29 June 2008


I was doing my usual Shabbos morning thing yesterday, being Maavir Sedra with my Chavrusa the REF, Rav Eliyahu Friedman, the Baal Mechaber of Hatorah Im Mekoros Niglu.

I was reading about the quite ingenious separation of the Korach story into two separate tales, when all of the sudden the absurdity of it just hit me. This is not a standard doublet. With standard doublets, one can posit that two separate traditions of the same event needed to be maintained and as such was repeated or combined into one. This Korach story is almost the reverse! Why would a redactor feel the need to combine two completely separate stories into one when he could have included both intact? The mother of all absurdities!

It was a combination of recent posts that led to this sudden questioning on my part. It was the Hirhurim dialogue this past Friday with respect to the DH and lot's of the talk by Yus and company on XGH.

In brief, maybe there was simply a different way of looking at all these issues!? (History, Creation, Science, Textual sources DH, archaeology). Who's to say that the secular way is correct?? The stakes were suddenly enormous and I was going to rethink everything.

But the sad reality is that this lasted for less than two minutes. Firstly, I realized almost immediately that I would come to the same conclusions on each separate issue as I had come to in the past. But what really dawned on me was a truth that I had heard a while back that I never fully appreciated before. And that is as follows.

Yes, there are two opposing worldviews . And neither seems to have any rock solid proof to convince the other side (There is enough wiggle room in OJ as to be almost unfalsifiable, unless you adopt the full Chareidi viewpoint and wear blinders). So why is one POV more powerful? Why should I not be like Yus and be loyal to my people despite the reasonable evidence to the contrary?

It's simple. There is a major difference between the secular and OJ perspective. And that is "How do we know what to believe". Again, I've heard this before but never fully appreciated it. The secular, or skeptical viewpoint is that we take nothing at face value. If a claim is made it needs to be backed up. The religious perspective, on the other hand, feels free to endorse claims simply on prior authority and nothing more. To illustrate this, I listened very closely to the Hashkafakic and Halachik aspects of the shiurim & speeches I heard since yesterday morning. Without exception, they are based on simple unquestioning veneration of words attributed to prior generations. Outrageous claims and statements are made on past authority. Today's leaders marshall the names of the Eastern Europeans sages, the Chazon Ish, the Chofetz Chaim, the Nodah B'Yehuda, etc. It's in affect always passing the buck. The Achronim venerate the Rishonum , who in turn look up to the Geonim and so it goes. No one is ever taken to task and called up to the plate for any accountability. And if it's in the Gemara, fuhgetaboutit. It's like Torah Misinai and can not be questioned. And like TMS, unless, there is rock solid contrarian proof, it cannot be questioned. And even if there is contraproof, such as generation of Lice, well, I don't want to discuss everything in one post. No religious claims are ever bolstered, only defended against when need be.

Let's apply this difference to textual criticism of the Bible. I'm a far cry from being knowledgeable (in anything), so pardon me if I mis-state anything. Believers charge that the skeptics are simply trading in one set of textual problems for another. But they miss the whole point. Modern day scholars are not simply buying into a viewpoint that exists. This viewpoint has evolved and been shored up over the course of several hundred years with liguistic and other evidence. Biblical scholars do not just blindly accept what has been passed down in academic circles. On the contrary, scholars do attempt to uproot commonly held beliefs, such as the dating of the sources. Yet, without solid evidence, their words are ignored. Sometimes, a contrary opinion does break through, yes, but only by providing sufficient evidence (Think Kaufman & P). Furthermore, because we see there is progress and legitimate debate, it's an outrageous charge to claim that academics are biased. So here we have a situation that the secular viewpoint does not take anything for granted, including the possibility that the Bible is single sourced. But no scholars have been able to present a strong convincing rational case for that.

On the other hand, the believers' claim of divinity is taken for granted without any evidence. It relies simply on authority of the past which gets it's authority from the same texts in question. This is not very authoritative. The rest of the OJ story is in defending that claim of divinity, not providing evidence. Furthermore, attempts at providing evidence seem to backfire.

Believers will protest that the secular viewpoint also starts with an assumption, the non-divinity of the Torah. But that is missing the point. It is not a matter of assumptions. It is a matter of backing up the claims that are made.

OJ has no claim other than tradition. Bible Critics rely on the text itself to build a case. OJ simply has a claim. You don't like what the Bible critics say, then dispute it. You don't like the OJ claim? Well, you're a Koifer.

But what about the unanswered textual problems in the secular viewpoint? Answer: It makes not a whit of difference. Not having an answer is better than making one up.

I can walk through the same steps above in explaining the origin of man, but there's no need for me to do that. You can do it yourself.

The same analysis of claims can be applied to all areas in which science and religion don't see eye to eye.

Yes, buying into scientific claims is buying into a diffent worldview, and an almost unbelievable one at that. Man morphing from other creatures? That's Kukoo. Round earth? Pheh. Stationary sun? Laughable. 4 billion year old earth? Crazy! These are/were preposterous outlandish claims. But the claims are based on evidence. The evidence is there and may be proven, debated and disproved. You don't want to believe it? Fine. But there is evidence. On the other hand, religious claims are just that. Claims. Claims without evidence.

Believers love to point to unexplained phenomenon such as dreams as if that is evidence. But it's not. You don't get from a talking fish to Yetsias Mitzraim. And you don't get from a miraculous recovery to the Malach Rephael. Unexplained phenomena? Yes! But that's all it is. And you can't get from that to TMS. Maybe there is a God who will pull invisible strings because forty women bake challah. But it is no more likely than a God who responds to 40 Hail Mary's.

So what about the claim of Korach being two separate stories merged into one?

I can think of two possible explanations. But it's sheer speculation on my part and nothing more. However, with this speculation, it's no longer absurd. And furthermore, let me state this. If the Bible critics did not have a good reason for splitting the Korach story, they wouldn't have done so. They needn't have done so! They could have left it all alone and said it's all a single source, such as P! Why expose themselves to a charge of being absurd?

Thus, my original question highlights a strength of the DH not an absurdity. Despite the oddball outcome, the split was probably done based on some evidence, linguistic or otherwise.

And amazingly, having split it out, the text becomes that much clearer.

V'kal Lehavin.

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    24 June 2008

    Kaddish and other responses to Jewish tragedy

    I once overheard someone saying:

    "You know, I lost my parent. You'd think they'd be nice to me. Instead, they punish me and make me daven fahr the amud everyday. I got to be in shul for the opening bell and I need to be there at the end, just to make sure I say Kaddish. And to top it off I can't got to weddings and listen to music for a year"

    That's Quite an insight. Sure we say, "that's the least we can do for a parent". But the man really does have a point.

    Anyway, in this post I wanted to contrast different communal reactions to tragedy. As we saw in my last post, the institution of Kaddish Yasom was an emotional response to the crusades.

    Compare that to the following Emotional response.

    But before you watch, this requires a little introduction. The performance, produced by the Gedenk Movement, is a chilling, touching yet uplifting memorial to the Holocaust. I can't find it now, but I read somewhere that the Video was screened by holocaust survivors before it was released for public consumption. This was done to make sure it did not offend the sentiments of holocaust survivors. Apparently, there was overwhelming approval.

    I personally love the sentiments expressed by Subliminal, (that's the guy's name) - Especially 3:09 to 3:40.

    But do bravado sentiments like this help the Jewish nation survive?

    My feeling? Absolutely. And it's especially necessary for Jewish survival in Israel. (but more on that in a later post).

    This performance is another valid strong emotional response to tragedy.

    And it certainly can't be any less effective than Kaddish Yasom.

    (Are you as touched by this as I am?)


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    22 June 2008


    I had some mildly interesting Shavuos reading, including "The "Mystery of the Kaddish". I saw the book mainly as a romp through medieval Tsurris such as pogroms and the crusades, but the author managed to turn it into a treatise on the Kaddish.

    We all grow up having been exposed to the medrash of a man whose face is charred from the fires of Gehhenom, but his son saying Kaddish saves him from that. Or something like that. Also, we know that Kaddish is mentioned in the Gemarah and Mishna. And of course, Kaddish is said by by every Yasom, R"L.

    "And if all the world were mine, I would give it willing to escape one hour, to be outside [hell], to cool myself, for my soul and body are burning" ... "What sin have you committed to merit this terrible judgement?" ... "And could someone save you from this judgement?" "No, but if I had a son who could say in public Barkhu and all of the Kaddish, I would be saved at the end of my year". - Otsar ha-Midrashim, Maasiyot 45;

    So you put three & three together and think that mourners have been reciting Kaddish since the times of the Gemara. After all, nothing ever changes in OJ, right?

    Well, surprise surprise!

    I'm not going to get into into details (I'll leave that to S.) but the author traces the history of the mourners Kaddish as a response to the violence that occurred during the crusades in the 13th century. (Now compare this to the flak that modern day Jews get when establishing Yom Hazikaron and the difficulties in getting a Tishah Ba'ov Kinnah instituted on behalf of the holocaust.) Furthermore, initially, during the crusades, Kaddish Yassom was only recited by and on behalf of Torah scholars. Eventually, it spread to the common man.

    Interestingly, early siddurim, from the Geonic times, such as R' Amram & Rav Hai Gaon, do not have Kaddish Yasom. The Rambam does not mention it either. Why? simply because Kaddish was not recited by mourners.

    The author cites documentation regarding the Rosh and R' Shlomo Ben Shimon from Magenza (who?) regarding the evolution and acceptance of the Kaddish. At that time, there were also great debates whether Kaddish Yassom should be recited on Rosh Chodesh, Yom, Tov, Purim and other times of joy.

    It seems that the current practice was not codified until the times of the Shulchan Aruch. It was R' Yosef Karo, who transformed Kaddish Yasom from minhag to Halacha.

    So the next time you think of Halacha as set in stone, think Kaddish Yasom. I wonder what other "Halachos" we practice that are relatively new.

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    19 June 2008

    My star pupil

    Interpost Interlude

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    12 June 2008

    Rock solid evidence

    Tombstone Generator

    Remember the fishy story in New Square? Initially lot's of folks believed it, hook, line & sinker!

    Imagine if that story would be buttressed by a tombstone!

    Convincing? If you'd stumble on a Matseiva like that, would you take that as a sign of a historical event? Would that be eligible for Pirchei Stories and the like? Would you be inspired by that?

    Well, that's exactly what some reader expected of me. Remember my miracle post about the chussid of the Kalever Rebbe?

    Well, a few months ago, I received an Email about that post. The writer politely chastised me about the post saying that stories about Tzaddikim, are usually meant to teach a lesson.

    "There is usually a lesson to learn from it, it is about gedolei Yisroel, but after all, it is a story and it is generally for entertainment purposes"

    He never came out and said so, but I think he was acknowledging that many stories such as this one, may not really be true. (Why didn't they tell me that when I was in Pirchei?! But that's a separate story.)

    But then he said the following;

    "Secondly, regarding this particular story, I heard it when I traveled to Hungary and to the kever of the Kalever Rebbe. I also went to the cemetery in Kalev where the person mentioned in the story, Yankel Fisch, is buried and on his tombstone, it references this amazing circumstance with the Rebbe. I was also together with a descendant of Yankel Fisch on the trip, who told me that the family does know this story, as it has been handed down from generation to generation. In today's day, that would be considered excellent verification, considering that most things thrown out there on the web and the like have absolutely no basis and is used for the purpose of implanting ideas in people's heads with no offer of proof.

    So does this mean I need to retract my statement in my initial post when I claimed "this was not a verified story"?

    Makes you wonder, eh?

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    07 June 2008

    Interpost Interlude

    Very long version of an old favorite. It kicks in after a 90 second intro.

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    04 June 2008


    Life has it's way of pushing you forward. If you let it.

    I absolutely loved yeshiva. I was a good kid, always toed the line. So what if I wasn't the brightest kid in the class? Who cared? I did better than "good enough". School was predictable, for the most part. There was always the possibility of getting some whacked out rebbi or teacher, but generally speaking, if you behaved and you did your work, you'd do fine. You know, like 1 + 1 = 2. Of course, looking back I see how unfair life can be to those who aren't academically inclined or to those who didn't have the zitsfleish like I did, but that's a separate story. Me? I worked my way through yeshiva actually enjoying it. It's not just that I did well, it's that I enjoyed the learning and assimilation of knowledge. I loved learning, both Lemudai Kodesh and Lemuday chol, for it's own sake. I loved doing well on tests, quizzes and the like. And I loved the approbation that came along with it! And to boot, I was no geek. I had my fair share of extra-curricular activities and friends. So how much luckier can you get?

    But then, you gotta grow up. And once again I was fortunate, very fortunate. Because had I been me in this day and age, I'd have been in Kolel for at least five years, doing what was expected of me and possibly enjoying it. And then who knows what would have been with me. But in those golden days, it was just as respectable to take the college path as the kolel path. And so I did.

    And then came the time to grow up and get a job. And once again, I was very lucky. It was as if my career was tailor made for me (Or as Baal Devarim might have said, the crevice was placed around the puddle; it depends which way you look at it) . I enjoyed it and did well in many ways. I was like a well paid super mechanic. Use my brain for what it was good at but no executive decision making for me; 1 + 1 = 2. But then, as life would have it, the Peter Principle kicked in and life moved me into a new station that I was not really prepared for and frankly, wasn't looking for. You see, every one's talents lie in different places and mine was not in directing others and certainly not in making decisions for others. I mean, I know how to do XYZ and I was trained how to do ABC, but how am I supposed to know what to do or tell other people what to do? Suddenly, I was no longer on solid ground. Before, I did my job, knowing I'd be successful. Now, it was a whole new ballgame. Deadlines out of my control. Dealing with customers, pricing, billing, motivating, squabbles, juggling, decisions, excuses for others and a whole gamut of unfamiliar headaches. Suddenly I was in different territory where 1 + 1 might = 3. How do I know what to do??!

    However, I had what must have been the very best manager in the world; after all he was smart enough to see that I had what it takes!. Well, actually, he was a great manager for other reasons too. And what I had in him was more than a manager, he was more like a mentor. Did I know what I was doing? Not really, not at first. I made way more than my fair share of managerial mistakes. But after a while, I found that I could get by without my mentor. And so I went from one position to another, till I found myself miles away from where I started. And, amazingly, not always on the same page as my former boss.

    Astute readers might recognize where I'm going with this.

    Recently, there has been several interesting conversations about morality, including one here at XGH and here at Lubab-No-More

    When the Frum perspective of life lost it's grip on me, I was suddenly in a quandary. No longer was I on a sure footing of 1 + 1 = 2. After removing my Frum glasses, every action & thought needed to be re-assessed. But how the heck was I, Baal Habos, able to do that? What is right and what is wrong?

    I was going to go into the many issues of morality, it's origins if not God-given, etc, but it's all been said before.

    However, there are several points I'd like to make.

    Some would like claim that OJ morality is perfect, just that we don't understand it or appreciate it. But I say, if that's the case, if believers will go to great lengths to claim the Torah's morality is perfect, it's just that our perceptions are wrong, then why do they go to such great lengths to boast how much greater the Torah's morality was compared to it's ancient competitors?! If our perceptions can't be trusted now with respect to Homosexuality, women's rights and humanity in general, then why appeal to my current perception to build a case for our great morality in the past. To me, it seems clear that was a progression of morality from Biblical times up until Chazal's time. From Chazal's time, morality has still been improving but at a decelerated rate. And now? Well, the Chareidim seem to be dead set on locking things in stone and there is no progress as all.

    Also, consider Daganev's claim that Aguna is not a morality issue, rather it's a legal issue. That morality only comes into play after the legal issue has been decided. Or something like that. Does that really make sense? Heck no. Not to me, anyway.

    Anyhow, to get back to my moshol. It makes no difference why, but I feel that I want to be a moral person. I'm sure that my OJ upbringing has something to do with it. Maybe it's a case of Nature/Nurture or Phenotype/Genotype. It's partly innate in humans but also socialized. So now, I consider OJ as a starting point, a place to grow from. I'm not saying that I really live up to it in my actions; but on paper, that's my perspective.

    The good news, is that I'm finally outgrowing that feeling of being cast off without an anchor.

    OJ was my mentor, but I've since moved on.

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