t gotten around to them yet! Its always easy to be critical, so I do try from time to time to be positive about things. I hope that the positive outweighs the negative. Anyway, I feel my responsibility is to defend MO against the UO’s. Other blogs feel their responsibility is the opposite, and that’s fine.

5. I would never stoop to personal attacks except in response to others. Hence the Kannoim, Frumteens and others who attack the MO’s and others are worthy of attacks back. But I have no interest in attacking individuals who are minding their own business, or who are not attacking anything that I am interested in. So corrupt landlords don’t really interest me, (except from an ideological perspective). Please refrain from such attacks here.

6. I don't hate the Gedolim! Not at all. I don't think they are idiots either. I just think that it's obvious they have their limited areas of expertise and that's all. I can't stand the way that Chareidim (whom I love dearly) elevate the Gedolim to ridiculous levels.

7. Some people have said that the songs are silly and distracting. That is the point ! Plus, they are quick to produce and fun to read (at least for me). If everyone really hates the songs, I will start a new blog just for them.

Water water everywhere, but not under the Earth

WARNING: Emunah Threat Level: High

The 3rd of the Aseres Hadibros says (Shemos 20:3):

לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל-תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ

Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
I never focused on the last bit before, but 'water under the earth' is clearly a reference to the ancient conception that the earth floated on a 'sea' of water, rather than the planet being a solid globe. 'Waters under the earth' does not mean the Sea. It may even be a reference to the 'Maayonot Tehom' or something like that. But whatever it is, its not scientific. There are no waters under the earth, unless you are talking about aquifers and underground springs, which hardly is the sense here.

And no apologetics such as Gosse theory will work, since we are not talking about Scientific theories concerning millions of years ago, but the basic geological structure of the planet. Also, with Breishis, some people answer the questions by saying that Breishis is all deep and mysterious anyway. But the Aseres Hadibros is not supposed to be deep and mysterious !

I suppose Nishtaneh Hatevah would work in theory, but that would really be ridiculous, to say that the earth used to float on water, but now it is a solid globe. I suppose you could take 'Mayim' non literally, and pretend it means 'Molten Lava', but taking the Aseres Hadibros non literally is surely a bit disturbing.

So what we have here is the Aseres Hadibros including a reference to what we now know is incorrect Science. Isn't that rather strange? I guess you have to say that G-d formulated the wording to appeal to the people of that time, who all believed that the earth did indeed float on water. Not such a great answer, but it's the best I have.


1. Waters Under the Earth: References for Water under the Earth

2. Deep Waters: Article about subterranean water deposits

3. Is Heaven The Sky? (Kefirah, but has some good pictures)

Gedolim on Gaza: What a joke

Yaakov Menken writes, regarding Gaza:
The great Torah scholars, the guiding lights of our generation, are (apparently) divided concerning the likely outcome of disengagement, but united in not speaking about it. ... [Contrary to what those guided by Western politics may think, true leadership does not mean making proclamations about all matters—even those of major consequence. A gadol needs to consider whether saying something will have a benefit, and also whether those with different opinions will stop seeking his counsel (or that of other gedolim) should he make his opinions too loudly known.]
Don't make me laugh. There are so many flaws in this one paragraph.

1. The guiding lights of our generation, are (apparently) divided
If the great Torah Scholars are divided, how can they claim Daas Torah? Its a binary decision, either leave Gaza or don't. If the 'guiding lights of our generation' can come to two mutually exclusive and opposite answers, then what use is Daas Torah? You might as well just throw a dice. The truth is, they don't know.

2. United in not speaking about it.
In other words, they don't agree, and rather than risk another embarassing debacle they would rather not say anything.

3. True leadership does not mean making proclamations about all matters
How silly is this? We are not talking about some inconsequential textbook relating acceptable hashkafos, but an extremely significant event affecting tens of thousands of Jews and potentially the entire country of Israel. And that doesn't warrant a proclamation from the guiding lights of our generation ???!!!! What a bunch of crap apologetics.

4. Should he make his opinions too loudly known
So Gedolim should only speak their mind when they think its a popular opinion? If they had true Daas Torah they would speak their mind no matter what.

Here is the real truth:

The Gedolim have no 'Daas Torah' which gives them any special insight. They may have excellent scholarly knowledge of Halachah, but they don't know zip about the disengagement process, at least not more than the average Joe, and probably much less. They likewise don't know much about Science, or anything else outside their Daled Amos. This is not an insult to them, just an obvious statement of fact. Why prolong this myth?

I saw a comment by Rabbi Emmanuel Feldman in an old edition of Tradition. He was talking about Gedolim cards (like baseball cards only less sporty) and he said something like this:
"Either we are the most amazing generation in Jewish History, or else the term 'Gedolim' has lost it's meaning".
It was pretty clear that he meant the latter.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A dedicated follower of Gedolim

They seek him here, they seek him there,
His views are fundamental, he's no kofer.
It will make or break him so he’s got to tow the line,
’cause he’s a dedicated follower of Gedolim.

And when he does his little rounds,
’round the shuls of Lakewood town,
Eagerly pursuing all the latest bans and trends,
’cause he’s a dedicated follower of Gedolim.

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
He thinks he is a choshuv yid to be looked at,
And when he pulls his silly nylon gartle right up tight,
He feels a dedicated follower of Gedolim.

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
There’s one thing that he loves and that is zealotry.
One week it’s the Indian wigs, the next week it’s the Zebu
’cause he’s a dedicated follower of Gedolim.

They seek him here, they seek him there,
On Seventh Street and New square.
Everywhere the Charedishe army marches on,
Each one a dedicated follower of Gedolim.

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
His world is built ’round Agudah Conventions and Moetzes.
This chumrah-seeking individual always tries his best
’cause he’s a dedicated follower of Gedolim.

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
He flits from shul to shteible just like a butterfly.
In matters of ethics he is as fickle as can be,
’cause he’s a dedicated follower of Gedolim.

He’s a dedicated follower of Gedolim.
He’s a dedicated follower of Gedolim.

To The Person in SUNY Trying To Destroy My Site

Can Prayer Affect G-d's Will ?

Can prayer affect G-d's will ? Many people will say that Prayer is for our benefit: it makes us realize how dependent we are on G-d, it teaches us gratitude etc etc. It's not really for G-d's benefit, since obviously G-d knows what our problems are and knows whats best for us and there's no need for us to tell Him.

However I don't agree with that assesment. Its quite possible that G-d operates differently. He has given us free will and the power to exercise it. He may have a long term ultimate plan (or goal), but certainly we have the ability to go where we want. Did G-d's original plan include the Churbans and the Shoah? Of course not. Through free will we took a particular path which resulted in the Churban and the Shoah. We can't relate to the world in any other way. It makes no sense to say that the original plan included the Shoah.

Therefore, I think it makes sense to say that just like G-d allows us our free will, then prayer might also be effective i.e. G-d will listen to our prayers and (sometimes) answer them, whether its good for us or not. Of course being G-d, He has total control, so the concept of 'being good for us' really makes no sense anyway, since G-d could manipulate everything around so whatever we prayed for turns out to be good for us after all.

So, its not neccessarily true to think prayer can have no effect on G-d. Maybe He does listen. And if so, then we should really pray for what we want. I don't want disengagement to fail, so I should pray for that. Alternatively, I could say that disengagement is not really what I want, its just a tactic. Ultimately what I really want is peace in Israel, so maybe I should just pray for that.

Still not happy about saying Shema at 2pm though.

World Wide Shema 2PM Today!

I saw this on the news:

An appeal has been made to every Jew around to world to simultaneously read the first lines of the prayer known as Shema: "Hear O Israel, The L-rd is Our G-d, the L-rd is One" on Wednseday.

The prayer is intended to ask for Divine help to prevent violence toward the planned expulsion of Jewish residents from Gaza and northern Samaria and for Divine intervention to cancel the plan. The prayer is organized under the motto, United We Stand, Divided We Fall.

The prayer will be recited at 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem and at 2 p.m. in New York.

My shul sent this around in an email, but said it was non denominational and it didn't matter whether you were pro or against the disengagement. So which is it? Is the Shema intended to cancel the disengagement or simply 'prevent violence'?

The Nafkah Minah is whether I say it or not.

Motivational Approaches to Halachah

Keeping Halachah used to be quite strenuous. Nowadays, if you were born frum, and live in a sizeable Jewish community, you probably barely notice it, except for maybe Hilchot Niddah and that kind of thing. Keeping Shabbat & Kashrut become second nature, you hardly even have to think about it. And most of the other Halachot just become habit. Of course it wasn’t always like this, and keeping Halachah through the ages was often a daunting concept. Naturally, at various times and places throughout our history the question of motivation has come up. How to motivate people to keep Halachah? I see three different approaches here.

1. The Servant Approach
This approach focuses on the fact that G-d commanded us, and ours is not to reason why. The highest level of being is to be a true Eved Hashem. I think this approach appeals to certain types of people, but not particularly to me. It has also fallen out of favor in recent decades, since society has become more about individuality and rights, and less about us being simple peons serving a King or dictator.

2. The Rational Approach
The Rambam and others went with the Rational approach. This approach determines practical and sensible reasons for all the Halachot. This is a great approach, except that sometimes those reasons no loner apply, and you are left having to keep a Halachah which doesn’t seem to make much sense e.g. Yom Tov Sheni. Not very motivational.

3. The Mystical Approach
The Kabalists invented the mystical approach, whereby each Halachah has some deep mystical and cosmic meaning. Shake a lulav the right way, and you can effect some kind of tikkun in one of the Sefiros (or whatever, it doesn’t really matter what). This is very appealing, since there is always a natural human tendency towards magic and the like, and this makes the Halachot very magical.

Nowadays of course, we live in an era of Machshavah Cholent, where various (and often conflicting) approaches are all mushed together into steaming lump of Hashkafah, so it’s not uncommon to hear all three approaches in the course of one shiur. I prefer the Rational approach of course, but I can see why the Mystical approach is so appealing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Goodbye Chareidim

It was early morning yesterday
I was up before the dawn
And I really did enjoy my pray
But I must be moving on

Like a king without a castle
Like a queen without a throne
I'm an early morning davener
And I must be moving on

Now I believed in what you said
Was the undisputed truth
But now I want things my own way
Not like in my youth

Like a ship without an anchor
Like a slave without a chain
Just the thought of all those ideas
Sends a shiver through my veins

And I will go on shining
Shining like brand new
I'll never look behind me
My troubles will be few

Goodbye Chareidim its been nice
Hope you find your paradise
Tried to see your point of view
Hope your dreams will all come true

Goodbye Rav Aharon, Rav Reuven
Will we ever meet again
Feel no sorrow, feel no shame
Come tomorrow, feel no pain

Now some really learn and some really don't
And some you just can't tell
And some they pasken and some they won't
With some it's just as well

You can laugh at their behavior
That'll never bother me
The devil is their savior
And I don't pay no heed

And I will go on shining
Shining like brand new
I'll never look behind me
My troubles will be few

Goodbye Chareidim it's been nice...

It's The Chareidim Again

It's the Chareidim again
Oh no, my Emunah is at an end.
Oh no, it's the Chareidim again
You know it's hard to pretend.

Oh no, it's the Chareidim again
Too bad I'm losing all my friends.
Oh no, it's The Chareidim again
Oh will my heart ever mend.

You're old enough some people say
To read the signs and walk away
It's only time that heals the pain
And makes your Emunah come out again

It's The Chareidim again
Oh no, my Emunah is at an end.
Oh no, it's the Chareidim again
Too bad I'm losing all my friends.

C'mon you little kofer
No need to get up and go far
C'mon you little kofer
And get back frum again
Oh get back krum again
Oh fill your heart again...

Depressing Trip to Barnes & Noble

I went to Barnes & Noble today.

I was overwhelmed. The number of books on every possible subject was awe inspiring. Even if each book contains only a few gems of knowledge that is still a tremendous amount of knowledge. And so much of it I don't know. And so little time to learn it all. Even the puny little Jewish section contained more books than I will probably read in the next decade. They had a tiny JPS Tenach, it could fit in the palm of your hand. And I don't even know Tenach! There are plenty of books in Nach that I have never learnt. A tiny little book, that could fit in your hand, the basis of our religion, and I don't even know it all yet! I came away very humbled, and not a little depressed. I am so ignorant it is painful.

The only consolation is that 99.5% of the world's population is even more ignorant than I am.

Top 10 Tips for a Great Blog

1. Title
The title of your blog is very important, as this will be your branding for ever more. There is a machlokes as to whether your blog title should be the same as your blogging name. I would say its okay if they are different, but don’t make it confusing For example, don’t call your blog OrthoMom but then post as MomOf4. (Or Call your blog Not the Godol Hador but post as Godol Hador.)

2. Template
There are various standard templates, most of which are fine. People said I was funnier with my old template, but I don’t believe it. But one thing is very important: do NOT under ANY circumstances use LIGHT text on a DARK background. Its unprofessional and makes it hard to read. Also, if you are a GUY, maybe you shouldn’t use a PINK color scheme.

3. Readers
You need to tread a fine line between being nice to your readers (even the rude ones), and caving in to reader pressure. Some people will pull posts or edit posts based on negative feedback. While customer satisfaction is important, if you go too far you look like a wimp with no values.

4. Theme
Themes are important, unless you are so incredibly interesting and funny that you can write about anything. You should think about the Theme of your blog, and what your goals are. If it’s just to describe you shabbos lunch plans then don’t be surprised if your readership remains low.

5. Humor
Humor is important. But, if you are not funny, don’t try it.

6. Regular
Being regular is important, as you readers will get to know your posting rhythms. It’s okay to post multiple times a day, or just once every few weeks. But keep it regular.

7. Filler
In order to keep a regular rhythm, it’s often tempting to post filler. There is a machlokes about whether this is a good idea or not. On one hand, it’s good to be regular, on the other hand, no one wants to read crap. Filler can be good at deflecting attention away from some objectionable post, or maybe a post which you want to hide from the masses.

8. Bait
Sometimes it is a good idea to post something controversial just to bait some commenters, or to provoke discussion. But this tactic should be used sparingly. If your readers get the impression that you are not serious, they may not take you seriously.

9. Work
If you have a job that requires actual work, blogging can be difficult. I would suggest moving to a new job which doesn’t require any.

10. Content
It doesn’t really matter what you write about as long as the post is one or more of the following:
  • Educational
  • Intelligent
  • Humorous
  • Bashing
  • Revealing
  • Slifkin

Mar Roziel Guest Post

So last Shabbat I decided to daven at KOE. I left my apartment and walked up Amsterdam Avenue. Along the way I bumped into Mishnaic Saducee and two of her friends. We enjoyed our walk together, discussing the influence of dikduk on Hasidique sheep farmers towards the close of the 18th century. After KOE, I decided to pay a quick visit to the Jewish Center, so off I went down Columbus Avenue. Along the way I stopped at the James Tower to pick up my friend, Kay Sera Sera, and we had an enlivening conversation about the similarities between the polemics of the Eastern European Maskilim and the announcements after davening at KOE. After the JC, we went for lunch at WonderWoman's apartment. We ate wonderfully, a nice Pinot Grigio, followed by some White Zinfandel and of course some Moscato D'Asti. For desert we had Malvasia. After lunch we went for a nice walk in Central Park, followed by another nice walk in Riverside park, followed by a not so nice walk up Broadway to Ramat Orah for Minchah, where I met Rebbtezin Yenta, Surfboard and PQR and we all had a marvelous conversation about mahahahahaloket and mehihihisot and of course diqueueueueduququq.

Tief as a Donut Guest Post

DovBore Guest Post

Yaakov Menken sucks. He is a GOP Jew. Toby Katz sucks. She is a GOP Jew too. Bush Sucks. He is not Jewish, but he is GOP. The Pope sucks. He is not Jewish, nor GOP, but he is a Christian. And they suck too. The Gaza disengagement people suck. They are not GOP, or Christian, but they still suck. My shteible sucks. They are not GOP, Christian, or Gaza disengagement people, but they are peasants, so they suck too. Did I mention that Yaakov Menken sucks?

Oh, and don’t you just hate the way that people in my shteeble say “Livshi Bigdey (pause pause) Tifartech Ami”. It makes no sense!

Stupid GOP Christian peasants.

ChareidiMom Guest Post

ChareidiDad took Chareid Kid to ChareidSchool this ChareidiMorning. ChareidAfter ChareidThat ChareidiI ChareidWent ChareidiTo ChareidiWork.

Ask Sheila Guest Post

Dear Gummy Bears,
You are so cute, you look like little bears. But you taste good ! You make me feel good when I eat you. One time I left a whole bag of you in the sun and you turned into a big gooey mess. But I still ate you, one glob at a time.

True, I know you are not always good for me. Remember the time I ate far too many of you, and certain activities bceame quite 'strenuous'? I vowed never again.

But I still come back to you. Your cute little bear bodies beckon to me out of the candy bins. Your journey from suger to molded sugar was well worth it.

Gummy bears, I love you.

Mini Vacation

I am taking a Mini-Vacation, and in my absence I have asked some of my fellow bloggers to post for me. Please welcome the following Guest posters:
  • Ask Sheila
  • Dov Bore
  • Sokatchover
  • Tief as a Donut
  • ChareidiMom

Frumteens: Joke of the day

Courtesy of this Frumteens thread where the Moderator as usual bashes Modern Orthodoxy as being a distortion of true yiddiskeit.
The truth is, I have been having worries and doubts about Modern Orthodoxy, now I'm sure of it. How can I become more religous?

With that sentiment, taon, you
have become more religious.
The rest of that thread is even worse. I prepared this post yesterday and just noticed that Hirhurim has a new post today which picks Frumteens apart on the subject of Gemarah for girls. Here is what the moderator has to say about RYBS:
His problem was that he misread the world. Rav Shach writes that he was influenced by his secular studies which corrupted his hashkofos, and thats what derailed his vision. But whetver the reason, he made a terrible error in judgement regarding the future of Orthodox Jewry in America, and whether that error was an plain mistake or the result of tainted hashkofos, he was considered a danger because he was misleading people. Not only was his teachings bringing some people up, but they were bringing others down to the level that he held was the maximum that could be reached in America.
Just in case I have any Frumteens readers, here is my list of why Ultra Orthodoxy is an even worse distortion of true yiddishkeit than Modern Orthodoxy is:

1. Acceptance of Shady Characters
There is a continous stream of news stories about respected members of the UO community being involved in all sorts of shady dealings. These people are rarely criticized or black listed in any way. The general attitude in the UO community is that if someone is UO (i.e. in appearance), then they must be okay. Of course, such shady characters exist everywere. But only in UO is there such an 'us vs. them' attitude that shady characters are defended. The Frumteens moderator himself is a shady character in my opinion.

2. Systematic Denigration of Other Groups
The UO comunity as a whole displays a disturbing lack of morals and ethics when it comes to dealing with other groups. The more 'frum' the community, the worse it gets. This is especially bad when it comes to dealing with non Jews.

3. Ideology based on Lies
Certain lies are perpetrated by the UO community in order to further their ideology. These lies include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Claiming false authorship of various works e.g. Zohar
  • Claiming texts which contradict UO ideology are 'forgeries'
  • Pretending that certain events w.r.t. certain Gedolim never happened
  • Writing fake biographies of Gedolim
  • Ignoring Scientific facts
  • Pretending that Chazal or the Gedolim are infallible
  • Pretending that all the Gedolim are Gedolim, when in fact many are clearly not
  • Discounting legitimate opinions and hashkafos in the Mesorah
  • Claiming that their ideology is the only one true way

Emunah Threat Level: HIGH

Having strong emunah in this day and age can be difficult, especially if you don't live in a cave on a remote deserted island. Some people have emunah simply because they shelter themselves from any emunah damaging thought, suggestion or book. But this isn't true emunah, it's just ignorance. What kind of s'char is there for ignorance?

It's important to be aware of what the current threats are to your emunah. I have therefore devised the Homeland Emunah Threat System. I have rated the current threat level as an overall 'High'. And here is why:

1. Emunas Hashem
Belief in G-d is still pretty strong. Despite a hundred years or so of G-d supposedly being dead, He is in fact very much alive and signing Bibles at your local bookstore today. Atheism hasn't really caught on. Science doesn't pose much of a threat, because no matter what it uncovers, you can always say, well G-d invented Science that way. Also, you always have the issue of where did everything come from. Plus, people want meaning in life and G-d gives meaning. So overall, seems to be a low threat.

Threat level: LOW

2. Emunas Torah SheBiktav
Emunah in TSBK has taken a lot of hits in recent years. Here is a short list of attacks:
  • Science proving that the beginning of Breishis is 'just' mythology: Elevated
  • Archeology and History proving that Shemos is 'just' mythology: High
  • Documentary Hypothesis claiming multiple authorship: Guarded
  • Issues with general style and content: Guarded
Threat level: HIGH

3. Emunas Torah SheBaalPeh
Emunah in TSBP has also taken a good beating. Here is a short list of attacks:
  • Chazal got science wrong: Low
  • Chazal believed in magic and other Babylonian superstitions: Guarded
  • Issues with credibility of TSBP: Elevated
  • Feminism claiming that the Halachah is irreperably linked to social attitudes of desert tribes living 3,000 years ago: Severe
Threat level: HIGH

4. Emunas Rishonim & Acharonim
Not doing too great here either, for the following reasons:
  • Great Rishonim like the Rambam clearly invented major parts of their theology: Elevated
  • Zohar and Kabalah also were inventions: Elevated
  • Bizzarre stories of miracle Rabbis hard to believe: Elevated
  • Sabbatai Tzvi story: Guarded
  • Machlokes R Yaakov Emden and R Yonasan Eybushutz: Guarded
Threat level: ELEVATED

5. Emunas Chachamim
Another area which has taken a hit in recent years:
  • Gedolim constantly denigrate people they don't agree with: High
  • Ridiculous bans of recent years, and process whereby they were obtained: Severe
  • Lack of general leadership qualities: Severe
Threat level: SEVERE

6. Emunas Am Yisroel
Although there are significant issues with Am Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel, we have a pretty good track record at surviving against all odds. The Romans, Greeks, Christians, and Germans all tried to destroy us, but failed. Looks like we are true survivors.

Threat level: LOW

Overall Threat level Rating: HIGH

So, in these trying times, with a High threat level of Emunah attacks, we must be vigilant. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend the problem will just go away. It won't, it will get worse. We cannot just arm ourselves with bluffs and fake proofs, when we face enemies with Weapons of Mass Emunah Destruction. We must face the threats head on in an informed and educated way and accept the consequences. We may lose some battles, and there may be many casualties. But there is no alternative.

We must win!

Micaan Ulehaboh

More Classic Mussar from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s
Micaan Ulehaboh by Rav Reuven Davies

Monday has come around again
I'm in a whole new place
With the same old faces always watching me

Who knows how long I'll get to stay
Could be a hundred twenty years
Of sweat and tears
And then its judgment day

Sometimes I slowly drift away
From all the dull routine
That's with me every day
A fantasy will come to me

Mitzvos are what I really need
Think I'll learn some more, Jewish law
And live more spiritually

Lately my learning hasn’t been so bad
You know how you feel
When it’s not real
I'm chazering all I had

Soon be like a man shteiging be’iyun
And learning from day to day
Always helping everyone

To G-d I’ll speak
Throughout the week

My life is full of penance

Guess I'll always have to be
Living life so spiritually
That's the way it's got to be
From now on

You’ll think I'm holy you will see
It's me for you, but not for me
Living life so spiritually
From now on