Friday, March 31, 2006

March 2006

Friday, March 31, 2006

GH on Orthodoxy


Ups & Downs

[Note this is the short version, obviously I am simplifying each step. ]

On Top of the World

I love Breishis, it’s so majestic!
I love Science, it’s so awesome!

Going down

But doesn’t Science contradict the Torah?
Since Science is true, it’s probable that Breishis & parts of Shemos can’t be literally true.
If Breishis & parts of Shemos can’t be literally true, then it’s probable that the Torah isn’t true.
If the Torah isn’t true, then it’s probable that Judaism isn’t true.
If Judaism isn’t true, then it’s probable that everything we think about God isn’t true.
If everything we think about God isn’t true, then it’s probable all religious thought is bogus.
If all religious thought is bogus, then it’s probable that the skeptics are correct.
If the skeptics are correct, then it’s probable that the universe just came into being.

Rock Bottom

Religion is all bogus.
My life is ultimately meaningless.

Going Up

But how could the universe just come into being by itself?
If the universe is here, then it’s probable that some Supernatural Being created it.
If some Supernatural being created it, then it’s probable that there is a purpose to it.
If there is a purpose to it, then it’s probable that the Being enabled us to figure out the purpose.
If we can figure out the purpose, then it’s probable that one of the religions has at least a partial answer.
If one of the religions has at least a partial answer, then it’s probable that Judaism is it.
If Judaism is correct, then the Torah is from God.
If the Torah is from God, then the Torah is amazing!

On Top of the World

I love Breishis, it’s so majestic!
I love Science, it’s so awesome!


Are Kiruv Workers Evil?

of the Lakewood chevrah emailed me recently to complain that some of
the skeptics are evil, since they intentionally try and ‘convert’
people from Orthodoxy to Skepticism. Not only that, but death threats
against these kind of skeptics are a good thing (presumably he meant
fake ones), because the 'kiruv' skeptics deserve some harassment.

getting into the discussion of whether this accusation is actually true
or not about certain skeptics, I wondered if his claim that it was
‘evil’ behavior is valid. So let’s discuss this.

We all support
and approve of (Orthodox) Kiruv organizations. We actively go and try
and mekarev people to Orthodoxy. We do Outreach.

Is this evil?

assume the person will be happier if they are Orthodox. We assume they
will have a more fulfilled life. And of course we assume that they will
get a better olam habah. On the other hand, I personally know of BT’s
who are miserable, who don’t like being Orthodox and are now stuck
(usually because their spouse is Orthodox). So, we can’t necessarily
guarantee a happier life. We can’t really guarantee Olam Habaah either,
since only God can do that. In fact, we can’t actually guarantee
anything at all, since we all agree that fundamentally our religion
rests on faith. Without proof, nothing can be rationally guaranteed.

only that, but making someone religious will require them to keep
Halachah. This includes Yehoreg v’al yaavor on Giluy Aroyos and Avodah
Zoroh. Hence we could be influencing someone to give up their life
instead of bowing down to an idol or something like that. Yes, I know
this is far fetched, but the possibility is there. In fact, a simpler
example would be someone who gets religious, gets Zionistic too, and
goes off to live in the West Bank, thinking they are fulfilling God’s
wish of a greater Israel, and then they get blown up by terrorists.

Judaism is true, then of course this is all correct and good. However
if it isn’t, then this is all bad. Very bad indeed if you get blown up
for no good reason.

Now let’s look at the (theoretical) 'kiruv'
skeptics. Their belief is that religion is all bogus. Sure, it can give
you a nice lifestyle, but ultimately it’s all fake. They believe that
the world would be a better place without religion, and they believe
that each individual would lead a truer, more fulfilled life without
religion. They believe that religion has perpetrated many evils. Hence
they do ‘kiruv’ to their version of the truth.

If the claims of
the skeptics are true, then this is all correct and good. However if it
isn’t true, how bad is it really? They are not persuading people to go
risk their lives for their religion, or for a distant country. They are
not advocating anyone to give up their lives instead of bowing down to
an idol. Yes, they advocate dropping Torah & Mitzvot, but they
still advocate morality, which is of course one of the most important
things anyway.

So who is really evil here?

objective assessment leads me to conclude that if the skeptic 'kiruv'
workers are evil, then the Orthodox kiruv workers are doubly so. Do we
really want to conclude that kiruv workers are evil? And if (fake)
death threats against skeptic 'kiruv' workers are okay, then are death
threats against Orthodox kiruv workers more okay?

What if your
non religious child was mekareved by Aish, ended up in Israel and ended
up dead. Does that mean that Aish killed your child, by filling his
head with nonsensical beliefs (from your perspective) ? Should Aish be
charged with second degree murder? I guess so, according to the
Lakewood chevrah.

How can anyone possibly claim that skeptic 'kiruv' workers are evil, yet advocate Orthodox kiruv? The mind boggles.


The skeptics respond:

want to talk about problems with kiruv, talk about how they sell it as
the solution to people's emotional problems, which rarely actually get
fixed. Talk about how they dishonestly portray the plausibility of
their claims in regards to evidence. Talk about how they don't talk
about the stigma BTs have in the frum world, despite many people
joining specifically for the emphasis on marriage. Talk about how they
don't discuss the very high ex-BT rate, and the difficulty people have
recovering from being a BT. Don't talk about Aish getting someone blown
up. That's just stupid. If a newly skeptical ex-Orthodox Jew gets
killed in a car accident on Shabbat do you blame Spinoza?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Blogger Support: We don't care about death threats

Short Version

Me: Someone threatened to kill someone in my comments! Should I call the police?

Blogger: You can delete the comment!

Long Version

Subject: Death Threat In the Comments
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2006 17:41:38 -0000

Someone posted an implied death threat to another commenter in my
comments. I have no idea who, though I have the IP address of the
threatener. He was probably just joking but I have no way of knowing for
sure. He has not responded to my requests to contact me. How seriously do
I need to take this? Am I obligated to contact the police?

Date: Mar 30, 2006 7:13 PM
Subject: Re: [#438028] Death Threat In the Comments


Thanks for letting us know about this issue. Unfortunately, it is not
currently possible to block comments from particular users or IP
addresses. However, please be aware that a blog owner can delete or
moderate comments.

For information on how to delete comments, please visit:

For information on how to moderate comments, please visit

Blogger Support

If Kaballah isn't true, should I take off my tefilin before musaf on Rosh Chodesh?

S posts
about Kabbalah and Halachah. Apparently, he is concerned whether he
should take off his tefillin before Musaf on Rosh Chodesh, since this
minhag is based on kabbalah.

S says:

To many people
kabbalah is the holiest of holy. To say that it is authentic would be
an understatement. But alas, not everyone shares this view. Others are
totally antagonistic toward kabbalah. Some think it is pure bunk. Some
think it is a type of philosophical search, perhaps analagous to
alchemy as a proto-scientific field. In that sense, it isn't "true" but
neither is it false and forgery.

He then adds:

Precisely where I personally fall isn't important, but let's say simply that I am not kabbalistically inclined

…which knowing S’s penchant for understatement, is probably code for ‘I think it is pure bunk’.

have news for S, if Kabbalah is bunk, yet was accepted by every major
Acharon there is, then we have MUCH bigger problems than whether to
take off our tefillin before mussaf! (This question is for david g too.)

How could something so inauthentic have been wholly absorbed into Orthodoxy? I see only two options:

1. Orthodoxy accepts inauthentic things
2. Continuous Revelation ad hayom hazeh

Option 1 is really bad, so we will have to go with option 2. I guess Tamar Ross was correct after all!

The Eighth Model of Orthodox Judaism

[GH: I like this,
though it doesn’t seem very Orthodox to me! More like Reform or
Reconstructionist. Then again, that’s what some people say about me. I
think it’s very similar to the Happy Humanity model though. What's the

The Eighth Model?

There may yet be another
model, one that I am attempting to express in deed, and now here, in
word - that is, Judaism as essentially a moral enterprise. While I
believe in the philosophical unassailability and real world value of
Halachic Man, I have also, mainly through the writings of R Berkovitz,
and the teachings of R Noah Weinberg, among others, come to see Judaism
as essentially a cognitive understanding of and moral relationship with
the world.

To quote Yoram Hazony in his delightful analysis of
the Book of Esther, "Judaism begins as a political response to an
amoral world." It requires the notion of a metaphysical eternal G-d
precisely because it posits the existence of absolute and eternal moral
truths. In English, we know them as compassion, justice and
righteousness - qualities that we ascribe to G-d, and that we are
enjoined, nay, commanded to emulate as individuals, communities and as
a soveriegn nation. Judaism understands, correctly, that this is the
only philosophical model that has the power to compel Man to think and
act with moral clarity faced with Free Will and our ability - and often
predisposition - to act otherwise. Likewise, on the macro level, this
is the only model by which the creative energies of mankind may reach
their fullest potential.

So what is the eighth model that I
propose? That one need only possess moral clarity to be Jewish. I
believe that this idea was understood and accepted in the early
proto-Judaic, pre-biblical era. All of the Torah and subsequent myriad
texts, prescriptions and prohibitions can readily be seen as attempts
to express and teach moral clarity.

To be Jewish is,
essentially, to do something - anything - that expresses gratitude and
humility before the Creator who endows us with the gift of Free Will
and the potential for moral clarity. Accordingly, the only meaningful
distinctions in degree of Jewish religiosity would relate to the extent
to which one brings a sense of joy and awe to this expression.

Why I'm not a Mormon

I finally got around to watching the famous South Park Mormon episode last night. Funny stuff! You can read a transcript here.
The ending was funny too, though not that realistic. I doubt many hard
core Mormons would say they don’t care if it’s true or not, they just
like the lifestyle! Are there are any Orthopraxical Mormons? What would
be the attraction? I guess the multiple wives thing might be cool.

amazing how people can believe such obvious nonsense. Boruch Hashem I’m
not a Mormon, but instead an Orthodox Jew. Err, better make that a
Modern Orthodox Jew. Errr, make that a Rational Modern Orthodox Jew.
OK, a Maskilishe Rational Modern Orthodox Jew. Oh just forget I
mentioned it. OK? I said forget it.

But seriously, someone
yesterday asked if one can be Agnostic and Orthodox. I actually once
asked a well respected Rav this very kashyeh (I was asking for a
friend, not me). He said that in this day and age, everyone has doubts,
nothing more can be expected. So I took that as a yes, it’s okay to be
Orthodox and Agnostic. Well maybe not completely okay, but at least
it’s better than nothing.

There is a way though to beat the
doubts. It’s an approach that many, many Jews of all types use, Modern
Orthodox, Chareidi, Chassidic, you name it. And not only that, it
works! It really works! I shall share with you the secret:

trick is NEVER to think of such things. Don’t think about God’s
existence, don’t think about the Torah's history, don’t think about any
of this stuff. If you don’t think about it, you won’t have any doubts!
Just go to shul, go to learn, enjoy Shabbos and Yom Tov, and think
about your family, your work and your hobbies. It’s foolproof!

Can Orthodoxy Change?

From the introduction to the Hitch Hikers Guide to Orthodoxy:

people say that if ever an aspect of Orthodox Jewish theology was to be
shown to be false, a new, revised theology would subtly take its place,
and every thing would carry on as before.

Others say this has already happened, many times.

Someone left the following comment on my blog, regarding my Torah MinHaShamayim heresy theory:

can't keep on chipping away at the facts that have traditionally been
the basis of orthodox theology and still say that this is orthodox
Judaism. It becomes a house of cards that has no firm foundation.

To which I respond:

disagree entirely. What's the 'firm foundation' today??!!! Nothing!
Some half baked Aish HaTorah style proofs and a story which nobody
would believe in if they weren't OJ to begin with.

(Actually I
guess BTs are the exception to that. Come to think of it, what the heck
are BTs thinking? Answer: Not a lot. They just like the taste of Kugel)

reality is that people have faith because they are born into it, and
more importantly experience the lifestyle and its benefits. I ridiculed
(rediculed?) DovBear for saying that his faith was 'hard-wired', but
the truth is it's the same for all of us FFBs. Even Lakewood Yid admits
that! Our faith isn’t based on the Kuzari Proof or similar, it’s based
on our background and our ongoing (positive) experiences. All that Aish
Discovery stuff is just a 'nice to have', to counter all those nasty
mean skeptics.

I’ll bet you can change almost any aspect of
Orthodoxy over time, and if you do it subtly enough without too many
people noticing, it will take just as firm hold as the current
Orthodoxy of today.

In fact, this process has already happened many times over.

On Non Literal Breishis - Another guest post from Mike

my recent post on this blog, I engaged in an exchange with Chardal
regarding the reasons for my skepticism. The entire exchange is in the
comments section following my post, but here's the Cliff Notes version.
I asserted (and Chardal apparently accepted this assertion to be true,
at least for purposes of our discussion) that modern science has proven
much of the historical account described in the Torah to be false. I
asserted further that all of the available evidence suggests that
Chazal and the Rishonim, as well as all of the gedolim today,
understood the account in Breishis to constitute literal truth.
Accordingly, the position being taken lately by GH and other left wing
MO types on the blogsphere is apologetic revisionism. The reality is
that most of Breishis (and probably parts of the other seforim as well)
are simply false and therefore the Torah cannot have been authored by
God. I also asserted that there is internal evidence that the Torah was
written after Moshe's times, but Chardal did not address that point.

his credit, Chardal mounted a good defense for a non-literal
interpretation of Breishis. However, I would like to build on Chardal's
spirited defense and try to articulate my own version of the best
argument for non-literal interpretation of Breishis. (Hat tip to
Mis-nagid for the idea of trying this.)

The biggest hurdle here
is how to explain why God would tell Moshe facts that were simply
untrue. The answer should begin with the observation that God did not
actually dictate the text of the Torah to Moshe word for word. Instead,
Moshe experienced visions and he recorded those visions using his own
words. Concededly, Chazal do speak of Moshe actually recording by
dictation and of making specific changes that are identified in the
Medrash, but any thinking adult should understand that these Aggadic
statements are themselves non-literal descriptions intended to convey
that Moshe generally recorded his visions exactly as he had experienced
them, but in the cases identified by Chazal his description varied from
his actual visions. Chazal thought it was self evident that they were
not suggesting that God and Moshe literally talked face to face, since
we all know that God does not have a physical presence at all. Further
evidence for this is the famous comment by Chazal that the Torah was
first written in fire before Moshe wrote it. It doesn't seem like a
stretch at all to interpret this Chazal as meaning that the Torah
started as a prophetic vision (fire symbolizing spiritual truth) which
was then recorded as text. Have we committed heresy yet? I don't
believe so, though we've probably left Chareidi land.

explained the process by which the Torah was written, let's delve into
the nature of the prophetic vision that became the written Torah. We
know that Chazal believed that not every single word of the Torah
constitutes literal truth. As Chardal points out, they viewed the
account of Reuven's sin with Jacob's wife as a non-literal account that
was intended to convey the nature of the evil in his seemingly minor
transgression. Whether Chazal was motivated to do this by a specific
mesorah or a feeling that it is inconceivable that such a sin could
have been committed by one of the Matriarchs is irrelevant here. The
point is that Chazal were comfortable saying that the story is not
literally accurate. How does this square with our theory of how the
Torah was written? Surely Moshe did not on his own deviate from his
prophetic vision of the encounter between Reuven and Bilhaa to describe
it in this false and potentially embarrassing fashion. Nor did God tell
Moshe to describe the story differently, since as discussed above,
there was no element of dictation in the Torah's writing. (Also, Elokai
Yisroel Lo Yishaker, God is not a liar.) Instead, the vision Moshe
experienced was of the encounter as having occurred exactly the way
Moshe described it in the Torah. In other words, Moshe was not an
eyewitness to history through his prophecy, rather he experienced the
story of the origins of Israel through the prism of a prophetic vision
that captured the spiritual truths of that history, but not necessarily
the history itself. We know from the descriptions of the nature of
prophecy contained in Chazal's writings as well as the specific visions
described in Tanach that prophetic visions have a dreamlike quality to
them in which the nature of the message being conveyed is not always
clear. Although Chazal insisted that Moshe experienced a higher level
of prophecy than other prophets, in which he remained awake and saw
clearly the things he was being shown, they did not say anything
inconsistent with our approach that Moshe actually saw Reuven's sin the
way he described it in the Torah, rather than the way it had actually

Where does this leave us with regard to the history of
Breishis? It is undeniable that Chazal thought Breishis was mostly
literally true. For example, it seems silly to argue that Chazal didn't
think Noach was a historical figure. However, it is equally true that
they didn't believe he HAS to be an historical figure just because he
is described as such in the Torah. They would not have been offended by
the possibility that Moshe's vision of Noach in this case was a mere
allegory that conveyed a spiritual truth regarding, for example, the
moral covenant between God and post-stone age civilized Man. It was
just a reasonable assumption they made, in the absence of evidence to
the contrary, that in this case the vision described in the text was
literally true. Are there any examples of such a large scale allegory
involving a fictional figure? Sure there are: Iyov. One view mentioned
in Chazal (apparently not considered to be heresy even by those who
opposed it) is that Iyov was not a real person, even though he is the
subject of an entire book. Interestingly enough, Chazal credited Moshe
with writing Iyov and treated it as a book written through Ruach
Hakodesh (prophecy). How beautiful of an example is that of how Chazal
imagined Moshe's prophecy? We can even speculate that Chazal attributed
the book to Moshe because they saw in it the unmistakable stamp of
Moshe's sweeping allegorical visions.

So why, you ask, do all of
the Gedolim of our time and of the last several hundred years insist
that Breishis is literally true? The answer, in a word, is Shemos. You
will all surely recall that the one piece of evidence for Matan Torah
(weak as it may be) is the one described by the Kuzari, namely, that if
it hadn't happened then the Jews would never have accepted the Torah as
legitimate. In other words, the Torah describes numerous events that
purportedly occurred during the lifetime of Moshe's audience and if
wasn't accurate they would have known that and would have thrown it
back in Moshe's face. The non-literal Breishis argument, however,
totally undermines the Kuzari! If the Torah was never really supposed
to be a literal historical account, and if everyone around then
understood that, then no one would have complained if the exodus was
allegorically described through a set of ten miraculous plagues. No one
would have challenged Moshe's description of the narrow escape through
the Red Sea Straits as a "splitting of the sea." Most importantly, no
one would have said "What do you mean, we all heard God voice? All we
know is that you came down from the mountain with a wild story about a
set of rules God gave you." Why? Because everyone understood that these
descriptions were mythical/allegorical, just like the other early
religious works (ala Karen Armstrong's thesis.)

So pick your
poison, folks. The Gedolim have pretty consistently picked the Kuzari
and the literal interpretation that approach requires. The
Conservatives have dropped the Kuzari and accepted non-literal
revelation. You can't have it both ways.

[GH: I'm not sure if
this is the Gedolim's view. But it's certainly true, once you
allegorize Breishis, you could allegorize Shemos too, which then kills
the Kuzari argument (though not neccesarily Judaism). Though few people
today outside of Chareidiville put much stock in the Kuzari argument
anyway, so I don't really see this as an issue for MO. The funniest
comment I had recently was someone complaining that if the Torah was
only given through Divine Inspiration then how could we tell what was
genuine Torah and what was not? Tee hee. The answer of course is
exactly the same way we tell today. We ask the Gedolim.]

Torah Min HaShamayim….again!

was rather disappointed in the feedback on my Torah Min HaShamayim
series of posts. All the reasonable people stayed away, and I was
beaten up soundly by a bunch of fundamentalists. Even Orthodox Bloggers
who totally hold of the Documentary Hypothesis (you KNOW who you are)
didn’t have much to say. And just last Friday I posted a warning for
all the fundies to stay away! Not only that, I even changed my tagline
to ‘Dedicated to Kaplan’s goal of constructing a rational Judaism’, but
no one noticed except for Dov ‘Open Rebuke, Hidden Love’ Bear. Oh well.

Let me at least clarify a few things (i.e. backpedal furiously):

I was not attempting to convert to Conservative Judaism (sorry
C-J-Apikores). I thought there may be some leeway within Orthodoxy,
however I guess not. The customer is always right, and if you’re not
buying it, then I’m not selling it.

2. I was not attempting to
deny any revelation at Sinai (seriously). The theory was an attempt to
answer issues with Torah SheBichtav, NOT Torah SheBaal Peh. There is no
reason to do away with Sinai (with smaller numbers), since there is no
evidence of any kind that Sinai didn’t happen.

3. The objections
to the theory were mostly cultural. Everyone seemed to admit that there
was no technical reason, given the Torah Shlemah on Breishis, why we
can’t say someone wrote the Torah and then it received God’s Haskamah.
There is also no technical reason, given the Chazal about Ezra, why the
Torah had to be dictated through Moshe. However the fact is we have a
mesorah that Moshe received all the text of Torah Shebichtav (as well
as all the original Torah SheBaal Peh) directly from God. This isn’t in
the Chumash, and I don’t believe it’s even anywhere in Nach, but it is
clearly in Chazal.

4. If and when the DH is ever proved, could
those Chazals be dismissed as non binding aggadatah? My bet is yes.
It's the same as with evolution. And when I say that, I don't mean just
a simple comparison that just like with evolution attitudes changed, so
here too. I mean a much deeper comparison. Just like with evolution it
seemed impossible to say that man evolved over billions of years with
random mutations, yet we now believe God was behind it all along, so
with Torah, it may seem impossible to say it evolved, but we can
believe that God was behind it all along. And if you argue that it's
different because with Torah we have mefurash a Chazal, why with man we
have mefurash a pasuk!

Anyways, I guess my theory is dead, at least until next time around.

I will conclude with an email from a friend:

does not have a voice but when he communicated the first two
commandments to 2.5 milllion Jewish witnesses, with an apparition that
at the time could only be God-attributed, and when he communicated with
Moshe, he did so by creating the sound-waves in the air, just as when
the possuk says that the Jews saw the Glory of God, it was an
apparition that could only be God-attributed, and it was a visible

This is the concept of "Shechina" as explained
by Rav Saadia Gaon. If you will, liken it to a "puppet" that God
so-to-speak "dangles" down to the realm of our senses to make us aware
of his presence and his supervision.

וְדִבֶּר ה' אל אֶל-מֹשֶׁה פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוְּ

We are all physical beings, and a physical being is best impressed by physical phenomena.

is only Torah because it came to us in a historical, physical event. If
you divorce the "physical history" of the event from the Torah you
sever any obligation or reason to believe in it.

God says that the Apparition at Sinai was to cement a cause for belief in Him, his Torah and in the Divinity of Moshe's message

"בַּעֲבוּר יִשְׁמַע הָעָם בְּדַבְּרִי עִמָּךְ וְגַם-בְּךָ יַאֲמִינוּ לְעוֹלָם".
"כִּי לְבַעֲבוּר נַסּוֹת אֶתְכֶם בָּא הָאֱלֹקים וּבַעֲבוּר תִּהְיֶה יִרְאָתוֹ עַל-פְּנֵיכֶם לְבִלְתִּי תֶחֱטָאוּ."
"אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם כִּי מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם"

This is also mentioned by the Rambam.

is no commitment incumbent on people who are told by an an individual
of him having received a divinely inspired message unless there is a
prior sign directly from God as to the Authority of the message.

Also, please be aware that according to Chazal:

ואלו שאין להם חלק לעולם הבא: האומר אין תחיית המתים מן התורה ואין תורה מן השמים
תנו רבנן: (במדבר ט"ו) כי דבר ה' בזה ומצותו הפר הכרת תכרת ־ זה האומר אין תורה מן השמים
ואפילו אמר: כל התורה כולה מן השמים, חוץ מפסוק זה שלא אמרו הקדוש ברוך הוא אלא משה מפי עצמו זהו כי דבר ה' בזה

such a person has no "חלק לעולם הבא".

Note analogy of Talmudic "מפי הקדוש ברוך הוא" to Scriptural "פה אל פה אדבר בו ומראה ולא בחידות" in בהעלותך referring to Moshe.

This is not Chareidi doctrine, it is Torah as communicated to us by Chazal.

already mentioned to you that no Rishon or Acharon has any authority to
decide by themselves what Judaism must comprise of. They have only
extrapolated their opinions from the 10th Perek of Sanhedrin.

are recommended to thoroughly read this and derive your own principles
of faith - but for God's sake - please, please read it before switching
your faith to "Conservative Judaism" and taking all your local blogians
down with you!

Give the Torah a chance!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Guest Post from DovBear !!!

[GH: is this my first ever guest post from DovBear?]

Friday, I was dismayed to discover that our friend GH has, on the basis
of one post, categorized me as a "Happy Humanist" and someone who sees
"Judaism as basically a tikkun olam type of thing."

This statement fundamentally misunderstands my view of Judaism.

am not one the sectarians who claims legitimacy or authenticity for one
style of Judaism above all others. In fact, I hold that the very idea
of "authentic Judaism" is a chimera, because authentically Judaism
contains many values, values which do not always align and sometimes
conflict, values which, nonetheless, are objective, part of the essence
of Judaism, even the
essence of humanity, and not arbitrary creations of men's subjective fancies.

good example of this is the famous Tradition vs. Science arguments so
often debated on this blog. One side is correct when they insist that
the mesorah is paramount, but the other side is not wrong when they
reply that Jews must use their intellects and are forbidden to ignore
the evidence of their senses. Each side is pursuing a legitimate and
objective Jewish value, however incompatible these values might be.

about truth, you ask? Well, truth is a value, but so are compassion,
and beauty, and mercy, and comfort, and peace. At times, truth yields
to them.]

When someone attempts to explain the Jewish world, by
neatly categorizing us into groups and sub-groups – he's modern, you're
yeshivish, we're happy humanists- the injustice he commits is no less
offensives than the injustice performed by those who seek to explain
Judaism in monistic terms. The Jewish world is not monolithic, but
neither is it the collection of monolithic and mutually antagonistic
camps; rather it is a mixed bag of coherent blocs with interests and
values that conflict, but also overlap.

The Sages, I think,
demonstrated that they understood this, when they assigned different
characteristics to each of the 12 tribes* and when they wrote that the
Torah has 70 faces. The latter is a strong statement against those
absolutists (and there are absolutists who are atheists, too) who
imagine we live in a harmonious universe containing a true answer for
every genuine question, and that the true answers, once found, will all
fit with one another.

This folly, I believe, is present in the
attempt to put Judaism into boxes, boxes such as spiritual or rational,
for example. Suppose we were to construct a “rational Judaism.” In what
sense would it still be Judaism if all the irrational and superstitious
parts were removed? As disagreeable as I might find the non-rational
elements of Judaism, I can't help but concede that Judaism stripped of
the all I find distasteful - the magic and the wonder and the mystery -
is an impoverished version of Judaism, if it even remains Judaism at
all. You may be able to create a Jewish-like system that is completely
rational, but it won’t be completely Jewish if all the other values are

The struggle carried out each day on this blog, in a
sense, echos this folly and reflects what I once called the Fallacy of
Theological Correctness. Many of the participants here seem to imagine
that there exists a version of Judaism which is correct in some
first-causes sense, while implying that all human tampering is an
offense against the proper order of things. They struggle to remove the
superstition, or the errors, or the late customs, or the modern
innovations, thinking this will return our religion to its authentic
and original condition. But this is nonsense. There is no "correct"
condition for a religion: there is only the condition that happens to
obtain at the moment. Every generation touches and alters Judaism in
its own way; 21st century Judaism is not a corrupted version of the
truth, nor is it a lie or a mistake, nor is something our ancestors
would recognize or likely accept. It is simply –contradictory values
and all - the latest variation on an endlessly changing religious

* The tribes and their characteristics: Reuben
(impulsive), Shimon (aggressive), Levi (dedicated to divine service),
Judah (dignified), Issachar (wisdom), Zebulun (business savvy), Dan
(warrior), Naphtali (charming), Gad (militant), Asher (satisfied),
Joseph (self-discipline) and Benjamin (modest)

Ha! (yet again)

Cross Currents Pile On

(Yes, I just discovered RSS Feeds)

Ha! (again)

Toward A More Pefect Union


David G writes Why GH and I care how God is perceived !

The Documentary Hypothesis & The Future of Modern Orthodoxy

say that anyone who says one posuk of the Torah has less holiness than
another posuk is a kofer be’ikar. R Gil quotes the Torah Shlemah who
says that the Avos wrote Breishis, but God included it in the Torah, He
gave it ‘Divine Approval’. Y Aharon says that Devarim was authored by
Moshe, but got ‘Divine Approval’ to be included in the Torah.

R Gil and R Ahron Kofer Be’ikar? I hope not. Clearly they are saying it
is acceptable under Orthodox Theology for man to have initially written
the Torah, as long as it was written under ‘Divine Inspiration’ and had
‘Divine Approval’ to be in the Torah. Dude adds that the key factor is
that the Torah reflects the ‘Divine Will’. Agreed.

David g says
that’s all well and good, but only Moshe was on the madreigah to have
received the Divine Approval. Yet Chazal say that if the Torah hadn’t
been given to Moshe, it could have been given to Ezrah. So clearly
Chazal do not hold that Moshe could have been the only one to receive
the Torah.

The bottom line is this:

The only significant
aspect of ikkar number 8 is the Theological Aspect, that the Torah is
Divinely Approved, that to follow Halachah is the Divine Will, and that
the Torah was written with Divine Inspiration. Any claims as to who
wrote what and when are simply historical claims, subject to proof or
disproof, much like the historical claims of Creation 6000 years ago or
a global flood. As R Gil and many others have pointed out, it is
acceptable from an Orthodox perspective to say that Chazal did not
always get history or science correct.

As to all the statements
about God speaking to Moshe, these are in reference to the Torah
SheBaal Peh, not Torah SheBichtav. There are no clear statements in
Chumash about Torah SheBichtav.

This is all the same as the
Evolution debate. The theory of evolution was unthinkable in much of
Jewry 100 years ago, and is still beyond the pale in certain quarters
today. However Rabbi Tzvi Hersch Weinreb, head of the OU, says that
evolution is perfectly compatible with Orthodoxy. Why? Because the
historical claim of man being created 6000 years ago is irrelevant. The
only relevant claim is the Theological claim that God created man for a
purpose. And that claim can still be made even while accepting
evolution as the underlying physical process.

The same thing
with Torah Min HaShamayim. The only relevant claim is the Theological
claim. And the Theological claim that the Torah has ‘Divine Approval’,
was written with ‘Divine Inspiration’, and reflects the ‘Divine Will’
is unaffected by any historical claims.

Mis-nagid says that if
Orthodoxy ever really encounters the Documentary Hypothesis, it will
explode in a fit of kefirah. I don't think so. If and when the
Documentary Hypothesis is ever proven (and some claim it already has
been), this is the approach that Modern Orthodoxy will take. This may
not be for a while (if ever), but you heard it here first.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Divine Revelation, based on the teachings of HaRav Gil Student, shlitah.

Oh my gosh! I just had a Divine Revelation!

I’m serious! I'm very serious indeed!

just realized that Torah Min Hashamyim TOTALLY doesn’t mean what
everyone thinks it means! I just realized that the Documentary
Hypothesis can be 100% compatible with genuine Orthodox Theology,
relying on MAINSTREAM ORTHODOX accepted opinions! You just have to fit
all the pieces together!!!

Let’s analyze this VERY, VERY
carefully. PLEASE pay attention to the details here, and don’t jump to
any conclusions before thinking about this with an OPEN mind.

What does Torah Min HaShamayim ACTUALLY mean?

Torah Min Hashamayim mean that God made up the words of the Torah,
rather than Moshe making them up of his own free will? As a commenter
recently posted:

The Torah was
directly dictated to Moshe without any personal input on his part.
"Shechina medaberes m'toch g'rono". "Kol hanevi'im nibu b'koh u'Moshe
nibei b'zeh".

No! It can’t possibly mean that!

Reb Gil has posted
that the Avos wrote Breishis, and God was ‘maskim’ to include it in the
Torah. And clearly Moshe spoke most of Dvarim, yet God was ‘maskim’ to
include that in the Torah too. And of course all the events and
speeches that occurred in the various stories in the Torah occurred out
of free will, yet God was ‘maskim’ to put them in the Torah too! And
this is not just R Gil's theory but the Torah Shlemah and Daas Mikrah
agree too, as Gil explains here!

clearly, just because the words of the Torah were created by man out of
his free will, as long as God was ‘maskim’ that they should be in the
Torah everything is okay! If a choshuve RW MO Rabbi like Rabbi Gil
Student can say it, then surely we can too!

(Unless of course you hold like R Elyashiv's dictum: He can say it but we can’t).

so maybe Torah Min Hashmayim means that no matter who originally came
up with the text, God repeated the EXACT same words over to Moshe at
Har Sinai, thus giving it His Divine Haskamah?

But no! It can’t mean that either!

know from the Rambam that God doesn’t speak, and it’s unlikely that
Moshe heard an actual voice. In fact the Rambam says that we can never
know exactly what went on between God and Moshe, but we do believe that
Moshe had the most perfect Nevuah experience ever.

So it turns
out that Moshe could have been ‘inspired’ to write the Text, could have
even personally felt that he created the words of his own free will,
and God was ‘maskim’ that this should be the Torah!

And the most
amazing thing of all is that this is FULLY compatible with Orthodoxy!
Just ask R Gil! I'm not kidding. There is nothing wrong with saying

But wait, there’s more!!!

Here is where we are
mekayim the inyan of ‘dwarves on the shoulders of giants’. We shall
build on R Gil’s moiradick Torah thoughts and add our own little
extension. I’m sure Reb Gil will be maskim!

We have already
established that even the most Orthodox Rabbis, like Rabbi Gil Student,
and the Torah Shlemah, and Daas Mikreh, are 100% okay with the idea
that people other than Moshe wrote the original text of the Torah.

As long as it has God’s Haskamah it’s okay!

And you can’t get a better Haskamah than God’s, even the Kannoim would be scared to trash that one!

what’s the difference between whether the text was written BEFORE Sinai
by the Avos, or AT Sinai by Moshe, or AFTER Sinai by someone of similar
spiritual stature? Does it make any difference? As long as God was
maskim for it to be included in the Torah what’s the difference? Is the
Time Period at which the Torah was given one of the ikkarim? Not really!

There's no Theological difference at all!

this kefirah? How can it be?!!!! Even Chazal had a machlokes about when
the text of the Torah was actually given, either all at Har Sinai, or
gradually during the 40 years in the Midbar. So we see that the exact
time of transmission is variable. Does it have much theological
difference when exactly it was given? We are forced to say no! There is
no difference!

Okay, so the Rambam in ikkar 8 is mashmah that
all the Torah that we have today was given to Moshe. Only Moshe could
transmit the Torah, not someone else. But there is mefurash a chazal
not like that!!!! Chazal say that if the Torah hadn’t been given to
Moshe, it could have been given to Ezrah!!!! So Chazal had no INTRINSIC
problem with someone other than Moshe 'receiving' the Torah. The claim
that Moshe received the entire Torah is a HISTORICAL claim, not a
THEOLOGICAL claim. That's a HUGE difference!

Not only that, but
since when are we mechuyav to listen to the Rambam?? The Rambam also
says that the moon is spiritual! And he had all sorts of other theories
which are totally not accepted today. So why should we listen to the

Ahhh, you will reply. They are not the ikkarim because
the Rambam said them, but rather they are the ikkarim because the whole
of Klal Yisrael since the Rambam accepted them! (Except for all the
Rishonim & Acharonim in Marc Shapiro’s book of course). That makes
them the ikkarim!


This fits EXACTLY into my
theory. The fact that the whole Klal Yisrael accepted the Torah is what
makes it the Torah! There’s no difference!

But still you
protest, how can I say such kefirah??? The mesorah of Chazal was ALWAYS
that the ENTIRE Torah was given complete to Moshe, if not at Har Sinai
then at least in the Midbar. Am I claiming that Chazal got a historical
fact wrong? How can I possibly do that and yet claim to be Orthodox?

It’s bichlal NOT a kashye!!!!!

also thought that there was a global flood and that the universe was
only 6000 years old (or 4000 in their day). These are both historical
facts that Chazal got completely WRONG! And yet respectable Orthodox
Rabbi’s like Rabbi Gil Student have absolutely no problem at all with
saying that Chazal got their history wrong!

After all, Chazal
were experts in Theology, not in History! And Theologically, whether
God was ‘maskim’ to the text of the Torah by Sinai, or in the Midbar,
or even later, makes no difference at all! Chazal of course were
correct THEOLOGICALLY, the entire Text of the Torah is DIVINELY
INSPIRED. But HISTORICALLY, they were wrong, as they often were! And
chas vesholom I’m not denigrating Chazal by saying that. Chazal were
not Historians. Chazal were not Scientists. Chazal were Torah experts!

It's 100% okay to hold that Chazal got a HISTORICAL fact wrong, as long as there are no significant THEOLOGICAL consequences.

And the most amazing thing of all is that this is FULLY compatible with Orthodoxy! Just ask R Gil!

I should finish by quoting a marvelous phrase of my Rabbi, HaRav Gil Student:

me add that I am not saying that any of this is necessarily correct. I
don't know if it is. But it is certainly an interesting possibility.

[Oh boy, is Gil gonna kill me for this one or what!]

The curious immunity of many intellectuals to empirical reality!!!

I couldn’t believe the sheer stupidity of the latest Jonathan Rosenblum article on Cross-Currents. How stupid can one get?

his latest post, JR refers to an Emory University study which shows
that people invested in a particular ideology tend to ignore empirical
evidence to the contrary. He then quotes a Rav Desler about how
Scientists are biased, and then says:

the Emory findings may help explain a phenomenon that I have long
noticed: the curious immunity of many intellectuals to empirical

He then uses this as a spring board to bash Science.

Am I losing my mind????????? Isn’t the MOST OBVIOUS CONCLUSION HERE

Has JR lost his mind???? Is he completely
stupid? Perhaps he is one of the intellectuals mentioned in the study
who will do anything to reinforce their beliefs!!!

No! I say NO!

JR is not stupid. JR is not stupid at all. JR is, in fact, a very, very sneaky man. JR knows EXACTLY what he is doing.

At the end of his article, JR concludes:

the Emory experiment provided me with a renewed appreciation of the
“milchemes HaTorah” described by the Gemara in Kiddushin. The chavrusah
(study partner) system of learning forces us to subject that which is
dear to us – our chiddushim (novellae) – to continual scrutiny. Every
time we offer a solution to a particular project, we find sitting
across from us a study partner who has no ego invested in our chiddush
and will do everything he can to refute it, if he can.

Those who
are raised in this system of learning are constantly challenged to
overcome the natural bias in favor of our own intellectual progeny, and
to pursue truth instead. The training is far from fool-proof. As Rabbi
Dessler noted, it can only work in conjunction with rigorous work on
our characters as well. But work it does.

Every time a gadol
b’Torah [great Torah scholar] stops a shiur [class] in the middle, in
response to a student’s question, even though he could have easily
found numerous plausible ways to save his chiddush, we are witnessing a
rare feat of elevating reason over emotion. Just how rare, Dr. Westen
has shown us.

Tee hee.

Tee hee hee!

sneaky JR! Very, very sneaky indeed. He ends off with a nice story
about the Gedolim, leaving all his fundamentalist readers with the warm
and fuzzies. What Gadlus! But has anyone figured out his sneakiness?
I’ll give you a couple of seconds to figure it out before you read on.

OK, so here goes.

has dropped a virus of pandemic proportions on his unsuspecting
fundamentalist readers. A killer virus, sugar coated with Rav Dessler
quotes and Gedolim stories. Oh the Gadlus of JR!!!! I wish I could
reach such gadlus.

The fundamentalist readers finish the
article, and leave with their views seemingly confirmed – Science bad,
Torah good! But deep within their brains, the Emory study is
percolating. Subconsciously through their neural networks, the theory
is spreading. Barely perceptibly, it grabs hold of their lobes.

The curious immunity of many intellectuals to empirical reality!

The Trojan Horse virus has been planted!

Long live Jonathan Rosenblum!!!

The difference between Orthodox and Conservative ideology is ... nothing at all!

Harry has an interesting post asking whether the Conservative Movement is Heresy or not. Jdub (of Mattisyahu fame?) posts the following comment:

a former Conservative Jew (JTS undergraduate) and now MO Jew (somewhat
centrist in orientation), here's the fundamental difference between
what I view as the MO outlook and the Conservative outlook.

The Torah is divine. End of story. ...

Conservative movement, by way of contrast, rejects the idea that any
part of the Torah is divine (both oral and written). Both are the
products of man, with varying degrees of "divine inspiration."

a big difference between questioning the historicity of certain parts
of the Torah and questioning the divine authorship.

This is all very nice, except for the fact that it makes no sense at all!

Can anyone explain the difference between these two statements?

1. God gave the Torah to Moshe
2. Moshe was Divinely Inspired to write the Torah

There’s absolutely no difference!

This is exactly the
same as the whole evolution debate. The fundamentalists say you can’t
accept evolution, because God must have created man directly. The
Modern Orthodox say, even if evolution happened just like the
scientists said it did, it’s still okay since God was behind it all
along. Is there any real theological difference? No! It's just that the
fundamentalists haven’t got the sophistication to be able to picture an
evolutionary process which was ultimately guided by God.

the exact same thing with Har Sinai. The fundamentalists, in their
simple minded ‘Little Midrash Says’ conception of the world insist on
believing that Moshe heard a deep booming heavenly voice. Those of us
who are more sophisticated realize that we can’t possibly know exactly
what Moshe heard or felt, and most likely it wasn't a voice. Maybe he
was just Inspired, and he knew that the Inspiration must have come from
God. What’s the difference? There is none! None at all.

So maybe
fundamentalists will say that statement 1 implies that God ‘wants’ us
to keep the mitzvot, but statement 2 doesn’t. But why? There’s no
reason to assume that. Do we know what God wants? Either way could be
interpreted as God ‘wanting’ us to keep Halachah, and God ‘wanting’
anything is pretty much a meaningless statement anyway.

At the
end of the day, just like everything else, the only real difference is
in prax. The Conservatives too quickly watered down Halachah, and now
they have almost nothing left.

However the whole ‘Torah Min Hashamayim’ debate is as bogus as the Evolution debate.

Yashar Good, Artscroll Bad, Kanoim VERY Bad

Wow! Cross-Currents, the notorious ‘Defend Chareidim at all costs’ web site, has suddenly decided to start bashing
the Chareidi Kannoim! Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, in a comment about
Artscroll not including Rav Kook and similar ‘suspect’ ideologies,
writes that if Artscroll were to include such things:

zealots, however, would wreak havoc. They have for hundreds of years,
and their influence has hardly waned as of late. Zealots don’t just
rant, rave and fulminate. They are persistent. They will call you at
all times, accost you in all places. They will start whispering
campaigns behind your back, malign you to your rabbeim, friends,
colleagues and employers. They make life miserable for great Torah
luminaries; they do the same to us commoners. Like terrorists, they
don’t negotiate. Many people don’t give in to them, but virtually
everyone gets worn down by them. …..

The zealots are hardly the
majority of the community, but their tactics give them more power than
their numbers would predict. I don’t think that it is fair to ask the
decision makers at Artscroll to risk their incredibly wonderful
accomplishment – or even their personal sanity – by standing up to the
Army of the Doctrinally Pure.

I agree, it’s not fair to ask
Artscroll to stand up to the kanoim. But surely it IS fair to ask the
Gedolim to stand up to them! Why don’t they? Recently, a new ban on
MOAG appeared. Then it turned out that R Elyashiv had agreed not to
sign another ban without speaking to RNK first, yet he signed this new
ban and RNK was not contacted, contrary to their agreement. One blog
even produced the letter proving this. Even Jerk Black admitted he had nothing to say in R Elyashiv's defence, not even that he sat next to RNK in Yeshivah and knows he's conceited.

gives? The answer is that R Elyashiv is only human, and a 92 year old
human at that. The other Gedolim obviously don’t want to break ranks
either. I guess the onus is really on us, the man in the street, to
realize what the situation is, and act accordingly.

Whether they
are to blame or not, it’s a real shame that Artscroll don’t present the
full spectrum of Torah viewpoints. But Boruch Hashem there are a number
of other fine publishing houses which do. Here is a list of some of the
ones that I have purchased books from:

Jason Aronson

have only purchased one Artscroll book (out of many hundreds) in the
last 5 years. Somewhat ironically it was Rabbi Adlerstein’s translation
of the Beer Hagolah! But that’s the first and only one. I refuse to buy
the Artscroll Shas, instead I purchased the Soncino, even though it’s
not as good. I suggest that other concerned individuals davkah boycott
Artscroll, and spend your money on one of the other publishing houses
listed above instead. And no, Gil had nothing to do with this post.

Death Threats on Godol Hador!

An anonymous commenter (IP address threatened another commenter as follows:

would just like to inform [censored] that he should start being
slightly more careful. i have heard that there are people who have
found out who he is and have decided to eliminate the living embodiment
of a meisis umeidiach. please note-you have been warned
Anonymous 03.28.06 - 11:13 am #

this is totally unacceptable, even as a joke (unless it is very clearly
stated as a joke, and even then some things I wouldn’t joke about). For
anyone who thinks that no way would a frum Jew act so crazy, I have
five words for you:

Yigal Amir and Boruch Goldstein.

imagine it’s also ossur le’halachah to make such threats, I will leave
it to people like Gil to make that determination. But either way, it’s
certainly ossur from a denah demalchusah perspective, and even if it
isn't, it's still against the law.

I shall turn this IP over to the appropriate authorities unless anonymous contacts me this afternoon at

Monday, March 27, 2006

Y Love

If you think Mattisyahu is out there, then watch this!

Also, listen to this Aramaic Rap!

Cool. But it's not time to get rid of my London School of Jewish Song collection just yet.

Hat Tip: Dovid

Was the Rambam a Weak Atheist?

The definition of a Weak Atheist is someone who holds no beliefs about a diety.

Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim is very clear that we can’t say anything
about God, and whatever we do say is wrong. Even the ‘negative
attributes’ as his theory is called is wrong, because by saying what
God is not, you are implicitly talking about God again, which is
something you can’t do. Even to say God exists is not correct, since
existence is only an attribute which applies to physical things.

people think that it’s okay to say God exists, or has strength, because
obviously we don’t mean that in a human type of way, but in a Divine
type of way. But that’s still a no-no according to the Rambam.
According to the Rambam, you can never say anything about God, because
God is incomprehensible. Mis-nagid and I argued about this for weeks,
and now I see that he was right, and was mechaven to the Rambam no
less! As Mis-nagid says: ‘What part of incomprehensible don’t you

The kabalists of course had a different approach.
They agreed that God doesn’t really have a hand, but they said there
was something ‘hand like’ that God does have. Maybe it means strength,
or a spiritual hand, or whatever, but there is meaning there. The
kabalists developed a huge theology about the inner workings of God,
which of course according to the Rambam is all total kefirah.

if we can’t talk about God, what can we talk about? Well, we can talk
about the world. The world was created with a purpose. Some people may
ask, but isn’t this the same as saying God created the world
purposefully? And the answer is, no. One statement is about God, and
one statement is about the world. We can say the Torah is Divinely
Inspired. Some people may ask, but isn’t this the same as saying God
gave us the Torah? And the answer is, no. One statement is about God,
and one statement is about the Torah.

Does your brain hurt yet?
Probably, mine does. But this is the Rambam. And really, what else are
you going to say? God ‘creates’? God ‘gives’? Even with the proviso
that God ‘creates’ in a God-like way, and God ‘gives’ in a God like
way, you’re still incorrect, since when it comes to God, all our
concepts (and therefore all our language) fail spectacularly.

was the Rambam a weak atheist? Kinda. This makes a lot of people
nervous, and understandably so. So this is why the Torah talks about
God’s hands, or desires, there’s really no other way. But the truth (at
least according to the Rambam) is that none of this is true, and the
only thing you can really do when it comes to God is to make like a
Weak atheist and simply say ‘I make no claim’. And if you don’t believe
me, go read Seeskin’s ‘Searching for a distant God’.

this destroy religion? Well, not according to the Rambam. Just because
we can’t talk about God doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. I mean doesn’t
not exist. Err, not doesn’t not exist. Err, you know what I mean.

And now I need some aspirin.

Between The Lines of the Bible

Books has announced the long awaited book (well, long awaited by me
anyway) by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom, ‘Between the Lines of the Bible’.
Gil describes the book as follows:

Etshalom initiates readers into the world of the New School of Orthodox
Torah commentary in a series of compelling studies of Genesis. Over the
past few decades, Orthodox Jewish scholars have carefully embraced many
of the methodologies of modern Bible study. History, archeology,
linguistics and many other disciplines-especially literary analysis-can
serve to enhance our understanding of the Book of Books. Traditional
students have much to gain by utilizing all of the tools available in
studying the Divine word. However, this burgeoning genre of scholarship
has been almost entirely in Hebrew. In this book, Yitzchak Etshalom
provides the first English introduction to the methodologies of the New
School. In a number of popular essays, Etshalom analyzes the familiar
stories of the Bible and demonstrates the powerful tools of modern
Torah commentary. In the process, Etshalom undermines many of the
arguments of biblical critics and defends the Torah, through literary
and historical methodologies, against attacks.

I can't
wait! Finally, some answers! Or not. I ordered the book, but I'm not
holding my breath. Considering Yashar takes one to two weeks to
deliver, that's probably a bad idea. Yes, I know, I am spoiled by
Amazon Prime. Awesome!

In the meantime, here are some quotes from R Etshalom:

On the Documentary Hypothesis:

a myriad of reasons both in the areas of creed and scholarship, we
absolutely reject this "Documentary Hypothesis". Our belief is that the
entire Torah was given by God to Moshe (ignoring for a moment the
problem of the last 8 verses) and that the authorship is not only
singular, it is exclusively Divine. These two statements of belief -
whether or not they can be reasonably demonstrated (and there is much
literature, both medieval and contemporary, coming down on both sides
of this question) - are two of the 13 principles enumerated by the

On Nes Nisayon

some of our fellow traditionalists have opted for such an approach (to
the extreme of maintaining that God placed fossils on the earth in
order to test our belief in the age of the world!), most contemporary
Orthodox thinkers are too committed to the scientific method as a
valuable expression of "Creative Man" (see the introduction to last
week's shiur) to reject it so totally.

On Kiruv Kvetch:

The "downside" is not so clear. Besides
some "forced" readings (in both disciplines - bending science to work
with Torah is sometimes as tricky as "bending Torah" to achieve
compatibility with science)
, this method actually "canonizes"
the products of the scientific method; since the claim is that these
theories are already found in the Torah, that makes them somewhat
immutable. What happens when (not if, but when) a particular theory
which we have "identified" in the Torah - becomes outdated in the world
of science? Will we still hold on to it, claiming religious allegiance?

the integrationist school has won many adherents in the recent decades,
I believe that the danger outlined above - along with resting on a very
questionable foundation - makes this approach a shaky one at best.

On Myth Moshol

our approach to issues of "science vs. Torah" is that it is basically a
non-issue. Science is concerned with discovering the "how" of the
world; Torah is concerned with teaching us the "why" of God's world. In
clearer terms, whereas the world of science is a discipline of
discovery, answering the question "how did this come to be?"; the world
of Torah is concerned with answering a different question - "granted
this exists, how should I interact with it?" (whether the "it" in
question is another person, the world at large, my nation etc.).

My verdict: Mixed.

probably a bit of a clown when it comes to the real threats, e.g. 2.5
million leaving Egypt, Documentary Hypothesis, stories in Tenach about
the conquest of Israel etc. However when it comes to Breishis he is the
man! He rejects Ness Nisayon and Kiruv Kvetch, and comes out in favor
of Myth Moshol.

Well done! I wonder who gave the Haskamos?

Looking for Mr Good Enough

In the Godol’s Guide to the Upper West Side, I wrote:

my other famous saying: ‘Look for the the three things that are most
important to you, …. And then compromise on two of them. Esther
Kustanowitz won’t listen to my advice and she’s still single. Very sad.

Esther responded yesterday:

I love the way you made me the poster child for sad UWS singles, and how it's my fault for not listening to your advice.

you intimate, yet again, that I'm too picky reveals that you have no
idea what you're talking about. Most of us are not looking for Mr.
Perfect. We're looking for Mr. Perfect-for-us, and acknowledge that
there's a distinct difference.

Obviously there are people--both
men and women--who set their expectations unrealistically high. But you
don't know me, so please stop making assumptions about the steps I am
or am not taking in order to find love and happiness. Thank you...

Of course I don’t know Esther personally, and of course my use of her
name was as the prototypical West sider, and was not intended to convey
the impression that I know her personally, or that I know anything
about why she is still single. I assume all my readers realize that.

I know of Esther is her weekly column (she writes well) and her picture
(she looks good). But I think she has certainly made herself into the
poster child for all singles, considering her regular singles column in
the Jewish Week, so it’s rather absurd for her to deny that.

more significantly, Esther commits the classic singles fallacy. I
almost fell off my chair when I saw that she wrote the following: ‘Most
of us are not looking for Mr. Perfect. We're looking for Mr.
Perfect-for-us, and acknowledge that there's a distinct difference’

NO! No no!! No no no!!! Oy, Esther! What are we going to do with you?!


if I had a penny for the number of times I’ve heard that line, I even
used to say it myself ‘Why, I’m not looking for Miss Right, I’m just
looking for Miss Right for me!’ It’s the classic fallacy of the Upper
West Side singles. Guys (and gals), when are you going to realize this?

are not going to find the perfect guy FOR YOU. The older you get, the
less likely it will be that you find someone with just the right set of
qualities and faults which will blend in perfectly (or even semi
perfectly) with your unique set of qualities and faults. It’s not gonna
happen. The older you get, the more character traits (a.k.a. quirks)
you will develop, the more likes, dislikes, the more set in your ways
you will become. It’s going to get more difficult, not less, to find
the ‘perfect’ match.

In fact, very few couples are the perfect
match. Very few. But they work together to build a marriage and a
family. What you should be looking for is someone with good qualities,
who will make a good husband and father. Of course it can’t be someone
you are repulsed by, but somewhere between ‘repulsed’ and ‘perfect
match’ there’s a large group of eligible guys , and I would bet you’ve
dated at least some of them already. Unless you are the most unique UWS
older single ever, in which case you really shouldn’t be writing a
singles column.

I stand by my position – the main problem with
UWS older singles is that they are too picky. Not because they are
looking for Mr (or Miss) Perfect. But PRECISELY because they are
looking for Mr (or Miss) Perfect FOR THEM.

And they don’t acknowledge that there's really no difference.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Man on a Silver Mountain

Why revelations have occurred on mountains?

Linking mystical experiences and cognitive neuroscience

Shahar Arzya, Moshe Ideld, Theodor Landis and Olaf Blankea

of Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain-Mind Institute, Ecole Polytechnique
Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland

Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland
Department of Neurology, Hadassah Hebrew University Hospital, Jerusalem, Israel
Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel

Received 26 March 2005; accepted 21 April 2005. Available online 28 July 2005.


fundamental revelations to the founders of the three monotheistic
religions, among many other revelation experiences, had occurred on a
mountain. These three revelation experiences share many
phenomenological components like feeling and hearing a presence, seeing
a figure, seeing lights, and feeling of fear. In addition, similar
experiences have been reported by non-mystic contemporary mountaineers.
The similarities between these revelations on mountains and their
appearance in contemporary mountaineers suggest that exposure to
altitude might affect functional and neural mechanisms, thus
facilitating the experience of a revelation. Different functions
relying on brain areas such as the temporo-parietal junction and the
prefrontal cortex have been suggested to be altered in altitude.
Moreover, acute and chronic hypoxia significantly affect the
temporo-parietal junction and the prefrontal cortex and both areas have
also been linked to altered own body perceptions and mystical
experiences. Prolonged stay at high altitudes, especially in social
deprivation, may also lead to prefrontal lobe dysfunctions such as low
resistance to stress and loss of inhibition. Based on these
phenomenological, functional, and neural findings we suggest that
exposure to altitudes might contribute to the induction of revelation
experiences and might further our understanding of the mountain
metaphor in religion.

and religious experiences are important not only to the mystic himself,
but also to many followers, as it was indeed with respect to the
leaders of the three monotheistic religions. Yet, concerning its
subjective character, mystical experiences are almost never accessible
to the scholars interested in examining them. The tools of cognitive
neuroscience make it possible to approach religious and mystical
experiences not only by the semantical analysis of texts, but also by
approaching similar experiences in healthy subjects during prolonged
stays at high altitude and/or in cognitive paradigms. Cognitive
neurosciences, in turn, might profit from the research of mysticism in
their endeavor to further our understanding of mechanisms of corporeal
awareness and self consciousness.

Luckily for us the
600,000 were not on the mountain but at the foot of the mountain, hence
this theory is not an emunah threat! But there goes Islam and
Christianity. Shame.

But this got me thinking. The famous Kuzari
proof that 600,000 people were at Sinai only goes so far (assuming it
goes anywhere at all, which most likely it doesn't). The 600,000 saw
and heard maybe the 10 commandments, or maybe only the first two
commandments, or maybe just a sound. But they certainly didn't hear the
whole Torah! That was only heard by Moshe. So the Kuzari proof at most
proves that G-d (or something supernatural) exists, but doesn't prove
anything about the 5 books of Moshe.

The Seventh Model of Orthodox Judasim

forgot number 7: Nationalist Zionist. For short we can just call them
.... no wait, that has really bad connotations. How about Zionist
Nationalist? Much better. These are the people who want a country, an
army and all the trappings of a nation. They focus on the 'national'
aspects of Judaism etc. They aren't so interested in Science &
Torah, or Torah for that matter, (except maybe Torat Harav Kook.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I make no claim about God!

will sometimes use the following line: ‘You monotheists have stopped
believing in countless gods over the years. We atheists just believe in
one less god than you do!’ It’s a cute line, but it hides an important

Monotheism, or rather Judaism, is not about believing in one god!

can never understand ANYTHING at all about God, even to say He ‘exists’
is not quite right. Skeptics often (or maybe always) cringe at the idea
of the God of the Old Testament (or even the God of the Chareidim). But
this isn’t God! The Rambam says many times how the Torah uses
simplistic and anthropomorphic descriptions of God because that’s all
the people back then understood. However the elite will understand that
God cannot be understood. As an aside, I think it’s irrelevant whether
the early Jews were monolators, henotheists or whatever. The fact is
that the Jewish tradition was the first (and still the most pure)
religion to eventually intuit (and spread) the idea of the abstract

So, if we can’t understand anything about ‘God’, what can
we understand? Judaism says that the only thing we can understand about
God is in relation to the world. In other words, that we perceive that
God acts in the world with actions that we perceive to be just and/or
merciful (or other attributes), that we are created for a purpose, that
God ‘acts’ in history, and so on. Who is God? What is God? The answer
is we have no idea, and furthermore, we have no possible way of
knowing. The Jewish conception of God is entirely abstract. We make no
claim! The key is that there is something beyond our comprehension that
created us for a purpose.

Therefore, to talk about God being
‘one’, as opposed to ‘two’ or ‘three’ is an entirely meaningless
conversation. Likewise to talk about God being male, or female, or even
a flying spaghetti monster, is all meaningless. It’s not a question of
what God is, or is not, it’s a question of what the universe is, and
what we are, and what we need to do. The chiddush of Judaism was not
one god as opposed to many gods, but something much more profound. The
polytheistic conception of the gods was that they created man to do
their work for them, since they were basically lazy. Judaism came along
and said no! God created the world for man’s sake, not for His own
sake, and the world is good, not just some enforced labor camp. The
world is not about God, it’s about man. This is very clear in Breishis.

often say that we should create our own meaning in life, and that we
should do away with the fantasy of religion. But the ‘fantasy’ of
religion is exactly that – finding meaning in life! We believe we were
created for a purpose. Who did the creating? We make no claim! We don’t
know, and we CAN’T know. But the meaning that we create in life is that
there IS a purpose, that there was a purposeful creation, and that we
have a chiyuv to search out and fulfill that purpose. The world is not
‘hefker’ and neither can we be.

Could this all be fantasy? Could
it be that the world was created by ‘accident’, or by a committee of
gods with no clear purpose (what do you expect from a committee!), or
by a prankster god? Sure it could be. Anything is possible. But that’s
not Judaism. Judaism is the FAITH system that says the world WAS
created with a purpose, there IS meaning in life, and we DO have a
responsibility to figure out that purpose and pursue it.

This is
why the atheists who reject religion, but then talk about how it’s
important to create your own meaning in life, are so funny. That’s what
religion is! It’s man creating meaning in life. Can we be sure it’s
correct? No, but we hope it is, and we act like it is. In other words,
we have FAITH.

Some skeptics will say, that’s fine, it’s just
Deism. But why say that? We believe that ‘God’ is a personal God’, that
He is ‘involved’ with the world. That’s our take on the meaning of

Some skeptics will say, fine, but don’t tell me that
God wrote the Torah! Well I say, God doesn’t write, so He couldn’t
have! But we relate to Him as if He did.

Does it even make a
difference if God wrote it or not? The truth is, not really. If you
believe that the Mitzvot all have constructive and rational goals (as
per the Rambam), then these are the goals that we should be striving to
achieve no matter what. In fact, since the Mitzvot achieve the goals
that God ‘wants’ us to achieve, it’s exactly as if God ‘gave’ them to
us. To be clear, the traditional conception of this is that God did
‘give’ us the Torah, and does ‘want’ us to keep it. But this statement
adds little value, since to speak of God ‘wanting’ or ‘giving’ is
meaningless anyway. One cannot speak of God ‘wanting’ or God ‘giving’.
It’s just that’s how it appears to us. But this is how we think, and
this is what we believe, and this is what we have FAITH in.

then is the core of the Jewish ideal: Divinely inspired meaning and
purpose in life. In fact, there’s an excellent book on comparative
religion called ‘The World’s Religions’ by Huston Smith. His take is
that the profound achievement of Judaism was to invest life with
meaning. That’s what Judaism is about.

Of course in practice
it’s hard to get along religiously with a completely abstract image of
God. It’s hard to pray to an ‘I make no claim’. It’s hard to be an eved
to an ‘I make no claim’. So we ‘fool’ ourselves with fantasy and
mythology so that we can relate to ‘God’ in ways which make sense to
us. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Judaism allows a certain level
of anthropomorphism and associated trappings. But there are limits. If
the first commandment is that there is an abstract ‘God’, the second
commandment is that there are limits to how far we can go in reifying
the abstract. But we all realize that the ikkar is not the reification,
the fantasy, or the mythology. The ikkar is the meaning and the
purpose, translated into practice.

So again it turns out that as
Rav Kook said, the atheists are extremely helpful in our religious
journey. Without them we would no doubt continue with our juvenile and
unsophisticated images of God as an old man with a long beard, sitting
on a throne, writing books. The atheists force us to clarify our
conception of God.

Thank God for the atheists!

A Shabbos With the Godol!

[GH: Guest post from my LW UO Rabbi shabbos visitor]

Where to start?

The torah?
The food?
The array of books on the coffee table?

I can say that this “Godol” is worthy of the title. He works hard at
maintaining the quality of writing by reading, talking, and “living”
his skepticism. (I suppose that is a compliment … ?)

I am
therefore humbled to be sitting by “the computer” from which the pearls
regularly flow and will try to share one thought. I am told that I am a
LW OU – I am not fully sure the implications of that but that may give
some perspective on my thoughts.

My understanding of a tenet of MO is being “open minded”:

Open to the world.
Open to wisdom – from wherever it comes.
Open to trying “new and improved” expressions of Jewish practice.

believe that being open minded doesn’t stop there. To be truly open
minded requires being open to all aspects of our religious world. Not
to pigeonhole groups of Jews and movements and think everything about
them is understood. Jews and Judaism are so complex that it seems
impossible to truly define them.

I challenge all the “modern”
Jews who visit this sight to be truly open. Open to seeing the good in
all groups. Open to hearing some of the wonderful answers provided by
the GH and others. And possibly most important – open to connecting
genuinely with people who are defined by other acronyms.

is one special aspect of the time we spend with the GH and his family
and we hope to continue connecting for many years to come.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Is faith just wishful thinking?

is faith? If faith was believing in something that could be proved,
then it wouldn’t be faith. It would be knowledge. And it certainly
wouldn’t need to be mandated. No one has ever said you must have faith
that water is wet, or fire is hot. So faith is clearly believing in
something that can’t be proved. If so, how can someone believe in it?
Isn’t that crazy?

I think faith is a type of wishful thinking.
Faith is saying, I don’t know if this is true, but I sure hope it is,
and I’m going to act like it is. That’s faith. For example, when a
mother has faith in her young child being able to accomplish something,
or an athlete tries for a world record, or a businessman starts on a
new venture. They all have faith.

Clearly, if the evidence is
against you, for example all the data shows the new business will fail,
then having faith is rather ridiculous. But if there’s a good chance
you will succeed, and there is no hard evidence against you, and the
benefits are positive, then faith is justified, even rational. For
without such faith nothing would ever get done.

We have faith in
certain aspects of Judaism, certainly in the fundamentals. The skeptics
will say there’s no reason to have faith in God, or in Judaism being in
any way true, it’s an unnecessary hypothesis.

I say, you gotta
have faith! That doesn’t mean blind faith. That doesn’t mean believing
something to be true against the evidence. That means hoping and
wishing it is true, and acting accordingly. It’s an entirely rational
way to behave. Obviously there needs to be some good reasons why you
would chose to have a particular faith. For example the business man
should not try to break a world record, and the athlete should not try
to start a new business. There’s got to be some background there.

skeptics say that one needs to invent one’s own meaning in life. I say,
absolutely! But why reinvent the wheel when we have 3,000 years of
people having already done that?! Lets take what we have and expand on

So is faith just wishful thinking?

Of course! That’s the whole point. There can be no other definition. If it was knowledge it wouldn’t be faith.

Good Shabbos, and enjoy your faith!

Important Announcement

have been struggling this week with the fact that apparently some
people have read this blog and developed emunah doubts. I guess they
read the skeptical posts but didn’t read the chizuk posts. Or maybe
they did read the chizuk but felt that the kashyes were better than the
tirutzim. Or maybe they had latent doubts anyway. Or maybe they are
just rather naïve and foolish people. Or maybe it’s all a lie designed
to bother me. I don’t know.

However, I have no intention of
causing doubts in anyone who didn’t previously have them.
Unfortunately, many people in the Chareidi and even Modern Orthodox
world have a grossly distorted view of reality. They are convinced that
their emunah is rock solid, that they can easily prove the truth of
their beliefs, and that they will never be affected by ‘apikorsus’.
Unfortunately (for them), this is patently untrue.

You just
need to speak to some of the skeptics on the net and see how easily
someone can change from being a maamin to being a kofer bacol. No doubt
some people are thinking that has happened to me too. And it’s true, I
was way too over confident when I first joined the jblogworld. I
remember seeing one of Mis-nagid’s early posts and thinking ‘Oy,
nebuch, I’m going to set that guy straight!’

However, my goal is
to defeat the skeptics, without any doubt. This may require some
departures from normative thought, or it may not. I hope that whatever
we come out with will be broadly compatible with Modern Orthodox
ideology, (maybe LW MO), but it certainly won’t be compatible with
Chareidi ideology (not much of a chiddush since MO ideology isn’t
compatible with Chareidim anyway).

The problem that many ex
Orthodox skeptics have is that once they deconstruct (normative)
Orthodox ideology and prove that it’s false, they have no place left to
go but down and out. They are unable to reconstruct an ideology which
makes sense, and which is still broadly ‘frum’, if not quite Orthodox.
My goal is to see if we can answer all the claims of the skeptics, and
still come out with something rational, meaningful and ‘frum’.

know this has all been done before, with mixed results, by many other
people, and there are plenty of books by Modern Orthodox thinkers, and
even lapsed Orthodox Rabbis such as Louis Jacobs, Saul Lieberman (maybe
he’s not so lapsed), and even some interesting comments from Rav Kook,
RYBS etc. And of course you have the Rambam who set out to do much the
same thing 800 years ago. Plus many issues of faith and reason have
been addressed by many famous philosophers too.

However two things are different here:

(1) None of this has been done before in contemporary Gen X 21st Century USA by Orthodox people

(2) And, more importantly, none of those people have blogs. (Nor were they witty and entertaining.)

means that my target audience is basically people like me: People who
have issues with current ideology and think there may be changes that
can be made, or different ways of looking at things, which have a basis
in traditional sources. We look primarily to the Rambam, Rav Kook, RYBS
and people like that for inspiration, though we will be going further
than they did. (Dwarves on the shoulders of giants and all that).

need input from people on the right to keep us honest (and the left),
and I value the input from Anonymous, Dude and people like that.
However I cannot be responsible for emunah issues that will inevitably
be caused to people on the right who have not had years of experience
dealing with these issues and know how to deal with them.

I MUST ask that if you are comfortable with your emunah, and have not
had EXTENSIVE experience dealing with non religious or doubting Jews,
that you NOT visit this site. It is not for you, and NO GOOD can come
of your participation here. Thank you for respecting my wishes.

Good Shabbos!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bes Medrash VeKehal Kodesh 'VeHamskilim Yazheeru'

have decided to start a Yeshivah / Bes Medrash / Bet Knesset / Kollel
type of place. I have named it 'VeHamaskilim Yazheeru', though with a
large donation, I could rename it to Kehillat Krum, or Beth Anonymous,
for example. Smaller donations will be accepted for Seforim, Kli Kodesh

The shool will be M.O. (Maskilish Orthodox), and will
follow all Orthodox Minhagim and Nusachim, with a few minor differences
outlined below. We will say Brich Shmay, since all Davening is man
made, so what difference?

We will however not say Yigdal (for
obvious reasons), and when we say 'Hashem LaMabul Yoshov' we will of
course have the kavanah of Myth/Moshol, rather than Nes/Nisayon or

Minyanim will be sporadic, though night seder will
be every night from 7 to 11 pm. There will be frequent scholars in
residence and guest shiurim.

The goal of the kollel is to
rebuild Orthodoxy without any crazy fundamentalism, and with full
knowledge and acceptance of any 'proven' science, archeology and
history. At some point we will hold our annual dinner, catering by the
Rebbetzin. Stay tuned!

An Epiphany!!!

was driving home from work just now when I had an epiphany! And I was
just complaining about my long commute as well. Mamash min Hashamayim!

Over the last year, we have been discussing the difference between the secular worldview and the religious worldview.

But this is a FALSE DICHOTOMY!

course there is a spectrum of worldviews, ranging from really awful
ones (this is all some sick joke, I’m a brain in a jar), to fairly
neutral ones (world is just here by chance) to very positive ones (the
world was purposely created and there is some ultimate good and purpose
in our existence).

So which worldview should we live by?
Skeptics will say, well we don’t have any evidence. We might have been
created for some ultimate purpose, but then again we might all be just
a giant marketing experiment to see if carbon based life-forms like the
taste of chicken. Therefore in the absence of any evidence, the only
thing to say is, ‘we don’t know why we are here’.

But this is
fallacious! And I’ll show you why. We have no evidence whether we exist
or not. We could act as if we don’t, or we could act as if we do. There
really is no evidence any which way, but most normal people act as if
they do exist, because that’s the most sensible way of behaving.
Likewise, we could act as if the world is here for a bad reason, or we
could act as if it is here for some positive reason. There really is no
evidence any which way. But a sensible person will act as if it is here
for a positive reason, because that’s the most sensible way of behaving.

note that I’m not suggesting we pretend. We don’t pretend we exist, we
really believe it. Likewise we don’t pretend God exists, we really
believe it. And this is what Avraham figured out!

Now, once you
have this positive worldview, that the universe was created for a
positive reason, what next? What should we do with this realization?

The answer is obvious:
  • Be as good a person as possible
  • Improve the world as much as possible
  • Be as spiritual as possible
  • Spread this message as widely as possible!
this is EXACTLY what Judaism is. It’s all about Bayn Odom Lechaveyroh,
it’s all about Tikkun Olom, it's all about being spiritual and not
overly materialistic, and it’s all about spreading the message. You may
ask, where does Torah and Halachah fit into this? Simple! They are the
framework for ensuring that we, as a people, stick together, have
longevity and spread the message. This is entirely congruent with the
Rambam’s philosophy of Taamei Hamitzvot.

Did certain Halachot get messed up? Are some Halachot not relevant anymore?

God really care if you keep Halachah? As much as your keeping the
Halachot go towards the goals above, the answer is a resounding yes.
But I would be very wary of messing with a proven system. Attempts to
get rid of Halachah or change it substantially seem to fail, and lead
to a decline in the group cohesiveness. And a decline in the group
means a decline in the ability to spread the message. Could you achieve
these goals without Halachah? Maybe, but again, not advisable. Even
Rambam admits in the Moreh that Halachah as a general system doesn’t
work for everybody. Of course not. But as a general system for the
specific group it’s good enough. And the 20th century has shown pretty
conclusively that a godless society is capable of very great evil.
There really is no question that a positive worldview is the best way
to live.

Is Halachah Divinely Inspired? Is every word in the
Torah true? It really doesn’t make much difference when you really
think about it, at least not for the elite. As the elite, we realize
that the only practical way to live life is to have a very positive
worldview, that there is a reason for Creation, some higher purpose.
Anything less just won’t do! And Judaism is a phenomenal framework for
achieving that purpose. Have alien ideas, foreign concepts, myths and
other dubious things crept in over the years? Of course! But that
doesn’t change the basic goal.

We can quibble over the details,
but this much is clear. Maybe the masses need to be motivated by myths
and magic. Maybe that’s the only thing that can motivate them. But the
elites don’t need that. They are able to discern by pure reason alone,
just like Avraham did, that the only sensible way to live life is with
this incredibly positive worldview, that we are here for a grand
purpose. This is the message we must spread! And this is the message
that Judaism has been spreading for 3000 years!

The more I think
about it, the more I realize that the ‘Mythology’ in Breishis is about
the MOST Divine thing in the Torah. Which man could have had the
audacity, or the confidence, 3000 years ago to write ‘ Breish Boro
Elokim Et hashamayim Vet Haaretz’ ??!! Who could have written, 3000
years ago when life was much bleaker than it is now, ‘Vayaar Elokim Ki
Tov’ !!!???

This is moiradick stuff! How can we give up on such a positive worldview??!!

Denying the value in this worldview is like denying your own existence. It’s just not rational!

How do we know we exist?

How do we know we exist?

we had other lives to compare to so that we know in this one we do
really exist? Of course not! We think we exist because our senses tell
us we do, but of course we could just be brains in a jar. Or even
worse, maybe this is just some kind of bizarre nightmare, and death is
an escape back into some other world, where we are all much wealthier,
happier, and better looking too. Hey, maybe in the real world I
actually am one of the Gedolai Hador!

The skeptics will answer:
‘Yes, it could turn out that this is just a nightmare. But in the
meantime, I shall make my decisions based on the assumption that I’m
actually real’. Why make that assumption? Because it’s probably not a
good idea to kill yourself hoping this is all a nightmare. So the basic
assumption of our existence is really just a practical decision – an
appeal to consequences really.

Faith based beliefs are mostly
that too – some fundamental assumptions which are held because of the
consequences. Skeptics will respond that we shouldn’t make any more
fundamental assumptions than we absolutely need to, so it’s okay to
assume our existence, but any other assumptions should be based on
evidence and reason. But what’s the logic behind that statement? It’s
okay to make one assumption, but not two? Why not? I say, make any
assumptions you like, as long as there are some positive consequences.
If it’s a positive thing to believe in God and Torah Min Hashamayim,
then you should believe in it. Why not? (The only problem with this
approach is when the belief requires you to kill yourself. Nu, you
don't die from a kashyeh, though you could die from killing yourself).

second area where the skeptics are slightly disingenuous is with
regards to reason. The skeptics say, ‘Reason is all we have. We cannot
get to Truth through emotions. But again, nobody has access to absolute
Truth anyway. All we can do is to make reasonable decisions on how to

Would we all like to be exclusively guided by logic?
Well, that depends. Sometimes, for example when I get into a fight
(verbal) with someone, I know I am wrong but I just can’t help it. In
those instances I wish I could control myself with pure logic. But
other times (e.g. love, joy etc), it would be horrible to have no
emotion. Obviously, as thinking, feeling humans you need both intellect
and emotion. Both of these faculties guide your decisions in life.
Whether ‘Spirituality’ is a third separate faculty, or just a type of
emotion, is besides the point here.

We all have to make
decisions on how to act. Our decisions can be guided by our emotions
and our reason in varying degrees. There is no evidence to suggest that
decisions guided only by reason are better overall than those guided by
a combination of reason and emotion. Not only that, but only robots and
computers can make decisions based on reason alone. There is not a
human on Earth who is not in some way influenced by emotions. As much
as you think you aren’t, of course you are. It’s unavoidable.

course I wouldn’t advocate abandoning reason entirely and just going
with your emotions. But neither would I advocate abandoning emotions
entirely and just going with reason. And if even if going with reason
alone was better, in practice every thought you have is influenced by
both, there is no getting around it. And building a super duper AI
Decision Machine won’t help either, because the way you build it will
be influenced by your emotions anyway.

To cut a long story
short, skeptics say ’Show me the evidence that God exists !’ To which I
say, ‘Show me the evidence that you exist!’ They will reply: ‘Well,
maybe I don’t, but I feel I am here, so I’m going to act like I do!’ To
which I say: ‘Well, maybe He doesn’t, but I feel like He’s here, so I’m
going to act like He does!’

Course it’s a big jump from ‘God exists’ to the 13 ikkarim (or the 613 Mitzvos), but that’s a different question.

Warning: Yated is an emunah threat!!!

Oh my gosh!!! I am absolutely horrified!!!

The Yated has published a skeptical article insinuating that the Golem of Prague might never have existed!!! And what is their main argument???

In Yated’s words:

is unclear whether or not the Maharal ever made a golem. The main
ground for doubt is the fact that none of the major historians of those
times breathe a word on the subject.

We must all tear
kriah!!! None of the major historians mention it??? And that’s reason
for doubt??? I think someone needs to tell Mordecahi Plaut about the
world’s historians circa 1300 BCE not mentioning a certain other event.
Doesn't Plaut know that 'Absence of evidence is NOT evidence of
absence' ?

The Yated article ends with the following:

Rabbi Eshkoli emphasizes that we should be raising our children with literature that is historically reliable.

vey. What next? The Ramchal didn’t have a maggid? The Ari invented all
his kabalah? The Zohar was a forgery? Breishis is mythology? Have the
skeptics taken over at the Yated?? How can they justify such critical

We need some answers!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Guest Post From Mike

has been a great deal of recent discussion here regarding the value of
the experience of judaism and its basis as a justification for belief
in Orthodoxy. I think it's fair to say that while we frum skeptics
pontificate a great deal regarding the purported irrationality of
Orthodoxy (and, to the credit of GH, our arguments have been fairly
expressed on this blog), we have been reticent in offering any
meaningful alternative to Orthodox faith.

Am I immune to the
experience of Judaism? Of course not. I still taste the pleasure of
resolving a difficult Tosafos, I still cry when I listen to Abish Brodt
sing Machnisei Rachmim, and I still experience the joy of Shabbos, a
day on which I am totally transported away from my ordinary life to a
different place and time of ethereal serenity (the likes of which the
secular world has not figured out how to replicate).

Does my
lack of faith detract from my experience of Judaism? Undoubtedly it
does in some respects. I have sacrificed the luxury of believing that
Moshiach is around the corner and will soon solve all the world's ills.
I have lost the salve of kol mah d'avid rachmanah l'tav avid
(everything G-d does is for the good). Worse yet, I am forced to face
the prospect of death as the end of my reality.

I have paid a
heavy price for my loyalty to Reason, but this investment has also paid
handsome returns. I have gained the freedom to more deeply appreciate
the gifts with which I have been blessed (knowing that I did nothing to
deserve them and will sacrifice no heavenly reward by enjoying them). I
have gained the courage to face death, not as a depressing make believe
dream of sitting in a bais medrash on high and learning Seder Kodshim
for a million winter z'manim, but as the termination and culmination of
whatever I make of my life. I have grown up and learned to accept that
sometimes life sucks and there isn't necessarily a Master Plan that
turns babies being stuffed into ovens into a "good" thing.

all, my skepticism has not muted the pleasure of sitting around the
table with my family at a Shabbos meal and singing zemiros or listening
to the little ones mangle the story of the weekly parsha, or the awe I
feel watching my wife light Shabbos candles and usher in the light of a
new Shabbos.

I am the last person to advocate giving up
Frumkeit. It is part and parcel of who I am. But to me Judaism is not a
faith. It is a pure experience beyond the bounds of Reason. I am a Frum

[GH: Sounds like a Rite & Ritual guy with a bit of Mystical Magical for effect.]

The Six Models Of Modern Judaism

number of different people (including some reliable sources) have
claimed that various individuals have started having emunah problems
after reading this blog. They want to know what my response to this is.

course this bothers me. This blog was an attempt to get to some
answers, and not instill doubts in anyone. Am I such a skilled writer
that I can cause a maamin to become a kofer based on a few questions?
What about all my chizuk posts, don’t they help counter balance? I
mean, I write this stuff and it hasn’t destroyed my emunah (well, at
least not in everything), so why should it harm yours??

What the heck is wrong with you people???!!!!

think the answer is as follows. After the Holocaust, the focus was on
rebuilding. Orthodoxy was as surprised as anyone at its success in
being able to rebuild its institutions. But along the way a con has
been performed. A con which is more prevalent in MO and LW UO than in
deep Chareidi circles.

We have been brought up in a
technological, scientific age, and were always taught that Judaism was
very rational, that you could prove it was correct, that Science was no
problem, etc. Then we suddenly discover that maybe everything isn’t so
clear cut. Of course this is no surprise to older and wiser people,
especially Rabbanim who lived through the initial years of the
emancipation and enlightenment. Many of these issues have been dealt
with before. I’m not saying that these older answers are any good, but
just that people realized what the challenges are.

nowadays, this sense has been lost. The enlightenment was a long time
ago, and Judaism (and religion) are still here, so the attitude is
‘what do we have to worry about? ‘ The schools focus on teaching
Gemarah and similar, the kiruv programs focus on creating Baal Teshuvas
by feeding them kugel and bible codes, and the Gedolim focus on

In the meantime, no one has spent any effort at all
in addressing the fundamental questions, which year by year have been
getting stronger and stronger. Where is the Cassutto of our day? The R
DZ Hoffman? RSRH? Where are the Gedolim who are facing modernity head
on, rather than running and hiding?

DovBear, in a post about why we should start criticizing Orthodoxy for lack of social moral, writes:

does it matter whether we have a 5800 year old universe or a 58 billion
year old universe?” In either case, the poor will still be with us.

To which I responded

it matters because if there are no good answers, then the whole Jewish
thing might be bogus, you know? And that would be bad. But then again,
if we just look to Judaism as some sort of humanistic thing with some
nice rituals (like Purim, Afikomen and Yom Kippur), and God and the
soul are no big deal, then you're right, it doesn't make much

DovBear responded:

Why can't you
say, hmmm, obviously there is an answer here, but I'm too stupid to
find it? Or, maybe the tradition is too corrupted on THIS question to
provide an answer. However, much of the tradition, corrupted or not,
remains very valuable in that it tells us how best to live with other
people. And seeing as how the age of the universe is immaterial to my
daily life, why not exert some attention of the social teachings

And remember what you call "humanistic" Hillel called "the whole Torah."

your days worrying about God and the soul is a good way to avoid real
questions that impact real people, don't you think?

I would bash DovBear upside the head, but he does in fact (for once)
have a point here. The ikkar of Torah is to be a good person, and the
ikkar of being a good person is about bayn odom lechaveyroh. I am not
trying to deemphasize bayn odom lamakom, but bayn odom lechaveyroh is
clearly the foundation. If you could only chose one, that would be it.
As God himself says, ‘If only the people would leave me, but keep my

In another post, DovBear writes about Kabalah Healers
and whether they are charlatans or not. As the rationality of religion
winds down, it seems many people are turning towards mysticism and
irrationality as a substitute. In fact even the arch Bible Critic
Richard Friedman ends his famous book ‘The Hidden Face of God’ with an
excursion into mysticism and kabalah. This has been the trend for the
last thousand years, the gradual replacement of rationality in Judaism
with mysticism, and it shows no sign of letting up anytime soon.

another blog (I forget where), the author talks about the seminal
article ‘Rupture & Reconstruction’. In the article the author
claims that the experience of the Divine presence (as was common in pre
War Europe) has been replaced with a mechanistic adherence to Halachah,
and that God himself is barely part of the equation (except perhaps as
master rule maker and reward giver). Some frum people I know well are
basically obsessively compulsive Halachah keepers, happy to trash
anyone elses feelings in their goal of 100% Halachik observance all the

All this leads me to think that the sociological-cultural
distinctions such as MO, UO, LW and RW are all very nice, but maybe
there is a different way of characterizing Orthodoxy today? Maybe the
real distinctions are in how we approach religion, and these are far
more profound, and in many cases transcend denominational lines, even
such lines as Orthodox and Conservative. I therefore propose the
following six models of Judaism.

1. Mystical Magical Judaism
model entails a lot of faith in mysticism. It is prevalent of course in
Chassidic and Chareidi circles, but is not limited to Chareidim or even
Orthodox Jews. Many hippies could probably comfortable fit in here too.
These people look to religion to transcend everyday reality, and get
closer to God (or some other transcendent force). These people don’t
care too much about Science and Torah conflicts, since magical mystical
transcends science anyway. Think Rav Moshe Shapiro. And Reb Lazer

2. Rules & Regulations Judaism
are the people who are turned on by rules and regulations. Often
obsessive, they react well to tightly structured guidelines and rules.
They look to religion to provide this structure, and are content to
follow the rules, and not think about God too much. Of course this is
prevalent more in ultra Orthodoxy, since MO tends to be lite on the
rules anyway. These people also don’t care too much about Science &
Torah, since the rules are the rules and that’s that. Think R Elyashiv.
And R Gil.

3. Happy Humanity Judaism
are the people who see Judaism as basically a tikkun olam type of
thing. It’s all about social responsibility and being a good person.
Again, God doesn’t really figure much in the equation. Of course this
is more prevalent in Reform and Conservative, but there are probably a
fair number of adherents in Orthodoxy too, especially in MO and LW MO.
Think of Ismar Shorsh. And DovBear.

4. Rational Realistic Judaism
are the people who are convinced that all of the Jewish tradition makes
sense, and is all entirely rational and credible. Unfortunately too
many of us were brought up believing in this and are now having some
doubts. These are the people who are obsessed with Science & Torah.
Think Maimonides and david g.

5. Rite & Ritual Judaism
are people who like all the ceremonies and rituals, the yomim tovim,
Purim and so on. They love the cultural aspect of Judaism, possibly
even the Jewish food and similar. Again, God doesn’t figure too much in
the equation. We are used to criticizing the Reform Jews for being
guilty of this, but I think this attitude is extremely prevalent in
most Orthodox (even Ultra Orthodox) communities too. It’s all about
having fun and enjoying the (mostly external) rituals. You go to shul,
you go to a shiur, you celebrate Yom Tov, it’s all fun, cultural
activity. These people don’t care much about Science & Torah issues
either, since what practical difference does that make? It’s more
important to discuss which brand of kugel tastes better. Think
Flatbush, Heeb and DovBear.

6. Learning & Lore Judaism
are people who enjoy the academic aspects of religion, they love to
learn. Either Halachah or Aggadatah, makes no difference. The joy is in
the learning and the knowledge. This is prevalent in Orthodoxy, but
there are plenty of people in Reform and other places who love to learn
too. And there are plenty of people in Orthodoxy who hate to learn and
never do. These people are turned on by sefarim and learning. God
doesn’t figure so much either to be honest. They enjoy discussing
Science and Torah, but only to the extent of discussing who held what,
not from any absolute truth or existential perspective. Think Brisk and
R Gil.

So where do I fit in? Well, I think I started off in 4,
Rational Realistic. Now that I’m realizing that maybe doesn’t work so
well, I’m looking to switch. The question is, where to?

I do
believe in the Soul and God, so Magical Mystical has some appeal, but I
can’t help but think that the Kabalah is all bogus, so maybe that’s not
such a good fit for me. I’m bad at following rules and authority, and
don’t do well with structure, so I’ll never be a true Rules &
Regulations type of guy (though I do agree with conformance to
Halachah).The Rites & Rituals are okay, but again I’m not wild
about that stuff, except for Shabbat. I suppose I could work on myself
some more in that category, but basically most of this is social and
I'm not a very social person. I believe in the importance of tikkun
olam, but I can’t see myself ever traveling down to Alabama to help the
poor. I guess I will gravitate to Learning & Lore, with maybe a bit
of Magic & Mysticism thrown in. Oh and I’ll have some Rite &
Ritual too. At least Shabbos and the major holidays (holy days).

So where do you fit?

Nigleh and Nistar

(hu heshy grossman hu jack black hu zooshoteh gettit?) claims that the
process of creation of the universe is a secret thing, and certainly
not something that should ever be discussed on a blog. This is
obviously based on the famous Chazal that Maaseh Breishis contains many
deep yesodot and should not be taught in public. Without getting into
the question of whether Breishis 1-11 does actually contain deep
secrets, there is clearly a glaring problem with this approach.

problem is that scientists today have done a pretty good job at
uncovering the process of creation, and by creation I mean from the
Beginning to 5766 years ago. Sure there are some holes, and sure we
don’t know exactly what happened in the first three seconds, but the
rest of the timeline has been fairly convincingly mapped out.
Occasionally there are some changes, like how fast could dinosaurs run,
or whether certain mammals lived in certain time periods, but by and
large at this point we can say with absolute certainty that the story
is not ever going to revert back to the one literally described in

In other words, the scientists have turned the nistar
into nigleh. This offends Rav Moshe Shapiro and his talmidim, because
the nistar and the resultant machshavah have always been in their
domain. In fact RMS has always been highly praised for his deep
machshavah. When these pesky scientists come along and provide a
rational explanation for things, it really upsets the apple cart.

recently received a bunch of shiurim from Rav Moshe, translated into
English. Maybe I’m not on the appropriate level, but to me they seemed
to mostly consist of word plays (such as amalek = am lek) and lots of
gematrias too. Also lots of references to geese and frogs and things. I
couldn’t really find anything in there which appealed to me. I don’t
have permission to reproduce these shiurim, so I can’t, but I would be
interested to hear from other readers if they find these type of
shiurim appealing.

I guess I’m just a nigleh type of guy.

The Unmaking of a Godol

Its Februrary 2005 on Harry’s Blog, again!!!

Harry posts
about the latest ban on Making of a Godol, a book so famous it even has
it’s own FLA (Four Letter Acronym). He ends his post by saying:

It’s time to call a spade, spade. Not just by me but by everyone. We have no Gedolim today.

This arouses the ire of our generally good natured friend, Lakewood Yid, who responds:

you preach that we have NO Gedolim, how will you raise your kids? Will
you totally throw away the concept of emunas chachomim? If that’s how
they will grow up (with a chinuch of "Be'shrirus Libi Eilech"), whats
gonna happen when they decide that halacha is irrational? When
orthodoxy is irrational? Hashem Yerachem.

I agree with Lakewood Yid 100%. Of course we have Gedolim today. Here is a partial list:
  • Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein
  • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
  • Rabbi Saul Berman
these people are not all boki bshas and poskim? Is that the criteria
for a Godol? On the other hand, they don’t sign silly bans and make
fools of themselves either. I guess you can’t have everything.

me, a Godol has to be inspiring. That is the number one criteria, and
dwarves all other considerations. I don’t mind so much if they don’t
know every last page of Shas by heart, but I do mind if they make fools
of themselves in public, surround themselves with goons, or sign on to
lies and create a tremendous chillul Hashem in the process. Also, since
I live in the modern world, if they are unable to address modernity in
any meaningful way, then they just don’t float my boat. Sorry. This is
not to denigrate such people in any way, they are just not my personal
cup of tea.

I appreciate that different people are inspired by
different things. Maybe some people do find such activities inspiring.
Or maybe some people are inspired by knowledge of shas, to the
exclusion of all else. Or maybe all those stories of mesirus nefesh and
chessed are actually true. Each to his own, I have no problem with that.

In answer to Lakewood Yids comment, I think the key point is this:

hope and pray that when my kids grow up, there are inspiring Gedolim in
the world. And more importantly, I hope my kids get inspired by them.
In the right way of course.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Guest Comment from Y Aharon

empathize with the dilemmas of Hedyot and Baal Habos. I, too, spent
many years in a traditional yeshiva and was subject to the same
indoctrination. In my case, however, the indoctrination was only partly
successful. I did not even consider going to YU, but did elect to go to
college (Initially, I did both yeshiva and college). Fortunately, the
secular education at my yeshiva was decent in those days, and I read a
lot. As a result, I was ambivalent about my religious path despite
being frum in practice. The ambivalence resulted from being skeptical
of the truth and value of many things that were taught by my rebbe'im.
Two things then exerted a strong influence over my subsequent
development. I started reading Tanach seriously, and I developed a
friendship with a fully committed married yeshiva guy of RW RZ
persuation. I loved to listen to that young couple sing zemirot before
I dared knock on their door. So, Tanach provided the message and
rationale of Judaism, while the couple provided some of its experience.
I then resolved to attempt to emulate that kind of lifestyle. My
questions and doubts about the truth of traditional teachings remained,
but the value of the religious experience was no longer in question.

the end, we are responsible for our lives and its content. No one has
all the answers; not the traditional texts, nor their teachers, nor the
bloggers. This much I believe; we are not intended to be robots,
mechanically following some program. We are supposed to be thinking and
feeling people who exercise judgement, and have a sense of ethics,
morality, and fair play that derive from more than the traditional
texts. [In my case, it is a blend of traditional texts - particularly
Nevi'im Acharonim, and western humanism.] If that makes life and
behavior more unclear, so be it. We can not grasp the full reality, but
must hold on to whatever part of the truth that we perceive. Our vision
is subjective, but it is ours.

I, too, initially considered
modern Orthodoxy to be a crass compromise. Subsequently, I learned that
there were some seriously religous people who considered themselves in
that category. Now, I consider myself MO, as well. In fact, if I had to
provide a fuller label, I would choose LW MO since I support fuller
participation in religious activities by women. Actually, I am one of
those crypto MO people who look Chareidi and observe some chumrot
(those that have an origin in the Torah), but am far removed from
Chareidi ideology.

Y. Aharon
Y. Aharon | | Email | 03.21.06 - 2:13 pm | #

I know of Y Aharon. He is a fine fellow. And 'the proof is in the
pudding' as they say. His children and their spouses are all choshuve
people who contribute much of value to religious society.]

Skeptic Pie


1 Kid from Chareidi Lite or MO background
1 Overly repressive Chareidi Yeshivah
1 Information Age

Take Chareidi lite kid and stick it into overly repressive Chareidi Yeshivah. Bring to a boil, then leave to stew for 5 years.

kid is good and stewed, take it out from the Yeshivah and leave kid to
cool off. Mix in generous doses of secular information during cooling
off period.

Garnish with spice and serve!

Feeds thousands.

Guest Comment from Daas Hedyot

Daas Hedyot is an excellent writer. I don't always agree with
everything he says, but he sure knows how to say it! Here is a comment
from him on my Ex Chareidi Skeptics post which is so good it needs a
post of its own. He has also posted on this topic on his blog.]

I don't disagree with the general idea as it applies to many people
from that society, I'd like to expand on your point in a subtle way.
For myself, my RW-UO background did not cause me difficulty in the way
that you describe specifically. For example, (back when I cared more
about halacha and torah) when I was first exposed to it, I didn't find
it problematic to believe in a billion year old universe and still
consider other parts of mesorah well founded. The same with ideas like
considering the flood allegorical, and evolution. True, it did affect
my overall trust in the veracity of the system, but those revelations
did not cause the entire structure to immediately collapse in the way
you describe.

However, the much more direct impact of the black
and white mode of thinking is that I can not bring myself to accept
non-chareidi expressions of Judaism as authentic and genuine in a
serious way. That's how they really screwed me over. MO actually
appeals to me in many ways, and I'd probably be ok living that
lifestyle and adopting that approach to viewing the world, and viewing
Judaism, (hell, actually, I was ok doing that for almost 3 years),
however, throughout it all, as much as I admire it and consider it to
be a better approach to life, I still constantly feel that it's not the
true, right way to be living as a religious Jew. A part of me can not
stop viewing it as a compromise, a corruption, a weak sellout. This
explains why every time you present an approach that speaks of some
moderate, reasoned view, I react with, "Well, that's not how OJ really
is." Because, as much as I like what you're saying (some of the time),
I still view it as an illegitimate form of OJ. True OJ would not
subscribe to such a view. This also explains why comments from people
like Lakewood Yid and his ilk cause me so much joy. Lakewood Yid
represents exactly that society that I was a part of and that I
believed so strongly to be the true heirs to what Torah living and
thinking meant. And seeing that so called "Torah True Judaism" in all
it's glaring imbecility helps uproot that insidious notion that they
are in any way a genuine expression of Divine truth.

My black
and white educators said to me: "Chareidism is the only truly proper
way to live as a religious Jew. Everything else, no matter what it is,
no matter what they call themselves - Modern Orthodoxy, Zionist
Orthodoxy, Torah U'Mada, Torah im Derech Eretz, Touro College,
Conservative, Reform, whatever, it's all just a sad and distorted
misrepresentation of how God really wants Jews to live - as proper,
gemara learning, black hat wearing, kollel studying, da'as torah
believing, gadol trusting, chumra seeking, gender separating, badatz
eating, college avoiding, Degel voting, chareidi Jews."

after many years, I have come to know myself that I can not live (or
believe) as a chareidi. One would then think, I should become MO. That
would work for me. I agree, it would seem to be a good match (to a
certain degree). Yet, because in my mind, I still believe that
"Chareidism is the only truly proper way to live as a Jew", I can not
adopt such an approach. I am therefore left with only one course of
action: to completely leave behind the religious lifestyle.

course, many may now ask the obvious question: "Obviously, to my
chareidi-trained mind, completely leaving frumkeit is definitely viewed
as worse than being MO, so if I'm not ok with being MO, I obviously
should not be ok with totally leaving. It doesn't make sense!" Good
question. Let's see who can figure out why it doesn't really work that
way. I'm curious what people can come up with.)

This is how
chareidi black and white thinking has affected me, how it has turned me
off totally. (Well, there are more ways, but this is one very prominent
way.) Maybe one day, when I can eradicate the idea of "Chareidism is
the only truly proper way to live as a Jew", and I can bring myself to
accept the validity of other forms of Judaism, I may be able to adopt
the life of a religious Jew again.
The Hedyot | | Email | Homepage | 03.21.06 - 3:15 am | #

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ex Chareidi Skeptics

no secret that many of the anti-religious bloggers and commenters are
former Chareidim. And not just any old Chareidim, but students of some
of the most elite Chareidi Yeshivot – Mir, Ner Yisroel and similar

Their entire mind set is Chareidi, as they
themselves will admit, everything is black and white. And as soon as
one of their Chareidi beliefs is disproved, for example, a 6,000 year
old earth, every one of their other beliefs starts to fall like a chain
of dominoes. There is usually no gray for Chareidi skeptics. It’s
either Chareidi, or Atheist.

Considering the strength of
secular society, and in particular science and similar, is the Chareidi
position a sensible one? Are they not setting people up for failure?
Sure, as long as you are closeted in the Chareidi world, and are not in
contact with any outside influences, you can do okay. But how practical
is that? In this age of global connectivity, you probably will never be
able to completely shut yourself off from the outside world.

Orthodoxy on the other hand trains its children in dealing with issues
of conflict. There is no hiding from the real world. True, many in the
Modern Orthodox world are basically Orthoprax Lite. But the serious
right wing manage to combine a passion for Torah and Halachah with an
exposure to the outside world. When Modern Orthodox students grow up to
be adults, they don’t throw their religion away because of some

It’s clear that Chareidi ideology is very dangerous –
it is responsible for turning many people off the derech, as we see
with our own eyes! I find it ironic that the Chareidi commenters attack
me for allowing the skeptics to speak - skeptics formed by the

Things I think about during weekly staff meetings no. 327

used to think that after 120 I would finally know what’s what (assuming
the skeptics are not correct). However is this really true? Even if you
die and suddenly find yourself in Heaven, with Avrohom and Yitzchok
there to greet you, Yaakov and his sons standing by his side, Moshe
Rabbeinu will lead us once again….oops getting all JEPy there. But even
if Heaven looks Chareidi, you still can’t really know. Maybe Deity Z is
playing a trick on you? Maybe it’s all a sham, and the real Heaven is
way better and full of Mormons? In fact, no matter who you are, even if
you are Deity Z himself, you can’t ever really know anything. Maybe you
think you created the universe, but really you are just a brain in a
jar? I guess you just have to go with your gut. Boy, I really wish our
staff meetings were more interesting.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Why the skeptics are wrong

This is going to be painful.

start with the skeptic’s basic premise – ‘show me the evidence.’ This
premise says that it’s not rational to believe in anything for which
there is not good evidence. Some people call this scientific skepticism.

course this is a fairly sensible position to hold. We are all basically
scientific skeptics at heart, as long as it doesn’t concern religion.
If some guy in the street offers you a Rolex for $50, you are going to
be skeptical. If the National Enquirer reports that a World War 2
bomber was found on the moon, you’re going to be skeptical. If I tell
you that Zoboomafoo is actually the creator of the universe, you’re
going to be skeptical. And if I tell you that the Book of Mormon is
God’s creation, you’re going to be skeptical. Unless of course you’re a
Mormon, in which case you’re going to believe it be’emnuah sh’lemah.
And if your fellow Mormon tells you it’s all a load of bunk, you’re
going to call him an Apikores.

Some people are not skeptics.
Some people believe in cattle mutilations, alien abductions, fairies,
leprachauns and Nikon being better than Konica Minolta. But some people
are idiots.

So, if it’s completely normal to be skeptical when
it comes to fantastic claims, and no one wants to be a gullible fool,
why isn’t religion a fantastic claim? After all, there are lots of
them, they can’t all be correct. And clearly none of them have any
absolute 100% rock solid evidence going for them, because if they did,
everyone would believe in it.

So, lets start from the beginning.
We know we exist. Or at least we think we know. Unfortunately we can’t
prove it, since we could all be brains in a jar. Uh oh, we haven’t even
started yet and already we’re in trouble. Let’s just assume we exist,
OK? Good, so we exist, and we can also assume that the Universe exists.
Now, based on our understanding of physical things and logic, it
doesn’t seem to make sense that something can just exist. Everything
must come from somewhere. So something made the universe, and something
made that something, and something made that something all the way back
to infinity. But logically that doesn’t make sense either, since an
infinite chain is not that comprehensible to the human mind. So what

At this point you have a couple of options. You can say,
‘this philosophy stuff is all a load of cobblers, I’m going down the
pub to have a pint’, but that would be a rather strange thing to say if
you weren’t a Cockney. You could say, if an infinite chain is
impossible, and something from nothing is impossible, then I’m stuck
either way, so I’m off down the pub again. A possible way out is to say
that there must be something beyond our comprehension, beyond physical
laws as we know them, that was the ‘first cause’. This kinda works,
except that if you’re going to posit things beyond our comprehension,
you may as well just say the Universe exists for reasons beyond our
comprehension and leave it at that. Also, even if you go with the first
cause argument, it doesn’t really get you anywhere for two basic
reasons. 1) There could be a huge chain of causality, so if you were
trying to make the first cause be God, it could be that God created A
which created B which created C etc until Z, a minor Deity in the
general scheme of things, happened to create our Universe in a fit of
boredom one day. Of course, even if we were to have absolute proof of
God’s existence, for example video tape of Har Sinai, or perhaps Har
Sinai 2: 2006, still wouldn’t prove a thing. Maybe Deity Z was just
messing with us? And 2) this doesn't tell us anyhing about God anyway,
even if there is only one God it could still be the prankster one. So,
in terms of proving God’s existence, or character, we are inherently
limited. It’s just not possible.

So are the skeptics correct? It
certainly seems so from a rational point of view. But there’s more to
life than being rational. People make irrational leaps of faith all the
time. In fact, the world as we know it wouldn’t be here today if it
wasn’t for leaps of faith. Scientists make leaps of faith all the time.
They have an idea and they run with it. They may get ridiculed, they
may get laughed at, but they doggedly pursue their vision. Sometimes it
pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. But they still try. It’s the same
with love, ambition, passion – in fact all the emotions. They may not
be rational, but that’s the way the world works. To discount all of
that would be crazy, in fact it would probably be irrational.

large numbers of people seem to have some urge for spirituality, for
meaning, for morality and ethics, a sense that there’s something bigger
out there than what we can sense or measure. Is this any proof that
there is something out there? Of course not. Large numbers of people
believe in their heart that Jesus loves them, and we certainly don’t
think that counts for very much. But it’s not proof we are after here.
Its rationality.

Given the human urge for meaning, morality,
spirituality and the like, what do we do? We could say these emotions
are all the result of thousands of years of evolution, and try to
outgrow them. But the ‘religion as evolution’ theory certainly hasn’t
been proved, and probably never will. So, from a secular viewpoint we
are left with the unanswered question of where everything came from.
Couple this together with man’s natural urge for spirituality and
meaning, and hey presto! You get religion. Could it all be bogus? Could
there be a naturalistic explanation for everything? I suppose it’s
possible. But Science is a long way from conclusively proving that, and
quite possibly will never prove it. Sure, you can have emunah shlemah
that Science will one day wrap everything up neatly, but that’s no
better than emunah in religion.

Some Science freaks will claim
that having faith in Science IS more rational than having faith in
religion, since Science has a good track record of success. However
this argument is slightly disingenuous. Firstly, Science has NEVER
explained the fundamentals (where everything comes from, both in terms
of time and also current space), so extrapolating from Science’s
success in explaining observable phenomena is hardly logical. And
second, Religion has done a good job at what Religion attempts to do,
which is to make people more religious than if religion hadn’t existed
in the first place.

So, where are we? Science doesn’t have all
the answers, and neither does religion. It’s possible that there’s a
naturalistic explanation for everything, but it’s also possible that
there’s a supernatural explanation for everything. Given humanity’s
propensity for the spiritual, it makes sense that most people opt for
the supernatural.

Now, what about religion? Well, different
religions emphasize different aspects of spirituality, but most have
the same basic themes – be good to each other, get close to God etc.
These basic themes are all natural outcomes of the spiritual worldview,
and there’s not much wrong with that. Where religions get into trouble
is when they start making claims about reality – the so called ‘onto
religions’. Claiming that Jesus was resurrected, or 2 million people
left Egypt, or Joseph Smith found Gold Plates of the Book of Mormon in
his back yard, these are all claims which can potentially be disproven
(though it’s often difficult to disprove something absolutely). If the
evidence is against a certain claim, then it’s not particularly
rational to claim the evidence is no good. So, for example, there’s
mountains of evidence that the world is very old, and that many humans
were walking about 10,000 years ago. It’s not very rational to discount
these claims.

There is a trick you can play at this point,
whereby you say ‘God made it that way. He created an ancient looking
world. He performed a whole bunch of miracles just to make it look like
there was never a global flood’. This takes care of all the evidence in
a flash, and would seem to be the ideal solution. The problem is it’s
just plain crazy to think that way, and nobody would ever suggest such
a thing if it wasn’t for having their back up against the wall. If
there had always been an ancient Mesorah that God created the world
looking ancient, complete with fake fossils and cave paintings, then
maybe we could believe it. But since it clearly was a theory
specifically created to counter the overwhelming Scientific evidence,
no one rational is buying it.

So, for religion to be rational,
you have to not be in conflict with any really ‘proven’ Science. Some
people like to discredit Science at this point, and claim that
Scientists arre biased, they are always making mistakes, Science
changes all the time, and there’s no need to change any of our
religious beliefs just because of a bunch of atheists reshoim scientist
whose evil goal is to discredit fundamentalists religions. Again,
crazy. If you really think the whole of science is one giant
conspiracy, and if only the scientists would look in the Torah at the
‘alternate evidence’ they would all see the light, then good for you.
Just don’t get in any aeroplanes. Or take any medicines. Or use any
flush toilets. Have a nice life!

So, where are we? It seems to
be rational (or at least normal) to have a religious worldview as
opposed to an entirely secular worldview, as long as none of your
beliefs have been disproved. At this point the sketpics tend to say
‘Well, that’s not Orthodox, you’re just a Deist’. But this a fallacy.
(Desim is the belief that there might be a God, but He’s not involved
in the world). Why should this viewpoint be Deism? If one has a
religious worldview, and one prefers to believe in the supernatural,
and furthermore one prefers to believe that the supernatural being is
the ultimate good and is very involved in the world, whose to say
otherwise? It’s no more or less provable than maintaining that the
world is entirely naturalistic. At the end of the day, the jury is
still out, and most likely will always be out. You simply have to make
up your mind as to which viewpoint is more appealing.

At this
juncture the skeptics will again pipe up and say the only correct and
rational response to this conundrum is to say ‘I make no claim’. In
other words, if the evidence isn’t there, then just stick with the
minimal set of beliefs, i.e. no beliefs. But as I said before, people
have a natural urge not to do this. And further more, the side effects
and benefits of the religious worldview are quite spectacular – a sense
of purpose, a sense of meaning, objective morality, possibly an
afterlife, a sense that there is ultimate justice in the world, and
many other things besides. Again the skeptics will fight back, and
claim that it’s irrational (and possibly dangerous) to harbor false
beliefs without evidence. And just because they make you feel good is
no reason either. What about Suicide Bombers believing with all their
heart and soul that they are doing a mitzvah by blowing up a pizza
store? If only the world was rational this wouldn’t happen. Well,
maybe. But there’s no evidence that an entirely rational world would be
crime free or even that there would be less crime. The causes of crime
would shift, and there could even be more crime than now. So, it’s
hardly proven that religious beliefs are dangerous, and in fact there
are some studies which show they are beneficial.

Judaism has
been very successful at surviving these past three thousand years. And
not just surviving, but surviving after being dealt a particularly bad
hand of cards. Of course this doesn’t prove anything, but it does make
you think about the sacrifices your ancestors went through to preserve
their faith, even under the most horrific of circumstances. In
addition, the western world today seems to have been built upon a
foundation of monotheism. Again, this doesn’t prove anything, but it is
a ‘nice to have’, that our religion was the acknowledged source of all
this. And yes, I know there is an Eastern World too, and 1 billion
Chinese just waiting to become the dominant super-power, but it hasn’t
happened yet and quite likely might not happen. And of course we have
the famous kuzari proof – No other religion was audacious enough to
claim that an entire people witnessed a revelation! What does this
prove? Well, of course it proves that no other religion was audacious
enough to claim that an entire people witnessed a revelation. But it
still makes you think.

To sum up, a religious worldview, with a
personal God, if not exactly provable, is certainly sensible, given the
alternatives. Ultimately both the religious and the secular worldviews
tend into the incomprehensible, and neither will give you answers to
life the universe and everything. But the religious view fits the needs
of most people, and society at large, a lot better than the secular
view. And what about Torah MiSinai? That has to be taken on faith, as
long as you don’t believe in anything counter to the evidence, there’s
nothing wrong with that. Judaism, and Orthodox Judaism, have a very
long and distinguished history. We should be proud of our heritage.
Indeed I would venture to say that even the skeptics are proud of it.
Does this mean it’s true? Again no, a long and distinguished heritage
is proof of a long and distinguished heritage, nothing more. But it
does makes you think.

Ultimately, each person makes their own
judgment and decision on how to live their life. We can never really be
sure which worldview is correct. Even after death we couldn’t be
absolutely sure, because if the Secular worldview is correct, you won’t
be around to see it. And even if you are around, you still have no
proof of anything, Deity Z could just be messin with ya. Looking for
absolute proof of anything is therefore a fool’s game. You gotta go
with the flow, or at least your intuition. Try to be a good person, do
good to others, make the best of life and hope for the best. Life can
be beautiful, don’t screw it up. Personally I find Judaism beautiful,
and more specifically I find the concepts of Torah, Avodah, Gemilus
Chasadim and most Halachah in general to be beautiful and worthwhile.
Are there some Halachot I don’t like? Of course! There are also some
people I don’t like. But I don’t give up on humanity.

I have no
doubt that the hardened skeptics will be entirely unmoved by any of
this. A year ago, in the flush of frumkeit effected when meeting an
atheist, I naively thought I could convince them of the error of their
ways. But in general that’s not possible. The biggest draw of Orthodoxy
is experiencing community and Shabbat, but the skeptics here have had
community and Shabbat up to their eyeballs, they just don’t want it (or
maybe they do, but in an Orthopraxical kind of way).

To the
people on the outside, it’s hard to convey the beauty of Judaism or
Orthodoxy in a blog post, you have to live it. So, the skeptics will
continue on their path. They will throw away Orthodoxy, Judaism and all
vestiges of religion (except for public acts to maintain an illusion).
Maybe they will be happier, maybe not. We’ll all think it’s a
tremendous shame, and they’ll all think that we’re a bunch of deluded
individuals. If they’re right, no one will ever know. If we’re right,
at least we stand a chance of knowing. (Assuming Deity Z is not some
kind of prankster that is). So if I’m not going to convince any
skeptics, why do I bother? At first I thought that I could perhaps
convince a skeptic or too, now I realize that’s probably not going to
happen. But in the meantime, at least I can convince myself.

why are the skeptics wrong? Well, I can’t say that they are wrong
period. But I can definitely say that they are wrong for me. I’m way
too invested in Orthodoxy to give it up. There’s far too much beauty,
depth, spirituality and all sorts of good things that I personally
experience and feel every day, especially when I put the effort in to
learn, to daven, or to experience Shabbat. ESPECIALLY Shabbat. Why
would I want to give up such a good thing? If it all turns out to be a
bunch of baloney, then hey, I certainly didn’t really lose out anyway.
But if it turns out to be true (and I think and hope it is), then
wowza! Wowza and wowza again.

And also ‘whoa’. There’s not a
second to waste. Cripes! I must go and learn some Torah and not waste
any more time editing this post. It is what it is. See yah!

5 Towns Husband Obsessed With My Blog

From 5 Towns Jewish Times (page 24)

Dear Esther,
too much fanfare, here is my problem. Around a year or so ago, my
husband discovered “blogs.” I think some of his friends were into them,
and he started checking out the computer and becoming, in my opinion,
addicted to these websites. He can spend hours just sitting there,
staring at the computer screen. Several things bother me about his
pastime. First of all, I feel very neglected. Before blogs came into
our lives, we would spend time together in the evening talking, or even
sitting side by side watching a TV show or a video. Now, I feel as
though we are hardly together anymore, and we don’t talk and connect as
much as we used to. It’s like I’m jealous of the blogs—they seem to
offer him something that I can’t. They are my competition, which I
realize is kind of unhealthy. Probably just as disturbing, and in some
ways more so, is that he reads blogs that relate to Judaism. People
post blogs about the credibility of everything that has always been the
foundation of our lives, our upbringing, and our Torah. Just last week,
I walked by him as he was reading
something on the computer, and it was talking about whether or not the
events leading up to what we celebrate as Purim ever actually happened
I have to say that this scared the dickens out of me. I feel like he’s
entered a world that I know nothing about and want to know nothing
about, and it’s putting a barrier between us. I have tried talking to
him about how insecure I feel because of it and also how I’m afraid,
G-d forbid, that it could change his attitude toward Yiddishkeit. He
tells me that I’m overreacting, and it’s all just for kicks; that I’m
taking it all too seriously and that I shouldn’t worry. But I am
worried. Should I be?

So let me get this
straight; Your husband used to spend his evening watching TV, but now
he spends all his time reading hashkafah blogs, and this is a
problem??!! MO lite, unbelievable. Here is my advice: Krum, stop
spending so much time on my blog and spend more time with your wife!

seriously folks, don't be spending too much time on the blogs. The
spouses (or significant others) don't like it. Maybe you can pursuade
your spouse to have a blog of their own? Like DatingMaster and
DatingMistesss. No, wait a minute, scratch that, maybe not such a good
idea. Still, blogging is better than gambling or drinking. And as for
Purim, nu that's not such a big deal. If you think that post was bad
you should read my article on Yetzias Mitzrayim! Just kidding. Go tell
your husband to read my Science of Judaism post, then go rent a chick
flick. 'In Her Shoes' is cute, he will like that one I'm sure.

In defence of Harry Maryles

is Harry Maryles? After careful reading of his blog, my impression is
as follows. I think he probably lives in the Midwest, maybe Chicago. It also seems that he might be a talmid of Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, but I couldn’t say for sure.

is a wonderful fellow, and I know this for facts unrelated to the blog
world. He mistakenly thought he could debate Mis-nagid about Atheism,
and when he realized his mistake, immediately retracted. I don’t see
this as a cover up, rather a simple mistake.

is not to say that I agree with him on everything he says. I don’t. But
I think I understand where he is coming from. And I think I understand
his personality somewhat. I would be willing to bet that he is quite a
gentleman in his real life. He provides a forum for people with major
issues about Torah Judaism, including himself, to vent. I also believe
that he is very likely a much respected member of his community too,
whether amongst peers or community leaders. I am sure there are people,
very close friends and/or family who know who Mr. Harry Maryles really
is. I am equally certain that he sometimes regrets it when he goes too
far. But I am certain in the final analysis that he is L’Shma as well.

The Gedolim That Time Forgot II

.... or were supressed by the Chareidim.

Volume 1

Name: Rav Kook
Description: Chief Rabbi of Palestine in the 1930s
Reason: Said chiloni atheists were holier than the Gedolim of the old yishuv, dodgy kabalah

Name: Hasdai Crescas
Description: Spanish Philosopher 14th Cent
Reason: Philosophers can’t be frum

Name: R Eliezer Berkovits
Description: Late 20th Century Theologian
Reason: Lived in the mid west

Name: Rav MM Kasher
Description: Early 20th Century Scholar
Reason: Unclear

Name: Rav Gedalyah Nadel
Description: Late 20th Century Rav
Reason: Accepted evolution and other science

Name: Saul Lieberman
Description: 20th Century Theologian
Reason: Turned down job offer from Chaim Berlin and went to JTS instead

Name: Rabbi Slifkin
Description: Contemporary young Rabbi
One or more of the following: ‘tone’, ‘chutzpah’, meisis, kofer, too
young to be dealing with such issues, not a ‘major’ talmid chochom,
believes in evolution and an ancient universe, said 6 days might be
spiritual, got a haskamah from RSK, said Chazal might be wrong in
science, said elephants can’t jump, said mice don’t grow on trees, said
dinosaurs existed but mermaids did not, didn’t accept being banned, has
a web site, quoted RSRH, the Tiferes Yisrael and R Avraham Ben
Harambam, published with Feldheim, (for more reasons please refer to
Jack Black’s 10 volume autobiographical work of fiction: ’My 10 years
spent sitting next to Natan Slifkin in Mercaz Hatorah’)

Name: Godol Hador
Description: Genius blogger
Reason: Conservative Chareidi movement too dangerous, poses existential threat to Chareidim (and Modern Orthodox)

Maharal: The Gedolim were wrong!

is proper, out of love of reason and knowledge, that you not
[summarily] reject anything that opposes your own ideas, especially so
if [your adversary] does not intend merely to provoke you, but rather
to declare his beliefs… When our Rishonim found something written
against their faith, they did not reject it [out of hand], for it
stands to reason that [such opposition] ought not to be a cause for
rejecting it and silencing a man when it comes to religious matters;
for religion is given to all. This is especially so with regard to the
written word…should there not have been a reaction against the books of
the philosophers who, following their own investigations, repudiated
[traditional religious teachings] and asserted the eternity of the
universe and thus denied the creation altogether? Nevertheless [the
Rishonim] read their books and did not dismiss them. For the proper way
to attain the truth is to hear [others’] arguments which they sincerely
hold, not out of a desire to provoke you. Thus, it is wrong simply to reject an opponent’s ideas; instead, draw him close to you and delve into his words…

[Maharal, Be’er HaGolah, end of last chapter, translated by Rabbi Norman Lamm]

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Shlach Manos Sentiments Gone Wrong; No. 22

have some friends who always write a little poem to go with their
shlach monos. They are more Chareidi and we are more Modern, but we get
along just fine. However the community in which we live is somewhat
riven by MO vs. UO tensions. This year they wrote something like this:

Let’s ignore the things that divide us
But focus instead on the Torah that unites us.

is, it’s davkah the Torah that divides us! Every debate in the
community is either due to Hashkafah or Halachah. What keeps people
together is the fact that we all live in a small community and have the
same requirements, such as needs for decent kosher eating

I think a much more accurate poem would be:

Let’s not focus on the Torah that divides us
But unite together to get a decent Kosher Pizza store.

Catchy, huh?

Can One be Funky AND Frum?

Image hosting by Photobucket

sacrifice style for modesty? Errr, because modesty means not being
funky. Duh. Sorry Rebbetzin, Shifra, OM and all the rest of the Frum
but Funky crowd. Being modest means being frumpy. Just ask Rabbi Falk!

Do I like it?
No, I do not.
Funky is cool,
Funky is hot!
But frumpy is modest,
And funky is not!

(Didn't intend to go all Dr Seussy there but it just kinda worked out that way).

Anti-Semitism: Good For The Jews?

Fury at 'anti-Semitism benefited Jews' claim

Mar 18 2006

Aled Blake, Western Mail

ANTI-SEMITISM is a positive force for Jewish people, a leading Welsh academic claims today.

University's Dan Cohn-Sherbok controversially argues that anti-Semitism
provides a paradox for the Jewish community - and its demise has left
today's Jews in chaos.

Rabbi Professor Cohn-Sherbok says that hatred of Jews has kept Judaism alive for thousands of years.

he argues that state of affairs is being threatened by the fact that
anti-Semitism has gradually disappeared and in the last two centuries -
with the exception of Nazi Germany - Jews have integrated into society.

His book The Paradox Of Anti-Semitism will infuriate many members of the Jewish community across the world.

Cohn-Sherbok, a professor of Jewish theology at Lampeter, claimed the
paradox affecting Judaism and Jewishness is something that can affect
all minority groups - including the Welsh.

warned, "There is no solution to this problem. I don't want
anti-Semitism to continue, I want it to disappear but at the moment
there is a risk the Jewish people will disappear if anti-Semitism

The comments sparked outrage from some Jews. Labour peer Lord Janner of Braunstone said he was "appalled".

Janner, who was born in Cardiff, is a vice-chairman of the British
Israel Parliamentary Group and was President of the Board of Deputies
of British Jews, the main representative body of British Jewry, from
1978 to 1984.

He is a key figure in efforts to seek compensation and restitution for Holocaust victims.

Janner said, "Anti-Semitism has been the scourge of the Jewish people.
It was the basis on which Hitler wiped out some six million Jews.

worked as a war crimes investigator and anti-Semitism was at the root
of this. I do not agree with what he is saying. Anti-Semitism is an
unmitigated evil."

survivor Elen Davies, 77, from Swansea, said, "This man is asking for
trouble for Jews. If that spreads then God help us all, because there
are not that many of us left.

"I'm absolutely livid that anybody could say this. I really can't understand this.

far as I'm concerned anti-Semitism is the vilest thing under the sun.
We have so much discord, surely it's time we had harmony.

"For a man who is supposed to be well-read and educated to make these sorts of comments is unbelievable.

man is inviting people to hate him. He is just being controversial for
the sake of it, there is no sense in this comment whatsoever.

"He should've been around when Hitler was around. How can you be any sort of Jew if you say you can only live by antagonism?"

Rabbi Professor Cohn-Sherbok said, "I have taught for more than 30
years and have written a number of books on anti-Semitism.

everything I have written about anti-Semitism, I have emphasised that
it is an evil and we, as the Jewish people, have suffered at the hands
of others for thousands of years.

"In the modern world there is not the kinds of anti-Semitism there were in the past and that has to be welcomed.

about all this, thinking about all this and experiencing all this, I
have seen there is a positive side to it. Anti-Semitism has kept
Judaism alive - and that is the paradox.

hate anti-Semitism, we all hate it. We don't believe that racial hatred
is a good thing. It's controversial to say what we hate is good for us.

very controversial about the book is that it is saying without
anti-Semitism, in the modern world, traditional Judaism has

"We have embraced the surrounding world and discarded our traditions because we are no longer hated. That is paradoxical."

Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg said, "There is a certain truth to this.
Whenever you are living under siege you have either got to survive or
give in. But now the community is more secular than Islamic communities
- maybe they will be the same in two generations."

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Gedolim That Time Forgot

... or rather were supressed by the Chareidim.

to me that there a few very useful Gedolim over the past thousand years
that have been supressed in the Chareidi world. These Gedolim all had
great things to say about Science, or Gentiles, or History, or things
of that nature. Just as people were upset when R Elyashiv said that we
can longer hold by RSRH, shouldn't we be equally upset at how these
other Gedolim were written off hundreds of years ago? I mean, Azzaria
Dei Rossi didn't have a bunch of bloggers to defend him!

I think
it's time to put together a list of 'forgotten' Gedolim and
rehabilitate them. I'm no historian, but my list would include the

  1. R Avraham Ben HaRambam
  2. Ralbag
  3. Azaria Dei Rossi
  4. ShaDal

Any others?

R Shmuel Dovid Luzzatto: Myth Moshol Good, Kiruv Kvetch Bad!

From here:

wise understand that the intent of the Torah is not to teach of the
natural sciences, but that the Torah was given only to direct humankind
on the path of righteousness and justice, and to establish belief in
the Unity and Providence of God in their hearts, for not to the
scholars alone was the Torah given, but to the entire people....."

it is not proper for the Torah scholar to force the Scriptures from
their literal meaning to make them conform with the natural sciences,
nor is it proper for the critic to deny the Divine origin of the Torah
if he finds things in its stories that do not conform with scientific

Is Myth Moshol really compatible with Orthodoxy? What
about Shemos? I don't have all the answers (yet). However I do believe
that Kiruv Kvetch in Breishis is bogus. Sorry, Y Aharon, I know you
disagree and I respect that.

[Hat tip: S]

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Am I Orthodox?

suffering from an image problem. No, not the fact that I'm losing some
hair and have added a few pounds here and there. But rather the image
of this blog. As one commenter noted:

a word about marketing - you say that this blog is not representative
of UO viewpoints or meant for such audiences. However, when you call
yourself "godol hador" - THE chareidi symbol - and consistently
critique decisions by Chareidi leaders, you establish your niche within
those communities. People are looking to you for thoughtful and
humorous takes on the halachic/hashkafic happenings in the yeshiva
world and it leaders. When they want the latest on R. Hershel
Schachter, they'll stop by Gil.

This is a problem, since
in general, the Chareidim are not the target audience of this blog.
While I appreciate their input, it should be pretty clear that very
little on this blog is compatible with Chareidi norms. In fact the
entire Internet is officially ossur for Chareidim, so I can't really
understand why Lakewood bochrim are even surfing the blogs in the first

I have no interest in convincing Chareidim to stop being
fundamentalists, or in pursuading them to believe anything different
than what they currently believe. Originally I got into some debates
about Chareidi leaders and attitudes, but I am way over that now.

don't want to ban anyone as that would look unfair, but really, if you
are Chareidi and you think this blog contains kefirah, then it's not
for you. Not at all. Please do NOT read this blog!

So does this
blog represent Modern Orthodoxy? Again, not really. Even though I
identify as RW MO, I can't really claim to have the approval of Rav
Willig or Rav Shechter for everything I write here. I don't even ask my
own Rav for approval. So basically I cannot claim to represent Modern
Orthodoxy either.

Does this blog even represent my own views?
Again, not really. I often post thoughts and theories which are just
experiments, to see what people will say. My beliefs tend to change
from one day to the next. I can quite happily argue both sides of the
argument. In fact I have a lot of sympathy for Chareidim, for Modern
Orthodox, for Conservatives, even for Atheists. Heck, I'm one
sympathetic guy!

So, in short, anyone looking for a standard
Ultra Orthodox or Modern Orthodox or Conservative or Reform or
Reconstructionist or Deist or Weak Atheist or Strong Atheist viewpoint
won't find it here. Or maybe you'll find them all here, in one way or

Another issue is that my views have certainly changed
over time. The Koton passed on a year ago and now it's time for the
Godol to go too. Too much baggage. I'll keep the URL, and maybe even
the initials GH, but I need them to stand for something new. Maybe
Google Hits? Or George Harrison? Not sure.

I also need a new
title. In fact, to reflect my ever changing moods, I think I will
continually switch titles and try on different personas. Hopefully that
won't confuse anyone too much. All are welcome, and we're going to try
really hard not to denigrate anyone. Unless they insult us first of
course, which means it's open season on Jack Black. (Just kidding)

shall try to tolerate any and all viewpoints, from extreme
fundamentalists like Lakewood Yid to , well, extreme fundamentalists
like Mis-nagid. No doubt I just annoyed both those two. Sorry!

However the following will not be tolerated at all:

* Ridicule of other bloggers and commenters (unless they started it)
* Pritzus (Sorry Jack)
* Revealing of people's identities if they desire to remain anonymous
* Sarcasm and irony are okay, but there's a fine line between funny and ridicule

kefirah tolerated? I think we have to say yes. Not because we enjoy
spreading kefirah, but because it is simply not possible to have any
meaningful discussions on these subjects if you rule out 'kefirah'.
Plus there's no clear definition of what kefirah is anyway.

blog is intended for people to discuss the questions they have. It is
absolutely NOT a support group for skeptics, a hangout for skeptics, or
for people who wish to 'go off the derech'. On the contrary, it is for
people who wish to stay 'on the derech'. Or at least 'a derech'. It's
the polar opposite of sites such as Daat Emet, or the Frum Skeptics
Group on Yahoo. I shall also endeavour to keep it balanced, but the
nature of the enquiry might be that it gets more cynical and
destructive than constuctive at times.

This means that for
someone not prepared to deal with real issues, this blog could be a
real 'lifnei iver'. I personally am 100% Halachik, so this is an issue,
even though this is the blogworld. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. I shall also
add a big warning back to the top of the site.

The value of this
blog has always been the discussions. Many people enjoy reading the
posts, and I enjoy writing them. But the value is in the comments, not
the posts. In fact, often what I say is almost irrelevant. Sometimes I
think I could write a post which said nothing but 'Blah blah Slifkin'
and 300 comments would ensue.

So, am I Orthodox? Yes! I am. But
I can't possibly vet every post and every comment and censor out any
'non Orthodox' viewpoints. It would kill the whole discussion and there
would be no point. This is not a kiruv site. This is not a chizuk site.
If you want kiruv or chizuk, go to This site is about discussions of important issues.

I am biased. Obviously I would prefer that the eventual outcome will be
a resounding proof for Orthodox Judaism (RW MO). But we will have to
see what happens. If it ever gets to the point where things are really
looking bad I will probably shut down. I have no interest in being a
'kefirah site'.

Anyway, to all my readers, lurkers and commenters past, present and future, let the discussions begin!

Now, what the heck am I gonna blog about?

Unhappy with Modern Orthodoxy?

on Sabbatical, I had a few thoughts. Some people might be amused by
this, but currently I am more annoyed at MO than at the Gedolim (or
even the Atheists). At least the Gedolim are consistent – Torah is
true, Science is false (at least where it conflicts with Torah) and the
Internet (or anything which might raise questions) is ossur.

on the other hand pretends to confront Modernity. It’s okay to think
about Science, and to hold of Science. We have the courage to be Modern
and Orthodox! (Great, except that we don’t have any good answers.)

are we kidding? Kiruv Kvetch (local floods and day doesn’t mean day)
are not credible. Myth/Moshol is credible in itself, but then that
raises a whole bunch of other questions, like how can 11 chapters of
the Torah be mythology???!!! Ultimately that doesn’t really fit well
with Torah either.

It’s like I have two parts of my brain. One
part always accepted Science, and one part always accepted Orthodox
Judaism, and both parts were happy to live in their own spheres
(lobes?) without talking to each other that much, except for the
occasional ‘Hello, how’s it going?’ type of hallway conversation. There
was no real dialogue, and everybody got along just fine.

that the dialogue has started, my brain is realizing that they can’t
both be 100% true, something has to give! The gap is too huge to
bridge. Yet neither side wants to give in. I think that’s called
cognitive dissonance. And I think MO needs to be more honest.

I suggest a new slogan for MO:

Orthodoxy: If you really think about it, it will drive you crazy! But
at least you don’t have to keep all those chumras! (And we won’t hassle
you with any mussar droshos either).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Pritzus & Kefirah & Lehitraot

of my blog know that I don’t allow any Pritzus on this blog.
Occasionally a little slips through in the comments but in general I am
very makpid. Why? Maybe because I’m a prude, or maybe because my
parents read my blog, or maybe because it’s just entirely
inappropriate. Or maybe all three.

I was recently shocked to see
that a blogger who had been vociferously defending the Gedolim and
bashing Slifkin had some very explicit posts on his site about his
marital problems. Of course it is his prerogative to talk about such
things, and I feel sorry for the guy, but the level of detail was
entirely too much. I find it hard to believe that this person (who
claims he works in ‘Avodas Hakodesh’) is well balanced. He has my
sympathy for his problems, but really, a trip to a marital therapist is
the answer, not a public blog.

In an interesting parallel, some
people claim my blog has the same issues. They say questions and doubts
should be dealt with in private, and should not be discussed openly on
the Internet, as it might cause ‘hirhurim’ (i.e. doubts) amongst my
readers. One of the Lakewood Chevrah quoted a Chazal that says there is
a taavoh for kefirah just like for arayos. I hadn’t heard that before,
but I suppose I can imagine it’s true.

So is Kefirah just as bad as Pritzus?

you have marital issues, you can visit a therapist. However there are
no kefirah therapists. Of course your local Rav may try and give you
some answers, but he is probably no expert. Only on the Internet can
you find such a wide range of educated individuals expressing so many

'Pritzus' is generally acknowledged by the general
populace to be not an acceptable topic of conversation in polite
circles, certainly my office would never tolerate such things
(officially). On the other hand Kefirah (Heresy) is an acceptable topic
for discussion, and has been since the 17th century (apart from in
Ultra Orthodox circles).

It’s almost become something of a joke
in fact. The louder that the extreme right wing shout ‘Kefirah’ at
anything they don’t like, the more the word loses it’s meaning. In the
same vein I have heard maggidei shiur talk positively about ‘frum
kefirah’. And there are plenty of Modern Orthodox Rabbis who will
entertain all sorts of ‘kefiradick’ conversations in private. Even some
LW UO Rabbis will do the same.

In a way, it’s kinda like
Pritzus. No Rabbi will publicly talk about the intimate issues that
certain bloggers are raising, but in private they will, and possibly be
more maykil in private than you will ever see in public. This is
appropriate for these sort of topics. But is this mehalech appropriate
for Kefirah topics too?

I started this blog with a light hearted
tone, for a number of reasons. One, to break the ice and keep it light.
Two: because I have a sense of humor and don’t really get to exercise
it in the real world, this blog was my outlet. Three: because it makes
it more interesting to read the posts. But that doesn’t mean I take
these subjects lightly, in fact I agonize over these subjects day and

It is not my intention to spread ‘Kefirah’, or cause any
doubts in anyone. I also realize that within Chareidi circles, pretty
much everything discussed here is way off the charts. This blog is not
intended for Chareidi readership! Though I do need Chareidi commenters
for their very valuable input. However Chareidim who are going around
yelling that this blog is kefirah are rather silly.

This blog is
not written from a Chareidi perspective and makes no pretence to be.
This is modern Orthodox Hashkafah at best, and maybe not even that at
times. Personally I identify RW MO as that’s the best practical
compromise in real life between passionate commitment to Torah and
Halachah, while also allowing a certain level of intellectual freedom
that cannot be attained within Ultra Orthodoxy. Of course there are
passionate enclaves within LW MO and also RW Conservative, but that's
not my scene.

I don’t know if everyone realizes that many of my
posts have been experiments. For example, my mussar shmooz to skeptics
was not a statement of my belief, it was an experiment. My beliefs are
private. In fact so private, that even I don’t know what they are most
of the time. But seriously, I raised questions and looked for answers.
My own beliefs are another matter entirely. In real life I hold of the
RW MO. End of discussion.

Some people have claimed that reading
this blog has caused them to have doubts. What can I say? If you have
such feeble emunah then you shouldn’t be on the Internet. The Gedolim
have assured the internet for good reasons. Other people complain that
I spend too much time deconstructing and not enough time
reconstructing. Guilty as charged. It’s very difficult to construct,
especially in the current environment. But I try.

people say I am wasting my time. They say I will never convince the
skeptics, and watering down the mesorah to try and please them is not
going to achieve anything. I will also not convince any
fundamentalists, and nor do I really want to. If they are happy then
let them stay that way (as long as they don’t bother me).

I have received many emails from people saying I saved their sanity,
and kept them frum. One guy in particular said he wouldn’t be frum
anymore if it wasn’t for me. (But then I found out he said the same
exact thing to another blogger also. Hmmm).

We have discussed
the same subjects over and over, and have made some progress in some
areas. Overall I don’t think we have found any ground breaking answers,
but we have more clearly defined the issues and ramifications. And I
certainly have learned a lot.

So is this blog just one big
kefirah fest and should it be shut down? I hope not. But it could be.
Maybe I need a change. Maybe I need a little break. Maybe I should
spend more time with my family. maybe I should learn some more
(definitely). I have two hundred seforim from Amazon waiting to be
read. Plus my boss is on my case.

In the words of Judea:

Now it is time, to say goodbye
I hope you won’t mind and I know you won’t cry
Remember the words, the feelings we shared…
Must go to shiur.
Let’s go to shiur.
Must go to shiur.

worry, I’ll be back soon. At least for my Pesach Hotel posts, if not
sooner. This is not a retirement, just a Sabbatical. I think.

Breaking News: Centrist Judaism Supports GH!

In a major announcement
today, the Centrist Judaism movement has come out in support of the GH.
Harry Maryles, founder, president and chief spokesman for the movement,
had this to say:

I seriously doubt that he is a Kofer. I believe him to be a seeker of truth who is intellectually honest.

I see the Centrists are right on the money. Maybe I should join their
movement? They are obviously in touch with the emmes. Hary goes on to

Based on my readings, I believe him to be married, in
his early thirties with a Charedi background at least in which Yeshivos
he attended.

Wow! How did you figure that out! Could it
possibly be the countless times I mentioned the Rebbetzin and the fact
that I went to Chareidi Yeshivot?!

I would be willing to bet
that he is quite a gentleman in his real life. He provides a forum for
people with major issues about Torah Judaism, including himself, to
vent. I also believe that he is very likely a much respected member of
his community too, whether amongst peers or community leaders.

okay. I guess I am a gentleman. I mean, I don't go round my community
yelling at people 'Fool! Dummy!'. At least not that often anyway. I
don't know how respected I am though. I'm just a regular guy trying to
earn a buck, raise a family, and prevent myself from dying of boredom
at work.

Oh, and of course I am searching for the answer to life, the universe and everything. And I'm pretty sure it's not 42. But as Gil says, 'It could be. Could be.'

Does The Knish Read My Blog?

reader alerted me to the fact that the Knish has just put up a joke
about tefillin dates. I wonder if they read my blog?! I can't provide a
link to the actual article, it's as pritzusdick as a Jak Black post.
But go enjoy the rest of The Knish, those guys are always good for a laugh.

Godol's Guide to the Upper West Side

Unlike the author of the article below, I used to live on the UWS, so I actually have a clue about the place. He says:

To fully comprehend the inner workings of the metrodox, you need to take a look at how they evolved.

I say, to fully comprehend the UWS, you actually have to have lived there. Here is my take.

UWS Chevras
of all, there are many different chevras on the UWS, it’s not one
monolithic mass of people. I would categorize the chevras as follows:

1. Ex Chareidi
is always a handful of ex chareidi types on the UWS. Ex Mir, Ex Kol
Torah, Ex BJJ and similar. (I never met any Ex Briskers, though I
learned for a short while at R Dovids, and used to have a night seder
chavrusoh who learned at AJ’s so maybe I was the only one). These guys
for the most part have slipped out of Chareidi life, though they make
fake it when they go home. Often, they end up being shidduched off to
other Chareidi rebels and they go live in Flatbush like everybody else,
never to talk of the UWS again. This crowd not only davens at the
shteibles but also usually hangs out with the UWS Chareidim, the very
wealthy (and pseudo sophisticated) Boyanne crowd and similar.

2. RW MO
is a strong RW MO chevrah on the UWS, not as large as the LW MO, but
still significant. These guys are frum. They learn, they go to
davening, and they are definitely shomer / shomeret negiah. Maybe in
private some of them slip occasionally, but then so do people in
Yeshivah going on Shidduch dates, so I don’t see mcuh difference there.
These people run the learning programs and similar events. Many of
these guys will daven at one of the shteibels, like Bessers, Vorhands
or the West Side Kollel.

3. LW MO
largest chevrah is probably the LW MO crowd. This is basically the
crowd referenced in the article below. They don’t typically have much
of a yeshivah background, maybe a year in Israel at most. Although
probably not officially shomer negiah, it’s not a free for all either.
Brooklyn stories about pilagshim, tefillin dates, tevialh dates and
things like that are bogus. Most people like to preserve their
‘reputation’. But even those who don’t, you have to realize that these
people don’t typcially come from very strong backgrounds. This is the
core group who go to OZ and the Jewish Center.

4. Conservadox
an interesting Conservadox crowd on the UWS. See Mar Gavriel’s blog for
more (excrutiatingly detailed) information. They daven at KOE or one of
the other egalitarian type minyanim, and somewhat straddle the fence
between JTS and LW MO. A lot of these people are very passionate and
committed. I knew a few of them. Quite frequently you get MO and
Consrevadox’s dating.

5. Non Orthodox
course there is also a huge mass of Non Orthodox singles on the UWS, of
every denomination. These are beyond the scope of this article (and my
knowledge). However people in their 20s are often searching for meaning
in life, so there is an actrive Aish kiruv program which is pretty

UWS Singles

RW MO crowd on the UWS tends to be the pickier types. This is due to
self selection – all the non picky types already got married at Stern
and YU. Also the LW UO and ex Yeshivah crowd typically have issues too,
if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there in the first place. So I don’t
think the UWS makes it harder to get married, rather I think a lot of
the people who end up there are only there because they have some
isssues. Hence my famous phrase ‘ You’re either there for 6 months or 6
years’. In other words, if you are a normal, well balanced individual,
you will find someone pretty quick and get hitched. Otherwise you will
be there a long while. Almost everyone I knew there was there for 6
years or simiar.

Of course being there that long can turn people
jaded and cynical. And it can enforce their pickiness. There is a
chevrah of ‘playboy’ types – guys who were good looking but very very
picky. They are all pushing 40 now, and are still single. Very sad. I
also know some girls who were very good girls, but were looking for the
impossible: A guy with an excellent job, who is also a major lamdan,
kind, outgoing, good looking etc etc. They are looking for Mr Perfect
and they won’t compromise either. Many of these people are still single
too. Very sad.

Hence my other famous saying: ‘Look for the the
three things that are most important to you, …. And then compromise on
two of them. Ester Kustanowitz won’t listen to my advice and she’s
still single. Very sad. Many people end up going to therapy (which is
de rigeur anyway for Manhattan). The frum therapists like Naftoli
Reich, Tzvi Blanchard and Naomi Marks do a brisk trade, but personally
I don't think much of therapy (unless you are seriously messed up).
Waste of money.

UWS Religion

always found there to be a really good ruach on the UWS. On Yomim
Tovim, Selichos days etc, especially living in one of the big dorm
buildings near OZ, for example The Westmont, Key West or West Gate. You
are surrounded by young, committed frum people, and everyone is going
to shul, coming back from shul, celebrating yom tov, fasting , or
similar. It really did feel like a nice ruach, almost like being back
in Yeshivah (except with girls).

There are also plenty of
opportunities to learn, with many shiurim and learning programs. Of
course many people are dating at night, so they get about as much
learning done in the evenings as the average Lakewood bochur.

observance depends on the chevras I described above. The people on the
biggest slide downhill are the ex Yeshivah and ex Bes Yaakov types, no
question. Nu, that’s their own personal choice. Rabbi Shwartz gives
mussar shmoozen occasionally, though usually about getting married
rather than Halachic observance. The people I knew only ate at kosher
restaurants and would never eat triefe, no way.


UWS is an awesome place. I loved it there (though the Rebbetzin hated
it). Lots of interesting people live there, I even used to be friendly
with the (in)famous Marc Shapiro. Of course back then hashkafah wasn’t
really my priority, so we used to talk about dating rather than the
ikkarim (what a wasted opportunity). Would I advise living there? Some
people I knew in Brooklyn and other suburbs told me they were ‘scared’
to move to the UWS, they found it intimidating. But so do most of the
people who live there! Overall, I think I would recommend it if you are
an older single.

Though hopefully not for my kids.

Meet The Metrodox

One of the Lakewood chevrah sent me a link to this article and asked me
to post it. He says I'm wasting my time debating with the skeptics and
should post about other topics instead. But why are Lakewood bochrim
reading about the UWS? Perhaps they are living vicariously through the
UWS singles. And by the way Steve Brizel, UWS tefillin dates are a
vicious myth spread by Brooklyn Shadchanim fearful of losing business
to the UWS scene. Tefillin dates simply do not exist - nobody takes
their tefillin along! Also, much to my surprise, I see a phrase that I
invented has become an 'old saying on the West Side' (it's in bold
below). Fame at last!

Young, hip, and perennially guilt-ridden, a new wave of Gen-X Jews are walking the fine line between modern and Orthodox.

By Benyamin Cohen

It's a hot and muggy August night in New York
and on the Hebrew calendar it's the little known Jewish festival of
love known as Tu B'av, the closest thing us Heebs get to a bona fide
version of Valentine's Day. At the Hudson Beach Cafe, a cozy outdoor
bar overlooking the waterfront on the corner of 103rd and Riverside
Park, a group of hip, young, Orthodox singles have decided to throw a
party in honor of the festival. More than 500 people show up.

According to some estimates, there are more 20-something Modern Orthodox Jews in the Upper West Side of Manhattan than there are in the rest of North America — combined. Estimates have the number in the thousands.

In this 35-block radius, nestled comfortably between Riverside and Central Parks, knit yarmulkes and long jean skirts are de rigueur. Not a surprising sight in New York,
but when you consider the skirt is tight and low-riding and the knit
yarmulke has creased folds from being in a pocket all day at work, then
it's a whole different ball of matzah.

They are in their 20s,
proud of their religion, and inventing their own unique brand of
Judaism. They do the secular (travel, watch movies, go dancing) and
they do the religious (have an active synagogue life, keep kosher, and
study Torah). And they are all single. They are the Metrodox.

from the religious confines of the parental nest and Jewish life on
college campuses, this is the first time they are living without the
constant daily inundation of a Jewish influence. Being tugged from the
secular world, on the one hand, and from the religious, on the other,
they have stylized their own compromise.

For all intents and
purposes, they define themselves as Modern Orthodox: They grew up
observing Shabbat and keeping kosher. They probably spent a year after
high school hanging out in Israel,
and then went on to attend a college with a heavy Jewish population.
Now, they've graduated and are in the workforce tackling the
professional worlds of computer programming, marketing, Wall Street
banking, non-profits, and occupational therapy — just to name a few of
the popular fields.

Safely away from their families, they are
living with thousands of like-minded Jewish singles, and have created a
counterculture unique all their own. While they may keep kosher and
pray three times a day, they also go clubbing and are involved in
physical relationships with those of the opposite sex. While they may
feel a sense of connection being around so many like-minded young Jews,
they also feel an unbearable sense of loneliness and despair.

a cognitive dissonance that has the rest of the nation befuddled and
perplexed at how this enclave came about, what motivates them, and
where its future lies.


To fully comprehend the inner workings of the Metrodox,
you need to take a look at how they evolved. Some experts theorize that
the creation of the Upper West Side community in general, and the
Metrodox in particular, stems from the myriad Jewish communities
throughout America.

way Jewish communities are set up — with life revolving around the JCC,
the synagogue, and family life — singles are meant to feel inadequate,"
explains sociologist Scott Friedman. "They stand out like a sore thumb
and are ostracized for not being married."

Friedman believes this is one reason they have all fled to a common, more accepting environment like the Upper West Side. The lifestyle, termed Ortho Chic, is more Greenwich Village than Kew Gardens.

the insular nature of the lifestyle can be inhibiting. As Friedman
points out, in a community full of singles there are no families and
happily married couples around to serve as role models.

matter where one grew up — their background, their religiosity — the
Upper West Side has become the hub for the post-college single Jew,"
says Isaac Galena who, along with his twin brother Seth, run the
Metrodox Web portal, "Most Jewish communities, if not
all, have a tendency to make Orthodox single people in their 20s feel
like freaks. As if there is something seriously wrong with them since
they aren't married by the age of 23. The Upper West Side
serves as a community that embraces people in singlehood. It makes them
feel as though they belong and serves almost as a fun support group and
a stepping stone during this interim period."

As Galena
will tell you, an interim period implies that eventually the Metrodox
will find a mate, get married, and graduate to greener, more suburban,

So, what's the dating scene like? Picture a Jewish Melrose Place.
With thousands of young Jews packed into the same neighborhood,
Metrodox dating has become a phenomenon all to itself. Consider this:
Jewish singles from all across America travel to the Upper West Side just to go on dates.

One out-of-state 28-year-old male who, for obvious reasons, wished to remain anonymous, told us he traveled to New York
13 times in one year alone, and has gone out on more than 100 dates
with Metrodox girls. Asked why he didn't just move there, he had this
to say: "If I lived in the Upper West Side
and saw hundreds of available Modern Orthodox women at synagogue, I
wouldn't even know where to begin. It would literally be overwhelming
and I'm afraid that, like many who live there, I would just get jaded."

desired, a typical Metrodox male could go out with a different girl
every night of the week — for an entire year. There's an entire cottage
industry around Web sites that cater to the Metrodox's dating needs
including and And once somebody gets
engaged, they can post pictures and mazal tovs online at Some Metrodox check the site twice a day.

Which, inevitably, leads to the wedding blues.


It's a recent Sunday night and there's a wedding taking place at the posh Plaza Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Horse drawn buggies loiter outside as passersby gawk at the rich and
famous entering the hotel. Inside, 200 guests attend the wedding of two
Upper West Siders, two of the lucky ones who made it out safely to the
other side. As midnight turns into morning, the remaining single
friends adopt an almost bitter attitude, slowly dismissing themselves
from the dance floor, and chug yet another glass of wine. While the
newlyweds are enjoying their wedding night, the singles will head back
to their cramped apartments and the solace that awaits them there.

There's an old saying in the Upper West Side that's kind of reminiscent of prison terminology: "You're either here for six months or six years." Which leads to the obvious question: If there are so many singles, why would it take so long to find a mate?

Arye Dworken, who has lived in the Upper West Side
for half a decade, calls it the menu theory. "Every time I go to this
restaurant with a pretty large menu, I have a hard time figuring out
what to order," he says matter of factly. "People have this A.D.D.
mentality where you see everything at once. That's why you need less

Elana Beckerman, 26, moved to the Upper West Side from Atlanta
three years ago. She says that, besides the fact that many feel
insecure about moving beyond the friendship stage with those of the
opposite sex, most Metrodox feel they've did their job just by
relocating to the Upper West Side. "Once they are there they are not proactive in dating," she says. "They just sit around and complain about not being married."

well, Beckerman points out, not everyone there is the Jewish Brad Pitt.
"There are a ton of socially awkward people. Some just never mixed with
the opposite sex while others are just plain weird."

Those awkward ones can hone their skills at the epicenter of Jewish life on the Upper West Side, Congregation Ohab Zedek. The synagogue is the Jewish Gen-Xer's answer to Studio 54. It's a kosher meat market.

this particular Friday night I join a crowd in full force. A couple
hundred young men dash into the synagogue's sanctuary, hair still wet
from their recently applied gel. In attendance, but not as prompt, the
women begin to fill their section two at a time, in pairs, as if Noah
had called them in from the rain.

The architect of O.Z. was a
genius, a pure mastermind. The women's section is located on a
horseshoe balcony surrounding the men's section, making eye contact
between the opposite sexes all but involuntary. Sure, it's not what God
intended, but it draws a crowd.

Midway through the services we
sit, listening attentively to the congregation's pied piper, Rabbi
Allen Schwartz. Clean-shaven and wearing a velvet yarmulke, he raises
his hands as he speaks, almost pointing to the women upstairs, taunting
the men as if saying, "You've got to wait another 20 minutes before you
can flirt with those women."

As the services came to a close,
the crowd — now a strong 300 — makes its way through the front foyer
out onto the steps and into the street. The mere volume of Jewish
singles in attendance makes it almost impossible to exit the synagogue
in less than a half hour.

It is on these steps, these legendary
steps, where the real services begin. Guys who have been scoping out
their prey inside now make their move. It's like watching a Discovery
Channel documentary on wild hyenas in their natural habitat. "The male
hyena," the voiceover intones, "after completing the ceremonial prayer
service to the wildebeest gods now feels confident to approach the
female." It's a deadly mix of testosterone and Torah.

"The Melrose Place analogy only lends itself to the problem of people not being able to commit," explains's Galena.
"Since there are so many people, so many choices — in one small
community — it's tough not to keep looking over your shoulder."

even find the problem, um, maddening. Chananya Weissman runs, a Web site whose sole goal is to help stave off this
crisis and get these people married. "The root of the problem is social
pressure," he says. "Our culture is dominated by an unwritten code of
conduct and standards, a perverse sort of oral Torah. Conformance to
this code often supersedes observance of fundamental principles of the
actual Torah."

"The large number of potential dating prospects
tempts singles to keep playing the field in search of someone perfect
or 'even better' than the flavor of the day," Weissman adds. "The
mystery of who might be behind door number two is tantalizing, and
leads singles to focus on reasons why the relationship might not work,
rather than reasons why it will. Dumping someone for some little reason
is no big deal, since there are so many other singles right around the
corner for you to date."


The lobby of the Westmont is, at best, non-descript. Nothing too fancy for this Manhattan apartment building on the corner of 96th Street and Columbus Avenue.
Mirror covered walls encompass the lobby. A steady slew of people come
and go. A lone security guard relaxes at the front desk.

20-something girls whisk through the front glass doors, one holding
takeout sushi from a nearby eatery, the other holding a prescription
bag from the Duane Reade across the street and a video from the
Blockbuster next door.

Aimlessly pacing around is a 26-year-old
named David. It says so on his knit yarmulke. It also says he's a Blue
Devils fan. A few minutes later, an attractive girl in her mid-twenties
comes out of the elevator and smacks a wet one on David's mouth. She
ends the mouth-to-mouth with an intense hug. David's tzitzit, which are
dangling from his untucked shirt, sway with the motion.

"As for Jewish observance, everyone is different," explains Galena.
"I believe anyone, after they have hit a certain age and maturity, will
begin to progress — whether toward more or less religiosity. That's
just part of life's self actualization process. But the Upper West Side
does not have the religious pressure that many other [communities] do,
and people tend to make their own religious decisions as opposed to
following community standards. For most, it's a great place for people
to find themselves, while at the same time finding their life's

Friedman, the sociologist, disagrees. "They're not
being true to themselves," he says. "They act religious when they go
home for the weekend, but they're wearing bikinis on the beach on their
Miami vacations."

Beckerman understands that the Upper West Side
serves as somewhat of a dichotic outlet for Gen-X observant Jews. "I
feel that many religious from birth people feel that this is the only
time in their life that they have the right to act less religious —
before they get hitched — and might act in a less religious way than
before they graduated college."

The odd fact in the majority of
these cases is that unlike, say, less observant Jews, the Metrodox
actually feel guilty when they transgress. "I totally ate treyf today,"
a Metrodox male tells me one afternoon. "I was at a client lunch and I
asked for a salad, nothing on it. Sure enough, it comes back with all
sorts of stuff." At this point he shakes his head in
self-disappointment. "Man, I feel bad."

While some are guilt
ridden, others find nothing wrong with what they're doing. Wearing a
skirt becomes a privilege of fashion rather than a burden of modesty.
"Buying a cute skirt is trendy nowadays anyway," a 20-something
Metrodox female tells me. "If I was forced to look frumpy, that would
be an entirely different story."

Dworken believes the problems
lie in the categorization. "Everyone is really different," he says.
"People here create a facade or these clichés for themselves for these

As for Beckerman, she's come to terms with both
the pros and cons of what the Metrodox lifestyle has to offer. "I've
learned that as much as I tried to change the dynamics of the Upper
West Side, it just is what it is and I've gotta love it for that," she
says after retiring from serving as president of the Young Leadership
Committee at her synagogue, where she organized social events and a
Shabbat singles service which attracted 200 people each week. As for
her dating life, well, she's learned something about that too in the
three years she's lived there. "I've also come to realize that I do not
want my prince charming to be Brad Pitt."

Bangitout's brother
Seth puts it all in perspective. "Since there is so much going on and
so many interesting people it can get really distracting, in terms of
dating and religiosity," he says. "It's tough to focus, but if you can,
and you take advantage of it all, there is no better place to be single
and Jewish in the world."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Guest Post from Jak Blak

to me guys, I know Slifkin! I’ve know him for years. I know him like
he’s my own flesh and blood. And let me tell you, that guy is
conceited! Boy is he conceited! He thinks he knows it all! He thinks
he’s the world expert on Torah and Science! Well, maybe not the world
expert, but he certainly thinks he’s a major talmid chochom. Okay, a
minor talmid chochom. But still!

He’s a baal gaaveh. And I
should know, because I sat next to him in Mercaz Hatorah for years!
Years and years! Decades! Okay, it’s true he didn’t learn in Mercaz
Hatorah, nor has he ever even visited the place, but still I know him
well! Very well! I used to hang out with him in Medrash Shmuel all the
time. Okay, not exactly with him, but with some guys who knew him. Or
at least they said they knew him. Or at least I think they said they
knew him. But still!

I know Slifkin better than anybody! And
let me tell you, he’s no major Talmid Chochom, and he can sometimes be
a bit conceited. Well, maybe not conceited exactly, maybe overly
confident. But how can we have non major talmidei chachomim who are
overly confident writing seforim??? That’s not right. Only reticent
major talmidei chachomim can write seforim! As has been our mesorah for
generations. Do you think any of the Gedolim wrote seforim while they
were in their twenties?! No way!

But wait, let me tell you
idiots what the real problem with Slifkin is. It’s his ‘tone’. Such
chutzpah! To quote people like Rav Shimshon Refoel Hersh??? What a
chutzpa!. As R Moshe Shapiro said ‘Hu lo mibayt midrosheynu!’ How can
we quote people who didn’t learn with us in our bet midrash? That’s why
I could never quote Slifkin, he never learned in my bet midrash! Okay,
many people before have quoted RSRH. But Slifkin is no major talmid
chochom! Only a major talmid chochom can quote RSRH! Not a minor one!
Minor talmidei chachomim cannot quote anybody. And if they don’t learn
in our bet midrash, you can’t even quote them either! Okay, so in truth
I hold of RSRH. But still!

But wait, it’s even worse than that.
Slifkin holds of Science. What a fundamentalist! He holds of science
like it’s some kind of religion. Well okay, maybe not like a religion,
but he holds of it like it’s some kind of factual thing based on years
of experimentation and convergent theories and evidence! What a kofer!

so in truth I hold of science too (within reason). And of course all
Chareidim hold of science too (within reason). Chareidim are not anti
science ! (within reason) No, not even the Gedolim are anti science
(within reason) ! They all love science! (within reason). But still!

problem with Slifkin is that he was chutzpadick. No wait, the problem
with Slifkin was that he was not a major talmid chochom. No wait, the
two problems with Slifkin are that he’s chutzpadick AND he’s also not a
major talmid chochom! If he had been a chutzpadick major talmid chochom
he would never have been banned! If only a chutzpadick major talmid
chachomim would write such things we would all be okay! Or maybe a non
chutzpadick minor talmid chochom? Truth is I’m not sure. But still!

in any event, it’s clear what tremendous damage Slifkin has caused. By
recognizing that a problem exists, and trying honestly to address it,
and by helping many people, he has caused tremendous damage! And don’t
tell me that anyone ever leaves Judaism because of ‘theological
doubts’. What a bunch of crap!. Nobody leaves Orthodoxy because of

Now excuse me while I go off and write intimate
details of my personal relationship with my wife in my blog for all the
world to see. What, you have a problem with that?! I asked some huge
talmidei chachamim and they said as long as I help people it’s fine! As
long as I help people I can do anything I want. And lots of bochrim
have written to me to tell me how much they enjoy my blog. Clearly I am
helping so many people!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Modern Orthodox Fundamentalists

Hirhurim writes:

have much more respect for someone who says "Evolution conflicts with
my religious beliefs so I'll reject it and assume that it will
eventually be disproven" than someone who reads one or two popular
books on the subject and says "Those foolish scientists don't know what
they're talking about."

Why? Both positions are contrary
to the available evidence, neither is rational. Why should you respect
one more than the other? In addition, Hirhurim famously said that ‘I
will believe no matter what the evidence’. So where does Hirhurim come
off sounding so rational?

I like Hirhurim, but it’s time to call
a spade a spade. Modern Orthodoxy is hypocritical, poking fun at the
fundamentalists for being a bunch of irrational fools, yet all the
while stubbornly clinging to their own irrational beliefs, no matter
what. I was guilty of this too, and for that I apologize.

in fundamentalist houses shouldn’t throw stones. And as long as the
MO's still hold of the ikkarim, Modern Orthodoxy is as fundamentalist
as can be.

The Slippery Slope

slippery slope is a dangerous thing. Once you get on, it’s hard to get
off. There are no clearly defined stopping places, and unless you are
an expert skier, it’s easy to keep sliding and sliding until you hit
rock bottom.

It starts off simply, even innocently.

looks around at this incredible universe, with all the incredible
science and physics, and thinks, this must have come from somewhere,
this couldn’t have all just happened. There must be something above and
beyond the natural world which created all this purposely.

There must be a Creator.

is the first step down the slope. Next one starts to contemplate the
meaning of life. If the universe and I were created for a purpose, what
purpose could that be? Wouldn’t the Creator of the Universe have some
way of communicating or revealing or inspiring me to this purpose? This
clearly leads to a contemplation of religion, and for someone born
Orthodox Jewish, the Orthodox Jewish religion.

The next step
down the slope is acceptance of the Torah as being Divinely Inspired.
After all, it stands to reason that God would want us to know our
purpose in life, and this must be the Torah. And of course Torah
SheBiktav makes limited sense without Torah ShebaalPeh to explain it,
nobody nowadays would advocate just following the Torah Shebiktav. So
now we have God, Torah Shebiktav and Torah Shebaal Peh.

wait! If there truly is a spiritual world out there, and we truly have
an olam habah, and we truly have some kind of soul, then truly there’s
a lot more going on than just meets the eye. Physical actions cause
spiritual consequences, consequences that we cannot understand with our
physical mind, yet we know they are there. Maybe all the Mitzvot have
mystical, spiritual, consequences too? Maybe each time I say ‘Omayn’ I
create legions of angels to defend me against the demons? Why not? I
guess it must be true.

Plus, the same people who have brought
down to us our mesorah about Torah, have also brought down a rich
mesorah of Kabbala, mysticism, Maggid Stories and all the rest. So why
can’t they be true also? After all, as the famous saying of Rabbi
(Dayan) Krausz goes, we believe in God without evidence, so why not
Reiki? (or anything else for that matter). Doesn’t seem to be any good
reason to accept all the preceding things and yet stop here.

it all must be true! Rebbishe Maysos, talking fish, maggidim, Gosse
Theory, whatever! It’s all true. I mean, do we have any good reason to
say it’s not? Common Sense? Common sense is simply a cultural
phenomenon, it has no objective reality.

I guess the only way to
prevent a descent all the way down the slippery slope is to rely on
evidence. Yet relying on evidence will also prevent you from getting on
the slope in the first place, which is not what we want either.

I guess you have to say like this:

The most rational position is to only believe in things for which there is evidence.

additionally acceptable (and mentally healthy) to have faith in things
which have no evidence for them, provided the following:

1. The
belief you are having faith in is beneficial to you in some way. For
example, your ability to succeed, your religion etc. If you have faith
that the world is going to end tomorrow, that’s probably not so
mentally healthy.

2. The belief you have faith in is not
contradicted by hard evidence. If for example you have faith that you
can fly, and you jump off a tall building to test your faith, that’s
probably not so good. It’s clearly not rational to believe in things
contrary to the evidence.

bottom line is this: Having faith in a belief for a positive reason,
where that belief is not contradicted by any hard evidence, is okay.

So where does this leave us?

means that really there is no difference (from a rational perspective)
in believing in God, or Torah MiSinai, or Kabbalah, or that the Ramchal
had a Maggid, or even Gosse Theory. Ridiculing any of these, whilst
maintaining a belief in any other of these is hypocritical.

people from different cultural perspectives may find one of these
beliefs ridiculous, and another of these beliefs entirely ‘normal’, but
there’s no rational basis for that distinction, it’s simply cultural
conditioning to think like that.

This means that I need to
change some of my positions. Gosse Theory is okay. And by that I mean
Advanced Gosse Theory, where all the ‘after the fact’ clean up miracles
happened too. (Naïve Gosse Theory doesn’t work for reasons we have
discussed previously.) Is Advanced Gosse Theory ridiculous? Sounds
ridiculous to me, but probably no more ridiculous than Torah Min
Hashamayim sounds to a Reconstructionist Jew.

This means that
since I believe in God and Torah, the only thing between me and a
literal understanding of Breishis (with Advanced Gosse Theory TM) is
cultural conditioning.

Some people are not going to like this
post. They are going to say that there are degrees of rationality (or
irrationality). Perhaps God isn’t exactly provable, but it’s a darn
site more rational than Gosse Theory. Well maybe.

But once you are on the slippery slope of belief, does rationality have any bearing at all?

More Shiurim You'll Never See

Hat Tip: Muqata

hee. But now for the punch line: I probably learnt more lessons in life
from Grover (maybe not so much Jar Jar or the Teletubbies) than I ever
did from Rav Mattisyahu. But maybe that's an unfair comparison, after
all, I probably watched more episodes of Sesame Street than I attended
RMS's shmoozen.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Arguing with Fundies

Hirhurim posts
about a series of letters in the Jewish Press on evolution. The main
letter writer, David Fass, is actually someone I know a little, a smart
guy. He has a great comment in one letter:

dismays me that many of my fellow Jews who are so passionate and proud
of their own learning are so dismissive of the scholarship of others.
The assumption that scientists are incompetent or corrupt is just crude
escapism, and it discourages me to see it so conspicuously practiced by
people whom I otherwise respect, and who certainly have the capacity to
do better.

well said. Arguing with fundamentalists on the details of science is
silly though, and a waste of time. Firstly, they usually have an
appalling grasp of science, as these letters clearly show. Secondly,
they aren't interested in the truth, but rather in defending their own
dogmas and ideology. You can't win.

Readers of this blog will
notice that I have barely ever (if ever) debated science itself with
anyone. My position is simply a secheldick position; If the majority of
global, unbiased scientists agree that a theory is 'proven', then it's
proven. There's nothing more to argue about. Fundamentalists who argue
with scientists, and then quote a couple of quack scientists to back
them up, are particularly stupid. As my man David Fass says:

isn’t it a bit odd that the few scientists who reject evolutionary
theory are considered credible, reliable, important, even
"outstanding," while the vast majority of scientists [who accept
evolution] are dismissed as corrupt, misguided, incompetent, and
deceptive? Strange how that works.

Strange? I wouldn't
say strange. I would say positively idiotic. Is it remotely possible
that the majority of scientists are wrong and these few quacks are
right? Yes, I suppose it's remotely possible. About as possible as
Zoboomafoo being God.

But arguing about evolution vs. ID is
silly. We already know Breishis isn't literal, and our emunah in God
isn't based on proofs from ID either. So what do you gain by arguing
ID? Evolution can appear random yet still have been planned by God. And
problems of poor design such as the appendix, blind spot in the eye or
whatever, are equally problems whether you hold of ID or evolution, so
that make's no difference either.

I suppose it would be cool if
we could conclusively prove that life could not have jump started on
Earth without Divine (or extra-terrestrial) intervention. But that's
not likely to happen, and it's a bad strategy to place your hopes on a
relatively small 'gap' like that.

My faith rests on many things,
including in part, some 'gaps'. But these are no minor gaps. These are
major gaps, gaps so fundamental that science will never cross them.
Gaps so fundamental that science can't ever cross them.

such as consciousness, free will, the origins of the universe and the
fundamental basis of reality. Science will never answer those questions
by definition, since they are outside the bounds of Science. Is it
possible I'm wrong? Yes, I suppose it's remotely possible. About as
possible as Zoboomafoo being God.

Haredim propose Kotel separation

[GH: This is unbelievable. The Chareidim are out of control]

Etgar Lefkovits,

plan put forward by a haredi deputy minister would completely separate
the Western Wall, in the latest Jewish controversy over the division of
sexes at the Jerusalem holy site, officials said Thursday.

proposal presented by Deputy Transportation Minister Shmuel Halpert of
the United Torah Judaism Party, which is currently being studied by the
rabbi of the Western Wall and Jerusalem police, would see the entire
Western Wall entirely separated into two.

At present, signs
reading men and women appear at the main security check at the entrance
to the Jerusalem holy site, but under the new plan, an additional
section of Western Wall would be built, specifically for women, outside
the walls of the Old City.

"I am acting on behalf of thousands
of haredim who frequent the site daily who complain of the physical
interaction with women," Halpert said in a telephone interview Thursday.
the haredi Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch and Jerusalem
police said Thursday that such a plan was "under review."

Jewish groups were up in arms over the latest plan, which came a month
before general elections, with the Reform Movement in Israel studying
legal action to fight the move.

"We see the definition of
religiosity for these people is how far apart we can be from women,"
said Anat Hoffman, the head of the Reform Movement in Israel.

proposal comes less than two years after a controversial construction
project initiated by the Rabbi at the Western Wall expanded and
heightened the separation between men and women at the Jerusalem holy

The contentious project extended the prayer area by about
600 square meters, at the expense of the plaza, which is used for
various private and public ceremonies, and has heightened the barrier
which closes off the prayer area in the wall's plaza, making it
virtually impossible to look at the wall from the plaza.

keeping with Orthodox tradition, men and women are separated at the
prayer area, while in the plaza - often used for IDF and state
ceremonies as well as by non-Orthodox groups - the genders intermingle

The work was undertaken even as Israel's Religious
Affairs Ministry was dismantled by the government, with no one
governmental ministry supervising, or approving, the goings-on at the

After launching a short-lived public protest against the
work, Israel's beleaguered Masorti (Conservative) Movement failed to
stop the construction project, while the Reform Movement in Israel
stayed out of that dispute entirely.

G. K. Chesterton iz da man!

Chesterton (1874-1936) was a brilliant, witty, irreverent British
journalist who wrote extensively about religion. Originally somewhat
skeptical, he found religion later in life due to his dissatisfaction
with the secular worldview, and wrote many books and letters defending
religion and attacking the heretics. His take on religion however was
somewhat unorthodox. He wrote two famous books – Heretics and
Orthodoxy. I just started reading some of his work – he was the
original Godol Hador (except Christian, not Jewish). He even had a
famous series of debates with one Robert Blatchford, the Mis-nagid of
his day, and many of those arguments are very similar to the debates
here. Great stuff. What’s kinda weird is reading some of the comments
that people made about him:

Unbecoming to spend most of his time criticizing his contemporaries

His sense of mental perspective is an extremely deficient one A witty jester, generally interesting, often amazing, seldom convincing

Deals with sacred subjects with irreverence or lack of dignity

His arguments are for the greater part forcible, illuminating and eminently serious

perversity is never sought for its own sake, but is always a happy
accident incidental to his being so conspicuously in the right

[GH: Change Christianity in the following paragraph to Judaism]

praises Christianity for all the characteristics which do not belong to
it, and fancies himself Orthodox for toying with beliefs which have
nothing to do with Christianity… He congratulates himself that he is
Orthodox because he maintains a Christianity in which there is no
Christ and no redemption nor any Sermon on the mount…

I like this guy!

Mussar Shmooz for Skeptics

[Note: This post is addressed to the skeptics, not to the maaminim]

frequently encounter skeptics who are convinced that the Torah is bunk,
religion is man made, and that God, even if He were to exist, would
never have written the Torah or communicated to man in any way. I am
always amused at this, it seems that the fundamentalists and the
skeptics have one thing in common: They are both absolutely convinced
that they know how God works. Now, I am not making the argument that we
can’t know the mind of God, hence anything is possible. Not at all. But
we can certainly reason logically.

If God exists, and many of
the skeptics are certainly open to that possibility, then doesn’t it
make sense that He would *somehow*, in *some* way enable His creation
to figure out the meaning or goals of life? And wouldn’t it make sense
that He would somehow or in some way enable His creation to figure out
how to go about living?

The usual response to this remark is
derisive scorn, and why would we think that the Torah, just one of many
ANE documents, is that communication. Why would God only communicate
one time? And why only to the Jews? And why does the Torah contain so
much mythology?

I think the skeptics are willfully ignoring the
argument. They are so caught up in their Chareidi fundamentalist
conceptions of Judaism, that they simply can’t picture any other

So let me spell it out for them.

Let me add that I am not saying that any of this is necessarily
correct. I don't know if it is. But it is certainly an interesting
possibility. And also, this is certainly not standard Orthodox
doctrine, of course not. But I am speaking to the skeptics here!]

to the Rambam, the revelation that happened on Sinai was not a one time
revelation. On the contrary, there is a constant ‘Divine Flow’ or
‘Emanation’ cascading down to the earth. Neviim and other great people,
who have refined their character, and are knowledgeable in Divine
Science (Maddah?) are able to tap into this flow, and figure out God’s

It’s not much of a stretch to re-interpret this into less flowery language and say the following:

created man with the ability to intuit a direction in life. The greater
the person, the greater his intuition. Most normal people will agree on
a fairly similar standard of morality (except for some key areas such
as homosexuality etc). Most people will agree that art, music, great
literature etc have value. People, for the most part, all other things
being equal, seem to aspire to meaning in life.

Now, of course
the skeptics will say these are all character traits borne out of
millions of years of evolution. Maybe so. But it is also equally
possible that these are all things designed by God, to enable man, when
suitable refined and motivated, to intuit the finer things in life,
morality, spirituality etc.

Can we prove this? No. But le’s not
forget that the skeptical world view is not without some serious
problems and unanswered questions of it’s own. Where did everything
come from? What is the basis of all physical reality? How is
consciousness and identity possible? How is free will possible? What’s
the meaning in life? There are no *good* answers to any of these
questions in the skeptical worldview.

So, it seems quite
possible to me that Moshe did exist, was on a very high level, and was
able to ‘intuit’ or be ‘Divinely Inspired’ (call it what you will) and
figure out a system of rules and laws which progressed the Nation of
Israel to an ethical, Monotheistic religion and way of life.

all these laws stand up to modern day notions of morality? Of course
not, that would be ridiculous. These were laws given 3,000 years ago in
a desert. But comparing the laws of the Torah to modern day laws is
quite stupid. Makes more sense to compare them to the standards at that

Back then, slavery was permitted, even encouraged. Slaves
had no rights. Along comes the Torah and creates a more ethical
framework. Similar comparisons can be made in many other areas. It’s
unquestioned that the Torah is a unique and influential document.

I am NOT saying (to the skeptics) that every word in the Torah is the
word of God. Not at all. Its quite possible that the original *Torah*
was much smaller, maybe even minimally just the asseres hadibros or
something like that. Over time, other things got added, and maybe some
things dropped off. For example Sefer Milchamos Hashem is no longer
existent. Possibly Breishis was ancient scrolls that got added. Devarim
seems to be notes from Moshes mussar shmuezen. We know the book of
Devarim was ‘lost’ for a while. Also Ezra may have reconstituted it
after the churban. who really knows what happened?

My point is
not to cast doubt on the Torah. My point is to say to the ex-Chareidi
skeptics that their rigid conceptions of Judaism, as enforced by their
childhood Rebbis, have left them with an ‘all or nothing’ stance. The
scenarios outlined above are quite possible, and given the general
proclivities of religions to exaggerate their claims, it would seem
quite reasonable to assume that there was some initial revelation, yet
later on the myth of the entire 5 books of Moses being directly
dictated by God became prevalent. The alternative, a completely secular
worldview, has serious issues, which the skeptics prefer to ignore, or
hide behind their claim of ‘I make no claim’.

There are
certainly ‘proven’ facts from Science, History, Archeology etc which
directly contradict the ‘mesorah’ (small m). But I think what happens
to the skeptics is years of Chareidi education have left them with no
skiing ability. As soon as they step on the slippery slope they slide
right down to the bottom. A general sense of skepticism pervades their
attitudes, and it’s far easier for them to just dismiss everything as a
load of bunk.

But this is the wrong approach. A religious
worldview, even one pretty much in tune with Orthodoxy, is just as
sensible as a secular worldview. There are no less unanswered
questions. At the end of the day, both are ultimately incomprehensible,
yet the religious worldview is eminently more practical.

And yes, I am G.K. Chesterton. More on that later.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Absolutely Appalling

have actually seen Israeli police brutality first hand, it's
horrendous. Doesn't matter whether it's arabs, chareidim or religious
zionists, the Israeli police are equally opportunity offenders. I would
sooner have an encounter with the Israeli Army than with the Israeli

Sad but true.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Who Wrote the Torah?

I wrote this essay over four years ago and there is much I would change in it if I were to rewrite it. Nevertheless, it is essentially taken from Mi Katav Et HaTorah,
vol. 19 addenda ch. 33. Its main thesis is that the Patriarchs or other
people wrote scrolls which were incorporated by Man into the Torah.
When I wrote this, I showed it to two rabbis, neither of whom are
Modern Orthodox. One didn't like it and the other thought it was
obvious and correct. I have since discovered that Prof. Zvi Brettler
takes the same approach in his Eych Likrot Et HaTorah commentary to Genesis. In his introduction, he even labels different sections as different scrolls as follows:

1. J
2. E
3. P
4. D

me add that I am not saying that any of this is necessarily correct. I
don't know if it is. But it is certainly an interesting possibility.

DovBear recycles old GH posts

DovBear, the well known militant atheist, posts
on the 600,000 who left Mitzrayim, a subject we talked about
extensively here just the other week. The eleph=clan/troop solution was
also discussed extensively, and mostly rejected. Is DovBear so short of
new material that he is reduced to recycling my old posts?

Up next: DovBear 'invents' Myth Moshol!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Faith and Heresy

This book sounded really interesting:

Reuven Agushewitz, a Lithuanian Talmudic genius, emigrated to the
United States in 1929. He supported himself by giving Talmud lessons to
young boys (some of his Talmudic novellae were published posthumously
under the title Bi'ur Reuven on Bava Kamma with letters of approbation
from R. Aharon Kotler and R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik). A complete
autodidact in philosophy, Agushewitz frequented the halls of the New
York Public Library on 42th street, where he acquired an astounding
familiarity with philosophy from the Greeks to contemporary philosophy.
He managed to published three philosophical works in the Yiddish
language before his untimely death in 1950, on his first trip to the
new State of Israel, to whose founding he was passionately dedicated.

The present volume is a translation of his last book, Emune un
Apikorses, published in 1948. It is a sustained attack on the
philosophy of materialism, in all its historical versions, from the
Greek to modern times--including the Marxist version, to which
Agushewitz had been attracted as a youth. Though a highly original work
of philosophy (perhaps the only original work of philosophy ever
written in Yiddish), it contains valuable discussions of some of the
greatest Western philosophers, including the great Greek atomists;
Zeno; Aristotle; Descartes; Spinoza; Kant; Bergson; Russell; and many
others. This translation will rescue this outstanding philosopher and
Yiddish writer from the obscurity which has enveloped him for over half
a century.

So I bought it. So far, it's been almost entirely unreadable. Oh well.

Avodah: The High Level Lunatic Forum

Simcha 'Looney Tunes' Coffer writes:

I have some 'scientific' evidence that the Mabul must have been a global phenomenon.

I was perusing a book on dinosaurs and I was reminded that dinosaur
fossils have been unearthed in places like Montana (U.S.) and Alberta
(Canada). Since it is obvious that dinosaurs did not flourish after the
flood, it is obvious that life was a global phenomenon (kietz kol basar
ba lifanay) and that it was entirely extinguished after the flood.
(Obviously, this is only a ra'aya for someone who a) believes that the
world is 5766 years old and b) believes in the extinction of all animal
life less than 4500 years ago)

Err, okay then. [Backs away slowly]

Men in white coats! Calling the Men in white coats! Your patient is here!

know what? I can't even be bothered anymore. Simcha is probably a nice
guy, just a little (okay a lot) misguided. He is entitled to his
(silly) opinions. No need to make fun of him. Sorry Simcha.

guess what really bothers me is that, for the most part, it's the
people with the silly opinions who are the 'frum' people. Worse than
that, many of them are called 'Gedolim'. But even worse than that,
holding these ridiculous opinions has somehow been elevated to a
'middoh tovah'. And even worse than that, holding correct opinions is
seen as a midda raah, or even kefirah. What a mixed up religion. How
can anyone have any respect for this?

It's sad, so sad, it's a sad sad situation. And it's getting more and more absurd.

The Genius of Rav Aharon Shechter

RAS in Teaneck:

is not up to us to delve into how the world was created etc. There may
be stiras between Science and Torah, but we aren't mechuyav to answer

Is that even sillier than R Uren Reich's 'What we see is not metzius'? Or merely just as silly?

The mind boggles.

I hate to criticize Gedolim (no, really) but when they come out with junk like this it reflects badly on the Torah as a whole.

וַעֲשִׂיתֶם--כִּי הִוא חָכְמַתְכֶם וּבִינַתְכֶם, לְעֵינֵי הָעַמִּים:
אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְעוּן, אֵת כָּל-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, וְאָמְרוּ רַק
עַם-חָכָם וְנָבוֹן, הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה

I guess those days are long gone.

Gedolim in Teaneck! - My Views

After reading the various accounts of the Gedolim show, here are my impressions:

1. The crowd must have been very RW MO / LW UO. No way would any MOs that I know sing 'Yamim al yemay melech'.

None of these guys are such big gedolim. RMS is a Mashgiach, even the
hard core RW Lakewooders don't think that much of him. I don't know
much about RAS, but people say he's no great shakes either. And RAF I'm
sure is a nice guy, but do you really think he is any more choshuv than
his brother R Emanuel? I doubt it. Also a lightweight. Are these three
any more choshuv than Rabbis Willig, Shachter and E Feldman?

Some people characterized this as an achdus building event. Firstly,
after years of creating sinaah they should build a bit of achdus. But
the achdus is meaningless until MO Rabbis are invited to speak in

4. Kudos to these gedolim for travelling to Teaneck
and taking their time to address the olam. I guess we should be
grateful that they don't think the MO are so treif as to be not worth
speaking to.

5. Seems they avoided all the real questions, and that RAS dismissed Slifkin as an upstart. Pathetic.

They are disingeneous. They answered that eilu veilu means any view
from a learned frum Rabbi is okay, yet did not hesitate to call Slifkin
a kofer and thereby discredit all his Maskimim, some of whom were
forced under pressure to recant their haskamas, and all of whom are
certainly learned, frum Rabbis. Where is the eilu veilu? This is

My views are unchanged. These people are not Gedolim.
They are simply RW Rabbis who have risen to the upper echelons of their
institutions for various reasons, mostly similar to the reasons why any
CEO rises to the top: Hard work, a certain level of charisma, good
political skills (within context), smart, lots of energy, luck etc etc.

Let's hear some real Gedolim for a change.

Gedolim in Teaneck! - Summary

[GH: Note that this is one persons take. See the comments for more]

A friend writes:

was at the Gedolim in Teaneck thing so I'll give you a little summary.
You can post based on the info I give you but don't say you got it from
me. And don't post what I tell you verbatim either. [GH: Why not?]

missed the high school kids/college thing and from what I heard there
were some better questions at that one... but I'll just tell you what I

First R Pruzanski had a pretty good intro. Basically it went as follows:

"We here at Yeshurun are proud to embrace the torah of Rav Kook and Rav
Hutner, Rav Soleveitchick and Rav Kotler etc. etc. (I saw Rav A
Schechter snicker at that part towards Rav Mattisyahu... but maybe it
was just my imagination)... I just said last night that we have had the
privilege here at Yeshurun in the past 26 hours of hosting 6 Roshei
Yeshiva. Over Shabbos we hosted Roshei Yeshiva from YU and Shaalavim,
and now we have Roshei Yeshiva from Chaim Berlin, Lakewood and

The intro was probably the best part. I bet the
three Roshei Yeshiva up there have never been equated with the Roshei
Yeshiva of shaalavim and YU before in an intro!

Then Rav
Shechter got up and talked about the shofar and gave a whole long
shpiel about how we humans are the expression of Hashem in this world
just like music is an expression of the musician. He repeated that over
and over for a while. Then he kept repeating how we aren’t like the
goyim, we are the am kodesh. "This is not our culture, this is not our
way etc. etc. I am going to be discriminatory now, we are not like them
etc. etc... Then he said I'm must apologize but I will end with mussar
(that got some laughs) - that may have been a swipe at the Teaneckians
depending on how you took it, and he read some Shaarei Teshuva. He was
raising his voice a lot.

Then came Rav Feldman. He was the only
one who thanked the shul for hosting and he was the only one who made
any acknowledgement of any kind of the fact that there was some "coming
together" element to the speeches of the night. But even his reference
was a mere allusion. He said some nice things about the Teaneck
community and he said he was happy to be speaking to "my brothers and
sisters in Teaneck". He then said that people warned him that Teaneck
people are very religious "and don’t want to hear mussar" and others
warned him that they are intellectual and "don't want to hear a
non-intelligent speech" and so he apologized in case his speech would
be non intelligent with mussar. That got some laughs. All of this could
also be seen as a slight swipe at Teaneckians for being intellectuals
not interested in mussar. Again, I'm sure you could spin it the other

Either way it was a clever tactic to gain entry to basically give a mussar shmooze about having more passion about Mitzvos.
it was basically two pretty good mussar shmoozim so far, except that
people in the crowd weren't really interested in hearing mussar
shmoozim right then!

Then Rav Salamon got up and said that he
hoped his words wouldn’t take away from the great inspiration of the
night. He then proceeded into some lengthy topic which I can’t remember
any of. Most people at this point I think lost him. I was basically
fidgeting with some paper in front of me lamenting all the time that
was being lost for potential questions. A lot of people were busy
writing down questions on little cards that were handed out for
submitting questions. There were tons of cards handed in, most with a
few questions on them. I was able to catch a glance at some of the ones
handed in near my area and they were loaded questions about Slifkin and
other political stuff. Too bad none of the good ones would end up being

Then I tuned back in at the end of R Mattisyahu's
speech,and he said " so we all should daven tonight that the message of
the preceding speeches stays with us far into the future". Well, I'll
tell you, after that speech we are gonna need some real davening to
accomplish that... I think he had most people out cold! OK enough

Then they had time for some questions that R Pruzanski read. He picked the worst questions possible.

Q: Should we move to Israel?
RAS – That’s a silly question... it goes by a case by case question...
what kinda question is that... work on getting tumah out of your houses
that is really the important thing! then he started yelling again and
people started laughing and he said "Oy they're laughing so I better
stop now." He got some laughs there also.)

Q: How do we deal with woman in the workplace?
RAS - make gedorim yourselves!.. what are you asking me for! (that was
his refrain of the night apparently)... do it DO IT ...And he just kept
screaming do it... it was a nike commercial i think [GH: I’m surprised
he didn’t respond ‘What workplace? There’s such a thing as a workplace?]

Q: How come the holocaust happened if people davened, same for gush katif?
RMS - tefillos dont help if you talk during davening... that’s
obviously not the reason but it is an example of a reason, ie there are
lots of factors

Q: What is eilu veilu nowadays?
A: This was
the only half-decent question. The whole panel pretended (?) not to
understand it. Finally RAF said "OK I do understand the question and I
don’t want to be coy and pretend I don’t understand... If you have a
frum learned rabbi you can listen to him even if he disagrees with
other opinions out there..."

Q: How do we interact with non religious Jews
A: RAF and RAS combined - we dont on an institutional level.. but we do kiruv to the individuals)

that was the evening. Pretty uneventful. Only RAF was willing to
acknowledge (albeit bderech remez) the fact that there are two
legitimate camps in the orthodox world and that he was proud to be
coming together. But again, his reference was extremely vague.

Gedolim in Teaneck!


what happened? Did Reb Mattisyahu convince the Teaneck Shenishbah's to
do teshuvah? Did he call the Science & Torah gang pygmies? Was he
pelted with rotten eggs? Is it true that our old friend Heshy 'I
challenge you to a debate' Grossman was behind the whole thing?

We need details!!!

Torah Min Hashamayim, again!

Hirhurim recaps his theory about the Avos writing Breishis. One commenter says:

getting to the point where I don't know what to believe, whom to
believe, anything. Rashi, Ramban, Rambam, the other 200 commentators on
the Torah,these 2 rabbis who are cited above who's all
becoming one enormous machlokes about absolutely everything, even the
absolute fundamentals. Or is it just me?

He he. I came to
that realization a few months ago. In Judaism, there are machlokeses
about everything, even the stuff that the Gedolim claim there are
absolutely no machlokeses about. In fact, the more vociferously people
claim that there are no machlokeses about something, the more you can
be sure there are.

(This reminds me of my neighborhood. Whenever
you see a sign on a road saying ‘No through route’, you can be sure
it’s a great short cut!)

About the only thing there is no machlokes about at all is God existing. Hirhurim responds to the comment above by saying:

No. God gave Moshe the Torah word for word. The rest is details.

really I don’t think even Hirhurim belives that’s true. There’s
arguments about the meaning of ‘Torah’, ‘gave’, and ‘word’. Even
Hirhurim's theory about the Avos initially writing Breishis has some
people seeing kefirah. Unlike DovBear, a practicing Christian, I do
believe in Judaism and Torah Min Hashmayim, though I think some of the
details are a little murky.

About the best you can say is:

has somehow revealed some message(s) to man. We believe the 'Torah'
that we have today, as embodied in the written and oral traditions, is
the best available representation of that revelation. We must therefore
respond to the Torah's message very seriously.

The rest is details. (Or rather arguments).

Friday, March 03, 2006

I always feel like, Somebody’s watching me

my advanced Rambam shiur last night, the subject of Theodicy and
Hashgacha Prattis came up. The Rambam’s basic view seems to be that
almost everything that happens in the world (especially evil), happens
because, well, s*** happens. The Rambam says most people do okay, and
those that don’t, well, tough for them I guess.

Later on in
the guide the Rambam develops his view that if you are connected to
God, then you do get a certain level of ‘Divine Protectziya’, but when
bad things happen, that’s just because, bad stuff happens. He also
makes pains to point out that the bad stuff doesn’t happen directly
from God, but rather it’s just the inevitable result of living in a
physical world.

Personally, I was brought up very differently.
Anytime something bad happened, my parents would say ‘See! That’s
because you didn’t clean up your room, or because you were rude to your
mother, or whatever’. My Rabbi says that’s a childish, superstitious
way of thinking and very un-Maimonidean, and nobody he knows thinks
like that.

The Rebbetzin says she thinks like that a bit, but
claims I am way more extreme than even she is, and that she noticed
this habit even when we first started dating. The only thing I noticed
when we first started dating was that she was cute and bubbly and
completely different from everyone else I had met. (Wedding anniversary
coming up soon, have to say nice things.)

However this attitude
has become ingrained in me, or as DovBear might say, ‘hardwired into my
brain and there’s nothing I can do about it’. Except that, being a
mature, intelligent, adult, there is something I can do about it. I can
stop thinking that way.

But do I really want to?

of all, Chazal say that when troubles befall a man, he should examine
his ways. Every time something bad happens to me, I can usually come up
with something wrong that I did recently, and oftentimes my inventive
mind can figure out quite a good middah cneged middah which wraps the
whole thing up quite neatly. I am even better figuring this stuff out
when it happens to other people, especially the Rebbetzin – teehee. For
example, last week she.. oh never mind about that. Of course I am not
advocating Chareidi Style Theodicy, where Tsunamis are the result of
Loshon Horah, I am just talking on a personal level.

But the
main reason I am inclined to not mess with my deeply held beliefs, even
where they run counter to the Rambam, is that the resultant spiritual
and psychological damage that could accrue might be quite serious. I
met an ex yeshivah bochur recently who had worked on himself to not
believe in God. Yikes.

If you can show me some hard evidence
that God is not directing my misfortunes, (or even that He doesn’t
exist) then maybe we have something to talk about. But until then, I
think I will stick with my beliefs. They have served me well so far,
and I see no good reason to change them.

I hope the OCC are okay with that.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Rabbi Lamm: Centrist Judaism, it was all a mistake!

just started reading Rabbi Norman Lamm’s book ’70 Faces: Articles on
Faith’, about general topics such as Modern Orthodoxy and the State of
Israel. Or was it ’70 Faiths: Articles on Faces?’ about how Orthodox
Jews look different than Moslems? I can’t remember.

the first section is all about MO. In the introduction, Rabbi Lamm
explains how he didn’t like the term Modern Orthodox, because it gave
the wrong impression (err why?) so he (claims he) invented the term
‘Centrist Orthodox’ instead. But then, he writes, that wasn’t a very
inspired decision, because everyone assumed it meant that he was taking
a mid point position between Reform and Satmar, which is also
completely wrong (err, again why????).

He ends off by
apologizing to all the pundits and social historians who have spent
much time and effort trying to describe the differences between
Centrist and Modern Orthodox, because really there aren’t any, they are
exactly the same thing, and he’s really sorry for wasting everybody’s

Sorry Harry, it looks like your entire sect of Judaism is
just a mistake. But don't be too despondent,there's plenty of room for
you here in the OCC!

True Story

Gedolim were journeying from Minsk to Pinsk by boat. They arrived at
the dock but were not sure what pier the boat departed from. The first
Godol thought it was pier 1. The second Godol thought it was pier 2.
The first Godol said ‘I am mevatel my daas to your Gadlus!’ The second
Godol said ‘No, I am mevatel my daas to your Gadlus! They stood by the
dock arguing and they both missed the boat.

Moral of the story: Don’t argue with Gedolim.

Questions for further study:

Why were the Gedolim going to Pinsk?
What were they doing in Minsk?
Why were they traveling by boat over land?
Why did they have different opinions about the pier?
Why were they both mevatel daas to each other?

Mega Bonus Points:

Who was the bigger Godol?

Ten Levels of Torah MinHashamayim Pop Quiz

Where are you on the scale of TMS?! Take this handy dandy pop quiz and find out once and for all!

Level 1 - Kaarite
Everything in the Torah is literally true, and was dictated by God to Moshe word for word.

Level 2- RW Ultra Orthodox
in the Torah is literally true, except when darshened otherwise by
Pharisse Rabbis, and was dictated by God to Moshe word for word.

Level 3 – LW Ultra Orthodox
in the Torah is literally true, except when darshened otherwise by
Pharisse Rabbis, or when it conflicts with Science and reason, in which
case it can be darshened a little bit not literally, but only if famous
Rishonim or Acharonim or Gedolim of previous eras said so, and it was
dictated by God to Moshe word for word.

Level 4 – RW Modern Orthodox
in the Torah is literally true, except when darshened otherwise by
Pharisse Rabbis, or when it conflicts with Science and reason, in which
case it can be darshened a little bit not literally, but only if famous
Rishonim or Acharonim or Gedolim of previous eras said so, or if MO
Gedolim of this era say so, and it was dictated by God to Moshe word
for word, though some of it could have also been previously written in
scrolls by the Avos and then included by God.

Level 5 – LW Modern Orthodox
in the Torah is literally true, except when darshened otherwise by
Pharisse Rabbis, or when it conflicts with Science, History and reason,
in which case it can be darshened not literally, but only if famous
Rishonim or Acharonim or Gedolim of previous eras said so, or even if
MO Gedolim of this era say so, or even if non Orthodox scholars say so,
but only if it doesn’t destroy any fundamental values of Judaism, also
it was dictated by God to Moshe word for word, though some of it could
have also been previously written in scrolls by the Avos.

Level 6 – RW Conservative
in the Torah is literally true, except when darshened otherwise by
Pharisse Rabbis, or when it conflicts with Science, History, Archeology
and reason, in which case it can be darshened not literally, but only
if famous Rishonim or Acharonim or Gedolim of previous eras said so, or
even if MO Gedolim of this era say so, or even if non Orthodox scholars
say so, but only if it doesn’t destroy any fundamental values of
Judaism, also it was dictated by God to Moshe word for word, though
some of it could have also been previously written in scrolls by the
Avos, and some of it could have gotten messed up since so that what we
have today isn’t really the original.

Level 7 - LW Conservative
Torah is man’s account of Divine Revelation. Where the stories are
plausible, they happened. Where they are not plausible, they probably
didn’t. Or else they are exaggerated. Sinai happened, since there’s no
evidence to say it didn’t. But everything else is debatable.

Level 8 – Reform
bible was written by man. It is sacred, but mythical literature. Sinai
probably didn’t happen, nor did many of the other stories. But it is a
great document none the less, and represents mans striving for the

Level 9 – Skeptic
The bible is
mythological literature. No different than any other ANE text such as
the enumah elish. Worth studying though as it contains some influential

Level 10 - Militant Atheist
The bible is immoral and worse. One of the most dangerous books ever produced. A load of superstitious bunk.

They could say it but we can’t

of l’affaire de Slifkin will recognize this post’s title as the famous
line uttered by Rav Elyashiv when he was asked how come it was okay for
Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch and the Tiferes Yisrael to believe in an
ancient universe or evolution.

At the time, many questioned such
a decision. How could it be muttar for RSRH and yet kefirah for us?
However, I have always been okay with that. Times change, culture
changes, Judaism changes. R Elyashiv, being one of the Gedolai Hador,
is in tune with this. He realizes that Judaism is not set in stone, but
rather needs to change with the times. What might have been acceptable
100 years ago is not acceptable now (or vice versa).

You may
disagree with his ruling in this case, and of course I do, but he
certainly has the right to pasken any which way he likes. In fact I’m
impressed that he has the courage to pasken against RSRH and the TY,
and forge his own way. Shame that he paskened the wrong way though.

abundantly clear that the Chareidim are not interested in what Science,
History or indeed common sense has to say when it conflicts with their
ideology. They will protect their ideology at all costs, even when it
makes them look stupid and dishonest, at least to the outside world. Is
this a good strategy? Hard to say.

My Rav thinks they are
painting themselves into a corner from which they won’t be able to
extract themselves. Others have pointed out the very high drop out
rates (30% in some areas) from Chareidi society, and think that the
Chareidim will self destruct, not so much because of questions from
Science, but because it’s hard to be successful when you have 13 kids
and no income.

Others say they will do just fine. Sure, there
will be plenty of drop outs, but what’s new? They will keep having lots
of kids, indoctrinate most of them well, and will continue to quite
happily ignore science, history, archeology and everything else which
is a threat to their way of life.

As Lakewood Yid, says,
Orthodoxy has survived the Greeks, Romans, Christians, Germans, and it
will survive the Scientists as well. However, as the skeptics
frequently point out, cockroaches are pretty good at survival too.

But who wants to be a cockroach?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Know that the gates of figurative interpretation are not closed to us

Halivni, describing his Chate'u Yisrael theory:

Yisrael is a religious idea. It is a conclusion of faith, based on
loyalty to the inherited tradition that God broke into human history to
reveal his will once and for all. Mosaic revelation cannot be proven or
disproved; it resides in the deepest recesses of history and the soul
as a national account of origin and meaning. Those who wish to remain
within this tradition of faith, while still embracing some benefits of
a modern, critical outlook, may choose to join me in the belief that
the work of canonization was undertaken on the sacred remnants of a
real revelation.

My position on the revelation at Sinai as the
source of the original Torah is analogous to Maimonides' tenacity with
respect to the creation of the world in time.(3) In the first place, no
one critical theory of the Pentateuch's origins has been proven. Almost
all the data are disputed among the various factions of scientific
scholars. Consequently, I see no cause to reject the notion of a Torah
from Heaven. We shall not undermine centuries of faith on the basis of
critical theories whose contraries can be made to prevail by means of
various sorts of arguments.

In the second place, the course that
we shall take in examining the scriptures destroys none of the
foundations of the Torah and does not give lie to the claims of any
prophet. We shall not upset any of the basic and essential tenets of
Jewish faith. These tenets, however, would be upset if we were to
abandon the traditional view of a definitive revelation at Sinai.
Belief in the divine origin of the Law is the crux of Jewish religion,
tenaciously preserved throughout the ages, guaranteeing the
preservation of Judaism itself. Critical approaches that eradicate the
notion of divine revelation destroy the Law in its principle,
necessarily give lie to every miracle, and reduce to inanity all the
hopes and threats that the Law has held out - not to mention all the
joys and the trials, the accomplishments and the martyrdoms, that have
attended Jewish fealty to the Law throughout the ages.

Maimonides in his day, I am unwilling to disturb the foundation of
Judaism on so basic a level by rushing to become allied with theories
that cannot be proven. The scholarly debates concerning the formation
of the various textual traditions identified within the Pentateuch are
fierce and unresolved and therefore not theologically compelling.
Critical scholars who straddle the fence of tradition and who are
convinced that modern findings do belie the lore of Moses have already
begun to develop theological positions that account for the Torah in
the absence of a revelation at Sinai. I do not feel that such radical
steps are necessary or beneficial. The Torah still, for me, remains
aloof, above these speculations. The belief in a divine event at Sinai
is the creedal foundation of religious Judaism. Know that the gates of figurative interpretation are not closed to us. Yet
we see no need to challenge the Law at its very foundations when its
problematic features may yet be accounted for without recourse to the
denial of Sinai

Is Purim Bogus?

emailed me to ask if I would address the question of the historicity of
Purim. As is well known, the Dead Sea Scrolls included all the books of
Tenach except for Purim. Plus, God’s name is not mentioned in Megillas
Esther, plus the facts about Persia don’t really add up (large empire
over 127 provinces, the name ‘Achashverosh’ etc etc). Also the whole
Megilah reads like a typical Persian fairy tale.

Well, I’m sure
that DovBear (or one of the other skeptical bloggers) will be posting a
complete deconstruction of Purim. And, after proving that Purim is
entirely bogus, no doubt DovBear will then go to insist that he
believes in it anyway because he doesn’t want to lose any readers, err
I mean because his brain is hardwired that way.

Truth is, I’m
not going to post on this, for a few reasons. Firstly, I haven’t really
researched the topic very thoroughly. Secondly, the issues around
Breishis, Shemos, the DH, Kaballah etc are far more serious. If Purim
is bogus that’s not such a big deal, I don’t think it necessarily
strikes at the heart of Judaism.

Finally, I would actually be
glad if Purim turns out to be bogus, it’s my least favorite festival. I
can’t stand the enforced levity, the drunkenness, the incessant banging
during the Megilah, the Shlach Monos tit-for-tat, the long wait to
break the fast after the Megilah, and pretty much everything else about
it. I much prefer Tisha BeAv. Also, the Koton died shortly before Purim
last year. (*sniff*)

Some of my dislike for Purim may also trace
back to a traumatic incident I experienced as a child, to do with my
Purim costume and Public transportation, but that incident is best not
talked about. A freilichen Purim. Not.