Wednesday, November 30, 2005

November 2005

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Christian Kiruv Clowns!!!

Watch this!

I have to say, these guys make Clownofsky & Gosseleib look good. I particularly like the Banana! And Ray Comfort! I love it. Why don't our Kiruv Clowns have such comforting names? Rebbetzin Faith Anne Joy? Rabbi Simcha Everlasting?

[Hat tip: Mis-nagid]

My Divinely Inspired Revelation on Divinely Inspired Revelation

In my previous post, a commentor noted that we can only know anything of G-d by Revelation, and that if you don’t believe in Revelation and Prophecy, then you should ‘bugg off’ (his words, not mine). This brings up the question, what exactly is Revelation?

And what exactly is Prophecy? And, while we are on the subject, what exactly is Divine Inspiration?

Well, it turns out there are 3 kinds of Revelation, 4 kinds of Prophecy and 6 types of Divine Inspiration. I shall now elaborate (just kidding).

We say ‘The Torah was revealed by G-d to Moshe’. But there is a whole spectrum of meaning to this phrase, ranging from the one extreme of ‘G-d dictated in an audible voice to Moshe every single word of the Chumash (believed by 1st graders and fundamentalists) to ‘We have the ability to intuit G-d’s will to some extent (believed by wishy washy Reform & Conservatives).

The Rambam’s language here is also ambiguous, and it’s clear from the Rishonim that no one really knows exactly how Revelation, Prophecy or Divine Inspiration works. Did Moshe hear an audible voice? Did the ideas just spring into his head? I sometime get amazing ideas that just literally seem to pop into my head out of nowhere. (The Koton Hador for example). Was that Divinely Inspired? Maybe every time I have the intention to do good I am being Divinely Inspired? How about Scientific Inventions? Last weeks New Scientist magazine had an article categorizing how various inventions got invented. Some amazing ideas just seemingly came to people in dreams out of nowhere. Is G-d really responsible for all the amazing Scientific discoveries (Can’t be, since Science is treife kefirah).

I don’t think anyone knows how this works exactly. So clearly, the key here is not in how it works, but that it does work. In other words, to be Orthodox, you must believe that when Moshe wrote the Torah (or whatever part of it), it is definitely a reflection of G-d’s will, and not just man’s will. I guess it is even conceivable to say Moshe (or whoever) made the whole thing up in his head, but that G-d planted all the ideas there in the first place, and still be Orthodox. (But I'll bet you can’t say that and still be Chareidi though).

Monday, November 28, 2005

Is G-d your buddy, or does He scare the heeby-jeebies out of you?

(Note: If you don’t believe that G-d exists, then this post is probably not for you.)

Try this experiment:
  • Focus on who/what G-d actually is (Supreme Ruler, Creator etc).
  • Focus on the fact that G-d is listening to your every thought
  • Do this all the time.
The result? You will go crazy. Nobody normal can do this. I tried and it’s paralyzing. Sure, if you see G-d as your benevolent buddy it’s not too bad. Heck it can even be quite comforting, to always have a buddy around to talk to. But if you focus on G-d being ‘Norah veOyom’, being ‘Melech Malchei Hamlochim’ and representing Middas Hadin, it’s just too much.

So how do religious people cope? Even great Gedolim seem to get along quite nicely. I can think of only three possibilities:

  1. They are not really thinking about G-d very often .
  2. They are not really thinking about who G-d actually is, but see Him as some kind of divine buddy .
  3. They are thinking about this correctly (to whatever extent), and the elevated madreigah they get to as a result of that enables them to function normally.
I think the answer for most normal people is actually number 2. (If I am just projecting here then this is going to be rather embarrassing). We think of G-d as our buddy. The Guy who has been with us all our lives. He knows our foibles, our mistakes, our sins. But He forgives us, because, hey, He knows we really mean to do the right thing. And even when we don’t, He still forgives us, because, hey, He’s on our side, not the other guys. I mean, the other guy is alright and all, but come on, you know G-d is really on my side. Plus G-d thinks we have a great sense of humor, and are generally cool (or pious, depending on your POV).

Does anybody not think like this?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Incredible Shabbos Light!

Defies Nature! Just stick it in your garden and find your way home!

Online Price: $24.95 (List Price: $29.95)

Product ships from December 9, in time for Chanukah!

An amazing, attractive, light that defies nature as it turns on just in time for Shabbos! No computer chips, no circuitry, this non-electric, patented device, defies the laws of nature to turn on davkah when it gets dark on Friday night! *

Now you will always be able to see clearly as you walk up your driveway on Friday night.

The incredible Shabbos light makes a beautiful gift!

The light ships in an elegant cardboard box and is recommended by leading Rabbi's
(Rav Moshe Halbershtam, shlit"a, Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlit"a, Rav Yosef Lieberman , shlit"a).


"Many times I find myself walking home from shul Friday night during the dark,… and I have absolutely no idea which way to face. Now I carry the Shabbat Light wherever I go." Mr. Jeffrey Berk-owitz

“Using my Shabbat Light right after Friday night davening has actually improved my focus and concentration. By knowing that I am not going to trip up on the way home, I feel as if I am so how more connected to the source” Reb Dovid Honig

“This is amazing! No matter where you are, it’s always shining it's light! Just like a yid himself, wherever he is, he is always shining his light.” Rabbi Yonah Yaffe, Jerusalem

“My children are amazing their friends, and testing them to see if they know where the light is coming from.” Mr. Larry Fuhrer (no relation to The)

"I must admit that I have never seen such an invention like this one. The Shabbat Light shines as if some special energy is forcing it to turn on". Arik Preisless

* Also turns on Sunday-Thursday and Motzei Shabbos too!

The Incredible Jerusalem Compass

Defies Nature! Just Open The Cover and Find Your Way Home!

Online Price: $24.95 (List Price: $29.95)

Product ships from December 9, in time for Chanukah!

An amazing, attractive, compass that defies nature as it spins… and stops in the direction of our prayers and dreams… Jerusalem! No computer chips, no circuitry, this non-electric, patented device, defies the laws of nature to point directly toward Jerusalem from any place you are in the world.

Now you will always know the correct direction for your daily prayers anywhere in the world.

The incredible Jerusalem compass makes a beautiful gift!

The compass ships in an elegant jewelry case and is recommended by leading Rabbi's
(Rav Moshe Halbershtam, shlit"a, Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlit"a, Rav Yosef Lieberman , shlit"a).


Many times I find myself suddenly having to daven mincha,… and I have absolutely no idea in which way to face. Now I carry the Kosher Compass wherever I go. Mr. Jeffrey Berlowitz

“Using my Kosher Compass right before davening has actually improved my focus and concentration. By knowing that I am really facing towards Yerushalyim, I feel as if I am so how more connected to the source” Reb Dovid Honig

“This is amazing! No matter where you are, it’s pointing towards Jerusalem. Just like a yid himself, wherever he is, he is always going to come home…to Jerusalem.” Rabbi Yonah Yaffe, Jerusalem

“My children are amazing their friends, and testing them to see if they know in which direction Jerusalem is.” Mr. Larry Fuhrer

I must admit that I have never seen such an invention like this one. The Kosher Compass needle spins as if some special energy is forcing it to turn in the direction of Jerusalem. Arik Preis

[GH: Wow! Are these testimonials for real? Lucky there is a haskamah from Rav Moshe Shternubuch, otherwise I would suspect this to be an invention of the triefe atheist reshoim scientists. But since when does a compass 'defy the laws of nature'? The mind boggles.]

Friday, November 25, 2005

The difference between G-d and Aliens

Someone emailed me recently wanting to know why I had stopped bashing Kabalah. He claimed that if I was truly a talmid of the ‘Rational Rambam’ I would surely see that Kabalah is all a bunch of phoney baloney.

My problem is that I try to be consistent, and logical, to the greatest extent possible (except when I don’t want to be, for whatever reason).In the spiritual plane, with respect to G-d, angels, revelation, prophecy etc., scientific evidence is hard to come by. Actually, let’s be honest, scientific evidence is completely non existent. But that’s okay, we still have faith. Mostly.

So the problem is as follows:

Once you are prepared to have faith, and jettison the concept of scientific evidence, where do you draw the line? If we believe in G-d, then why not fairies, alien abductions or Zoboomafoo? Is there any difference? How can we tell? Clearly, hard evidence and experimentation is not going to work in these areas, at best we have anecdotal evidence and the testimony of a small group of often hopelessly biased individuals.

I can think of a number of possible approaches:

1. Tradition

There has been a long tradition of G-d, angels etc. However alien abductions and fairies are relatively new. It would be foolish to believe in every boboh maisah that comes along, we should just stick with the ancient traditions.

The problem with this approach is that Jesus. demons, ghosts, dragons and Egyptian gods have also had a fairly long history. So do we believe in all these too?

2. Numbers
How about we go by the numbers? Very few people believe in alien abductions, but millions or even billions of people believe in G-d. So maybe the guiding line as to whether to believe in something spiritual or super-natural is simply how many people believe in it too?

The problem with this approach is that 2 billion people believe in Jesus.

3. Demographics
Maybe we should look at demographics? After all, most of the alien abduction fanatics are low class white trash living in the country. Very few if any Wall Street millionaires were abducted by aliens. Maybe if a belief is widely held in many different cultures by many different classes of people, that lends some veracity to the idea?

The problem with this is that it doesn’t work well for kabalah, which typically is only held of by fundamentalist Orthodox Jews, who even if they live in a different host culture, tend to be fairly homogenous.

4. Personal Intuition
How about we trust our personal intuition? We feel deeply that G-d exists, so it must be true.

Again, 2 billion people feel deeply that Jesus loves them, so that doesn’t help much.

5. The Torah / Mesorah
Some people might say that if it’s in the Torah (or the Mesorah), it must be true, and if not, then probably not. Besides the inherent fallacy of this argument, it doesn’t work for more practical reasons, since ‘in the Torah’ is tremendously debatable and not at all clear. Is magic in the Torah? Is belief in a 6000 year old Universe in the Torah?! Don’t get me started.

The patently obvious answer to all this is that there is no clear dividing line here. Once you dispense with the need for hard evidence, anything potentially goes. This is what gets the skeptics so disturbed when it comes to religion, and I have to admit, they have a good point.

Still, those of us who do have faith in the super-natural have a serious problem here. Just where do we draw the dividing line? There is an old story that a Rebbe once told his talmid – if you believe in all the Rebbishe (miracle) stories (or in our case, claims of religion) then you are a shoteh. If you believe in none of them then you are a kofer (or something like that).

I guess that’s the best we can do.

Somewhere between believing ‘all’ and believing ‘none’ makes you a good Orthodox Jew and not a shoteh, but where the heck that line lies is anybodies guess. And it’s kind of pointless to argue about it really, since there are no hard facts to rely on.

So this is why I stopped bashing Kabalah. Is there really much difference in believing in Kabalah MiSinai and Torah MiSinai? I don’t see any. And I always like to be consistent (except when I don’t).

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Comfortably Numb Frum

The other day I wrote:

Don't worry (or get excited, depending on your POV!) I'm not about to turn into a skeptic, I'm too happy with my Orthodox lifestyle in general.

One of my skeptic friends called me on this, and said:

“You're a phony. You're happy with your "Orthodox lifestyle" because it's about 2% Orthodox and 98% secular. …. If Orthodoxy was pressing in on your life from all sides, you'd take your skepticism and smack it back. [GH: I assume he means if I lived in Flatbush, Lakewood or Monsey I would go nuts. He’s probably right. Luckily I live in ModernOrthodoxVille.] You have the luxury of indifference because you're already 98% out the door. "

This is actually a very interesting point. How much of my daily life is actually Orthodox, and how much of it is actually a sacrifice? Sure, I spend some time davening every day, but that’s pretty easy. Not much of a sacrifice really. And even a non Orthodox person who believes in G-d prays occasionally, or often. And being an FFB I can ‘daven’ the tefillos of pretty quick, and all the while think of my job or my blog.

Then I spend all day at work, either blogging, or more recently actually working. I am surrounded by non Jewish co-workers, so not much Orthodoxy or even religion going on there. True, at lunch I can’t go down to the cafeteria, but with my Osem Meals To Go Pasta & Vegetables, I am in culinary heaven. According to my skeptic friend it’s probably harder being vegetarian than being Kosher in today’s America.

At night I learn or blog, but one can be interested in learning without being Orthodox, or even without being Jewish. Shabbat is great, I don’t think anyone FFB feels that Shabbat is much of a burden, in fact we look forward to it all week. Yom Tov is similarly enjoyable, and though Yomim Noroim davening, Kinnos and Selichos can get tedious, one can always bring a sefer to shul and spend some enjoyable time learning. And even fasting is quite healthy, especially after a Yom Tov binge.

I suppose some people find Hilchos Taharas Mishpachah and other Issurim in that area troublesome, but that’s a very personal thing, and varies from person to person. If your entire expectations and experience of marriage are within a Halachik framework, I don’t think these Halachot cause too much grief. Especially if you have a tiring day job and a bunch of kids running around.

So where is the sacrifice? Is there really much difference if I keep Halachah or not? The truth is, the direction of all my searching was never vis-à-vis Halachah. I am fine with the baseline of Halachah, it’s not a burden at all.

So why all the angst? If I am comfortable with Halachah and the Orthodox Lifestyle, what difference if all the claims of Orthodoxy are 100% true or not? They might well all be true, so it certainly makes no sense for me to drop any Halachic observance, especially when I am so comfortable with it.

I guess my real issues are not at all to do with Halachic observance. And not just because I’m fine with it, but even more so, I perceive a real value in it. I probably can’t justify every single Halachah, but the major ones certainly make a lot of sense to me. Shabbat just wouldn’t be Shabbat without a Halachik framework.

No. It’s not about Halachah. It’s not even about the Observant lifestyle in general. As an FFB I’m fine with that. I live in a Modern Orthodox neighborhood, and nobody really bothers me. Even the fundamentalists around here are a pretty friendly and broad minded lot.

But more to the point, the real struggles of life have nothing much to do with Halachah at all. The real struggles are to be spiritual, to love and fear G-d (assuming you believe in Him) to be good to people, to strive for integrity, honesty and other good character traits, to raise a family, to help your kids be the best they can be, to earn a living, to make a good name for yourself, and to live a fulfilling life. And that’s not a complete list by any means. Halachah certainly provides some guidance and guidelines in some of these areas, but for the most part, you are on your own. Any of the above could consume a lifetime of effort and struggle, certainly all of them put together should. And whether Breishis is Mythology or not, doesn’t really make much difference in this area.

So what exactly is bothering me?

I guess it’s more a question of existential angst. Here are some of the thoughts that consume my mind:

Just who is G-d? Is He really there, by my side, at every second, listening to my every inner thought, observing my every action? That’s a pretty frightening thought, if you really think about it. In fact, if I really really thought about it, wouldn’t I be completely paralyzed by fear?

Perhaps more importantly, what does G-d really want from us? When I read Tenach, am I literally reading the word of G-d, or has it been affected by Human imprint? Can I be medayek every word, or just hope to learn some broad lessons? When a Rishon (or Acharon) gives peshat in a posuk, can I take that as a mesorah from Sinai, again the word of G-d, or just the result of a serious scholar’s ruminations?

And is everything that happens in the world, or to me, part of some divine plan? Does Hashgacha Prattis really affect me? If I stub my toe is that a sign? Is anything a sign? Is nothing a sign? Did the Shoah just happen? And if G-d is running things, how on earth does that work?

And what will happen when I die? Do we really know anything about Olam Habah, or Techiyas Hameysim? And we are all going to die. Some sooner, some later. But one thing is for sure, it’s gonna happen. (Unless Moshiach comes first I suppose). Shouldn’t I prepare for that event, starting now?

And how can we even live our comfortable lifestyles in a contented way, when 60 years ago our relatives were being brutally murdered? Heck, how can we live our comfortable lifestyles when today across the world people are dying of starvation and suicide bombings?

These are the questions that bother me, and literally keep me awake at night. In fact, I would guess that these questions consume all serious religious people, of all religious denominations. Except for the fundamentalists I guess, who have it all neatly figured out.

I wish I did have the luxury of indifference. But I don’t.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Final Attempt At Explaining My Blog

Summing up several hundred (thousand?) posts in a few paragraphs is proving really difficult. No matter which way I phrase it, it doesn't come out right. You really have to read my entire blog, and also all the comments, and also all my comments on all the other blogs, and also spend a few years with me, to really understand where I am coming from. I guess all I can say is this: Life is complex and so am I. I enjoyed our discussions and learnt a great deal. Now it's time for me to move on. I got what I wanted, but if I were you, I wouldn't neccessarily learn any lessons from me, since I'm me and you're not. Except for you over there of course. Understand? (Cos I don't).


Never post late at night while watching a poor remake of the Poseidon Adventure

Oy. My post from last night was a mess. It didn't come out right at all. I received lots of angry and surprised emails from just about everybody. Well, at least I am an equal opportunity offender. My only excuse is that I was half watching a very poor remake of the Poseidon Adventure, and also that special on Global Warming. I know I should have been learning, but once every few months I do watch a bit of TV. (And look at the damage it caused! See, the Gedolim were right after all).

So here is what I meant to say:

1. My blog was about Hashkafah. Those individuals who think it was about trying to destroy Orthodox Judaism or Chareidism have gotten it wrong. Though I was a bit harsh about the Chareidim and their leaders early on, I stopped that and did Teshuvah about Pesach time. This is not to justify any of the activities of those people, just to say that my blog is not about that.

2. Although we have some very fine books about the conflicts of Torah and Science on the market, from a variety of authors, its also clear that there are a great many questions still unanswered. I pushed the boundaries of asking the questions and searching for answers, and I have to be honest, I personally was not too happy with what I found. Therefore, I don't recommend such a journey to those of weak faith. Your mileage may vary, and I hope it does.

3. I believe in Torah miSinai, just not all the claims of the fundamentalists. I think it should be possible to construct a version of Judaism which is non fundamentalist, however various people have tried that at various times and those versions often end up rather 'shvach'. It's hard to get the masses to be really passionate about religion without some fundamentalism mixed in there. It might work for the elite, but probably not for the masses. Maybe at some point in the future it will work for the masses too, I hope so.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Very Important Post


[I feel bad. My chassidim are desperate for some words of wisdom, or at the very least a Supertramp parody, and all I can give them is a cheap trick to boost my hit counter. So here is a real and very serious post.]

This blog has always had a number of different themes. The vast majority of my posts by far have dealt with Hashkafah, mostly Science & Torah, but also Spirituality, Learning Torah and other important concepts. The second biggest group of posts dealt with debating the skeptics, and trying to prove the existence of G-d, and the truthfullness of Torah miSinai. (I wasn't very successful at that). And of course I had the song parodies, which were about all sorts of fun things.

I also had a small number of posts about Rav Moshe Shapiro, Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, Rabbi Dovid Gottleib and some others in those circles. Finally, a very small minority of posts (about 7), under the Koton Moniker, were satirical pieces about the Gedolim and bans. In case you hadn't noticed, the Koton died around Purim time, and that kind of satire was never repeated. Unfortunately, in some quarters, I became famous (or infamous) for that satire, and people haven't realized that I moved on from that a long time ago.

So what do I really think about the Gedolim, and the Slifkin ban? I have no doubts that the whole process was really bad, and there's no need to go into that again now. However I also have no doubts that the Gedolim can decide to ban anything they like at any time. It may not be wise from our perspective, but it is certainly within their 'rights'. And, considering that there are no good answers to the Torah & Science questions (not just Breishis, but Shemos through Yehoshua too), I have to admit that their policy of 'ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies' is probably about the best they can do, given the circumstances. I can't think of any other strategy for them to employ, except possibly ignore the whole thing and pray it goes away.

Also, I never really bought into the whole 'but the Tiferes Yisrael said it' kind of thinking. Who cares? What difference? If the Gedolim ban it then it's banned. Of course you can always ignore the Gedolim if you like, but arguing with them on their own turf seems kind of pointless. Some people think the Gedolim are not aware of the Tiferes Yisrael, or R Shimshon Refoel Hirsch. I find that hard to believe.

The fact of the matter is that all the Torah & Science answers (Myth/Moshol, Nes/Nisayon, Kiruv/Kvetch whatever) only go so far. Typically, they leave you with even more questions. And, that's not even getting into the Documentary Hypothesis, complete lack of coroborating evidence for Yetzias Mitzrayim / Har Sinai, and problems with archeology and the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.

It turns out that the whole debate is really over whether one set of bogus answers is preferable to another set of bogus answers. Is Myth/Moshol better than Nes/Nisayon? I guess it's somewhat truer, but still ultimately not that satisfying.

So in sum, I don't really think there's anything to argue about regarding the content of the ban vis-a-vis the Gedolim. (Only the process). The only thing to discuss is how rational people like us should approach this subject. Given the state of Torah and Science answers, I have to say I might agree with the Gedolim in general: Just stay away. The more I have investigated, the worse it looks. Don't worry (or get excited, depending on your POV!) I'm not about to turn into a skeptic, I'm too happy with my Orthodox lifestyle in general. However I can see why someone who didn't grow up with it, perhaps a BT, or someone who is unhappy for other reasons, might be seriously affected by this stuff.

The counter argument is that at least we should try and answer some questions if we can, while acknowledging that we can't answer all the questions. Surely some is better than none? I'm really not sure about this, and I will leave it to my commenters to give their opinion.

Is it better to be blissfully ignorant? Or is it better to be on a lifelong, yet painful and possibly dangerous, quest for the emmes?

[UPDATE: This post came out a couple of shades darker then I intended. I guess I should add this: You gotta have faith! Otherwise all is lost. It's easy to get super cynical about anything and everything. But we didn't get to where we are today through cynicism. We got here because people had faith. Oh, and we need to do something about global warming. Big time. Thanks]

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cold Turkey

Click here.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Cold Turkey

This is an angry rant, which no doubt I will regret in the morning.

Some people think my blog was written by other people. Some people think my blog was written for other people. Some people think my blog was a conspiracy. Some people think I am biased. Some people think my blog was a trojan horse against Orthodoxy. Some people think I don't believe in Torah miSinai.

Some people are frikkin idiots.

My blog was by me, for me. I enjoyed writing it, and wrote what I felt, and what I thought. The primary purpose of my blog was to explore hashkafic questions that I had, and to do it with some humor. Why the humor? Because otherwise it gets damn boring. (Check out some other Hashkafah blogs for proof of this).

I was often deliberately provocative and extreme in my posts, in the hope of stirring up some good discussions. Boy, did that strategy work like a charm. Occasionally other people didn't like what I wrote, or what I thought. Occasionally I deleted posts and amended what I wrote. But 99% of the time I wrote what I personally felt and thought.

About the whole Koton thing. It was satire, get it? S-A-T-I-R-E. It was intended to let off steam and make light of some serious and annoying stuff. It wasn't intended to be a blog against religion or Orthodoxy. Many skeptics have said they loved it when I bashed the fundamentalists. But that doesn't make me happy, to be honest. I am against the fundamentalists because they are ruining Orthodoxy, not because I am anti-Orthodoxy.

Anyone remember my first post? Probably not, I deleted it in a teshuvah fit. It went something like this:

Hello World!
After reading all the other blogs out there, I have decided to start my own. If all these other bloggers can post any old crap, then why can't I? I shall be insulting the following people
1) Gedolim
2) Ketanim
3) Chassidim
4) Modern Orthodox
5) Other bloggers

I followed that with a post on taamei hamitzvot, and then a post against the skeptics, and then one against the chassidim. I figured baiting these groups would increase my readership. Boy did that strategy work like a charm. Baiting the fundamentalists only came later, whent the Slifkin story became a blogosphere hit. I figured I could get some mileage out of that one. Boy, did that strategy work like a charm.

But my real interest is Jewish Philosophy & Hashkafah, and of course The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Monty Python and old Supertramp songs. Funnily enough, it seems there are a quite a few other people out there with exactly the same interests. Except for Supertramp of course. It was great to communicate with you guys. It's a shame that I got diverted somewhat by the skeptics and the fundamentalists. I have only myself to blame for that.

The Hashkafic questions are endless and there are no really good answers, but lots of really good questions. The fundamentalist strategy is to ignore all questions completely, and the kiruv clown strategy is to give bogus apologetic answers. Hirhurim's strategy is to dive endlessly into the minutae of hilchos vomiting, and DovBear's strategy is to bash TobyKatz, YaakovMenken and Chassidim. None of these are great approaches in my opinion, and to be honest, at this point I don't see much value in any one over the other.

Many people have written to me begging me to continue blogging. Many people have written to me telling me that my blog helped them tremendously. Many people have written to me thanking me for my blog.

Many people are kind, thoughtful and good friends.

To the 'some' people, all I can say is, get a frikkin clue and grow up. The world is not a giant conspiracy. (Or is it? Buwahahahah).

To the 'many', I say thank you, it's been a pleasure, and good night.

Yeridas Hapilim

[From the desk in the kever of the Koton]

The Shoteh says Slifkin is an idiot for saying elephants don't jump, and that his own extensive research shows they do. And of course Slifkin is a kofer too, since Tosafot said elephants can jump, and Tosafot can't possibly be wrong!

Well, I have also done extensive research, and the shoteh is correct! Elephants really do jump, as this scientific study clearly demonstrates.

But Rabosai, any talmid of the Gedolim knows this is no kashye anyway. In the days of Tosafot in medieval France, elephants could jump with no problems at all. Just read Asterix & Obelix for proof of lots of great stuff that happened in ancient Gaul. However, due to Nishtaneh Hatevah and of course Yeridas Hapilim, nowadays elephants can no longer jump. It's poshut! The picture below shows an elephant from ancient Gaul, probably the type that Tosafot was familiar with. It certainly looks like it might be able to jump!

Yasher Koach to The Shoteh for proving that these fundamentalists really are a raving bunch of lunatics, with very bad middos as well. Is it really muttar to publicize private emails? How come the defenders of the fundamentalists are always such scumbags? Is this just a co-incidence, or is there some link there? Smarty, do you really want to throw your lot in with these people? I guess so, since with your rechilus spreading you have shown yourself to be a proud scumbag too.

UPDATE: Seems Rabbi Slifkin has actually had to defend himself on the heresy charge of claiming elephants don't jump: See here. Coming soon: Rabbis Slifkin and Student mount a rousing defence showing how its muttar (though not recommended for a true Ben Torah) to believe lice have babies. This is Torah!

(OK, back to Cold Turkey. Honestly. But this one I really couldn't resist.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


(Wow. 4,000 hits and all I have up is a photo with no text. Is this a record? Maybe I should post more photos?)

Message to smarty: Please email me. I have something important to tell you.

Getting so cold now

Wednesday November 9th Temeperature 60 above Winds from North East again

Getting so cold now, so cold ... (must turn down the air conditioning)
Out of supplies... only a few more hours left (till I go to the supermarket)
Finding it hard to breathe ... (maybe I should open a window?)

OK, I can't seem to let it go. Kind of like when you have a fun date call and neither of you want to end it first. 'You put the phone down first!' 'No you do!' No you!'. And then the other person does and you feel kinda let down. Or was that just me?

Anyway, it's been real.
Take care.

Why am I closing?

Just to preempt any speculation, let me tell you the real reason that I am closing. Of course the Rebbetzin, constant outing threats and lack of time to learn are all factors. But the deciding factor was this: I have new boss, and a new bosses boss. I met with both last week and told them I was being under utilized and wanted a more responsible position. They agreed! This means, that any day now I will actually get a real job. Knowing how this place works, I will be thrown in at the deep end and rather than end the blog suddenly at that time, I am closing down now. I will be sad to go, but it's the right thing to do.

Honestly, it wasn't the Kannoim. They are nasty people, but they are not a world wide mafia capable of closing down blogs at whim, so no need to be too scared DB. And my kids certainly were not threatened. They are not in any kind of school that would ever do that, nor are they ever likely to be. The only person who ever really threatened me was the Rebbetzin, but now I'm in her good books. Who knows, maybe I don't even need to do laundry for the next few weeks? [Rebbetzin: Dream on GH]

One Last Greatest Hit

Picking one last song was tough. Pink Floyd are the best, but I couldn't think of anything suitable. 'I did it my way' is an obvious one, but too sappy. I briefly considered Yngwie Malmsteen - Final Curtain, but no. I guess the honor will have to go to Harav Feivel Mercury:

I've paid my dues
Time after time
I've done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I've made a few
I've had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I've come through

I am the Godol my friends
And I'll keep on studying till the end
I am the Godol
I am the Godol
No time for losers
'Cause I am the Godol of the jblogworld

I've taken my bows
And my curtain calls
You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it
I thank you all
But it's been no bed of roses
No pleasure cruise
I consider it a challenge before the whole human race
And I ain't gonna lose

I am the Godol my friends
And I'll keep on studying till the end
I am the Godol
I am the Godol
No time for losers
'Cause I am the Godol of the jblogworld

By the way, my favorite ever song was 'I'm a Yeshivah Man' to the tune of the Kinks 'Ape Man'. If some guys from Landers or Bais want to turn that into a pop video next Purim that would be a great idea.

Last Will and Testament

Distribution of Commenters to Other blogs:
To DovBear, I bequeath Kishke, Dude and Bishel
To Gil I bequeath B Spinoza, Jewish Atheist and Mis-nagid
To Krum I bequeath LamedZayin
To LamedZayin I bequeath Krum
To S, I bequeath Satyaman, HAGTBG and Anonymous

OK, so I'm kidding. But I think my natural heirs are S primarily, followed closely by Krum and then Lamedzayin and Wolf. And of course DovBear and Gil too. Also I really think that Nachum Klafter, Y Aharon and anonymous could have great blogs too. Why don't all you Hashkafah guys band together and have one great big blog, instead of each one having a little itty bitty one?

GodolHador Brand Name
Quite a valuable piece of Internet real estate I think. Perhaps I should give it to Rachak to post yeshivish jokes? Not sure. If you have any good ideas, let me know. For the moment I'm hanging on to it.

Blog + Comments
I don't want to leave it up, yet I know a lot of people want it for reference. I think I will download the whole blog plus comments and zip it to a CD or something. Or maybe leave it up but disable new comments? Or maybe write a book, and have Yashar publish it and R Elyashiv ban it?

Making Fun of DovBear
That role will now be unfullfiled. Any takers? Seriously though, Duvy Bear is a good guy, he puts his heart and soul into his blog and it shows.

Calling out the Kiruv Clowns
It seems that BTA, Holy Hyrax and a bunch of others have taken on this role. But remember guys, I did it from a position of wanting them to be better, not from a position of wanting them to fail. Don't get too cynical, please. You won't find any better lifestyle or any better answers in skeptical atheism or deism. Some of you are doomed to search endlessly and always be in doubt.

That's life I'm afraid. Embrace it.

What have I learned?

As I close down this blog, I thought it might be useful to think about what lessons I have learned from this experience. In no particular order and straight off the top of my head:

1. I can write!
Honestly, I never knew. I hadn't written anything since high school, except for some technical reports at work. Also, I enjoy writing, and it comes fairly naturally. Unfortunately, the only writing I do in my day job is PowerPoint Bulleted Lists.

2. I don't know very much
I never cease to be amazed by how much some of my commenters and fellow bloggers know. (Unless they are all faking it like me) . I don't like to name names for fear of insulting anyone I miss out, but you know who you are.

3. There are a lot of crazy people out there
There are a lot of very crazy people out there. Maybe not so much crazy, but really stupid. But not IQ stupid, the scariest are the ones who are IQ smart, but say or believe in ridiculous, indefensible things. I don't see them so much here (I guess I frighten them away), but you seem them on Avodah and elsewhere. Very disturbing.

4. The trick is to portray confidence
I had heard this at a hundred management seminars and similar venues, but I never fully appreciated this until now. Just by having an air of absolute confidence, you can convince people of all sorts of things.

5. It's good to be honest
I always say that honesty is the best policy. Of course those of you who think I'm a huge liar will no doubt assume that this is a lie too. But it isn't. I have genuinely tried to be honest with everything I have posted (apart from some obviously fake stuff), carefully consider opposing arguments and give in when proved wrong. It just doesn't happen very often. Probably the biggest thing I was wrong on was the whole 'Kabalah is fake' crusade I went on. In the context of Orthodoxy, it doesn't make much sense or add much value to say Kabalah is fake. (Of course the Zohar itself was compiled in the 13th Century, but that's a different question).

6. There are a lot of frum skeptics out there
Sad, but true. There are a lot of supposedly frum people out there who are really skeptical. I'm pretty skeptical about some things, but I had a good solid Orthodox background and education, so it doesn't bother me to the extent that I am going to become an atheist or anything like that. But there are many people, especially BT's, some of whom I know personally, who lack that background. When skepticism hits them, they don't have the resources to fight it. This is a great shame, and I don't know what the answer is. I hope the Kiruv people reading this think about some solutions.

7. Catchy Phrases Rule
I claim credit for Kiruv Clown, Myth Moshol, Nes Nisayon and a few others too. By the way, Kiruv Clown was never intended to imply that all people in Kiruv are clowns. I know many people in Kiruv and they are excellent people. The poitn was to make fun of those few people who will say anythign and make up any peshat to reconcile Science with Torah. It really has nothing to do with Kiruv, but the name somehow stuck.

8. There is an ugly side to Orthodoxy
I've said this before but it bears repeating. I have been quite shocked at some of the things I have seen or heard about. There is a class of people within Orthodoxy who are really quite vicious. They appear to be all frum, but really they are thugs. Even well respected Chareidi Rabbanim have said the same to me, how shocked they were at how nasty some of these folks are. I won't name names, but hamayvin yavin.

9. My fellow bloggers (and commenters) are great
This is going to sound kinda sappy but I have really got to like many of my fellow bloggers, even the ones I seriously disagree with. If I start naming names, you can be sure the comments thread is going to turn into one big 'But what about me GH?'. But you guys know who you are.

10. There are a lot of Chareidim who want change out there
I get a lot of emails from people in the Chareidi world wo all say the same thing. They can't stand the way things are with respect to book bans, internet bans etc, but there is not much they can do about it. I guess it's hard to change something so deep, but really I am surprised that there is no intelligent Chareidi blogger who genuinely deals with these issues.

11. Blogging takes up a huge amount of time
To really make your blog successful, you need a whole heck of a lot of time. Writing posts, keeping up with the comments, writing comments on other blogs, all takes time. Some weeks I probably spent 40 hours plus on my blog. I guess if I got paid it would be a greatjob, but I don't. My time is much better spent on work (if they ever give me any), helping the Rebbetzin, and most importantly learning.

12. It's tough to be in the public eye
Even though my blog persona is fake, and even though I haven't said anything here that I wouldn't say to anyone I know, it's been tough to be in the public eye so much. I'm not really such a public person. I couldn't imagine being out there and having everyone know who I am. Not because I am embarrased about my views, but because I am a private person by nature.
I guess those people who are 'out there' relish all the publicity, I don't think I could do it.

So what have I actually learnt, from a learning point of view regarding Science, Torah and Judaism ? Well, I certainly have accumulated a ton of facts, but I have been unable to form any new solid opinions. The truth is, the only thing I'm really sure of is that there is nothing I'm really sure of.

Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Myth Moshol vs Nes Nisayon vs Kiruv Kevtch

As my blog heads inexorably closer to it’s demise, let’s perform one last analysis on the question of the decade:

Which is a better answer: Myth Moshol (MM), Nes Nisayon (NN) or Kiruv Kvetch (KK) to explain the contradictions between the first 11 chapters of Breishis and accepted Science ?

I. Contradictions
Here is a brief and incomplete list of contradictions between accepted Science and Breishit; they have all been explained in more detail elsewhere:
  1. The Universe is ~15 billion years old, not 5766
  2. The Earth is ~5 billion years old, not 5766
  3. The process of formation of the stars and planets took billions of years, not a few days
  4. The process of formation of the Earth took billions of years, not a few days
  5. The order of creation described in Genesis is incorrect regarding fish, animals and birds, plants, sun, stars
  6. Man evolved over millions of years, was not first created 5766 years ago
  7. Humans cannot live to 900 years old
  8. There is tremendous evidence of intelligent human life all over the planet stretching back tens of thousands of years, story of Adam and Eve being first humans not possible
  9. There is tremendous evidence all over the planet of there never having been a global flood or anything close to it, story of Noach as traditionally understood not possible
  10. Analysis of language shows that language developed over tens of thousands of years, did not result from dispersion after Tower of Bavel
II. Myth Moshol
Myth Moshol recognizes the incredible number of similarities (and differences) between the Bible’s account of pre-history, and other prevailing mythologies of the Ancient Near East (ANE). In particular, the flood story has many parallels to a sub plot in the epic of Gilgamesh, regarding Utnapishtim. It also recognizes the impossibility of reconciling the Breishis account with accepted Science. Myth Moshol therefore suggests that the Torah’s account of Creation and Pre-History were never intended as Scientific explanations of factual events, but rather as mythological explanations, designed to counter the prevailing polytheistic mythologies of the ANE, and to teach basic moral and spiritual truths. Myth Moshol has been suggested by various Rabbis, including Rabbi Hertz, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, and Rabbi Umberto Cassuto, former Chief Rabbi of Italy. This theory has also been popularized by Nahum Sarna and others, and is the commonly accepted explanation of Breishis by Non Fundamentalists. Non Orthodox people generally understand that the Mythology was written by Man, whereas Orthodox people understand that the Mythology was divinely inspired by G-d.

III. Nes Nisayon
Nes Nisayon’s goal is to preserve the literal and traditional understanding of Genesis, according to Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim. Generally Nes Nisayon accepts that the Scientific findings are accurate with respect to themselves, but suggests that there are overriding factors present. For example, the Earth, Stars and Planets could all have been created as fully mature entities, which would account for their apparent old age. Likewise, the light we are seeing today, which has traveled billions of light years from distant stars, in fact was created in ‘mid flight’, only 5766 years ago. Ancient relics such as fossils, cave paintings, dead people and so on, are all in some sense ‘fake’, in that they were created along with the fully mature earth, as typical artifacts that a fully mature planet would contain. Why would G-d do such a thing? Possobly to test our faith. Some proponents of this theory also question Science itself, and suggest that Science’s assumption that the laws of nature don’t change is itself flawed, since the Global Flood changed all the laws and therefore any analysis of Carbon Dating, Geology etc is inaccurate. Some aspects of the Genesis story were always understood as having been miraculous, for example Noah’s ark, but the suggestion that fake fossils and paintings were created is a new twist. This theory was first popularized by Phillip Henry Gosse in the 1850’s. The Lubavitcher Rebbe also suggested it in the 1950’s.

IV. Kiruv Kvetch
More recently, a number of attempts have been made to reconcile Breishis with Science by tweaking both the Science and the Text of Genesis. For example, ‘day’ might mean billions of years if you invoke the theory of relativity. The flood may have just covered part of the Earth, and the bible only talks about ‘all the earth’ meaning the inhabited regions of the world at that time. Kiruv Kvetch also generally includes a healthy dose of miracles where necessary. There are many different variations of this strategy, but all attempt to validate both the text of the Torah and accepted Science. The Liruv Kvetch theory is popular in Kiruv Circles, and has been popularized by such writers as Nathan Aviezer and Gerald Schroeder.

V. Conclusion
None of these theories really fit with the traditional understanding of Genesis, which had no knowledge of Modern Science. Depending on ones outlook, there may be a preference for one or the other.

Myth Moshol requires us to believe that G-d deliberately wrote Mythology in the bible. On the other hand, Nes Nisayon requires us to believe that G-d deliberately created fake evidence of an ancient Earth, and deliberately cleaned up any evidence of a Global Flood. The latter would seem to be more difficult to understand, especially since the notion that the early stories in Genesis were the direct word of G-d and are literally true is highly debatable, whereas all believers in G-d agree that only G-d created the world and everything in it.

Kiruv Kvetch has an admirable goal, though the amount of stretching that needs to be done at both ends can sometimes seem daunting. Generally Kiruv Kvetch fails on both counts, it is forced to stretch the meaning of the text beyond what it can bear, and it is forced to twist Science into some rather strange shapes, certainly not ones which are commonly accepted.

So, in summary, none of these answers are ideal. This author’s contention is that Myth Moshol is by far the most accurate of the theories, and is the best option of a poor set of choices. The questions raised by Myth Moshol (why would G-d write Mythology in the Bible) are really questions on matters of belief external to Myth Moshol, rather than difficulties with the explanation of Myth Moshol itself, which perfectly preserves both the apparent initial intended meaning of the text, and also all accepted Science, without any stretching required.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Heresy Hater Lives!

Someone called 'none' left this comment on my blog today. True life is even funnier than the Koton's best:

i've got a basic rule with science.
As time goes on we understand more and more about the present, but we understand less and less about the past.
When archaeologists conjecture about pottery, they really don't know what they are talking about. also the ability to date things back 6000 years hasn't been proven until we find something that has been calculated to be written in 4000 bc and actually says on it 4000 bc.
(i know that's impossible because they didn't start counting bc back then

Song to Gil

[With apologies to Air Supply, and of course Gil]

I was down my emunah was wearing thin
When you're lost where do you begin
My bitachon always seemed to drift from day to day
Looking for the faith that never came my way

Then you blogged and I reached out to you
I could tell you were searching too
One look and then it all ended for you and me
The moment you posted Gosse I knew that there would be

Too many loony people in the world
And it's affecting your mind
Out of all the loony people in the world
I just can't believe you're one of their kind
In your blog where nothing was wrong
Something finally isn't right
Now there's one more loony person
In the world tonight

Just to think what I might have missed
Looking back how did I exist
I dreamed, still I never thought you'ld sink this low
But nightmares do come true, I know 'cause there you go

Too many loony people in the world
And it's affecting your mind
Out of all the loony people in the world
I just can't believe you're one of their kind
In your blog where nothing was wrong
Something finally isn't right
Now there's one more loony person
In the world tonight

November 8th: Depressed and close to the end

November 8th. Temperature: 55. Winds from the North East again.

Getting harder to think now.

Had an argument with some crazy people today. They didn't have a leg to stand on, but being crazy people they probably thought they won the argument.

Running out of things to say, post ideas are running dangerously low.

I'm going out now ... I may be some time.

For G-d's sake, look after our people.

Hirhurim Negates The Mesorah


Hirhurim says, regarding Gosse theory:

Some have argued that since this was first suggested by a Christian, therefore Jews may not accept it. That's just wrong on so many levels that I won't bother responding.

That's kind of a srange thing to say. I thought we were concerned about Mesorah? If a peshat was invented by a Christian in 1850, doesn't that kind of make it just a teensy weensy bit not part of our Mesorah? Even if the idea had been thought of before by Jews, it certainly was not mainstream, and appears in no sefer before 1850. It certainly cannot be called Mesorah, by any stretch of the imagination.

I guess Hirhurim isn't into Mesorah. Cool! Then my Mythology peshat is 100% okay. Actually, it does have a Mesorah: Chief Rabbi Hertz, Rabbi Umberto Cassuto and Rabbi Shubert Spiro to name at least three people who hold of it. And they were even Jewish!

Thanks Hirhurim!

What The Gosse-Goons Don't Realize

Here is a short list of serious problems with Gosse Theory i.e. That the world was created looking old. (Note that Gosses original theory that the world was created in a mature state isn't enough to answer the kashyes on Breishis, it needs to be supplemented by a whole bunch of weird miracles to make it work.)

  1. It requires us to believe that G-d planted huge amounts of fake evidence.
  2. It doesn’t actually fit with the text of Breishis anyway.
  3. It doesn’t answer many of the questions regarding the Mabul, Migdal Bavel etc, or why the order of Creation is wrong.
  4. It has no real basis in the Mesorah, and in fact the notion of G-d deceiving us in such a way runs counter to normative Judaism (Navi Sheker is different).
  5. It kills any chance of rationally proving Sinai, since the nesayon theory can trump Sinai too.
  6. It raises serious philosophical questions regarding rationality and reality, and makes rational reasoning very suspect, if not impossible.
  7. It says, G-d would never lie to us in the Torah, but totally faked us out with his Creation, yet we know for a fact that only He was responsible for the Creation, yet there are many other plausible explanations for the Torah (e.g. Non Literal). In effect, you are more comfortable saying that G-d is a faker than saying that the fundamentalists are wrong. Weird priorities.
  8. It will make me ridicule you mercilessly.
The problem with Gosse is not just that it makes G-d to be a faker (though that is bad enough). The problem is that it's an entirely arbitrary, unprovable solution, specifically invented to answer a contradiction, using the kind of reasoning that can be used to resolve any contradiction, at any time, ever. I can just as well use Gosse type reasoning to prove that Sinai didn't happen, or that Zoboomafoo is really our creator.

In other words, it's worthless.

The Holy Zoboomafoo Speaks

Rabosai, all the evidence for your religion was planted by me. Why? Because I am a devious diety, and I like to mess with you! Anyway, who are you to question my ways? Were you there when I faked all the evidence? I think not. How can I prove it? Because my starting assumption is that everything I say is true. Why should you believe in me? Because otherwise you won't get into Olam Habamafoo!

Of course, my intention here is NOT to mock belief in G-d chas vesholom. My intention is to mock those who think that blind faith based on no reason, coupled with irrational arbitrary 'ness' explanations is a sensible approach to life. It isn't.

You have to use your sechel! Otherwise you may as well believe in Zoboomafoo. He doesn't require much, just watch his shows on PBS and you are guaranteed a spot in Olam Habamafoo, no questions asked.

I make a claim!

smarty says, regarding me:

I think my point is clear. He claims to be extremely knowledgable, but actually relies only upon his superior writing skills, from which he can easily mock and ridicule others.

This is a misconception which I would like to clear up, before I head into oblivion. I certainly do not claim to be extremely knowledgeable. In fact I often bemoan my poor education at the hands of my hopelessly clueless teachers.

I do claim however to be extremely sensible, (not to mention honest, dashing and modest) and able to spot bull**** from a mile off, in the dark, while wearing sunglasses and looking in the opposite direction.

I use my superior common sense (coupled with my excellent writing skills) both to convince my opponents of the correctness of my positions, and of course to mock and ridicule them when they say things worthy of being mocked and ridiculed.

Thank you.

Pottery & Paintings

[Artwork courtesy of Hakodosh Boruch Hu]

Image hosted by
Let's talk about pottery and paintings. There are many different pottery and painting styles from all over the world, and from many different eras. Australian aboriginal art is quite unique for example.

According to Gosse, Gosseleib and Gosse Student, any pottery and paintings pre 5766 are fakes, planted by G-d in the newly created world to make it appear old, presumably to test us. Any pottery and paintings post 5766 are real.

But wait a minute, the Torah recounts how the dispersion only occurred after the Migdal Bavel incident. So any pottery from say 5766-4766 years ago in Australia must also be fake. Did G-d create that fake pottery at the moment of creation? Or maybe later? I guess at the moment of creation, but it was faked to look younger.

But, isn't it strange that the real Aboriginal pottery which came later exactly matches the style of G-d's fake pottery which was buried in the ground from before? I guess G-d with His foreknowledge knew what style the Aboriginees would pick and davkah planted the appropriate pots in the right places. Or maybe the Aboriginees dug up the old pottery and copied the styles?

This means that not only is G-d in the business of dictating books, but also He designs pottery and paintings! I like the paintings in the caves in France, some very nice brushwork there.

And what about the global flood, for which there is evidence it never happened? I guess G-d cleaned up all the evidence, another ness of course. This one isn't really Gosse theory, but you need it all the same. Why would G-d make it look like the Mabul never happened? To test us of course! It all fits like a glove. Or maybe a straight-jacket.

And what about all the ancient civilizations which show continuous evidence of being around for 8,000 years or more? Were they created with false memories of history? Many of them only got their start after the Migdal Bavel, and certainly only after the Mabul. How did Noach's new descendants who branched out after the flood pick up all the pieces of the earlier destroyed civilizations and re-create them in the correct image? Thats a pretty cool trick. Those migdal-bavelians who were magically flown to the Americas successfully re-created Native American culture. Likewise those migdal-bavelians who were magically flown to Australia. How did they know what to do? I guess they dug up all the fake stuff and tried their best.

Oy vey. I am starting to sound like one of those skeptics. Do you see, all you Gosse-Goons, see what effect your insanity has?

Gosse Student

Oy Vey!

R Gil Student has clearly lost his mind. Maybe it was me tagging him as Conservative Chareidi in my previous post that did him in.

R Gil says (regarding Gosse):

Does this contradict the way God is supposed to work? I don't know. My general response is simply "Could be." Can the world have been created looking old? Could be. Would God make this elaborate fake-out to fool us into thinking the world is older than it really is? Could be. Hey, I don't claim to know how God works.

To which the only rational response is:

Does this contradict the way Zoboomafoo is supposed to work? I don't know. My general response is simply "Could be." Can the world have been created with fake evidence of Sinai? Could be. Would Zoboomafoo make this elaborate fake-out to fool us into thinking that Judaism is real? Could be. Hey, I don't claim to know how Zoboomafoo works!

R Gil, I like you, so listen up and listen well.

You cannot throw rational thought away with such wild abandon like that. It's insane. You cannot just create arbitrary theories to explain away contradictions. You undermine the basis for everything once you start doing that. Even the Gedolim have not endorsed Gosse. There is no mekkor ANYWHERE in traditional Judaism for the idea of G-d creating fake evidence.

Maybe you could find some support for the idea of the World being created at a certain age, like Adam. But certainly not for fake cave paintings, or clean up of a global flood. That's nuts. Gosse is not only insane, but a distortion of traditional Jewish values too. So maybe the mythology peshat is not so traditional either, but at least it's not insane.

Once you discard evidence for non rational arbitrary theories, there is no more room for rational discourse. I could make up anything at all and say 'Could be, could be'. Well anything could be, even the holy Zoboomafoo.

The point is NOT what 'could be'. The point is, 'What is most likely to be'.

New Strain of Orthodoxy

[Dedicated to S.]

Let’s face it. The views of many frum people such as myself, S, Gil, Lamed Zayin, DovBear, Krum, Responding, HATBAG, Rabbi A, Rabbi L etc. are hardly what you would call traditional Orthodox.

Yet, on the other hand, I think we all have a strong Yeshivah background, and fully buy into the ‘frum’ ideology of Torah, Avodah and Gemilus Chasadim and Halachah. It’s not like we dislike Torah, or want to just watch TV and Movies all day, go mixed swimming, eat in vegetarian restaurants or generally take it easy from a religious perspective. It’s just that we realize that some of the ‘truths’ of Orthodoxy are probably not so true.

We have discussed this in the past, and talked about creating a new brand of Orthodoxy called Modern Chareidi, or something similar. But that’s not quite accurate. Even Modern Orthodoxy has some fundamentalist ideological positions which are hard to defend. Our views are more akin to right wing Conservative, with Saul Lieberman and AJ Heschel and people like that being our role models.

Yet we all recognize that Conservative Judaism is a failure, at least from an Orthodox perspective. How many Conservative Jews are fully committed to Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chasadim, not to mention Halachah? Maybe there are some dedicated folks at JTS, but the vast majority of Conservative Jews make even left wing Modern Orthodoxy look like a bunch of religious fanatics.

What we clearly need is a synthesis of the ideology of Right Wing Conservative, coupled with the passion and religious commitment of the Chareidim. What we need is Conservative Chareidi.

Now who is with me on this one? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

OK, So of course I’m joking.

But not completely.

Why Gosseleib doesn’t work

I’m not sure everyone gets why Gosseleib is so wrong. Let me try and explain one more time.

Gosseleib starts from a position that he can convince any reasonable person of the truths of Judaism. He has a long, well researched essay where he shows that given the evidence of the claim of Sinai, plus the history of the Jewish people, any reasonable person will conclude that the Sinai claim is the most reasonable hypothesis.

In other words, his methodology is that a reasonable person, looking at reasonable evidence, will reasonably conclude that the evidence is good.

Yet, when it comes to Scientific evidence, which at the very least is certainly as strong as the evidence for Sinai, and really anyone reasonable will agree it is significantly stronger than the evidence for Sinai, suddenly he claims that’s no evidence, because its trumped by a literal reading of Breishis. So he invents this ‘Nes-Nisayon’ theory (or rather copies it from a Christian. I assure you that this theory has NO solid source in traditional Judaism).

So really, what we have is two sets of conflicting evidence. One set, for Sinai, and one set for Science. Reconciliationists like me do not find these two sets to be in conflict, and we can come up with some reasonable answers. But according to Gosseleib, it’s impossible that both sets are actually true. So he trumps Science with Sinai, and comes up with his wacky peshat that the scientific evidence is all fakery.

But if we can discount the very reasonable scientific evidence as fakery, in order to preserve the Torah, why not discount the Torah as fakery, to preserve the Science? If anything, that is a much more reasonable approach, since the Scientific evidence is so much stronger. And you can’t claim that the Torah must be true, because that’s the very thing he sets out to prove in the first place!

It makes no sense, and a supposed ‘logician’ as he claims to be should be ashamed to spout such nonsense. I still maintain that he’s just not that stupid, so it’s a shame that the power of the extremists is so strong, and his moral fiber so weak, that he caved in. It’s really quite pathetic, and a rather sad reflection on the state of things today in the frum world.

How can we answer the claims of the skeptics and disaffected BT’s when some of the supposed Kiruv Experts show themselves to be so foolish? What a bizzayon. Not only have I lost confidence in the Gedolim, but also in the ‘stars’ of the Kiruv Industry.

Is there no one out there with any sechel? (and still frum?)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Breishis as Mythology: Quote 1 of Many

From the writings of Rabbi David Walk:

the story of the exile and redemption from Egypt is the first time our nation interfaces with history. Genesis or Breishit isn’t really history. It’s closer to mythology

Rabbi Walk is Congregation Agudath Sholom's full-time Education Director. He is a tireless teacher and educator. For over 30 years he has taught students from third grade and up and conducted many classes for teens and adults. Prior to joining CAS, he served as director and teacher at Yeshivot Hamivtar in Efrat, Israel.

Born in Malden, Mass., Rabbi Walk is married to Debra Warburg Walk and has 5 children. He graduated from Yeshiva College and was ordained at Yeshiva Hamivtar in Efrat, Israel where he presently serves as Director.

Ten Peshatim in Breishis

  1. Everything in Breishis is literally true (unless the Gedolim say so), and is the revealed word of G-d at Har Sinai.
  2. Everything in Breishis is true and is the revealed word of G-d at Har Sinai, but some of the words should be taken non literally to fit with modern science.
  3. The stories in Breishis have a grain of truth to them, but they are basically mythology, revealed by G-d at Har Sinai to teach us moral/spiritual lessons, and are not intended to be a scientific account.
  4. The stories in Breishis are total mythology, written by G-d at Har Sinai to teach us moral/spiritual lessons and/or to counter Sumerian mythology.. They are not meant to be historical at all.
  5. The stories in Breishis are mythology originally written by the Avos under Divine inspiration, but were included in the Torah by Moshe at Har Sinai under further Divine inspiration (with some editing).
  6. The stories in Breishis are mythology originally written by early Israelites under Divine inspiration as a response to Sumerian mythology, but were included in the Torah by Moshe at Har Sinai under Divine inspiration (with some editing).
  7. The stories in Breishis are mythology originally written by early Israelites as a response to Sumerian mythology with no Divine inspiration, but were included in the Torah by Moshe at Har Sinai under Divine inspiration (with some editing).
  8. The stories in Breishis are mythology written by early Israelites as a response to Sumerian mythology, but were included in the Torah by Ezra under Divine inspiration (with some editing).
  9. The stories in Breishis are a late invention of Israelites as a response to Sumerian mythology at the time of David / Solomon, and included in the Torah at some later point by persons unknown, all under some degree of Divine inspiration.
  10. The stories in Breishis are a late invention of Israelites as a response to Sumerian mythology at the time of David / Solomon, and included in the Torah at some later point by persons unknown, with no Divine inspiration at all.
Certainly 1 though 7 are perfectly acceptable in Orthodox Judaism. I would also argue that as long as one believes in Torah SheBaalPeh from Sinai, then 8,9 and 10 are okay too.


Gottleib has a long article on why its rational to believe in Sinai. He brings all sorts of rational proofs about how it couldn't have been made up. It's somewhat convincing and well presented. But now I see that when it comes to Breishis & Science, all of a sudden the whole thing is a miracle. This is an extremely non-rational approach.

So why believe in Torah? Maybe some other diety, lets call him Zoboomafoo, davkah created false evidence that the Torah was given on Sinai, as a nisayon to believe in him? Is there any difference between these two claims? Lets say that Zoboomafoo has engineered most of history as one gigantic nisayon. Whose to say otherwise?

Once you succumb to this kind of insane, non-rational reasoning all bets are off. There is no more capacity for logical thought, or rationally proving anything. Maybe all the Gedolim are one big nisayon from Zoboomafoo? Maybe the Torah is a nisayon? Maybe we were all created yesterday? Everything becomes one crazy game of justifying impossible beliefs. I cannot believe that Gottleib is that stupid. He surely realizes this. I can only conclude that he is an intellectually dishonest coward, who has given into pressure from the Gedolim and the Kannoim.

A very sad day for Judaism, for Kiruv, and for Gottleib himself.

Pope has more sechel than Gedolim II

[Hat tip: Mis-nagid]

Evolution in the bible, says Vatican

THE Vatican has issued a stout defence of Charles Darwin, voicing strong criticism of Christian fundamentalists who reject his theory of evolution and interpret the biblical account of creation literally. Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the Genesis description of how God created the universe and Darwin's theory of evolution were "perfectly compatible" if the Bible were read correctly.

His statement was a clear attack on creationist campaigners in the US, who see evolution and the Genesis account as mutually exclusive. "The fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim," he said at a Vatican press conference. He said the real message in Genesis was that "the universe didn't make itself and had a creator".

This idea was part of theology, Cardinal Poupard emphasised, while the precise details of how creation and the development of the species came about belonged to a different realm - science. Cardinal Poupard said that it was important for Catholic believers to know how science saw things so as to "understand things better".

His statements were interpreted in Italy as a rejection of the "intelligent design" view, which says the universe is so complex that some higher being must have designed every detail.

Slifkin Witch Hunt

Here is a fascinating article comparing the Slifkin affair to the Salem Witch Trials. Pretty well written too. I would like to claim authorship but actually I have never read the Crucible. Here is a good quote from the conclusion:

The Charedi way of life is a reaction to the threats of the secular world. Perhaps it can even be justified as a necessary survival tactic for the simple-minded masses. Nevertheless, it is not ultimately authentic, and it can be just as dangerous in its own way for other types of people. The aphorism of “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” has never been more applicable, and it runs both ways in this case. The obscurantism of the Charedi world is harmful to the intellectually curious, and Rabbi Slifkin’s books saved the faith of such people. But, on the other hand, it was precisely the intellectual honesty and rationality of Rabbi Slifkin’s books which raised a red flag for others.

Perhaps the ban on Rabbi Slifkin’s books is best understood in the same light, as several people have already pointed out. Not as a halachic ruling based on the legitimacy of a particular approach to Torah, subject to debate on its intellectual merits, but rather as a social policy. There is no distortion of Torah in Rabbi Slifkin’s books; his crime was just the opposite. His books avoided the narrow thought-patterns that are critical to preserving a Charedi way of life. Rabbi Slifkin has worked hard to defend his writings as being fully within the parameters of legitimate Torah discussion. But the point is that they are not within the parameters of legitimate Charedi Torah discussion.

Charedi society has made a compromise in order to ensure its survival. The resulting system is, by its very nature, susceptible to the occasional witch-hunt. Such episodes cannot be condemned out of hand without appreciating that they are unfortunate side-effects of a way of life that has much to argue in its favor. Arthur Miller’s verdict on the tragedy of Salem is equally applicable here:

When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.

Gottleib endorses Gosse!

WARNING: Emunah Threat

[I'm really dissapointed in R Dovid Gottleib. I have been having a correspondence with 'Mark', a friend of his, and he was almost to the point of convincing me that Gottleib was a sensible guy. Then I saw this bunch of nonsense, where Gottleib endorses Gosse Theory (Ness/Nissayon).]

The age of the the universe according to science is approximately 13 billion years; the Jewish date is 5755 years since Creation. There is a direct solution to this “contradiction”. The real age of the universe is 5755 years, but that it has misleading evidence of greater age. The bones, artifacts, partially decayed radium, potassium-argon, uranium, the red-shifted light from space, etc. - all of it points to a greater age which nevertheless is not true. G-d put these things in the universe and they lead many to the false conclusion of a much greater age.

Let's first understand that G-d certainly can do this if He wishes. There is no logical impossibility in imagining such indicators of false age. Furthermore, something like this is part of the naive understanding of Genesis. Adam was created as an adult. Observing him a few minutes after he was created, we would assume him to be at least twenty years old: he was created with misleading symptoms of greater age than he possessed. The trees created in the Garden of Eden presumably had tree rings. Tree rings usually indicate the age of the tree, but in this case the rings are misleading evidence of age the trees did not possess. So the idea is not inherently absurd.

The usual response to this idea is: "Why would G-d do that? Why would He want to mislead us in that way?" Now strictly speaking we don't have to answer that question. Knowing why G-d would do it is not a prerequisite to asserting that He did it. Often we don't know why people do various things; that does not lead us to doubt that they did them! Nevertheless, even though we don't need to answer the question, we can. Briefly, the purpose of the physical world is to hide G-d's presence so that we can exercise free will. In fact, the Hebrew word for "world" - olam - means "hiding". So evidence which hides the true age of the universe since Creation would be part of the general policy of hiding G-d's presence.

Some people [GH: Me!!!!] are surprised by the idea that G-d would create evidence that would mislead people. Perhaps He will not give us overwhelming evidence of the truth, they think, but He would not create evidence that will lead to false beliefs. But this is a mistake. First – not having enough evidence of the truth can also lead to false beliefs. Second, G-d’s constant providence is hidden by the appearance of nature. The world looks as if it runs blindly, automatically. The truth is that events are guided by G-d. The appearance of nature leads us to miss this truth.

Of course, G-d does not condemn us to ignorance. He TELLS US the truth! And the same holds for the age of the universe. The misleading physical evidence leads to the false belief in billions of years. He reveals to us that this conclusion is wrong. [GH: This is insane]. A more sophisticated objection to the second solution is this. Can we not defend any arbitrarily chosen age for the universe by this logic? If we said the universe is 50,000, or 500,000, or 5,000,000 years old, we could always say that the evidence of greater age was due to misleading evidence put there by G-d! Doesn't this trivialize the whole project? It means that there is no objective standard at all for deciding how old the universe is!

The answer to this objection is as follows. Indeed, if we were to use this logic without any limits, it would trivialize all investigation in the age of the universe. But we are suggesting that it be used to resolve a contradiction between two generally reliable sources of information. Under these conditions it is wholly appropriate. I will give you an analogy. Suppose George is accused of murder, and we have his fingerprints at the scene of the crime, the murder weapon at his premises, and he has a motive. Suppose the only argument put forward by the defense is that George is being framed. That will surely not be taken seriously. To take it seriously would undermine almost all attempts to convict, since almost always it is possible that the defendant is being framed. But now suppose we have a witness who claims to have seen George 100 miles from the crime at the time when it occurred. Now we have a contradiction in the evidence. Now it surely would be appropriate to suggest the possibility of a frame-up and to investigate that possibility. After all, frame-ups do sometimes happen. Our case is strictly parallel. To suggest that G-d hid the true age in defense of any arbitrarily chosen age is wrong. But to use that suggestion to solve a contradiction in the evidence is perfectly appropriate.

Of course, this solution assumes that the Jewish tradition does have enough evidence to be regarded as generally reliable. I believe that this is true, but defending it requires a much larger effort. [See for example my Living Up to the Truth, at] In the mean time, given that premise, the analogy with prosecuting crime holds. Therefore it seems to me that this second solution is perfectly adequate to reconcile the two ages of the universe: the Jewish date gives the real age, while the scientific estimate is the result of reading misleading evidence.

[GH: I have lost all respect for him. If someone so respected in Kiruv can be so foolish, what does that say? Further damage to my emunah in these people.]

The End of This Blog Is Nigh

Sorry folks, but I am going to have close down soon. I was actually going to close down last week, but then the kannoim started causing trouble, so I couldn't, as it would have seemed like a victory for them. I will give it a few more weeks, but pressures from work and the Rebbetzin are really making it difficult to keep this up.

Are there are any topics that you would like me to cover over the next few weeks? Drop me a line and I will see what I can do.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Kannoipranos

Things seem to be heating up in the blogosphere. Some guy 'zooshoteh' has a crazy blog which is seemingly one long diatribe against Slifkin. However on reading it, it seems he dismisses Slifkin as a 'child who plays with animals', and his real target seems to be R Sholom Kaminetzky. I don't know R Sholom personally, but I know a few people who do, and they all say the same thing: He is an incredibly fine Talmid Chacham, excellent middos, highly intelligent etc etc.

This would seem to be further proof that this whole Slifkin scandal was more about people attacking the Kaminetzkys than anything else. I also heard that Reb Shmuel Kaminetzky is really broken up about it. In all the hullabullo about Slifkin (and I'm not trying to diminish his tzaar), I think we have all forgotten that really he is just a young guy. When the Gedolim and Kannoim brought out the ban, it was much more of a slap in the face to R Shmuel (and the other maskimim).

A new blog has started up which contains the following threat:

The Slifkin Affair is truly a sordid situation and an ugly Chillul Hashem. Recently, a blog was begun that makes several untrue allegations against a godol b'Yisroel. If that blog is not taken down in the next couple of days, extremely embarassing truths will be revealed about one of the kanoim.

He goes on to say the following:

YMK, RS, AP, NE, DO--do you think you are fullfilling Ratzon Haborei?
GO ask Rav Yisroel Elya if he agrees with the disgusting blog that has been posted that attacks Rav Sholom Kamenetsky--a beloved talmid of his. We both know what his answer will be. When will you be happy, when there is more Chillul Hashem, R''L? And why do you hide behind "observer"? Put your names out there.

This is getting interesting. Certainly a lot more interesting than my dull day job. Who are YMK, RS, AP, NE and DO?

YMK = Yaakov Kalmanowitz? I know he is on a vendetta against the Kaminetzkys. Not sure who RS, AP or NE are. DO, maybe Orlofsky? Doubtful.

UPDATE: RS = Reuven Shmeltzer, a sadly misguided individual. NE = Naftali Elzas, a well known trouble maker. AP maybe is LP i.e. Leib Pinter, a well known troublemaker and convicted criminal.

Anyway, tune in next week for another episode of the Kannoipranos!

Message to Morons II

Some moron has put up a blog dedicated to shutting me down. Don't you realize? If you insist on this nonsense I will DOUBLE and TRIPLE my efforts to stay around.

Accepting the Truth

When someone has a deeply held, but incorrect, position, it is only natural that it will take a while for that person to come around and see the truth. When an unsuspecting spouse is informed of their partner’s infidelity, when there is a sudden tragedy, or when a long standing religious belief is challenged – in all these cases the natural and entirely understandable reaction is one of disbelief and denial.

However as time passes, and the ‘proof’ for the startling news is undeniable, any normal sane person will eventually come around, and admit to the truth. Only emotionally disturbed people continue to cling to their former beliefs, for example when someone has gone missing and the family still insists they are alive, even after years have gone by.

There is a well known story in Science of how many scientists originally refused to accept the ‘Big Bang’ theory. Science had always assumed that the Universe was eternal, and that of course there was no moment of ‘Creation.’ When Hubble and others proposed the theory, it was met with great resistance. How could there be a moment of Creation?! Didn’t that prove the existence of a Creator? The idea was very difficult for Science to accept. Even the name ‘Big Bang’ was actually coined as a derogatory name by one of the opponents of the theory, Sir Fred Hoyle.

However, eventually, the scientific community came around, as the facts and evidence were incontrovertible. Nowadays, there is no mainstream Scientist who doesn’t accept the theory. I suppose the whole process took about 40 years, at the maximum, from the initial inception of the theory till its global acceptance.

Evidence for an ancient Earth is likewise incontrovertible, and has been around for about 200 years. Yet the Gedolim still refuse to accept it. Two hundred years and they are still fighting it! If the Scientists can have the yashrus to admit when they are wrong, why can’t our Gedolim? Of course a true believer will say ‘Because they aren’t wrong!’ But leaving such fools aside, the question is troubling to the rest of us. I personally do not believe that the Gedolim are so foolish as to not be aware of or understand science. They are a smart bunch of guys, for the most part.

The only feasible explanation is that there is a deliberate cover up of the truth, because they think their followers cannot withstand such a dose of reality. My theory may sound somewhat conspiratorial, but I do have evidence. I have had numerous conversations with various well known Rabbanim, and I have heard the same thing, over and over again. Rav X will tell me that of course he accepts science, and of course he realizes that Breishis is mythology, but he would never preach such a thing from the pulpit, because the masses are not ready for it, and it would cause too much harm.

I suppose you could say they are all lying, but for a good cause. An aveirah lishmah?

This being the case, we have to ask the question: Are the masses really not ready for this? (And if they are not, should I keep quiet?) Or, maybe all these Rabbanim are wrong? Maybe I should out all the various Rabbis who have told me this, and create such a commotion that the truth will come out once and for all? Well don’t worry, I would never do such a thing, it’s not right to out people when things have been said in confidence.

Still, it makes you think: What else have they been hiding?

Haredi Self Reflection

A few days ago I wrote that one rarely, if ever, sees Hareidim indulging in self reflection or criticism (apart from the usual loshon horoh mussar type stuff). Well, it seems that someone at the Jerusalem Post reads my blog, since a book review just appeared entitled 'Haredi Self Reflection'!

The sefer in question is called 'Eyes To See: Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust' (Enayim Lirot) by Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz, apparebntly a respected Haredi Rabbi in Brooklyn (not for much longer). Schwartz criticises the Haredi community for lack of appropriate response to the Holocaust, too many people in learning, lack of concern for bayn odom lechaveroh, lack of concern for dina demalchuso, and other similar issues. It seems he doesn't address Torah & Science though.

The book is published by Urim Publications, with more info available here, including some more book reviews. I applaud Rabbi Schwarz for taking such a bold move, unfortunately I would predict that his sefer will fall on deaf ears.


The Artscroll commentary on Noach is particularly stupid. Artscroll quotes the Emek Dvar to explain how the waters covered the top of Mount Ararat. The Emk Dvar ‘suggests’ that originally Mt Ararat (17,000 feet) was the world’s highest mountain, but then after the flood other mountains rose up to be higher. The Malbim adds that all the geological evidence for an old Earth is suspect, because who knows what the intense heat and pressure of the flood waters was, and what damage it might have caused? (By the way, this contradicts our friend Chayim, who claims the flood waters were magical mess-less-ness waters which left no trace at all.).

Was the Malbim a geologist? I don’t think so. In fact, I would suggest (with all due respect to the Malbim who was a great guy and all), that the Malbim didn’t have a frikkin clue about modern geology, or any other Science. He couldn’t possibly have. Plus his peshat couldn’t have been a mesorah, since in previous ages nobody knew about claims for an old Earth, so nobody would have thought to say such a peshat.

So what we have here is the Malbim making up a peshat, which we now know is patently wrong (Actually even back then people who had a clue probably knew it was bogus), and yet Artscroll sees fit to include it in their commentary. Does Artscroll think that anyone can take this stuff seriously? Does Scherman really think that the Malbim and the Netziv know better than all the world’s geologists?

And if they could be so wrong about something as obvious as this, what else have they gotten wrong? It really harms the credibility of our chachamim, Torah, and in fact our entire way of life when people perpetuate this nonsense. Do we really want such sheker in our sefarim? I could forgive the Malbim, after all, he lived in the mid 19th Century and had no clue about modern science. But Artscroll writing a new commentary in the late 20th century? Is there any excuse for such stupidity?

Message to Nosson Scherman

R Nosson, you need to print a revised version of the Stone Chumash and take out this nonsense. It’s not Torah, its SHEKER. Do you want to be responsible for spreading SHEKER? The Malbim had an excuse, YOU DON'T.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Message to Morons

Some moron is going around posting comments claiming to know my identity. I never confirm or deny such guesses. Recently there has been an epidemic of guesses, including Gil Student's brother, Rabbi Slifkin's brother, Rabbi Feldman’s son in law, and various other individuals. Apparently I am connected to someone famous. Hey, maybe I am someone famous?

Makes no difference, my posts are my own and represent my own views. If you don’t like them….. [all together now]


Good Shabbos.

UPDATE: I have had my best week ever! Over 12,000 hits in one week. This 'outing' is really good for business. Kind of like book banning I guess. Anyone else want to be 'outed' ? I'm sure it will improve your readership!

The Mythology of Breishis

It’s obvious to any normal, rational and educated person that the stories in the early part of Breishis are mythological. They cannot possibly be factually accurate. (I am not really interested in debating this point). We can argue about where exactly to draw the line, but no one normal would disagree that certainly all the stories in Breishis and Noach are mythological. (First 11 chapters). When it comes to Avraham we can debate somewhat, but certainly not before that.

Mythological doesn’t mean lies. It doesn’t mean entirely untrue. It means an account of some basic truths, wrapped up in a story. Clearly, since some parts are fact, and some are fiction, it can be hard sometimes to distinguish what’s what. However, once you realize what the goals of the stories are, you realize that this question is the wrong question to be asking.

So what are the goals of the stories in Breishis?

We can determine three major goals:
  1. To impart some key, fundamental truths about the Universe, G-d and Man.
  2. To specifically counter other prevailing Mythologies and any untruths that they present.
  3. To teach a host of general moral and ethical lessons.
When reading Breishis and Noach, it helps to have these goals in mind. Obviously the ancients had no clue about Science, Geology, Cosmology, Linguistics, Evolution etc, and the Torah does not attempt to teach such scientific subjects. The Torah is not a Science book, and if it had been, it’s original recipients wouldn’t have had a clue what it was talking about, and the book would have been a failure. Imagine Breishis being a Scientific account of the Big Bang – it would be ludicrous. Reading Breishis and trying to figure out where it is Scientifically accurate is entirely the wrong approach. It isn't. What you should be doing is reaqding Breishis and asking yourself - 'What's the lesson I learn from this story?'

Some people say, well at the very least Breishis could have gotten its facts right, at least with the small amount of facts that it does impart. For example, why is the order of creation wrong? Well, maybe so. But where the ‘facts’ are wrong, we can use that to realize that there must be some deeper message here, rather than simply some historical accounting of what happened.

Lets look at each of these goals in turn.

1. Key Fundamentals
The key fundamentals that Breishis imparts are well known:
  • G-d created the world and everything in it
  • Man is the highest level of being, created in the ‘image’ of G-d (i.e. intellectual and moral image)
  • Man is commanded to ‘conquer’ the world
  • All men are equal
  • Etc
These fundamentals are well known and understood, I probably don’t need to go into them here. Obviously Science has taught us a lot, but it certainly has never contradicted any of these key fundamentals. If we take something to be key, and then Science disproves it, it shows us that this was never really a key fundamental in the first place.

For example, the Catholic Church thought that it was key that the world was at the center of the Universe. It turned out to be false, and some people resisted this new information for a while. But we now realize that the Earth being at the center is not a key fundamental of our faith, and never really was. Likewise, some people think that Man being created directly from Dust is a key fundamental. But it isn't!

2. Mythology Debunking
What most frum people don’t realize is how much of the content of Breishis and Noach is really about debunking other ancient mythologies. Of course all the points above make a statement that debunks polytheism and so on, but there is a lot more than that.

For example, why does the pasuk specifically mention that G-d created the Tanninim? Why not mention Hippopotami, or Elephants? R Cassuto (and R Sarna) explains that other mythologies held that the great sea serpents somehow were involved in the creation of the earth, so the Torah davkas says that no, G-d created them. Likewise many other examples can be found in the works of Sarna and Cassuto.

To get to this level of peshat, obviously you need to be an expert in ancient mythology, which Casutto was. You rarely find this type of peshat in the classical meforshim, for the simple reason that they had no access to these ancient mythologies. In fact some of these mythologies (for example the Epic of Gilgamesh) were only relatively recently discovered in archeological excavations.

The Rambam was able to explain the meaning of many of the mitzvoth in Moreh Nevuchim by studying works of idolatry, and figuring out where the Torah was davkah commanding something to be the opposite of what the idolators did. Likewise, it can be very valuable to read the opposing creation mythologies (e.g. Enuma Elish) to see just how far removed from them the Torah is, and to see what the message of the Torah is. Many of these opposing mythologies talk about gods fighting with each other, and how the gods created man as basically a slave. The Torah’s vision is awesome by comparison: A single G-d created Man in his image, to perfect himself and the world.

It’s a shame that nowadays our Torah scholars are very ignorant of the outside world, and this kind of study rarely happens.

For those interested in further reading, I would highly recommend 'Understanding Genesis' by Nahum Sarna, and 'From Adam to Noah' by Umberto (Moshe Dovid) Cassuto.

3. Moral & Ethical Lessons
Finally, these stories are a treasure chest of moral and ethical lessons. These lessons are the exact same lessons learned out by all the classical meforshim. To learn these lessons it makes absolutely no difference at all whether the stories are historically accurate or just mythology; either way you can learn the same lessons! In fact, I once had a chavrusoh, a Rav, who insisted that if the stories were mythological then ‘kal vechomer’ they are more important as a source of moral and ethical lessons, since the Torah is not simply reporting a ‘maaseh shehoyoh’, but instead is davkah creating stories to teach you a lesson.

For those interested in further reading for these types of lessons, learn any of the Rishonim, and Acharonim. There is also some great content in many contemporary mefarshim such as Aviva Zornberg, Nachama Leibowitz, Leon Kass and others.

Only by realizing the goals of Breishis are we able to learn the true peshat in the pasukim.

Perish The Thought

Nov. 3, 2005

It is uncommon for the People of the Book to ban books - but that is precisely what three prominent rabbis of Bnei Brak have done. The ban was especially surprising considering who was responsible for the ideas in the banned book.

Rabbi Gedalia Nadel, who passed away a year and a half ago, was recognized in his lifetime as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, students of the Hazon Ish, Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, the undisputed spiritual leader of haredi Lithuanian Jewry in the Holy Land in the first half of the 20th century. Nevertheless, Rabbis Michel Yehuda Lefkovitz, Nissim Karelitz and Chaim Kanyevsky, three of the most respected spiritual leaders in the haredi world, felt the need to issue a warning.

"The greatness of Rabbi Gedalia Nadel, may this righteous man's name be a blessing, was known to all," wrote the rabbis.

"His genius was incredible and he was an exemplary model of Torah scholarship. As a student of the Hazon Ish he had an unwavering grasp of the truth of the Torah. Yet few could plumb the depths of his thoughts... Therefore we fear that ideas found in unauthorized texts or recordings will be published in his name. We hereby warn not to rely on any book published in his name by any other than Rabbi Nadel's family and students."

Betorato shel Rav Gedalia is the name of the book referred to by the Bnei Brak rabbis, which was published posthumously by Rabbi Yitzhak Shilat based on Nadel's taped lectures. Shilat writes in the preface that everything that appears in the book was approved by Nadel himself.
The book, banned last December, seeks to resolve apparent contradictions between science and Torah. Offensive ideas include sentences like this: "Regarding his [Rabbi Ovadia Sforno's] approach, that the creation of man in the image of God marked the end of a long process which started with a non-cognizant animal which gradually evolved until this creature was given a human mind... this is an accurate description. Darwin's proofs, and those of geologists, for the existence of early stages of mankind, seem convincing."

Nadel sees nothing wrong with accepting Darwin's theory of evolution. Even the proposition that man and ape have a common ancestor presents no theological problem for Nadel.
He also rejects biblical literalism in favor of science: "It is a mistake to think that all of science [e.g. carbon dating, geology] is wrong. Regarding issues of life and death - some of the most stringent laws in the Torah - we rely on the scientific method without doubts. When a doctor gives a drug that was produced based on scientific methods of inquiry or when a surgeon operates on the eye or the brain with the aid of sophisticated scientific equipment we rely on science. We do not suspect that these doctors are lying. There is no reason to believe scientists are lying about the age of the world."

THE PUBLICATION and subsequent ban of Betorato shel Rav Gedalia was followed just a few months later by another, similar ban. Three books by Rabbi Natan Slifkin - Mysterious Creatures, The Science of Torah and The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax - were declared heretical by many leading haredi halachic authorities and educators, including Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the most respected living halachic authority for the Lithuanian haredi community.

Like Nadel, Slifkin argues that Judaism does not contradict evolution. But unlike secular scientists, religious Jews believe the evolutionary process is guided by God. What appear to be seemingly random, natural processes are in reality the way God governs the world.
"We believe God is behind everything, but that does not mean that there cannot be things that seem superficially random," says Slifkin.

The other critical distinction for Slifkin that religious Jews need to make when embracing evolution is that man is fundamentally different from other creatures.
"The problem with evolution for many religious Jews is that man is depicted as nothing more than an animal. Judaism believes there is a qualitative difference between man and other living things.

"Our soul, our free will to choose between good and evil, make us different. Still, it is not problematic to say that physically we evolved from a common ancestor with apes as long as we believe we have a soul, a spiritual component, which apes lack."

Or, as Nadel put it: "Darwin's mistake was in his general perception, which dodged the question of how the stages of evolution were initiated. But with the recognition that the will of God is realized in nature, via God's messengers, there is no need to reject the description of natural history as presented by science."

Prominent Orthodox rabbis of the last century or two who affirm that the world is billions of years old, and that life has evolved over time, include Rabbi Israel Lipschitz, author of Tiferet Yisrael on the Mishneh, Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Schwadron [known as the MaHaRSHaM], Rabbi Zvi H. Chajes, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin.

Popular books in English such as Challenge: Torah Views on Science edited by Rabbis Aryeh Carmell and Cyril Domb and published by Feldheim back in 1976 made the same point.
Slifkin's books received approbation from several mainstream haredi rabbis including Yisroel Belsky, Aryeh Carmell, Yitzchok Adlerstein, Mordechai Kornfeld, Aharon Lopiansky, Chaim Malinowitz, Shmuel Kamenetzky, and Shalom Kamenetzky.

In Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox circles in Israel and abroad it is widely accepted that there is no contradiction between science and Torah.

Dr. Yitzhak Malka, a religious physicist from Hebron, trains teachers in state religious high schools to reconcile religion with science. Malka laments the lack of thought given to the integration of science with religion in the state religious school system.

"I first got started training teachers close to 10 years ago, after I realized that no one was teaching in ways that integrated science with religion. In most schools religious studies and science are taught as if they were two separate, unconnected subjects.

"In reality, science often allows room for God, for some form of intelligent design. Many scientists admit that there are no credible scientific theories to explain the origin of universe, that creation was a process not subject to human scientific laws."

THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION of Biology Teachers in the US has recently amended its platform to allow for the possibility of a designer at the helm of evolution, as cited by Lippman Bodoff, the modern religious associate editor of Judaism magazine in an essay entitled "Science and Religion: Are They Still Separate Worlds?"

The platform now states that "the diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution, an unpredictable and natural process." The evolutionary process is no longer described as "unsupervised" or "impersonal," but if Bodoff, Malka, Slifkin, Nadel and the others are right that science and Judaism do not contradict, why all the book banning?

One of the rabbis who approved Slifkin's books, but who preferred to remain anonymous, said the rabbis who banned Slifkin's books were concerned about the books' impact on the non-intellectual general public.

"I believe Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv makes distinctions between teaching these ideas on an individual basis and making them accessible to the general public," said the anonymous rabbi.
"I am sure that if Rabbi Elyashiv were asked if it were permissible to teach these ideas to a newcomer to Orthodox Judaism with a strong background in science to resolve his difficulties with a literal understanding of Judaism, Rabbi Elyashiv would allow it. But to open up the study of evolution to the general public is a dangerous proposition."

Dr. Malka agrees that there are certain dangers in the teaching of evolution.
"It is not the actual theory of evolution, rather what some people have tried to do with it that can be dangerous. Materialists have tried to prove from evolution that a man is nothing but a body without a soul. Or just a composite of DNA."

A senior educator at Machon Lev - the Jerusalem College of Technology, an institute that combines Torah with science - posits that "evolution is a science. It is a religion. Scientists use evolution to reject the existence of God without any empirical proof. In that sense it is a religion."

AS THE HARVARD evolutionary biologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould pointed out in an essay entitled "William Jennings Bryan's Last Campaign" in his Bully for Brontosaurus, Darwinism has been widely portrayed as a defense of war, domination and domestic exploitation.

"Scientists would not be to blame for this if we had always maintained proper caution in interpretation and proper humility in resisting the extension of our findings into appropriate domains. But many of these insidious and harmful misinterpretations have been promoted by scientists. One of the saddest chapters in all the history of science involves the extensive misuse of data to support biological determinism, the claim that social equalities based on race, sex or class cannot be altered because they reflect innate and inferior genetic endowments of the disadvantaged."

Gould, a secular scientist, recognized evolution had been exploited for the sake of various ignoble causes. Haredi spiritual leaders fear an evolution portrayed as a type of ideology or religion. These spiritual leaders understand that pure science poses no threat to Judaism, but they are unwilling to risk the intellectual fallout that could result from a misunderstanding of evolution.
"If I were gadol hador [the leading halachic and spiritual authority of the generation], I might react the same way to Slifkin's books," said the anonymous rabbi who stands behind his rabbinic approbation of Slifkin's books.

"The leaders of the generation are tasked with the responsibility of steering the Jewish people clear of spiritual landmines. The majority of people never even have to deal with these questions of science and Torah. That's why it will never become normative Judaism, at least not in the near future.

"But it is a shame that people like Slifkin have to suffer so much. They shechted [butchered] the poor guy. There is no justification for that whatesoever."

SLIFKIN, A THIN, pale Briton in his early 30s, relates how the ban and its ramifications have affected him.

"For the first few months I was a complete wreck. I am a sensitive person. There was a group of zealots behind the campaign who brought my books to the attention of the rabbis. Thank God these people were not physically violent. But nevertheless it was upsetting to be under constant scrutiny and pressure," he said.

"At one point I was thrown out of my synagogue in Beit Shemesh temporarily. Nasty rumors circulated that I had been kicked out of yeshiva or that I had withdrawn my children from religious schools."

The rabbi who provided Slifkin's books with rabbinic approval said the attack on Slifkin is a tragedy for two reasons. The first is that haredi rabbis ended up looking foolish for banning ideas that have been proved scientifically.

"As a result, they lost respect and legitimacy. The next time these rabbis come out with a public decree, some will think twice before listening to them. Besides, Slifkin's books are more in demand than ever before."

The other danger is to those religious Jews who are not satisfied with the traditional answers to questions about science and religion.

"Some Jews will be scared away from Orthodoxy," said the anonymous rabbi. "I believe people should be allowed to retain their individuality. They should not be asked to behave like robots. I don't expect books like Slifkin's or Nadel's to become part of normative haredi Judaism. But these ideas should be made available to those who ask the questions."

The educator at Machon Lev agrees that answers should be provided, but believes the apparent contradiction between science and religion is not a burning issue for most religious youth.
"A century ago the contradiction destroyed the spirituality of thousands of Jews. But today there are many religious scientists and professors who have refuted supposed inconsistencies.
"I think what truly bothers contemporary religious youth is a much more personal, existential question. The real thinkers are concerned with why they were put on this earth and what they are supposed to do here."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Modern Orthodox Maskilim


HY said:

I have a suggestion: Forget about the idiots and build up your own Judaism. One of my main problems with the MO world is that they destroy without ever building. I wish some of its most brilliant minds would enter the field of building a positive exciting religion instead of just destroying the myth laden old one.

Look at the heroes of MO. RSRH, Rambam etc. They wrote excitedly about religion. While MO academics play an extremely important role, we also need works by various people strongly advocating a point of view, not just treatises that give us a survey of the 30 or so views held over the centuries. I want intelligent MO champions of religion.

I wish we could get such works by people like Marc Shapiro, S. Leiman, Prof. Bernstein etc.

I suggest the same to you. Stop just being cynical. At a certain point, you need to build too. Read the excellent short story by Peretz where the main character is a brilliant but skeptical yeshiva student. Whatever a rabbi or anyone said, he could destroy. Finally, a rabbi tells him that the world is divided into positive and negative. He tells this boy that yes, he can destroy anyone else's arguments. But how about the positive? Can he contribute anything there? Can he offer any positive ideas? The boy is silent and knows not what to say. The story goes on for several pages longer and is very interesting and worth reading. (I forget the name of the story -- but it's a relatively long short story.)

I give the same advice to you (and myself). Forget about the idiots (and the smart people who hold idiotic ideas). Nothing will ever convince these people. They will believe to their dying day that lice come from meat for example. These people have other wonderful qualities (sometimes more than us thinkers and skeptics, which bothers me somewhat - why should that be). Start reading and thinking for yourself and debate only intellectually "normal" people.

HY 11.03.05 - 3:43 pm #

Very interesting comment. I would respond as follows:

I have been trying to build up a rational version of Judaism. The only problem is that someone else got there before me and called it 'Conservative', and now it has a bad name. This is probably the reason why the MO intellectuals don't try it either.

But seriously though, it might be possible to build a more rational form of Orthodoxy, but it will be very tricky. Some of the ikkarim will have to be 'explained away' somewhat, which is a major taboo. Funny how the biggest 'apikores' of all the Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim defines our belief system.

In a strange kind of way, I guess this makes sense. It's kind of like the ex-hackers being hired as security experts. Who better than a hacker to test your security? And who better to tell you whats not apikorsus than an apikores himself!

Also, if I only debate "intellectually normal" people, that would only leave me, S and maybe anonymous debating, and I'm not too sure about S or anonymous either! But you know I actually enjoy debating with the idiots. It's kind of fun. At least I get to win the arguments, unlike when I debate with the Skeptics. How come all the true believers are idiots and the skeptics are all smart people? On second thoughts, don't answer that question.

Meanwhile, S posts a similar thought, that many of us are quite similar to the Maskilim of old, except that we are frum (though many of them were too).

So, what to do about all this?

One idea I had is to force a revolution. I could 'out' all the people I know in the RW MO/LW UO Orthodox world who hold truly un-Orthodox views (I'm talking about Rabbanim, not bloggers), and force them to confront the truth. They would then be ostracized from Chareidi Orthodoxy and be forced to hang with the LW MO's and create a new strain.

I call this strain Modern Orthodox Maskil. Who'se in?

Yetzer Tov Drugs

AddeRabbi has a remarkably open post about living with ADD and taking Zoloft. This brings up a whole host of issues. Last year, I went through a really stressful project at work. It was crazy, everyone was losing their cool and lots of people got into fights. One of my collegaues remained amazingly calm and relaxed throughout the whole ordeal. One day I asked him what his secret was. He replied 'Drugs!' and I laughed at his joke. But then he looked me in the eye and said that he was being serious. He was an overly panicky guy, and had been taking Zoloft or something similar for a while. He swore by it.

I suppose I could get a prescription to something like that. It would probably make me calmer, happier and maybe less bothered about things such as stupid bosses (or bans or laundry duties). But two things concern me: Firstly, will I turn into a mindless zombie and lose my edge? Secondly, if I take drugs to be a better person, do I get schar for that? Imagine if I could take a drug to get the equivalent of a full frontal lobotomy (takes away all anger and desire for violence). Would that be right? What if I could take a drug to remove any 'taavos' (I believe some are available). Would that be right?

How does the artifical removal of bad character traits or taavos through drugs differ from the practical removal of such influences through baning the Net or not looking at women for example? In both cases, you are simply prevented from doing the 'sin', even if you would ideally like to. Do you get the schar for the initial removal action (getting rid of your modem, taking the drug) but not afterwards? Or do you get schar all the while? Or do you get no schar at all because it's all artifical?

Even more importantly, it has been discovered that lack of dopamine turns you into a skeptic, and extra dopamine can make you quite gullible. If I take dopamine and become a better maamin, do I get schar for that?

Not that any of this really applies to me to be honest. I am so anti-drug I don't even take aspirin for a headache. I got a prescription for Ambien for the flight to Isreal but was too chicken to take it. The Rebbetzin meanwhile lives in a totally drug-induced state all week long - 4 extra strength Tylenol is a typical breakfast for her. But then again, doing all that laundry would give me a headache too.

Depressed Gedolim?

A choshuv Rav told me about a Godol he knows well who is quite depressed. This Godol has been treated very poorly by his peers and seems to be the worse for wear because of it. Of course depression often strikes elderly people, as does senility, and is nothing to joke about. Gedolim by definition tend to be elderly, and therefore are prone to illnesses such as depression and senility. Actually, I would guess that the incidence of such illnesses is generally lower amongst Gedolim, since they tend to have very positive world views, plus they constantly exercise their minds, and typically have led healthier lives without drink and drugs.

So, when I hear about a Godol who is depressed, it gets me wondering. Is this just regular old-age depression, or is there something more going on?

The other case I can think of is R Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, whose life story was written up by Marc Shapiro. R Weinberg was quite depressed in his later years, and lived a reclusive life in Switzerland. It's true he was alone, and had gone through the war, but I don't think that was the (only) reason. There are quite a few signs in Shapiro's book that R Weinberg was struggling with some theological issues. For example, he seems to have been very distressed at the way Halachah looks at Gentiles, and complains about it in a letter to his good friend, Samuel Atlas, a Reform Rabbi. Clearly he had some skeptical doubts, and he was conversing with a Reform Rabbi of all people! (Note: I am not slandering R YY Weinberg in any way, chas vesholom, this is just building up to my theory).

(Also, RYBS seems to have had a bit of a depressive side).

Imagine you're a Godol (It isn't hard to do - just kidding): You shteig away your whole life in Torah & Mitzvos, and eventually end up recognized as a Godol. But you are still you, and you know all your failings. In addition, the other Gedolim are your peers, and you probably knew many of them when they were just kids with you in school. They may even have been little pishers while you were a choshuve bochur. You also know all their failings too. In addition, since you are one of the Gedolim, there is no one else alive on Earth for you to look up to and have faith in. So, when you suddenly uncover that your peers are not treating you very well, or that you have some questions on Orthodoxy, or similar, it can get quite depressing.

That's my theory: Depressed Gedolim are Gedolim who have become Skeptics. They no longer buy into the Fundamentalist worldview that they are a part of, but they can't possibly give it all up and become Modern Orthodox (or Reconstructionist). I don't think that Gedolim are spared the agonies of doubt that many people go through. So it is feasible to have a skeptical Godol in theory, surely. So what do you think of my theory? A load of garbage or is there some truth to it?

I bet it's a lonely life being a Godol.

Was Noach a real person?

People often come to me and say ‘Hey Godol, do you believe there was a flood?’, and I say ‘Of course I do!’, and they walk away happy. What I don’t tell them is that the flood in question ruined my basement and I had to replace all the carpets. I considered the idea of trying to find a carpet guy called Noah, but this proved too difficult, plus the lady at Carpet Depot thought I was a bit strange.

There are literally hundreds of flood stories (myths) from many different cultures around the world. Here is a compilation. On hearing this, a typical fundamentalist response is 'See, Noach must be true! All these other stories confirm it'. However a global flood is pretty much impossible according to Science. Of course it could all have been a ness, except that the evidence shows it never happened. Of course maybe the ness also included cleaning up all the evidence afterwards too, but then that starts to get a little wierd. Hayim claims that maybe the flood water was magic water which left no mess. A mess-less ness! Could be, could be.

(Here are some difficulties with the concept of a global flood.)

Some people claim the flood was local to Mesopotamia, and when the Chumash repeatedly says 'all' (all the earth, all the heavens, all the animals etc) it just means 'all the local'. This is possible, but then what's the point of the story? A guy survives a small local flood on a boat with some animals. People on the edge of the flood were not affected, and while it might have been a big deal for that one guy, it certainly wasn't for the rest of the world. That doesn't really fit with the story, and you really have to stretch and kvetch a lot.

Another approach is Cassuto/Sarna, which I termed Myth Moshol. Flood mythology was very prevalent in the ancient near east, and the Israelites would certainly have been aware of it. However rather than accepting the Sumerian mythology of Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh or whatever, where the gods bring the flood because people were getting too noisy, the Torah turns the flood story into an ethical monotheistic morality story.

According to this, it turns out that Noach wasn't too real. This is upsetting to many people (me too), because we like Noach, even more than Adam. Also, it is jarring, since the Torah records some specific details about Noach's life and progeny, and accepting it as mythology makes the Torah look a little suspect.

Ultimately, there is no really satisfying answer to this problem (from an Orthodox perspective, if you are not Orthodox, it's not a question). I suppose I can sympathize with Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, who claimed we should all just say Taiku and wait for Moshiach. Meanwhile the flood story continues to inspire countless generations including mine, and at the last count we have the following:
  • Flood themed crib set
  • Noahs Ark painting
  • Flood wallpaper border
  • TevahTzedakah Box
  • Tevah Menorah
  • Fisher Price Noah's Ark Set

So what do I really think? I think there was cdertainly some major flood in Mesopotamia, probably about 8000 years ago. It's possible that there was a guy called Noach on a boat with a bunch of animals, who was saved miraculously. But somehow I doubt it. Still, believing in Noach is not one of the ikkarim, and saying that Noach was mythical is certainly NOT kefirah, contrary to the lunatic rantings of people like ZooShoteh (keshmo ken hu) and FKM (Freaking Kiruv Maniac).

Monkey Fails At Beyn Kof Lechaveroh

You gotta love those monkeys.

NPR this morning reported on a test that animal researchers recently carried out on monkeys. They set up a situation where one monkey was able to get a banana and give it to his friend (another monkey), while the friend could not reach the banana himself.

Researchers were disapointed that the monkey failed the test, and refused to give the banana to his friend. Animal lovers complained that the test was unfair, and that monkeys in captivity do not show the same social responses that monkeys in the wild do.

Is there some mussar in all this? Sure:

Don't be a chimp! Be nice to your friends.

Welcome Rebbes!

Bloghd writes:

Heard in the back row of the **** recently: "Rabbi ********** told me that between shiurim all the Rebbes at Yeshivas ******* ***** go to log in to the Godol". Emess!

Not only that, but Roshei Yeshivos read my blog too. I wonder what they made of my George Michael spoof?

I'm never gonna blog again

(Not really, but this was fun).

Time can never mend
The careless whispers of some bad friends
To the heart and mind, ignorance is kind
there's no comfort in the truth
pain is all you'll find

I feel so unsure
as I take my mouse and click ‘delete post’ once more
as the music dies, something in my eyes
calls to mind the silver screen
and all its sad good-byes

I'm never gonna blog again
guilty feelings have got no rhythm
though it's easy to pretend
I know you're not all fools

Should've known better than to cheat my friends
and waste the chance that I've been given
so I'm never gonna blog again
the way I blogged with you

Tonight the kannaim seem so loud
I wish that I could lose their crowd
Maybe it's better this way
I’d hurt the frummies with the things I’d want to say

We could have been so good together
We could have lived this blog forever
But now no one's gonna post with me
Please stay

(Now that you're gone) Now that you're gone
(Now that you're gone) Was what I did so wrong?
That you had to leave me alone

I'm so emotional

OMG. I love you guys! Sniff sniff. And DovBear, who knew?

Will you all just shut up and let GH be GH?

His blog is awsome. It's smart. It's funny. It's researched. Hell the only thing it's missing is politics.

If you don't like it, don't read it, or be a man and use GH's comment thread to explain your objections.

Those of you calling for him to be shut down, would do well to read Areopagitica. No one has ever done a better job than Milton explaining why society must allow loathsome ideas to be heard (not [that] the GH is especially loathsome.)

IMHO, the truth is GH is dangerous to some people's emuna, because he confronts issues that very few frum people have any clue how to deal with. Does that mean he should be stopped? Of course not. It means people should be educated. It's like saying cars should be banned because people don't know how to drive or follow traffic laws.

On the other hand, he is also a great booster of many people's emuna. Open and honest discussion that doesn't shy away from difficult questions is a very encouraging thing to see, especially for people who for the most part only see religious people hiding from hard questions. Even if he doesn't always have an answer, and there's a question of doubt left in some people's mind, for many others (and often for those same doubters), there's an increased feeling of confidence.

The attitude of people who want to shut him up is way more destructive than anything he has ever said. People who feel that Judaism encourages employing scare tactics to compensate for intellectual incompetence do way more damage to it's followers adherence than any ideas about evolution or da'as torah.

I speak from personal experience.
Seriously, though, GH has one of the more thoughtful and thought-provoking JBlogs around. The thought that a frum thought-police want to prevent his expression is sad and worrying.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Worlds First Jewish Music Video!

I love this video! OK, so it's not quite a Madonna or Michael Jackson production. But for a group of amateur yeshivah bochurim it's pretty entertaining. The song is good too. I especially like the yeshivah cheerleaders, and the ben torah vs the yetzer horah martial arts fighting.

Well done. We want more!


While googling for Neuberger, I recently came across an interesting book, the story of the son of a prominent Atheist who turned frum. Sounds fascinating. This guy also has a web site which has some interesting stuff on it.

It seems that children of atheists frequently turn back to religion. I saw the same sentiment expressed by Leon Kass in his book. He had grown up the child of atheist, secular parents, but found his way back to religion.

Do Michael Shermer or Carl Sagan have any children? Mis-nagid? I guess children always rebel against their parents anyway, so if you want your kids to be true maaminim, force them to be atheists! Likewise, I'm sure all my kids are going to rebel and become kollelnicks in Bnei Brak. It's unavoidable.

Major Apology

Recent emails that I have received have caused me to rethink some of my views. I denigrated and ridiculed some people and for that I sincerely apologize.

I am of course talking about older female singles. Some older female singles wrote to me about how they can't find dates because the guys are too picky, but no way are they too picky, and in fact they are heartbroken by their situation.

So to all the older female singles who can't get dates, I apologize. And to all you older male singles, stop being so damn picky and get married already!

Warning: Emunah Threat

The conversation going on over at Hirhurim is quite fascinating. Lots of people debating whether a certain blogger should be outed in order to shut him down because he's so dangerous. I'm not sure who they are talking about, my guess is DovBear, because reading his political stuff you could die from boredom. Tee hee.

But seriously, something made me think that there might be a remote chance that they are talking about me. Moi! Dangerous!? I'm not dangerous! But these people seem to think I am, and I find that rather disturbing. If a frum guy like me is dangerous just for asking questions, and having certain views (which are certainly within the bounds of acceptable MO views), then what does that say about our religion?

Are we so insecure about our religious beliefs that we cannot tolerate any questions? Are we so unsure of our positions that we have to muzzle and censor anyone who dares explore some issues? Are we living in Communist Russia or Nazi Germany? I find this unbelievable, and a real threat to my emunah. I am especially suprised at certain people in Kiruv. How can you be mekarev people if you refuse to debate issues?

Important message for my Chareidi readers

I am Modern Orthodox. I have some Chareidi leanings, and am much more sympathetic to Chareidim than many MO people I know, but at the end of the day, I am still MO. I am not Chareidi.

There is a HUGE cultural difference between MO and Chareidim (UO), which was really brought into stark relief with the whole Slifkin thing. Even though I have personally spent many years in both camps, I have to confess that even I was suprised at the depth of the culture clash.

I am of course talking about 'Kefirah'. I have had it confirmed from multiple sources that both Rav Moshe Shapiro and R Elyashiv do not actually hold that Slifkin's stuff was technically Kefirah. Multiple, reliable sources have told me this personally. What the Gedolim really didn't like was Slifkin's 'tone'. On the other hand, the average MO or even LW UO person reads the books (and also his Maskimim) and sees nothing wrong with them at all, the 'tone' is just fine. So what's going on? How can some people come away thinking its the worst 'kefirah' type of stuff imaginable, and other people read it and have no problem at all?

Similarly with my blog, you have the same situation. Some people are horrified that I 'spew' kefirah all day long, other people (including my Rav) think there's nothing at all wrong with what I say. Who'se right?! Are the kefirah-finders just too sensitive, or are the rest of us too insensitive?!

Clearly, we are not going to get an answer to this question, there are two diametrically opposed opinions. I think the UO's need to realize that many things which in their world are absolutely taboo are prefectly okay in the MO world. I appreciate it if you think that's terrible, but screaming 'kefirah' and desperately fighting against this stuff is just stupid. I am not pretending to be a Chareidi, I am not infiltrating the Chareidi camp in order to poison the minds of Yeshivah Bochurim!

I welcome UO commenters here because that provides for healthy debate, in the same way that I welcome the skeptics. If I ban all commenters who disagree with me, then what's the point? I might as well be Cross-Currents (tee hee). Just because I allow Mis-nagid or Dude to debate here, and I show them respect, doesn't mean I agree with their positions. On the contrary, I disagree and debate them vociferously. But thats the whole point of this blog!

I am amazed at how some UOs just don't seem to understand this simple point. We are debating the issues to get to the emmes. If you can't stand debate, then don't read my blog! How anyone can think that censorship is a healthy approach is beyond me. If you censor or muzzle people that will only make the problem worse, as then they will be convinced that you have something to hide.

More Harm than Good?

UPDATE: While I might consider closing this blog down if it is the right thing to do, I certainly will not give in to threats. If anyone thinks they can threaten me to get me to close down, I GUARANTEE that I will DAVKAH double or TRIPLE my output L'HACHIS (but don't tell that to the Rebbetzin).

Someone I know claims that this blog does 'More harm than good', and that I should close it down. Is this true? I am not just playing a cheap trick to get you all to say how much you love (or hate) me. I'm looking for a serious discussion.

Clearly there are two aspects to this blog: Personal & Public. From a personal perspective this blog feeds my ego, passes the time at work, provides me with an outlet, annoys my wife and has all sorts of other good and bad personal effects. Only myself and my wife are qualified to discuss whether the pros outweigh the cons here.

From a public perspective though, we can discuss. The question is, what is the goal of this blog? Do I even have a goal? To be honest, my original goals were purely selfish. I wanted to have a blog, get some fame and fortune, and have a good time. 'The Public Good' wasn't really on the list. Then, after I started getting popular, quite a few choshuv people told me that I now had a responsibility to put my fame to good use.

So, I started debating the skeptics, hoping to prove them wrong. Unfortunately, that proved a lot harder than I thought. I think I'm getting better at it, but I haven'twon any major points yet. The second thing I tried to do was debate pressing issues and concerns, (e.g. Science & Torah), in the hope of getting to some good answers. We have had some great discussions, and I have learned a tremendous amount, but unfortunately haven't found any good answers yet, only more questions.

So am I actually acheiving anything? Has this blog just become a hang-out for malcontents and skeptics as Dude (himself a closet malcontent if you ask me) claims? My goal for this blog is to have honest and vitriol free discussion of issues, for the sake of finding the emmes. I also like to add a sense of humor and have some fun along the way.

Is that so wrong?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Answering Intractable Questions

One of the amazing things about the whole Science vs Torah debate, especially with regard to Breishis, is that for a genuine maamin who is also well versed in the modern world, the questions are just so stubbornly intractable. On the one hand how could science possibly be wrong? On the other hand, how could Torah be just mythology?

And all attempts so far at reconciling these two apparently diametrically opposed cosmological accounts are just not that satisfying.

The cognitive dissonance here is just so exquisite, it's quite mind boggling. It's actually almost amusing, trying to believe in two contradictory theories both at the same time. The brain just doesn't know how to handle it. It keeps flip-flopping back and forth between the two positions: 'But this can't be right. But that can't be right either. But this can't be right. But that can't be right'. And so on.

What struck me tonight is how we now have created an almost identical situation, but this time the two forces in conflict are the Gedolim & Yashrus.

On the one hand, we believe in the supremacy of Torah and those who learn it, the concept of 'Gedolim' and the wisdom of our leaders. Sure, Gedolim are not infallible, but we expect them to basically get things right. On the other hand we see that recently their behavior has been completely ridiculous. On the one hand, how can the Gedolim possibly be so wrong? On the other hand, considering what has transpired, how could they be right?

And all attempts so far at reconciling these two apparently diametrically opposed godolological accounts are just not that satisfying.

I have to admit I don't have any great answers to either of these two questions. It seems impossible for Science to be wrong, yet it also seems impossible to say Torah is just mythology. It seems impossible to say that all the Gedolim have behaved abominably, yet it also seems impossible to say that their behavior was nothing short of abominable. Sure, in each case we can kvetch out some answers, but they don't ring so true. I keep hoping that one day I will be able to construct such a clear and persuasive reconciliation of the two opposing positions that I will finally be satisfied. But it hasn't happened yet.

But the situation is actually worse than this, because there does exist a framework within which both these questions have perfectly natural, logical and obvious answers. A framework in which the answers are so clear and self evident, the questions don't even start. But I'm not going there.

Anti Kiruv! Moi?

Chardal wonders why all of us bloggers are so anti-kiruv. I think the answer is as follows.

Orthodox Judaism has many significant unanswered questions. Science and Torah questions, issues in the Chumash (anachronisms as ‘S’ so quaintly terms them), Gender issues, Fundamentalism & Fanaticism issues etc etc etc.

Rather than provide any real answers to all these issues, Kiruv professionals gloss over all of this with fake, new-age (or obsolete) peshatim in order to score a hit. This bugs us because why are we roping new people in with fakery, when we can’t even keep the people we’ve got?

I know a number of people in my community (okay 3 people) who were all mekareved by the local kollel (who are an excellent group of people who do a wonderful job – and I’m not just saying that because they probably all know who I am) but have since lost their belief in Orthodoxy, because of such questions. Maybe they would have been better off not being mekareved? Hard to say I suppose.

Of course, every endeavor has a failure rate. IT projects for example have a 70% failure rate on average (failure being defined as not functional, not on time or over budget). So too with Kiruv, some failures are to be expected. Does anyone have any idea what the standard failure rate in Kiruv is? (By failure I mean someone goes BT and then a while later goes off the derech again, not that the person was failed to be mekareved in the first place).

So, what’s the solution?

Should we close down all Kiruv programs? Some choshuve communities in the US were built entirely on Kiruv (at least initially). And thousands of BTs claim to have found happiness and meaning (and good kugel) in the Orthodox community. Surely this is a good thing.

Should we force all Kiruv Professionals to be painfully and absolutely honest about all the issues? ‘Keep the Torah, but I can’t prove to you it’s true’. I think that would put a major dent in their efforts.

Maybe there should be a Kiruv pre-screening, only extremely gullible and non skeptical people need apply? That’s probably true currently anyway for the most part har-de-har.

I'm afraid I don't really have any good answers.

‘Hanan’ (not his real name) says that all of us frum but slightly skeptical folks don’t really have to struggle like he and his fellow BTs do, since even though these issues bother us, fundamentally we are very solidly grounded in Orthodoxy and are not likely to leave. That’s true for me, though of course not for everybody. (Think Mis-nagid and all those Heretical Hassidim).

My heart goes out to Hanan and his buddies, I hope you find your way. Maybe you shouldn’t be reading this blog ? I am comfortable discussing these issues skeptically, since I’m fairly confident that no major lifestyle changes are in the works for me. Worst case scenario, I’ll just stop thinking about this stuff and practice my Judaism unthinkingly (pretty much like everybody else I know does anyway). Best case scenario, I’ll uncover all the Torah & Science and ‘Does G-d exist’ answers and go on to fame and fortune and lots of great speaking engagements.

God of the Fundamentals

The standard scholarly assessment of the Bible’s attitude to the Soul and the Afterlife is that it doesn’t have one. Nowhere are Souls or Olam Habah really mentioned in Tenach, except for some vague references, and the standard skeptical mehalech is that these concepts only developed much later, and that early Judaism was quite primitive in this regard.

Azure magazine has a very interesting article claiming that this is not the case at all, and that the Bible has in fact a well developed concept of the soul (Guf, Nefesh, Ruach,Neshama) linked to the four fundamental elements (earth, wind, water, fire) which themselves are of Biblical origin, and predate the Greeks. The four correlate as follows:


I don’t know if this is true, but the various quotes from Tenach showing the four elements are pretty cool (Note he shows why Heaven=Fire in the article):

Koheles 1

4. A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth forever stands. [Earth]
5. The sun rises and the sun comes, and hastens to the place where it rises. [Fire]
6. The wind blows to the south, and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. [Wind]
7. All streams run to the sea, but the sea does not fill; to the place where the streams run to, there they run again. [Water]

Mishle 30

Who has ascended into Heaven [Fire] and descended?
Who gathered the Wind in his fists?
Who bound the Water in a garment?
Who established all the ends of the earth?

Tehillim 18

8. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because he was angry. [Earth]
9-10. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens coming down, arafel under his feet. [Fire/Heaven]
11. And he rode upon a cherub, and flew; he flew upon the wings of the wind. [Wind]
12. He made darkness his secret place; his dwelling the dark water, and rain-clouds of the skies. [Water]

(I have a little pet theory that the Earth, Water, Wind & Fire thing does have a modern parallel, and is not just some hopelessly outdated pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo.

Basically we understand that Matter and Energy are connected and we also speak about the Space-Time continuum. It’s also understood that these four things are the basic building blocks of our Universe. The number 4 is surely no co-incidence:

Matter = Earth
Energy = Fire
Space = Air
Time = Water

I will admit that the last one is a bit iffy).

Ultimately a grand unified theory of everything will probably pull all these together, into some kind of Matter-Energy-Space-Time continuum. Of course we all know that Science (in its current definition) cannot possibly produce a theory for the underlying cause of the Universe, since that underlying cause is outside the scope of the Universe, so Science doesn’t really apply.

Atheists typically turn to emunah peshutah on this, and claim that maybe Science can make that leap in the future for some as yet unknown reason. But there’s currently no reason to believe that though. Science has never explained a fundamental of anything yet, so hoping that it will is pure faith, rather than anything based on evidence. I know Science has a great track record and all, but it has absolutely NO track record at explaining any fundamentals.

Of course, since there is likely only one fundamental, you might say that’s unfair, obviously there is no track record since we haven’t discovered it yet. However the point still stands: We haven’t discovered it (or any fundamental) yet, therefore Science’s current track record on observation and prediction is pretty much irrelevant. You might as well say my car has a pretty good track record at driving me to the office, so next week I’m going to use it to sail to Hawaii.

At this point Atheists turn to sophistry, and say that maybe the Universe doesn’t need causality, and even though common sense implies it does, common sense is useless at such extremes of scale or being, as evidenced by theories such as relativity and uncertainty, where the evidence seems to point to the opposite of common sense. That’s all entirely possible, but strikes me as overly skeptical. A basic common sense approach is that unless Science proves otherwise, physical things just don’t appear out of nowhere. Of course incomprehensible supernatural things can do what they please.

Some people claim this a God of the Gaps type of approach, using G-d to fill in the gaps that Science hasn’t explained yet. However I disagree.

I think that this is a G-d of the Fundamentals approach, which is exactly how it should be.