Sunday, April 30, 2006

April 2006

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Within Reason: Interview with Rabbi Louis Jacobs

[GH: The story of Rabbi Louis Jacobs is quite fascinating. He learnt at Manchester and Gateshead Yeshivot, and was on the way to becoming Chief Rabbi of England but was booted out of British Orthodoxy for holding of the Documentary Hypothesis. He went on to found 'Masorati', which seems to be similar to Conservative (there is no Conservative movement in the UK). There's a lesson in here somewhere, but I'm not sure what it is. The following is an article about Rabbi Jacobs from the British newspaper The Jewish Chronicle.]

To have a book go into five editions during your lifetime is quite an achievement. When it's a work of theology, it's almost supernatural. But then the author is the man recently voted by readers of this newspaper as the greatest British Jew of the last 350 years.

It was nearly half-a-century ago, in 1957, that Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs first published "We Have Reason to Believe," the small volume that detonated modem British Jewry's biggest religious crisis. Even though news traveled more slowly in those days, word about its controversial contents still took a while, years in fact, to get round. There were no angry rallies or book-burnings; whatever rumblings there were stayed long underground.

For Rabbi Jacobs, the book was an attempt to bring understanding of the Torah in line with academic, biblical scholarship: the Torah did not "drop down" intact from on high; it was a composite work compiled over generations under divine inspiration. He saw this interpretation as updating the notion of "Torah from heaven." His critics accused him of tearing down a pillar of the faith.

Even though national newspapers may still cast him as a "rebel rabbi," it is hard to associate the epithet with the 85-year-old scholar. Sitting in his St John's Wood home, he looks every inch the traditional rav with a beard and black kipah. When told he had been elected Anglo-Jewry's number one, he said he felt "embarrassed and daft." "Adlai Stevenson said flattery is okay but you mustn't inhale," he reflects now: "There is nothing to inhale."

When I ask him his own choice for greatest British Jew, he gently kicks back the question; "I wouldn't know the criteria." His religious hero, at least? Finally he produces a distinctly non-household name, and not a native, either. "It's probably a ridiculous choice, the Ragadshover [Rabbi Joseph Rozin]. A genius of the first order. He died in 1936. He was a rabbi in Dvinsk and he knew the Talmud backwards, in and out. He was very eccentric, bordering on the insane."

The Ragadshover was unafraid to take issue with the great medieval luminaries or brand any of his rabbinic peers in debate an am ha'aretz (ignoramus). "My own rebbe, Rabbi Rivkin [former head of the Manchester Beth Din, who gave Jacobs semichah] was always very proud that the Ragadshover called him a beheimah [ox]. It was as if to say, `You are worthy of my ire."'

It's a revealing choice - reminding you that his heart, if not his head, still belongs in part to the yeshivah world. For a man whose trust in reason got him into trouble, it's worth remembering, too, his deep appreciation of Chasidic mysticism - he has translated some of the early Lubavitch thinkers, whose spiritual insights he rates higher than those of Maimonides.

His father's parents came from the Lithuanian yeshivah town of Telz, settling in Canterbury, before moving to Manchester. Although his grandfather was strictly Orthodox, his father and uncles would slip out on Saturday afternoon to watch Broughton Rangers rugby league team. His father gained a place at Manchester Grammar School but the family needed him to work and he instead took a job in a raincoat factory.

As he records in his autobiography, "Helping with Inquiries," young Louis grew up in a neighbourhood where most of the men did not work on Shabbat, but did not go to shul, either. His dark complexion so bothered one aunt that she would powder his face before taking him out. At 14, he was set to be apprenticed to a printer, but his parents agreed to let him study full-time at Manchester Yeshivah, where he had already been taking afternoon classes after school.

The yeshivah, where he spent seven years full time, initially turned him into an "insufferable little prig." He even burned a book, given as barmitzvah present, because it supported evolution. He was preparing to go to the famous yeshivah of Telz when war broke out.

From Manchester, he went to the Gateshead Kollel, then to Munk's, a cornerstone of Golders Green Orthodoxy, and to positions as minister in Manchester and London. While at Munk's, he embarked on a part-time degree in Semitics at University College, London, which exposed him to the biblical scholarship that dramatically reshaped his thinking, and led to the "Jacobs Affair" in the early '60s - Chief Rabbi Brodie's double-ban, first on his becoming principal of Jews' College and then on his returning to the pulpit of the New West End Synagogue. There followed the founding of the synagogue he led for four decades, the New London, as an independent "Orthodox" congregation and, later, the Masorti movement.

He may, from an official Orthodox point of view, be a rebel, but he is a reluctant one. Ironically, perhaps, he is a staunch defender of minhag Anglia, the decorous, old ways of the United Synagogue, against the amateur charismatic and neo-Chasidic singalongs imported from abroad. "I don't think the old Anglo-Jews would have danced with a glass of whisky in their hands on Simchat Torah," he says, "or have clapping in the middle [of the service]."

But he remains bemused that more modern Orthodox rabbis have not joined his theological camp. He recalls an American academic telling him "there are many Orthodox scholars in the universities who will have no qualms about speaking about the patriarchs as non-historical figures, but they will go and ask their rabbis whether they can use tea-bags on Shabbat."

And he appears to regard the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks as a disciple manque: "From one or two remarks he has made, he seems near to my way of thinking. It's not `mine.' It's the way many of the people aware of the facts speak. But he will not say it, I don't know why. Perhaps it is pressure from the right-wing."

When he read of references to "evolution" and "homo sapiens" in the Chief Rabbi's last but one book, "The Dignity of Difference," he thought, "Good on you" - only to see the references dropped for the second edition.

But he confesses himself "a little bit disap¬pointed" with the direction of Masorti, the movement inspired by his views. He believes it has become over-preoccupied with mundane matters at the expense of the theological quest for a "non-fundamentalist" approach to tradition. Alluding to the controversy at one of its synagogues, he says: "The thing about women wearing a talit; one side says I'd be for it, the other, I'd be opposed. I always said I'm opposed to both views. I haven't been working for so many years so that women can wear a talit or others to think it a heinous offence. That's not what it's about. There's a bit too much American pragmatism. England was the home of theological thinking in the Victorian age and later. It wasn't about women priests and women bishops but about how you understand the Bible."

Lately, he has reading been a lot of Charedi works, particularly hagiographies of great rabbis. If some are "nonsense," the theology "banal," he nonetheless admires their religious instinct: "They wouldn't say it doesn't matter whether you believe in God or not so long as your wife wears a sheitl [wig]. They realise that, at the heart of religion, is an approach to the Almighty."

Among his own notebooks must be material for at least one more book. But, he says, "I'm conscious of my age. I can't get things down as easily as I could. I've a word processor but I find it hard to work at. I still prefer to do it hand-written. But who's going to read my handwriting and put it into type?"

He has been affected, too, by the death in November of his wife of 61 years, Shula. "She was ill for such a long time, very ill. I'd already become attuned to it. But that's another reason why I haven't got the mood to write."

The piano where she used to entertain the family stands quiet now in the drawing-room, in front of shelves housing a small part of his large library. Most of it is shortly to find a new home at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. To mark the occasion, he will be giving the first of a lecture series inaugurated in his name. His subject is "Two concepts of Jewish learning: the devotional and the historical-critical." This was due to be given next Wednes¬ay at the New London Synagogue but has had to be postponed due to ill-health.

In the preface to the last edition of "We Have Reason To Believe," in 2004, Rabbi Jacobs remarked that he found himself in a kind of "Anglo-Jewish limbo." The previous summer, in a mini-reprise of the Jacobs Affair, the London Beth Din had prevented his being called up to the Torah at the aufruf of his granddaughter's groom in an Orthodox synagogue in Bournemouth - resulting in public outcry.

In retrospect, he says that "limbo" is perhaps not a word he would use now, though he believes the incident "wouldn't have happened anywhere [else] in the Jewish world. I felt I was being marginalized."

He has confided that he doesn't feel fully at home in any Anglo-Jewish movement, taking consolation in the Chasidic saying: "One who has no place anywhere has a place everywhere."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Amos' Wager

Jewish Atheist has an interesting post on Pascal’s Wager. For those of you living in a cave, the ‘wager’ (somewhat incorrectly named, see here) was offered as a kind of proof for God, or rather why one should practically live as if God exists. The argument goes like this: If God doesn’t exist, then life is meaningless anyway, so it doesn’t matter what you do. However if God does exist, then you’re going to be in real trouble if you don’t listen to Him, so as a betting man, even if the odds are low, you should probably act as if God does exist.

Of course the skeptic’s response is, ‘Okay, but which God? Hashem, Jesus or Allah?' Jewish Atheist works through some logic and figures out that you are better off believing in a religion which promises hellfire for non believers, since if it turns out that that religion is true, and you are not a believer, then you’re going to hell. However there’s not much point in believing in Judaism, because Judaism says anyone who is a good person is going to Heaven. JA concludes:

Based on careful consideration, I recommend a branch of Christianity which has 1) a large number of followers, 2) a very good Heaven and a very scary, infinite Hell, 3) an intolerant God, 4) and a relatively easy path to Heaven. For example, a Christian denomination that demands only that you believe in Jesus seems perfect.

It took me a while to figure out the correct response to this post, but I think I have it.

Of course there are an infinite number of conceptions of God, and thousands of actual religions. Though since religion is a very personal affair, one could say that there are really billions of religions. The point about God existing is not a particular God, or even a particular religion, but rather that the universe was created for a purpose, and God ‘cares’ about what you do, and you have a responsibility to do good.

All the major God centered religions agree on this, and I don’t see any reason to go believe in a vindictive religion or vindictive God just to be safe. If God is the type of guy that’s going to damn you to hell for all eternity just because you didn’t believe in him, then that’s not a very good God, and we’re probably all screwed anyway. Likewise, it may be that God is a trickster or a prankster, and this whole world is just set up to screw with us. Again, if this is God, then there’s not much you can do about it anyway. So I don’t think that JA’s conclusions are correct with respect to whether we should believe in a good God or not.

But there is a VERY serious issue here which must be dealt with. Many religions require certain behaviors, or encourage certain attitudes. If it turns out that those religions are wrong, and those behaviors are wrong, then you might indeed get into big trouble in Olam Habah, even if you did everything l'shem shamayim.

An obvious example isthe 9/11 suicide bombers. They were convinced they were acting l'shem shamayim, and even died saying tefillos to God, yet does anyone think they are not going to burn (figuratively speaking) for their hideous actions?

So, we have to take a look at Orthodox Judaism, and consider what will be if it turns out that the Orthodox are wrong. Are we doing anything that we should not be doing? As I commented on DovBear recently about Dafur, and the lack of Chareidi involvement:

Maybe the Reform & Conservative types really will get Olam Habah for all their social action activity, while all the frummer yidden are all going to hell for wasting their money on esrogim and crap and not giving a damn about humanity.

In other words, the ‘we don’t care about goyim’, or ‘esav soneh es yaakov’, or ‘goyim are background players’ type of mentality may be very bad indeed. And even the most makpid person on Halachah, if he displays such attitudes, may be in deep trouble. One need look no further than this weeks haftorah, or indeed much of the Neviim, to see the Neviim yelling at the Bnei Yisrael that God doesn’t want their korbanos or other ritual activities if they can’t act with basic morals and ethics. If this isn’t a major indictment of the typical Chareidi ideology I don’t know what is. Perhaps this is why Tenach isn’t taught in Yeshivot.

However, the most that the Chareidim will get into trouble for is some racism, lack of care, lack of good morals and ethics, and an annoying attitude. It’s not like they’re actively going out and killing people (though Satmar might come close sometimes).

What’s far more troubling is the behavior of some of the extremist right wing settlers and their supporters. If it turns out that we don’t have a God given right to posses all of Eretz Yisrael now, either because the kofrim are correct, or because Satmar are correct, or just because we stam don’t have that God given right, then they are gonna be in huge trouble for causing so much pain and misery to so many people.

I have had many conversations with settlers and their supporters and they always trot out the most ridiculous (but highly emotional) responses, usually ‘God gave this land to us’ or ‘We won this fair and square’ or ‘The arabs don’t deserve a country anyway’ or some such crap. Many of these people have never ever conducted a critical analysis of their religious beliefs (or probably of any of their beliefs), and certainly couldn’t convincingly explain why they believe in their religion, they just do.

No doubt the Chareidim, the Settlers and the Suicide bombers will all respond that you have to have conviction in your beliefs, put your money where your mouth is, and do what you have to do. No doubt they are all 100% convinced that God is on their side, and it’s the other guys who are gonna burn. I’ll tell you straight, I’m not so sure.

My advice? Listen to the Neviim, who were very clear on this subject. God could care less about your rituals, your sacrifices, and your religious worship, if you aren’t moral and ethical. Heschel has a great book called God in Search of Man. He says that the greatest proof that the prophets were Divinely Inspired is in the content of their message. They had it right 3000 years ago, and it's still as right as ever, and always will be. What more proof do you need? (I also think this is what the Rambam was saying in Moreh 2:40 - more on Heschel and the Rambam later, it's awesome stuff.)

In the words of Amos (5:21):

כא שָׂנֵאתִי מָאַסְתִּי, חַגֵּיכֶם; וְלֹא אָרִיחַ, בְּעַצְּרֹתֵיכֶם. כב כִּי אִם-תַּעֲלוּ-לִי עֹלוֹת וּמִנְחֹתֵיכֶם, לֹא אֶרְצֶה; וְשֶׁלֶם מְרִיאֵיכֶם, לֹא אַבִּיט. כג הָסֵר מֵעָלַי, הֲמוֹן שִׁרֶיךָ; וְזִמְרַת נְבָלֶיךָ, לֹא אֶשְׁמָע. כד וְיִגַּל כַּמַּיִם, מִשְׁפָּט; וּצְדָקָה, כְּנַחַל אֵיתָן

DovBear provides a beautiful and modern translation (slightly edited by me):

I HATE, I DESPISE your Yomim Tovim, and I take no delight from your Minyanim. Even though you say Tefillot, I will not accept them; I will not look upon them. Remove from me the noise of your Tehillim; to the melody of your Teffilos I will not listen. Instead, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

What could be clearer than that? If you're not moral and ethical, your religious activities are worthless. Actually worse than worthless, they are HATED and DESPISED by God. And remember, this isn't me or DovBear speaking, or even Amos for that matter.

If you're Orthodox, this is God speaking.

Confused about Science & Torah? Don’t worry, so are the Gedolim!

First hand reports continue to flow in about conversations that people have had with various Gedolim and Rabbanim. I heard that Rav Aharon Feldman said that R Elyashiv flip-flopped between saying that an ancient universe was kefirah, or was kinda like kefirah, or maybe was just ossur but not kefirah.

Rav Moshe Shapiro said it was kefirah, but then said it wasn’t, or maybe it was, depending on who he was talking to. One of his talmidim, Heshy Grossman, insists that Rav Moshe never said an ancient universe was kefirah, and was only talking about Chazal and Science. Yet others who attended a vaad that Rav Moshe gave in London said that Rav Moshe said an ancient universe was total kefirah.

R Hershel Shachter says there’s no problem with it all, while Rav Dovid Feinstein told someone I know that it is apikorsus to say the world is older than 5766 years. Is apikorsus the same as kefirah? Meanwhile Rav B and Rav ZE said that the Gedolim who signed the bans lacked the necessary hashkafic (not scientific but hashkafic!) knowledge to be able to express an opinion on these matters, and can be ignored. And another well known Halachic authority called the people who banned the books ‘morons’. (And he didn’t mean it as in ‘Moron HaRav Elyashiv’.)

So if the Gedolim themselves are so confused, and don’t have a clue how to address the issues from Science, what hope do we have?

But we shouldn’t be too hard on these guys. After all, it’s not easy to cope when someone comes along and neatly disproves some of your most deeply held beliefs. On the other hand, a literal Breishis has probably been disproved for about 200 years now, so you would think they should get a clue already.

Of course there aren’t any really good answers anyway, so it’s understandable that the Gedolim are not too keen on the kiruv clowny peshatim frequently bandied about. And the better answers are not exactly compatible with Orthodoxy as we know it today.

Furthermore, and perhaps most significantly, embarking on a rationalization and study of whether Orthodoxy is true in light of modern knowledge is not exactly a pastime that the Gedolim want to encourage, for obvious reasons. What next? Is the Torah really minHashamyim, in light of textual discrepancies and the Documentary Hypothesis? Was Moshe Rabeinu really a Navi, or just schizophrenic? Did Chazal have ruach hakodesh, or did they just make stuff up? There’s no end to the challenges to religion, and especially onto-religions. The Gedolim certainly don’t want to be the ones to flip the first domino.

Still, their response in this case was really quite dumb. As my mom always says, if you’ve got nothing good to say, then better not say anything at all. Hmm, maybe I should take her advice too.

One might ask, if the Gedolim are so confused and in such disagreement about something so basic, isn’t this a bit of an indictment against the whole concept of Gedolim, and even of Torah itself? In a future article I will (be’ezras Hashem) be providing some cogent answers to these questions.

UPDATE: I just saw that Yediah posted on this topic too. Great minds think alike! He quotes the famous Rambam that says those who understand Science and Philosophy AND Torah are on a higher madreigah than those who just understand Torah. Also, in reading my latest post, it's clear that only those with the highest standards of ethics and morals can qualify. This probably makes Rabbi Jonathan Sacks one of the few genuine Gedolim alive today. Truly he is the Chief Rabbi. The extremist Charieidi 'Gedolim' may know a lot of Torah, but that seems to be about the extent of their Gadlus.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Is there any point?

I was debating Gosse Theory with Lakewood Yid yesterday, and trying to show him why it makes no sense. During the course of the debate he said:

‘If I was born into the Mormon community, I would be a Mormon now. But I was born Chareidi, so I believe bemunah shlemah in the Gedolim and Chazal.’

Actually, Lakewood Yid is not wrong (for once). If he was born Mormon he probably would be Mormon. In general, people born into strong religious surroundings tend to remain within those surroundings. Of course some people go ‘off the derech’, but it’s hard to shake the beliefs, attitudes and thought patterns of one’s upbringing, or even of ones adult surroundings.

In fact, I wonder which is more difficult, to shake your childhood indoctrination, or to rebel against your adulthood surroundings? It might be that the latter is actually more difficult. How many people are actually able to think in an entirely different way than their surrounding culture? Ironically, I’m not even sure that off the derech skeptics are really rebelling against their adulthood surroundings. If anything they are compelled by the wider community of unbelievers to conform to accepted standards of rationality and common sense, so maybe they are in fact conformists, rather than rebels. Hard to say.

It’s clear though that religious beliefs are hard to shake. An Orthodox Jew might passionately believe in Torah minHashamyim, but an Orthodox Muslim will passionately believe in the Koran minHashamyim, while an Orthodox Mormon will believe in the Book of Mormon minHashamyim. All three groups will vigorously defend their beliefs with a combination of faith and kiruv clowny arguments. Of course each will be convinced that the other two groups are full of nonsense, whereas their own set of beliefs are clear and proven.

You only need to go to the religion section in your local Barnes & Noble to see books and books explaining why it’s perfectly rational to believe in Jesus, or even that Jesus must be God because of some clowny proof or another. In fact I think one of the most damaging things for the emunah is to see the ridiculous lengths that religious leaders and kiruv clowns will go to, to try and prove their own personal religious beliefs. (I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that at times). Of course this in itself is sometimes used as a kiruv clowny proof – ‘See to what lengths people will go to defend their religion! It must be true!). However the fact that competing and contradictory religious leaders all go to the same lengths shows how false this reasoning is.

About the best you can do is to posit the existence of God, and then validate all religious faiths as being expressions of how to relate to that God, and how to behave in this world, albeit with some of the details being different from faith to faith. Of course, having grown up Orthodox, I can’t really shake the belief that our religion is somehow a lot better than the others. I mean, Christianity and Islam are just derivative, and the other religions are just a load of nonsense, right?

But the issue of childhood indoctrination or adulthood peer pressure is not confined to religion alone. The skeptics are convinced that religion is bunk, yet retain strong moral sensibilities. But where did these morals come from? They could be internally developed, yet they could also have been ingested from their surroundings, religious or otherwise.

In fact even in Science (and especially according to Post Modernist view), there are strong cultural and other biases in terms of what subjects Scientists address, what kinds of methodologies they use and what kinds of attitudes they employ. In fact hard core Post Modernists would say that the epistemological behaviors exhibited by Scienctists (for example scientific skepticism) are nor more or less rational than those exhibited by religious leaders (for example faith in the mesorah). Everything is relative, and no one version of ‘rationality’ is any more valid than any other. I think intuitively this is very difficult to accept as true (though maybe it’s my modernist cultural bias which is causing me to say this! Owww, my brain is starting to hurt).

Of course I am not equating Science with Religion. The former observes the facts and creates theories, the latter has some ancient beliefs which it dogmatically clings to even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Yet there are cases of Scientists clinging to theories even after they have been discredited, even Einstein was not immune to this. And oftentimes new theories only really take hold after an older generation of scientists passes away, and a new generation come to the fore. Clearly this is still a significantly better situation than with religion, which expends much effort on ensuring that things never change, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

So, bearing in mind that one can be indoctrinated in childhood, and pressured (consciously or subconsciously) in adulthood to conform to a certain set of beliefs, is there any real hope that any of us actually has any credibility? When a Godol (even a very smart one) tells us he passionately believes in Torah MinHashamyim, does he have any more credibility than when an Imam tells us he passionately believes in Koran MinHashamyim? Or how about when a Scientist tells us the world is 15 billion years old? Why does anyone, even experts, have any credibility?

The answer is obvious: Empirical evidence combined with rational thought.

Nobody at all believes in my Zoboomafoo religion, because it’s not rational and there’s no evidence. If evidence and rational thought were not required, humanity would fall apart. It’s the way the world works, and it’s the way our brains our wired. It’s really quite impossible to get through life (or even the morning) without using a combination of empirical evidence and rational thought. Even the biggest kiruv clown will use rational thought to convince you of his dubious views. He doesn’t say, ‘Believe me because ducks quack’, he says ‘believe me because of the following set of reasons’. You can’t get away from that.

Are there limits to man’s ability for reason? Of course. It’s incomprehensible to us that the Universe could have just popped into existence, or existed eternally. Believing God did it might be good for other reasons, but it doesn’t help much with comprehensibility, since God is incomprehensible anyway. The bottom line is that no matter what you believe in this are, you are going to be stuck with some incomprehensible concept somewhere. But knowing that our reason is ultimately limited doesn’t mean we can shut it down. We have to use it to the best of our ability, until the point it can’t work anymore.

It appears to me that Lakewood Yid’s argument is as follows:

I have been indoctrinated from birth to believe in Judaism. I know it’s not rational, because had I been born a Moslem I would now believe in Islam. However since I am already committed to believing in Judaism, I may as well believe in any irrational thing that the Gedolim tell me too.

Although our immediate response might be to say that doesn’t mean we should believe in things which are contradicted by the facts, the reality is that our entire fealty to our religion is only through childhood or adult indoctrination (with the exception of BT’s I guess). Therefore, if we are going to base our lives around a set of beliefs which we admit we wouldn’t even have if we had been raised differently, and for which there is no real evidence, is it really that much of a stretch to say we’ll believe in Gosse?

The Torah & Science crowd say as follows: ‘We’re going to show you why our religious beliefs are not contradicted by Science, without having to resort to ridiculous explanations like Gosse which defy common sense.’ But is this really a common sense rational approach? Surely the only truly common sense and rational approach is to embark on a full scale evaluation of all religions and associated claims, and then determine which (if any) are true.

Starting off with a base assumption that your particular religion is true (whilst recognizing that you only really believe in it because that’s the way you were brought up) and then trying to show why your religion is not contradicted by Science doesn’t strike me as being a very sensible approach at all. In fact, it’s not much more sensible than Lakewood Yid’s ‘I believe because I was brought up to believe’.

At the end of the day you’re either going to seriously undertake an analysis of all religions and science to figure out the emmes, and be open to all possibilities, or you’re not. If not I really don’t see the point of addressing specific issues such as conflicts of Science with Breishis.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Lakewooders provide an answer!!!

Wow! How ironic! The answer to my conundrum has come from the Lakewood chevrah of all places. It seems that the Lakewood Chevrah went on a tour of New York based Chareidi Gedolim during bayn hazmanim and asked them whether ‘The Gedolim’ (i.e. the ones on the bans) know what they are talking about. This is what they wrote to me: (I had to cut out some names but I know who they are)

I spoke to Rabbi B (a major posek and respected odom godol in New York) for an hour on Yom Tov - he told me that most of the people who signed the ban "know nothing about science (no chiddush there), and know little of the Torah Hashkafa involved to discuss these topics.” Similar views were told to me by Reb ZE (another major Godol in New York), and Reb YD – the biggest illuy from Yeshivah C. Even amongst the banners they don't all agree with each other.

Heshy Grossman (GH: That’s Heshy ‘I challenge you to a debate Grossman’ not Heshy from Heshy’s house) told me that R Moshe Shapiro had NO problem with a million year old world. And we all know that R 'Eliyashiv 's view if it's k'fira is unclear. (sort of k'fira etc..).

(Actually, I think Heshy Grossman may be incorrect, since Rav Moshe has said that dinosaurs lived concurrently with man. But then Heshy has no credibility anyway.)

Anyway, so there you have it. Various Gedolim hold that 'The Gedolim' don’t know what the heck they are talking about. Still, ironically I actually do now agree with the Gedolim from the bans, Science is incompatible with traditional Orthodox Judaism. Though I guess we can always change the traditions a little (or a lot). After all, it’s not like they haven’t been changed a little before. Or a lot.

More on Experts

I was a little disappointed with some of the lame responses to my last post about trusting the experts. Some commenters focused on the fact that they certainly wouldn’t trust every doctor. Well duh! Not every doctor is an expert. Or, even if he is an expert, he might be lazy, negligent or just having a bad day. But assuming he is an expert, and assuming he’s not being negligent or similar, then you would trust him, and certainly over a non or lesser expert.

Other commenters focused on the fact that experts are not infallible. Well duh again!
Of course humans are fallible. But your best chance of getting it right is listening to the expert. And if you have a global community of experts who all agree with reach other then it’s a pretty safe bet. And even then of course they could be wrong, but so what? There’s no other rational position to take in life other than listening to the experts.

One particularly silly comment claimed that we listen to experts not because they are experts, but because they show their reasoning. Completely backwards thinking. Showing your reasoning is expected of an expert, so that other experts can understand and agree (or disagree), or to show that they are not being negligent. But do we use nuclear power because we understand how it works? Or do we use it because we trust the experts?

Of course we do need to determine that the expert in question is truly an expert, and we do need to be sure he’s not being negligent or is biased, or similar. For that we have credentials and other mechanisms, or possibly other experts to validate the expertise of the initial experts. In this modern and complex world there is absolutely no other way it can work. There has to be a division of labor, with appropriate mechanisms and controls.

Is this ‘appeal to authority’? Kinda. But appeal to authority where the authority is an expert is perfectly rational and normal. Even the arch skeptics do it. What about when experts disagree? Well, then it would probably be sensible to go with the majority, but I wouldn’t regard it as too crazy to go with the minority, assuming they are truly experts and not quacks.

Still other commenters tried to complicate things by claiming that the Gedolim don’t understand enough about science, and that to reconcile Torah and Science you need to be an expert in both. That may very well be true, but it is totally irrelevant here. The concept of an ancient universe, ancient man and no global flood is an extremely simple concept. It requires zero knowledge of science; even a 5 year old could grasp that concept. The Gedolim certainly understand these concepts, even if they have no knowledge of the Science that was used to prove them. And the Gedolim have clearly stated that these concepts are incompatible with Orthodoxy. Maybe the reconciliators need to know both in order to twist and tweak both, but reconciliation is ossur, since the Gedolim have already paskened that these concepts are completely incompatible with Orthodoxy.

The only real response to my post is to say one of the following:

1. The Gedolim are NOT experts at all
2. The Gedolim are experts in Chareidi Orthodoxy only, but not Modern Orthodoxy. And the MO Experts say that Science and Torah ARE compatible.

Let’s start with approach number 1, that the Gedolim are not experts. But how can you say the Gedolim, people are mosser nefesh day and night for 50 years and know Kol HaTorah Kuloh are not experts in Orthodoxy? If you do say this you create an even worse problem, namely that Talmud Torah is a waste of time. In fact it’s not even a rational position from a purely secular point of view, since how could a global community of Gedolim not be experts after spending a lifetime studying and practicing? I think we can discount approach number 1.

So let’s explore number 2. Maybe Chareidishe Torah is incompatible with Science, but Modern Orthodoxishe Torah is okay. Indeed, one of the Gedolim was heard to exclaim that Slifkin was a threat to Chareidishe Torah. This is mashmah that even the Chareidim are modeh that there are two types of Torah, Chareidishe Toyrah and Modern-Orthodoxishe Torah. (I guess it’s possible that he meant to exclude Chassidishe Torah, but somehow I doubt it).

So can this work? The Chareidishe Experts have declared Chareidi Torah incompatible with Science, but the MO Experts are okay with it? Well, there are some problems with this approach. Firstly, there are very few MO Experts. The few that do exist, for example Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rav Willig, Rav Shachter and some others, have been very guarded about accepting Science. Rav Willig has said he hasn’t thought much about it, and even though RHS and RAL might be okay with Slifkin, it appears that neither of them would be okay with Breishis 1-11 being mythological, which it clearly is if you accept Science. Plus the few MO experts are somewhat outnumbered and outweighed by the Chareidishe ones.

No, I think the only way out is to say that the only reason the Gedolim paskened the way they did is because they don’t really take Science seriously. However if they were to realize how well proven the Science was, they would change their tune pretty quickly. I really doubt this, but I guess to save Orthodoxy it’s worth thinking about for a minute.

So it’s really irrelevant whether the Gedolim think the Science has been proven or not, since they are not the experts in Science. For questions of what’s been proven in Science, we go to the experts in Science. The only relevant question for the Gedolim is 'IF it were to be proven, what would the Gedolim say?'

I therefore propose that someone ask a Godol the following question (please make sure to follow my instructions for maximum effect):

Dear Reb X, IF it was ever proven (make sure to emphasize the word ‘if’) that the world is 15 billion years old (say ‘chas vesholom’ at this point and have a very serious and pained look on your face, if you have a beard now would be a good time to tug on it and look as if you are just contemplating a very theoretical shailo), and IF (again with the emphasis) it was ever proven (chas vesholom, beard and peyos tug again) that man is ancient and there was no global flood, and OF COURSE (emphasis) I believe be’emunah shlemah that this will never happen, but let’s just say if theoretically it were to happen (chas vesholom), what would your response be? (Immediately start shockeling furiously)

If the Godol yells ‘Chas vesholom!, How can you even ask such a thing?’ and throws you out of his office then you have your answer.

If on the other hand, he sits back in the chair, shrugs and says ‘Nu, then we’ll just have to re-instate Slifkin’, then I’ll be modeh.

Fair enough?

Faith in the Experts

Yesterday a commenter accused me of having ‘too much faith in science’. But this is really an inaccurate representation of my views. It’s not that I have faith in Science per se, it’s that I have faith in the experts. If I get sick, I go to the doctor. If the toilet backs up, I call in the plumber. I don’t go the plumber with medical complaints and I don’t ask the doctor to fix my toilet. This is normal, rational behavior, and everyone from the lowliest Koton to the highest Godol acts like this.

Why do we have faith in the experts? Maybe a few thousand years ago one person could ‘know it all’, but these days it is quite impossible to be an expert in everything. We have to specialize, and sub-specialize and sub-sub-specialize. There are some remarkable individuals who have mastered a number of disciplines or trades, but most people have a hard enough time mastering just one.

This is why I have faith in Science, I trust the Scientists. Likewise I trust the experts in Torah to tell me how Torah works. The global community of Science experts all agree that the world is billions of years old, that there was no global flood or even major regional flood 5,000 years ago, and that there were plenty of intelligent humans walking the earth 10,000 years ago. Likewise the global community of Torah experts (i.e. the Gedolim) all agree that these facts are completely incompatible with Torah True Judaism. I trust their judgment too, much more than I trust the judgment of Schroeder, Aviezer or any of those guys.

Some people might say that the Gedolim are extremists and that there are plenty of great Rabbis who don’t think this way. But the truth is there really aren’t, certainly not nowadays. Rabbis Shachter hasn't said much on this subject, and Rabbi Willig when asked about it said ‘I don’t know, I never really thought about it’. And Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and people like that are closet heretics for sure. In a recent interview in the British Jewish Chronicle which Marc Shapiro was kind enough to send me I saw that Rabbi Louis Jacobs said he regarded Rabbi Sacks as a disciple manqué of his (yeah, I had to look that up too).

If we look back a couple of hundred years it doesn’t get much better. RYBS never said anything much on these subjects, and while Rav Kook would seem to be a great resource it’s quite probably that he had some very strange views indeed. I guess you have the Tiferes Yisrael but that’s about it. Plus Rav Kook on his ownsome is not quite enough to stand up to the entire weight of the rest of the Gedolim. Sure, there have been plenty of community and low level Rabannim who seemed okay with evolution, an ancient universe, or a mythological flood, but can these people really stand up to the Gedolim of past and present generations? Of course not.

The bottom line is this: The Gedolim, are mosser nefesh day and night to learn Torah. They have the greatest breadth and depth in all aspects of Torah. If the greatest experts in Orthodox Torah can’t conceive of Science being compatible with (Orthodox) Torah, then I trust their judgment. Could the Gedolim be wrong about Orthodox Torah? I guess it’s possible. But it’s a little silly for people like me to second guess the experts.

There is therefore really only one rational conclusion here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gedolim: The Torah might be false!

Here’s something which has bothered me for a while.

It seems that some Gedolim, certainly Rav Moshe Shapiro and probably a few others (not sure about R Elyashiv though), seriously believe that the world is 6,000 years old and that Adam was the first ever human. They also seem to assert that if these two facts were not true, it would damage Orthodox Judaism to the point that Orthodox Judaism might no longer be viable, since our Torah would be false.

Now, follow my logic here.

We enlightened ones understand that Gedolim (and Chazal) were not necessarily experts in Science (or History), but are certainly experts in Torah. I really do believe that, there is no question in my mind that Rav Moshe Shapiro is a bigger Godol in Torah than I am. However when it comes to Maddah, he is quite the Koton (at least compared to the Scientific community). And that’s okay, we don’t expect Gedolim (or Chazal) to be Gedolim BeMaddah, only Gedolim BaTorah. We are therefore mechuyav to listen to our Gedolim in Torah matters, but not in Maddah matters.

With me so far? Okay, good. Now, here is my problem:

From a Torah perspective, Rav Moshe (and the other Gedolim BaTorah uKetanim BeMaddah) seem to be saying that IF the world was genuinely 15 billion years old and IF Adam wasn’t the first man then there would be NO way to reconcile this with Orthodox Judaism, and the Torah would be false. Since we know from the Gedolim BeMaddah that these facts are actually true, and that the world IS 15 billion years old and Adam was NOT the first human, am I then mechuyav to listen to our Gedolim BaTorahh and acknowledge that the Torah is false and Orthodox Judaism is bogus? I guess so.

This is a problem, no?

This picture needs a caption

Will Smith, Jada-Pinkett Smith and some Rabbi at the Kotel.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


A Talk By
Freeman Dyson

To me, good works are more important than theology. We all know that religion has been historically, and still is today, a cause of great evil as well as great good in human affairs. We have seen terrible wars and terrible persecutions conducted in the name of religion. We have also seen large numbers of people inspired by religion to lives of heroic virtue, bringing education and medical care to the poor, helping to abolish slavery and spread peace among nations. Religion amplifies the good and evil tendencies of individual souls. Religion will always remain a powerful force in the history of our species. To me, the meaning of progress in religion is simply this, that as we move from the past to the future the good works inspired by religion should more and more prevail over the evil.

Even in the gruesome history of the twentieth century, I see some evidence of progress in religion. The two individuals who epitomized the evils of our century, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, were both avowed atheists. Religion cannot be held responsible for their atrocities. And the three individuals who epitomized the good, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa, were all in their different ways religious. One of the great but less famous heroes of World War Two was Andre Trocme, the Protestant pastor of the village of Le Chambon sur Lignon in France, which sheltered and saved the lives of five thousand Jews under the noses of the Gestapo. Forty years later Pierre Sauvage, one of the Jews who was saved, recorded the story of the village in a magnificent documentary film with the title, "Weapons of the Spirit". The villagers proved that civil disobedience and passive resistance could be effective weapons, even against Hitler. Their religion gave them the courage and the discipline to stand firm. Progress in religion means that, as time goes on, religion more and more takes the side of the victims against the oppressors.


I am content to be one of the multitude of Christians who do not care much about the doctrine of the Trinity or the historical truth of the gospels. Both as a scientist and as a religious person, I am accustomed to living with uncertainty. Science is exciting because it is full of unsolved mysteries, and religion is exciting for the same reason. The greatest unsolved mysteries are the mysteries of our existence as conscious beings in a small corner of a vast universe. Why are we here? Does the universe have a purpose? Whence comes our knowledge of good and evil? These mysteries, and a hundred others like them, are beyond the reach of science. They lie on the other side of the border, within the jurisdiction of religion.


I do not claim any ability to read God's mind. I am sure of only one thing. When we look at the glory of stars and galaxies in the sky and the glory of forests and flowers in the living world around us, it is evident that God loves diversity. Perhaps the universe is constructed according to a principle of maximum diversity. The principle of maximum diversity says that the laws of nature, and the initial conditions at the beginning of time, are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Maximum diversity often leads to maximum stress. In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth. This is the confession of faith of a scientific heretic. Perhaps I may claim as evidence for progress in religion the fact that we no longer burn heretics.


Now I have five minutes left to give you a message to take home. The message is simple. "God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world". This was said by Francis Bacon, one of the founding fathers of modern science, almost four hundred years ago. Bacon was the smartest man of his time, with the possible exception of William Shakespeare. Bacon saw clearly what science could do and what science could not do. He is saying to the philosophers and theologians of his time: look for God in the facts of nature, not in the theories of Plato and Aristotle. I am saying to modern scientists and theologians: don't imagine that our latest ideas about the Big Bang or the human genome have solved the mysteries of the universe or the mysteries of life. Here are Bacon's words again: "The subtlety of nature is greater many times over than the subtlety of the senses and understanding". In the last four hundred years, science has fulfilled many of Bacon's dreams, but it still does not come close to capturing the full subtlety of nature. To talk about the end of science is just as foolish as to talk about the end of religion. Science and religion are both still close to their beginnings, with no ends in sight. Science and religion are both destined to grow and change in the millennia that lie ahead of us, perhaps solving some old mysteries, certainly discovering new mysteries of which we yet have no inkling. After sketching his program for the scientific revolution that he foresaw, Bacon ends his account with a prayer: "Humbly we pray that this mind may be steadfast in us, and that through these our hands, and the hands of others to whom thou shalt give the same spirit, thou wilt vouchsafe to endow the human family with new mercies". That is still a good prayer for all of us as we begin the twenty-first century.

Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.

Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious dogma or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. The media rarely mention the fact that the great majority of religious people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with respect, or the fact that the great majority of scientists treat religion with respect so long as religion does not claim jurisdiction over scientific questions. In the little town of Princeton where I live, we have more than twenty churches and at least one synagogue, providing different forms of worship and belief for different kinds of people. They do more than any other organizations in the town to hold the community together. Within this community of people, held together by religious traditions of human brotherhood and sharing of burdens, a smaller community of professional scientists also flourishes.

... Science and religion should work together to abolish the gross inequalities that prevail in the modern world. That is my vision, and it is the same vision that inspired Francis Bacon four hundred years ago, when he prayed that through science God would "endow the human family with new mercies".

[Hat tip: e-Kvetcher]

Does Rabbi Adlerstein have a backbone?

Rabbi Yitzchok Alderstan writes about the Judas affair. For those of you who don’t follow Christian Theology like RYA does, Judas was the guy who betrayed Jesus. Yet recently discovered ancient manuscripts paint a different picture. RYA contrasts the calm Christian reaction with that of Jewish Rabbis (and I assume academics and jbloggers too) who freak out when the Exodus (or Genesis) stories are debunked and they go off the derech. He says:

We’re not talking about slam-dunk, overwhelming evidence. Whether the zeitgeist is Higher Criticism or the Minimalists rejection of the Exodus, there are always competing explanations available. They are sometimes embraced by the many, sometimes by fewer scholars, but they always mean that those who hold them are in good company. They haven’t checked their critical faculties at the door. They may be part of a minority, but nothing resembling membership in the Flat Earth Society. So why is Jewish faith so often the loser?

This is a bit misleading. He talks about the Minimalist rejection of the Exodus, and it’s true that there are plenty of scholars who don’t reject the Exodus completely. But there is certainly no ‘good company’ of scholars who accept the literal Exodus story either. And when it comes to Breishis, believing in Chapters 1-11 does absolutely resemble membership in the Flat Earth Society. So whats RYA complaining about exactly?

He goes on to say:

If the persistence and resilience of that faith doesn’t quite constitute proof, does it not at least count as evidence in arguments that could go either way? Does faith have no backbone?

How is ‘faith’ evidence for anything in these debates? Unless you’re making the argument that the fact that the Jews have been around for so long in the face of such overwhelming odds counts for something (and I agree). As to the backbone question I wouldn’t be flinging that accusation around, since nobody on Cross Currents and to the right of it has much backbone either.

He continues:

The word emunah loses too much when it is translated as “faith.” More properly, it has strong overtones of faithfulness and loyalty. Conviction does not evaporate before every challenge and question. It allows one to function with questions, especially if there is any kind of plausible answer available.

OK, I somewhat agree, and have made similar arguments. You don’t throw the whole thing away because of some arguments. You re-adjust. But faith and loyalty cannot counter hard evidence.

So Rabbi Adlerstein, you’re pretty quick to denounce the spineless Rabbis (I assume you mean people like Wolpe). But do you have a spine? No scholar in the world says a global flood is a possibility, or even a large local one, in the timeframe of the Torah. Nor can Adam & Eve possibly have been the first people. There are no respectable alternative theories. Are you willing to publicly state that these stories are myths?

Or perhaps you too are missing some backbone?

[Why am I bashing RYA you ask? He's a good guy, that's true. I just can't stand this hypocritical hyper-critical Cross-Currents crap. They're way too quick to point to everyone elses faults and never admit to their own. I mean that both religiously and personally.]

Monday, April 24, 2006

The New Scientist is Mechazek my Emunah!

The New Scientist has an interesting article about the elusive Graviton. For those of you not well versed in Quantum Physics (i.e. all normal people) here’s a brief introduction:

There are four fundamental forces in the world:
  1. Ruchniyus
  2. Gashmiyus
  3. Tipshus
  4. Kannous
No, just kidding! Ruchniyus is not much of a force. But seriously, they are as follows:
  1. Strong Force (gluons)
  2. Weak Force (W & Z bosons)
  3. Electromagnetic Force (photons)
  4. Gravitational Force (gravitons)
The problem is that Gravitons are really small. And I mean really, really small. You might think your UWS apartment is small, but that’s just peanuts compared to a graviton. For example, a 100 billion neutrinos emitted from the Sun are passing through every square centimeter of your skin every second of the day, and not one of them is likely to ever collide with any of the atoms in your body! And a graviton is 10 to the 21 *smaller* than a neutrino! Honestly, I’m not making this stuff up. All these numbers are straight out of the New Scientist.

Scientists calculate that a graviton detector would have to be about the size of Jupiter, and even then it might detect about 1000 gravitons during the entire lifetime of the Universe. So, it seems a bit unlikely that we’re ever going to find one.

However Nobel prizewinner Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas says this is not a problem:

"The question of whether or not we can detect a single graviton is quite irrelevant to the issue of constructing a fundamental theory of gravitation. There are plenty of things that we cannot observe - quarks, galaxies beyond the cosmological horizon, and so on - but that appear as respectable ingredients of our theories. (He sees no reason to require every ingredient to be observable). The only reasonable demand is that enough of the consequences of the theory should be observable to give us a chance to verify or refute it."
Aha! Things don’t need to be observable to be ‘respectable’ ingredients of our theories, as long as the observable consequences are consistent with the Theory!

So let’s see. My theory of God is that he created the Universe, and gave Man the moral and spiritual drive, and capabilities to succeed.

Let’s look at the consequences of this Theory:

1. A Universe: Check! We have a Universe, and the Scientists cannot explain where it came from.

2. Man: Check! We have intelligent man, and even though the theory of evolution does a decent job at explaining the mechanical process, the odds of it all are so astronomically low that you would really have to be quite determined to believe it ‘just happened’.

3. Morality & Spirituality: Check! Man has incredible moral and spiritual drives. There have been some attempts at explaining this via God genes and whatnot, but those are unconvincing.

4. Incredible Powers in Man: Check! Why would such a highly intelligent animal evolve? Shouldn’t we see a normal range of distribution from really dumb animals to highly intelligent animals? Why such an astonishing gap between the most intelligent species of animal and the least intelligent species of humanity? Why did only one basic species evolve with such brains? Why don’t we see intelligent dolphins and mice? Or dumb humanoids?

OK, so this is a shtickle kiruv clowny. But I think there is a good point here. Scientists absolutely do construct theories which have no evidence and are not testable, but they go some way to explaining how things work, or why things are. Of course when a new theory comes along with more evidence, the old theory should be discarded, but until then, it’s quite reasonable to hold onto the established theory. It’s also well understood that there probably isn’t exactly a little particle thingy called a graviton, but it’s a good enough metaphor for our puny minds to try and comprehend what’s going on. Same thing with God. We don’t actually understand what ‘God’ means, nor can we, but it’s a metaphor to explain the consequences of this theory, and also our resultant responsibilities.

We do have a new theory about the first 15 billion years of the Universe, and it does have great evidence. Unfortunately the new theory doesn’t include a first man 6,000 years ago or a global flood 4,000 years ago, so those are out the window. However we don’t have any new theories about the Creation of the Universe, (except for the Big Bang which is nicely consistent with the traditional Jewish view of creation ex nihilo) so I think I will stick to the old God theory, which works quite well and has some nice side benefits too.

Dummies Guide to Understanding the Rambam

OK, all this gashmius talk is bothering me, though I did have a good ride tonight on my new Jamis. Let’s talk about the Rambam.

There are two ways to learn the Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim:

1. Read Friedlander (or a Hebrew translation) straight through and think you have a clue what he’s talking about (or more probably not)

2. Study it with the help of scholars who understand Aristotelian and ancient Islamic philosophy, can read the Moreh in the original Arabic, and actually understand what the Rambam was trying to say.

Most, if not all, of the Yeshivish types who quote Rambam here fall into the first category and simply have no clue whatsoever about the Rambam’s true views. I might quote an interesting topic from the Moreh and they go and contradict it with something he wrote in the Mishneh Torah. Duh! He even contradicts himself in the Moreh you dummies! In fact in the introduction to the Moreh he specifically says he will contradict himself to hide his true views from the dummies (I guess it worked then).

Seriously, even the most knowledgeable Yeshivah guys have absolutely no clue about the Moreh. They just don't have the background. The academics are way ahead on this one.

If you want to get a clue about the Moreh and the Rambam’s true views I would start with Marvin Fox’s ‘Interpreting Maimonides’. I also have Jose Faur’s book but I haven’t read it yet. Fox is great, he explains why Friedlander’s translation is no good (even though it reads well), while Pines is way better. Actually, I would recommend starting with Friedlander just to get into the swing of things, and then go through the Moreh again with Pines. Then read Seeskin and Fox and go through it again a couple of times. Then you might get a clue.

Fox also points out some of the obvious contradictions in the Moreh and attempts to resolve them. For example, the Rambam is pretty clear that we can’t possibly understand anything about God, yet the Rambam also says a major goal in life is to ‘know’ God! Likewise Tefillah is meaningless yet we must still daven. How is this possible? Read Fox and see!

The Rambam is also quite clear that no one can now the method through which Moshe received the Torah. Yet in the ikkarim the Rambam says it was in a manner of one dictating word for word! Is this a contradiction? Well, in the Mishneh Torah and the ikkarim the Rambam is addressing the dumb masses, so he dumbs it down and keeps it stupid. In the Moreh, where the target audience is the philosophically sophisticated, he reveals (or rather carefully hides) the true views that one should hold.

Hint: If you find the Moreh boring then clearly you are one of the dummies and it’s not for you. Go read some Hanoch Teller instead.

Poor? You can STILL enjoy gashmius!

No money? Cheap? You can STILL enjoy gashmius! And no need to go off the derech at all. Here are the cheapest of the cheap (all from Walmart of course!)

1. Roadmaster Fury $53.75

Wow! A mountain bike for fifty bucks! Personally I wouldn’t recommend taking a $53 bike off road. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend taking a $53 bike on road either. Actually I wouldn’t even recommend sitting on it at home. But you can still pose next to it and look cool!

2. Vivitar 3 MP $69 Three Mega Pixels!
Sounds good right? Well, there’s megapixels and then there’s crapapixels. Cheap digital cameras have terrible lenses, short battery life and generally take really crappy pictures. You would be much better off with a decent second hand camera.

3. Durabrand 5CD Stereo $38.77!!!!

As Mis-nagid commented on my previous post, all this audiophile stuff is a load of bull****! Nobody can really tell the difference between a $38 stereo from Walmart and $100,000 high end system! Thanks Missy! You saved me a bundle on that Halcro & Avantegarde setup I was lusting over. Do you think this Stereophile recommended power cord for $680 will sound good matched with the Durabrand? Or should I just stick with the out of the box cord?

4. Armitron Watch $14.99

Surprisingly, Walmart’s cheapest Men’s watch was a staggering $20!! For this inexpensive yet beautiful Rolex-like Armitron you have to shop at Just don't get it wet, the silver paint might wash off.

See! You can even be poor and enjoy gashmius! Just not as much.

But what the heck did you expect? You are poor after all. My advice if you’re poor is to go and live in Israel. True, you’ll still be poor, but then so is everyone else so it won’t bother you as much. Plus you can get your rich relatives in chul to feel sorry for you and buy you gifts.

VeHamaskilim Yagmishu

Several people commented on my previous post that all that gashmius required mucho gelt. But pretty much everything I picked was on the low end of the scale, you bunch of cheapskates! You think that was the expensive gashmius?!!! You have no idea! Here’s the good stuff. And even this lot is just average expensive. There’s plenty more you can spend than this.

1. Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II + 28-70 L ~ $9000 Full frame 16 MP sensor with L glass.

2. Cannondale Six13 ~$3000 Carbon / Aluminum Frame

3. Halcro Dm78 Monoblock Amplifiers (you’ll need 2 of them). ~ $35,000 each.

4. Avantegarde DUO

(Again you’ll need 2 of them). ~ $20,000 each. Disclaimer: Not sure if the Avantegardes sound good coupled with the Halcros. You’ll need to test it out. Make sure you get some good cable though, Nordost Valhalla is only about $2,000 per meter.

5. Rolex Daytona Oyster ~ $12,500.

6. Bentley Continental ~$180,000 Okay, so the Bentley is a bit on the expensive side, I have to admit.

Can one be frum and enjoy this gashmius? Absolutely! In fact I know some people with quite a few of these toys. So you really don’t need to go off the derech to enjoy some of the finer things in life, you just need a bit of money (or maybe a really wealthy shverre).

This post brought to you by Project GashmiusRight (TM). Dedicated to stopping people going off the derech by seducing them with Gashmius.

Think this is a joke? Consumer Culture is the opium of the masses. If the Rebbetzin hadn't cut off my electronics budget I would have spent the last two years continually upgrading all my toys, and wouldn't have bothered to think about religion at all.

In fact, I would still be chareidi if she had just let me get a new PDA! And possibly a new watch. And a new Flat Screen Monitor. And a new road bike. And a new Laptop. And a new DSLR. And some lenses. And a new DVD Home Theater System. And a new Pixma Printer. And a new mountain bike. And a new ipod. And a new set of Hi Fi Components. And some new speakers. And a new subwoofer. And a new vido camera (DVD or HD). And a high end Mac with Theatre display (for Photoshop). And a new car. And maybe even a small boat. Oh well.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

And now for something completely different : GASHMIUS!!!

This blog has almost been exclusively about Hashkafah and Spirituality since day one and readers are complaining that I've been neglecting gashmius. After all, 'Im ayn kemach, ayn Torah' right? So let's indulge in a little bit of that good ol' kemach.

JewishAtheist posts about 10 foods he can enjoy now that he’s no longer Orthodox, or evidently no longer even remotely traditionally Jewish, since his list includes pork and squid. Oy vey, the Reconstructionists won’t be too happy with that. JA, at least could you be eco-kosher? Could you do it for me?

None of the foods JA lists remotely interest me, except possibly for the cheeseburger, and even that I can live without. But you don’t need to become an Atheist or go off the derech to enjoy the finer things in life, though perhaps you do need to be Modern Orthodox to make the most out of them (or maybe just fake Chareidi will do).

So here is the Godol’s list of 10 gashmius things you can enjoy now even while being Orthodox. My list beats JA’s list hands down if you ask me. I regard the publication of this list as a major kiruv effort. Now if we could just arrange with Steinhart, Bronfman or one of those guys that you get the items on my list for free if you commit to being frum I think we would really be on to something. I would call this program 'GashmiusRight'.

Disclaimer: I’m a guy, these are all pretty much guy things. If you are a female reader and are interested in knowing which gashmius you can enjoy while still being Orthodox, please contact the Rebbetzin. I’m sure she can assist you (it will help if you enjoy wearing sheitels).

Disclaimer Number 2: I’m not saying that you should enjoy all this gashmius, of course we should all just be oysek in Teyrah all the time. But you could enjoy a little gashmius now and then, if you have the money, time and inclination. And if it’s all l’shem shamayim.

1. Konica Minolta 7D

A bargain at around $799. Plus, Sony have confirmed they will be brining out new models this summer. Yes! Built in Image Stabilization and low noise even at ISO 1600. The auto-exposure is a bit flakey but look at all those loverly knobs and buttons! This is a real man's camera.

2. Jamis Coda Comp

Great value at about $825. Carbon fork, shimano wheelset, real nice. More comfortable than a traditional road bike, but way lighter and faster than a hybrid or comfort bike. Cooler too, those comfort bikes look pretty dorkey if you ask me. Okay, so it's not quite a Cannondale Six-13 (is someone at Cannondale frum or what?!) but it's close enough for me. You get any more serious than this and it gets quite painful and possibly even dangerous (hamyavin yavin). Then again, I have a buddy who is a road bike nut and he just had twins.

3. Nokia 7710

Browse the web at full resolution for only $420! Get anywhere (and I mean anywhere). And it's a decent phone too, as long as you don't mind pressing tiny buttons on a glass screen with greasy fingers. But hey, who dials numbers anymore?

4. NAD Components

C272, C162 and C542 about $599 each. More great value for money here, and awesome sound too. You can't beat British Hi-Fi. Not sure why, but the Brits really do a good job in the low and mid range Hi-Fi space. And if you have more dough to spare, get almost anything at all by Musical Fidelity, your ears will thank you for it.

5. Magnepans.

If you’ve never head a Magnaplanar, you’re in for a (sweet) surprise. Baby mags are about $550, but the full size are even better. The absence of a box (speaker enclosure) means the sound is less, well... boxy. Which is a good thing. A really good thing. Trust me on this. If you think your Sony Boombox sounds good, you ain't heard nothing yet.

6. Tomtom GO 510

Technically this hasn’t been released yet, but if the GO 300 is anything to go by, it’s gonna be sweet. All the great Tomtom features plus handsfree Bluetooth and more.

7. Tag Heuer Link

There’s nothing like a fine watch, and Tags are pretty fine at the low end of fine watches. I think at this price point you pretty much get everything you really need: sapphire crystal, steel band, reliable movement good brand, etc. Pay any more and you’re just paying for form, not function. Then again a $12.99 Casio tells the time quite accurately too.

8. Cadillac SRX

Okay, so I don’t actually own one of these (yet?) But they’re cool, especially with the extended sun roof. More spacious than a mid size SUV and way more sensible. Good reviews. Bit pricey though. It's clear that crossover / hybrids / tall wagons are the wave of the future. We all need/want big cars, but minivans are uncool and SUVs are stupid. Tall Wagons are the way to go. The Israelis realized this a long time ago.

9. Weber Grills

Yummmmm. Nu, so you can only grill kosher meat, but still! I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

10. Canali Shirts

I picked up a couple of these shirts erev Yom Tov in Bloomingdales. Very nice. Hirhurim says that people must wear suits and ties on shabbos and he doesn’t like it when the MO Lites dress casual. I say feh! to that nonsense. If a $200 Italian cotton shirt and an equally fine pair of linen pants doesn’t say LeKovod Shabbos then I don’t know what does. Why should we all have to dress like Bozos? Even the Gedolim dressed snapilly when young. Have you seen those old pictures of Rav Shach? He was one cool guy!

So there you have it! You can be frum AND enjoy gashmius! In fact many people in the Five Towns, Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey and increasingly Lakewood are very frum indeed AND enjoy gashmius quite well. In fact very well. Actually much too well. But that’s a subject for another post.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pesach (Hotel) is BOGUS!

(Totally swamped at work after being away for a week, will have to write shorthand. )

15 minute walk from our room to the dining hall!!! And we only brought along the cheapo Target travel strollers, and not our mega expensive, all terrain Bugaboo Baby Urban Jogger thingy. Also I forgot my shoes and had to spend Yom Tov wearing a pair of $12.99 Wal Mart plastic specials. No fair! Why didn’t you tell us this bit of important info in the brochure???? You call yourself Pesach Tours? You should rename yourself to Pesach Walking Tours I think. Jeez. A 15 minute hike to the dining room in 80 degree heat with 2 crappy strollers and a pair of Wal-Mart shoes is not my idea of a luxury vacation.

Also way too many Jews, especially Jews from Brooklyn (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Luckily they were mostly MO Jews. But still! Who wants to be around Jews on vacation?

Also, why was I the only sruggy in shul? Don’t MO Jews wear sruggies anymore? What’s with all the black leather kippot? Is this a religious statement, that they’re too frum for sruggies? (But not too frum to spend yom tov afternoon ‘by’ the pool). Or is it just a fashion statement, i.e. my Lexus is leather, my sofa is leather, my ipod case is leather, so my kippa should be leather too?!

Also, what’s with all these Artscroll Hagadas: Hagadah of the Baalei Mussar, Haggadah of the Roshei Yeshivos? My theory is that the secret nobody wants to admit to is that Seder is BORING for anyone over 12 years old, so they keep coming out with new Hagados to keep it fresh. What next?

Coming soon from Artscroll:

The Hagadah of the Gedolei HaKanoim – due for release Pesach 2007

Contributors: Rabbi Leib Pinter – due for release Pesach 2025 (ba-da-boom!)

Also, if you’re gonna advertise a ‘Grand Finale Pesach Dinner’ for the last afternoon of Yom Tov, don’t go and serve some freakin pareve crap and a plate of cheese, unless you want to get trashed all over the blogosphere, you Pesach hotel dummies!!!! Sheesh.

And your Tea Room SUCKED. Way too much Junk Food. And don’t go telling me that I can’t get into the Dining Hall at 10:20am to feed my kids breakfast cos you need to setup for fleishig lunch (and then lunch turns out to be milchiks anyway) and that I should feed my kids in the Team Room instead. Who feeds their kids coconut macaroons and jelly fruit for breakfast???? Are you nuts????!!!!!!

Needless to say we shall not be attending your bogus Pesach Hotel program next year.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Pesach Hotel!!!

Well folks, it’s that time of the year again. All the MO (Monied Orthodox) go off to spend Pesach at fancy shmancy hotels, leaving all the complainers like Marvin Shtick to complain about how this isn’t in the spirit of Yom Tov. I’m not one of the Monied Orthodox, but I do have a generous shverre (thanks FIL!), so I shall be joining the ranks of the wealthy and will be stuffing my face for 8 days straight, morning noon and night, and often in between too.

But why are these people complaining? I thought Pesach was all about liberation from slavery? Leaving my day job to go spend 8 days in a luxury resort seems quite liberating to me! I think it’s exactly in the spirit of Pesach, especially if the generous shverre is paying. Kinda like God supplying the Bnai Yisrael with Manna.

Just wait, in 500 years I bet it will become the accepted Halachah that you MUST go to a Hotel for Pesach. Gedolim will give inspiring mussar shmoozen about how the only proper way to symbolize Yetziat Mitzrayim to Eretz Zovas Chalav uDvash is to perform our own personal Yetziat Mitzrayim and go to a hotel, Eretz Zovas Jelly Fruits and Coconut Macaroons.

Kollel guys looking for extra income will write seforim on Pesach Hotel Chumras, that to be really mekayem hiddur mitzvah you should go to a 5 star hotel. (MO will be maykil on 4 star). I also expect chumras and halachos on the minimum number of times to visit the Tea Room between meals, and the proper attire for the pool on Yom Tov afternoon. The MO and the UO will argue about the proper destinations, the MO will say it has to be in Israel, the UO will say Florida is fine until Moshiach comes.

Anyways, I shall be leaving shortly to somewhere warm, near a body of water. Could be Israel, could be Florida, could be Spain. Maybe I will see some of you there? I'll be the guy reading Torah Min HaShamayim by Heschel (possibly with a fake dustjacket depending on the crowd), and also I still have to finish 'The Emergence of Ethical Man' (and about 200 other books). I'll also have a big bowl of jelly fruit and coconut macaroons. Yumm.

Off the Derech but On the Right Path

Hirhurim posts about why he doesn’t like 'Off The Derech'. He hopes that the next book on this subject will ‘get it right’. Is this advance marketing for Yashar’s new book on this topic? Could be!

When one looks at the variety of ‘frum skeptics’ on the Internet, and in the world at large, I think you can broadly discern two types:

Group A: Anti Religion
Group B: Pro Religion

For example, one cannot read Heschel’s books without getting a profound sense of just how into God and Judaism he was. Likewise Louis Jacobs and others like that. They may have come to the conclusion that certain aspects of Orthodoxy were not true, but they were still heavily invested in the whole notion of religion, Halachah and Judaism, and in fact focused their entire lives on these goals.

On the other hand, there are various skeptics who seem hellbent (excuse the pun!) on proving to everyone that Orthodoxy is bogus, religion is bogus, God is bogus and ideally we should all become secular atheists (albeit weak ones).

I’m not going to judge these two groups, or say which is better or which has more intellectual integrity, but I think it’s important to at least acknowledge the difference.

Personally, I currently fall into group B.

[Update: Forgot the important bit]

I think the key fact which turns people into A or B is whether they actually like religion or not. I guess that's kinda obvious. But the frum skeptics who end up in group A are people who don't really love the religion that much. If they did, they would fall into group B. Nobody gives up on something they love.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Reconstructionists are quite frum!

I just finished reading a book on Reconstructionist Judaism. I was expecting major kefirah, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how frum they were. They have a very Rambam like conception of God, mixed with a shtickle Lubavitch (God is everywhere). They were very proud of the fact that 35% of Reconstructionist Jews keep kashrut, and all Recon Communities maintain a Kosher kitchen, though they also describe a new kind of kashrut called 'eco-kashrut' (only eating things which are good for the environment). They are quite into kiruv too, boasting that they attract a lot of people with no Jewish identity and turn them into committed and passionate Jews.

They hold of a lot of ritual, and encourage Shabbos, Yom Tov and things like that. They also were pushing learning Torah LiShmah! Everything was in reference to the teachings of Mordechai Kaplan, whom they revere like some kind of Godol. In an article about Reform Judaism, Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb makes the point that Reform and Conservative Judaism are basically run by a small group of scholars who set the guidelines, whereas Orthodoxy has no specific leadership (Gedolim notwithstanding). This is certainly true of Recon also.

The big issue which got Kaplan into trouble was when he came up with a new prayer book, and they put him in cherem. The Recons don't believe that God answers prayers, but still pray for personal reasons. However this isn't really so kefiradick at all. The Rambam in the Moreh talks about how Korbanot are not really desired by God, but were a ruse to wean the Bnei Yisrael away from Idolatory, since if all such things had been banned the people would not have been able to take it. He gives an example that if a prophet were to come 'in our times' and say Prayer is not required, the people would not be able to accept it. When I first learnt this, I assumed he was just giving a moshol to make it easier to understand. But my Rabbi explained it that the Rambam was really comparing the two things: Korbanot and Prayer. In other words, according to the Rambam, prayer isn't really required either, at least not from God's perspective, but we have it because we wouldn't be able to deal with a religion that didn't include prayer. He seems to hold like the Recons, that prayer is useful because it teaches you to express gratitude.

The only real kefirah I could find was that they don't believe in Torah miSinai, and therefore don't believe Halchah is binding (no small thing, admittedly). But since they do seem to believe in Divine Inspiration, this might not be such major kefirah after all, plus they do have a very positive attitude towards Halachah. It seems that in most Recon Communities there is a major drive to continually try and keep more ritual, and more Halachah (though of course out of personal choice, not because they think they have to). They also said that Recon Rabbis are forbidden from officiating with other Clergy (i.e. not Jewish) at mixed weddings, and how it was imporant to maintain clear boundaries between the Jewish people and others.

Overall they seemed frummer than the Reform, which was a surprise to me. Also, their ideology reminded me of quite a few of the frum skeptics. I guess this shouldn't be a surprise, since
Kaplan was the original frum skeptic.

I was also pleasently surprised to see that Kaplan invented the Bat Mitzvah, for his daughter Judith in 1922. Of course the Bat Mitzvah is now accpeted even in LW UO circles, and that only took 50 years or so. The Recons also invent other rituals and tefillot, such as for coming out, menopause, brit for a girl and so on. These might seem crazy now, but considering the success of the Bat Mitzvah, I wouldn't be surprised if some of these caught on in Orthodoxy.

It actually makes some sense, the Orthodox are too set in their ways to invent new minhagim or tefilot (chas vesholom). The Reform and Conservative are too apathetic to bother. Only the Recons seem to care enough to create new improved Judaism. Kaplan is an interesting figure, he founded the Young Israel in 1912, and then Conservative Judaism in 1913, which was a pretty quick slide, and a couple of years after that he was already into Reconstructionist. Still, it seems that his movement is attracting totally unafilliated Jews and making them frummer. That means it's basically a first step kiruv movement.

Hurrah for the Reconstructionists!

Ibn Ezra: Parts of the Torah were written later, but don't tell anyone

Tzofnat Paneach; Does't matter who wrote it as long as it was Divinely Inspired !

[Note: The point of this post is the Tzofnat Paneach, not the Ibn Ezra. It matters less whether Ibn Ezra actually meant what the Tzofat Paneach said he meant. What matters is that the Tzofnat Paneach said what he said!]

ויעבר אברם בארץ עד מקום שכם עד אלון מורה והכנעני אז בארץ

There is a problem in this posuk, as the end of the posuk (translated simply) reads ‘And the Canaanite was then (‘az’) in the land', implying that at the time of writing, the Canaanite currently are not in the land (of Israel). However if this posuk was written by Har Sinai, then the Canaanite would still be in the land! The basic sense of the posuk therefore implies it was written sometime after the conquest of Israel. This is obviously a problem.

אבן עזרא בראשית פרק יב פסוק ו
והכנעני אז בארץ יתכן שארץ כנען תפשה כנען מיד אחר. ואם איננו כן יש לו סוד. והמשכיל ידום

The Ibn Ezra picks up on this problem and says the following: Maybe peshat is that the Canaanite had just seized the land at that time, hence the use of the word ‘az’. And then he says ‘And if this is not so, then there is a secret here, and the wise will be silent.

So what’s the secret?

Joseph Ben Eliezer HaSephardi (also known as Joseph Bonfils, second half of the 14th century) wrote a commentary to Ibn Ezra called ‘Tzofnat Paneach’. He explains that the secret which the Ibn Ezra is referring to is that these words were in fact written later, by a ‘prophet’ other than Moshe! He says:

Since we are obliged to believe in the words of tradition (Mesorah) and prophecy (Nevuah), what difference can there be if Moshe wrote it or another prophet, since the words of every prophet are true and inspired?

He further asks, how can another prophet have added to the Torah, when we have the posuk of ‘lo tosif’ (you should not add to the Torah). He answers that this is not a kashye, since the posuk is only referring to the addition of new Mitzvot, but additional narrative is okay.

Similarly, he says, the Gemara in Sanhedrin which says that anyone who denies that Moshe wrote even one letter in the Torah is a kofer, is only talking about the letters of the Mitzvot, not to the narrative portions.

So here we have the Ibn Ezra, as explained by the Tzofnat Paneach, holding that narrative portions in the Torah could have been added later, but we need to be silent about it, since the masses won’t be able to accept this. And the Tzofnat Paneach adds that this is not an issue, because as long as it was written through Nevuah (i.e. 'Divinely Inspired'), what difference?



I have the sources in Rav Kook which say the DH is not a problem!!!!

Here are the other sources on the issue of subjectivity, and on the approach that the kedushah of Torah comes from the people, and not the other way around. In one of the sources, Rav Kook says explicitly that the claims of the scholars on the Documentary Hypothesis are therefore irrelevant:

All sources from Igrot HaRa'ayah, volume 1, Mossad HaRav Kuk:

Pages: 48, 133, 164, 194, 215.

Also, see Yovel Orot, at the end, in the Symposium, the statements of the Rav to the above.

Not only that, but I found an accepted Rishon(!!!) who says that (some of) the Narrative portions of the Torah are not neccessarily from Sinai, and this isn't an issue because when Chazal said 'Whoever says even one word from the Torah is not from Sinai loses their chelek in Olam Habah' they were only talking about Halachah, not the Narrative!!! Holy Smokes!!!

This exactly mirrors what I was saying last weeek; The Rambam's 8th ikkar cannot be insisting on faith in a historical claim, as history is not a matter of faith but of fact. The 8th ikkar must be insisting on a Theological claim, that what we now have as 'The Torah' is Divine. But who said what to who and when is besides the point!

I don't have Igrot HaRa'ayah with me right now, and its erev Pesach and I have to clean the van, but more details later!!!!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Moiradick Mussar Droshoh From the Moirah DeAsra Kehal Kodesh VeHamaskilim Yazheeru

On The Foolishness of Fundamentalists, both Chareidi and Atheist, Right Wing and Left Wing, Weak and Strong

The Rambam is clear that every single Mitzvah has a rational goal, either the inculcation of a correct opinion, the attainment of some moral and ethical goal, or the social and political betterment of society in general. Nowhere in the Moreh Nevuchim does the Rambam so much as mention any Kabbalistic doctrines or reasoning behind the Mitzvot, much to the chagrin of the Kabbalists. Of course most Kabbalah was only invented after the Rambam’s time, hence he would not have known about it to refute it, but even back then some Kabbalah had already been invented, and the Rambam’s complete silence on the matter is clearly a dismissal.

If we can summarize the Rambam then, it’s clear that the entire system of Halachah is to better the individual and society, in all its various aspects, through improvements of ethics, morality, behavior to fellow man, rejection of materialism and pursuit of spirituality. But this is not the feel good spirituality of the New Age, nor the mystical spirituality of the Kabbalists, the Rambam held of neither of these. This is the spirituality of longing for meaning, for purpose, or realizing that the other is more important than the self and that the fulfillment of the intellect is more important than the fulfillment of physical desires.

These are the goals of the Halachah.

With such a utilitarian and rational view of the Halachah, one may be tempted to say, ‘Well, but in this particular time, or in this particular place, or with this particular individual, it’s clear that the Halachah is not working, it is not having the desired effect, so we will not keep the Halachah in such a circumstance. The Rambam addresses this in Moreh Nevuchim 3:34. It’s worth quoting from there at some length:

IT is also important to note that the Law does not take into account exceptional circumstances; it is not based on conditions which rarely occur. Whatever the Law teaches, whether it be of an intellectual, a moral, or a practical character, is founded on that which is the rule and not on that which is the exception: it ignores the injury that might be caused to a single person through a certain maxim or a certain divine precept. For the Law is a divine institution, and [in order to understand its operation] we must consider how in Nature the various forces produce benefits which are general, but in some solitary cases they cause also injury. This is clear from what has been said by ourselves as well as by others. We must consequently not be surprised when we find that the object of the Law does not fully appear in every individual; there must naturally be people who are not perfected by the instruction of the Law, just as there are beings which do not receive from the specific forms in Nature all that they require. For all this comes from one God, is the result of one act;" they are all given from one shepherd" (Eccles. xii. 11). It is impossible to be otherwise; and we have already explained (chap. xv.) that that which is impossible always remains impossible and never changes. From this consideration it also follows that the laws cannot like medicine vary according to the different conditions of persons and times; whilst the cure of a person depends on his particular constitution at the particular time, the divine guidance contained in the Law must be certain and general, although it may be effective in some cases and ineffective in others. If the Law depended on the varying conditions of man, it would be imperfect in its totality, each precept being left indefinite. For this reason it would not be right to make the fundamental principles of the Law dependent on a certain time or a certain place; on the contrary, the statutes and the judgments must be definite, unconditional and general, in accordance with the divine words:" As for the congregation, one ordinance shall be for you and for the stranger" (Num. xv. 15): they are intended, as has been stated before, for all persons and for all times.

This then is one of the foundational beliefs of Judaism – the immutability of the law. One could conceive of a religious system acting in a similar fashion to medicine. The Rabbi Doctor prescribes some general do’s and don’ts for healthy religious living, but further to that each individual receives a personalized religious treatment plan, tailor made to their particular circumstance. But Judaism says no, such a system will not work. The basic fundamentals of the law are unchanging and immutable.

Of course we do have a system of Sanhedrim and of Rabbinical laws and so on. The Sanhedrin can make exceptions in exceptional circumstances, and additional laws can be ordained. In addition laws can be suspended, even indefinitely, or given so many restrictions as to be practically non existent. This then is the tension in Halachah – a set of immutable Divinely Inspired laws, but that which under a tightly controlled and regulated process, can be changed if and when required, within reason. But only someone fully skilled and knowledgeable in all aspects of both the letter and the spirit of the law is qualified to make such changes.

The foolish religious fundamentalists imagine that the Halachah has some mysterious super-natural benefit; it effects tikkunim in the higher worlds or some such nonsense. Such a view is akin to avodah zorah, the Halachot reduced to magic tricks. Other foolish fundamentalists imagine that we must believe that we keep the Halachot simply because God told us to. But this is likewise nonsense, as the Rambam says:

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

It may certainly be the case that for some commandments the reason has been lost, or is beyond our current grasp, and this is unfortunate, but no man shall ever say ‘I keep this Halachah simply because God has commanded me to’, that, as the Rambam says, is the view of diseased individuals.

The implications of the Rambam are in fact quite astounding. One who performs the Halachot with the sole purpose of achieving the utilitarian goals which the Mitzvot are designed to achieve, is far closer to the true intent of Judaism than the Kabbalistically inclined performing the Mitzvot with the sole intent that they are being performed due to some Divine wish. Stray Rabbinal utterances to the contrary are purely homiletical or polemical and can safely be ignored.

Likewise the Rambam views Kedusha and Taharah as purely rational concepts. There is not some magical, mystical state of kedusha. There is not some magical mystical state of Taharah. These are all rational concepts. Kedushah is the sanctification of the heart and soul, the rejection of physical base pleasures, of instant gratification, of hedonistic pursuits. Kedushah is the effort to attain sanctity, spirituality, intellectuality, to rise above our baser animal instincts and to truly fulfill our goals as humans created in the Divine Image.

So far we have discussed the foolishness of the religious fundamentalists. But let us not neglect to discuss the foolishness of the skeptical fundamentalists! These people imagine the Halachah to be worthless, even immoral. But by what standards of objective morality can they possibly judge the Halachah to be immoral? By their own subjective 21st Century Judeo-Christian-Hollywood influenced personal morality? By the judgment of the majority? This is clearly nonsense. Even more foolish, the examples they bring of immorality, such as the destruction of Amalek, animal sacrifices, slavery, are all laws which no longer apply today, a perfect example of some aspects of the law changing when required. Society has gone through many transformations over the last few centuries, in some eras and in some places activities which we would now regard as highly immoral were sanctioned by the authorities, and even the majority. It is foolish for an atheist fundamentalist to think that society’s views towards morality are cumulative and progressive, or that allowing the majority vote to rule would somehow be an improvement over ancient law, law that has stood the test of centuries.

In fact it is hard to discern which is more foolish, the foolish religious fundamentalists who think that by performing rituals by rote and Divine Command they are somehow achieving benefits in some other world, or the foolishness of the skeptical fundamentalists who think that their own systems of subjective morality and practice are somehow superior than a 3000 year old system. The skeptics ask for evidence, yet we have evidence in abundance that our system works better! In every society, in every age, in every culture, the Halachik system has produced better results. The evidence is clear.

The skeptics though commit a far worse fallacy than just the neglect of the Halachic System. Their rejection of the entire Jewish Worldview is foolish to the extreme. The skeptics cry ‘show me the evidence or else I won’t believe!’ But what kind of evidence could possibly satisfy someone determined to be radically skeptical? If God himself came down from Heaven and commanded us to keep the Halachot, would the skeptics be satisfied? How could they be? This might be a prankster God, intent on fooling us, or any one of an infinite number of negative possibilities. How could one ever know for sure? Even if a skeptic were to dies, and be faced with God and the Heavenly court, he still could not know for sure. Maybe this is another prank?

The Jewish worldview recognizes the inability for us humans to ever know anything for sure. But the Jewish worldview is a pragmatic, practical one. In the spectrum of infinite possibilities for our very existence, we can be positive or negative. Polytheism was a profoundly negative worldview, that man was created to serve the various Gods, who were by and large immoral and capricious. There was no ethical or moral requirement, simply a requirement to appease the Gods. Judaism came along with a radical new idea, that there was one God, and that the world is good, and that there is a purpose in life. But this worldview is not about God! This worldview is about Man! This worldview is a positive worldview about our own existence, that is has meaning, a purpose and ultimate goal. That we are not the slaves of the gods, or simply the random happenings of a physical universe.

The foolish skeptics demand evidence for this worldview. But what evidence is necessary? And what evidence could ever work? It’s not just that we lack evidence, it’s that NO evidence could ever be sufficient, as we have explained. Even if God Himself were to appear that would be insufficient evidence. The Jewish worldview is a matter of faith, faith that our lives have ultimate meaning and purpose, and that we are obliged to achieve that purpose. It has nothing to do with God. And it has nothing to do with proving God’s existence. It is a worldview. An analogy might help here. Very few people doubt their own existence, yet there really is no evidence that is available or even could be available to prove it. We might all be brains in a jar, placed there by some nefarious villain. Or we might be divine sparks created for some ultimate good. How can we possibly know? The skeptics response is to say, if we can’t know, we can’t know, and we shall not hypothesize any more than is absolutely necessary, without any evidence.

But what more evidence do we need that a positive worldview of an ultimate purpose is beneficial? Even the skeptics themselves agree that a man should make his own meaning in life. But what good is such a system, where each man must struggle to create his own sense of purpose? We have a three thousand year old tradition which changed the face of the world, which has developed a system of meaning and purpose in almost everything we do. What are the skeptics rejecting this meaning for? For an ‘I make no claim’? For an ‘I don’t know what I am here for’? Such foolishness. Of course we cannot know God. Of course we cannot know why we are here. Anyone who thinks otherwise is foolish to the extreme. But the intent of Judaism is not to know these things. The intent is not to prove these things! The intent of Judaism is to have faith in these things. This is the essence of Judaism, to have a positive worldview in which we abide by laws and regulations to achieve positive goals.

Is it possible that some of these laws and regulations have gotten corrupted, or maybe were not so Divinely Inspired, or maybe were not Divinely Inspired at all? Of course it’s possible, even probable, but by what yardstick can we possibly judge? Is there evidence that a different system of laws create a better set of individuals or societies? Not only does no such evidence exist, but in fact the evidence points in the opposite direction!

The fundamentalists have lost the goals of Judaism, from both sides. The religious fundamentalists have lost Judaism by insisting on impossible, irrational beliefs, and by reducing Halachah to a collection of ritual mystical magic tricks. The atheist fundamentalists have lost Judaism by rejecting the very foundation of what the religion is about – a positive worldview that insists our lives have ultimate meaning and purpose.

The truth is that both sides have severely distorted conceptions of the purpose of our existence, and the meaning of faith in religion and the keeping of Halachah. The atheists cannot get past the juvenile religious fundamentalist conceptions of God that they were taught in grade school, and think that this is the only Orthodox conception. Such foolishness! The Rambam has already told us, over 800 years ago, that God is an incomprehensible concept. All we can do is have faith in a positive worldview. Faith in a purposeful existence, and faith in 3,000 years of good results.

Likewise the religious fundamentalists also have severely distorted conceptions of the meaning of faith and the keeping of Halachah. Faith does not mean believing in implausible events, just because some 4th Century Rabbi or 12th Century Philosopher declared a polemical guideline, aimed at distinguishing Judaism from other sects, with peculiar worldviews or other dangerous misconceptions. Faith in God doesn’t mean faith in a supernatural old man with a white beard, or in fact faith any kind of being at all. We certainly believe in some kind of ‘God’, but it is a God so unique and incomprehensible that there’s really nothing to say about it. For all intents and purposes, Faith in God is really Faith in man. Likewise Halachah does not mean rote performance of ritual, for no good reason. Halachah is a system designed to achieve a goal. The Rambam has already told us this clearly, over 800 years ago.

More importantly, in fact, the most important point of this whole discussion, is that all of this is supported by evidence. Not evidence of God’s existence. Not evidence of the Divine dictation of the law. Even if such evidence were to exist it would be meaningless and worthless, as we have explained.

No! The evidence that we are referring to, the only evidence that is actually worth anything, is the evidence that faith in a positive worldview, and performance of the system of Halachah, work in unison to produce better societies and better individuals. This is the goal of Judaism. This is the message in the Torah, and this is the tachlis hachayim.

Does it make any difference if Adam was the first man? Does it make any difference if the Mabul happened? Does it make any difference if 600,000 adult males left Egypt? Does any of this make any difference at all??? Of course not!

Rabbosai, the conflicts of Science and Torah are truly a nissayon. They are a nissayon for the religious fundamentalists, who think that they must devote time and effort to defend irrational and juvenile conceptions of the spiritual and the physical. They are a nissayon for the atheist fundamentalists, who think that such conflicts give them license to reject the proven Jewish worldview and practice.

Rabbosai, deep down, I think we all know our true tachlis hachayim. To be good to our families, to our communities, to our world. To improve ourselves, our families, our communities, our world. To reject the physical, the materialistic, the hedonistic. To embrace the rational the intellectual, the spiritual. There can be no doubt about this! And ultimately this is the only thing that matters.

My brachah for the kehal is that we should all pass the tremendous nissayon of Science & Torah, the nissayon which affects both sides equally and terribly. We should reject the false fundamentals of negative skepticism and hedonistic behavior. We should reject the false fundamentals of irrational ikkarim and rote rituals. We should realize that the true fundamentals in life, the only fundamentals worth fighting for, are the pursuit of chessed, emmes and kedushah. Only then will we see the religious and the atheist fundamentalists unite, in pursuit of the true goal of humanity, and we will be zoche to see the personal redemption of individuals and humanity as a whole, bimherah beyomaynu omayn.

No comments are necessary, since there is nothing in this post to debate.

Good Shabbos!


I missed one very important point! Halachah has of course TWO primary goals:

1) The improvement of man and society as described above
2) A transmission framework to ensure transmission to the next generation

Much of Halachah is in fact concerned with 2 above. In fact, the primary reason why God chose Avraham according to the Torah was not because Avraham discovered God, but rather becase:

כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט--לְמַעַן, הָבִיא
יְהוָה עַל-אַבְרָהָם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר, עָלָיו.

I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.'

Of course the evidence shows us the truth here too. People who discard Halachah end up discarding the goals and values we have talked about. It might work for an individual or for one or two generations, but a non Halachik lifestyle is not effective at guaranteeing these memes. The skeptics who think that they can ensure that their children maintain their values and pass them on to the next generation are fooling themselves. Likewise the fundamentalists who think their children will embody these values by thinking irrational thoughts and performing magic tricks are likewise fooling themselves.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

You gotta have faith, no matter what

A short play by the Godol
Inspired by an old story

The scene: Three Jews talking....

Avrohom: 'How could God have allowed the Holocaust? Let six million people die like that? '

Yitzchak: 'Yeah, and why is God is totally hiding from us all? '

Yaakov: 'And what about all the counter evidence for the stories in Breishis & Shemos?'

[A loud clap is heard]

All three in earnest unison: "Ashrei Yoshvei Beysechah....."

Fundamentally bad for your emunah

From Avodah:

"There is simply no end to the wisdom Chazal apparently possessed far before it ever materialized in the scientific world. It is examples such as these that lead some to conclude that Chazal were always right, whether in Torah or in teva."
Our fundamentalist friend lives in a parallel universe. In the real world, his statement looks like this:

"There is simply no end to the stupidity that Fundamentalists apparently still believe in long after it has been disproved in the scientific world. It is examples such as these that lead some to conclude that Fundamentalists are always wrong, whether in teva or in Torah.”

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Missing link found!

Is Cross-Currents offensive, or is it just me?

It seems to me that every time I read a Cross-Currents article I get annoyed. Why is this? Have I been brainwashed by DovBear? Although I know for a fact that the Cross-Currents authors are a swell bunch of people, whenever they put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) they seem to be unable to say anything inoffensive. Jonathan Rosenblum’s article last week was ridiculous, as was Rabbi Adlerstein’s article this week. And many of the articles in between, before and after were also annoying. Is it just me? There seems to be an overly shrill tone, a sense of smugness, pseudo-sophistication, in fact all the things you expect from a typical blog.

My question is this: Does the blogveldt turn otherwise mild-mannered folks into annoyingly opinionated freaks, or is it the annoyingly opinionated freaks who are drawn to blogging in the first place?

Probably the latter! But my blog is different, and I’ll tell you why.

Someone recently remarked that the reason they like my blog is because I haven’t got it all figured out yet, unlike many other bloggers who think they have all the answers. This is very true. I have nothing figured out, even my lunch today was a disaster - Osem Meals on the Go Potato Puree & Mushrooms, followed up with a bottle of Dr Pepper Black Cherry and a bag of Miss Vickie’s Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar Potato Chips. (But don’t worry about me, next week I’ll be in a Pesach Hotel, eating 8 square meals a day, in between visits to the team room.)

My blog isn’t an attempt to foist my all figured out opinions on an unsuspecting public. Rather, it’s an attempt to try out various theological positions and see what sticks and what does not. That doesn’t mean I’m just kidding, in fact I’m very serious (except when I’m kidding, which is fairly often). But the only way to figure this stuff out is to debate it from every angle. What do I really believe? I’m not sure, but if you figure it out, please be sure to let me know. I guess this is why I find Cross-Currents (and certain other bloggers) offensive: They always seem so darn sure of themselves!

And that’s my opinion. If you don’t like it, tough!

Rabbi Adlerstein: We should make like the Catholics!

Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein bashes Rabbi Avi Weiss for learning Torah with Cardinals. Yeah, like that’s a really pressing issue for the Jewish people. Gimme a break. Rabbi Adlerstein says:

‘The visit of the Cardinals was an intrusion of outsiders into our sanctum sanctorum. No religion with any pride tolerates this, even when they are open and embracing of others. No Catholic priest would allow me to sample a communion wafer simply as a visitor. My wonderful Mormon friends would faint at the thought of my crossing the threshold of their sanctuary.’

Right, we need to compare ourselves to Catholics and Mormons! They don’t allow Jews to eat communion wafers, so neither should we. Brilliant! Now, what else do the Catholics and Mormons do, so that we can copy them? How about religious underwear? After all, the Mormons wear it, so should we! And Catholics have a Pope, so should we! Sheesh.

In other words, the other religions don't allow this type of thing because they are insecure, false religions. We don't mind, because we are secure in our knowledge that the Torah is from God (at least in theory). Same deal as with conversions, we don't need to convert the whole world to feel secure. Surely Rabbi Adlerstein understands this? Did he really need to bash YCT over such a minor issue? Did I really need to bash Rabbi Adlerstein over such a minor issue? Yes! Clearly our leaders have shown us that bashing people over minor issues is a great mitzvah!

Rabbi Adlerstein ends off by saying:

To get it right about matters as weighty as dealing with the Church on behalf of the Jewish people, you need more gravitas in Torah than the average well-meaning pulpit rabbi. You need to be so suffused with Torah excellence that your world view is a refraction of Torah itself. Both the right and the center of Orthodoxy have such Torah personalities. The left doesn’t come close.

I say:

To get it right about matters as weighty as dealing with the questions from modernity on behalf of the Jewish people, you need more gravitas in worldly matters than the average well-meaning pulpit rabbi. You need to be so suffused with secheldick excellence that your world view is a refraction of Modernity & Torah itself. The left of Orthodoxy has such personalities. Both the right and center don’t come close.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Teva Teyva on Avodah!

On Avodah from you know who, regarding the Mabul:
'I certainly don't believe that the rules of teva were entirely suspended for one year. Whatever miracles are necessary to explain the mabul is the miracles I believe in. That doesn't mean that everything was miraculous. After all, Noach did live in a real boat right? The world was inundated by H2O right? Teva continued to exist except where Chazal tell us differently.'

So rational! Noah's ark was a Teva Teyva! I mean it was a real boat, right? OK, so it held 2 (or 7) of every animal type, plus all their food for a year. But that doesn't need to be miraculous does it? I don't think so!

And the global flood of a billion trillion tonnes of water that left absolutely no trace, that didn't need to be miraculous either! Just good old regular H20. It's all so clear to me now!

The funny thing is that this is how Avodah describes itself:

The Avodah mailing list hosts a chevrah that focusses on analysis of hashkafah, avodas Hashem, ta'amei hamitzvos, lomdus, machshavah, and halachah -- with an emphasis on the places where halachah, machshavah and hargashah meet. .....

The discussion is maintained at a relatively high level; many of the participants are scholars or very knowledgable lay people. The dialogue should, therefore, be in depth, and assume less need for translation of terms than in many other lists.

High level. Knowledgeable. Oh yeah. More like a bunch of loonies who think you can be medayek in the Ramban to figure out how the Universe was created.

I'm actually starting to have less respect for the RW MOs / LW UOs (almost the same thing except for the hat) than with the RW UOs. They quote Rambans and Rambams and other obscure Rishonim with gusto, but when it comes to the really hard questions, they are about as clueless as the next guy. They kid themselves into thinking how much more sophisticated and rational they are than the RW UOs, but in reality they are fundamentalists too, and don't really have anything worked out. How disappointing. At least the RW UOs know they don't know zip about Science (and logic and history). They just have their simple faith. it's almost endearing actually.

I think it's time to move on to the LW MOs. Maybe they have something secheldick to say on these topics. I hope so.

Heresy gone wrong; number 14

Holy Smokes!

This Chabad Rabbi uses Mark Shapiro's book on the ikkarim to show why his belief that the Rebbi is not only alive, not only Moshiach but also God incarnate is not kefirah! I support tweaking the ikkarim when the facts demand it, but going against the ikkarim for the Rebbi?! So so wrong.

Seems that we are witnessing the birth of Christianity all over again. And why don't the Gedolim ban the heck out of Lubavitch? The only reason I can think of is that Chabad are still makpid on Halachah. Plus if you start banning Chabad, it's a very slippery slope. Next comes the Tanya, then the Ari, then the Zohar then all of kabbalah. I mean, how can you possibly tell the difference between one fake messiah with his warped theology and the next? A very slippery slope indeed.

More proof that the Real Modern Orthodox will be fine as long as they keep Halachah.

There is so much obviously fake garbage mixed up into Orthodoxy that it makes you wonder.

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

Harry Maryles posts another of those ‘The Gedolim turned me off the derech’ letters which have been so prevalent recently. This letter sounds genuine and was posted on Areivim. When are the Lakewooders going to realize that the Gedolim, their bans, and their general ideology is incredibly off-putting to so many people?

The Lakewooders criticize me for having caused doubts in some of my readers, even though others have found my blog helpful to their emunah. Yet it seems that the Gedolim are responsible for turning off quite a few people from Orthodoxy also. Have they actually inspired anybody to be frummer? Are there any skeptics who, after reading the letters of the Gedolim on Science & Torah were inspired to become frum? I don’t think so!

So it turns out that I have been mekarev some people, while the other Gedolim have only been merachek people. How do you like them apples?

But seriously, this kind of thinking is ludicrous. You have to speak what you believe to be the truth, and as long as no one is being davkah deceitful I don’t think you can be blamed for any negative and unforeseen consequences. No matter whether you are one of the gedolim, or a skeptical blogger, you have to speak the truth as you see it. Can we call the Gedolim evil for saying what they believe? Can we call Mis-nagid for saying what he believes?

The Gedolim speak their version of the truth, Mis-nagid speaks his version of the truth and I speak my version of the truth.

The only difference is that my version is truer.

Why we fight

Why do we fight? All that pain and misery and unnecessary suffering? Why do we do it? I have the answer! I think DovBear and I fight because we have different types of brains. He calls it engineer brain vs. literary brain, I suppose you could also call it left brain vs. right brain (or maybe big brain vs. small brain tee hee).

Left BrainRight Brain

DovBear seems to be happy with vague literary prose, which sounds good. It bugs the heck out of me, because I prefer (relative to him) accurate, technical statements. It always seems to be that he is being purposefully vague, but maybe he genuinely feels he isn’t.

Anyways, since out of all the jbloggers he and I are probably most alike in terms of our Hashkafah (and I’m sure I just offended several bloggers there – don’t worry, we are really alike too!), we shouldn’t fight so much, but instead join together to fight the common enemy.

Which is either the Fundamentalists, the Skeptics, Cross-Currents, Mis-nagid or Gil Student, depending.

Proff. Schiffman: Numbers in Shemos could be exagerrated!

From an email which he gave permission to be quoted:

I explained to them that the Bible's numbers could conceivably be larger than the actual historical events, and in such a case if someone believed that you have to be crazy [to believe that]..., then they could still believe that the event had occurred with smaller numbers. What I meant to say was that one cannot judge the Exodus to be a later invention simply because one thinks that the numbers are exaggerated. It is common in all ancient historical texts for actual events to be portrayed as larger than they were in actuality.


My point here is NOT to try and 'smoke out the heretics' as someone suggested, I will leave that to the kannoim. The point is that Dovid Gottlieb uses Proff. Schiffman to show that a literal Shemos is plausible, or even consistent with modern scholarship. However it seems that Proff. Schiffman does not believe this at all, and in fact thinks that 2.5 million people leaving Egypt is NOT plausible, from a professional point of view. Whether or not Proff. Schiffman PERSONALLY believes in a literal Shemos despite all the evidence to the contrary is his own business.


Orthoprax writes:

'I find that I do now believe in God.'

One down, 5 to go! Praise the Lord!!!!

Further he says:

I find that I cannot conceive of a Universe that just sprang into existence by itself. I find that all the intricate and specific laws on which our Universe operates leads to an ordered existence that I cannot believe was a cosmic accident. I find that when I study the extremely intricate and complex biochemical pathways through which our cells produce energy or through which it stores genetic information or through anything that makes life as we know it possible I am struck with a sense of awe and I cannot make sense of it unless I suppose some kind of design.

Some people might say this is my failing. That I am performing a prime example of the fallacy of incredulity - that because I cannot imagine it possible so I am saying that it cannot be true. But this is not so. All I am saying is that since I personally cannot seriously imagine it possible then I personally cannot believe it to be so. I only further and further strain my credulity when I try to conceive of natural or accidental ways in which this all could have come to be. Claiming otherwise is just foolish and dishonest to myself. I may be wrong. The evidence may fall against me in future days. But right here and right now I cannot believe it all to be some amazing coincidence and I must posit some Creator and some Designer which made the whole of Existence.

By a bizzarre co-incidence, I was just thinking exactly the same thought on the way to work this morning. Well, maybe not such a co-incidence, as I think the same thought on my way to work every morning. I look around at all the the trees, the buildings, the people, the sky and the traffic and I think 'Darn it, I'm going to be late again!'. But then I think 'How could all of this have just gotten here? I just can't believe it was all an accident, all physical, all random. There MUST be something more!'

Orthoprax (maybe we now need to call him Orthoprax/Semidox ?) continues:

I do not necessarily propose that this Creator is conscious or intelligent or omniscient or omnipotent. Much less omnibenevolent or emotionally loving or parental. All I propose is that this Creator would be called God. This God is the Rock of the Universe. The Sustainer of all that is. What is the nature of God? Why did it do this creating? These questions and the like I cannot answer. Nor do I claim to be able to answer.

Well, again, this is a matter of faith. If we have faith in a purposeful creation, we should certainly have faith in a good God, and not an evil or a prankster God. Of course we can't know the mind of God. But we certainly can have Faith. Is it just wishful thinking? Maybe, but no less wishful than the confirmed atheist who makes himself happy with thoughts of being 'stardust of the universe'. And whats wrong with wishful thinking anyway? As long as the evidence is not against it, it seems to me be perfectly rational to indulge in some positive wishful thinking.

Documentary Hypothesis Min Hashamayim?!

DovBear expands on this theology a little more. It’s a well written post, in which DovBear explains why the Mesorah is all messed up (though the comments descend into the usual shmoozefest). DB ends his post by saying:

The important thing to remember, though, is that the God who revealed the Torah to us, is the same God who created us. He had to have known that men tamper and mess things up: That’s our reality. That's human nature. So the fact that his revelation was muddled, with parts lost and added due to human limits had to have been part of His plan.

I guess what DovBear is proposing is a kind of 'Documentary Hypothesis Min HaShamayim' theory. All the mistakes were part of the ‘plan’. However I’m not sure I buy this. When it comes to Katrina or similar events, anyone who dares say they know the will of God gets beaten up (especially by DovBear), but DovBear knows that the muddled Mesorah ‘had to’ have been the will of God? Doesn’t ring true to me.

I suggest a more straightforward explanation.

God gave man free will. That’s the point of our existence, to make the right choices. Did God (kaveychol) ‘want’ the churban, the shoah, or the messed up Mesorah? Not knowing the mind of God I would hesitate to state an opinion either way. I don’t think we gain much by making statements about the ‘grand plan’, (if there even is one, which is not clear). We have free will and things proceed from there.

The key here is the faith that God ‘wants’ us to keep Halachot. And this faith is more of a claim about us, than about God, since saying God ‘wants’ is a meaningless statement anyway.

Monday, April 03, 2006

On Skepticism & Faith

Some random thoughts…..

I’ve noticed that exposure to fundamentalism brings out the skeptical side in me. It’s partly because I’m somewhat of a contrarian by nature, but also because when you come face to face with stupid fundamentalism, it’s like a double dare to just bash it to pieces. I guess I’m not alone, I see that a weekend in Monsey really annoyed the usually good natured Steg. And of course all the really angry skeptics are ex-Chareidim who continue to live in Chareidi neighborhoods. So what’s the solution? I guess to stay away from Fundamentalists, they are bad for our emunah!

Some of my readers claim I’m more partial to skeptics than to fundamentalists, and I let them get away with being ruder. I struggle to explain why, because I certainly didn’t start off that way. Initially I was equally hostile to both. Then I thought maybe it’s because it’s good when the skeptics are rude, as it weakens their case, whereas when the believers resort to ad hominems I’m upset because it makes us look bad. There is a lot of truth to this.

Then I realized that I also find it amusing when the Chareidi Skeptics bash the Chareidim, as it’s like the monster that the Chareidim created turning on them. So ironic, and also so deserving. Did the Chareidim really think that years of garbage education wouldn’t blow up at some point? One only needs to read BenAvuya’s or Daas Hedyot’s stories of being harassed in Yeshivah to see this.

Another aspect here is that when it comes to rational arguments, the skeptics really do a good job. That’s not to say that they don’t commit fallacies themselves, but it’s obviously always easier to argue reason than to argue faith. Reason has, well reasons behind it. That’s why they call it reason. Faith has nothing much behind it, and that’s why they call it faith. How can you argue faith against reason? If you could argue it, it wouldn’t be faith. The main argument for faith is experience, and it’s hard to argue experience on a blog, especially when the person you are arguing with had that experience and hated it.

What’s really interesting is that people of 100% pure faith like Lakewood Yid don’t seem at all concerned by the skeptics. They believe no matter what, and are not intimidated by some skeptic who in their minds is a total nebuch case. It’s the LW UOs who pride themselves on being sophisticated and worldly who really can’t take it. The trouble is that it’s the LW UOs who have what to contribute here. I don’t think the RW UOs can serve any value at all on this blog, except to be mechazek the skeptics inn their skepticism. This is why RW UOs are banned from this blog. It’s not good for their emunah and it’s not good for anyone elses either.

Another thing I have realized is that there is plenty to be truly skeptical about in almost every single aspect of Orthodoxy. For every question there is always an answer, but you can be skeptical of the answers and accept the questions. For example. I always held that ‘Ayin tachas Ayin’ was ‘proof’ that Torah SheBaal Peh was needed. Of course you could look at it completely different, that the text got corrupted, or even that it really was ayin tachat ayin, and Chazal redefined it. It all depends on your viewpoint.

This leads me to an important realization about the Gedolim and their reaction to the Torah & Science books. I think I understand more what the issue is here. If you have a skeptical attitude, very little of Orthodoxy is going to look convincing. You need to have a lot of faith in Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim to believe the whole story. It’s not just problems from Science, it’s the whole ball of wax. If you look it at from ‘outside the bubble’ it’s not gonna look convincing.

Most FFB’s don’t realize this (at least I didn’t – OK I was dumb), because they have never looked at it critically, and think the only kashyes are from Science in Breishis. This is not to say I agree with the Gedolim, or even that this was the Gedolim’s thought process, it probably wasn’t. But there is some truth behind this. You simply can’t afford to have a skeptical attitude when it comes to religion, and asking science questions on Breishis is the ‘avak’ of a skeptical attitude.

So what’s the solution? Seems to me there are a few approaches here:

1. Retreat into fundamentalism and batten down the hatches (not necessarily a bad strategy but certainly not for me, at least not currently)
2. Avoid skepticism and mollify yourself with kiruv clowny answers (used to work for me but probably won’t work anymore, at least not currently)
3. Be skeptical, but figure out a way to make it work, maybe with a new stream of Orthodoxy (yes!)
4. Give it all up (no!)

Oh, and this post is a good read. It’s about me!

Faith vs. Reason no. 24

The fundamentalists hold that Faith must win over Reason. I think it's lucky that the pagans didn't have such a klal. I mean, imagine if Avraham's father and friends had told him the following:

'Yes, Avram, we know your reason tells you there can only be one God, and that these stone idols are worthless. But we have faith in multiple Gods made of stone! And our mesorah says you must follow our faith over your reason!'

I guess there would have been no Judaism.

Maybe I'm wrong though. Maybe the pagans did have such a klal, and Avraham responded thus:

You idiot fundamentalists! Of course reason beats faith!

I guess we'll never know.

Can there be a psak about Olam Habah?

My guess is no.

I asked one of the Lakewood Chevrah to look up in Shulchan Aruch whether he 'paskens' you lose your chelek in olam habah for believing in certain things. Turns out it's not in there! That stands to reason, since Halachah is for this world. How can anyone pasken for the next?

Even more intriguing is the fact that the Shulchan Oruch doesn't pasken about the ikkarim either, does he? I don't have an SA infront of me right now. Can anyone look it up? Is belief in the ikkarim leHalachah?

Hirhurim: The Torah might be unreasonable

From here:

When Reason and Torah can somehow co-exist, we adopt Reason even if it means reinterpreting Torah. But when* Torah cannot even be reinterpreted to fit with Reason, we reject Reason.

* Hagaot R Gil: (if)

(Why am I bugging Hirhurim today? Well I can't bug DovBear, and I got beaten up yesterday by both the fundies and the skeptics, so I need to vent somehow. Sorry Hirhurim!)

Hirhurim: When Chazal talk about Olam Habah, they didn't really mean it

Hihurim posts about the myth that making three shidduchim automatically gets you into Olam Habah. He writes:

With all due respect to my good friends who are trying so hard to make shidduchim, R. Uri Cohen has investigated the common claim that someone who makes three shidduchim (marriage matches) automatically goes to the World-to-Come and found it to be nothing more than an urban legend (link).

In the link, R Uri says:

If our statement sounds like Chazal, that's because it's ripped off from a real Gemara quote: "Whoever says Tehillah LeDavid (i.e., Ashrei) three times every day is guaranteed to be a ben Olam HaBa" (Berakhos 4b). Let's be honest. Which of the following seems more worthy of reward? (1) Overcoming all the obstacles and providing people with the opportunity of a life of happiness together. (2) Saying Ashrei. Even if you assume the Gemara's reward is limited to someone who says Ashrei with kavanah and internalizes its messages (Mishneh Berurah 1:13), there's still a kal vachomer from that to making shiddukhim, right?

Unfortunately, the mefarshim on the Ashrei statement burst the bubble and reinterpret the whole "Get Into Heaven Free" thing: (1) All it means is that if your merits are already perfectly balanced, then saying Ashrei is enough of a mitzvah to tip you into Olam Haba (Avudraham; Beis Yosef).

In other words when Chazal said 'X will guarantee you a place in olam habah', they didn't really mean it, they were just being polemical.

Its kinda like when Chazal said 'Whoever does/says/believes X they will lose their chelek in olam habah'. They didn't really mean it, they were just being polemical.

Actually its EXACTLY like.

Let's get crazy!

A few years ago Rabbi David Wolpe caused quite a stir when he told his congregation that the Exodus probably didn't happen. Gosselieb has an article on this subject too, supposedly written by Laurence Schiffman, called 'Has the Exodus Really Been Disproved'. Schiffman talks very vaguely on Goseelieb's site, and ends off by saying:

We may not possess, at least at present, conclusive proof that the Israelites left Egypt en masse as the Bible describes. What we do have, though, are several indications of the Exodus’ historicity, and ample evidence that the biblical account is entirely plausible.

However in an article in the LA Times, Schiffman spins a different story:

Virtually no scholar, for instance, accepts the biblical figure of 600,000 men fleeing Egypt, which would have meant there were a few million people, including women and children. The ancient desert at the time could not support so many nomads, scholars say, and the powerful Egyptian state kept tight security over the area, guarded by fortresses along the way.

Even Orthodox Jewish scholar Lawrence Schiffman said "you'd have to be a bit crazy" to accept that figure*.
He believes that the account in Joshua of a swift military campaign is less accurate than the Judges account of a gradual takeover of Canaan. But Schiffman, chairman of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, still maintains that a significant number of Israelite slaves fled Egypt for Canaan.

So which is it? Do we have to be 'a bit crazy' to believe 2.5 million people left Egypt, or is it entirely plausible? Of course the conclusion of every serious scholar on the subject is that 2.5 million is not plausible, given what we know of that period of history. This does NOT mean nobody escaped at all, or that there was no Har Sinai, it just means that the numbers strain credibility. like Schiffman says, 'You would have to be a bit crazy to believe that'. What's a bit crazy? Can one be a bit pregnant? Personally I think you're either crazy or you aren't.

So what can we do about this? Anonymous tells me that the explanation of 'eleph' meaning 'clan' is too clowny and is not acceptable. That only leaves two options: Either the version in Exodus is a (part) myth, or else we're all gonna have to be a bit crazy.

I say, let's get crazeeeeeeeee!

* UPDATE: Maybe he denies having ever said this? We are checking. Stay tuned!

[Hat tip: Marc from Lakewood Yeshivah, Mis-nagid]

Are the UTJ Fundamentalist?

[Hat Tip DNA}

Declaration of Principles
The Jewish tradition teaches that:

One God created the universe and endowed the humans in it with intelligence and the ability to choose good or evil, God revealed Torah to Israel (torah min hashamayim), and Torah--both written and oral--as transmitted and interpreted by our sages, from Sinai down through the generations, authoritatively expresses the will of God for the Jewish People.(1) Building on the foundation of these beliefs, the Union for Traditional Judaism is committed to the following:

A. The Authority of Halakhah (Jewish Law)--(Derekh haHalakhah veSamkhutah) Study and observance of Torah is the means whereby Jews draw closer to God and become His partners in creation, sanctifying the world under His dominion. Torah is the yardstick by which we determine right from wrong and the permitted from the forbidden; we concretize it in our daily lives through adherence to Halakhah. Both as it pertains to our relationship with God and to our relationships with others, Halakhah is binding upon us even when it conflicts with popular trends in contemporary society. Torah must also guide our actions when we face new situations in which the law is not clear. Such matters must be decided by scholars who are distinguished by their depth of Torah knowledge and piety. In making these decisions, these scholars use their judgment in applying Torah values and Halakhic principles to the cases before them. Though new discoveries in other fields of human knowledge are relevant factors in Halakhic decision making, Jewish law alone is the final arbiter of Jewish practice. Response to today's challenges should be compassionate and may be creative but must always take place within the parameters of the Halakhic system. This process functions effectively only in the context of a community which is committed to observing Halakhah and which abides by the decisions of its recognized Halakhic authorities.

B. Free and Open Inquiry with Intellectual Honesty--(Yosher Da'at) It is a sacred imperative to apply our God-given intellect and abilities to any and all fields of human endeavor in order to better understand and appreciate our universe. Our quest for all forms of knowledge, when carried out with a sense of awe at the wisdom of God's creation(2), is a religious act.(3) Since the universe and Torah issue from the same Source, they must each be understood in light of the other. We must therefore strive to deepen our understanding of Torah in the context of God's creation. Thus we utilize all available methods and all potentially relevant disciplines in interpreting the sacred texts of our tradition. Intellectual honesty requires that we seriously consider new discoveries in any field of knowledge in our search for new meanings (hiddushim) in Torah(4); but intellectual honesty also requires that we recognize the fallibility of our human perceptions and the limitations of our methodologies. This recognition keeps us from drawing conclusions which contradict any of the three beliefs stated above.(5)

C. Love and Respect for Our Fellow Jews--(Ahavat Yisrael) The mitzvah of ahavat yisrael directs us to relate lovingly and respectfully to all Jews regardless of their level of commitment to traditional Jewish beliefs and observance of Halakhah. We must cooperate, to the fullest extent possible within the parameters of Halakhah, with other Jewish groups and their leaders, without regard to the political boundaries of denominational affiliation. Shared history and common destiny are sufficient reason for making far-reaching efforts to preserve the unity of kelal yisrael (the entire Jewish people). In addition to demanding mutual respect, ahavat yisrael requires that we champion adherence to halakhic norms.(6) Bringing Jews closer to Torah is one of the most important challenges we face today, and we believe that this goal can most readily be achieved through an approach which encourages, educates and persuades. In taking such an approach, we are emulating God's display of love and concern for the Jewish people even when they were not fulfilling their religious commitments.(7) God expects us to continually strive to reach our collective potential as a community. We must therefore create synagogue and communal settings where all Jews are made to feel at home, yet are constantly stimulated to bring Jewish observance and study into their homes and their daily lives by rabbis and laymen whose own shared striving and commitment are evident.

D. Love and Respect for Humanity and Creation--(Kevod haberiyyot) God's covenant of Torah with the Jewish people does not annul His relationship with the world or with humankind; rather, it enhances it. God continually cares for the world He has created (hashgahah) and for every person in it. Since the Jewish people are commanded to imitate God's loving care, we must be concerned with creation in general and with humanity in particular. In the case of creation, we must respect the integrity of nature and oppose its degradation. In the case of humanity, we must respect the dignity of all human beings and oppose their oppression. God's covenant of Torah assumes universal morality then raises us to a higher spiritual level (kedushah) as we approach universal redemption (ge'ulah).

E. Redemption--(Ge'ulah) We share the age-old dreams for messianic deliverance and trust that ultimate redemption will come when God sees fit. We see in History the unfolding of this divine promise and regard the establishment and development of the State of Israel as a step toward its fulfillment (reishit tzmihat ge'ulateinu). We are fortunate to live in a time when we can actively participate as partners in this process. These are the beliefs and principles for which the Union for Traditional Judaism stands. We call upon all who support these ideals to help us in implementing them throughout the Jewish world. We pray that the work of the U.T.J. will heighten the place of Torah in this world (lehagdil torah ulehaadirah) and bring us closer to God.

1. cf. Maimonides, Introduction to Commentary on the Mishnah, tr. Kafih, (Mosad HaRav Kook: Jerusalem, 1963), pp. 4-16
2. Mah rabu ma'asekha hashem, Psalm 104:24.
3. cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesodei ha Torah 2:2.
4. cf. RaSHBaM on Genesis 37:2.
5. This relationship between intellectual honesty and these beliefs is implicit in the motto of the Institute of Traditional Judaism: emunah tzerufah veyosher da'at (genuine faith and intellectual honesty).
6. Leviticus 19:17-18.
7. Nehemiah 9

GH: This is a very clowny line:

‘But intellectual honesty also requires that we recognize the fallibility of our human perceptions and the limitations of our methodologies. This recognition keeps us from drawing conclusions which contradict any of the three beliefs stated above.’

What does ‘intellectual honesty’ have to do with anything? It’s a matter of belief! On the contrary, intellectual honesty would require you to re-evaluate your beliefs based on new evidence.

Also they say this:

‘God revealed Torah to Israel (torah min hashamayim), and Torah--both written and oral--as transmitted and interpreted by our sages, from Sinai down through the generations, authoritatively expresses the will of God for the Jewish People’.

But isn't Halivni UTJ? I guess that's why they davkah say God revealed 'Torah', and not 'THE Torah', and other weasel words like that. Very sneaky!

Can one be Orthodox and also follow another religion?

Someone wrote me the following:

You are saying that the only ikkar is belief in God, so there's nothing wrong with believing in Islam as long as you follow halacha? I say that's ludicrous.

My response?

No, you have to believe in God and Halachah, thats two ikkarim. I can't see how believing in Islam shtims with believing in Halachah. But I guess if you theoretically had some new religion which contained a bunch of stuff about God, and had various customs which didn’t interfere too much with Halachah, then you could keep that religion as well as Judaism and still be fully Orthodox.

And actually, that's already happened. It’s called Kabbalah.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Future of Real Modern Orthodoxy

I think it’s becoming clear where the real divide between UO and MO lies. It’s not about listening to the Gedolim. It’s not about Zionism, or chumras, or Britney Spears, or even Torah uMaddah. It’s about DOX, i.e. beliefs.

The real MOs are not going to accept fundamentalist beliefs when the evidence is against them. Maybe RW MO does, but those guys are really just broad minded Chareidim anyway. Eventually the RW MOs will just merge in with the LW UOs, they are pretty indistinguishable even now. The LW MOs like YCT and Edah will continue to diverge from the RW MOs, and maybe even join up with the RW Conservadox once the Conservative Movement becomes Reform (and Reform becomes Recon and Recon becomes Humanist etc).

Will this cause a monumental split in Orthodoxy? I think that as long as the New MOs keep Halachah there won’t be a split. Of course some beliefs will still be necessary. But I think you only need two very, very basic beliefs:

1. The universe was created for a good purpose by some supernatural being
2. This supernatural being ‘wants’ us to keep Halachah as defined by Torah SheBaal Peh (and also Torah SheBichtav to some extent).

Even this is pretty vague, because when it comes to supernatural beings, what the heck does ‘wants’ mean anyway? But still, I think this is the barest minimum required to support a viable Halachah, as long as the Halachah basically follows the standard Orthodox Halchahic process.

In fact this process has already happened, yet most people don’t appear to realize it. When I tell people that I have heard prominent MO Rabbanim say all Breishis could be mythology, people react in disbelief! And that was a fairly RW MO Rabbi who said that. Can you imagine what the LW MO Rabbis are saying ? (in secret of course).

The fact is, half the people in MO today might be more more accurately described as Conservadox Orthoprax, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The ikkar is to keep Halachah, which many of them don’t, and THAT’S where the problem is, not with their dox.

Is their laxity in Halachah due to their liberal dox? Actually, I don’t think so. Most of then don’t even realize they have liberal dox, because they don’t think too much about religion or dox anyway, it interferes with their Britney Spears. They are lax in Halachah because they are stam lax, and they are looking for a less intense religion. But there’s certainly room for very Halachic LW MOs. Heck, such people even exist within the Conservative Movement!

So I guess I am most similar to the LW MOs, though possibly with a more machmir Halachah. From LW UO to RW MO to LW MO in one year! Now who said nothing changes around here?! But don’t worry, I’m not going any further left than that. Machmir LW MO is where it’s at!

Real Modern Orthodox Ikkarim FAQ

A lot of people seem to be confused about what Real Modern Orthodox people believe. Let me try and explain.

Q: If you are not following the Mesorah. How do you know what to believe?

A: As rational people, we follow the evidence. If there is convincing evidence that an event did not happen (or did happen), then it happened! (or didn’t). We can quibble over what constitutes convincing or not, but if in any field all the world’s experts agree on something, and the only dissenters are quacks, crackpots, non-experts or fundamentalists with an ideology they can't shake, then you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see what the emmes is.

What about when there is no evidence, or when there is equal evidence either way? In such a cases we certainly follow the Mesorah. This is why we believe in God, there is no evidence either way, nobody has anything convincing to say on the subject, so we follow the Mesorah. Of course the Mesorah cannot dictate knowledge of God, since if it was based on knowledge and proof then it wouldn’t be an ikkar of faith, it would be obvious. But the Mesorah can dictate Belief, which is different than Knowledge.

Q: But Chazal were very clear on this topic, as was the Rambam, how can you say otherwise?

A; In those times, there were various sects who argued with the Rabbis, for example the Tzdukim (Sadduces), Epicureans, Kaarites and so on. These people denied Torah SheBaal Peh, or denied Torah MiSinai, or had other strange beliefs. Of course back then none of this had anything to do with evidence, it was just various groups pushing their own beliefs and agendas. So when Chazal went crazy with these people, and said they would lose their chelek etc, this was just polemical. None of this applies nowadays, since with the advent of Science, Archeology etc, we do have evidence, and to ignore convincing evidence is just dumb.

Same thing with the ikkarim. The Rambam was trying to differentiate Judaism from the surrounding religions. However the Rambam would be the first to agree that if the evidence convincingly showed otherwise, we need to change.

Q: But how can we dispute the Torah?

A: One of the Lakewooders emailed me that if it says in the Torah that an event happened, then it happened, and to believe otherwise is plain wrong! But we know this is nonsense, since it’s clear as day in the Torah that the world is 6000 years old, Adam was the first man, and there was a global flood, and we know none of these things are true.

This is EXACTLY why the Gedolim banned the Science & Torah books. Once you say the Torah is not literally true in one place, then there’s no reason at all not to say it’s not literally true in another place. It’s the exact same thing, it’s not even a slippery slope! So it’s a black and white proposition – either it’s all literally true, or any of it it can be non literal whenever and wherever it conflicts with the evidence. And guess what? This is EXACTLY what the Rambam and Sadiah Gaon hold anyway. So the Rishonim and even the Gaonim agree.

Q: Aren’t you just a fundamentalist in Science?

A; Some people have accused me of being a fundamentalist in Science. They say even if the majority of Scientists hold one thing, we should follow the minority if the Ikkarim demand it. I say fine, show me a credible minority of Scientists who hold the world is 6000 years old, and Adam was the first man, and I’ll go with that. But of course you can’t. The only scientists who hold like that are quacks or fundamentalists who are so baised as to have no credibility at all.

The same with the DH. All the people desperately arguing against it are people who are totally biased to an ideological position. They have no credibility. The few people who are real Torah experts, e.g. Bruer, accept it, but then try and pull a Gosse Theory (God davkah did it that way) to keep frum. This is bogus.

Q; If the Torah can be disproved, then why not Halachah? Why be a fundamentalist in Halachah?

A: Halachah is neither true nor false. It just is. In cases where the Halachah seems to be based on bad science, e.g. nosen taam, or killing lice on shabbos or whatever, there is already a machlokes about this. Some people say we should change the Halachah, some say it’s already kavuah so we can’t change it, others say maybe there is another reason for the Halchaha so we shouldn’t change it. So I don’t see a quest for truth in Hashkafah having much effect on Halachah at all. The only exception is where Halchah says a certain belief is kefirah, and then that belief is proved true.

Q Doesn't his mean that Orthodox Judaism could be completely disproved?

A: Even if it were proved conclusively that Sinai didn’t happen it wouldn’t have much effect, since continuous revelation takes care of that. The only thing that could disprove Halachah is convincing evidence that the world wasn’t created by God, but by some prankster alien instead. Then, I’ll give in. But only then!

Q: And how is this different from Conservative & Reform?

A: This is VERY different. Those movements discarded Halacha, which has been the defining criteria for the Jewish people for 3000 years. Judaism has always been based on prax more than dox. Once you discard or radically alter Halachah, you have distanced yourself from the community. The Real Modern Orthodoxy continues with a commitment to Halachah, but also accepts convincing evidence of the facts, no matter what they are.

Q: So who are your Gedolim? RAL, RHS and similar would never agree to this!

A: Most of the YU and similar Rabbanim are not really Modern Orthodox at all, but rather broad minded Chareidim. This is why the Lakewood Chevrah hold of these people! The true Mo Rabbanim are Jonathan Sacks and similar (though he is constrained by the British kannoim as to what he can say in public). Also people like Halivni and Leiberman are certainly experts in Kol Hatorah. Even people like R Gil are not really Modern Orthodox. He recently posted about how he will never be Chareidi, that may be so. But someone who says 'I will believe no matter what the evidence' will never be a Real Modern Orthodox person either! (Not that there's anythig wrong with that, I'm just sayin'.)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Real Modern Orthodox

I got into quite an argument on Friday with DovBear. He started it by attacking my 'Up & Down' post, with the following comment:

There's enough about Judaism that is good, plenty of values that are great, and only a child thinks Judaism is true in some first cause sense... only a child thinks that it's possible to roll back all the human tampering to produce the Original and Perfect Judaism... only a child thinks that 2000 years of rabinincal writing can be distilled to yeild The Perfect and Whole Truth... so we take what we have warts and all, always trying to celebrate that parts that are good and meaningful... and MOVE ON.

He then proceeded, as is his custom, to be somewhat vague and inconsistent, and spell things badly. I then proceeded, as is my custom, to ridicule (redicule?) him mercilessly. But the truth is, I pretty much agree with everything he said! And he said it quite well.

Some choice quotes from DovBear:

Orthodox Judaism is just the latest variation on an endlessly changing religious landscape. It's not True in some first cause sense. It's just the result of the latest human tinkering. And after a few generations have gone by it will look like something else.

So I reject the idea that I need to think like a 21st century Orthodox Jew in order to be legitimately Jewish. I can be legitimately Jewish by embracing any of the other legitimate Jewish values I choose.

Some of it is man-made. Everybody knows that.

And the precious ikarrim? You act like they were inevitable when everyone who has read Shapiro knows they were completely contingent, and that views Sages and Rabbis once embraced are now "heresies" while others are now touchstones of Orthodoxy.

There is no pristine, perfectly true, inevitable Judaism. It may have existed for five seconds on Mount Sinai, but as soon as men got it, it was filtered through human understanding and therefore it was modified.

I don't care what you call it. If it is the inescapable, inevitable, truth (as it must be: THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED) how can you say it is inconsistent with God's plan?

And not only is it impossible to recover that original pristine Mount Sinai Judaism IT IS NOT NECESSARY

There's nothing about that which is inconsistent with being a Jew. If it means you can't fit into the little tiny narrow stupid 21st century Orthodox box, who cares? All the cool Rishonim and Achronim are excluded from that box, too.

When I say that the pristine Sinai moment ended the second human beings got their hands on the Torah, all I am doing it acknowledging that human perception can take in the absolute truth, but not absolutely.

A contingent, nature bound creature can't perceive the entirety of the absolute truth. Why? Because every perception occurs from a particular point of view and that not even the point of view is constant. Every person is a perceiving center, and every perception is different. There is no absolute conformity of the knowing subject to the known object. Therefore truth can only be known subjectively.

All of that is obvious and elementary to anyone who's ever thought about it.

It's a stupid belief [the Mesorah], because it goes against everything we know about human beings.

In fact it is such a stupid belief, and a belief that is so easily falsifiable I don't see how it can be an authentic Jewish belief. How can you look at human beings and say they are able to comprehend and attain the Absolute Truth.

Some choice quotes from me:

That’s not Orthodox you dummy, that’s REFORM. You are a REFORM Jew!

Why did I bug him so?!! I guess because he bugs me so. But he is right.

Orthodoxy IS a variable thing, 150 years ago Evolution would have been unthinkable, yet now the head of the OU says it’s fine. And the ikkarim are somewhat suspect, and it really makes no difference that most of Orthodoxy accepted them, since most of Orthodoxy accepted the Ari and the Zohar too, and we know they are bogus.

And the more I think about this, the more I realize DovBear is correct. I have been twisting myself into pretzels to try and conform to some definition of Orthodoxy. But why? Mostly because they are the only movement within Judaism who have an absolute commitment to Halachah, which translates into a passionate and unchangeable commitment to Judaism in general. So, I invented terms such as Conservative Chareidi, Reconstructionist Orthodox or Maskilishe Modern Orthodox, to try and reflect my positions, whilst still maintaining a link to Orthodoxy.

However, in truth there IS already a movement today within Orthodoxy which SHOULD be reflecting my positions. A movement whose stated goal is EXACTLY to address the issues that I raise. A movement whose whole reason of existence is to confront modernity.

And that movement is called …….Modern Orthodoxy!!!

Unfortunately MO has been hijacked by all sorts of people not fully committed to this goal, and they’re ruining it for the rest of us.

On the right we have the RW MOs who are basically just broad minded Chareidim. Maybe they will accept a little more science, maybe they’ll be a little more Zionistic, a little more open to secular culture, a little more open to women’s roles and similar. But fundamentally they are still fundamentalists. And fundamentalists CANNOT confront Modernity with complete honesty, by definition. We have all seen clear examples of that in the blogworld.

To the left, we have the MO Lite, people who basically want the appearance of being Orthodox, but don’t really want to do very much religious activity. Their definition of confronting modernity is to go to movies and listen to rock music. But that’s not what it’s about.

In reality, the search on this blog for a rational hashkafah is EXACTLY what Modern Orthodoxy SHOULD be, a full on confrontation with modernity and no holds barred. That’s the WHOLE point of Modern Orthodoxy!

If MO is just the same old fundamentalism with a few sops to modernity, then there’s really not much point. It may fool the unthinking masses, but it’s not fooling me. Or if MO just means you get to pretend you’re frum, but really you go to shul occasionally and hardly do a religious thing all year round, then I’m not interested either.

So, I shall no longer be calling myself Conservative Chareidi, or Reconstructionist Orthodox, or any of those other labels.

I am Modern Orthodox.

The REAL Modern Orthodox.

Changes on this blog

Someone commented on Friday that this blog is somewhat repetitive and doesn’t ever get anywhere. Someone commented on Friday that this blog is somewhat repetitive and doesn’t ever get anywhere. Someone commented on Friday that this blog is somewhat repetitive and doesn’t ever get anywhere.

But seriously, there have been some major changes here, and if you have been paying attention you will have noticed them. For those people who can’t pay attention, or have recently joined, or who were here last year and missed everything since then, here is a quick guide.


2005: They’re idiots
2006: They’re not for me

I was pretty dismissive back in 2005 about certain ‘Gedolim’. I apologize for that. Currently I think that while some people may be inspired by them, I am not. Mainly this is due to the fact that they have completely failed to address modernity (I don’t call running and hiding in a corner ‘addressing modernity’). Their strategy might work for Bnei Brak and Lakewood, but it doesn’t work in the real world, at least not the world that I live in. On the other hand, I have discovered new Gedolim, such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.


2005: Probably Myth/Moshol
2006: Definitely Myth/Moshol

After a year of thinking about this, I’m pretty darn sure at this point that Breishis 1-11 are Myth/Moshol. As to Who wrote these stories, that’s a different question, but they are definitely not meant to be more than mythology/moshology. Various people have attempted to explain these stories in light of modern science, most notable Y Aharon with his ‘Origins’ series of posts, but I find it entirely unconvincing (sorry).


2005: Kiruv Kvetch
2006: Not sure

Last year I was okay in saying that ‘eleph’ meant clan and therefore the number of people leaving Egypt (~2.5 million) was much smaller. Anonymous convinced me that this peshat doesn’t work, so the only other alternative is Myth/Moshol. Thanks anonymous for destroying my last hope in Shemos! Well done.


2005: It’s all bogus!
2006: It’s a legitimate art form

I cannot believe that Kabbalah is based on anything other than it’s authors over-active imaginations. I suppose it could be ‘Divinely Inspired’, but I have my doubts. Still, as an expression of spirituality and yearning for the Divine, I guess it’s okay.


2005: Nebuch, I’ll show them!
2006: Oy vey, they showed me!

The skeptics proved a lot smarter than I thought. They really have thought a lot of this through very, very well. I can see certain flaws in their positions, but not that many. My advice? Don’t debate the skeptics, you won’t win. Course that won’t stop me.

Slifkin Ban

2005: Completely unjustified
2006: Well…..

I think the main problem with the ban was how it was carried out. Also, it’s a pretty stupid strategy, the better approach would have been just to keep quiet, or do something much more low key. However the Gedolim certainly have a right to ban whatever they want for their own communities and it’s understandable that since their approach to modernity is to run and hide, they don’t want to start facing questions from an ancient earth or evolution.


2005: I’ll only ask kashyes from proven science
2006: I need to be rational and consistent

I used to say that I would only ask kashyes from proven science, thereby neatly sidestepping such fields as Biblical Criticism. However this is somewhat of a cop out, so now I take into account everything. That doesn’t mean that every crackpot theory is regarded as proven, but when all the world’s scholars agree on something, it can’t be brushed off so easily.

Documentary Hypothesis

2005: Not sure
2006: Not sure, but maybe it’s true

I still don’t know much about the DH. Every time we get into a discussion of it, Mis-nagid and Anonymous go head to head, each convinced they are correct. However recently I’ve noticed that S seems to hold of it, and S is fairly non-biased, plus he’s a textual scholar, so I think there may be something to it.


2005: I’ll show them!
2006: Not interested, sorry

In 2005 there were definitely aspects of this blog aimed at Chareidim. Having spent time in that community, I wanted to address them and have some debates and discussions with them. Now I realize that Chareidi ideology is so far removed from where I am that it’s almost completely pointless. Therefore this blog is NOT for Chareidim, and I don’t really have much interest in debating anything with them. They should be well and be happy! This blog is aimed at Modern Orthodox (or to the left of that), and specifically people with similar interests and questions.

Modern Orthodoxy

2005: It's the only way!
2006: It's neither Modern nor Orthodox

I've realized that the differences between MO and UO are not quite as stark as the MO would have you believe, at least when it comes to facing modernity. MO can be quite fundamentalist too. Also, MO by and large is pretty weak when it comes to prax. I still identify MO as it's the best overall compromise, and the only strain of Judaism with commitment to Halachah but you won't get put in cherem for experssing non conformist views.