Saturday, December 31, 2005

December 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Local flood? Don't make me laugh

Some people, even some intelligent people, insist that the story of Noach is scientifically compatible with a small, local flood. Many small floods happen all the time all over the planet, and these people claim that the flood of Noach was some small flood that happened in Mesopotamia 5000 years ago or thereabouts. Of course the surrounding countryside and population was fine, and presumably all the people at the edges of the flood zone survived, but one man in the middle of the flood zone (Noach) was miraculously saved in a boat, with a few animals.

Some also claim that the flood covered the entire area of population at that time, and thats why the Bible says 'all the earth'. However we know the flood didn't cover Egypt, which was certainly well populated at that time. And furthermore, the people in Mesopotamia would have been well aware of what happened in Egypt, as the biblical stories make clear. There were trade routes and traders travelling all round the region. So certainly no one would have been under the impression that 'all of civilization had been destroyed' had a flood just happened in Mesopotamia.

Apart from the fact that this is not how the story was traditionally read, or that this almost completely kills the drama and intent of the whole story, it doesn't fit with the text anyway. Here is the story of Noach. I have bolded the relevant words. How anyone can claim this story is describing a local flood is beyond me. Ness/Nissayon is almost more believable than that.

Genesis 6

And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. 13 And God said unto Noah: 'The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; with rooms shalt thou make the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. 15 And this is how thou shalt make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. 16 A light shalt thou make to the ark, and to a cubit shalt thou finish it upward; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. 17 And I, behold, I do bring the flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; every thing that is in the earth shall perish. 18 But I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the fowl after their kind, and of the cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. 21 And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.' 22 Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.

Genesis 7

1 And the LORD said unto Noah: 'Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation. 2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee seven and seven, each with his mate; and of the beasts that are not clean two [and two], each with his mate; 3 of the fowl also of the air, seven and seven, male and female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. 4 For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I blot out from off the face of the earth.' 5 And Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him. 6 And Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth. 7 And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood. 8 Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the ground, 9 there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, male and female, as God commanded Noah. 10 And it came to pass after the seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. 12 And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. 13 In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark; 14 they, and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind, and every fowl after its kind, every bird of every sort. 15 And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh wherein is the breath of life. 16 And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded him; and the LORD shut him in. 17 And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth. 18 And the waters prevailed, and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters. 19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered. 20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered. 21 And all flesh perished that moved upon the earth, both fowl, and cattle, and beast, and every swarming thing that swarmeth upon the earth, and every man; 22 all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, whatsoever was in the dry land, died. 23 And He blotted out every living substance which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and creeping thing, and fowl of the heaven; and they were blotted out from the earth; and Noah only was left, and they that were with him in the ark. 24 And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days.

Genesis 8

1 And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged; 2 the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained. 3 And the waters returned from off the earth continually; and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. 4 And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat. 5 And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen. 6 And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. 7 And he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. 8 And he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground. 9 But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her in unto him into the ark. 10 And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 11 And the dove came in to him at eventide; and lo in her mouth an olive-leaf freshly plucked; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. 12 And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more. 13 And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dried. 14 And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dry. 15 And God spoke unto Noah, saying: 16 'Go forth from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee. 17 Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee of all flesh, both fowl, and cattle, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may swarm in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.' 18 And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him; 19 every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, whatsoever moveth upon the earth, after their families; went forth out of the ark. 20 And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar. 21 And the LORD smelled the sweet savour; and the LORD said in His heart: 'I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. 22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.'

Genesis 9

1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. 2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all wherewith the ground teemeth, and upon all the fishes of the sea: into your hand are they delivered. 3 Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all. 4 Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. 5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it; and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man's brother, will I require the life of man. 6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man. 7 And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; swarm in the earth, and multiply therein.' 8 And God spoke unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying: 9 'As for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you; 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the fowl, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. 11 And I will establish My covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.' 12 And God said: 'This is the token of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow is seen in the cloud, 15 that I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.' 17 And God said unto Noah: 'This is the token of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is upon the earth.'

18 And the sons of Noah, that went forth from the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth; and Ham is the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and of these was the whole earth overspread. 20 And Noah the husbandman began, and planted a vineyard. 21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. 24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him. 25 And he said: Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26 And he said: Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant. 27 God enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant. 28 And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. 29 And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.

Is Modern Orthodoxy a failure?

Perspective 1: No!
Modern Orthodoxy is the only long term hope for Orthodoxy. Ultra-Orthodoxy have cut themselves off from wider society, and furthermore shielded themselves from scientifically proven facts, even going so far as to declare them 'heresy'. In the long term such a movement cannot possibly survive, and will go the way of the 'flat-earth society'. Modern Orthodoxy is certainly a challenging proposition, trying to live both a Modern and an Orthodox lifestyle, but the challenges are growth opportunities, opportunities which by and large are missing from the Ultra-Orthodox world, with clear resulting effects.

Perpsective 2: Well, it depends
While Modern Orthodoxy has not been as successful as Ultra-Orthodoxy in producing passionate commitment to Torah and Halachah, it has been very successful at creating communities which enable its members to partake of secular society, yet still remain Orthodox. Without Modern-Orthodoxy, many of these people would be turned off by the intensity of Ultra-Orthodoxy, and would have gravitated to Conservative Judaism. Modern-Orthodoxy is the savior of large sections of the Orthodox population.

Perspective 3: Yes!
Modern Orthodoxy is neither Modern nor Orthodox, it has all the intellectual honesty of a 'kiruv-kvetch''. By trying to reconcile Modern life with Orthodox life, it does justice to neither, twisting both out of all proportions. Its adherents are mostly lacking in commitment to Torah and Halachah, yet still cannot partake of a truly modern intellectual ife, since many areas, for example Biblical Criticism, are still off limits. In fact Modern Orthodoxy is almost as fundamentalist as Ultra-Orthodoxy, there is really little difference in this regard. Can one conceive of a Modern Orthodox Rabbi dismissing any one of the 13 fundamental principles? Of course not. Yet in its rush to embrace Secular culture it has diluted the true Torah spirit. In fact Modern Orthodoxy generally means Modern Pop culture with a wishy-washy, less intense religious practice. Even in the areas where they try to be progressive, for example gender equality, they are ultimately constrained by Halachah, in effect being little more than a 'tease' to mollify the more vocal members of the community. Modernity and Orthodoxy by definition cannot be reconciled, since they each have entirely different value systems. Chose one or the other, but not both.

So which perspective do I hold? I think they are all true to some extent, though perspective three is starting to look more and more accurate to me. Does this mean I will be davening with Dude next shabbos? Maybe so. Or maybe I should start a new minyan - The Conservative-Chareidi Minyan. Anyone want to join?

Friday, December 30, 2005

'Heretical' rabbi is voted the greatest British Jew

[Hat Tip: Mis-nagid]

No, its not Rabbi Slifkin, its Rabbi Louis Jacobs. I'm surprised that neither the current chief rabbi nor the previous one made the top 6. I guess heresy is popular with the masses.

The Times December 30, 2005

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

AN ELDERLY rabbi condemned as a heretic by the leaders of Orthodox Judaism has been voted the greatest British Jew of all time.

In a poll published today, Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs, 85, beat distinguished Jewish leaders including Sir Moses Montefiore, Benjamin Disraeli and the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn.

The poll of 2,000 members of the British Jewish community was carried out by The Jewish Chronicle. Even the paper’s staff were surprised by the scale of Dr Jacobs’s victory. A formidably bright scholar and leader of the conservative Masorti movement, he is known in the community as “the chief rabbi we never had” but is little known in the secular world beyond Anglo-Judaism.

Dr Jacobs, who is still a prolific author, had almost double the votes of the runner-up, the communal leader Sir Moses, who led British Jewry for more than 40 years.

According to one insider, his victory is being regarded as a signal to the leaders of Orthodox Judaism in Britain. “It is reminding us of that old joke about the only difference between Orthodox and Reform being where they park their cars on the Sabbath,” he said.

Strictly Orthodox Jewish people obey to the letter the Law spelt out in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and believe that it was given directly by God to Moses. This means that they must walk to synagogue on the Sabbath, when work is forbidden. Some who are elderly or who live too far away for a comfortable walk have been known to drive their cars to a street near the synagogue and walk from there.

Members of the Reform and Liberal communities still honour the Sabbath but take a more relaxed view of the prohibitions. Members of the Masorti community are left free to choose their own path.

Dr Jacobs, from a secularised Manchester Jewish family, became interested in his religion as a young man and studied at the yeshiva, or Talmudic college, in Gateshead, regarded as the best in the country.

He was tipped to be a future chief rabbi but that door was closed to him after he published We Have Reason To Believe in 1957. Many supported his use of established methods of biblical scholarship to argue that the Torah was a composite work by a number of divinely inspired humans, but the Orthodox leadership blocked his appointment to its seminary, Jews’ College. An appointment to an Orthodox synagogue was also vetoed.

In the 1980s he set up the Masorti, or traditional, movement, which is growing at the rate of 12 per cent a year and is similar to conservative Judaism in the US, positioned halfway between Orthodox and Reform. His effortless topping of the poll is an indication of the high regard in which he is still held within the community. The Chronicle does not suspect any particular lobbying of his cause in the Masorti community.

One Orthodox rabbi wrote in: “As an Orthodox rabbi, it is a sad state but I have to keep my identity confidential for obvious reasons. Without Rabbi Jacobs’s inspiration I, and I am sure many others, would have lost our sanity having to work within the intellectual boundaries imposed on us.

“However, I have often recommended Rabbi Jacobs’s books to congregants who share the same doubts as I had. His contribution to Anglo-Jewry is immense and will be recognised for centuries to come.”

The leading Reform rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said: “By placing Rabbi Louis Jacobs at the top of the list, a clear message has emerged. The greatest Jew for JC readers is he who has helped other Jews to be better Jews.”

Dr Jacobs told The Times: “I feel overwhelmed and I feel a bit daft. It is so unexpected. Unfortunately I lost my wife a few weeks ago. She would have been thrilled by this.”


1 Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs, leader of the Masorti community

2 Sir Moses Montefiore, 19th-century philanthropist and Jewish communal leader who campaigned tirelessly for Jews at home and abroad

3 Rabbi Hugo Gryn, Holocaust survivor and broadcaster who until his death in 1996 was rabbi at the Reform community’s West London Synagogue near Marble Arch

4 Ernst Chain, biochemist who was awarded the Nobel prize for his work in developing penicillin

5 Rosalind Franklin, 20th-century physicist who researched DNA and the double helix

6 Benjamin Disraeli, 19th-century Prime Minister regarded as Jewish even though his father had him baptised

Emmes and Rav Kook

When it comes to issues of faith, kefirah, fundamentalists and atheists, Rav Kook always has something interesting (and sometimes incomprehensible) to say. However this quote, courtesy of chardal, is a doozy:

The enslavement of the intelligence and its stupefaction result from certain influences, and the more holy the influences, the greater the damage done, amounting to the corruption of the world, and resembling more and more the villainy of false prophecy in G-d's name, actions of wickedness and impurity, idol worship and abomination. Thus when the attempt to stupefy the intelligence is presented in the name of faith, of fear of Heaven, or diligence in Torah and fulfilling of mitzvot, it becomes a terrible lie and a filthy impurity.

Then the holy ones of the Most High, G-d's pure servants, must go forth to redeem the world and Israel, the Torah, and all that is holy to the Lord from these destroyers. Let them be who thy may: liars who want only to cheat their fellows or fur-cloaked deceivers, weak of spirit and small of mind, whose own intellectual light has been obstructed, their feelings dulled, and their imagination coarsened, who purposefully and thoroughly trample down the reality before them, their own faith enrooted in mere fables of faith ... and thus souls stumble and fall, and human beings live the lives of beasts, degradation without knowledge or understanding, without human honor, that most basic element in recognizing the honor of Heaven that fills the world, that gives life to all, and animates spirit and soul.

Chardal adds:

True piety must go hand in hand with relentless search for truth and a truly pious person must be willing to pay a personal price for such a search.

There is a problem here though, that the notion of 'searching for the emmes' is a bit of a con. How do you define emmes? By what standards? The strictest standard of 'emmes' would seem to be scientific skepticism, yet by that standard God probably doesn't exist, or at least there's no reason to think He does. So is that kind of emmes okay? That doesn't seem very pious! And if we relax the standards far enough, then anything goes. Are alien abductions emmes? How about The Holy Zoboomafoo?

So, talking about emmes is all very nice, but ultimately it's a bit meaningless. One mans emmes is another mans sheker. Or kefirah. Or lunatic ravings.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Nuts on Bechofer's Blog

I couldn't believe this comment from some anonymous commenter on RYG Bechofers blog to 'Saul', who presented some reasonable arguments about Egyptian chronology and the Mabul:

Saul, you talk of mabul as moshol. Our entire plane of existence is only moshol. You and I certainly are only moshol as nothing exists except Hashem. The form of revelation given to "us" is a guide to apprehension of Emes - in particular Ichud Hashem. Your search is all in the wrong direction.

And please do not think that a "frum egyptologist" could ever prove anything about the truth of Mabul or Mitzrayim, which are truths regardless of papyri - regardless of video, if you could produce some - it only proves something about you.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes: I accept the mesorah as superior to my own senses and judgments.

Saul writes: "In case it is unclear, I am not arguing that the Torah is wrong. I am simply trying to encourage a proper interpretation of the Torah." What is clear to everyone besides you, Saul, is that you are arguing that the Torah has to fit the conclusions of other disciplines - history, science, whatever. But the Torah does not have to and never will. You think that you honor Torah by struggling to find a way to make it reasonable for you - but you are not honoring Torah, you are dishonoring it - you are honoring yourself, your intellect, your reason.

Saul writes: "They are following their own eyes and sense. Some of these people actually work in these fields and see the evidence for themselves. They do not have to hear it from others. You are telling them that they cannot believe what they see." Yes - that is precisely what I am telling them. Woe to those who have been misled by modern day school education or by "kiruv" - do you not know that the nature of our belief is to know that the Emes lies in our Mesorah and not in what you see? V'lo sossuru acharei levavchem v'acharei aneichem asher atem zonim achareihem. Saul, Saul - just sacrifice the ego of your own infallibility, relinquish your death grasp on your intellect, embrace emunoh.

I promise you: the observable world will always appear to be in conflict with Torah - v'idach peirusha.

The mind boggles.

Good Noach Kashye

[Hat tip: S]

Saul Shanjfeld asks RYGB, concerning a literal understanding of the Noach story:

And how did Noach's sons, who knew how to make metal, read and write literature, evolve into illiterate bushmen with bones through their noses who beat on tree stumps?

The answer is poshut! When everyone magically flew through the air to the various regions of the world after the Tower of Bavel incident, the tremendous air pressure and g-forces caused them to forget everything they once knew, and they turned into ignorant bushmen. Or maybe it was kinda like a Blue Lagoon or Castaway situation - one or two people got sent to a remote location and they didn't have the smarts to pass on reading or writing to their kids. Or maybe they had kids but then they died shortly after that and so the kids were not educated. Or maybe the kids were the ones who were transported to the remote locations, and then they didn't have the education to begin with. See, it's not such a kashye at all! Either that, or it was a nes that Hashem specifically created to test our emunah.

And if you believe any of that, you need your head examined.

Fundamentalist Judaism

Hat Tip

The Yated has a thoughtful article about Chareidi Judaism, the movement to make being Jewish "fundamentalist." Basically, these fundamentalists take (generally) meaningless superstitious culture and add a Jewish feel to it. Is this a good thing or it just one more example of watering down Judaism?

This is not a new discussion (Ultra-Orthodox Jews get ready to be offended). I have often heard people debate the merits of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Is it better to have people at least nominally connected to Orthodox Judaism or to let many people fall by the wayside but leaving authentic Judaism as the only Jewish alternative. If you want to turn to Judaism, it's going to be the real thing.

I don't have an answer to that perennial question. But libi omer li -- my gut tells me -- that Fundamentalist Chareidi Judaism is a threat to Judaism because they claim to be the only authentic stream. It's just keeping other people from thinking that they're Jewish too and maybe even celebrating that identity.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Modern and Orthodox

Well, there was no reason to believe I would always be there
But if you don’t put faith in what you believe in
It will get you nowhere
Cos it hurts, to ever let go
Don’t look down, just look up
Cos doubts always there behind you, just to remind you

Two minds, believing in two conflicting things
You know I’m two minds believing in two conflicting things

Cos there’s no easy way to understand it
There’s so much of my life is frum, and it’s like I’m blinded
And they teach you to never let go
There’s so much Torah you’ll never know
They can reach you no matter how far
Wherever you are

Two minds, believing in two conflicting things
Thinking together till the end of life
You know I’m two minds believing in two conflicting things
Together forever till the end of life

I knows (he knows)
There’ll always be a special place in my mind for frum
He knows, he knows, he knows
Yeah, I know (he knows)
No matter how skeptical I go
I know I’m always right there being frum

I’m two minds...

My mind has reached the point where it is holding with fairly equal tenacity on to two conflicting sets of ideas. One set of ideas is skeptical, rational, logical and cynical and is not particularly prone to believe in any mumbo jumbo.

The other set of ideas, a culmination of a lifelong absorption in Orthodoxy, with a good portion of that spent in the Yeshivah world, is all about Torah, Avodah, Gemilus Chassadim. And of course Hashem.

Some people say that the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs at one time is the sign of genius. Personally I think it’s more likely to be a sign of a very confused person, but I’ll take genius.

Can this be a long term liveable situation? I think it can. Maybe not for everyone, but certainly for many people. My mind can shift gears fairly quickly, from Modern to Orthodox and back again as required.

I once wrote ‘I believe with complete faith in Science, and in complete faith in Orthodoxy, therefore it must be possible for them to be reconciled. Well, I still believe in both, but I don’t think reconciliation is anywhere on the horizon unfortunately.

So what now? I'm not sure, but it looks like we have a new sect of Orthodoxy:

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the ‘Modern and Orthodox’. Just not at the same time.

RCA: It's muttar to allegorize Breishis

From the RCA:

and recent Rabbinic leaders who have discussed the topic of creation, such as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, saw no difficulty in explaining Genesis as a theological text rather than a scientific account.

In other words, the stories in Breishis which conflict with science (and that's pretty much everything from Chapter 1 through Chapter 11) are not to be taken literaly, but rather are 'Theological Texts'.

And what exactly is a Theological Text?

Mythology. Moshology. Theology. Moralogy. Ethicology. Aggadatology. AnythingButFactualOlogy.

Choose your favorite word, it makes no difference.

How does God write?

I don't know much about the Documentary Hypothesis (DH), and generally don't post about it. I will leave it to S, who thinks it has merit, and Anonymous, who doesn't, to debate it. However I can comment on bogus arguments used by FKM. He writes;

Asking "why God would write something in a way that seems like there are multiple documents" is futile. How can anyone assume to know how it should be written if God actually dictated it?

This is very true. We can’t know the mind of God, and we can’t possibly ask any kashyes about what God writes. For example, the Holy Zoboomafoo in his Torah said ‘Oooh oooh, aaaaah aaaaah. Screeech, grunt’. Doesn’t sound like Torah you say? Chas vesholom! How can anyone assume to know how it should be written if the Holy Zoboomafoo actually dictated it?

In other words, there are multiple issues here, one of which is the reliability of the story of Maamad Har Sinai, and one of which is whether the text looks like it was written by one Author or many authors. If the text genuinely looks like it was written by multiple people, AND the proof of Har Sinai is less than perfect (which we all know is the case), then that is an issue.

Sure you can get around it by saying that God davkah wrote the Torah to look like the work of multiple people, but now you are in Nes/Nisayon territory, which is probably where you are at anyway at the end of the day, so why even bother to argue? Just make like the Gedolim and say: 'Yes the Torah looks like it was written by multiple people but that’s just a nisayon to test our emunah.'

IF IF IF DH has merit as a methodology of textual analysis, and DH says the Torah looks like it has multiple Authors, then thats what the Torah looks like. It is almost exactly analogous to Science claims that the world looks like it is billions of years old. You can claim that it's all a nisayon, but don't claim there is extra evidence that Science isn't considering.

The only relevant question is, does the DH itself, as a method of textual analysis, have merit or not?

Song in case RAL paskens Myth/Moshol is Kefirah (Not gonna happen)

I was thinking of the past
How 15 billion years went by so fast
I began to lose control
I began to lose control

I didn’t mean to allegorize
I’m sorry that I started to try
Oh no, I didn’t want to hypothesize
I’m just a skeptical guy

I was feeling insecure
Schroeders theories don’t work anymore
I was shivering inside
I was shivering inside

I didn’t mean to allegorize
I’m sorry that I started to try
Oh no, I didn’t want to hypothesize
I’m just a skeptical guy

I was trying to reconcile
And not just remain in denial
I wasn't following the mesorah
I wasn't following the mesorah

I didn’t mean to allegorize
I’m sorry that I started to try
Oh no, I didn’t want to hypothesize
I’m just a skeptical guy, watch out
I’m just a skeptical guy, sorry RAL
I’m just a skeptical guy

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

We have the evidence!

FKM writes:

I argued in the Science of Torah critique that we have a more reliable source of information (i.e. the Mesorah of Midrashim and Kabbalah) informing us of the facts of history that invalidate the dating methods. Its the direct knowledge Chazal about the events in the past that outweighs the fragile extrapolation necessary for science to indirectly obtain the various dates that they've arrived at.

Exactly the same argument was advanced to me a few days ago by an earnest (and very pleasant) kollel guy learning in Lakewood. He maintained that the problem with the Scientists is that they are missing a crucial piece of evidence that only we have, i.e. the Torah. If only they believed in the Torah (or rather a literal interpretation thereof), they would adjust their theories accordingly, and everything would work out exactly how the Torah described. And furthermore, his buddy maintained, this is exactly what Ostroff and Co. are attempting to do. They take all the Scientific Theories PLUS the additional data point of the Torah, and then show how it all fits, without having to change any peshat in Breishis at all, or overthrow any of the fundamentals of science either.

Sigh. There are at least two basic problems with this approach:

1. You can hardly categorize Torah, (or more specifically a literalist understanding of Torah based on one stream of jewish thought) as 'evidence'. However no doubt the fundies will respond that this just shows my emunah in the Mesorah is weak and this is exactly the problem, so let's move on to reason number two.

2. More importantly, this theory imagines that there are large enough holes in all of Science, and broad enough assumptions, that if you just added Torah to the mix everything would work out okay, and Scientists would suddenly realize that the world is actually 6,000 years old, and Adam & Eve were the first humans, and there was a global flood, and Science would still work mostly as it does now.

Sorry guys, nice try, but your 'Torah is additional evidence' theory just doesn't work.

The inter-dependencies between all the branches of Science are too big. You would destroy all the foundations that we currently have ('Nu? So what's the problem?' I can hear them say!)

Is it remotely possible? Couldn't there be some scenario where it turns out that the Torah is literally true? Possibly, there is some remote, extremely improbable and completely bizzarre scenario where it just might be possible given an extremely long list of assumptions and provisos. But thinking like that is crazy. It's more probable that you are just a brain in a jar.

RCA: Evolution is NOT Kefirah!

In response to the public debate over Intelligent Design and Scientific theory, the RCA has issued the following statement clarifying its view on this matter as it relates to Torah Judaism, and the biblical account of creation.

Dec 27, 2005 -- Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design:
The View of the Rabbinical Council of America

December 22nd 2005
21 Kislev 5766

In light of the ongoing public controversy about Evolution, Creationism and Intelligent Design, the RCA notes that significant Jewish authorities have maintained that evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a Divine Creator, nor with the first 2 chapters of Genesis.

There are authentic, respected voices in the Jewish community that take a literalist position with regard to these issues; at the same time, Judaism has a history of diverse approaches to the understanding of the biblical account of creation. As Rabbi Joseph Hertz wrote, "While the fact of creation has to this day remained the first of the articles of the Jewish creed, there is no uniform and binding belief as to the manner of creation, i.e. as to the process whereby the universe came into existence. The manner of the Divine creative activity is presented in varying forms and under differing metaphors by Prophet, Psalmist and Sage; by the Rabbis in Talmudic times, as well as by our medieval Jewish thinkers." Some refer to the Midrash (Koheleth Rabbah 3:13) which speaks of God "developing and destroying many worlds" before our current epoch. Others explain that the word "yom" in Biblical Hebrew, usually translated as "day," can also refer to an undefined period of time, as in Isaiah 11:10-11. Maimonides stated that "what the Torah writes about the Account of Creation is not all to be taken literally, as believed by the masses" (Guide to the Perplexed II:29), and recent Rabbinic leaders who have discussed the topic of creation, such as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, saw no difficulty in explaining Genesis as a theological text rather than a scientific account.

Judaism affirms the idea that God is the Creator of the Universe and the Being responsible for the presence of human beings in this world.

Nonetheless, there have long been different schools of thought within Judaism regarding the extent of divine intervention in natural processes. One respected view was expressed by Maimonides who wrote that "we should endeavor to integrate the Torah with rational thought, affirming that events take place in accordance with the natural order wherever possible.” (Letter to the Jews of Yemen) All schools concur that God is the ultimate cause and that humanity was an intended end result of Creation.

For us, these fundamental beliefs do not rest on the purported weaknesses of Evolutionary Theory, and cannot be undermined by the elimination of gaps in scientific knowledge.

Judaism has always preferred to see science and Torah as two aspects of the "Mind of God" (to borrow Stephen Hawking's phrase) that are ultimately unitary in the reality given to us by the Creator. As the Zohar says (Genesis 134a): "istakel be-'oraita u-vara 'alma," God looked into the Torah and used it as His blueprint for creating the Universe.

For articles and sources on this subject, see Aryeh Carmel and Cyril Domb eds., "Challenge: Torah Views on Science and its Problems," Feldheim, N. Y. 1976; and Rabbi J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (Soncino Press 1960), Additional Notes to Genesis.

[GH: Not bad, except for the last paragraph which was a bit pathetic. Hawkings 'Mind of God' phrase is oft misquoted, and a quote from the Zohar?! Please.]

New Global Learning Cycle!

You’ve all heard of the Daf Hayomi – a 7 year cycle covering shas. Well I have discovered a new global learning cycle: The 5 year Science and Torah Cycle. In 1999 it was all over Avodah,precipitated by Shubert Spero’s famous Myth/Moshol essay in Tradition Magazine, and there they 'bring down' an extensive previous discussion about Science and Torah from mail.jewish in 1994. Ein chodosh tachas hashemesh.

Reading those old posts is quite entertaining. The responses of the ‘Torah is literal’ crowd are rather sad though, mostly more like pep talks about how the mesorah (or rather their version of the mesorah) is too important to mess with and if we would all just believe in literally true Torah then we will see Moshiach bimherah beyomaynu omayn omayn. Here is one example:

Shlomo Yaffe wrote:

1. Sooner or later science does and will recognize the truth of all our Torah as understood by the Chazal in the framework of our traditional Mesorah.
2. Any and all "questions" from Scientific theory against these accepted norms of Torah , however seemingly strong, are products of the still infantile state of the sciences and will be resolved by science moving close to Torah as it learns more.
3.If G-d is "kol Yachol" there is no reason to take any event in the Torah dealing with creation, floods etc. out of it's Plain Meaning. The need to do so is indicative of a -Lo Aleinu- a fundamental lack of belief in the Torah as being a Divinely narrated document in it's entirety. "Vesharei Lei Maran....."

To which RYGB had this to say:

Wholeheartedly agreed!

Of course no one wants to destroy the Mesorah (well maybe some people want to but not me), however denying reality is generally counter-productive. Why not say the earth is flat? Maybe all the pictures are hoaxes and maybe the Science is faulty? No one seriously claims this anymore because people believe their eyes. Likewise with Science, the issue is just ignorance. If the fundamentalists could ‘see’ the Science in the same way they can ‘see’ that the earth is a globe then they would no longer object to it. People aren’t that crazy (mostly). Just ignorant.

I think its no coincidence that Ostroff and company are not physicists. Ostroff is a Computer guy and Ehrenprice is a Mathematician, not the same thing at all. Are there any credible physicists, geologists, geneticists or cosmologists who believe in a global flood, adam & eve being the first ever people and a 6000 year old Universe? I don’t think so.

Finally, lets end with a great quote from RYGB. He paskens that Myth/Moshol is not kefirah!

Even if one were to believe that Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov were allegories - as I mentioned, not a notch any lower, qualitatively, down the slope than allegorizing the Mabul - which, in essence, already allegorizes Noach et al - and that one is davening to "Elokei Allegory 1, Elokei Allegory 2 v'Elokei Allegory 3" we could not, I think, technically brand this person a heretic - as long as he held this was all given from Sinai. This kind of thing, however, makes the Torah farcical and Judaism ludicrous, and worse.

And a global flood and a talking snake doesn’t ???????!!!!!!!!!!

See you all again in 2010!

Is Myth/Moshol Kefirah? Let's ask RAL

I recently had an interesting meeting with some Yeshivah people (more on that later). They strongly maintained that Myth/Moshol (saying the first 11 chapters of Breishis are mythology and not in any way literal) is kefirah, and not compatible with Orthodoxy of any kind.

One of my Rabbeim said Myth/Moshol was okay, and I also heard it from a maggid shiur in Gush. We debated this for a while, and we ended up agreeing that we would all hold of the pesak of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, and that one of them would contact RAL and get his answer.

I was quite surprised that Chareidi Yeshivah guys would show so much respect to RAL, but they all maintained that he is a great Godol and said he was respected in the Chareidi world. Go figure. Maybe I just happened to meet some Chareidi Kofrim (since they were willing to talk with me they probably were -just kidding).

Anyways, I await with great anticipation RAL's reply to this question. If he does pasken it's kefirah I will have to make some difficult choices, but Conservative-Chareidi might get a boost.

A New Demographic Model of Orthodoxy

Long time readers of my blog will be familiar with my demographic model of Orthodoxy: Two main camps, MO and UO, with each camp being divided into RW and LW. Another possibility is to divide each into RW, Center and LW, however that gets a bit complicated, and nowadays Centers aren’t doing too well anywhere. We also of course have the Orthoprax and the Chareidiprax – people who portray a different image in public than in private.

However, this comment from Hirhurim (plus previous comments from Anonymous) got me thinking. 'Jacobson' said:

It's also absurd how black-and-white it is. There are only two categories: Godol and non-Godol. A Godol is assumed to be knowledgeable in every single area of Torah (on what basis?) and to be effectively infallible and certainly not accountable for any pronouncement that he makes.

Now I recently talked extensively with some choshuve people from the Chareidi world (much more on that later), and none of them were under such an illusion. In fact, I doubt any sophisticated, intelligent Chareidi person believes that. Maybe the great unwashed masses believe that, but the masses are generally dumb, as any fan of Dilbert knows.

What I think is going on here is that we caricature the Chareidi olam with the beliefs and behaviors of the unsophisticated masses. Certainly within Modern Orthodoxy we have the masses who aren’t too secheldik, or too shtark either. Yet within MO we dismiss these people as LW MOs, or ‘Behavioral MOs’, who are not really representative of true MO ideology. This seems unfair.

Perhaps the time has come for a new and more accurate Demographic Model. I think we should still retain the subgroups of MO and UO, but underneath that the next major subdivisions should be between the Masses and the Elites. The Elite UOs and the Elite MOs certainly have significant theological, cultural, Hashkafic and Halachic differences, but neither descend to the stupidity of believing in either the infallibility of Gedolim or the importance of Britney Spears (respectively).

Of course we still have the question of in which subdivision to place some of the Gedolim and Kannoim, but let’s not go there right now.

Failed to Meet Expectations

Hirhurim writes a rather strange post about the Slifkin affair, complete with a complicated conspiracy theory. The real question of course, is why did Hirhurim write it? I think there is probably some conspiracy going on there, but for reasons of sanity (mine and yours) I won’t go into it. A conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory is a bit much. Then again, maybe the reason I won’t go into it is itself a conspiracy. A conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory. It’s a paradox! [Snippy comment from Mis-nagid: It’s not a paradox].

The post of course drew the usual spectrum of comments, ranging from ‘Slifkin is an [deleted by siteowner]’ to ‘The Gedolim are a bunch of [deleted by siteowner]’. Boring same old same old.

The only real question to debate here is how many Gedolim actually believe that an ancient universe is kefirah (if any), or were they all just reacting to ‘tone’? Or maybe they were reacting to the ‘kannoim’? Or maybe they were reacting to the tone of the kannoim? In the past I might have said that maybe some of them were reacting to the tone of constant ringing in their ears, but I would never say such a thing now (chas vesholom).

However, the comments from our very own Anonymous were good as usual. Anonymous writes:

It's the general failure of leadership in the charedi world that is the chilul hashem and there's nothing anyone can say to deflect from that.

This is true, and is why the secheldik people have for the most part been silent on this issue. However is this really anything new? I’m not a big student of history, but has it ever really been any different? There were always huge debates between Gedolim, there have always been bans and scandals, nothing new there. From all the ruckus over Rav Kook, back to Azariah Dei Rossi and then the Rambam. (I’m NOT comparing these events or people to the current ban or persons involved).Nobody really thinks that the Gedolim (or Chazal) are completely infallible, just maybe less fallible than most people.

And maybe, as with AI, our expectations are just too high. After all, we are all only human, and it’s hard to be a leader when your life experience is rather sheltered. I was originally shocked to my core at the appalling process here, but that too has turned out to be nothing new, there has never been a great process.

Again, having been exposed to Western culture our expectations are probably too high. It’s not like the Gedolim and Kannoim consult the Robert’s Rules (though maybe they should). Did Medieval Europe have good processes? Of course not, so why should the Gedoli? Management Consulting was only invented in the 60's, so clearly pre 1960 nobody had good processes.

I think the only thing which is really new and noteworthy here is that it seems that some Gedolim have actually declared an accepted Scientific fact to be kefirah. This would be very unfortunate. Which brings me back to the one interesting question in this whole affair: Have some Gedolim really paskened that an ancient universe (and evolution) is kefirah?! Does anyone actually know the answer to this question??

If no one has actually paskened this, then this has all been a storm in a teacup, though certainly (and most unfortunately) some people have been very badly scalded by burning tea. If the Gedolim were a McDonalds, they could sue.

I'm sorry R Yaakov, I'm afraid I don't like that

Rabbi Yaakov Menken writes about the disapointing progress in AI, and closes with

There are certainly any number of Torah-observant individuals who believe that modern computer scientists might eventually meet this standard with artificial intelligence. I am—just as with evolution—less sanguine.

As Cross Currents is generally not a Science blog, and doesn’t follow the AI world too carefully, I’m not sure what his point is, except to point out that Science doesn’t have all the answers yet. Of course this is true, and shouldn’t be much of a chiddush to anyone. Is this supposed to be mechazek our emunah? It doesn’t really work for me. If the best that Cross-Currents can do is to point to lack of progress in AI then that’s rather sad. Also, I’m not even sure you can call it lack of progress. The progress has been great, it’s just that expectations in the 50’s and 60’s were unrealistic.

Mis-nagid nitpicks the article (on DovBear for obvious reasons), which is rather amusing, since that’s not exactly a science savvy blog either. I was a major in AI many moons ago, and was one of the first people at the time to develop a simulation of a self developing Neural Network, the kind where the network grows ‘extra’ neurons, rather than just ‘learning’. I haven’t followed the field so I don’t know if these ever took off or not.

However, I can’t resist the urge to comment here. I do think a computer will eventually be able to pass the Turing test. At the end of the day, the brain contains a finite number of neurons and other physical phenomenon. It has a bunch of complex processes and sub-components, none of which are hardly understood yet, but in theory it should be possible to create a decent enough simulation, certainly one strong enough to fool a human for 5 minutes, if not much longer. Maybe creating a fully functional intelligent robot might be more difficult, but considering some of the people I have to deal with on a daily basis, I’m not sure I could tell the difference there either.

Science has other problems though. For example, Science is probably not going to be able to ever get the answers to the fundamental questions of life the universe and everything, it’s turtles all the way down. Plus, Science depends on inductive reasoning, and therefore fails from a strictly philosophical / logical point of view. Also, physics is in a bit of a slump at the moment, as the following article describes. Perhaps the most dangerous threat to Science though is the threat from the fundamentalists, and which is why the fights over ID and Evolution in schools is so fierce.

Still, Science and technology are the best hope that humanity has to cure disease, prolong lifespan, save the world from catastrophic natural disasters, and generally bring peace and prosperity on a global basis. (For morality see Religion). Science and technology were also of course the first instruction from G-d: To subdue the earth. So we need Science, and we need to be careful that the fundamentalists don’t damage it with their nonsense.

As for AI, how do you guys know I’m not a computer?

Editorial: Physics' greatest endeavour is grinding to a halt

THE 21st century, so pundits keep telling us, will be the century of biology. There is no doubt that biology is advancing rapidly on many fronts, from molecular biology to evolutionary theory. On the other hand, the opposition is not making much of a race for it. Physics' greatest endeavour has ground to a halt.

We are in "a period of utter confusion", said Nobel laureate David Gross, summing up last week's prestigious Solvay conference on the quantum structure of space and time (see "Baffled in Brussels"). That is worrying because the topic is central to finding a "theory of everything" that will describe every force and particle in nature.

Einstein's relativity, which reigned supreme for a century, is a flawed basis for such a theory. Although it deals with gravity, it tells us nothing else about the nature and interactions of matter. Crucially, general relativity is incompatible with quantum theory. Since the 1960s, theorists have struggled to solve this problem, so far to no avail. And the trouble is we have nothing to put in relativity's place.

The great hope, string theory, which views particles as emanating from minuscule strings, has generated myriad mathematical descriptions linked to the dance of particles. But these equations tell us nothing about where space and time come from and describe nothing we would recognise. At best, string theory depicts the way particles might interact in a collection of hypothetical universes.

For decades, string theorists have been excused from testing their ideas against experimental results. When astronomers discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe, which string theory fails to account for, many string theorists took shelter in a remarkable excuse: that their equations describe all possible universes and should not be tied to matching data in just one of them.

But when the theory does not match the one data set we have, is it science? There is a joke circulating on physics blogs: that we can, after all, call our universe unique. Why? Because it is the only one that string theory cannot describe. Should we laugh or cry?

There is a growing feeling that string theory has run into the sand. Gross thinks we are missing something fundamental. We need a leap in understanding, though where it will come from is not clear. Many of the greatest minds in physics were there at last week's conference, and none had an answer.

We are approaching the end of Einstein's centennial year - a celebration of physics. While some lesser-known areas of the subject are flourishing, the search for a theory of everything is in a sorry state. Unless string theory gets a radical shake-up, gifted but frustrated minds will begin to drift into other areas of science. And if that is what makes biology the subject of the century, it will be depressing reason indeed.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Fundamentalists are mechazek my emunah

During my recent visit to a Chareidi community, I had the pleasure of walking to shul (actually a shtieble) with a friend of one of my relatives. This fellow seemed reasonably intelligent, yet was convinced that carbon dating had been disproved, that evolution didn't happen, and that maybe the world was older than 6000 years, but any problems could be solved by just taking 'yom' non-literally.

I wouldn't have been so surprised at his views, except that this fellow was a traditional Jew, with a degree in Christian Theology from Wesleyan. Hardly a Chareidi. So what gives? The fact is that a large section of the US population believes in such ideas, religious fundamentalism is not limited to Chareidim or even Orthodox Jews, or even Jews. The Christian fundamentalists in fact are way more ridiculous than any of ours.

This is mechazek my emunah. Everything is relative in this world, and while we may be shocked and appalled at some of the actions and views of some in our camp, it always pays to be reminded just how much worse things are in the other religions. Even the recent bans compare well. After all, the letters from the Gedolim were not fatwas, and the banned Rabbis don't need security details 24x7, like Salman Rushdie used to have.

Ashrei Haam Shekocho Loh!

New Series: Oz Vehodor Levushoh

Over the weekend I started to read Oz Vehodor Levushoh, a fascinating book on Tznius by Rabbi Falk of Gateshead. At 700 pages, the book is a veritable treasure trove of Chareidi-think, and is a highly educational read. I even agreed with quite a bit of it. Over the next few weeks, I shall be reviewing aspects of the book.

Oz Vehodor Levushoh p81

Some people harbor the opinion (although often left unspoken) that Poskim, who are great and holy men, are certainly out of touch with the needs of women, and hence their rulings on these matters need not be accepted. The truth, however, is that the opinions of the Poskim are mostly based on exclusive proofs drawn from Shas, Midroshim, Roshonim etc. These are the dvar hashem itself (as all Torah literature is written with Divine Inspiration) and Hashem who created humanity certainly knows the needs of women.

That which the Poskim cannot prove from an explicit source, is decided upon by a thought-out process which has been tuned and refined by tens of thousands of hours of Torah study (and with elderly Talmedei Chachamim even hundreds of thousands of hours) which enables them to perceive where the pure truth lies. This process is called Daas Torah - an opinion borne out of Torah thought. Their thought-process has not been affected by secular and non-Jewish ways of thinking, because they have never come into contact with them.

On the other hand, those who think that our Poskim are "out of touch" have usually learned very little Torah. Their opinion will have been inadvertently developed from the papers and magazines they constantly read, from the comments they hear from the atheist on the radio, and from the latest fashions and misbehavior they see on the streets many times each day.

Which of these two groups of people are "in touch" with the emmes? Let us thank Hashem that we have these Gedolim who maintain a degree of clarity and sanctity in a world that is so confused and immoral.

I'm still not sure what exactly is the definition of 'secular thinking'. How does one attain this mode of thought? By conversing with secular thinkers? By reading secular books? By listening to the atheist on the radio?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Marathon Man Is it safe?

I spent a recent shabbos in one of the premier Chareidi communities in the United States. I had dreamt of it for months. In my dreams, I am at the kosher local pizza store there. One of the customers starts to stare at me, a strange look upon his face. He sees the Rebbetzin in the glamorous sheitel, and then my son with his Zoboomafoo suede kippa. I can see his brain starting to spin. His jaws drop, his eyes widen. ‘The Godol Hador’, he whispers, quietly at first, then a bit louder, ‘The Godol Hador?’

I quickly exit the store, but he follows me. ‘Stop him’ he cries, ‘You must stop him, he’s the Godol Hador’. I start to walk quickly, but he follows me. Another passer by stares at me in horror: ‘The visse engel, the visse engel!’ she cries. ‘Wrong movie I reply, as I break out into a run. A crowd of Yeshivah bochrim give chase, ‘The Godol Hador, The Godol Hador’ they shout. I feel a blow to the back of my head. I run my hand over my hair, it’s red and sticky. I gasp in pain. Sufganiyot! They are pelting me with sufganiyot! I awake in a cold sweat.

In real life of course everyone was unfailingly polite and friendly. I was amused to see two posters on the wall at the pizza store though. One poster was advertising ‘the hottest new book to hit the Jewish scene’, a guide to shidduch dating by Ruki Renov. The other poster was a ban signed by 20 Gedolim against pre packed romaine lettuce, even if it is under Rabbinical supervision. I guess they were shtuching the Star K.

Had it been up to me, I would have permitted the lettuce and banned Ruki Renov. But then that’s just me.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Culture Clash!

It has become increasingly clear that the great Slifkin debate is more about Culture Clash than any Halachic considerations. Maybe some on the extreme RW believe it is actual Kefirah to hold the Universe is ancient, or Chazal were wrong on science, but the majority of banners were more concerned with the 'tone' of the books, or 'spirit' as Moron Plaut calls it.

To most regular 'westernized' Chareidim, the tone was fine. Even the maskimim had no problems with it. Clearly 'tone' is a subjective matter, and clearly the tone seemed fine to people used to living in a Western culture, yet seemed very problematic to those who are more sheltered. Of course, this itself could be a matter of debate: The extreme right wing will claim that the only reason we have no problem with the tone is because we have become tainted with 'treif secular thinking', while those of us to the left will claim that the extreme right wing are a bunch of crazy people.

Can one debate 'tone'? I don't think so. Perception is reality, and the reality is that the views of the extreme right wing are far removed from the views of the left wing. And this is within Chareidism. The culture clash here is not between the Secular world and the Torah world. It's not even between the Modern Orthodox world and the Ultra Orthodox world.

No, the culture clash in this case was between the left wing of the Chareidi world and the right wing of the Chareidi world. Does the Secular world care what the Gedolim have to say? Hardly. Does the Modern Orthodox world care what the Gedolim have to say? Maybe, but only because it comfirms their suspicions about the backwardness of the Gedolim.

The people really bothered by this whole affair are the left wing of the Chareidi world. They may dress, look and act like the right wing Chareidim, but their modes of thought and behaviors are far removed from the extremists. So should we Modern Orthodox care about this? I guess not really, it's their problem not ours. Still, it's kinda funny to see the LW UOs on the blogs squirming. The one's who are always bashing Modern Orthodoxy, are now seen as treif by their own right wing. That's quite funny. Ha ! Ha ha! Ha ha ha.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. OK, I must stop laughing. It's not nice.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Halachah/Hashkafah Theory of Life, The Universe and Everything

I think I once posted this in some form but I don't remember, so here goes again, this time with a more catchy title. I call it "The Halachah/Hashkafah Theory of Life, The Universe and Everything". In other words, its another theory for Torah & Science reconciliation. The text is from a commenter.

One needs to make a distinction between “al pi din” and “metzius”.

Torah / Halachah expects us to view things through its own perspective. It has its own set of rules and regulations. Thus salting meat will “remove” the blood, carrying an object 4 amos in a public place “removes” it from one domain to another domain, a bliah in a kli will make the food it comes in contact imbued with a taam of the bliah if its less than 24 hours old and the taam will be pogum if its more than 24 hours, an animal with a sign of treifah can not live etc. For an Orthodox Jew, the boundary provided by a “tsuras hapesach” is no less real than a solid wall. All these halachik constructs are not necessarily factual from a “metzius” perspective but they are 100% factual from a halachik perspective.

Similarly the Torah wants us to view Breishis, etc as if they were factual no less than any other halachik construct.They are no more mythical than laws of kashrus or Shabbos. Thus Shabbos IS the “seventh” day, Adam and Chavah WERE the first two people etc. By adopting this perspective we attain a Torah viewpoint of life. This perspective is important when considering the value/need to observe Shabbos, the value of a single human life etc. The question of “what really happened” is no more relevant than what is the red stuff that exudes from a piece of salted meat. Halacha considers the liquid as “juice” and considers creation as having taken place in 7 days. When studying science we wear a scientific “hat” when living our lives as moral/halachik Jews we view things from a Torah perspective.

From time to time there may appear a seeming conflict between these two viewpoints. Of course, halacha has some flexibility in it, so an 8 month baby is now viable and the metzius/halacha has changed. Sometimes the halachah allows for a convergence of the metzius and the din sometimes they remain distinct. When that should happen is for the poskim to debate. Makes sense to me. What do you think?

I think this is not a bad theory at all actually. Kinda hard to believe, but better than most theories. I would place it somewhere between Myth/Moshol and Kiruv/Kvetch. Of course it is quite similar to Myth/Moshol, with just the slight 'Brisker/RYBS' style twist about 'Halachic Reality'.

Cultural and Hashkafic Comfort Zones

Dude writes about a school situation in his local community. He says:

Unfortunately what often happens out of town as the city grows is that the community schools is pulled by the extremes of one faction who wish the school to fit their precise model in all ways and are not satisfied with a moderate middle ground. At this point they go off and start another school which is more precisely to their liking. At that point the folks who remain in the community school are not balanced, and eventually that school solidifies in the other direction leaving two extremes and the moderates are left in the cold.This process is happening where I live and it is very sad.I recently visited a haredi elementary day school outside my own city which for years had a reputation as a middle of the road kind of place. Now they have a sign on the main door saying that women who have a slit or do not have their hair covered may not enter the building! Made me sick to my stomach.

I would prefer the school as it is. I prefer a healthy mix. I want my kid to grow up with the Yiras Shomayim and dedication to dikduk bemitzvos that is inculcated in UO schools (but not in doctrinaire MO schools), but without the hashkafic narrowness found in standard UO schools.

Of course I recognize the fact that married women are mechuyav to cover their hair. But that they should be prohibited from entering the building?! No-one should be treated as a second-class citizen! The school I send my kids to would NEVER do such a thing...and if they even dared the local Haredi Rabbi would march down there himself, tear the sign down, and probably try to get the person who put it up fired.

The specific point was that for those of us who do not wish to have the dinosaur discussion with our kids like Gil had or do not wish to have to tell our kids that Rav Kook in fact was not a Rasha, and not have to worry about our kids having a LW offhand attitude to shemiras hamitzvos, we have the wonderful concept of a community school which straddles the middle as many out of town places do. When the extremists come along and do not accept anything but ideological purity, both sides lose since all you are left with are doctrinaire schools of right and left. This is akin to what we have 'in-town'. You get to choose between your kid calling Rav Soloveitchik 'JB' or having him be very loose about many areas of Torah and hashkafah.

To which I responded as follows:

Nice speech, but it depends entirely on how you define the 'middle', right and left. Those to the left of you think they are in the middle, and that you are doctrinaire right. Likewise you think you are the tolerant middle, and those to the right of you are too right. Everyone has a particular comfort zone, and its quite clear that you wouldn’t be very comfortable at all either to the right or to the left of where you are at. How can you demand that anyone else should act differently? It’s hypocritical. It’s not about tolerant middles vs. doctrinaire extremes, gimme a break. It’s about cultural and hashkafic comfort zones. I seriously doubt that your comfort zone is any wider than mine. In fact I would bet yours is not, because I could swing far left to right with moderate discomfort, but if you go either direction you get extremely uncomfortable, as your many comments have shown.

Dude, I like you, but you seem to not get it. You are unhappy because the way the chips are falling, you are concerned that the new MO school in your community will attract all the moderates away from your current UO school, leaving it to fall into the hands of the fundamentalists whom you clearly detest. I feel your pain. But yet you insist that the MOs should join you in your current school, even though they would feel just as uncomfortable there. Of course in any Jewish community there are different sub-groups, and it is not always practical to have a school for each sub-group, one or more of the sub-groups will have to compromise and feel less than comfortable. But who should compromise? Clearly one school cannot comfortable accomodate MO, LW UO and RW UO. Such a school will inevitably fall in the middle. In such a scenario the LW UOs (like you) will be most comfortable, while the RW UOs and the MOs will not be.

An alternative scenario is to have two schools, one comfortably MO, and the other comfortably UO, probably more RW UO. Then the MOs and the RW UOs will both be comfortable in their own schools, whilst the LW UOs will be less so, and wil have to chose between two not quite right schools. Seems to me that this alternative scenario is in fact the preferable one, since in this scenario two groups are uncomfortable whilst only one is not, whereas in the current scenario only one group is comfortable whilst two are not.

It seems to me that your entire argument boils down to this. You are saying: “I don’t want to be the one to feel uncomfortable! I would rather it be the MOs and the RW UOs who don’t feel so comfortable. If the MOs go off and create an MO school and get comfortable, and furthermore, attract all the moderates from my school, then I will be left in a RW UO school, and I will then be the one who is uncomfortable, being that I’m only comfortably LW UO. No fair! Because I’m right and they’re all wrong, so they should be the ones who are uncomfortable!”

That’s about the long and the short of it, isn’t it Dude?

What The Ban Should have Been

I’m always amazed at the ineptitude of the fundamentalists. The bans, the letters defending the bans, the letters attacking the defenders of the bans, the articles in the yated, are all quite pathetic. Why can’t these people even write a decent ban? Do they have no sechel at all? I have always claimed that I could do a better job than that. Well, someone just dared me to, so here goes:

A Ban on Reconciliation of Science and Torah (The way it should have been written)

Recently, a number of books have been published which attempt to reconcile ‘Science with Torah’. These books address various ‘Scientific’ issues with Breishis, and also with various statements of Chazal. While the author is an ehrliche yid, a ben torah, with kavanah leshem shamayim, and while he bases himself entirely on well known shittos from Rishonim and Acharonim, and even though the books have haskamos from choshuve Rabbonim, and even though everything he said has been said before, and even published by Feldheim in the book ‘Challenge’, we still feel that we must protest against this approach in the strongest terms.

The fundamental problem with this approach is that it is not part of our mainstream Chareidishe mesorah, as we define it today. Even though great Gedolim such as RSR Hirsch and the Tiferes Yisroel accepted it, it was never truly part of the mainstream, at least in the way that we define it. In this day and age, when so much of what Science has discovered contradicts so much of what we hold dear in the Chareidishe Mesorah, this approach is even more fraught with danger for us. How can we accept the Scientists approach of performing experiments and looking for evidence? The fundamentals of our fundamentalist faith are not the result of experiments and evidence! Science contradicts our fundamentalist faith. We cannot participate in such endeavors!

The only way for Chareidism to survive in this modern age is to blindly ignore all the evidence and insist that Chazal knew everything, and that the world is really 6000 years old, and that scientists are all evil reshoim. I mean, what else can we do, yet still preserve our extreme fundamentalist ideas? There are no other options. We must ban! And in order for the ban to be effective, we must denigrate! Slifkin is an evil kofer whose books are full of evil kefirah. He must be banned! His books must be banned and burnt! He must be banned ! (But not burnt - wer're not savages you know).

There. That should do the trick. Now R Leib, could you let go of my arm? Its really starting to hurt. Thanks.

Yours sincerely, The Gedolim.

Allright, I admit it. I couldn’t do it. No matter which way I tried to write it, it ended up sounding ridiculous. I must apologize to the Gedolim – no wonder they had such a hard time trying to write a sensible ban – it can’t be done!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More Not Quite Literal But Scientifically Compatible Breishis Translation

ח וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת-קוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן--לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם; וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ, מִפְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, בְּתוֹךְ, עֵץ הַגָּן. ט וַיִּקְרָא יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶל-הָאָדָם; וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, אַיֶּכָּה. י וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶת-קֹלְךָ שָׁמַעְתִּי בַּגָּן; וָאִירָא כִּי-עֵירֹם אָנֹכִי, וָאֵחָבֵא. יא וַיֹּאמֶר--מִי הִגִּיד לְךָ, כִּי עֵירֹם אָתָּה; הֲמִן-הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לְבִלְתִּי אֲכָל-מִמֶּנּוּ--אָכָלְתָּ. יב וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם: הָאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה עִמָּדִי, הִוא נָתְנָה-לִּי מִן-הָעֵץ וָאֹכֵל. יג וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לָאִשָּׁה, מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂית; וַתֹּאמֶר, הָאִשָּׁה, הַנָּחָשׁ הִשִּׁיאַנִי, וָאֹכֵל. יד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ, כִּי עָשִׂיתָ זֹּאת, אָרוּר אַתָּה מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה, וּמִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה; עַל-גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ, וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל-יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ. טו וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית, בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ, וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ: הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ, וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב.

8. And they heard the sound of God walking in their garden, and they were afraid. 9. And God said (kaveyochol not really) where are you? 10 And the man said, I was scared because I was naked. 11 And God said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from that tree?’ 12 And the man said ‘It was all her fault!’. 13 And God said ‘What did you do that for?’ and the woman replied ‘I imagined that my snake told me to.’ And God said ‘But you only imagined it cos you are delusional’. 14 But then God spoke to the snake, which was strange, since the snake didn’t really do anything at all anyway according to even some Rishonim, but never mind about that. And God said to the snake ‘Because you did this, you will be very cursed. You will slither along on your belly. And the snake said (kaveyochol not really) ‘What, you mean like all the other snakes on the planet have been doing for the past 100,000 years (including me) ?‘ And that really doesn’t make much sense, but hey, we have to translate semi literally!

אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר, הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ--בְּעֶצֶב, תֵּלְדִי בָנִים; וְאֶל-אִישֵׁךְ, תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ, וְהוּא, יִמְשָׁל-בָּךְ
וּלְאָדָם אָמַר, כִּי-שָׁמַעְתָּ לְקוֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ, וַתֹּאכַל מִן-הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לֵאמֹר לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ--אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה, בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ, בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּאכְלֶנָּה, כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ. יח וְקוֹץ וְדַרְדַּר, תַּצְמִיחַ לָךְ; וְאָכַלְתָּ, אֶת-עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה. יט בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ, תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם, עַד שׁוּבְךָ אֶל-הָאֲדָמָה, כִּי מִמֶּנָּה לֻקָּחְתָּ: כִּי-עָפָר אַתָּה, וְאֶל-עָפָר תָּשׁוּב. כ וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ, חַוָּה: כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי. כא וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ, כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר—וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם

And God said to the woman ‘Now childbirth will be difficult for you’ and the woman replied ‘What, you mean like it is for every other woman on the planet?’And to the man He said ‘Because you listened to your wife the ground will be cursed, and it will be hard for you to grow crops. 18. And thorns and thistles will grow. 19. With the sweat of your brow will you work to eat. 19 And man said, ‘What, you mean like everyone else on the planet?’ And then the man called his wife Chavah, because she was the mother of every living thing. Except of course she wasn’t, because there were plenty of other people around, but don’t worry about that. 21 And God made them clothes, because for some strange reason they couldn’t go and get normal clothes like everyone else on the planet.

The more I try the stupider it gets. Is anyone still not convinced? Do I have to carry on?

Moron Plaut Speaks Again

Mordechai Plaut, who has proven his true colors in the past by printing lies, is back again with some more of his 'opinions'. Let’s see how well he does this time.

Opinion & Comment
Why We Censor

". . . Life and death I have put before you, and blessing and curse. And you should choose life so that you and your descendants will live" (Devorim 30:19).

Is it wrong to add: "Don't choose death"?

Is it an unwarranted, or intolerable, restriction of someone's freedom if rabbonim say to him: "This reading material is deadly for your soul. Keep away."?

Are rabbonim expected to just "mind their own business" (which is truly in part the spiritual health of Klal Yisroel) and not speak out when they see people who sincerely seek the truth and wish to expand and deepen their knowledge and understanding of Torah, and innocently try to realize their ambitions by studying "books [that] are in opposition to our Torah" (HaRav Shechter and HaRav Kamenetsky) and in fact "do terrible offense to our hallowed tradition, and distort and undermine the Torah's clear truths," as the Novominsker Rebbe wrote?

Funny how he just launches into it, without even explicitly saying what the context of his comments is. Is it so obvious? Well, anyway, so far so good. The Rabbanim have a right to do whatever they want.

Is there anything wrong with this? On the contrary, if the rabbonim see things this way is it not a terrible crime for them not to warn the innocent? If Slifkin has a right — granted to him by modern society — to express his ideas be they what they may, certainly those who see those ideas as distortions have no less of a right to express their views in reaction. By their own evaluation, and in the view of anyone who follows them, they even have a clear obligation to proclaim their assessment to anyone who might be exposed to those ideas that are "in opposition to our Torah" but were definitely not perceived as such before the rabbonim made their views known.

Correct. They have a right to express their opposition certainly. But they should do it with yashrus and sechel. They should read the books, consult the experts (i.e. people who can read English), and if they still feel the books are no good then they should talk to the maskimim and act tactfully. But don’t print a bunch of lies and slander. That just makes us think the Gedolim lack basic sechel and yashrus.

Many books include ideas mentioned by Slifkin, but only his were condemned. Why? Because of "the impudent and audacious spirit of throwing off the yoke (prikas ol) of the mesorah miSinai and our sages (rabboseinu hakedoshim) who are its bearers (maggidehoh)," that is not found in those others.

Now he’s quoting from one of the recent letters so I can’t really blame Plaut for this poor behavior. In this case its Rav Aharon Shechter who is acting in a disgusting fashion. Again, its hard to respect people who are so quick to throw insults. Maybe I should say that Rav Aharon Shachter is acting in an impudent and audacious fashion?

Are the rabbonim asking or telling us to stop thinking? Do they wish us to be intellectual wimps who cannot and do not evaluate critically what they hear?

Yes! Of course they they wish us to be intellectual wimps who cannot and do not evaluate critically what they hear, when it comes to these types of issues. Don’t be stupid! Do the Gedolim want us to evaluate the words of Chazal critically? Of course not. Do the Gedolim want us to evaluate the words of the Gedolim critically? Of course not. Do the Gedolim want us to evaluate the words of the Torah critically? Of course not. They want us to accept what we are told in these areas. Looking at any of these things critically will raise all sorts of questions to which the Gedolim have no good answers for, as Rav Mattisyahu Solomon admitted.

What an absurd suggestion! If we close down our minds we will not even be able to understand the Torah that they transmit to us daily, not to mention the holy words of our Sages of previous generations back to Sinai. No intellectually honest person could say that our rabbonim do not want us to think! The often-heard response that pronouncements such as this one are anti-intellectual betray a desire to ridicule us and our rabbonim, not a serious charge.

Oh please. Don’t be ridiculous. The reality here is obvious. The Gedolim don’t want us to think about these things because they have no good answers and the facts don’t fit with their fundamentalist ideology. We are not claiming that the Gedolim are ‘anti-intellectual’, we are claiming they are ‘anti-truth’. There's a big difference.

Free, serious and deep inquiry is our goal, constantly pursued. But — yes there is a "but" — it must be within the spirit of Torah and not in the spirit of the secular world which is deeply, unremittingly hostile to Torah.

When you say ‘the secular world is hostile to Torah’, what you really mean is ‘the scientific & historical findings and facts which are accepted by the Western world as undeniable reality prove that certain Chareidi fundamentalists views are nonsense’.

Furthermore, 'Free, serious and deep inquiry ' is absolutely NOT your goal. You are deliberately misrepresenting the facts, by implying that as long as the 'spirit' of the enquiry is good, then its okay. So if my 'spirit' is good I can write a book on how evolution has been virtually proven? As long as my 'spirit' is good I can write a book about how the Documentary Hypothesis is accepted by every (non fundamentalist) Bible scholar in the world? Gimme a break. Maybe the 'spirit' is an additional problem, but don't make out that any and all inquiry is fine as long as its within the 'spirit' of Torah.

As one observer of the modern scene wrote, "rarely have we faced a culture more antithetical to the values of Judaism, not superficially but at its very roots." Superficially it appears friendly, and certainly compatible. But at its roots the hostility is very strong.

True. But completely irrelevant. The books were not promoting Britney Spears, pre-marital sex or nihilism. The issue here is Scientific facts and common sense.

When we faced the Greeks in the time of the Maccabim, the issues were clear and in the open. They said, "Write on the ox horn that you have no part in the G-d of Israel." You cannot get more direct than that. They did not let us learn Torah and do mitzvos. The violated our money and our daughters and our Sanctuary.

Now they leave our daughters alone (except for once-in-a- while attempts in the State of Israel). They shower us with wealth. They allow us to learn and to do mitzvos with hiddurim that were undreamed of by earlier generations.

Yet the spirit of the Western world, in its media, in its science, in its art, in its politics, is a challenge to the authentic Torah spirit from the floor to the rafters.

When you say ‘in its science.. is a challenge to the authentic Torah spirit’, what you really mean is ‘the scientific & historical findings and facts which are accepted by the Western world as undeniable reality prove that certain Chareidi fundamentalists views are nonsense’.

Just pick up a Mesillas Yeshorim and consider the catalogue of things that the Ramchal lists as inimical to the very first step of the Path of the Righteous (Chapter 5), and it is clear that modern society has raised the difficulty of overcoming them to new heights: 1] Dealing with distractions and necessities of the world; 2] Laughter and ridicule; 3] Pressures of an evil society.

The mass of modern media and communication make the temptations of excess in the first area stronger than they ever were, even as it has increased greatly the amount of information that we really have to deal with. The amount of comedy and ridicule has increased tremendously compared to any previous period, even as its prestige has grown, making it harder to dismiss. Finally, society is so intrusive, even as it is free, that it exerts tremendous pressure to conform to its increasingly decadent values.

Irrelevant commentary.

These are each individually powerful challenges, and their wearing-down effects are accruing. But note that in each case their is nothing overtly coercive about the hostility. The media appear friendly. Society appears open. The ideas appear tolerant.

It is hard to know who is for us and who is against us. Our rabbonim do not reject modern society wholesale, but they draw lines for us: This is ok. Stay away from that.

They don’t reject modern society wholesale??!! Of course they do. And your argument is basically this: ‘The outside world is dangerous and evil. Only the Gedolim are qualified to determine which parts of it are okay.’

If the Gedolim posses Daas Torah and are virually infallible (or at least less fallible than anyone else on the planet), then you are correct. If, however, the Gedolim are naïve, sheltered scholars without much clue about the outside world, then you are incorrect. Clearly the defenders of the books do not think the Gedolim are infallible giants who must be listened to. As with Orlofsky, your real argument boils down to one point and one point only: They are Gedolim so they must be right. Many people disagree.

Whoever wants to, is free to go it alone. He or she can plunge in to the treacherous waters of the modern world alone, and try to reach the truth heroically alone. It is a big task for an individual. The rest of us will take shelter under the banner of gedolei Yisroel. As in the generation of Chanukah, so too in our generation — the gedolei veziknei hador cry out to us all: Mi laSheim eilai!

Wow. If you read between the lines here, Plaut seems to be admitting that there is some aspect of ‘reaching the truth’ involved which you won’t get to by staying ‘within the machaneh’. I wonder if he actually meant to imply that?

Whoever wants to reach Hashem should join them!

To be exact, whoever wants to remain safe in a simplistic ideology which preaches lies, and which viciously attacks anyone who breaks ranks, should join the Gedolim. Anyone who would prefer the emmes, should run away.

'Reaching Hashem' is another matter entirely, but I find it hard to believe that people like Rav Shachter, Rabbi Miller and Mordechai Plaut are anywhere close.

It's a shame that Plaut had to write such a bunch of crap. He could have made some good points about the dangers of Scientific Skepticism to faith based religions, but instead he lost it all with a bunch of exagerrated nonsense.

Plaut, you are a sorry excuse for a journalist.

More Non Literal Breishis!

א וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן. ב וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה, אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ: מִפְּרִי עֵץ-הַגָּן, נֹאכֵל. ג וּמִפְּרִי הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹךְ-הַגָּן--אָמַר אֱלֹהִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, וְלֹא תִגְּעוּ בּוֹ: פֶּן-תְּמֻתוּן. ד וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה: לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן. ה כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע. ו וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל. ז וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה, עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּדְעוּ, כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם; וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת.

1. And snakes were slimy, and people didn’t like them, but Eve had a pet snake which she liked to have imaginary conversations with. And the woman imagined that that snake told her not to eat any fruit from any of the fruit trees in her garden. 2 So the woman said to her pet snake,’ I can eat fruit!’. 3. 'I just can’t eat the fruit from a particular tree, because God told me not to, and even if I touch the tree I will die'. 4. And she imagined that the snake replied ‘No! You won’t die’. And I know this is a very strange story but hey, we have to translate the words semi-literally, if not literally! And chas vesholom this should only a Moshol or a Myth. So let’s keep on going. 5. And she further imagined that the snake said ‘Because God knows, if you eat that apple, you will be like God, knowing good and evil’. [She had a very vivid imagination]. 6. Anyways, so Eve saw the tree was good to eat, and she ate some fruit, and gave some to Adam too. 7. Suddenly they realized that they were naked! For some strange reason none of their friends or relatives had ever pointed this out to them before. ‘Gosh’ said Eve, ‘no wonder everyone always looked at me funny at the shuk’. ‘Gosh’ said Adam, ‘this explains why none of the guys will go hunting with me’. So, they made themselves some loin cloths out of fig leaves, because for some strange reason they couldn’t wear regular clothes like everyone else in the world.

Okay, so what’s my point? To make fun of the Torah? To make fun of Breishis? NO! To make fun of those who think that these stories are even semi literal. They can’t possibly be. It’s obviously Mythology / Moshology. It’s designed to teach Moral/Spiritual/Ethical lessons. Or maybe it was popular Sumerian mythology cleansed of Polytheism and infused with Ethical Monotheism. Only unsophisticated Fundamentalists think you can take these stories at face value.

So the obvious question is, just what are the lessons here? What’s the lesson of a talking snake? Of Gan Eden? Well, there are many Sefarim which talk about this, there is no need for me to make up any new peshatim. Actually, I heard through the grapevine that a Rav (his name was not familiar to me but he sounded Chareidi – not sure if I can post his name here) is thinking of writing a sefer which takes an allegorical approach to Breishis. Considering the recent bans, I wonder how he is going to present it? My advice would be to start the book as follows:

“Of course, as the great and holy Gedolim have taught us, Breishis is literally true, and it is forbidden to think otherwise (chas vesholom). However we also know that every posuk has multiple meanings. So in that spirit, here is an additional, mosholdicke meaning for Breishis, which is just intended to deepen our understanding of the pesukim, but not (chas vesholom chas vesholom) intended to take away from the plain and absolutely literal meaning of the posuk (chas vesholom).”

Just to be extra safe, I would also advise the author to change his name to something like ‘Dr Brian Christian’, publish the book with Christian Book Publishers inc. and have haskamos from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Song for Tafkaa

Imagine there's no evolution
It's easy if you try
Fountains of the deep below us
A firmament above the sky
Imagine all the people
Living for 900 years

Imagine there's no unsophisticated chareidim
It isn't hard to do
Nothing for MOs to get upset about
And no one really believes in Daas Torah too
Imagine all the Gedolim
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I know that Dude will join me
And our fantasy worlds will be as one

Imagine no reliable carbon dating
I wonder if you can
No need for scientific consensus
A brotherhood of fundiemen
Imagine all the ancients
Knowing 21st Century Cosmology

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I know that Dude will join me
And our fantasy worlds will be as one

The Enuma Elish fits with Science AND Torah !

The Enuma Elish is a Babylonian Creation Myth written about 1200 BCE. My new non literal translation shows how it fits perfectly with modern science! Not only that, but it also fits perfectly with modern Torah!


When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;

In the beginning God created the Heavens and Earth.

When of the gods none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven,
Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being...

God is the first and only God and his name is Elokim.

Ages increased,...
Then Ansar and Kisar were created, and over them....
Long were the days, then there came forth.....
Anu, their son,...
Ansar and Anu...
And the god Anu...
Nudimmud, whom his fathers, his begetters.....
Abounding in all wisdom,...'
He was exceeding strong...
He had no rival -
Thus were established and were... the great gods.

God has many names. But there is only one God!

But Tiamat and Apsu were still in confusion...
They were troubled and...
In disorder...
Apru was not diminished in might...
And Tiamat roared...
She smote, and their deeds...
Their way was evil...
Then Apsu, the begetter of the great gods,
Cried unto Mummu, his minister, and said unto him:
"O Mummu, thou minister that rejoicest my spirit,
Come, unto Tiamut let us go!

This passage contains deep mystical secrets. It is not appropriate to translate it.

So they went and before Tiamat they lay down,
They consulted on a plan with regard to the gods, their sons.
Apsu opened his mouth and spake,
And unto Tiamut, the glistening one, he addressed the word:
...their way...
By day I can not rest, by night I can not lie down in peace.
But I will destroy their way, I will...
Let there be lamentation, and let us lie down again in peace."
When Tiamat heard these words,
She raged and cried aloud...
She... grievously...,
She uttered a curse, and unto Apsu she spake:
"What then shall we do?
Let their way be made difficult, and let us lie down again in peace."
Mummu answered, and gave counsel unto Apsu,
...and hostile to the gods was the counsel Mummu gave:
Come, their way is strong, but thou shalt destroy it;
Then by day shalt thou have rest, by night shalt thou lie down in peace."
Apsu harkened unto him and his countenance grew bright,
Since he (Mummu) planned evil against the gods his sons.

Learn Torah and keep Mitzvos, because that is all there is!

Up next: The Cat in the Hat fits with Science!

Taking Breishis Non Literally

[NOTE: This post does NOT intend to mock the Torah, chas vesholom. It intends to mock those people the attitude that one can take a few words non literally and hey presto! Breishis fits with modern 21st Century Cosmology, or any other Cosmology except for Summeria circa 2000BCE]

Follwing Gil’s lead, I decided to write my own Scientifically correct translation of Breishis. My knowledge of Cosmology is a bit weak, so please excuse any mistakes. If some of my translations don’t quite match the Hebrew, don’t worry about it, apparently that’s no problem at all.

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ. ב וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם. ג וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר. ד וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאוֹר, כִּי-טוֹב; וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ. ה וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם, וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה; וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם אֶחָד

In the beginning God created the Universe. 2. Before the creation of the Universe, there wasn’t any mass. 3. At God said ‘let there be light’ and there was a big bang. 4. And God saw the energy from the big bang and it was good, and God separated the matter from the anti matter. 5. And God called the light energy, and the dark matter anti-matter, and thus the initial period of the Universe’s creation ended.

ו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם, וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל, בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם. ז וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָרָקִיעַ, וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ, וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ; וַיְהִי-כֵן. ח וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ, שָׁמָיִם; וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם שֵׁנִי

6. And God said err, ummm, …., lets create some spiritual things, like Heaven, which don’t have a physical parallel. 8. And so the second period in the creation of the Universe ended, except that it wasn’t really part of the physical Creation, since there is no such thing as a Firmament, but never mind about that! Onto the next Chapter!

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֶל-מָקוֹם אֶחָד, וְתֵרָאֶה, הַיַּבָּשָׁה; וַיְהִי-כֵן. י וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לַיַּבָּשָׁה אֶרֶץ, וּלְמִקְוֵה הַמַּיִם קָרָא יַמִּים; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב. יא וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, תַּדְשֵׁא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע, עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי לְמִינוֹ, אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ-בוֹ עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיְהִי-כֵן. יב וַתּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע, לְמִינֵהוּ, וְעֵץ עֹשֶׂה-פְּרִי אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ-בוֹ, לְמִינֵהוּ; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב. יג וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם שְׁלִישִׁי

9. And God said, let the waters on the Earth gather in one place, and the dry land will be revealed. So the tectonic plates moved around, and the seas formed (possibly from ice released by falling meteors) and God called the land ‘land’ and water ‘seas’. And God saw it was good. 10. And God said let the earth produce vegetation, but the sun hasn’t formed yet! So nothing will happen. And actually, the Sun formed before the earth, so the whole bit with the water didn’t really happen yet either. But don’t worry about that. 13. And so ended the third era of creation, except that really it is the 4th era, and the next bit about the 4th era is the 3rd era, and I’m sorry if this is all a bit confusing. Or maybe 4 means 3 and 3 means 4? Could be.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם, לְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה; וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים, וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים. טו וְהָיוּ לִמְאוֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם, לְהָאִיר עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיְהִי-כֵן. טז וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים: אֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל, לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם, וְאֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה, וְאֵת הַכּוֹכָבִים. יז וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים, בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם, לְהָאִיר, עַל-הָאָרֶץ. יח וְלִמְשֹׁל, בַּיּוֹם וּבַלַּיְלָה, וּלְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב. יט וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם רְבִיעִי

14. And God said let there be lights in the Galaxies, so that we can differentiate between day and night, and also have seasons. 15 And they will provide light to the earth (which only gets created later). 16 And God made 2 lights, except one isn’t really a light but rather a hunk of granite, but it reflects light so maybe that’s okay if I call it a light? Thanks. And also God made a hundred billion other stars. And of course the formation of the moon came after the formation of the earth, but lets not worry about minor details here! 19 And so the fourth period of Creation ended, except that really it was the third.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים--יִשְׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם, שֶׁרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה; וְעוֹף יְעוֹפֵף עַל-הָאָרֶץ, עַל-פְּנֵי רְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם. כא וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים; וְאֵת כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ הַחַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת אֲשֶׁר שָׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם לְמִינֵהֶם, וְאֵת כָּל-עוֹף כָּנָף לְמִינֵהוּ, וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב. כב וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים, לֵאמֹר: פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ, וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הַמַּיִם בַּיַּמִּים, וְהָעוֹף, יִרֶב בָּאָרֶץ. כג וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם חֲמִישִׁי

20. And God said let the slime evolve into organisms in the seas, and then birds and other flying creatures, except that they will come much later in the evolutionary cycle. 21 And God evolved whales, or maybe dinosaurs, or maybe giant crocodiles, amongst other things. 22 And God said ‘Go evolve some more, and fill the earth! 23 And so the fifth period of Creation ended.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, תּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה לְמִינָהּ, בְּהֵמָה וָרֶמֶשׂ וְחַיְתוֹ-אֶרֶץ, לְמִינָהּ; וַיְהִי-כֵן. כה וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת-חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ לְמִינָהּ, וְאֶת-הַבְּהֵמָה לְמִינָהּ, וְאֵת כָּל-רֶמֶשׂ הָאֲדָמָה, לְמִינֵהוּ; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב. כו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ; וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל-הָאָרֶץ, וּבְכָל-הָרֶמֶשׂ, הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ. כז וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ: זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם. כח וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, אֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְכִבְשֻׁהָ; וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם, וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבְכָל-חַיָּה, הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל-הָאָרֶץ. כט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת-כָּל-עֵשֶׂב זֹרֵעַ זֶרַע אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, וְאֶת-כָּל-הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ פְרִי-עֵץ, זֹרֵעַ זָרַע: לָכֶם יִהְיֶה, לְאָכְלָה. ל וּלְכָל-חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וּלְכָל-עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּלְכֹל רוֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, אֶת-כָּל-יֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב, לְאָכְלָה; וַיְהִי-כֵן. לא וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, וְהִנֵּה-טוֹב מְאֹד; וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי

24 And God said let the amoebas and lower organisms evolve into higher organisms and they did. 25 And God evolved all the organisms into the species we see today, with some mass extinctions along the way. 26 And God said, lets evolve a man with intelligence, and he will rule over the lower animals. 27 And God evolved man with intelligence, male and female, over many millions of years. 28 And God said you should continue to evolve, have children and eventually subdue the earth. But since primitive man couldn’t understand language, the words fell on deaf ears. But primitive man evolved and had children anyway, so it all turned out okay. 29 And God said you can be vegetarians. 30. And God said you can eat meat too if you like. 31. And so ended the 6th period of Creation.

וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ, וְכָל-צְבָאָם. ב וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה; וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה. ג וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת-יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ: כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ, אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת

And so the major aspects of the Creation of the Universe ended. 2 And God ceased to create anything else, except that suns and planets are still forming elsewhere, but don’t worry about that. 3. And God blessed the Seventh day, because he stopped creating things in the Seventh Period, and period is like day, well kinda, okay so seven is like seven, (assuming seven means seven), so it all turns out okay.

אֵלֶּה תוֹלְדוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ, בְּהִבָּרְאָם: בְּיוֹם, עֲשׂוֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים--אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם. ה וְכֹל שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה, טֶרֶם יִהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ, וְכָל-עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה, טֶרֶם יִצְמָח: כִּי לֹא הִמְטִיר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָרֶץ, וְאָדָם אַיִן, לַעֲבֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה. ו וְאֵד, יַעֲלֶה מִן-הָאָרֶץ, וְהִשְׁקָה, אֶת-כָּל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה. ז וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה. ח וַיִּטַּע יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, גַּן-בְּעֵדֶן--מִקֶּדֶם; וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם, אֶת-הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר יָצָר. ט וַיַּצְמַח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, כָּל-עֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה, וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָל--וְעֵץ הַחַיִּים, בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן, וְעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע. י וְנָהָר יֹצֵא מֵעֵדֶן, לְהַשְׁקוֹת אֶת-הַגָּן; וּמִשָּׁם, יִפָּרֵד, וְהָיָה, לְאַרְבָּעָה רָאשִׁים. יא שֵׁם הָאֶחָד, פִּישׁוֹן--הוּא הַסֹּבֵב, אֵת כָּל-אֶרֶץ הַחֲוִילָה, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁם, הַזָּהָב. יב וּזְהַב הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא, טוֹב; שָׁם הַבְּדֹלַח, וְאֶבֶן הַשֹּׁהַם. יג וְשֵׁם-הַנָּהָר הַשֵּׁנִי, גִּיחוֹן--הוּא הַסּוֹבֵב, אֵת כָּל-אֶרֶץ כּוּשׁ. יד וְשֵׁם הַנָּהָר הַשְּׁלִישִׁי חִדֶּקֶל, הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ קִדְמַת אַשּׁוּר; וְהַנָּהָר הָרְבִיעִי, הוּא פְרָת. טו וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ. טז וַיְצַו יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר: מִכֹּל עֵץ-הַגָּן, אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל. יז וּמֵעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע--לֹא תֹאכַל, מִמֶּנּוּ: כִּי, בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ--מוֹת תָּמוּת. יח וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, לֹא-טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ; אֶעֱשֶׂה-לּוֹ עֵזֶר, כְּנֶגְדּוֹ. יט וַיִּצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, כָּל-חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה וְאֵת כָּל-עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיָּבֵא אֶל-הָאָדָם, לִרְאוֹת מַה-יִּקְרָא-לוֹ; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָא-לוֹ הָאָדָם נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, הוּא שְׁמוֹ. כ וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁמוֹת, לְכָל-הַבְּהֵמָה וּלְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּלְכֹל, חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה; וּלְאָדָם, לֹא-מָצָא עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ. כא וַיַּפֵּל יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים תַּרְדֵּמָה עַל-הָאָדָם, וַיִּישָׁן; וַיִּקַּח, אַחַת מִצַּלְעֹתָיו, וַיִּסְגֹּר בָּשָׂר, תַּחְתֶּנָּה. כב וַיִּבֶן יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הַצֵּלָע אֲשֶׁר-לָקַח מִן-הָאָדָם, לְאִשָּׁה; וַיְבִאֶהָ, אֶל-הָאָדָם. כג וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם, זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי, וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי; לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה, כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה-זֹּאת. כד עַל-כֵּן, יַעֲזָב-אִישׁ, אֶת-אָבִיו, וְאֶת-אִמּוֹ; וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ, וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד. כה וַיִּהְיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם עֲרוּמִּים, הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ; וְלֹא, יִתְבֹּשָׁשׁוּ

Oh boy. Lets see: Amongst all the hundreds of thousands of people living on the planet, there was a couple called Adam & Eve. They lived in Mesopotamia, on a rather nice patch of land. For some strange reason, they didn’t like to wear any clothes.

To Be Continued.

Yom doesn't have to mean day!

R. Gil shows that 'Yom' doesn't have to mean day!


Now if he could only show that 'creation of plants before the sun' doesn't mean 'creation of plants before the sun', 'global flood' doesn't mean 'global flood', '900 year lifespan' doesn't mean '900 year lifespan', 'only two initial people living 6,000 years ago' doesn't mean 'only two initial people living 6,000 years ago', 'common language 5000 years ago' doesn't mean 'common language 5000 years ago', and 'destruction of Sedom ~4500 years ago' doesn't mean 'destruction of Sedom ~4500 years ago', then he might be onto something.

UPDATE: Oooh, just thought of something. Can '2.5 million people leaving Egypyt' not mean '2.5 million people leaving Egypyt'? Please? Can it?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Torah MinHashamyim Again

RYGB wrote:

"I do not believe you will find any self-defining Orthodox Rabbi denying Torah min HaShamayim - except, perhaps, to a "Marc Shapiro" (i.e., purported R' Yehuda HaChasid/Ibn Ezra) extent."

To which someone replied (RYGB's comments in bold):

Really? This pious claim is a popular statement, but is there any truth to it? Contrary to popular belief, some Orthodox Jews believe that the entire text of the Torah is not Mosaic.

What, then, makes them Orthodox? Perhaps you conflate Orthodox with Orthoprax - being familiar, as you are, with Heilman and Cohen's fine work, you are doubtless aware of the distinction.

(A) Aharon Arend writes "Another segment of Orthodox Jewry follows a number of paths taken by traditional scholars, which attempt to reckon with the approach of Biblical criticism. Amos Hacham, one of the authors of the Da'at Mikra Bible commentary, maintains that the questions asked in Bible research cannot be ignored. Faith in the sanctity of the Torah and its Divine origin is not harmed thereby, since this faith is not based on the Bible being comprised of a whole, but rather on its being eternal; i.e., on the fact that the Jewish people accepts its precepts for all generations.

We ought to learn from the Sages, who sought to prove that the Scroll of Esther was written "in holy spirit" (be-ruah ha-kodesh). First they argued many points, all of which were refuted. Finally they found one argument which was unrefutable: "the Jews ordained and took it upon them" (Megillah 7a). In other words, the very fact that all generations of the Jewish people accepted, accept, and will continue to accept the burden of the Torah and its commandments is itself the most faithful proof of its being divinely given. (Megadim 3 [1987], p. 71).

Thus, one must distinguish between difficulties in the text, which can be treated by the traditional approach which reconciles differences or through a more critical approach, and faith in the Torah's Divine source, which is based on the Torah being binding and everlasting."

This is indistinguishable from Conservative theology.

(B) "The late professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz believed that the sanctity and validity of the Torah stem from the force of Jewish Halakhah and that which it has ascribed to itself. The Torah does not have a scientific or historic function, and therefore the problem of reconciling contradictions taken up by Bible criticism is an illusory difficulty. Judaism is a religion of practical commandments, not a religion of faith." - Aharon Arend

I do not regard Leibowitz as Orthodox - and certainly not as an Orthodox rabbi. He was a Reconstructionist who happened to also believe in a God.

(C) Yehezkel Kaufman wrote "Several of the conclusions of this theory may be considered assured. To this category belongs the analysis of the three primary sources - JE, P and D - with their laws and narrative framework. The source JE is manifestly composed of parallel accounts...the tripartite separation is clearest in the legal material. There are three legal corpora, differing from one another in their general style and juristic terminology, containing parallel and at times contradictory laws. These differences were recognized by early tradition and gave rise to harmonistic exegesis which is one of the features of rabbinic midrash. Only by accepting midrash as the plain sense of the text can the presence of separate legal compilations be denied."
p.156, "The Religion of Israel", translated and abridged by Moshe Greenberg (Chicago, 1960).

Yes, as Orthodox Jews we accept Medrash as th plain sense of the text. Vide "ayin tachas ayin..."
(D) Rabbi Emannuel Rackman, writing in "The Condition of Jewish Belief" states: "The most definitive record of God's encounters with man is contained in the Pentateuch. Much of it may have been written by people in different times, but at one point in history God not only made the people of Israel aware of His immediacy, but caused Moses to write the eternal evidence of the covenant between Him and His people. Even the rabbis in the Talmud did not agree on the how. But all agreed that the record was divine, and they cherished it beyond all description, even as they cherished a manner of exegesis which Moses simultaneously transmitted to his colleagues and disciples."

He only makes the point that some sections of the Torah may predate the Exodus, and have been incorporated by Moshe, by G-d's command, in the Torah. Nothing earth-shattering. [GH: maybe not earth shattering, but I don't think that R Elyashiv would be too happy with this]

(E) This subject sparked a major schism in the Orthodox community in England. The prime example is Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who at one time was a Modern Orthodox rabbi in the United Synagogue of Great Britain. He came to accept the results of higher biblical criticism, and agreed that the text of the Torah that we have today is non-Mosaic. Despite his public statement of such beliefs, and the publication of them in his book "We Have Reason to Believe" he maintained an important position within the Orthodox community. However, when he was chosen for a major promotion, his views were then used against him to deny him the job. This sparked a major debate in the British Jewish community. Eventually, he and other Orthodox Jews were forced to leave the United Synagogue of Great Britain; they then founded the Masorti Movement in England; this movement promotes traditional Judaism, and is open to historical scholarship.

See Jacob's later books including "A Jewish Theology", "Beyond Reasonable Doubt" and "God, Torah and Israel: Traditionalism Without Fundamentalism".

Jacobs is certainly not a self-identifying *Orthodox* rabbi - he is irrelevant to this conversation.

(F) Orthodox tradition notwithstanding, scholars in universaties and research institutions throughout the world are still toiling to determine who wrote the Bible, when, wherem why and how. They don't necessarily dispute the book's holy nature, just the fundamentalist view of its writing and transmission.

"I believe the divine word of God spoke through many people, through many generations," says Israel Knohl, an associate professor of Biblical studies at Hebrew University and an Orthodox Jew. "There was a continuity of revelation which rsulted in the Torah. God spoke to Moses on Sinai - but that was only the beginning." ["Who Wrote the Torah?", Calev Ben-David, Jerusalem Report, June 15, 1995]

Once more, the issue was not whether there are academics who self-identify as Orthodox who espouse radical views. I certainly concede that there are. The issue was self-identifying Orthodox *rabbis*. BTW, this also covers your point H below.

(G) Rabbi Dr. Norman Solomon is an British Orthodox rabbi who accepts the documentary hypothesis.

See his article "Torah from Heaven"

Never heard of the fellow. But it seems that early in his career he was rabbi of a shul in Liverpool that abolished duchaning! 'Nuff said. See:

(H) Contrary to the official positions of Orthodox rabbinical organizations, many Modern Orthodox Jews are willing to accept the findings of modern scholarship. A recent survey of Modern Orthodox Jews in New York City showed this result: only 54% strongly believe that God revealed the entire Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai and 34% said that they agree with this belief, but less strongly. The rest disagreed outright.

See "Cosmopolitans and Parochials: Modern Orthodox Jews in America" by Samuel C. Heilman and Steven M. Cohen, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989 248 pages.

RYGBs approach seems to be that any Orthodox Rabbi who shows some flexibility on Torah MiSinai is by definition not Orthodox. Therefore his original premise holds true, no Orthodox Rabbi is flexible on Torah MiSinai! Such genius!

The reality is that some Orthodox Rabbis were flexible, for example Rabbi Louis Jacobs. However it is also true that he was forced out of the Orthodox Rabbinate for that opinion, and he no longer considers himself Orthodox. Some people I know quite well met Rabbi Jacobs a few times and claim he was never that Orthodox, but he did go to Gateshead Yeshivah I believe. They don’t usually let in Conservatives over there.

Anyway, it is also clear that from a ‘Boundary’ perspective, the issue of Torah MinHashamayim, for better or worse (probably worse) has become THE defining line for Orthodoxy. No matter that Conservatives also believe in some kind of revelation at Sinai, (minimum of revelation and maximum of interpretation), and no matter that many MOs (and possibly even a few Chareidiprax) recognize that the matter is not so clear.

The boundary has been defined and there it shall stay. Until of course, my new movement, Conservative Chareidi, really gets going.

If the Rambam were alive today....

TobyKatz writes, regarding scribal errors in the Torah:

The Ani Ma’amin dealing with this—“this Torah is the same one given to Moshe”—likewise is not meant to refute those who say errors may have crept in. Rather, it is meant to refute those who say the Torah was written by humans and not by G-d. You see, even in Rambam’s time, there were those who rejected the original mesorah and denied the Divine authorship of the Torah. Wellhausen was not nearly as original as he thought. The statement “every word was written by G-d” is not a statement affirming human inerrancy, but a statement affirming the Divine authorship of the Torah.

This is the dividing line between Orthodoxy and every non-Torah movement: not the question of whether errors have crept in (all very minor, of course) but the question of Who wrote the Torah in the first place. We need to keep our eye on the ball here and not get distracted by minor side issues.

I’m glad Toby has the sechel to not take the Rambam at face value, and blindly parrot what he says, but rather she (quite correctly) tries to determine what exactly the Rambam was getting at. But two can play at that game, and I have seen it suggested that what the Rambam was really getting at was Islam. In other words, Islam accepts Sinai to some extent, but claims that the Torah was altered by Moshe to give a more favorable reading to Yitzchak over Yishmael. Therefore the Rambam defined one of the basic Ikkarim as being a rejection of this view, and that Moshe didn’t distort anything.

However the Rambam never meant to say that all the Torah is from God, in the face of evidence to the contrary. It could certainly be that if the Rambam were alive today, he would accept some of the premises of the Documentary Hypothesis. Or maybe he would agree that the first few chapters of Breishis are Myth/Moshol.

After all the Rambam was very great, but now dead, and I think the first few chapters of Breishis are Myth/Moshol, so if the Rambam were alive today, I’m sure he would hold like that too.

The Unbearable Liteness of Being Modern Orthodox

[This post dedicated to my buddy YG]

A large proportion of Modern Orthodoxy today can be called ‘MO Lite’. These are people who affiliate as Orthodox, but have a rather relaxed attitude to religion as a whole. They keep the basic Halachot, but are often lax in many areas, for example eating out in non kosher restaurants, davening, learning etc. The big question is, is the existence of such a group an indictment of the Modern Orthodox ideology itself? There are many answers to this question, and I thought it would be worthwhile to see if I could list them all in one place.

1. The Chareidi Answer
Yes! The fact that so many MO Jews are so shvach shows that MO ideology is krum. Actually, even if MO Jews were not so shvach MO ideology would still be krum. MO ideology does not stress Halachah or Torah learning, or listening to your Rabbeim enough. It does not encourage being an ‘Eved Hashem’ or being ‘Mevatel Your Rotzon’ enough. MO adherents are encouraged to be complacent, or to follow their own desires and feelings. But this isn’t the Torah way!

2. The ‘Courage to be Modern & Orthodox’ Answer
Modern Orthodoxy is a very challenging ideology. Chareidism is simplistic Judaism for the masses. In Chareidism, all challenges to belief and practice are banned and shunned, and its much easier to be Chareidi without having to face any serious questions. However Modern Orthodoxy, by virtue of its confrontation with the outside world, is far more difficult. Only an elite few can survive in such an environment. MO is the elite, and though more people fail at it, it is the one true ideology.

3. The Maimonidean Answer
The whole point on Torah and Mitzvos is to effect a change in your mindset. Whilst it is true that Chareidim perform the rituals acts with more precision, the fact that they are less challenged means they have less opportunity to grow intellectually. MO on the other hand are constantly struggling and being challenged, and hence grow more intellectually, which is the ultimate tachlis hachayim.

4. The ‘Flatbush is Fake’ answer

The premise of the question is false. Because Chareidim focus more on externals such as dress and external ritual practice, it seems that Chareidim are in general frummer than MO. However if you take a real deep look at Flatbush or other Chareidi communities, you will see just as much ‘Chareidi Lite’ as you see ‘MO Lite’.

5. The ‘Beyn Odom Lechaveyroh’ Answer
It’s true that Chareidim are more makpid on Halachah, but generally these are only Beyn Odom Lamokom Halachot. When it comes to Beyn Odom Lechaveyroh, they fall woefully short. MO on the other hand focus more on Bayn Odom Lechaveyroh, and so are equally religious in the final analysis, or maybe even are better.

6. The Social Scientists Answer
In every society the religious consumer falls into two broad categories: Those who desire an intense religious experience, and those who don’t. Modern Orthodoxy, by virtue of it being more tolerant, open and less about external observance of Halchah, is natural fit for those who wish to affiliate ‘Orthodox’ (probably for family / upbringing reasons) but do not desire an intense religious environment. In some respect this might be an inditement of MO ideology, since less intense people gravitate to it, but really it mostly shows that MO community is just a more comfortable place for people with different levels of observance or beliefs.

7. The Historical Answer
One has to trace back the ancestors of MO Jewry and Chareidi Jewry at least a hundred years to get to the bottom of this question. It’s not like people chose at age 20 which section of Jewish Orthodoxy to join, most people are born into a community and stay that way. Many MO have their roots in somewhat assimilated Western European Orthodoxy, whereas many Chareidim are more recent immigrants to the US, even post World War II, and more often from the shtetels of Eastern Europe.

8. The ‘Chareidism is Wrong’ Answer
While it may be true that Chareidi ideology produces more passionate adherents, the fact is that Chareidi ideology is wrong. It is based on lies and myths or just plain wrong-headed thinking, for example Breishis being literally true, Daas Torah, reduced role for women etc. Modern Orthodox ideology is more true to the goals and traditions of Judaism (before it became perverted by Easter European mysticism). Chareidism is a dangerous fundamentalist ideology which borders on the idolatrous in some areas.

9 The question is flawed answer
A large portion of MO is not lite. While they are less makpid on some things, that’s only because their Rabbanim have paskened that those things are okay. While it’s true that the Chareidim are more machmir, it’s not an indictment of a group if they chose not to keep a bunch of chumras.

10 Different Strokes for Different Folks
It’s pointless and wrong to argue about which type of Orthodoxy is better. God planned things to be this way. Different sections of Judaism cater to different community and individual personality types. This is the way it should be.

11. The Carlebach Answer
We are all holy brothers! Forget about the differences! That which unites us is greater than that which divides us. The important thing is that we are all Am Yisroel and we should promote unity, and spread the concept of God around the world.

12. The Skeptics Answer
Both ideologies are krum. What's the kashye?

So which answer is the correct one? Any of them? All of them?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

God is Love?

[Warning: This post not to be taken with food. May cause nausea or vomiting in certain individuals.]

In what be must one of the most tactless comments ever spoken by a Rav, a certain Dayan recently said:

“As to the argument that Reiki & Dowsing cannot be scientifically proven – so what? Are there not numerous things in our Emunah which cannot be proven in a laboratory, including the very existence of G-d?”

I dwelt on the problems with this statement in a previous post. In this post though, I would like to talk about an idea that crossed my mind. Like most of my ideas, this has probably already been talked about by some famous Greek philosopher 2,000 years ago, or failing that, some Jblogger last week. But no matter, the idea popped into my head through Divine Inspiration, so it must be intended ‘Min Hashamayim’ that I post about it.

It’s true that God cannot be proven in a Laboratory. But then again, neither can Love. Certainly we could detect the symptoms of love, sweaty palms, heart palpitations or whatever, but we could likewise detect the symptoms of God, true believers, spirituality or whatever. These are symptoms or indicators, but not evidence of the actual thing itself. How do we know when anyone is in love? How do we know we are in love?

The answer is, love is just something you know. But some people doubt their love. Some people may be in love without even realizing it. Some people might think they are in love but really they are not. Love can be very confusing. Some super rational types might think love is silly, but I only know that when I’m in it, it isn’t silly, love isn’t silly, it isn’t silly at all. Oops, sorry bout that.

Anyway, my point is that most people accept that love is very real, and very powerful, even though it can’t be tested in a laboratory.

Maybe it’s the same with God?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Reiki and Zoboomafoo

Gil posts about Reiki, a probably somewhat bogus 'alternative medicine' which is popular in the frum community, and which was endorsed by some Godol. Gil asks:

Yes, belief in Judaism is important. But does mean that belief in everything is valid? Since I believe in God without proof, therefore I have to believe in everything without proof?

This is exactly why all these things are popular in the frum community. People are used to accepting everything uncritically. My chareidi brother in law told me that of course magic exists, they have it in the 'orient'.

And Gil, are you not treading a fine line here? If you demand ' proof' (in other words evidence) for Reiki, why not God? Why not Sinai? Why not Kabalah? Once you move beyond Scientific Skepticism just what are the standards of evidence required?

You will no doubt answer (like DovBear, except that he is only pretending and you probably mean it) that the Halachah requires you to believe in God and Sinai, but not in Reiki. This of course doesn't work, because the Halachah is dependent on Sinai, and Sinai is dependent on God, which is the very subject under discussion. And if we relax our standards and believe in God and Reiki, why not The Holy Zobomafoo?

So we are back to square one. If we are willing to believe in things without evidence, where do we draw the line?

I don't know the answer. But I still maintain that the idea of God is more than reasonable, whereas Nishtaneh Hatevah & Gosse are lunacy. As for Zoboomafoo, I will continue to watch his show. Just in case.


I think I finally get what bothers Scientists about miracles. It was kinda obvious really. Oh well, sometimes I can be a bit dense too.

Steven Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins and Mis-nagid have long insisted that Miracles contravene Science. Gould maintains that Science and Religion must occupy ‘Non Overlapping Magesteria’ (NOMA), and that miracles are not allowed.

I used to argue that this was going too far. After all, if God wants to contravene the laws of Science, why shouldn’t He? God is above and beyond science. So, for example, F=MA is true from a perspective of Science, but F=MA comes with certain prior (unstated) assumptions, one of which is ‘Barring any acts of God.’

However I now see where the problem is. I think there are actually three types of miracles, so let’s discuss each in turn.

1. Fortuitous Miracle
Here we have something which isn’t technically a miracle at all, but rather something so co-incidental or fortuitous, that it seems like a miracle. For example, the raid on Entebbe, the Rebbetzin agreeing with me, winning the lottery just when you need to, etc. These don’t contradict Science at all (except maybe the Rebbetzin), and I don’t think anyone has a problem with this. Of course maaminim will see the hand of God here, while skeptics won’t, but that’s a different issue.

2. Transitory Miracle
A transitory miracle is where the laws of Science are genuinely suspended or altered, however there is no long term lasting effect. For example, were I to levitate, or if $1000 suddenly appeared in front of me, or if a snake spoke one time, these would be genuine miracles. However the overall effect on Science, scientific theory, carbon dating or whatever, is nil. I don’t see that the skeptics should have any real problems with this type of miracle either. You can debate about whether it actually happened or not, but it doesn’t really affect Science in any way.

3. Science Altering Miracle
The third type of miracle is where there is a serious problem. This type of miracle, for example the global flood, has serious ramifications to science. If the suggestion was just that a trillion tons of water magically appeared, and then disappeared a while later, and furthermore it was special miracle water which left no trace, that might not be so bad. But the claim is that all species and humans were wiped out, the intense heat of the mabul caused the laws of science to change, all forms of dating and geology are not valid pre-mabul etc etc. This is unacceptable to Scientists. It makes a mockery of Science, because how can any theories be constructed and proven, if such a thing could happen? How can Scientists be sure that any of their experiments are valid? Nishtaneh Hatevah is a particularly pernicious aspect of this, since not only can we not be sure about the past, we can’t even be sure about the future either. It makes no sense. We know Science has been spectacularly successful, and no one (not even the Gedolim) would be happy to live without the advances of Science. We cannot have Science being cast into doubt by craziness.

So I have to agree with Gould, Dawkins and Mis-nagid when it comes to type 3 miracles. They can’t be allowed. And further more, since God obviously wants science to be successful (kaveyochol), and since the one of the first commandments was ‘miluh es haaretz vkivshuah, it seems to me that God wouldn’t want to do type 3 miracles either.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Major Emunah Threat!!!

I don't know how I could have missed this one. It's a biggie.

Ever read Avodah? Endless discussions about how exactly the 6 days of Breishis work? Dissecting in great detail the words of the Rishonim to see how the Universe was created?

Are you guys freaking nuts??? The Rishonim lived almost 1,000 years ago. Do you really think they had the slightest idea about peshat in Breishit with respect to modern science????

This has to be bittul Torah. It just has to be.

Jeez. This kind of ludicrosity is just completely ..... words fail me.

And by the way Micha and Toby, Simcha Coffer is correct.

YOM means DAY. Thats what the word means. Not era. Not 2.5 billion years. Not indeterminate amount of time between prehistoric events. But DAY. When are we going to stop with this insanity??? How can we have any respect for you people when you can't even admit to the simple meaning of a word???

Oh my gosh. It gets worse. Much worse. Simcha Looney Tunes Coffer writes:

B"H I had the benefit of being associated with Rav Avigdor Miller who demonstrated clearly and lucidly the inaccuracies of scientists in the fields of origins.

Yeah, thats right. Rabbi Avigdor Miller showed (clearly and lucidly mind you) that all the worlds biologists were wrong. Are you freakin nuts??? What is wrong with you people???

Oh my gosh. It just gets worse and worse;

A third point is the flood. The Malbim states that in addition to the enormous pressure that existed from the inundation of the earth, there was also tremendous heat. He uses this to demonstrate the inaccuracies of geological dating but in addition, it can easily be used to understand how parent-daughter ratios are entirely inaccurate. The Christians are big on this and do an admirable job proving what affects the flood would have on dating methods.

Yeah. The Malbim knew all about Geology. Sure. He was a world class expert. Of course he was! He knew that the Global Flood produced such tremendous heat that all dating is now inaccurate. Funny how he knew this, considering there is zero evidence of any global flood. The 'Christians are big on this'??? What, all of them? Or maybe just the fundamentalist young earth loonies? 'An admirable job'??? What is WRONG with you people???

Emunah Threat 11
Otherwise intelligent people demonstrating their complete inability to admit to the truth when it conflicts with their ideology. Makes you wonder what else they lie about. Threat level: High.

Emunah Threat 12
Avodah Discussion Forum. Every time I read that thing I freak out.

Emunah Threat 13
Gedolim and others who insist that belief in an ancient Universe is absolutely incompatible with Judaism. Since we know for a fact the the Universe is ancient, this means that Judaism must be a lie (at least according to them). When Gedolim insist that Judaism is a lie it really hurts my emunah.

Hello? People? Helloooooo

Where is everybody? I write all these great posts and only get 30 comments per post? What do you think this is - Maven Yavin?

Gosh, I don't know why I bother. Anyway, the big news tonite is that my World Tour 2005 (The Kefirah Tour) continues next week. Tour dates are as follows:
  • Sunday December 25th: Special Christmas Show! Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood
  • Monday December 26th: Madison Square Garden, New York
  • Sunday January 1st: Grand Ole Opry, Nashville
I will also be delivering a special shiur at BMG on Sunday morning entitled 'Chazal: Infallible Giants. Or were they?'. Men only.

UPDATE: I really will be in the city Sunday and Monday. We could have a jbloggers get together. By invitation only. And we would all wear heavy disguises. Hey, it could work!

When Kannoim Attack

Jerusalem Post:

Meanwhile Wednesday, a 20-year-old Ponevezh Yeshiva student was severely beaten and stabbed by a number of assailants. Police said the youth, from Jerusalem, was attacked inside the yeshiva building and evacuated to Sheba Hospital in moderate condition.

The stabbing, police said, appeared to be part of an internal turf war at the prestigious Lithuanian yeshiva, which has been torn apart recently by rivaling rabbis fighting for control of the institution.

However, Ponevezh yeshiva students denied police claims that the incident was related to the ongoing feud between rabbinic camps vying for control of the yeshiva.

So the stabbing of the yeshivah bochur by other bochrim was related to some other ongoing feud? Well, I guess that's okay then.

[Hat tip: lone Bochur / YeshivaOrthodoxy]

More Emunah Threats

A couple of people pointed out that I missed one of the major emunah threats: Halachah.

For some people, when Halachah conflicts with their own morality, for example laws against gays (or amalek or whatever), that causes them to start asking some serious questions about why they need to keep Halachah. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, it's all out the window.

For others, it's not so much an abstract issue like this but a very real one. For example if you are gay yourself, and the Halachah is 'ruining your life' (from your perspective), then that's also going to start to make you ask questions. Same for other people seriously affected by Halachah, e.g. Agunot or similar type cases.

In fact, it seems to me that not a small number of skeptics started on their skepticism due to issues they had with Halahcha. I personally have no problems with Halachah, which is why I didn't even think to put it on the list.

This leads to a significant problem. My general advice has been to stay away from emunah threats if you can't stand the heat. But how can I advise people to stay away from Halachah? I guess my only advice is to move to a community where there is less pressure on chumros and external observance of Halachah.

In other words, Modern Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

10 Most Important Things in Life

In no particluar order:

1. Meaning
2. Ethics & Morality
3. Family
4. Community
5. Personal Fulfilment
6. Health & Security
7. Charitable Acts
8. Scientific/Technological Advancement
9. The Arts
10. Love

How does Orthodox Judaism compare to Secularism ?

Well, OJ does good (from it's own perspective) on 1,2,3,4,7 and 10. 6 is a natural by product of 1 through 4 so we typically get 6 too. We are not so great at 8 and 9 (except for Auman! Auman!), but then thats what the goyim are for. 5 is debatable and depends on how well you fit into OJ.

Secularism doesn't give you much for 1 or 2. Without strong morality and commitment to family, 3 and therefore 4 go down the tubes a bit too. 5 is okay I guess but then you don't do so well at 6, as a natural by product of losing 3 and 4. Not a lot going on in 7. 8 and 9 are good, and I guess 10 is what you make of it.

Overall I see a win for OJ here, except that we must have someone doing 8 or else we would still be living in caves, and 9 is nice for entertainment purposes.

WARNING: Top 10 Emunah Threats

In no particular order:

1. Questions on Breishis from Science.
2. Biblical Criticism.
3. Gedolim / Rabbanim behaving badly.
4. The fact that there are many religions each convinced they are the one true religion.
5. Lack of evidence for God.
6. Lack of evidence for Yetzias Mitzrayim.
7. Cynical / Skeptical attitude
8. Scientific explanations for the mind that rule out the notion of a soul.
9. Cultural / Scientifix explanations for the rise of religion and Gods in human evolution.
10. All the unanswered questions on God (free will vs Gods foreknowledge, why do bad things happen to good people, why did God need to create the world etc).

You have been warned.

This has been a public service announcement.

Cause and effect

It's a fact that large parts of MO are kinda 'shvach' (weak). Sure, UO isn't perfect either. But it's fair to say that MO is way more shvach, in general. And I don't particularly buy the line that MO is more makpid on bayn odom lechaveyroh, whereas UO focus only on bayn odom lamokom. People are people wherever they are. Sure it's hard to imagine MOs acting like kannoim, but the general baal habos from both camps is probably fairly similar. I also think both camps can be equally materialistic and shallow, or self sacrificing and deep, depending.

The key question is as follows:

Does MO ideology create the shvachness, or do shvache people gravitate towards MO because it's more tolerant? An equal question could be asked about Conservatives. Are shvache people attracted to Conservatism, or does Conservatism create the shvachness?

Unlike many other questions which puzzle me for months, I think the answer here is clear. The less intense the ideology, the less intense the practitioner. Its an obvious cause abd effect. MO is less intense than UO, hence the average MO is less passionate and committed. The same for Conservatism, and the same for Reform. Of course you can always get really serious people in any faction even to the left, and likewise you can get fakers and bad apples all the way to the right, but I'm speaking about the average here.

However, it is also true that the more right wing you get, the more the ideology gets a little suspect, or rather a lot suspect. So, we have a trade-off as you move to the right; a rather exaggerated ideology which is more than a little suspect in the truth department, but one which generally ensures a greater and more passionate commitment to the religion. Of course if the religion is entirely bogus then this isn't saying much. But let's assume for now that it isn't.

So is the trade-off worth it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Song for JBloggers

Ticking away the moments that make up your dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way
Browsing Cross Currents and Hihurim and the MainLine
Waiting for someone to post something to show you the way

Tired of sitting by the computer watching all the bloggers play
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten months have got behind you
You can never bear to run, in case you miss the action

And you blog and you blog to catch up with DovBear, but he’s winning
Racing ahead to beat you to JIB yet again
Your blog is the same day after day, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every day is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Posts that either come to naught or half a webpage of misspelled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the jblogger way
The time is gone, the parody is over, thought I’d something more to say

I Wish I Was In Heaven Sittin' Down

Here is my new theory of Judaism, Orthodoxy, Life, the Universe and Everything.

Judaism was invented by some very, very wise men a long, long time ago.

They invented the religion in order to help us be better people.

They also created the concept of God, and the afterlife.

They did this to motivate us to keep this religion.

But what inspired these people to do this?

The answer is God did, of course.

Is this theory kefirah?

I really hope not.





Let me

Explain better.

God inspired them.

God planted all the ideas.

God set all the standards and laws.

God figured out all the rules and regulations.

God implanted all these ideas into the minds of men.

This is what we mean when we talk about revelation from God.

This is what we mean by Maamad Har Sinai and Divine Inspiration.

Now do you understand where I am coming from, or is it still confusing?

Thank God for the Chareidi world!

I gew up Modern Orthodox. We kept the barest minimum of Halachah and spent every evening watching Television. But then later in life I attended a Chareidi Yeshivah and they taught me all about Halachah, the importance of Limud Torah and being an Eved Hashem. If I had remained in a Modern Orthodox environment, where religion took a back seat to secular culture, I might not even be Jewish anymore.

Had I been not been exposed to these Chareidi ideas, I would not be sitting and learning while my MO buddies are out eating in non Jewish fish restaurants.* And I would not be teaching Torah on this blog or otherwise. I thank God for the Chareidi world.

* Ask your rabbi whether this is permitted before doing so. I spoke with my Chareidi Rabbi about this.

Are you rational - Answers!

Some people seem to have entirely missed the point of the 'Are you rational?' pop quiz. The point is this:

Scientific Skepticism is a methodology whereby we only believe in things if we can prove them by scientific experimentation. To be sure, there are some theories in Science which have not been proven, but just provide a convenient model for describing observed behaviors. However these theories do not contradict established Scientific fact, and are accepted as 'placeholders' for if and when we figure out more detail.

Most of religion's claims (including G-d) do not stand up to Scientific Skepticism. Sure, there are plenty of reasons why we might decide to believe in G-d, the Bible, the Book of Mormon or whatever. But none of these reasons would really pass the Scientific Skepticism test.

I have ridiculed some of the proposed answers to Science & Torah conflicts, for example Gosse Theory and Nishtaneh Hatevah as being ludicrous. However I am not so sure that these beliefs are any more 'ludicrous' than any of the other claims of religion. None of these claims contradict Science per se, and none of them are provable or disprovable from a Scientific point of view.

Is there any real difference between believing in Ness/Nissayon, or in Nissim in general? Not from a Scientific perspective there isn't. A ness is a ness. I have always maintained that the issue with Ness/Nissayon (e.g. all evidence of a global mabul being mysteriously cleaned up) is theological, not Scientific. Of course, not all Theology is the same: Some theology makes some sense, some makes no sense (from a theological point of view).

However, as long as we are beyond the realm of Science, the arguments are strictly theological. Does it make theological sense that G-d would write mythology in the Torah? Does it make theological sense that G-d would clear up all evidence of a global flood just to test us? Does it make theological sense that G-d would kill 6 million people in the Holocaust? Does it make theological sense that 50,000 people would die in a tsunami?

In the realm of theology, Scientific Skepticism has, by definition, no role to play.

Whales in the news!

Killer whales have become the most contaminated animals in the Arctic. Read this for more. This is a great shame, because Killer Whales are quite cute.

What the heck am I talking about whales for? I don't know, ask DovBear, he started it!

‘Are you rational?’ pop quiz

Which of the following choices is rational to believe in, and why?

1) Foo

There is a super natural being called Foo. You can’t see Foo, or detect Foo with any Scientific instruments or experiments. Nobody alive today has seen Foo. Foo says he created the Universe and promises you eternal reward if you believe in him, as long as you watch a show he likes on PBS. Very few people believe Foo is called Foo, but several billion people believe in the general concept.

2) Jesus

There is a 'supernatural being' called Jesus. There is strong evidence that Jesus did exist, but there is little evidence that Jesus was super natural. Nobody alive today has seen Jesus. Jesus promises you eternal reward as long as you believe in him. Two billion people believe in this.

3) Nishtaneh Hatevah

Rabbinic Sages who lived 3,000 years ago had access to all information via spiritual powers. Therefore, when these sages made statements regarding Science, which have since been proved incorrect, it must be that the laws of nature have changed, as they could not be wrong. However Science maintains that such radical changes in the laws of nature are not possible. Believers say that with Foo (or equivalent), anything is possible. Tens of thousands of people believe in this.

4) The Book of Mormon

An angel appeared to Joseph Smith and showed him the location of some buried gold plates, which contained direct revelations from God. Joseph translated these plates and that became the book of Mormon. This is believed by about 1 million people.

5) The Book of Moses

God appeared to Moses (Lastname?) and directly dictated to him the contents of the bible. Moses wrote this down and that became the 5 books of Moses. This is believed by a few billion people, to varying degrees.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Kefirah from Frumteens!

Wow ! I never thought we would see the day when kefirah appears on Frumteens, and from Mr Frumteen himself. But today is the day!

There is a well known problem that Chazal thought lice spontaneously generate, and hence the Halachah that it's muttar to kill them on Shabbos. Of course nowadays we know lice actually have babies.

The standard 'acceptable' Chareidi answer to this problem is 'Nishtaneh Hatevah', i.e. of course Chazal were correct, but somtime between the 5th century and the invention of the microscope lice suddenly started procreating in the usual way.

However Frumteens has a radical new peshat, one which sounds very similar to all those peshatim in Breishis where day means a spiritual day, not a physical day. Frumteens says that although mice physically reproduce like other animals, spiritually they don't have an animal Neshamah, but only an inanimate neshamah (nefesh hadomem). Hence halachically they have the status of an inanimate object. I quote:

So when Chazal say that lice come from dirt, they mean that spiritually lice have a Nefesh HaDomem, and Halachicly their status is that of dust, not animal life. The fact that scientists will tell you lice reproduce means nothing here. They see a Mommy louse, a Tatty louse, and a baby louse, but thats just the way this construct was programmed to function. Plants also “reproduce” – the pollination process involves moving a seed (the pollen) to another "organ" (the stigma) which causes reproduction - so we have a Daddy plant, a Mommy plant, and a baby plant -- but plants arent animals. And Chazal had a tradition that neither are lice, Halachicly, because the way lice are reproduced -- with a Mommy louse and a Daddy louse -- does not involve the result in the creation of an animal Nefesh the way the reproduction of other animals does.

You gotta love Frumteens - a Tatty Louse! Is he talking to teenagers, or 5 year olds? Very strange. Anyways, the best line of the thread is where Frumteens starts talking about Robots and Clones. Obviously an AI fan, he provides the following line:

Robots can move about but theyre Domem.

Thanks for clearing that up, Mr Frumteens. That question has bothered AI researchers for decades. Now we know: Robots are domem!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Song for the MO Lite

I never wanted to do this blog in the first place!
I... I wanted to be...

Modern Orthodox!

Leaping from culture to culture! As we float down the mighty river of life
With my best girl by my side!
The Doctors!
The Lawyers!
The Accountants!

We'd sing! Sing! Sing!

Oh, I'm Modern Orthodox, and I'm okay,
I learn at night and I work all day.

MO Serious Choir: He's Modern Orthodox, but he's okay,
He learns at night and he works all day.

I do the daf, I eat only glatt,
Say asher yotzar after the lava-try.
And every Motzei Shabbos
I go to a movie.

MO Serious Choir: He does the daf, he eats only glatt,
Says asher yotzar after the lava-try.
And every Motzei Shabbos
He goes to a movie.

He's Modern Orthodox, but he's okay,
He learns at night and he works all day.

I sing zmiros, I listen to Rock,
I like Britney Spears
I watched every episode of SITC
And I haven’t shteiged in years

MO Serious Choir: He sings zemiros, he listens to rock,
He likes Britney Spears
He’s watched every episode of SITC,
And hasn’t shteiged …… in years???????
(Choir look at each other nervously)

He's Modern Orthodox, but he's okay,
He learns at night and he works all day.

I don't learn a lot, I go mixed swimming
My wife doesn’t cover her hair
I wish I'd been a heretic
Just like my dear DovBear.

MO Serious Choir: He doesn't learn a lot, he goes mixed swimming??
His wife doesn’t cover her hair????
What's this? Wants to be a *heretic*? Oh, My!
And we thought you were so frum! Kofer!

(Choir walks away in disgust)

MO Rav outs the MO Lite

A local MO Rav gave a pretty gutsy drashah this Shabbat, where he basically said his shul has two groups, the 'MO Serious' chevrah who hold of the importance of learning and halacha etc, and the 'MO Lite' chevrah, who just want a less intense Orthodoxy. (I am paraphrasing a bit). He said he doesn't want the shul to turn into a haven for MO Lite, and he needs to do kiruv on those people so that they get with the program. I expect they will have a new Rav by next Shabbat.

Seriously though, I think that there are actually three chevras in the shul, as in any other MO shul. The 3rd chevrah are the Orthoprax MO, who don't really buy in the dox at all, but like to be affiliated with an Orthodox shul and community for various reasons.

If the shul was to mount a serious 'kiruv' or 'mussar' effort aimed at the MO Lite, I suspect that many of them would start to analyze their previously un-analyzed attitude towards religion, and not a few of them would discover that they are in fact Orthoprax, rather than Orthodox.

I predict that the MO Lite under kiruv pressure would split three ways:
  • Some proportion would get 'turned on' and become more serious
  • Some proportion will become Orthoprax or worse
  • Some proportion will just stay the way they are no matter what
I think it's fair to say that the majority of the MO world in general is MO Lite. In fact, the MO Serious chevrah might be statistically the same numbers as the Conservative Serious Chevrah (those guys at JTS for example who are really into learning and halachah). Which means that really there is no MO Serious, except for a small percentage who would always be serious no matter where they are.

In the Chareidi world, I think the reverse is probably true. The majority take halachah and learning quite seriously, and a smaller precentage are just 'fakers', or Chareidi Lite. This is not neccessarily an endorsement of Chareidi ideology, we know for a fact that Chareidi ideology is untrue (while we only suspect that this might be the case for MO). It's just a recognition of the fact that the more intense the religious ideology, the more intense its adherents are.

Social Scientists maintain that in any population, the 'religious consumers' fall into two categories: Those looking for a religiously intense experience, and those looking for more of an easy life. Studies have been done in this area with respect to Christianity, and it's quite fascinating to see that the same holds true for Judaism too. I guess this is just the way things are. Maybe some people can pull off being MO Serious, but for most people, MO by definition means Orthodox Lite, and Chareidi by definition means Orthodox Serious.

So what should we do with the Modern Orthodox? I don't really know. To be honest, I'm more concerned about the slackers in my own religious sect: the Conservative-Chareidi Lite. Those guys need to start learning a bit more. And since I am currently the only (at least in public) member of that sect, I guess that means me.

My karma just ran over your dogma

Most days I feel very positive towards Orthodoxy. Some days I even feel very positive towards the Chareidim. Heck, one day recently I was even quite fond of some of the Gedolim. Other days I’m down on the whole business. What gives? Are these emotions the result of new intellectual insights? Sometimes, to be sure. But more often it’s just an emotional thing.

Put someone in a positive place, with positive feedback, and they could probably be made to feel good about anything. Likewise, put them in a negative place with negative feedback and they can be made to feel bad about anything, sometimes with disastrous results.

So how much of what we really believe is due to our intellect, and how much to our emotions? I can’t answer that. But one thing I know for sure. If we abandon reason entirely, very, very bad things could happen. We take it for granted that the civilized world acts reasonably. Countries don’t just bomb other countries because their god told them to. We need to hold onto reason. As Voltaire famously said:

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

This is very true, and Nazi Germany is a good example. So we have in front of us two very different world views;

The secular world view maintains that there is no deeper meaning to life. What you see is what you get. There is no spiritual plane, there is no god, there is no objective morality.

The religious world view maintains that God created us for a purpose. There is a deeper meaning to life, there is objective morality.

Both of these views are ultimately not comprehensible to the human mind. If there is no God, how is anything here? No human can comprehend this entirely. If there is a G-d, then what the heck is G-d? No human can comprehend this entirely.

Ultimately, we have a choice between two equally incomprehensible world views.

I guess the question is, which one is the absurdity? Unfortunately there is no clear answer. The secularists maintain that religion is the absurdity, and point to all the religious wars as the resultant atrocity. The religious maintain that the secular world view is the absurdity, and point to the mass exterminations of godless Nazism and Communism as the resultant atrocities.

At least we are united on one thing, we both want to prevent atrocities, and we both want to hold onto reason. The question is how.

Tis the Season

Some of my commenters were wondering how come there was no Motzei Shabbos post last night. Actually, I was too busy attending the Rebbetzin’s ‘Holiday Party’. Well, not so much her holiday party, but her bosses. Ironically, most of her firm is Jewish, yet they still feel the need to throw a holiday party, I guess for the few non Jewish staff.

We were the only remotely religious people there, though I think the one black couple probably felt more uncomfortable than we did. After all, everyone was white and mostly Jewish. The food was sumptuous (they ordered special kosher for us), and the entertainment was a Country & Western act. It was actually fun.

What struck me most though, was that while everyone there was certainly friendly, moral, ethical and decent (at least on the outside), it was clear that no one went to shul more than a couple of times a year, no one studied any rules of morality or ethics (mussar safari or otherwise), and nobody had any deeper goals other than to earn a good living and live the good life.

Also, many people were divorced, had had affairs with various people, secretaries etc, and the standards of morality generally seemed to be a lot lower.

Much as we bash Orthodoxy for it’s various failings, we would do well to constantly remind ourselves that without Orthodoxy, there isn’t much left. Sure, in Conservatism, Reform and even Atheism there are always small groups of people who are passionately committed to an ideal, but it’s the exception, rather than the rule.

Even the excesses of extreme right wing Orthodoxy are mild compared to the competition. Muslim extremism is well documented, and far right Christianity is kinda worrying too. Just read this months’ Vanity Fair article on the Christian Right Wing: Their end of day’s vision is all about the unbelievers (that includes us, folks) exploding in torrents of blood and guts at the sight of Jesus. Lovely.

We may complain about some of our Minhagim, but what’s the symbolism of the Christmas Tree? Or Santa Claus? Everything is relative, and relative to everything else, Orthodoxy comes out pretty good in my opinion.

Tis the season to be thankful.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mythology - It's all true! Kinda

Ancient legends give an early warning of modern disasters

The new science of geomythology is being harnessed by researchers who believe folklore can save lives

Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday December 4, 2005
The Observer

On the banks of Siletz Bay in Lincoln City, Oregon, officials dedicated a memorial last week to one of America's worst calamities: a huge earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of Native Americans 300 years ago.
But the memorial's main job is not to commemorate the disaster, which has only just come to light, but to warn local people that similar devastation could strike at any time.

The area sits over massive fault lines whose dangers have been highlighted by a startling new scientific discipline that combines Earth science studies and analysis of ancient legends. This is geomythology, and it is transforming our knowledge of earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, says the journal Science.

According to the discipline's proponents, violent geological upheavals may be more frequent than was previously suspected.

Apart from the 'lost' Seattle earthquake, geomythology has recently revealed that a volcano in Fiji, thought to be dormant, is active, a discovery that followed geologists' decision to follow up legends of a mountain appearing overnight.

Geologists have found that Middle Eastern flooding myths, including the story of Noah, could be traced to the sudden inundation of the Black Sea 7,600 years ago. The Oracle at Delphi has been found to lie over a geological fault through which seeped hallucinogenic gases. These could account for the trances and utterances of the oracle's mystics.

'Myths can tell us a great deal about what happened in the past and were important in establishing what happened here 300 years ago,' said Brian Atwater, of the US Geological Survey in Seattle.

Along the Oregon and Washington coast, there are Native American stories about boulders, called a'yahos, which can shake to death anyone who stares at them. In addition, Ruth Ludwin, a seismologist in Seattle, discovered tales of villages being washed away and of whales and thunderbirds locked in fights.

These stories were a key influence on Atwater, who started to study the 680-mile long Cascadia subduction zone fault along the coast. What he found provided a shock. Long stretches had suffered sudden inundation relatively recently.

The study of trees stumps in this drowned landscape indicated there had been a huge earthquake and a tsunami between 1680 and 1720. 'We didn't know whether it was one massive quake or a couple of slightly smaller ones. Nor did we know exactly when the disaster occurred,' added Atwater.

Later research on tree rings put the date at between 1699 and 1700. Then local legends helped again. Japanese colleagues studied their records and traced an orphan tsunami - a giant wave not linked to a local earthquake - that destroyed several villages on 27 January, 1700.

'That told us two things: that our earthquake must have been vast, Richter scale 9, to devastate part of Japan thousands of miles away. It also gave us a precise date for our disaster.'

Scientists now believe huge earthquakes and tsunamis devastate the Seattle area every 200 to 1,000 years. 'We may be due one soon,' added Atwater.

However, until this year, the lesson of that tsunami was remembered only as a dim legend. Other such stories have been put to better use, however.

Last year's tsunami was also triggered by a strong earthquake, and around 300,000 people died. The Moken - or sea gypsies - of Thailand, however, have a tradition which warns that when tides recede far and fast, now known as a precursor of a tsunami, then a man-eating wave will soon head their way: so they should run far and fast. Last 26 December, they did - and survived.

Another example of the power of geomythology is from Patrick Nunn, of Fiji in the South Pacific. His studies of volcanoes on the Fijian island of Kadavu indicated they had not been active for tens of thousands of years.

'Then I heard legends of recent eruptions,' he told The Observer. 'I thought them unlikely. When a road was cut there in 2002, I found there had been a volcanic eruption long after it had been occupied by humans. It made me look at myths in a new light.'

Now, Nunn is working for the French government to compile tales that might pinpoint Pacific islands where scientists should look for warnings of earthquakes, volcanoes and catastrophic landslides.

These include stories of deities who fish up islands from the water and others in which they are thrown back into the sea.

'If you had asked me 10 years ago if there was value in local myths I would have said "not a lot",' added Nunn. 'Since then I have had a Pauline conversion.'

[Hat tip: Mis-nagid. GH: I posted about this a while back - 'When They Severed Earth From Sky'. The trick to Mythology is in teasing out the essential truths contained within, NOT in trying to explain away every word in light of modern science. Mythology is not lies. It's metaphor. Vhamayvin Yavin]

Gedolim and Modern Orthodoxy

S, a highly intellligent being whose intial is completely different from his blog name, said the following:

The ban itself is almost irrelevent at this point. Do the Chareidi leaders really think that non-Chareidi points of view in Torah and worldly matters are apostasy and heresy?

This was in reference to the whole Science & Torah debate, but it applies equally well to many other issues that divide Chareidim and Modern Orthodox.

Which of the following is true about the Gedolim and their bans?
  1. They are only talking to their own camp. They are not intending to pasken for MO.
  2. MO isn't even on their radar, they have no idea whether they are paskening for MO or not.
  3. They are paskening for everybody MO included, and don't realize that they have just called 80% of MO Jews Kofrim.
  4. They are paskening for everybody and hold that MO is kefirah.
Of course this doesn't make much difference, since most MO don't hold of these Gedolim anyway. But still, it's kinda interesting to speculate, isn't it?

If not, then go read this instead.

The 14th Ikkar

Dear Rabbi Kiruv-Clown,

One of your proofs for the validity of Sinai is that our fathers wouldn’t lie to us, and so we can be sure that Sinai happened. And boruch hashem, my father is an Orthodox Jew who faithfully told me all about Sinai.

On the other hand, my father is fairly knowledgeable about Science, and he also told me that Science is accurate, the Universe is ancient, Chazal were not correct about Science, and that you can’t take Breishis literally.

So should I trust my father about Sinai and about Science? Or is he a liar? I am quite confused. If he is wrong about Science, then maybe he is wrong about Sinai? And if he is correct about Sinai, why isn’t he correct about Science?

Yours sincerely,

PS A non-Jewish colleague of mine also has a question for you. His father told him about Jesus. He wants to know, is his father a liar? Does your claim that ‘our fathers are not liars’ only apply to Orthodox Jews? Thanks.

OK everybody, just relax. I’m purposely being a bit cynical here. However when you think about it, none of the ikkarim are about the Mesorah since Sinai. Even Ikkar Number 9, that the Torah won’t change, isn’t about the Mesorah, but rather it’s saying that G-d wouldn’t change the Torah. However we could certainly mess it up. And it makes sense that the Rambam didn't write about this, because how could the Rambam have claimed that a principle of faith is that the Mesorah is perfect, since he couldn’t possibly predict what would happen in the future?

Is there a guarantee from G-d that the Mesorah would never get corrupted? Of course not. There is even a medrash which says that as soon as Moshe died many Halachot were forgotten. I think this explains why some people get so worked up at the thought of any potential weakening of the Mesorah. There are no ikkarim about the Mesorah and no guarantees either. It might get messed up, and in fact probably has in some areas. Still it’s the best (and only) Mesorah we have got. So the fact that some of it may be wrong is neither here nor there.

I think that the current day fundamentalists would be much happier if we just had a 14th ikkar about the Mesorah. Something like this perhaps:

14. I believe with complete faith that the Mesorah we have today, as defined by the Gedolim, is the true and accurate Mesorah from Sinai.

Shame that Rambam stopped at 13 really.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Thank God for the Conservative World!

I gew up Reform. We kept no Halachah and the Rabbi of my Temple didn't even believe in God! But then later in life I attended a Conservative High School and they taught me all about God, Divine Revelation and the (Conservative) Halachic Process. If I had been taught the Orthodox way, that all Halachah as defined in the sixteenth century was mandatory and basically unchangeable, I don't think I would have remained Jewish.

Had I been exposed to these Orthodox ideas in tenth grade, I would not be eating the fish at business meetings in posh restaurants where everyone else is eating the finest pork.* I would not have children in Solomon Shechter Day School and JTS. And I would not be teaching Torah on this blog or otherwise. I thank God for the Conservative world.

* Ask your rabbi whether this is permitted before doing so. I spoke with my Conservative Rabbi about this.

[OK, this is a little subtle, I'm not sure that even I get my point here. Is it just to shtuch Gil? (Chas Vesholom). Or is there something deeper here? I must give credit to Mis-nagid for teaching me this way of thinking. It can be valuable to switch things around like this, and then try and figure out if it really does make as much sense, or if there is something missing. In this case, I think it does actually make as much sense as the original.]

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Halachically Observant or... Obsessive Compulsive?

I made a comment yesterday about how if you really think a certain Halachah is wrong or overly burdensome, then just don't keep it, and if you are sure you are correct then it won't matter, Hashem will surely forgive you, since the Halachah was wrong anyway.

A Chareidi commenter thought I must be joking, but I wasn't. In fact, I assumed that everyone makes these kind of cheshbonot all the time. However, maybe this is only a treif Modern Orthodox way of thinking? Maybe in Chareidi land they take Halachah so seriously that they would never dream of thinking this way? I used to live in Chareidi land so you would think I would know the answer to this question, but back then I didn't have a working brain and never really thought about such things.

I have a Chareidi relative who is often annoying and offensive when we get together, since he and his wife both constantly maintain a kind of Halachic vigilance - for example as soon as anyone at the Shabbos table commits the most minor infraction, or perhaps looks like they are about to, there is an immediate warning from them. Now these are not annoying or offensive people in general, quite the contrary, they are extremely nice and sweet people. However when it comes to Halachah there is only one word for them - Obsessive Compulsive (OK, two words).

Halachah is very much a rule based system, with lots of details (duh). Some people do great with that kind of structure. Some people become acountants. But for most normal people, that kind of rigidity is way too much. We need flexibility, freedom, choice. (And please don't give me the vort about how only a real eved Hashem is truly free blah blah blah).

Now don't get me wrong. I don't personally find Halachah onerous at all. (And that's not because I don't keep any). It's because I grew up with it, and Halachic observance is just part of the background and ingrained culture of my life. I don't consciously notice it except on very rare occasions, like when my extra frum relatives stick it in my face.

However, to be truly makpid in every last detail of Halchah does require a particular type of personality. Does Judaism expect that we all naturally have that personality? Does Judaism expect that we all train ourselves to have that type of personality? Maybe Judaism expects that this isn't really an issue at all, because once you have assimilated a particular Halachah into your world view it ceases to become onerous.

Quite a few blogs of the Hassidic Heretics carry a similar theme - that the Heretic feels overly burdened by Halachah. Now, it's true that Hassidim have extra strict Halachot. However, according to my theory, these Hassidim should be comfortable with their Halachic lifestyle since they have grown up with it from birth. Why the animosity towards Halachah? And it's not only the Hassidic Heretics who seem to think this way, but even the regular Frum Skeptics seem to have a common dislike of Halachah. Why is this? Why are they not as comfortable as I am?

One skeptic suggested that the difference is that I live in MO land, where there is no pressure on levels of observance. This is true. The Rebbetzin could happily walk around in jeans and uncovered hair and no one would say (or even think) anything bad. In fact, if she did that, we would be a major hit with the local kollel, who are always on the lookout for new kiruv projects.
However (un)fortunately she wears a sheitel. A glamorous sheitel. A long, glamorous sheitel. An expensive, long, glamorous, sheitel. An over the top, expensive, long, glamorous sheitel. Not that I'm obsessed with sheitels or anything.

I think this might be the answer then. If I felt pressure to keep Halachah, even the same Halachah that I keep anyway, I think I might find it burdensome. But if left alone, or even better, if surrounded by Orthoprax Kofrim, I keep it quite happily, and may even start lecturing others.

So I guess Chazal were right after all, this is just another aspect of 'Godol Hametzuvah VeOseh miSheayno Metzuveh veOseh'. Its easier to do something voluntarily than be pressured into doing it. So, I place myself in the category of 'Ayno Metzuveh'. I live in a tolerant MO community and don't feel any pressure at all, except perhaps for the basics, and even then not so much. And the result is I'm quite happy keeping Halachah. Seems quite a healthy way to be.

However I do recall quite clearly the town of my childhood, (Nowheresville, pop. 65,000) where everyone was always looking over their shoulder at who was doing what. One friend of mine even got 'ratted out' to the local Rosh Yeshivah (and subsequently reprimanded), since his wife was seen wearing flesh colored tights. (Or maybe it was davkah because she was seen wearing non-flesh colored tights? I can never remember these things. ) Many people there were quite bitter, and subsequently rebelled (but only a little).

So I guess the lesson here is don't pressure people to keep Halachah. You might end up causing people to become bitter and twisted.

Unless they are accountants of course, in which case they will absolutely love it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Documentary Hypothesis is a Nes!

Wow. I thought that I had seen everything: Breishis is a nes. The Global Mabul is a nes. Migdal Bavel is a nes. But now, we have reached new heights of nesiness. According to R Yaakov Menken the Dcoumentary Hypothesis is a nes! He says:

"Simply put, someone had to do an incredible sales job on the Jewish nation. At one point—according to the Hypothesis—there were different texts created by different groups, which means that the descendents of each group revered its own version. Then along comes a redactor who puts them all together, and then manages to convince all of the groups that not only is this the correct text to follow, but it has always been the right text, and therefore must be copied with an exactitude known nowhere else in human history. That someone managed to do that seems a miracle in and of itself, which is of course the very thing the DH was designed to avoid."

Although it's a bit kiruv clowny there is something in this. Many different cultural groups (not to mention three different religions) in many different eras and places have held very passionately that the Bible is the inerrant word of G-d. Do you have this with any other religious text? I don't think so. The New Testament is revered by Christianity and the Koran by the Muslims, but there's not many Christians who revere the Koran. And how many people have even heard of the Upanishads?

So how and why did this incredible reverence for the Bible develop? And why was it so convincing both to the Roman Empire and subsequently to Islam? And it's a reverence that has lasted for at least 2000 years, and maybe even more than 3000 (for the less skeptical).

Of course this is no absolute 'proof' of anything, but it does make you think.

Killing us with Kiruv

Hirhurim posts about a new blog dealing with the issues that Baal Teshuvas often face. I guess this is partly in reaction to the 'Off The Derech' blog. But let's think about this: Is active Kiruv really a good thing?

  • Kiruv Clowns are responsible for a lot of issues.
  • Failed BTs are often the ones with the most bitter skepticism.
  • BT’s face major lifestyle changes, which often affects either them or their kids severely
  • With married couples, one partner may move faster than the other, leading to life long issues or even failed marriages
  • Some BTs have other issues, and this is often the reason they 'convert' in the first place.
There is a reason why Judaism has never actively sought converts – because converts going bad have historically been an issue for Judaism.

Perhaps we should have the same policy with Kiruv?

Perhaps potential Baal Teshuvos should be actively discouraged. Only if they show extreme insistence, even after having been shown all the bogus kiruv clown proofs, will they be allowed to proceed.

Of course this new policy would shut down some major institutions, such as Aish Hatorah and Ohr Samech, and would hurt some powerful interests. Which might explain why it won’t happen.

OK, you can relax Dude, I am mostly kidding (but not completely). There are many wonderful BTs who have made amazing contributions to Orthodoxy, and we would be vastly impoverished without them. And of course we need to do Outreach to combat the effects of assimilation and Conservative/Reform.

But still, there is definitely an issue here which needs to be addressed. And I'm not convinced that post-Kiruv support is the (only) answer. I think there needs to be some more thought about pre-Kiruv screening or similar. Obviously we can't and shouldn't refuse to let people become frum, but maybe we should discourage those people who might have problems?

Anyone here involved in Kiruv? Is there any talk in AJOP or similar about this?

It is what it is

Hirhurim says:

"Can someone divinely inspired make a mistake? The answer can only be yes."

I seriously doubt that anyone alive today (except perhaps for some uneducated or unsophisticated people) really think that Chazal were infallible. If Hirhurim can find a simple quote from the Gemarah which shows Neviim made mistakes, then I think it’s unlikely that any of our Gedolim are unaware of it.

The point is not whether technically Chazal could have made a mistake. Of course they could. The point is whether we should go around talking about that or not, or using it as an answer to certain Torah & Science questions. FKM and other fundamentalists constantly produce the following (pathetic) argument:

‘If you say Chazal made a mistake in Science, next you will say they made a mistake in Halachah’

Duh! FKM, R Elyashiv and everyone else. Please try and remember the following, very simple, two sentences:
  1. Chazal didn’t know Science because (a) They weren’t Scientists, and (b) Science hadn’t been invented yet.
  2. Chazal did know Halachah because (a) They were Halachists, and (b) They received Halachah as a Mesorah (or for the skeptics, because they made it all up themselves).
Of course Chazal are not infallible in any area, they could have made mistakes in Halachah too. However since they are the best link we have to the original Mesorah (whatever that was, makes no difference), it’s kind of pointless arguing that. It’s not like Halachah is some independently testable and verifiable truth, where modern research can prove Chazal wrong. It is what it is.

It’s also certainly changeable. However some people are very conservative (small c) about changing Halachah and some people are very Conservative (big C) about changing Halachah. Your choice.

However knocking Orthodoxy because it’s too inflexible when it comes to Halachah strikes me as rather silly. There is a movement which was specifically formed to be more flexible with Halachah and it’s called Conservative. There’s not much in between – either you can change Halachah by Committee or you can’t. Some people seem to want the legitimacy of Orthodoxy, but still have the ability to change any Halachot that bother them. It doesn’t work that way.

This is why I almost never blog about changing Halachah, unlike some people I could mention. Dogma and dox are provable (or rather disprovable, to some extent), so it makes sense to debate them. Halachah isn’t ‘provable’. If you don’t like Halachah, then don’t be Orthodox. But don’t knock Orthodoxy for being inflexible on major Halachah*. That’s like knocking the Yankees for not being good at football.

It is what it is.

* I am not referring to more 'minor' things such as Women's tefilah Groups etc. All these things can and will change in Orthodoxy. I am talking about major halachot such as issurei deoraysoh which nobody argues about.

Steve’s Noodle Kugel Recipe

(Inspired by this comment)

Prep Time: 15 min
Total Time: 1 hr 15 min
Makes: 18 servings, 1/2 cup each


1 container (16 oz.) Low Fat Cottage Cheese
1 container (16 oz.) Sour Cream
1 cup sugar
1 copy Lonely Man of Faith
5 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine, melted
1 Tbsp. imitation vanilla
1 copy Halachic Man
1 pkg. (12 oz.) broad egg noodles, cooked, rinsed and drained (Kosher for Passover)
1 Tbsp. cinnamon sugar
1 copy The Emergence of Ethical Man

PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Mix all ingredients except noodles and cinnamon sugar until well blended. Read Lonely Man of Faith. Stir in noodles.

SPOON into 13x9-inch baking dish; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar while reading Halachic Man.

BAKE 50 minutes to 1 hour or until center is set. Cool at least 10 minutes before cutting to serve. Before eating, read The Emergence of Ethical man.

Song for Skeptic's Rebbe, by Rav Doniel Fogleburg


Met my old talmid in the sefarim store
The snow was falling chanukah eve
I stole behind him in the maskil section
And I touched him on his sleeve

He didn’t recognize the face at first
But then his eyes flew open wide
He went to hug me and he dropped his books
And we laughed until we cried.

We took his books to the checkout stand
They were totalled up and bagged
We stood there lost in our embarrassment
As the conversation dragged.

We went to have ourselves a bite or two
But couldn’t find an open store
We bought a coffee at Starbucks
And we drank it in his car.

We drank a lechayim to innocence
We drank a lechayim to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how.

He said he’d turned completely skeptical
And dropped all his practice by and by
He would have liked to say he loved his new life
But he didn’t like to lie.

I said that I would always be a friend to him
And he could start over anew
But in those eyes I wasn’t sure if I saw
Doubt or gratitude.

I said I would try and learn with him
That would really suit me well
He said he found learning was heavenly
But keeping halachah was hell.

We drank a lechayim to innocence
We drank a lechayim to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how.

The coffee was empty and our tongues were tired
And running out of things to say
I said goodbye to him as I got out
And I watched him drive away.

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
As he used to ask me those difficult questions in class
But all my answers were really lame...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Rav Kook on Spirituality

"It is impossible to recognize spiritual existence per se through research and investigation. Knowledge, rational inquiry, philosphy note only the outer signs of life. Even when they delve into the inwardness of life, they see only the shadow of life, not what lies within. The strength of rational demonstration is only in paving a way for the spirit to approach the outer vestibule of sensing spiritual existence. However, as long as man is sunk in his senses and their narrow confines he will never know spiritual existence, only gossamer shadows. And if he treats the shadows as if they are the true reality, then those shadows will become so burdensome to him, diminishing both his material and spiritual power, that he will seek to flee them as one flees from harm. Yet as much as man will flee from the shadow, the shadow will pursue him. There is but one recipe for being rid of the shadow and that is shedding light."

Rav Kook, When God Becomes History
[Hat tip: HolyHyrax – See, he does come in useful sometimes]

Okay, so this Rav Kook, and nobody normal can make heads or tails of it. However I think Rav Kook is saying the following. Or even if he isn’t saying it, I am, and I’m sure Rav Kook would hold of this too*.

Let’s assume for a moment that there is a super-natural / spiritual world out there. (OK skeptics, hold your horses, don’t get your knickers in a twist, take a deep breath, and just try for a moment to let go of your Scientific Skepticism and open your minds a little.)

Let’s also assume that the mind is really the one place where there is some kind of interface between the physical plane and the spiritual plane. All the experiments in the world cannot show any evidence of the spiritual world, since by definition the spiritual world is totally separate from the physical world, and all the experiments by definition are taking place in the physical world.

The only place in the universe where the spiritual world can be ‘sensed’ or ‘entered’ is within the mind. And what Rav Kook is saying is that rationality, experimentation etc etc won’t help there. You have to sense it. You can’t prove it or reason to it. You have to open your mind and sense the spirituality, both within you and within the world.

Okay, so this sounds rather kiruv clownish. But if the spiritual plane does exist, it makes perfect sense. Of course, you could say the same about Zaboomafoo and Zaboomafuality too.

* Based on the following well known argument:
1. Rabbi X is famous and influential, but dead.
2. I hold proposition P.
3. Therefore, were Rabbi X alive today, he would hold of P too.

Is Orthodox Judaism a success?

[Update: This post works just as well if you remove the word Orthodox i.e. Is Judaism a success?, with respect to it's original goals. Of course you may argue about what it's goals are.]

A commenter said:

“The OJ formula has proven its survival power in every society and every location despite all the outdated takkanos. There is no parallel to this consistency in human history (yes I know the colors and flavors change radically, but the basics stay the same) and responsible people with the big picture in mind know better than to tamper with it."

This is very interesting. OJ (especially Chareidi) does have staying power, certainly. On the other hand, at what cost? 90% of Orthodox Jews fled the ghettos and Orthodoxy at their first chance. Today there is still a sizeable drop out rate, and OJ is hardly attractive to the vast majority of secular, Reform or Conservative Jews. OJ does a good job at keeping the hard core Orthodox, but the rest are lost. True there is a kiruv effort, but the effects are relatively miniscule, and it’s still only kiruv on our terms. Can OJ really be called a success, with regards to survival?

Let’s just have this out once and for all, or at least until next time:

Is Orthodox Judaism (i.e. Rabbinical Judaism) a success?

  • Been going for 2000 years (give or take)
  • Survived in all sorts of adverse circumstances
  • Gave the world monotheism (I suppose you could claim this was more pre-OJ)
  • Kept the Jewish people going, and the Jews have contributed greatly to society (not so much OJ Jews though)


  • Huge dropout rate (90% last century)
  • So completely insular that they have little effect on the surrounding society, even on other sectors of Judaism
  • Most other sectors of Judaism don’t like them much
  • We are still in Golus, plus we had the Shoah, so it seems G-d isn’t too happy with us either
  • Orthodox Jews number about half a million, if that. That’s not a lot out of a worldwide population of 6 billion. Christianity is younger than Rabbinic Judaism and they have 2 billion.
Honestly I can’t decide which is the correct POV (point of view). I recently attended an Israel themed event at my local JCC (Jewish Community Center). 99% of the Jews there were almost completely ignorant of Orthodoxy, and certainly not observant. Some had non Jewish spouses. At first I thought, how awful, how all these people know so little about their own religion. And then I thought, how amazing, after 2000 years these people are still connected enough to come to the JCC and be supportive of Israel, even though they know so little!

So what’s the answer?

I guess it depends on your point of view. Or maybe it’s both an incredible success and an incredible failure at the same time? Or maybe not.

Maybe this is just the way it has to be, there is no viable alternative?

Or maybe, just maybe, this is the way it’s meant to be?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Summary of the past 12 months

Here is a short summary of my views. As with the rest of my blog, and as with all the posts and comments I have ever written anywhere, the views expressed below are my views and my views only. Any similarity to views of other people, either alive or dead, is entirely co-incidental.

1. Breishis
I am not sure whether Breishis (at least the first 11 chapters) was meant to be taken as literally true. I hope it wasn’t because I am sure it isn’t. See my many posts on this subject. The only way to make Breishis literally true is to go with Nes Nisayon / Gosse Theory (see 6 below). I don’t believe that taking individual words non-literally really works, either in fitting with Science or with the intention of the text. Shmos is less clearly defined, since many of the stories are described as miraculous, and it’s not clear what sort of evidence would have been left in those cases. The strongest questions on the stories in Shemos relate to the numbers of people who reportedly left Egypt. These questions are probably almost as strong as the questions on Breishis.

2. Chazal & Science
Of course Chazal didn’t know (modern) Science. That’s quite provable. The only way to hold otherwise is to go with Nishtaneh hatevah (see 6 below).

3. Gedolim & Daas Torah & Yeridas Hadoros
It appears that no one really holds of Daas Torah in its maximal form nowadays, except very unsophisticated or uneducated people. Yeridas Hadoros is trickier, since we certainly believe that the Neviim had special powers, so there was certainly some Yeridah somewhere.

4. Tone
This is a tricky one, since perception is reality. Whether or not the ‘tone’ of Slifkin’s books was problematic is a highly subjective cultural decision. What sounds perfectly normal and acceptable to a westernized Jew (even a Chareidi one) might sound beyond the pale to a Bnei Brak-nik. However since these books were published in English and generally aimed at a sophisticated Western audience I don’t think this should be seen as an issue. Was the tone really the issue anyway? If the Kannoim had not distorted the tone would the ban still have happened? If Slifkin had gone over the top in being ‘respectful’ (i.e. lots of silly Chas Vesholoms etc) would the ban still have happened? Not sure.

5. The Ban
If the Gedolim want to say that certain things are not acceptable in today’s chareidi world, then clearly that’s their perogative. However banning stuff which is obviously true sends out a rather bad message i.e. That Chareidi Orthodoxy cannot stand up to the truth. (Though I think it’s pretty clear that this is in fact the case). I am not sure whether the Gedolim realize they are sending out this message, and agree with it or not. Also of course the whole process, text of the ban, lies etc was appalling, and in itself cast some serious doubts over some aspects of Chareidi ideology.

6. Nishtaneh Hatevah, Nes Nissayon & Gosse Theory
These theories do not conflict with Science per se. Rather they conflict with common sense. However common sense is notoriously fickle and subjective. Some people might say that believing G-d wrote a book (or even exists) conflicts with common sense. How can we possibly quantify common sense? You could take the approach that all these theories were clearly invented specifically to deal with Science questions, and therefore they are false and lack authenticity (as well as common sense). You could also take the approach that arbitrary ‘trump’ cards like these destroy all notions of evidence and rational thinking, and open the way to believing in anything and everything.

7. Scientism
To a modern, thinking person, Scientism is highly appealing. Science has clearly been extremely successful, and the notion of not believing in something unless there is clear evidence for it seems quite fundamentally correct. Unfortunately, if your methodology is Scientism (Scientific Skepticism), that pretty much blows much of Orthodoxy out of the water. On the other hand, Science doesn’t have any ultimate answers either, nor does it have anything really satisfying to say about Morality, Meaning or Spirituality. It also doesn’t give you a comforting Afterlife, or an ever present Diety who is looking out for you. Also, many people find the practices, culture and community of Orthodoxy quite satisfying. The middle ground would be to say that as long as Science doesn’t actually contradict a belief, then that belief is okay. Still, that could mean there is a giant invisible super natural Zoboomafoo in the sky, because Science hasn’t disproved it. That’s where we get into Sinai Proofs and ‘Permission to Believe’ type of arguments, which attempt to show that there are really some very good reasons for believing in Orthodoxy. Personally I find that to the extent I focus on the positive, I can get quite positive. To the extent I focus on the negative, I can get quite negative. Emunah seems to be a choice, and I chose (mostly).

8. Torah Min Hashamayim

Of course I believe in Torah MinHashamyim. However what ‘Torah’, ‘Min’ and ‘Shamayim’ actually really mean is a subject of much debate. I highly doubt that the claims of the Chareidim are all true. But I also highly doubt that it’s all bogus. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but I couldn’t tell you where exactly. I have my own theories, which I will keep to myself, since I’m really not at all sure. The Documentary Hypothesis seems to have strong support, yet others debunk it entirely. I am not knowledgeable enough in this area to have a credible opinion (yet).

9. Kabalah, Chassidus & Spirituality
This ties into number 7 above. Scientific Skepticism would clearly debunk all of these. However Scientific Skepticism would also debunk much of Orthodoxy, including a personal God. I don’t see much gain in being Orthodox, but trashing Kabalah. Hence I stopped. Some things though are obviously false (or true). For example the Zohar was written by Moses De Leon in the 13th Century. But it could have been based on earlier (authentic) texts I suppose. This doesn’t mean you should believe in every single miracle story, but since we are no longer going with Scientific Skepticism, I can’t think of any reasonable way of distinguishing between truth and fiction, except common sense. And common sense is highly subjective.

10 The Gedolim

There are a few theories on the views of the Gedolim:

1. The Gedolim really believe that Breishis is literally true, and that Chazal knew Science.

1a) Therefore they believe Science is wrong and are generally anti-science.
1b) They believe in Science too, therefore are forced to go with Gosse theory or similar.

2. The Gedolim realize that Breishis might not be literally true, and that Chazal could have got Science wrong, but think it’s very dangerous to think along such lines.

2a) Therefore they hold these views are mamash kefirah.
2b) Therefore they pretend these views are mamash kefirah.
2c) They don’t really think its kefirah, that’s just typical rabbinic hyperbole.

3. The Gedolim have no idea what they think. It was a bandwagon started by Kannoim (possibly to get at R Kaminetzky) and so people signed on to it. Eventually signing or not signing became a statement of whether you were ‘with the Gedolim’ (or not), and has nothing much to do with the actual issues.

4. The Gedolim actually have no real problem with these views at all. They objected to a perceived tone in the books.

4a) They really did perceive that tone themselves.
4b) They only perceived it because the Kannoim presented a distorted picture to them.

Personally I think it’s a mix of the above, but most Gedolim, certainly the American ones, are in 2b or 2c. My Rav disagrees with me and holds 1a). Other people think it’s mostly 3 or 4. I think it does make a bit of a difference which one it is, but since most or all of the Gedolim have never really explained their (true) thought process, I guess we’ll never know.

The discussions around all these questions has been highly educational. No really new answers to anything have emerged yet, but in a future post I will be providing cogent answers to all these questions, I’m sure!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Novominsker Rebbe confirms that Chareidi Ideology is not True

Krum reports on 3 new anti-Slifkin letters from ‘Gedolim’.

I won’t call them fools or anything like that because since Purim I no longer ridicule people, it’s not very nice. However I cannot pass these letters by without any comment.

I believe that it’s clear to any educated, unbiased person that the world is very ancient, that there were plenty of intelligent people walking around 10,000 years ago, and Chazal’s Science doesn’t match the Science of today. These are my starting assumptions, and they are reasonable assumptions to start with. Other people’s starting assumption is that everything a Godol (or Chazal) says is 100% accurate and can never be questioned (chas vesholom). If that’s your starting assumption, then there’s nothing to talk about.

Of course everything could be a Ness, or Nishtaneh Hatevah, but those answers enable me to have complete emunah in the holy Zoboomafoo too, so I’m not going there. If you think otherwise, then that’s nice for you. (Just don’t be surprised if a leaping lemur starts giving you instructions.)

What’s more interesting is the letter from Rabbi Perlow. He says:

the publication of these books has caused serious damage to the sacred mesorah - and emunah- that Torah ideology has distilled for us throughout history

Now there wasn’t much in any of the books which was a complete chiddush. Most of it was a compilation of existing shittos of various Rabbanim. I mean it’s not like Slifkin talked about Myth Moshol or anything radical. He even kept away from the Mabul, because as we all know, Noach Crib sets are way too cute. So what Rabbi Perlow is really saying is this:

The Publication of these books [of well known shittos of famous Rabbanim, coupled with persuasive descriptions of Scientifically proven reality], has caused serious damage to the sacred mesorah - and emunah- that Torah [fundamentalist chareidi] ideology has distilled for us throughout history [the last ten years].

In other words, Rabbi Perlow is saying quite explicitly that Chareidi Fundamentalist ideology cannot stand up to the truth.

But then again, we all knew that anyway.

(Up next: Rabbi Miller confirms that Gedolim don’t know Science.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Announcing a new sect within Orthodoxy

The notion of ‘Orthoprax’ is well known. This signifies someone, typically Modern Orthodox, but also increasingly in Chareidi circles, who doesn’t actually believe in the 13 Ikkarim or Torah MiSinai, but due to family and/or community pressures continues to outwardly practice as an Orthodox Jew. I call this ‘Pressured Orthoprax’. In some cases the Orthoprax continues the prax because he/she actually likes doing it, and perceives cultural or spiritual value in them. I call this ‘Orthoprax by Choice’.

There is however, another somewhat analogous segment which we haven’t really spoken about much, but which certainly exists. These are people within the Chareidi community, who certainly believe in the Ikkarim and are genuinely frum, but they don’t buy into all the Chareidi dogma, such as ‘Gedolim’, ‘Daas Torah’, ‘Everyone must learn all the time’, ‘Science is Treif’ etc etc. They practice as a Chareidi, wear the Chareidi uniform, but secretly have pretty Modern Orthodox hashkafas, at least on Theological issues. They may pretend to be Chareidi because of pressure, or more likely they remain within the Chareidi fold (at least publically) because they value the increased emphasis and passion on Torah & Mitzvot within those communities.

With all the recent silly bans, these are the people who have become most disgruntled with the Chareidi world. They dare not express their true opinions in public, for fear of being vilified or hounded by the kannoim. In some cases these people publicly say radically different things than what they actually believe or say in private, or they pretend to be ‘mevatel daas’ to their rebbes. I used to call these people LW UO, but with the incredible pressure to conform within the Chareidi world, LW UO is a doomed segment, at least publicly.

I don’t expect that many (or any) of these people will leave the Chareidi world anytime soon, they are too personally invested, and there are too many pressures. Plus, there is some real value in that world which is hard to find elsewhere. I just don’t see them becoming Modern Orthodox, unless perhaps they get banned up the wazoo, but even then I don’t see it happening.

So I predict this segment of Orthodoxy will grow, but we won’t see any significant changes on the ground. I personally know quite a few of these people, and even one or two of the members of Cross-Currents fall into this category. Shall I name names? Maybe not. Still, what shall we call these people in general?

Ladies & Gentlemen, I present to you ….. (drum roll)

The Chareidiprax!

You heard it here first. Much more to come.