Sunday, 29 August 2010

Quick Sum Up

Time to sum up what we've learned so far with a fun pedantic list of words:

NOTE: This is not necessarily just a matter of genre. Yes, many of the words we will be quoting are words used in a repeated theme i.e. blessings from God to Adam, Noach and the Patriarchs. However, there are many other blessings to the patriarchs which do not exhibit the linguistic features below including but not limited to using the name YHWH.

Elohist (not E but P) Passages Using Similar Language In Genesis:

Genesis 1-2:4 First Creation Account
  1. Peru U'Revu Be Fruitful and Multiply
  2. Chayat Ha'aretz Animals of the Earth
  3. Tzelem Elokim - Form of God
  4. l-MIN-ehu - according to it's kind
  5. The ground is generally called Eretz
  6. L'ochla - to eat
Genesis 6:9-22 First Commandment to Noach
  1. Kol Basar - All Flesh
  2. Mashchit - Destroy
  3. You, Your Children, Your Children's Wives
  4. I Will Establish My Covenant
  5. l-MIN-ehu - according to it's kind
  6. L'ochla - to eat
Genesis 8:15-20 Noach Leaves the Ark
  1. Peru U'Revu Be Fruitful and Multiply
  2. You, Your Children, Your Children's Wives
Genesis 9:1-16 God Blesses Noach
  1. Peru U'Revu Be Fruitful and Multiply
  2. Chayat Ha'aretz Animals of the Earth
  3. Tzelem Elokim - Form of God
  4. I Will Establish My Covenant
  5. Brit Olam -An eternal covenant
  6. L'ochla - to eat
  7. Kol Basar - All Flesh
Genesis 17 Avraham's Circumsision Pact
  1. Use of the Peru U'revu verbs
  2. El Shaddai
  3. I Will Establish My Covenant
  4. Brit Olam -An eternal covenant
  5. A Father of a Multitude of Nations
Genesis 28:1-19 Yitzchak Sends Yaakov to Padan Aram (Quoting Above)
  1. Use of the Peru U'Revu verbs
  2. El Shaddai
  3. I Will Establish My Covenant
  4. A Father of a Multitude of Nations
Genesis 35:9-15 Yaakov's Blessing at Second Beit El
  1. Peru U'Revu Be Fruitful and Multiply
  2. El Shaddai
  3. a Multitude of Nations
Genesis 48 Yaakov Blesses Yosef (Quoting Above)
  1. Peru U'Revu Be Fruitful and Multiply
  2. El Shaddai
  3. a Multitude of Nations

Spoiler: This collection of verses sharing similar language and ideas is considered the P (Priestly) Source in the DH. We will hopefully soon see what it has to do with priests.

Flood Story Part 1

Just Wondering: Does anyone know how to read little foxling's dead blog? Apparently he wrote extensively about the DH and I would love to read some of his material.

Read these first!:

DH Explained Part 1

DH Explained Part 2

We discussed in the last post some of the passages in Genesis which use the name Elohim exclusively. Among them we listed the first chapter of Bereishit - the creation story, and the first commandment to Noach (Genesis 7:13-22)

Let us begin by enumerating the passages in the flood story which use the name YHWH and the passages which use the name Elohim.

3 Elohim Passages, 3 YHWH passages, and one uncertain

YHWH: 6:1-8 God gets mad at mankind and decides to destroy them

Elohim: 6:9-32 Begins with the declaration "these are the generations of Noach" and continues with God's message to Noach. uses the name Elohim. Makes no distinction between pure and impure animals; we will pursue that in just a bit.

YHWH: 7:1-8 Second commandment to Noach; a distinction is made between "pure animals" and "impure animals" the name YHWH is used.

Uncertain: 7:9-8:15 The story of the flood. This large section rarely mentions God and we can only hypothesize about it based on our observations in more explicit sections. God is only mentioned 4 times, 3 as Elohim and once as YHWH.

Elohim: 8:16-20 God tells Noach to leave the ark; the name Elohim is used.

YHWH: 8:21-22 Noach brings a sacrifice and God is pleased; the name YHWH is used.

Elohim: 9:1-17 God's final covenant with Noach; the name Elohim is used.

If I haven't scared you off by that tedious list, it's time to examine some features of the flood story and see if they fit with our hypothesis. We will be looking at three things

1. The divine names
2. Phrases and words
3. Repetitions and/or contradictions.

We will be especially looking out for the "cluster effect" - do our three types of evidence cluster together? (AKA convergence of evidence) In other words will the divine name Elohim be found with the same sorts of words and phrases and YHWH will be found with the same sorts of words and phrases AND will these clusters of names and phrases correspond to passages that seem to contradict or repeat things - when faced with a repetition will one "version" have Elohim and "it's phrases" and will the other have YHWH and it's phrases. Let's take a look.

A. Vocabulary

The passages using the divine name Elohim differ in language and style from the ones using the name YHWH:

To list a few:

  1. In the first chapter of Genesis (which always uses the name Elohim) constantly uses the phrase "animals; plants; birds - according to their kind" (e.g. 1:21) the flood story also uses this terminology in reference to animals. (6:21) Interestingly enough in a passage using the name Elohim.
  2. Also notice the phrase "Btzelem Elokim" - "in the form of God", which itself uses the name Elohim; is used thrice in the first chapter of Genesis (1:26-27) (but not in the creation of man in Genesis 2) and again here (9:7) Both times used in an "Elohist" passage. YHWH never creates man "Btzelem Elokim".
  3. Once again the phrases "be fruitful and multiply" and "I will establish my covenant" are used only in proximity to the name Elohim just like in G1, and G35. (Here 6:18, 9:1, 9:7, 9:9, and 9:11)
  4. Referring to life as "all flesh" is always in passages using the name Elohim; (6:12, 13, 17, 19 etc.) this occurs only in the Elohim parts of the flood story. YHWH uses the rare word "Yekum" (7:4) and the phrase "all life" (8:21) to refer to the same idea.
  5. Referring to animals as "the animals of the earth"; this occurs both in the first creation story (G1:25, 30) and in one of the Elohim parts of the flood story (G9:2, 10) Incidentally the second creation story using the name YHWH uses the phrase "animals of the field" which never appears in (our) Elohim sections.
  6. The verb "LeShakhet" to destroy is always in close proximity to Elohim (e.g. 6:13, 8:15) (as opposed to the name YHWH which uses the verb -"Mechia" - wiping out. e.g. 7:4 )
  7. The phrase "you, your children, and your children's wives" is always in close proximity to Elohim e.g. 6:18 (as opposed to YHWH which says "you and your house") (For some reason a random verse with this phrase is ascribed to J by the DH'ers, 7:7, I have no idea why!)
  8. The phrase "because the heart of man is evil from his youth" is employed twice (G6:5 and G8:21) both times by YHWH.
  9. The word "Mabul" - deluge or flood - is never used with the name YHWH only in proximity to the name Elohim.

B. Contradictions/Repetitions:

The two commands to Noach seem superfluous both essentially saying the same thing twice. With the one exception of pure and impure animals. This is our classic parallel - with two accounts similar but different + the linguistic features above.

The theme of the 7 of each species of kosher animals is never in proximity to the name Elohim. In God's first command (Elohim) to Noach no special difference is made for pure and impure animals. It merely says to bring two of each of everything. However in the second command (YHWH) 7 pure animals are to be brought. The theme of "pure animals" is continued after Noach leaves the ark and Noach makes animal sacrifices. His sacrifices are offered to YHWH.

Can traditional explanations explain these "two versions" of the flood story? Yes and they can explain how it's all really one story. However very few traditional explanations (at least ones I have seen, I would love to be pointed to new ones) take note of the distinguishing linguistic features immediately apparent in similar but different accounts.

In our next post we will examine the large passage telling the actual story of the flood 7:9-8:15. Stay tuned...

Friday, 27 August 2010

DH Explained Part II: The "Elohist"

Continuing from here

We started with a hypothesis based on various contradictions between when and who was privy to God's name YHWH. The hypothesis so far is:

The accounts in Genesis where God eschews the name YHWH but instead tends to use the terminology EL-Shaddai and Elohim, represents a distinct literary unit, different in some way from AT LEAST the parts of Genesis where God is called either by himself or by the patriarch YHWH. This "literary unit" asserts that the patriarchs did not call God YHWH.

Once again this is but a hypothesis to explain the problem mentioned in the last post. A hypothesis needs evidence and that is what we are doing - examining the evidence (if any). In short: does Genesis and other parts of the Torah support our initial theory?

Let us start with Elohim. The hypothesis states that our "E author" eschews the name YHWH until God makes this "new" name known to Moshe. What passages in Genesis use the name Elohim without YHWH almost exclusively? (There are some passages where the names are alternated those will be dealt with later)

The most obvious "Elohist" passages are:

1) Genesis 1: The first creation account

2) Genesis 6:9-32 God's first commandment to Noach

3) Genesis 17 The Covenant of Circumcision (mentioned in last post; features El Shaddai)

4) Genesis 20 Avraham, Sarah, and Avimelech (this one is problematic because there is one mention of YHWH at the end)

5) Genesis 21:1-20 Hagar's second exile in the desert

6) Genesis 28:1-9 Yitzchak sends Yaakov to Padan Aram (El Shaddai is mentioned)

7) Genesis 35:9-15 Yaakov's revelation (mentioned in last; features El Shaddai)

8) Genesis 40-41 Yosef and Pharaoh (perhaps not conclusive because speaking to Egyptians, Yosef would use the more generic Elohim)

9) Genesis 48 Yaakov blesses Yosef (Yaakov quotes El Shaddai's blessing to him from 7.)

These are passages where the name YHWH is not mentioned at all (Except for once in 4.) These passages also comprise distinct "stories" with a clear beginning and end making it easy to "isolate" them for the purposes of our study.

Now let us make some observations here:

A. Couplets

Notice I put the word "first" and "second" in bold. I did this three times. 1. First Creation 2. First Commandment to Noach and 3. Second Exile of Hagar. These 3 stories are unique in that they have parallels. The first creation has a second creation (Genesis 2) and the first commandment to Noach has a second commandment to Noach (Genesis 7) and the second exile of Hagar vs. the first exile of Hagar (Genesis 16) (We could discuss the two Avimelech accounts also but I don't think they are very conclusive)

Isn't it interesting that these three similar yet different "couplets" have the conspicuous feature of using YHWH in one "couplet" and Elohim in the other. This is either a remarkable coincidence or an indication that PERHAPS that the usage of Elohim or YHWH indicates something more than just random changing of names (we will examine hopefully traditional explanations fort this clear phenomenon). It's not just that some passages say Elohim and other say YHWH but that similar yet different passages often follow this pattern. Interesting.

B. Fruitful and Multiply

We have two more instances of El Shaddai being associated with the blessings of "being fruitful and multiplying". (These instances are patriarchs quoting what El Shaddai told them previously, so Yitzchak in G28 repeats the blessing of Avraham, and Yaakov repeats his blessing to Yosef)

So far the following passages use this terminology: G28, G35, G48, (these 3 also all mention becoming a קהל גויים"a congregation of nations" G17 only says "I will make you very fruitful". To these we can add Genesis 1 which makes frequent use of the "fruitful and multiply" terminology (and provides Judaism with it's best mitzva) It is a remarkable coincidence that every time (so far) the Torah uses the litany of פרה ורבה it just HAPPENS to use the name Elohim or El Shaddai. Very interesting.

C. Another Couplet?

Item number 6) above where Yiztchak sends Yaakov to Padan Aram is preceded by the whole Yaakov and Eisav incident. In that incident the name YHWH was frequently used. In that account Yaakov literally flees for his life (on Rivka's advice) from his vengeful brother Eisav. Then for some reason Rivka starts complaining to Yitzchak that Eisav marrried a bunch of shiksas. So Yiztchak tells Yaakov to go to his uncle. I think we can say with some confidence that these represent similar but different accounts of why Yaakov left. Note the YHWHs in the first and the El Shaddai in the second. Extremely Interesting.

To Be Continued.....

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Documentary Hypothesis (Partly) Explained : Part 1

I'm not necessarily saying the Documentary Hypothesis is accurate or correct on all points of Biblical authorship and I'm not even supporting the truth of the DH (right now). I also am not saying that the DH necessarily leads to denial of the divinity of the Torah or of Judaism. Those are discussion for other posts. All I want to do here is show what the DH actually says (as opposed to various strawmen used in many Orthodox apologetics) and what evidence it's supporters bring in it's favor. That's all. An Orthodox Jew should take a particular interest in this discussion , because IF s/he wishes to deal with various religious problems supposedly posed by the DH, s/he MUST have a complete understanding of what the DH really says. Attacking a straw man of the DH is just stupid and disingenuous.

Let us start with a common strawman that the Orthodox often use when discussing the DH:

The Documentary Hypothesis MERELY says that God is sometimes called YHWH and sometimes called Elohim and ASSUMES that that implies multiple authors.

A large part of the DH is based on the cycling between God being called YHWH and Elohim. That is true. However, it is not JUST based on the fact that this change occurs. Rather it is based on the similarities and differences between the narratives in which the names are changed.

It all starts with some curious verses in Shemot. (6:2)

ב וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אֲנִי יְהוָה. ג וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב--בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי; וּשְׁמִי יְהוָה, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם.

And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him: 'I am the LORD; 3 and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as El Shaddai, but by My name YHWH I made Me not known to them.
Now these verses make a very interesting assertion. They say pretty explicitly that God never "made known" his name YHWH to the patriarchs. However the problem with this immediately apparent. As we all know God, in various places in Genesis in fact DOES reveal himself with the name YHWH and even sometimes uses the same terminology of "I am YHWH".

Edit: Examples:

Genesis 15:7
וַיֹּאמֶר, אֵלָיו: אֲנִי יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים--לָתֶת לְךָ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, לְרִשְׁתָּהּ

7 And He said unto him: 'I am YHWH that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.'
Genesis 28:10
יב וַיַּחֲלֹם, וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה, וְרֹאשׁוֹ, מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה; וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים, עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ. יג וְהִנֵּה יְהוָה נִצָּב עָלָיו, וַיֹּאמַר,
אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ, וֵאלֹהֵי יִצְחָק; הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ--לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֶךָ.

12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of Elohim ascending and descending on it. 13 And, behold, YHWH stood beside him, and said: 'I am YHWH, the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. 1

We could perhaps say that the narrative doesn't actually mean that the patriarchs did not know the name of YHWH at all. Perhaps they merely did not understand the MEANING or the IMPLICATIONS of the holy name. However there are certain passages in Genesis which seem to fit PERFECTLY with a literal interpretation of this passage in Exodus.

I am referring to two revelations one to Avraham and one to Yaakov let us take a look.

Genesis 17:1

א וַיְהִי אַבְרָם, בֶּן-תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה וְתֵשַׁע שָׁנִים; וַיֵּרָא יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי-אֵל שַׁדַּי--הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי, וֶהְיֵה תָמִים

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, YHWH appeared to Abram, and said unto him: 'I am El Shaddai; walk before Me, and be thou wholehearted.
and Genesis 35:9-11

ט וַיֵּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶל-יַעֲקֹב עוֹד, בְּבֹאוֹ מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם; וַיְבָרֶךְ, אֹתוֹ. י וַיֹּאמֶר-לוֹ אֱלֹהִים, שִׁמְךָ יַעֲקֹב: לֹא-יִקָּרֵא שִׁמְךָ עוֹד יַעֲקֹב, כִּי אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל יִהְיֶה שְׁמֶךָ, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, יִשְׂרָאֵל. יא וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אֱלֹהִים אֲנִי אֵל שַׁדַּי, פְּרֵה וּרְבֵה--גּוֹי וּקְהַל גּוֹיִם, יִהְיֶה מִמֶּךָּ; וּמְלָכִים, מֵחֲלָצֶיךָ יֵצֵאוּ

And Elohim appeared unto Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him [....] 11 And Elohim said unto him: 'I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins

In both these revelation God specifically refrains from using the name YHWH when talking to the patriarchs he ONLY, and let me stress that again, ONLY uses the words Elohim and El Shaddai when referring to himself. (In 17:1 the word YHWH is used to describe God in the third person but when he actually speaks he uses the other names exclusively never using the name YHWH again in the whole passage)

Isn't it interesting that on the one hand we have various accounts in Genesis where God seems to "break the rule" that he made in Exodus, while in other places he keeps the rule "religiously".

Let us make a hypothesis and at this point it is JUST a hypothesis. PERHAPS there are two versions of God's public relations policy with the patriarchs. PERHAPS we are looking at the writings of two different people both telling basically the same story but with slightly different details.

What kind of evidence would we need to substantiate this hypothesis?

Surely different writers would have different writing styles and use slightly different expressions. In theory we should be able to find some difference between the "literary style" of the supposed "E author" and the supposed "J author". (To use the terminology of the DH)

Assuming that Exodus 6, Genesis 17, and Genesis 35 comprise a distinct literary unit which is different than various other revelations employing the name YHWH there are indeed some unique stylistic features.

Some things G17 and G35 have in common:

1. Both bless the patriarchs with "kings coming from them"
2. Both discuss being fruitful and multiplying
3. In both of them "Elohim goes up" after he is done with his chat.
4. In both the names of Avram and Yaakov are changed to AvrAHam and Yisrael respectively

Some things G17, G35, and E6 have in common:

1. The use of El Shaddai (as mentioned)
2. The use of the term "And I will establish this covenant"

These similarities are interesting but far from conclusive (or even convincing at this point). We will have to further investigate Genesis to substantiate our hypothesis of TWO or more authors or documents and see if we can find any other evidence for this theory or if it is what many Orthodox call it - a "failed hypothesis".

To Be Continued.... (maybe)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Selective Skepticism

First watch this video which I think rather nicely sums up the position of skeptics vs. religious believers. (HT: E-man)

Besides the monotone this is a great video! Should be required watching in yeshivot!

Anyway I also saw on eskeptic today (here) an interesting study comparing the beliefs of Wiccans and Creationists. The common factor, of course, between these two rather irrational types of thought is a certain suspension of skepticism in favor of either the inerrancy of the Bible or the existence of the supernatural and paranormal. However, and this is extremely interesting, creationists tend to eschew the paranormal and be highly skeptical of such popular beliefs like UFO's and the ability of psychics. (click to enlarge)
This is not exactly unexpected, because creationists are traditionalists and don't like new-fangled ideas, but it is nevertheless a completely unjustified approach to skepticism. You can't justify being completely skeptical about paranormal beliefs while on the other hand being completely accepting about equally unsubstantiated beliefs such as the inerrancy and divinity of the Bible.

These statistics essentially remind me of the attitude the Orthodox community has towards paranormal beliefs. Most Orthodox people I know are exceedingly skeptical of things like UFO's. They often roll their eyes and make comments about how bankrupt American religious life is that it forces people to believe in such nonsense. They often say such things like "everyone needs religion either it's God or UFO's".

Of course these same people who are so skeptical about the paranormal also believe that they have invisible souls which will somehow go to an invisible afterlife.

In our day and age many people are increasingly more skeptical. HOWEVER they are usually only skeptical of things not already within their accepted Weltanschauung.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Boundaries of Faith Based Religion

I'm a big fan of completely faith based religion.

If you truly believe, but at the same time you realize that your belief is not a logical decision but rather a matter of faith, upbringing, and environment then I think you have a pretty good position. I've said it before and I'll say it again - not everything we humans do is or even should be a matter of cold calculating. Irrational emotions, desires and impulses are IMHO just as important to the human experience as logic and rationality, and should take some part in our decision making.

(I'm not sure if such people exist; people who openly admit that they have zero logical basis for their faith; if they do they are a tiny minority of the world's believers)

There is however a fundamental difference between "rational" religion "(i.e. the belief that your religion can be demonstrated rationally) and emotional religion.

Rational religion claims to be based on logic. Logic or reasoning is generally considered an objective concept. The beliefs of a purportedly rational religion have an objective quality to them.

However "emotional" or romanticist religion is by definition a subjective belief.

Rational religion can demand that you not only do things yourself but that you also have a right to demand things of others. It is objectively wrong for a Jew to eat shellfish. Logic practically dictates that this is an egregious sin. Therefore it is my duty and right to try and prevent not only myself but other Jews from committing this terrible sin. Just think about how much of what Orthodox Jews (and other fundamentalists) do is based on the assumption that religion is a description of objective values and objective realities.

However in theory emotional religion demands that you restrict all your beliefs and feelings to yourself. What others do has nothing to do with you or your religion because your religion is faith-based - which is to say it is purely subjective. It exists within you heart but nowhere else. Carrying out subjective imperatives and imposing them on others just does not make any sense. It's like telling your friend not to go on the roller coaster because YOU happen to hate roller coasters. Or like telling a surgeon to leave the room because blood makes YOU queezy.

Who is to say that your subjective religion has the same existence or meaning to other people with different emotions, desires and upbringings?

Monday, 23 August 2010

It's Hard Being a Gadol

This is just an idea.

It's a lot harder nowadays to become a "Gadol BaTorah" then it was back in the day. I mean take the Rambam, a fairly brilliant fellow. To get the status of a Gadol all he really needed to know was Tanakh and Shas. And that's it! (Maybe some geonim also) So yes, Shas is pretty big but it's not insurmountable. If you have a good memory you can probably get the whole thing down klor (I have not used that word in so long!) in 20 or 30 years. So you're done Shas and now what? Hey! Maybe a bit of Aristotle!

The point is for someone to have the status of a big macher in Torah nowadays you've gotta know LOTS of stuff. You need to know Shas, you need to know Shulchan Aruch, you need to know Rambam, you need to know Taz, Shach, Bach, Beit Yosef, Mishna Berura etc. etc. etc.

There is just so much Jewish legal writing out there nowadays that if you want to make it to the top you really cannot waste any time reading or doing anything else. Yes there are exceptions but I think it's virtually impossible nowadays for someone to have the automatic respect of the Orthodox world through sheer quantity of Torah knowledge, AND to have an in depth knowledge of non-Torah subjects.

And it's not just Torah that has grown. Science is also 100X more complex than the days of the Rambam. What did the Rambam have to know? Aristotle, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and some Plato. Nowadays there is just SO MUCH more secular knowledge!

Perhaps there is such a paucity of true Rambams nowadays because Torah and science have just become too big for one person to be proficient in both.


Am I completely off here?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Kuzari Proof: Quote and Links

I don't even need to do the work it's been done for me ad nauseum over the last five years all over the internet. Before the list I want to add a quote from an amazing book I just finished called Historians' Fallacies by David Fischer. Anyone who thinks they can judge ancient psychology (which the Kuzari proof tries to do) by modern day standards is just deluding themselves and here is why.

The Fallacy of Universal Man: falsely assumes that people are intellectually and psychologically the same in all times, places and circumstances.... People, in various times, have not merely thought different things they have thought them differently.It is probable that their most fundamental cerebral processes have changed through time. Their deepest emotional drives and desires may themselves have been transformed. Significant elements of continuity cannot be understood without a sense of discontinuities too.

Blogs and Links Showing the Numerous Fallacies involved In the So Called Kuzari Proof.

1. From Wikipedia

2. The Sinai Argument by Shlomi Tal

From TalkReason

3. Dreaming Up... by Mark Perah

4. Critique of the Kuzari Argument by Avi Norowitz

5. Kuzari - The Principle and Formalism by David Yust

From Blogs

6. From DovBear: Demolishing Dumb Arguments

7. Pretty Much Every Post in Gideon Slifkin's old XGH blog (archive here, or just subscribe to Google Reader to access old posts)

8. From Textuality: Definitively Refuting the Kuzari Principle

9. From Martin C. Winer The Kuzari Proof - 3 Million Can Be Wrong

10. Posts From (Blogger) Orthoprax (Focusing On Other Mass Revelation Myths):

A. Going After Rabbi Gottlieb

B.The Milk Miracle

C.Buddha's Many Miracles

D.The Aztec's National Revelation

E.The Aztec's National Revelation II

F.The Mandan

11. Two More Mass Revelations

Any other good links to add? Folks there is a reason it's called the Kuzari proof. Because it wass thought up in the Middle Ages by Yehuda HaLevi in the Kuzari. The Middle Ages are over, we know a lot more about religion and history then Yehuda HaLevi. Time to move on.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Note: Frummies, this post obviously assumes I'm right and you're wrong. If you want to know why I think that read my other posts.

What is faith?

Back when I was good card carrying member of Orthodoxy I had faith.

But that faith was nothing special from a religious point of view. It was merely ignorant of any other way of thinking. As soon as I found out that not everyone in the world thought like us I started asking questions.

But is there another kind of faith?

Can one feel a deep inner intuition that Orthodoxy is true and that God exists despite complete and full understanding that there is no logical evidence for these ideas? Indeed Rousseau (and his modern Jewish disciple A.J. Heschel) rejected rationalistic proofs of God (and religion) and tell us to but look at our hearts. But I wonder if these people believed (erroneously in my opinion) that the dictates of the heart have just as much authority as logic OR did they realize that their hearts can't really tell us anything about reality but decided to follow anyway because life isn't all about logic.

Or is the faith of most true believers merely ignorance? When I say ignorant I don't mean they've never heard of the things us skeptics talk about - though that is often the case. I mean they do not fully realize the real implications of the skeptics' claims. Perhaps due to their fervent belief they are unable to allow their reasoning to proceed to it's logical conclusion. A sort of mental road block. Perhaps with the aid of this barrier in the road they believe that they are holding onto a fully rational world view when in reality they are using faulty thinking guided by their preconceived views.

So to sum things up I can imagine four types of faith:

1. The Realistic Romanticists

Those who follow the dictates of their heart with full knowledge that their hearts can't really describe reality. (I can't really imagine anyone being really fervent this way but whatever I suppose its possible)

2. The Wishful Thinking Romanticists

Those who follow the dictates of their heart thinking that human instinct (in this case often the product of brainwashing) is just as good as logic

3. The Intellifundies

Those who think they are following reason but really aren't

4. The Sheltered/Hamon Am

(What I used to be) Those who don't think OR don't realize that there is an intellectual world outside of Orthodoxy.

(I think 3 and 4 are the majority of people, I have met a few lone 2s, and never met a 1)

Monday, 16 August 2010

Burden of Proof

(Let me know if you're having trouble with the new Disqus comments and PLEASE use the Reply button)

Forget Bible criticism, forget philosophy, forget arguments AGAINST Judaism. I might have been approaching all of this completely wrong. I've been focusing on the peripheral issues and missing the big picture. We need to ask "prove it!" Let's begin by talking about the burden of proof (BOP).

Now BOP arguments often become silly and are usually not useful in a scientific or historical discussions. But in the case of religion vs. skepticism we absolutely need to establish who the BOP is on. Our options:

1. There are two sides to the argument and the BOP is on both sides

2. The BOP is on skepticism

3. The BOP is on religion

How do we decide? What is the rule (if any) that determines who the BOP is on? Let's discuss generalities first and then move onto the question at hand.

I'm sure right now some believer is smiling at my naivete. BOP on theism!? Don't I know that religion has been around for much longer than atheism. Stupid Shilton! Atheism, and Deism are the innovations. When someone says "I'm an atheist" S/He is surely like someone coming out of nowhere and saying Rav Elyashiv is the Mashiach! The BOP is on the innovative new atheism of the modern era!

This is faulty thinking and let me explain why. Atheism is indeed, relatively speaking a novel idea, however determining the BOP has nothing to do with comparing the ages of two contending ideas. It also has nothing to do with established norms or accepted ideas. The BOP does not follow chronology and does not care who came up with what first and how long people have been doing various things. To determine the BOP we must take two ideas forget the histories and biases behind each one and ask "Which one is making a positive assertion and which one is not." The BOP always lies on the unproven positive assertion NOT on the unproven negative assertion.

Positive assertions are the ones which must be proven. So take rain for example. The belief in the existence of rain is a positive assertion. You can't just assume it rains. You need to base it on something you need some sort of proof. In short the BOP initially is always on the person who wants to demonstrate the existence of rain. How do you prove it? Well you explain how many people have seen rain (including yourself), and how it is well documented, and how millions of independent sources from people who never met each other all make mention of it. Just a side point: Once you've proven rain then the BOP is obviously shifted, and it is then that the proof must be borne by the iconoclast who wishes to bring the reality of rain into question.

We start off knowing absolutely nothing and the BOP lies on everything, however once a proof or a well reasoned argument has been offered the BOP is on those who wish to now change things.

So back to religion. Religion is still stuck in the initial stages of doubt. It has never gotten off the ground. Initially at the beginning of a logical inquiry religion, rain, cars, keyboards, cats, physics, and Coca Cola are all in doubt and the BOP is on s/he who wants to prove them. The problem is religion fell behind in the race. We can reasonably prove the existence of rain, cats, cars, keyboards, physics and Coca Cola. Obviously it's not so easy (probably impossible) to escape a Cartesian doubt or prove we're not brains in jars but we can prove that in our world, whether that world be real or imaginary, that Coca Cola exists. But religion? Can you prove religion in the same way you can prove Coca Cola? Hell forget Coke! Can you prove religion in the same way you can prove the Earth is round?

It's not a specific bias against religion it's a requirement on EVERYTHING! Nothing is known 'till proven or demonstrated adequately. That's all skepticism is - requiring every positive assertion in the world - no exceptions - to prove itself. The Burden of proof is on Coke just a much as religion - the only difference is most things have overcome the challenge and fulfilled their duty of bearing the proof. Religion has for the most part failed and now would desperately like to be granted a special epistemological immunity just because it's really old and respected. Well no can do - stick to faith.

Skepticism is a negative assertion and says "I'll believe it when I see it" It needs not prove anything because it's not saying anything. It's just saying I don't believe in pink unicorns, religion, fairies, an afterlife, UFO's, and magic NOT because these things are impossible, but rather just because nobody can give me any reason WHY to believe in these things. When a skeptic makes a positive assertion then indeed s/he needs to cough up some proof or argument but denying religion in general is not a positive assertion.

If a real proof or argument for God in general, and Judaism in particular popped up then the skeptics would have to logically change their position and could no longer "hide" behind the Burden of Proof. Since that has not happened yet (AFAIK) and all Judaism has going for it are a bunch of pseudo-proofs which are opiates for the gullible masses , the skeptics still have the high ground.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Where To Begin?

There are just so many problems with Orthodoxy that one often doesn't know where to start.

So if you, for some reason, had one chance to convince a believer to stop believing (why? beats me) what argument would you choose?

I guess I'm kind of wondering what the rational order of disbelief is. I mean if one had to completely deconstruct Orthodoxy "from scratch" where would one start? There are so many tantalizing issues.

Does one start from the top and talk about God, and the problem of evil?

Does one quote the rather cruel commandments that hopefully no benevolent God authored?

Does one cite the fact that God either lied through science or in the creation account?

Does one discuss critical Bible scholarship, the Ancient Near East, and archaeology?

Does one talk about the fact that humans wrote (or in this case spoke) the Torah She B'Al Peh?

Or does one just simply say "PROVE IT!"

Which skeptical discussions take logical precedence as the initial "underminers" of Orthodoxy and which ones only become meaningful after Orthodoxy has been rather thoroughly undermined? Some commenters said that my discussion about contradictions in the Torah (hmmm I need to finish that sometime) was not itself an underminer of Orthodoxy (because of TSBP apologetics etc.) but was rather something which one discusses only after having decided for other reasons that the Torah and Orthodoxy in general are not divine.

I dunno

What do y'all think?

If you had to explain it all to someone what would you start with and how would you proceed?

Friday, 13 August 2010

30 Dumb Proofs

Someone a long time ago made a snarky list of dumb theist arguments. (Here) I suppose it's about time we do it for Judaism. It's a joke of course (so nobody get offended that I'm misconstruing things) but I have to say that everything I'm about to list I have literally heard (in some shape or form) from real people. It's actually pretty depressing (but still funny.) Anyway feel free to add and have a Shabbat Shalom!

1. Parents don't lie to their children. Therefore Judaism must be true

2. Only Judaism of the three Abrahmic religions had a mass revelation myth. Therefore Judaism must be true

3. The Torah says some crazy things that no human would write. Therefore Judaism must be true

4. The Gemara got some science sort of right. Therefore Judaism must be true

5. The Bible is an amazing book. Therefore Judaism must be true

6. The Gemara is an amazing book. Therefore Judaism must be true

7. Maimonides was smart. He believed in Judaism. Therefore Judaism must be true

8. Jews use less drugs and drink less alcohol then non-Jews. Therefore Judaism must be true

9. Orthodox Jews have a low divorce rate. Therefore Judaism must be true.

10. People died for Judaism. Therefore Judaism must be true.

11. If I treat the Torah as a crossword puzzle I can make after-the-fact prophecies. Therefore Judaism must be true.

12. The Torah says bad things will happen to the Jews. Bad thing happened to the Jews. Therefore Judaism must be true

13. The Jews are still around despite having a rough time. Therefore Judaism must be true

14. Logic and rationality are a load of crap. Therefore Judaism must be true

15. God must have a plan for man. The Torah is a plan for man. Therefore Judaism must be true

16. The Torah says the universe had a beginning. The Big Bang Theory says the universe had a beggining. Therefore Judaism must be true

17. A lot of bad things happened to the Jews specifically. This must mean God hates them specially. Therefore Judaism must be true

18. Some archaeology supports certain things in the Bible. Therefore Judaism must be true.

19. The Documentary Hypothesis is wrong. Therefore Judaism must be true

20. Science changes. We say Judaism never changes. Therefore Judaism must be true.

21. Learning Gemara is fun. Therefore Judaism must be true

22. Jews have an obligation to believe Judaism is true. Therefore Judaism must be true

23. Jews are smart. Therefore Judaism must be true

24. The Gemara and its commentaries take up tens of thousands of pages. Therefore Judaism must be true

25. State of Israel. Therefore Judaism must be true.

26. War of Independence, Mivtza Sinai, Six Day War, Yom Kippur War. Therefore Judaism must be true

27. "I have faith." Therefore Judaism must be true

28. "You're just as biased as me!" Therefore Judaism must be true

29. "If it was obvious we'd have no free choice" Therefore Judaism must be true

30. "If it was obvious everyone would become Jewish" Therefore Judaism must be true

31. "So and so got better when we davened for him/her" Therefore Judaism must be true

Okay it was 31 proofs. Can anyone think of anymore, this was fun. ;)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Gemara Logic

I've been wondering if learning copious amounts of Gemara affects your reasoning skills.

Now learning Gemara is fine AS LONG AS you know from whence it comes. It comes from people who were just stumbling upon the concepts of logic and logical thinking and had not yet matured intellectually enough to develop things we take for granted such as modern literary analysis and modern critical thinking.

The problem with yeshivot (and Orthodox Jews in general) is they have way too much reverence for the Gemara. Just like Chareidim are wrong in blindly accepting Chazal's faulty science, so too we must not be wrong by blindly accepting Chazal's logic and methodology. But Yeshivish and Orthodox Gemara learning does not take any of this into account. They treat the Gemara's logic as something profound and relevant when in reality the Gemara's reasoning is much more primitive (excusable, of course, due to the time period) than our own.

Now you spend all day or most of your day sitting learning this profound and meaningful Gemara logic and eventually you're going to start thinking the obvious - hey! This is a normal way of thinking! When the Gemara does such and such that's just how one is logically supposed to treat such and such a dilemma. Then you might take the Gemara's methodology and start trying to apply it in places where it doesn't belong. . . .

I wonder this because the Orthodox seem rather unworried by explicit contradictions in the Pentateuch. (I'll finish that list some day....)

Could it be, perhaps, and this is just some random guessing, that one of the reasons the Orthodox believer happily accepts Chazals resolutions to these explicit contradictions is because they've gotten used to Talmudic thinking. The Gemara absolutely loves taking two explicit contradictory statements and then using some ingenious explanation to show how there really is no contradiction at all. Now you start learning things like this in 5th grade or something and continue to pound it into your brain for years. Every year you watch the Gemara say things like "This Baraita says that strawberries grow on bushes and this Baraita says that strawberries grow in fields לא קשיא. One is talking about strawberries in Israel while the other is talking about strawberries outside of Israel" And since this is the most logical training you're gonna get it middle school or high school, you start to think that this is a completely normal way of thinking. That it's completely run of the mill to take two complete opposites and try smashing them against each other until you get a resolution.

So now our Gemara saturated fellow cracks open a book about Bible criticism and starts reading about how scholars separate bits of the Torah that just don't shtim (flow). And our Talmudic scholar is not scared or confused but just annoyed at the stupidity of this so called scholar. Doesn't he know that when two things contradict each other you're supposed to uproot mountains to reconcile them! Silly Bible critic! You don't assume there is an argument you assume there is an ingenious and complex resolution. If only Elliot Friedmann had learned a little more Gemara! Then he would know how you're REALLY supposed to think.


Or maybe most people are just brainwashed well enough to NEVER ask questions.

More probable.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


SH: Disclaimer - I had some great times in Yeshiva and made some very good friends. This post doesn't reflect those times but rather is an attempt to capture those moments of depression and gloom and how it felt to be a skeptic stuck in Yeshiva.

Also your Yeshiva experience may vary. This is just about me.

You sit in a small blatt room where the Rabbi is talking. He has been shouting for the last ten minutes about the enemies of Judaism. Western culture, television, secular literature! You try to think about something else but this man continues on his tirade against everything that is not the holy Torah. And then you look around. And people are paying attention. They're not just paying attention some are occasionally nodding in ascent to this ridiculous diatribe. You look to your left, you look to your right and almost everyone is fixated on the extremism of this so called Rabbi. And you start to wonder if everyone has gone insane.

But how could it be? Everyone insane and you the only sane one? You live in an insular world of Torah learning and prayer. There is no outside until the next bein hazmanim or off shabbos. No. Until your vacation there is nothing else. And nobody but you thinks there is something wrong. You're the only one who screams inside at the rampant stupidity and the mockery of logic. And you start to wonder if maybe you're the insane one.

But you know better than that! You know that you're not crazy! You know that this closed world is not the real world. You know! But everywhere every day the same things are repeated. Your ears are filled with the same message over and over again day in and day out. Everywhere you turn the same refrain. Everywhere you look the same ideal. There is nothing in this world worth doing besides learning Torah.

And you thank God that you know that this is not Judaism. You thank God that you hate this world so much that you are able to fight the brainwashing. Your skepticism blocks the noise. Your complete unwillingness to be turned into these people allows you to weather the storm and leave the Koslei Hayeshiva relatively unscathed.

But you look at your friends. You look at those who entered the Yeshiva without the nagging doubt. You look at those who have never questioned Judaism in their lives. And you watch them slowly be transformed. The constant barrage of the Yeshiva's ideology eventually brakes their meager defenses, for nothing can defend you from such constant conditioning except a strong cynical sense of skepticism.

Then you find yourself in a room. It's afternoon Shabbos seder and you and other malcontents are sitting complaining about Yeshiva. There are always malcontents. There are always those puzzle pieces that just don't fit. It does not take much to not like the Yeshiva. You are from a more Modern Orthodox background. You want to go to the movies. You hate learning Gemara from morning till night. Any of these little things will put you outside of the pale.

Everyone is laughing and mocking the stupidities of the Yeshiva and you feel that here in this room on a shabbos afternoon there is a small bastion of sanity in this world. You get overexcited and make fun of some clearly stupid Gemara or maybe you mock a verse in the Chumash. And then suddenly the room falls silent. The lighthearted fun comes to an abrupt stop. because these people are not skeptics they just are not Chareidim. They look at you uncomfortably because you have crossed the line. Even those who don't fit the mold have a line. And then you begin to wonder again if you're the only sane person in the room.

And then you leave the Koslei HaYeshiva and stare at the bright world and you're blinded by it's radiant light. The darkness you've lived in for all those years, broken only by the occasional glimmer of a bein hazmanim, had become an inseparable part of your life. But now it's all in the past. And you walk onwards towards the future. And swear to never look back. But before you leave you take one glimpse back at the poor retches still stuck in that world of gloom and misery and you remember that you too once lived with them. You once were part of that same world and you can't fathom how you survived it all. How!?

And you seriously start to wonder if you were once insane.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Contradictions and Inconsistencies in the Pentateuch: Part I

I feel that I have not elaborated enough on this blog about my arch rival - Orthodox TMS. Although I have made general statements about my objections to it I have never bothered to expound on the nitty gritty of the subject. I think its about time for me to do this. So I would like to commence a "project" where I get into the details of the Chumash and analyze what I believe is the "untenability" of unified authorship. (We're not necessarily saying the DH yet, just not unified authorship)

I often mention in my various debates (blogosphere and real world) the fact that the Pentateuch is RIDDLED with inconsistencies. With so many inconsistencies and contradictions it is highly unlikely that one person (or one God whatever the case may be) wrote the whole thing. The believer invariably asks "Like what?" The average Orthodox believer doesn't even realize that there are any inconsistencies because s/he has been taught that the Torah is perfect and uniform and that all contradictions are not REALLY contradictions.

Therefore I've decided to compile a sort of list of contradictions between different bits of the Pentateuch so that I can reference it whenever anybody asks. I am fully aware that almost every contradiction and inconsistency that I will be referencing has been "dealt with" by traditional parshanut (Bible interpretation) or by Rabbinical interpretations. It is not my intent right now to explain why those ad hoc explanations don't help the basic problem, my intention at this stage is to merely show that these contradictions do exist and that they are formidable issues that any Bible scholar MUST deal with. (Some of the things I will cite are less problematic than others)

I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Torah (yet!) so please in the comments help me out and add anything I missed so that I can incorporate it into the list (and PLEASE correct any mistakes)

So let's begin with a list of inconsistencies and contradictions in the Pentateuch from Genesis (G) through Exodus (Ex)

1. G 1-2 Creation Accounts

Two creation accounts. In one the order of creation is plants, animals, man. In the other man, plants animals.

2. G 6:13 - 7:5 Noach and the Animals

God speaks to Noach twice about the impending deluge. In Chapter 6 he says generically to bring two of every animal while in Chapter 7 he differentiates between pure animals (7 of each) and impure animals (2 0f each)

3. G 21:31 Be'er Sheva

Be'er Sheva is named after the oath (shevua) between Avraham and Avimelech while in 26:33 it is named Be'er Sheva after an an oath between Yitzchak and Avimelech.

4. G 26:34 Esav's Wives

Esav takes two Hittite wives Yehudit Bat (daughter of) Be'eri and Basmat Bat Elon. He later takes an additional wife (28:9) Machalat daughter of Yishmael. However in the extensive geneaology of Esav's family in 36 no mention is made of Yehudit or Basmat and in their place are two women we've never heard of Ada Bat Elon (a Hittite) and Oholibama Bat Ana (a Hivite)

5. G 28:19 Bet El

Yaakov calls Luz Bet El because of the revelation he has on his way to Aram. However in 35:15 Yaakov "again" calls the place Bet El in commemoration of another revelation he has on his way back from Aram.

6. G 32:29 Yisrael

Yaakov wrestles with the man/angel and get called Yisrael. However later on in 35:10 God calls him Yisrael.

7. G 37:18-30 Sale of Yosef

The Sale of Yosef has a few plot holes. Reuven tells the brothers to chuck him in the pit in order to secretly save him. Then Yehuda comes up with the sale idea and no mention is made that Reuven was not present. Then Reuven comes to the pit and for some reason is surprised that Yosef is not there. Something fishy is going on. There is also A LOT of confusion about who sold to whom (Is it the Ishmaelites is it the Midianites etc.)

8. G 46:8-34 Genealogy

The genealogy of Yaakov's sons and grandson in Genesis differs in at least twenty places from the genealogy given in Numbers 26.

9. Ex 6:2 YHWH

God says he never made his name YHWH known to the Avot. However we explicitly find God calling himself YHWH when he talks to the avot is various places. (One example is Yaakov and the ladder story where God rather explicitly says "I am YHWH")

10. Ex 12:8-9 The Pesach Offering

The laws of the Pesach offering. Here it must cannot be boiled in water and must be cooked. In Deuteronomy (15) it is just to be generically "cooked". Also here the Pesach has to be a lamb while in Deuteronomy it can be from "sheep and cattle."

11. Ex: 18:13-27 Yitro's Advice

Moshe sets up a hierarchy of judges based on Yitro's advice. However in the first chapter of Deuteronomy he makes no mention of Yitro and it sounds as if he came to the decision all by himself.

12. Ex 20:11 Shabbat

Besides the fact that the Ten Commandments here differ in language from the ones in Deuteronomy we also have a rather conspicuous difference when it comes to Shabbat. The reason given for Shabbat here is to commemorate the seven days of creation. However in Deuteronomy 5:15 the reason given is to give our slaves a rest in commemoration of our slavery in Egypt.

13. Ex 21:2-6 Hebrew Slave

The laws of a Hebrew slave. No mention is made of rewarding the slave (ha'anaka) when he goes free as in Deuteronomy 15:13. Also here the slave is to serve for six years while in Leviticus 25:40 no mention is made of the six years and instead a new factor is mentioned i.e. the remission of slaves in the Jubilee year.

But don't take my word for it do your homework (and earn mitzva points for learning Torah!) and look everything up!

To be continued....

Can Orthodoxy REALLY Be Reconciled With Science?

I had a most interesting discussion the other day which I would like to share.

I got into a big argument with a relatively Yeshivish person about Young Earth Creationism. Now this person, we'll call him Reuven, is not an idiot and did not make the mistake of claiming that evolution is bunk or that geology is wrong etc. Instead he suggested that although science points unquestionably to an old earth it is still reasonable to assume that perhaps God tweaked things to make it look old.

Now I naturally rolled my eyes and perhaps overconfidently decided to show him the wrong of his ways but since I wanted to keep things "kosher" I tied my hand behind my back and took for granted, as he does, that the Torah is divine writ, without question, and is the eternal and infallible word of God. Since this is the Orthodox notion of TMS the point of the discussion was to see if the Modern Orthodox are succesfully able to hold both the doctrine of TMS and also uphold the reliability of science.

My first argument was that God would not "lie" (as I posted in my last post) about the world by creating it in a fashion which makes it seem that it is older than it really is.

Countered Reuven, God would not lie in the Torah that the world was created in 7 days.

I then said, that surely choosing the Torah over science is an arbitrary decision. After all God is deceiving us so to speak in one area either way, who is to say that the deception doesn't lie in the Torah instead of the science.

Countered Reuven, God never gave us nature as a source of insight or as a "guide to life". Conversely we were given the Torah for the explicit pupose of teaching us something. Therefore it indeed makes more sense to assume that the deception lies in nature not in the Torah.

I then said that we see that the Torah was written for a certain generation and perhaps made concessions to the superstitions and traditions of the Ancient Hebrews. Basically I invoked a sort of Nahum Sarna approach that the Torah was written in the form of Ancient Mythology as a "concession" to the spirit of the age,

Countered Reuven that even assuming that the Torah was written for a certain generation (he was quite reluctant to admit this) it is still unreasonable for God to leave such overt deception in a book which is meant to guide us. It is unreasonable for God to waste time expounding on a clearly fictional narrative in order to teach some sort of lesson to the Ancient Hebrews, when it clearly is a stumbling block for our generation. No matter how you say it, it is still a very misleading narrative and surely we should not attribute that to God?

I countered the Torah is not a history book etc.

He replied that that is true but is still should not mislead us.

I asked why God bothered to trick us with nature?

He said he had no idea but countered why would God trick us throught the Torah?

Since I decided not to say to Reuven "Well the Torah is not infallible etc." (Which is against Orthodox dogma) I basically lost the argument.

So I leave it to you folks. Did I miss something? Or is Modern Orthodoxy simply kidding itself when it claims to believe both in science and Torah? I've always assumed due to my brainwashing upbringing that although I personally don't believe in Orthodoxy, that Orthodoxy still does not HAVE to contradict science. But is this correct? Perhaps the Chareidim have it right and it is not reasonable to believe in the infallibility and complete divinity of the Torah and to also believe that science is correct. Perhaps the only real way to reconcile Judaism with science is to admit that the Torah is not infallible and is not ad verbatim the word of God. Maybe. I leave it to you.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The God of Young Earth Creationism Is Not Benevolent

From Is God a Delusion? by Eric Reitan (Not THE book btw)

Young Earth Creationism is appalling, not just from a scientific perspective,but from a religious one. It forces us to swallow a picture of God that undercuts our capacity to trust God. It represents God as engaging in detailed deception, designing the universe so that the evidencepoints overwhelmingly in one direction, while the truth is contained in one old book.

And then, presumably, it is those who side with the book that God will favor.To those who side with science, we can imagine how God would chide them: You should have concluded that, when I created the world, I would design it to be consistently and systematically deceptive. Instead, you concluded that this ancient book passed down in one part of the world, within the Judeo-Christian tradition, was not literally accurate in every detail. How dare you! What an insult to my majesty! I will go now and reward those who think that in my great act of creation, I designed it all to be a fabulous lie! Those are the ones who clearly love me!

Of course, any God who said that wouldn’t be a good God, worthy of our devotion, the fulfillment of our ethico-religious hope. It is one thing to say there’s more to the universe than meets the eye, something else entirely to say that what meets the eye is a bunch of hokum. To say the former is to say that there are orders of reality beyond the empirical one, to which a scientific examination of the universe cannot speak. It is to say that, while what we learn from the best empirical observation may be true, it is not the whole truth – and perhaps the whole truth will radically reshape our understanding of the truth that is available to the naked eye.

By the way this applies equally to the Documentary Hypothesis and Mordechai Breuer's apologetics. What kind of evil God writes a book that looks like it was spliced together by different authors? Cummon God!

Of course the Torah-true response to all this is to cite the Midrash (anybody know the source) where Moshe asks "hey God, if you write 'let's create man' won't people kind of get the wrong idea about Monotheism and so forth. Maybe they'll start coming up with big words like henotheism!" To which God replied in his abundant wisdom "Let the skeptics scoff" See folks! We've been approaching this all wrong! God doesn't give a crap about leaving red herrings all over the place. He knew we'd scoff! And THAT is why the world looks older than 6,000 years and the Torah looks like it was written by many different people - because God couldn't care less that he's tricking us! So next time you're doing some scientific research make sure to leave a large caveat "God willing" which is to say "As long as God didn't arbitrarily decide to tamper with the results consistently ;)"

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Hiding From Heresy

When my doubts started I developed a sort of defense mechanism. Whenever perusing the library shelves I would stop short before reading anything inimical to the faith. Every time my hand reached out to grasp a books about Bible Criticism I would stop myself. Every time I was about to read a book of philosophy I would hold back. This wasn't because I thought reading "heretical" things was assur (forbidden). No, thank God, I was never so naive to think that. I did it purely for myself, so that I wouldn't distress myself further. I said to myself "Shilton, you're distraught enough as it is with all those gaping holes in your faith, why do you want to exacerbate things by reading more things which will cause you to doubt your cherished beliefs" And back to to the shelf the heretical book would go.

I deeply regret that defense mechanism because since I avoided reading "heretical" works I did not develop a coherent picture of what I thought and what I believed until I had wasted many years in Yeshiva. It was the ultimate bitul zman. If I just would have pulled the damn book of the shelf, opened it up, and imbibed the bittersweet, forbidden fruit of heresy, I would have saved myself a lot of time and trouble. Perhaps things would have worked out better than they did.

Today after a long dormancy that defense mechanism decided to rear it's ugly head. I don't want to get into the details right now, but while perusing the shelves I found something which slightly disturbed me, which might bring into question some things I take for granted and might cause me to rethink my life. I held the book in my hands and hesitated. And for the briefest second a little voice in my head piped up, a little voice from my childhood, and it said "Put it back on the shelf! Save yourself the distress. Just don't read it!"

No! I was disgusted with myself for even entertaining the thought for a moment! I refused to listen to that remnant of my past. That fearful Shilton who was scared that truth might pop out and frighten him at every corner! That Shilton who deluded himself by keeping himself ignorant! That Shilton who wasted years of his life for naught! I grabbed the book and proceeded to the counter and bought it immediately! No regrets no hesitation.

I will never hide from the truth again. I will embrace her like an old friend and follow her wherever she leads.

More About the Woman Cantor

The argument about the infamous woman cantor has been heating up on DovBear.

So far DovBear has published 3 excellent posts on the issue which are worth a read.

On the other side of the argument is Harry Maryles (at whom my last post was directed) Although he is often rather moderate, on this issue he is adamantly against Rabbi Weiss and apparently all advancement of women's roles in Orthodox Judaism.

Here are some of his comments on DovBear (different colors denote different comments)which are a bit frightening due to their (IMHO) lack of logic or reasoning. It's a little scary when otherwise intelligent people turn their brains off in the name of religion, let's take a look:

(BTW Rabbi Maryles if you happen to read my blog [And I would be flattered] I apologize in advance if I come off as offensive, I hold you in the higest regard, but I strongly disagree with you on this issue. )

Harry Maryles

I'm sorry. Sometimes bending over too far backwards to accommodate someone else can cause your back to break. What ever happened to common sense?

SH: Erm.. does common sense = women must not daven?

Must we now have female Chazanim davening at the Amud?

I would say yes but according to Orthodox halacha THAT is no good. Unlike here where halacha allows it! (because kabbalat shabbat is not a real part of davening)

What possible spiritual benefit is there in that? How does one increase their Avodah SheB'Lev by listening to a female Chazan? Can you honestly say that it does so in any siginficant way? What exactly is accomplished here, DovBear?

SH: How about treating women as equal with men? Or is that not a lofty goal for you?

How does Klal Yisroel gain by having a female Chazan Daven Kabbalas Shabbos? How does the Shul gain? Are the Mispallelim going to ave more Kavana with a feamle standing and 'shuckling' ang the Bima or Amud?

SH: What with the shuckling in quotes

Do you think this is what God wants His people to do now? Come on.

SH: WHAT!? Why do you think you understand God better than Rabbi Weiss?

Dont you think there might just be something else driving this? ...and not a search for greater spirituality?

SH: Yeah it's called egalitarianism do you have a problem with that?

I'm sorry you see RYA in this way. I think he's right.

Judaism's Laws are not necessarily based on logic, zach.

SH: Um .... okay...

They are based solely on the will of God.

SH: WHAT?! If you're Orthodox you believe the Torah was given at Sinai. Now unless you happen to not know history or you haven't learned enough Gemara it is obvious that the Rabbis subsequently INTERPRETED the Written Torah. Rabbis + God = Halacha. How can you seriously say that "they are based solely on the will of God????" (Oh and one more time .... There is NO HALACHIC PROHIBITION HERE!)

It has nothing to do with what I think. Besides - I never said I don't respect women as equal in religion. I sadi the opposite. They are equal! But equal does not mean identical. Men and women are qually valued in the eyes of God. But they have been given different roles.

SH: Roles given by sexist Rabbis from 500 years ago. Sexism is obsolete as are laws based on it.

So in essense if a woman wanted to wear a Talis and teffilin, you're OK with it?

SH: Lol! Why not! It's funny that you automatically assume that this is the WORST thing that could ever happen when once again... IT'S COMPLETELY MUTTAR!

What about a woman's Tefillah group that requires women to wear Talis and Teffilin? How far do you want to go with this? Just because there is no explicit Issur in the Torah doesn't mean it must be done.

Do you have a problem putting a cat in the Aron Kodesh? No where in the SA does it say that doing so is Assur? Same thing Mechitzos in a shul. It is not in the SA anywhere. Do you think it's OK to daven in such a shul?

SH: When did a woman become equal to a cat? Are you saying that a woman davening is like the disgrace of putting a cat in the Aron Kodesh!? Shame on you.

That wasn't the point. The point is that not everything we want to do should be done just because its technically Mutar. If it is so out of the mainstream as to make it ridiculous then it ought not be done. In fact Im would say that by encouring women to be Chazanot one is encouringing abnormal behavior and rather than advancing the cause of women, one is hurting it.

SH: Abnormal by whose standards?

Let me ask you a question. What if your wife decided that she wants to express her high regard for Tznius by wearing a Burkas in public. Or what if a WTG required their women to wear Burkas. Would that be OK with you? After all there is no technical Issur against it.

SH: Whatever floats their boat

Check out the comments yourself if you think I took anything out of context.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Woman Cantor

Okay I'm getting sick of people whining about the woman leading kabbalat shabbat in Riverdale.

So let's set a few things straight

(Warning: This will be a bit of a rant if you don't like rude rants against accepted Orthodoxy then you are at the wrong blog):


The first thing I hear is "Kol B'Ishe Erva" (A Woman's Voice is Nakedness ) Most Orthodox authorities consider it forbidden to listen to a woman sing because it's considered promiscuous. However, there are very legitimate (and in my humble opinion more intelligent) approaches which essentially permit women singing. The first that comes to mind is that of Rav Bigman Rosh Yeshiva of Maaleh Gilboa in Israel. He wrote a rather lengthy and technical teshuva(in Hebrew) on the topic which I personally think is more true to the primary texts than stricter approaches and he basically concludes that woman singing is only considered promiscuous when done in a sexually provocative way. (Duh!)

He says five considerations have to be taken into account when a woman sings
-The atmosphere (I guess no smoke machines)
-The Words of the Song (No Pop)
-The Musical Style (No Pop)
-The Woman's Clothing (No Pop)
-The Woman's Body Language. (Definitely no Pop)

SH: I support prohibitions on pop music ;)

Folks! The woman cantor in question is not exactly grinding up against the bima and singing love songs for the congregation. She is not dressed like a popstar and performing songs with sexual themes. She is singing Kabbalat Shabbat for crying out loud! If you are turned on by that then you probably need to get out of the Beit Medrash a little more! It is completely appropriate it is completely asexual and we can rely on Rav Bigman and say it is halachically permissible!

The Spirit of Halacha

But ah this is not enough! Apparently there is something now called the "spirit of the halacha"! Oh didn't see that coming! What this means is grumpy Rabbis when they have utterly failed to justify a halachic prohibition on something resort to invoking the spirit of the halacha. Now the spirit of the halacha is an utterly subjective thing. It is unwritten, it is uncodified, it's not anything besides "I don't like this" Is that seriously a good objection? Cummon! " I don't like this" is not a legitimate reason to object to something. No one is forcing you to go listen to the woman cantor - if you don't like it daven somewhere else - but let those who are more open minded than you do their own thing - even though they are breaking your imaginary spirit of halacha which, let's be honest, means "things which make me feel uncomfortable because I'm still mentally chained to the Ancient World."

Moving on... Can someone perhaps explain to me how a woman cantor is against the spirit of the halacha in the first place? What part of a woman leading an optional part of the liturgy is against "the unwritten spirit of the halacha"? Does that mean that the halacha is sexist? Is the spirit of the halacha against women doing anything? Are the Modern Orthodox people objecting to Rabbi Weiss, really saying that the spirit of the halacha = our chauvinistic 18th century views. Fine! Get up and have the guts to say it! Don't invoke imaginary systems of the SOH. Get up and say proudly "Rabbi Weiss you are not Orthodox because Orthodoxy demands that we treat women differently than men and not allow them to perform any leadership functions whether or not halacha allows it." Cut the sophistry and say "I'm sexist and I'm proud!"

Don't get me wrong the primary works of halacha i.e. the Gemara and Shulkhan Arukh are exceedingly sexist. Why? Because they were written more than 500 years ago! Even if that ONCE was the spirit of the halacha - to be sexist, the times are a changing and it's time to realize that those bits of halacha which imply or encourage sexism are OBSOLETE! It's time to move on folks, check your calendar! It's the twenty first century!

Is Rabbi Weiss a rabble rouser? Does he like being controversial? Probably. But that does not justify the unfair treatment he is getting from the Centrist and Right Wing Modern Orthodox (Chareidim are a lost cause I ignore them) He is working within the bounds of halacha and Orthodoxy and saying "Listen folks, It's time to get with the program,stop sucking up to the Chareidim and really live up to your name - Modern Orthodoxy." They have no right to object.

Phew! Okay I'm calming down now.

Edit: Here is the official statement of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale

Edit: Dov Bear's take on this:

In particular, I'm ireful about RYA's refusal to even discuss the way in which Torah teachings might be interpreted to make Orthodox Judaism more female-friendly. The world RYA admires tolerates lengthy and learned discussions about the permissibility of stealing from the US government. When it comes to ripping people off, halacha becomes a flexible tool, and every possible out is considered . When it comes to making women more comfortable with Judaism, this creativity is not welcome: suddenly there's no maneuvering room. This is bogus, and RYA knows it. Avi Weiss may not qualify as a Torah Sage, but he doesn't act without basis. His arguments in favor of allowing a woman to lead kabalas shabbos deserve to be discussed with the same care and respect as any other halachic argument. If, at the end of the long and careful discussion, you still think he's wrong, say elu v'alu and give Rabbi Wiess's community the same respect we give those Hasidic communities that run roughshod over torah hashkofa and accepted halachic protocols.* He is not to be rejected, insulted and thrown onto the trash heap simply because your mistaken sense of propriety is offended.
Read more at DovBear