30 January 2007

The four sons.

When I first started perusing skeptic blogs and Yahoo TFSG, I felt there was some sort of loose analogy between various skeptics and the Four sons of the Haggadah.

I felt, of course, that I was the Chochom, the wise one. I had come to my suspicions strictly from my intellect. I was not influenced at all by anyones derision of Torah or by reading other blogs. My transformation occurred by my exposure to and my acceptance of a more rational model of the world. I wasn't even aware of issues such as DH and only vaguely aware of the Kuzari Proof. I had never read anything directly critical of religion or TMS.

Yes, I was not aware of any mechanisms for the way Judaism came to be what it was. And I wasn't even actively searching for explanations. As I mentioned in prior posts, I thought I must be crazy.

But that was me, the wise one. Maven Davar Mtoch Davar. I was able to extrapolate.

Then there were others whom I felt were similar to Reshoim. Not that they were evil, just that their motivation for skepticism was because they were not happy with the religious restrictions, or had undergone some trauma and were angry at God. In short, this is like the classic case of Lo Uvdoo Avodah Zara.... Of course, I was indoctrinated to think of that as evil, so that's how I initially characterized them.

Naturally, I was a cut or two above these emotion driven skeptics. Feh.

Then there were those skeptics similar to the Tam, the simpleton. They rejected OJ because of a very simplistic attitude. That the miracles in the Torah just make no sense. To me these Skeptics were like a Tinnok Shenishba, similar to someone who was stolen at birth from a Jewish life. They rejected OJ because they did not have an adequate Jewish education. Had they had "Real Torah" education, they'd be believers. They had no science to teach them a better way, so Torah would have set them straight. Those fools. They just happened to be simplistic, so they fell into skepticism.

Of course, I was many steps above these skeptics, as well.

And then there was the "She'aino Yodeah Lishol", skeptics that simply believe what they're told. You know, the ones who were influenced by reading GH's blog or some book on DH. As Lakewood Yid once accused me, "because you read some Atheist book knocking Torah....... you think". Well, that wasn't me either.

I was on top of the skeptic food chain.

Anyhow, over time, I came to realize that I had it wrong. I was not much different and certainly no better than these others.

Firstly, I began to realize that these "fools" were actually quite "wise". Put simply, their street smarts about miracles, etc really gave them an advantage. After all, they came up with the answer way before I did! In a sense, they recognized the simple truth on the basis of the absurdities inherent in TMS. They did not require an alternate model before recognizing the faults of the current one. They are the true bright ones.

And then came another shock. I recently came across some skeptics who I would really categorize as Chachamim, wise. The rejected OJ not because of a "Tam" or simplistic approach. Rather they were exceedingly wise and by objectively studying the Torah they came to question it's truths. Not from external sciences, not from "simple" incredulity about miracles and and not through some Kefira books. But rather through the application of their common sense to what TMS taught them.

Now that is true wisdom.

That left me, somewhere in between a Sheaino Yodeah Lishol and a Chochom (no wisecracks, please!).

So, where do you fit in?

(In my next post, I'll discuss the so called reshoim and tie all this together!)

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    26 January 2007

    One More Time

    Anonymous takes the skeptics to task for rejecting Judaism before having read R' Wasserman's "well known" explanation for why God punishes those that don't believe.

    Here's his comment and my response.

    >One point I made was that obviously our host has not read thousands of pages of Jewish texts if he never even heard of this famous piece.

    Here's the issuesI have I have with this line of thought.

    LittleFoxling already stated, in greater detail, everyone challenges the skeptics, "Have you read this", "Have you read that?". Everyone has their own "famous piece". Am I required to have learnt everything? 75%, 50%?

    I have read a lot of jewish texts. Is it my fault that in yeshiva they spent days kvetching and kvetching on a single Tosfos? If this R' Elchonon piece of jewish Philosophy is so important to Judaism to retain it's adherents, where is the foresight of the Gedolim to make sure that it's standard in the curiculum?

    What would you have said to the skeptics of 100 years ago before R' Wasserman's famous shitckel?

    Here are some responses to this same question culled from another Blog

    BHB says: A ten year old will readily recognize that there is no Santa, there is no Tooth Fairy and there is no Golem created by the Maharal M'prag. But, the goyish (I hate that word) children's parents cede as soon as the child brings it up. And the 18 year old recognizes that there is no Virgin birth but, being that the emperor has no clothes, continues to believe it. And the Frum kids and adults continue to believe in the Golem, talking fish and flying Tannaim because "hey, anything is possible". So the Yated must finally publish an article debunking the Golem." When your eyes are opened, you need not have gone through every Tosfos, rishonim, & acharon and hashkofa sefer, to realize it's a hodgepodge that's been patched together over millenia. And the closer you look, the worse it is.

    DNA: Typical charedi BS. How much of all the books you've mentioned is relevant to whether Orthodox Judaism is true? Rounding down to the nearest one: 0%

    On the contrary, it's because he was lied to that he doesn't know Judaism. If you though you knew biology, but later learned you were actually taught creationism, you don't need to be biologist to know you've been lied to. He could go on to get a phd in biology or become a world class Bible scholar, but he needn't to just know he was lied to.

    >Are you serious that someone could reject Judaism without knowing T'nach and Shas? Am I qualified to argue with the theory of relativity?

    Do you reject the idea that the sun revolves around the earth? I assume you do. But you don't know the basics. Have you ever read one in-depth text about it to come to that decision. You need not study everything in depth to recognize truth.

    You accepted a model of the creation and operation of the universe. Have you studied other models?

    So anonymous:

    I have studied the basic tenets of our faith, for many years. I have learnt Chumash, Gemara, Rashi, Tosfos, even some Jewish philosophy. And while I have not studied much Jewish Philosophy in a formal environment, I am also exposed to it on a daily basis in Shiurim, speeches, etc. So I know all the basics that are out there. After exposure to science, I also spent some time, though not nearly as much, studying a very different model. A model that questions the historicity & origins of the Torah, a model that uses science and reason to explain the origins of the universe and examines the history of religions.

    I simply find that model more believable.

    I don't see what's so difficult about that. Do you?

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    18 January 2007

    וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט

    Deuteronomy 32;15: "And YeShurun became fat and kicked [Vayishman YeShurun vayivaat]...

    I tell you, I don't see it that way at all. As a matter of fact, I see the reverse. I see that poverty and hardship is what induces the masses to forsake the religion. Presumably, this is why the Haskala was so succeful, it promised a struggling populace a way out poverty and a road to a better life.

    But Prosperity and the good life? No way! For the most part, I see that when adults succeed and prosper they get more tied to the religious way of life.

    I call it the "Push the Button!" phenomenon.

    A TV series called "Lost" had this scenario where people stranded on an island are convinced that something catastrophic will occur if they fail to enter the sequence of numbers above and press a "reset" button every 108 minutes. And so, without any real understanding of what's going on, what might or might not happen, the inhabitants go to great lengths to hit that button - just in case.

    Of course, it's not a hard and fast rule, but I find a pattern with most of my friends, relatives & acquaintances. I find lately that the more successful they are, the more religious they become. It's as if they're afraid to break the spell and somehow lose favor in God's eyes.

    It's those that are struggling with life that seem to be static and even begin to falter in their religious observance.

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    15 January 2007

    Evolutionary Trends

    Check out this brief snippet of a comment by Ed in a recent post on XGH: Occam's Razor.

    >3. Even if you say it must have come from somewhere, the possibilities are endless. A God, a super intelligent scientist from another dimension, 2 scientists, 3 Gods, 2 scientists and 3 Gods etc etc. An evil god, a good god, a mediocre god etc. The possibilities
    are literally infinite. We have no data and no knowledge. Why assume one good God?

    Occam's razor.


    I find this amusing. When it suits him, Ed latches onto some scientific concept. And when it doesn't, he ignores science. The thought processes seem almost parasitical. Or another way of looking at it, evolutionary. And I find this not just in Ed and other Bloggers.

    It's the whole Jewish theology. The theology has adapted and will continue to adapt in order to survive and thrive. It's been a while already that I've begun to think of Judaism as an organism that changes with the times based on outside environmental pressures. Check out "The Woman who laughed at God". Jonathan Kirsch describes and demonstrates, much better than I, how Judaism is able to change and thrive. He attributes it's malleability to the many attributes that exist within Judaism going back thousands of years. Tendencies for mercy, scholarship, charity, physical combat, piety, diversity, etc. It's all there in the Torah for anyone to gravitate to. This has parallels to evolutionary biology, where alleles exist and respond to selection pressures.

    As a result of the Churban Bais Hamikdosh, Judaism shifts to Shuls. Karbanos shifts to Prayer and the modern Jew develops a distaste for animal sacrafice. When necessary to survive, the Perushim, by their own account, bend. Ais Laasos Lashem Heifeiru Sorasechah - and the Oral law is permitted to be written. R' Gershom bans polygamy to conform to Christian mores. The Rambam and others respond to philosophical pressures and creates a rational new outlook of Judaism. Chassidism arises from the ashes of Chmelnitzki's massacres.
    Ed admits that R' Aaron Kotler's establishment of Lakewood was in a sense reactionary, necessary to transfer Torah from Europe to the United States. Rabbi Natan Slifkin responds to extraordinary scientific advances and resurrects and shores up some aging concepts, revolutionary in their own times, to reconcile Judaism with modernity. The Chareidi world distances itself from Slifkin and retreats into censorship because those concepts are anathema to it.

    In a word, all of this is reactionary. The outside world changes and a component of Judaism responds and changes. It has to. That's human nature. Orthodoxy thinks it does not change but it definitely does. Chareidim think they don't change, but they do change.

    (And just like in biological evolution where isolation promotes diversity, the same is true in Judaism. Hence, the striking differences between Sfardic & Ashkenaz Judaism. Probably, neither of which is exactly what Judaism was like before these cultures diverged. )

    So too, I find this in my Blogger friends, Ed & Rabbi Maroof (who I find very knowledgeable).

    Both evolved independently, differing in some of the most basic Hashkofos of OJ. Each believes the other's hashkofos are wrong to the extent that each believes the other's side can create Emuna problems. Each, in order to survive, brings out whatever guns, whatever arguments he has, to fight the skeptics.

    Note the dichotomy, Ed speaks in terms of unchanging Mesora as the ultimate proof. In truth, this is the approach I'd prefer, probably due to my upbringing. Yet the sad reality is there is no unchanging Mesorah. R. Maroof on the other hand cites Rishonim who's views might be said to be primitively precient of Today's science. Yet this too is pick and choose. Select an allele to win the argument. Nowadays, the R' Slifkin approach makes for a more enlightened argument, but step into some segments of Jewish society that represent the creme de'le creme of Torah Scholarship and he'd be labeled a Koifer.

    The mere existence of both, a R. Maroof and an Ed, might be enough to shake one's Emuna. (Yes, I know someone will pull out Eilu V'eilu or some other Talmudic allele to explain that one).

    And finally, I think, in order to survive when confronted with modernity, I believe Ed will have to adapt (or maybe already has). He will have to adopt a Slifkin type of approach or possibly revert to even more fundamentalist behaviours.

    What an ironic example of evolution.

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    11 January 2007

    Shidduch Blues


    “Hi, is Shprintse there?”
    “Hi Gitty, this is Mrs. Shadchan.”
    “Oh, hi.”
    “Well you know, I set you up with over 30 boys from all different types of yeshivas and you even went out with some working boys. Most of them want to go out again, but you always turn them down.”
    “OK, so…”
    “Well Gitty, I think I know what’s going on.”
    “Oh?, what do you mean?”
    “I think you’re looking for a boy that has different Hashkofos on life. I think you’re looking for a skeptic, you know, like someone who reads Baal Habos’s blog. I want you to know that I have lots of boys like that too”.
    “Oh that's wonderful!!! I just couldn't bring myself to ask."

    The odds of a conversation like that happening are about as low as that of Yetsias Mitzrayim actually taking place. So for you skeptics out there, as you may have seen on BJ's and BTA, there are some people that are willing to help match you up. But first you have to let us know you're out there and tell us a just a little bit about yourself.

    The logistics of this are not that simple and it’s being played by ear, but there are a few people here who feel for you and are willing to help out.

    If you are interested, you can drop me a line at baalhabos@gmail.com and we’ll take it from there. Or you can check out the blog put out by the Top Shadchan.
    By the way, if the current rate of inquiries keeps up we'll have around 300 eligible candidates in a year.

    Please, no cranks. This is serious business.

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    09 January 2007

    Shir Hashirim - Canticle of Canticles

    And since Judaism regards the relationship between a man and a woman as potentially holy, Rabbi Akiva argued (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5) for the inclusion of Shir HaShirim in the Sacred Canon when its inclusion was questioned because of the apparent earthiness of the "mashal." He said that if all the other Books of the Bible are considered "Kedoshim," Holy, then Shir HaShirim must be considered "Kodesh Kodoshim", the Holiest of the Holy, because both its "mashal" and its "nimshal" are holy.

    The above is a quote from an OU website

    Chazal maintain that Shir Hashirim is an allegory of God's love to the Jews.

    Chazal apparently were debating whether to include the Song of Songs as part of the canon because - in the words of Wikipedia:

    "The book consists of a cycle of poems about erotic love, largely in the form of a dialogue between a bridegroom and a bride"


    "The text, read without allegory as a celebration of sexual love, appears to alternate between addressing a male object of affection and a female one."

    Some might disagree with those descriptions; You can judge for yourself.

    Artscroll limits it's translation to the allegorical nature and does not provide the plain English translation. Ultimately Shir Hashirim was included in the canon and is a member of Tanach in good standing; just like Megilas Esther and Sefer Melachim. In it's time, I imagine the Hebrew was understood by one and all, so why did Artscroll not translate it as such. But that's a concern of another blogger.

    Fine, so it's really just an allegory. I have no problem with that.

    But chareidim believe that society of old was just like today. And in some ways this is apparently supported in the Gemara.

    The Gemarah states in Berachos concerning David Hamelech:

    ואני ידי מלוכלכות בדם ובשפיר ובשליא כדי לטהר אשה לבעלה

    meaning "my hands are soiled with Paskening Shailos of Dam Nidah". Imagine, the king himself!

    Apparently, even back then women were bringing, er, never mind.

    So here's my point.

    If today's society, mores & practices were like in the days of King Solomon, can you just imagine a Rav writing anything like Shir Hashirim in this day and age? Even just as an allegory? Do you think he'd get away with it? Can you imagine a Rav Elyashav or the Satmar Rav doing that? What kind of message would it send to the kinderlach? What kind of message would it send to the adults?

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    07 January 2007

    Circular Arguments.

    I sense we're going round in circles. Here's my view of the dialogue stripped of the noise.

    The Believers claim the Torah is divine.

    • The Skeptics claim the Torah makes *extraordinary claims that are unbelievable.
    • The Believers counter with the Kuzari or variants thereof.
    • The Skeptics counter with an explanation of how myths are created and provide specific examples of myth-making. This is backed up by hypotheses of how the Torah came to be accepted by the Jews. One example is DH.
    • The Believers counter that in the case of the Torah, these examples of myth making and DH are far-fetched. Therefore you must accept the alternate, that the Torah is divine.

    So what are we left with? The posited explanation of DH and myth-making is certainly possible and has no proofs against it. It is certainly more reasonable than that of the extraordinary claims of the Torah.

    To me it's black and white Checkmate. The onus of proof is on those making the extraordinary claims.

    Please don't debate me on the comment below, we've been though all that. Just address the four checkpoints above.

    *Extraordinary claims - Miracles, Prophecy, revelation, anachronisms, none of which are supported by external evidence and some of which is contradicted by Modern Science and History. There are answers for almost everything, some good, some poor.

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    01 January 2007


    Not quite what you'd want dating your daughter.

    I saw this picture and the first thought that comes to me was this is some kind of mushchas (outcast or lowlife, is that the right word?).

    But how bad can he be? He's got some of the greatest music around.

    I love it when I stumble onto something new in the library. And this is super. This guy makes that guitar sing. Most of you have probably heard his "Smooth". My favorite is "The Love of my life". Maybe it'll have to grow on you but it's powerful.

    I was really blown away when I read the jacket of this CD. Not only does Carlos Santana enrich the world with wonderful music but he and his wife are quite the social activists.

    So, that's another rule for me. Looks are meaningless.

    With all that, I still don't think he'd make a suitable son-in-law. He'd never be accepted to BMG in Lakewood. Next suitor!

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