Tuesday, 28 September 2010

God and Obi Wan Kenobi

Luke: Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.
Obi Wan: Your father was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view.
Luke: (incredulous) A certain point of view?
Obi Wan: Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
Now there are basically two approaches one can take to this rather new-agey conversation.

1. Obi Wan has a strange habit of saying things in the most roundabout way as possible.Instead of saying "Oh you're dad's the arch villain" he decided to say "The arch villain killed your daddy". Luke was just dumb for not getting it.
2. Obi Wan lied and is covering it up.

Sooooo what does this have to do with God, the Torah and Israel?

Well if you take the whole Oral Torah thing really literally as the original intent of the text, (instead of a more a historical approach where the OT is a reinterpretation of the original intent of the text)  you're going to end up with a God who talks a lot like Obi Wan Kenobi. i.e saying the opposite of what he really means. I figure the conversation between Moshe and God went something like this.
Moshe: Why didn't you tell me? You told me that we're supposed to eat Matza for seven days! Now you're telling me it's only really one??? You told me to lash people 40 times now you drop one for the hell of it???
God: What I told you was true... from a certain point of view.
Luke: (incredulous) A certain point of view?
God: Moshe, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
Moshe:  Erm... what point of view would that be...  ?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Random Sukkot Thoughts

  • Maybe I just have a weird sense of humor but I thought it was pretty funny watching people struggling with lulav, etrog, and siddur during hoshanot. The less yeshivish folks just held the lulav and etrog in one hand and the siddur in the other while the more black hat types were very makpid to hold lulav in right, etrog in left, and somehow manage to balance a siddur on their outstretched arms.
  • Perusing an Artscroll Yomtov halacha book (*shudder*) and I noticed something interesting. When it comes to smoking on YomTov Artscroll mentions that part of the reason smoking may have been permitted back in the day on Yom Tov was because it was שווה לכל נפש (a luxury or habit which all people need/do/want) whereas nowadays most people don't smoke so perhaps the halacha nowadays would forbid smoking. But when it came to showering it just quoted a Mishna Berura (or some old source) which prohibited heating up water to bathe one's whole body because bathing everyday is not שווה לכל נפש Now maybe I'm just pampered but I think most people nowadays consider it normal to bathe daily so I'm not quite sure why Artscroll doesn't consider the possibility that nowadays daily bathing is considered שווה לכל נפש.

The possibilities:
1.Many Orthodox Jews still have 19th century hygiene habits. (*double shudder*)

2. You can only take changing circumstances into account halachically if it makes things stricter. But making things easier based on changing circumstances is evil Reform/Conservative/Liberal "innovation".

Or maybe I just missed something or am unfamiliar with the halachot. Very possible.

  • Kohelet is such an Un-Orthodox Book. I mean how much more skeptical can you get than this:

יח  אָמַרְתִּי אֲנִי, בְּלִבִּי--עַל-דִּבְרַת בְּנֵי הָאָדָם, לְבָרָם הָאֱלֹהִים; וְלִרְאוֹת, שְׁהֶם-בְּהֵמָה הֵמָּה לָהֶם. 18 I said in my heart: 'It is because of the sons of men, that God may sift them, and that they may see that they themselves are but as beasts.'
יט  כִּי מִקְרֶה בְנֵי-הָאָדָם וּמִקְרֶה הַבְּהֵמָה, וּמִקְרֶה אֶחָד לָהֶם--כְּמוֹת זֶה כֵּן מוֹת זֶה, וְרוּחַ אֶחָד לַכֹּל; וּמוֹתַר הָאָדָם מִן-הַבְּהֵמָה אָיִן, כִּי הַכֹּל הָבֶל. 19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that man hath no pre-eminence above a beast; for all is vanity.
כ  הַכֹּל הוֹלֵךְ, אֶל-מָקוֹם אֶחָד; הַכֹּל הָיָה מִן-הֶעָפָר, וְהַכֹּל שָׁב אֶל-הֶעָפָר. 20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all return to dust.
כא  מִי יוֹדֵעַ, רוּחַ בְּנֵי הָאָדָם--הָעֹלָה הִיא, לְמָעְלָה; וְרוּחַ, הַבְּהֵמָה--הַיֹּרֶדֶת הִיא, לְמַטָּה לָאָרֶץ. 21 Who knoweth the spirit of man whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast whether it goeth downward to the earth?

Forget Evolution calling men monkeys! Kohelet calls man an animal! And says "they all end up the same"! And what is this "who knoweth" stuff about man's spirit going up to heaven!? Doesn't poor distraught Kohelet know about Olam HaBa!? If it weren't for the whole Sof Davar thing Kohelet could not have made it into the canon.

An Orthodox approach would be: A Rabbi once explained to me that Kohelet is sort of a parody of what man is like without religion. Basically the author made up this basically irreligious guy Kohelet and shows how depressed he is. The moral of the story is something akin to "Be Jewish or you'll be sad like Kohelet!" Very interesting idea. Kinda sounds like modern Orthodox propaganda about how awful it is to be not-frum/OTD.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A Thought About Weird Beliefs

Once upon a time in my naiver days I listened to a Rabbi fulminate about how dumb Muslims were for believing that Mohammed road to heaven on a peacock-donkey something monstrosity. And I unfortunately found that amusing and laughed. I regret that laugh nowadays because I opened up my eyes eventually and realized that we Jews also look like a bunch of idiots to outside observers - talking about various miracles, talking donkeys, and other fun Rashi stories. The point is supernaturalism shouldn't really have degrees of weirdness - Mohammed going to heaven ain't any more weird than God freezing the sun in place for Yehoshua. Both are equally scientifically impossible.

At the end of the day it seems to boil down to "well my book says God froze the sun but nothing about Mohammed's celestial adventures so therefore my supernatural belief is true and yours is silly and laughable." The Muslims obviously invert the same exact argument.

So if you believe - at least have the intellectual honesty to laugh at all weird beliefs consistently (I guess with the knowledge that your belief in talking donkeys is inherently laughable but nevertheless true due to a Biblical revelation.) Or better yet don't laugh at all. 

I was thinking about all of this because of the booming lemon business around this time of year. As Mis-nagid once put it (paraphrase, can't find original quote) "Silly Indians having raindances! Don't they know you're supposed to bring rain with a palm frond and a lemon!" 
I wonder how the average Orthodox Jew would explain Lulav and Etrog to a non-Jew. "Um .. well you see.. it's not superstition or anything... it just .. um ... a way to ... um bring the rain in Israel. Plus the Torah says so!"
 The same Orthodox Jew would probably go two seconds later  and laugh at the dumb Christians eating Christ's body and blood as s/he munches on a sandwich which was prepared according to Ancient Near Eastern purity precepts.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Oh No!!! Innovation!!!

Yup those Conservative Jews are at it again having the audacity to print "innovative" machzorim. Though some of the changes they apparently make are a little bit unnecessary IMHO (like a special Yizkor prayer for an abusive parent ??? though i dunno maybe there was big demand) I hardly see what the big deal is. As far as I can tell none of the pernicious changes are really halachically problematic (unless you think prayer is set in stone and can never be changed for whatever reason whatsoever on pain of death)

This is what R' Marlyles thinks: 
One of the things that has kept Judaism alive during this long Diaspora is our commitment to tradition. That means that we do not change things based on the prevailing winds of the moment. 

SH: I'll get to that in a moment.

Yes, there is such a thing as Hora’as Shah which can bring innovative change. 

SH: What? How can a Hora'as Shaah bring (presumably permanent) innovative change? It's supposed to be a temporary measure it's supposed to disappear as soon as the situation changes.

But change was sparingly implemented over time by religious leaders of immense knowledge and only in circumstances when it became apparent that the very existence of Judaism was at stake.It was never about submitting to a spirit of the time that did not have existential overtones.

SH: Seriously? Do you think Judaism isn't at stake nowadays? By Orthodox standards we're in the most irreligious period in our history.Time to make concessions to some of those "misguided Jews" out there.

So Judaism never has historically "changed things to go with the wind of the moment"? Judaism has never made innovations?
  • Was it not innovation every time a Rabbi over the last two thousand years made a takkana ? (and no not every takkana was made by a universally recognized Beit Din) Or does that word "innovation" only mean "lenient innovation"?
  • Was it not going with the spirit of the times when Aristotlean and Neoplatonic philosophy was adopted in certain places during the Middle Ages as Jewish Theology?
  • Was Rabbenu Gershom's innovation to have only monogamous marriages not going with the spirit of the times? 
  • Was translating the Torah into other languages besides the "divinely inspired Targum of Onkelos"  not innovation. Was doing away with translating every Torah verse in shul as in Mishnaic times not innovation? 
  • Was it not innovation when a new canonical work sprung into the Jewish world? - the Zohar. Was it not innovation when new Kabbalistic practices, prayers, and "kavvanot" were added to the liturgy and daily practice (kapparot, tashlich, tikkun chatzot, tikkun leil, Kabbalat Shabbat, etc.)
  • I guess the Chassidim who comprised a huge amount of pre-war European Jewry were "not really Jewish" because they innovated a lot and even were (and still are) lenient about prayer times.
  • Hell, let's go further back: were writing and canonizing the Mishna and Gemara not innovations? Was canonizing the 24 books of the Tanach including much disputed ones like Kohelet and Yechezkel not innovation? (I guess people with Ruach Hakodesh can make innovations but not us mere mortals)
  •  Was new ways of interpreting the Torah not innovation? Was the expansion from 7 exegetical rules to 13 to 32 not innovation?  Was Rabbi Akiva who's lectures supposedly stumped even Moshe Rabbenu (through time travel of course) an innovator?
  • Was the Babylonian Holiday of Simchat Torah which was subsequently accepted by all of Jewry not innovation? 
  •  Was Ezra's changing of the Torah script from Ivrit to Ashurit (or restoration according Chareidim) not innovation?
And the list goes on.......

I hardly think most of the above innovations were absolutely vital for the survival of the Jewish people.

Judaism like every other religion changes. There have always been innovators (and there have also always been reactionaries.) Orthodoxy likes to pretend otherwise. But the history speaks for itself. Which is why Jewish History is such a little known topic in most Orthodox minds.

Orthodoxy nowadays is in many ways similar to the people who railed against the Rambam, the people who mouthed off at the mekubalim, and the people who bashed the Besht.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Poor Empedocles

I guess the meritorious practice of quoting people doesn't apply to goyim. The reason there has been no Geula yet (besides too many women wearing short tight skirts) must be because no one will give poor Empedocles some credit!

Today a Rabbi gave a stupid drasha  and waxed eloquently about about the four elements fire, water,  air, and earth. Now I don't really object to that classification of the elements perse (despite the fact that it is obviously obsolete) but what reaaally bugs me is when Rabbis and people say "Judaism says that there are 4 elements etc." or the "Torah considers matter of consisting of four elements etc." NO! NO! NO!

The four elements are a completely non-Jewish concept. They are never mentioned anywhere in the Tanach (and I'm not sure if it's even in the Gemara but I could be wrong) and only snuck into Jewish literature from - yeah you guessed it the Greeks. In the time period when the Rabbis were writing it was considered established "science" that all matter consisted of those four elements. This was a completely Greek idea which was thought up by the Greek philosopher Empedocles HUNDREDS OF YEARS before the Mishna or Gemara were written. (Though Enuma Elish, apparently, does mention sea, earth, sky and wind but since the Torah was OBVIOUSLY not influenced by Baylonian mythology not really relevant)  Furthermore Empedocles and other scholars using the idea took it very literally and considered water, air, fire, and earth the basic elementary materials of matter. (So none of this junk about "the four elements are mystical and spiritual") Nowadays we know Empedocles was wrong (open a chemistry book) and the prevailing atomic theory is more like the theory of Democritus.

So calling the four elements a "Jewish" or "Torah" idea is but another example of modern (modern only in the sense of happening to live in the modern era) Rabbis learning Gemara and Rishonim completely out of historical context (like Artscroll's Gemara notes) and concluding that Greek science which they read in the some Jewish text is in fact "Jewish science".

When will they ever learn....

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Does God Write Ineffable Books or Do Germans Make Bad Literary Critics? (Orthodox Approaches to the Documentary Hypothesis)

The way I see it there are two types of criticisms of The Documentary Hypothesis and Biblical criticism in general.(I'm not discussing HERE whether the arguments are valid or not)

1.Methodological Criticism

The one is a criticism of the basic methodology which is to say that the theory behind the Documentary Hypothesis is just wrong. Either it's because they misinterpret the evidence, or it's because their evidence is non-existent in the first place etc. etc. This was the approach of Umberto Cassuto, who though no believer in Orthodox TMS, criticized the methodology and assumptions underlying the specifics of the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis. The logical implication of this approach is that the DH methodology is complete rubbish (or partially rubbish) and can NEVER be applied to literature Biblical or otherwise.

This above approach is somewhat difficult because according to this "school", the question of DH or not is not (theoretically) one of religion vs. atheism or Right Wing Religion vs. Left Wing Religion. Rather the question is purely one of literary criticism and is really one of bad literary criticism vs. good literary criticism. However we find that the fault line between the advocates of unified authorship and the advocates of single authorship almost invariably falls between Orthodox Jews and Right Wing Christians on the ones side and everyone else on the other which leads one to suspect that maybe this is a religious issue after all.

2. Epistemological Criticism

The other approach used to reject the DH is that the methodology is certainly sound but has unfortunately been misapplied. In other words were the Torah a natural man-made text then the advocates of the DH would be right. However the Torah is supernatural, a book revealed by God to Moshe and cannot be dissected with the same tools used on human works of literature. Mordechai Breur tried to turn this approach into an entire new methodology while most apologists merely comment (usually with little further explanation) that God cannot be expected to write books in the same way as man and his "writing style" is just as unknowable as him.

This harks back to the (primarily Christian) Medieval Averroist idea of the double truth. The double truth asserts in one way or another that naturalism and science (in those days Aristotleanism) definitively tell us one thing about God and the universe (e.g. that the universe is coeternal with God). In that respect a naturalistic methodology is correct. However there is another source of truth i.e. revelation or faith that gives us another view of the world. In other words one "knows" one thing as a philosopher and another as a man/woman of faith. In the case of the DH, as literary critics the DH'ers are correct, but we as Orthodox Jews know through supernatural revelation that the normal rules of literary analysis do not apply here because men didn't write this book the supernatural God did. אין כל חדש תחת השמש  

(One little problem with this methodology BTW is that it can easily be modified to reject evolution or old Earth. If literary critics are right according to "science" and wrong according to revelation then why can't scientists be right according to science and wrong according to revelation/)

3. Now What?

I just want to end by making a point about the state of modern Orthodox apologetics about this critical issue. It seems to me that some Orthodox apologists kind of want to keep their feet in both camps. People who criticize the methodology of the DH often at the same time criticize the very use of methodological naturalism on the Torah. (e.g. Dovid Gottlieb here bringing both views ) 

Any Orthodox person who goes solely with the second approach really should admit that the DH'ers were right from a  literary point of view and should STOP being so disparaging of Bible Criticism. Rejecting the DH'ers methodologically AND epistemologically is completely superfluous. I suppose it's theoretically possible that the DH'ers are wrong on two counts but it looks a bit fishy when a lot of people adopts two arguments with nothing in common except the result which just happens to be a result which is a required belief of an Orthodox Jew.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Will The Internet Affect Orthodoxy?

I'm not really sure.

I imagine that a large part of people's ability to cling onto strange or untenable beliefs is due to lack of information. Back in the day it was far more unlikely for an average Orthodox person to even hear about the Documentary Hypothesis or Babylonian myths etc. unless s/he was one avid reader or had a particular interest in potentially controversial fields.

Nowadays with the information explosion of the twenty first century things are a lot more accessible. An unwitting internet surfer can get caught in a chain of links easily leading to "heretical" material. (Many people stumble upon this blog by googling such innocuous things as "Ktiva V'Chatima Tova" or "Rambam" as well as some really strange irrelevant things like "narcissistic personality disorder")   As I overheard a Kollel guy once say "You watch youtube! But how? You could click on link which leads to another link which might make you watch something assur chas v'shalom!" Chareidim aren't just afraid of the prostkeit on the internet, they're afraid of the information.

But let's be honest how much of a difference will availability make. Firstly I imagine most people Jewish and not are spending most of their internet time Facebooking and Twittering not on Wikipedia. Most people couldn't be bothered by the intricacies of theology, science, history or even current events. So I think it's very possible that the availability of information will hardly be utilized except by the handful of inquisitive souls out there. I'm sure some people might stumble upon heresy, but I doubt most would be interested enough to even read a page without tweets or status updates (or Youtube videos of sneezing pandas)

Secondly many Orthodox Jews still have the religious gag reflex - where they instinctively flee from heretical ideas or alternatively automatically dismiss anything not written by a Rabbi. "Oh an article about the Bible looks interesting. Oh wait! It's written by a guy with a goyishe name and uses the word Pentateuch must be rubbish!" *click exit*  Many Orthodox Jews learn that there are two types of information out there correct ideas (things which are in harmony with Orthodoxy) and incorrect ideas (things which are not in harmony with Orthodoxy)  and will soon gain an instinct to determine the difference between the two and learn to throw the former into the mental dust bin. The religious gag reflex if properly functioning can make people impervious to any perceived assualts on their faith. (My "downfall" I assume was an under-developed religious gag reflex)

The above is of course pure speculation as I hardly can expect to fully understand the psychology of the Jew on the street but that's my tentative thoughts on the matter.

Although I don't think one can deny that the internet is corrupting more people with "outside" ideas than libraries ever did, I have to wonder if it will ever be able to effect a revolution in Orthodox Jewish thought.

Monday, 13 September 2010


Once upon a time in Yeshiva I shared with a fellow bochur an Avraham Ben HaRambam that said that the Rabbis in the Gemara should not be taken literally (horrors!) I was subsequently reported for this inappropriate behavior. When I appealed to the authority of the Rambam and his son the Rosh Yeshiva said to me rather frankly "A Yeshiva is not a place to find philosophical truth, it is a place to cultivate Yiros Hashem (fear of God). What you're doing although it may be true has the possibility of shterring (ruining) people's Yiros Hashem."

I can't say that all Rabbis agree with this but that basically sums up the whole Chareidi position which wants to forget (or rewrite) Jewish History, Jewish Philosophy and anything besides the Babylonian Talmud.  Truth is perhaps not always their primary goal.

It also would sure explain why Kiruv movements bend the truth (perhaps even intentionally) The truth is not as important as fearing God, THAT is what matters and if you can get someone to fear God and keep his Torah then the ends justify the means. Whether you were honest or not doesn't quite matter because at the end of the day this person who you were mekarev through dishonest methods is now going to Gan Eden. S/he will in the Oilam HaEmes (the "true" world) thank you for your dishonest tactics.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

5 Steps To A Guaranteed Ketiva V'Chatima Tova!

Warning: this is highly irreverent and mocks Jewish traditions from time immemorial and probably is not the best thing to be writing before Rosh HaShana and probably isn't very funny. Don't read this if those kind of things offend you (and I ask for your forgiveness in advance.) Thank you! Shana Tova!

It's hard getting forgiven by the aybershte. I mean he is fairly demanding, and how exactly can we INSURE that he doesn't strike us with lightning next year!? Luckily for us Jews we have some sure fire ways of tipping the scales of divine judgment. Let's take a look.

1. Crying. 

Apparently your prayers get extra points if you turn on the water works. But let's be honest you (the proste minuval that you are) just aren't stirred up enough to get those tears flowing. Luckily there's an easy solution. Fake it! That's right. The angels collecting your tears don't know if you're sincere or not so might as well give 'em something. Pinch yourself if you have to. Loud sobs are also a great idea - nothing says "I'm sorry, God" like pissing off the whole congregation with obnoxious loud yelps and making constipated faces. And if you're a chazzan - as a shaliach tzibbur you have an EXTRA obligation to sob in the middle of prayers (but just a word of advice even the angels aren't gonna fall for it if you continue where you left off before the sob without the slightest crack in your voice. Cummon make it a little bit convincing)

2. Simanim

Simanim aren't just tasty they're magical! That's right. If you eat some honey then the your gezeira for a sweet new year becomes guaranteed! (Take that you "rationalists"!) So be sure to scarf down as many simanim as possible! More simanim = more chances that you cast an effective spell. (A Kosher Torah spell BTW not a goyishe Harry Potter kishuf spell) Learn from the sefardim! Gather up animals and vegetables from all corners of the earth! And be SURE to stay away from nuts! The Gematria of the Hebrew word for nut - egoz is ALMOST the same gematria as sin - chet. And don't even dare listen to those scoffers who say that it's nuts who come up with these gematriot in the first place - they're just a buncha minuvalim who are also skeptical of Bible Codes and other Ohr Sameach approved word games. Are you really gonna listen to idiots like that?

3. Feed the Fish

You got all these sins sticking on to you where you gonna throw 'em? (Sins are REAL spiritual/metaphysical/immaterial/impure particles sticking to our neshamos so STOP rolling you eyes. If we could take an Xray of your neshama it would probably look like the lungs of a Lakewood Yeshiva Buchur) In the times of the Beit HaMikdash we had a scapegoat who got loaded with all our sins and was kicked off a mountain. Nebach we no longer have the ability to kill large amounts of animals ritually so we have to do the next best thing... KILL THE FISH. First make sure to empty out all your pockets to get all those nasty sins into the water and while you're at it try to coerce your millions of zera levatala demons (yeah don't pretend you haven't already spawned an army of those buggers) to join the fish also. THEN watch the fish gobble up you invisible sins. THEN swoop in and deal those fish a fatal blow with moldy challa crumbs. BOOM fish and sins gone.

4. Go To The Mikva

Yeah, yeah, you don't want to run around naked in front of a buncha hairy old men and fat chassidim but that's just because you have "Western sensibilities" and hopefully the waters of the holy mikva will manage to get rid of those also. Just be sure to to let your feet touch the ground! Everyone knows that the unholiness surrounding your spiritual neshama will not dissipate unless every inch of your body is touched by rain water warmed by human bodies and afloat with human hair. (Oh and those folks peeking at you are upright menschen and respected members of the community! So stop talking loshon horo about them right before Rosh HaShana!)

5.  Say Hatarat Nedarim

Wouldn't want you going into Rosh HaShana with some unfulfilled oaths. What you haven't made any oaths? Well too bad! Say it anyway! In fact say it twice for being such a smart allack. It's in the siddur for God's sake, you can't just skip it!

With this arsenal you're guaranteed a perfect year! In fact I'll prove it: My friend once did all of these things and he didn't die the next year AND he got a raise at work! What more evidence do you need?

Ktiva V'Chatima Tova!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

My Rant About Kiruv Organizations

Kiruv organizations are EEEEEVIL! (Prepare for a rant!)

Ok not quite evil .I'm sure they're a little somewhere under Erev Rosh HaShana Selichot and fake crying on Yom Kippur but definitely up there with the top 10 evils of Orthodoxy. (hey that can be my next post!)

Listen! If you want to show someone how great a Shabbat can be with an awesome cholent and some stirring zemirot then by all means. Because all of that isn't a lie. Shabbat CAN be "uplifting" being Jewish CAN be fun. Some people even enjoy being Chareidi and to that I say good for you! and if a kiruv organization sets up a situation where non-affiliated Jews can experience some of these things and perhaps get in touch with their heritage - then even better!!!

But lying!!!!??? The Kuzari "Proof"??? The "Chazal knew some science"??? The Torah Codes??? Cummon!!! I dunno if Aish HaTorah, Ohr Sameach and their wacky lecturers know they're full of it or not (Gottlieb seems to think he's a genius, or should I define "thinking you're a genius" with a cute acronym TYAG and say Gottlieb = TYAG) but SOMEONE has got to tell 'em to shut it. Not just frum skeptics should be up in arms against this but even Ma'aminim Bnei Ma'aminim have to say "hey guys let's keep the recruiting Kosher"

The pseudo-proofs of Judaism not only are complete logical crap but also can ruin people down the rode. If you sign up for Judaism because of an Aish HaTorah Discovery Seminar then it won't take much for you to "open up you eyes" and regret 10 kids later what you've done. I dunno how many people they hook with their "scientific" mumbo jumbo but ANYONE convinced by that stuff is being terribly MANIPULATED.

Talking about manipulation, Kiruv Organizations should not be using marketing strategies. Sure if you're selling a vacuum it's bad marketing to mention that it's gonna die a day or so after the warranty - but this is something worse than a vacuum these are PEOPLE's lives. What do I mean by marketing strategy? Well, if a a non-frum girl goes and ask an Aish Hatorah guy what the status of woman is in Judaism he's not gonna whip out those delightfully backwards Gemarot which say tons of sexist things. Nope! Not even going to mention that a woman is considered in the Gemara too "crafty" to learn Torah, and too unreliable to be a witness. Kiruv Organizations sugar coat all the rough bits of Judaism and shelter their adherents from them until waaaay too late. THAT is pure manipulation - taking advantage of someone's ignorance about Judaism in order to only present the "fun" bits.

Be honest! I want every Kiruv Organization to be HONEST. If someones ask the Rabbi "Hey Rabbi what does the Gemara say about non-Jews" I want the Rabbi to say first "It thinks they're a bunch of donkeys with the emissions of horses" and only THEN make the excuses. I want the Rabbi to read all the demonology bits and read some choice Biblical passages about stoning and genocide. Go ahead! Present all the nice bits too BUT make sure to honestly present the good and the bad EQUALLY. If you lose "souls" 'cuz of you're brutal honesty then at least you know you're not lying to people.

Kiruv Organizations are either full of  really dumb people (who actually believe in the Kuzari Proof) or have no problem using underhanded, Machiavellian tactics - as long as it will add another Orthodox Jew to the ranks.

It makes me sick.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Yahwist Creation and Flood Narratives

Warning this video is highly irreverent watch at your own risk!

In our last DH post we listed the linguistic features of the Patriarchal blessing which use the name YHWH. Now let's look at the bits of creation and the flood which use the name YHWH and see if we can find any linguistic characteristics.

The first creation account was Gen1:1-2:3. Then the Torah starts over and retells how plants, man, and animals were created. Then comes the story of the "fall of man" with the talking snake. These two stories both discussing the Garden of Eden comprise one distinct narrative. The whole thing 2:4-3:24 always uses a unique double divine name of YHWH-Elohim. (I'm not sure how the DH explains that phenomenon if at all)

Anyway notice the following linguistic features.(HT:LF)

  1. The word Anokhi for I. (3:10, 4:9)
  2. The word Adama for ground is VERY frequently used (2:5, 2:6, 2:7, 2:9, 2:19, 3:17, 3:19, 3:23, , 4:3, 4:10, 4:11, 4:12, 4:14) it is used ONLY ONCE in the first creation account (1:25) I will post separately about this later. 
  3. The Beast of the Field (2:19, 2:20, 3:1. 3:14) as opposed to the first creation narrative and the Elohist bits of the flood which call animals Beasts of the Earth  (חית הארץ)
The DH'ers list some other words but they are far less frequent and can be attributed to coincidence but I will list them (erm... copy paste them) for completeness.
  1. עֶצֶב v. sad
    3:16, (twice) 
  2. טֶרֶם prep. before
    Gen 2:5(twice)

Next let's look at the three definite Yahwist bits of the flood story. (6:1-8, 7:1-5, 8:20-22)
  1. The word Adama keeps popping up again (but never with Elohim!) (6:1, 6:7, 7:4, 8:21)
  2. God wipes out  מחה mankind x2 (6:7, 7:4)  instead of just destroying שחת them as in the Elohist sections
  3. God is saddened/speaks to his heart  אל לבו x2 (6:6 , 8:21)
  4. The impulse of the heart of man is evil  x2 ( כי יצר לב האדם רע   (6:5, 8:21
  5. God is generally described with a lot of anthropomorphism unlike when the name Elohim is used: God is sad, God regrets, God speaks to his heart, God smells, God closes the door etc. 
 Coming up: What do holy hand grenades have to do with the DH? How often is the word Adama used? What about the words Terem and Anokhi? What does the DH have to say about various genealogies? And what about all the other bits of Genesis using the name YHWH? And maybe after we've finished ALL OF THAT we can perhaps move onto Exodus! Stay tuned.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

We All Like to Relive Our Journey

I've been thinking...

A lot of us skeptic/kofer bloggers tend to focus on the things that started our "journey". Take me for example. For me the thing which started me thinking outside of the box was Biblical interpretation and Biblical criticism and how Orthodoxy interpreted the Bible differently than Karaites and modern literary analysts. It was the realization that there was definitely more than one way to read the Torah and my way was not necessarily the best one.

But that's just me. Take Yaron Yadan from Daat Emet. The thing which got him thinking was the conflict between Torah and Science something which never vaguely bothered me 'till late into my skepticism. Because this was his personal "spark", he tends to spend a lot of time focusing on that very thing which got him to doubt in the first place - going into great detail about how our Orthodox halachot are more or less based on faulty science. Even though by now he has experienced the full spectrum of religious doubt he still continues to spend a lot of time focusing on the things which got him started.

Other people focus on other things which "got them started". Whether it's the problem of Biblical morality or the ANE parallels to Biblical stories -we all have that one personal and unforgettable moment when the Pandora's Box was opened and our Weltanschauung began to unravel. I think we all sort of enshrine (or hate depending on one's attitude) the subjects that brought about those first steps outside of the world of Orthodox thought even though we have gone through the A-Z of heretical thinking.

Which is why I'll try to finish my DH series one of these days.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Questions of Purpose, questions of science

I'll get back to DH'ing soon hopefully, (even though the stats seem to show that people got pretty bored of it)

Well the religious world has it's knickers in a bit of a knot (including Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks) because of Stephen Hawking's new book where he apparently says that there is no logical or scientific NEED for a God to explain the complexity or origin of the universe. This is a rather irksome development for the believers of the world as religious people have been throwing around Hawking's "know the mind of God" quote around for years in order to make an appeal to scientific authority.

The idea being thrown around now is the old slogan "Science tells us the Hows and Whats religion tells us the whys". This statement presupposes two things A. That why is a legitimate question to ask. and B. That positing the existence of God answers that question - as far as I can tell the religious answer to the "Why" is "Beats me but I think God has it sort of worked out"

Basically the answer which religion provides to the "Why" questions is to create someone else to know the answer.

Richard Dawkins recently engaged in an online chat debate with Ruth Gledhill, The Times religion correspondent. (Transcript here) Gledhill started up with the Hows and Whats vs. the Whys "One would be the the purpose of the universe. Although science might discover the mechanism, we are still left with the question of what is the purpose" Dawkins responded that there is no reason to assume that there is a purpose. There is no reason to assume on SCIENTIFIC or even LOGICAL grounds that there is any sort of teleology in the universe. (Emotionally speaking it's probably a good idea to wishfully think that there is some sort of purpose but THAT is not science or even a field of inquiry)

Dawkins makes another excellent point: The "God answers the Why questions" way of thinking is a bit of a cart before the horse. The question which we desperately need religion to answer is apparently "why is there a universe and more importantly why are there hairless quadrapeds with overactive imaginations" the believers are saying that the only answer to this question is "'cuz of God and his plans"

But wait a second! Purpose is something we generally ascribe to intelligence and intention. If someone has involuntary spasm we don't ask him/her "Why did you do that" because the action in question was not intentional. When there is no intentional agent behind an action we do not ascribe to it a purpose.

Similarly to ask "why is there a universe" is essentially to ask "Why did God make the universe". The question presupposes an intentional designer. But the question never starts if God is not in the picture! SOoooo basically to sum things up: according to the above line of reasoning religion is around to explain a problem it itself engenders.

"[Q]uestions that begin 'What is the purpose of . . .' require the existence of a purposeful agent."

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Jehova, Jehova, Jehova!

Any Excuse for some Monty Python ;) (Deuteronomy of Gath??? Lol)

If you're late to the party:
  1. DH Explained Part 1
  2. DH Explained Part 2
  3. The Flood Narrative
  4. Summing Up The "Elohist"
Okay we've looked at various passages using the name Elohim and shown the seemingly similar vocabulary between them. We dealt with two "genres" - the narrative genres of creation and the flood and the genre of God blessing Adam, Noach and the Patriarchs (the latter appeared in the former)

Let's start by looking at how God talks to the patriarchs when using the name YHWH.

Important: This may or may not be meaningful (more study required) but the word adama for ground, is found 3 times in the passages using the name Elohim (Gen 1:25 6:20 9:2)

Compare this to a superficial sampling of corresponding genres using the name YHWH (parts of the creation story using the name YHWH, the parts of Noach using YHWH, and the blessings of the patriarchs using YHWH) you come up with 2:5, 2:6, 2:7, 2:9, 2:19, 6:1, 6:7, 7:4, 7:8, 7:23, 8:21, 12:3, 28:14, 28:15 - 14X

The word anokhi to mean I (as opposed to regular old Ani) NEVER appears in a passage using the name Elohim. However using the same sampling as adama above. We come up with 7:4, 15:1, 15:2, 15:4, 16:14, 16:8, 28:15, 28:16 - 8X

A. Genesis 12:1-3 God Tells Avraham to leave Canaan
  1. וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ, כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה. - And the families of the earth will be blessed through you
  2. The word אֲדָמָה for ground
B. Genesis 13:14-18 God Tells Avraham that he gets to keep Canaan
  1. "All the land that you see"
  2. וְשַׂמְתִּי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ "Like the dust of the earth" - Theme of "uncountable" offspring
  3. Building of an altar subsequent to revelation
  4. North, South, East, West (28:14)
C. Genesis 15 Brit Bein HaBetarim
  1. Simile of stars and offspring - Theme of "uncountable" offspring
  2. אנכי Anokhi - I (15:1, 15:2, 15:4)
D. Genesis 16 An Angel of God speaks to Hagar in the wilderness
  1. וְלֹא יִסָּפֵר, מֵרֹב - they will not be counted from size - Theme of "uncountable" offspring

E. Genesis 26:1-5 God Tells Yitzchak to Stay in Canaan

  1. וְהִרְבֵּיתִי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם Simile of stars and offspring - Theme of "uncountable" offspring
  2. וְהִתְבָּרְכוּ בְזַרְעֲךָ, כֹּל גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ And the nations of the earth will be blessed through your offspring
F. Genesis 28:12-15
  1. וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ "Like the dust of the earth" - Theme of "uncountable" offspring
  2. יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה West, East, North, South
  3. וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל-מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה, וּבְזַרְעֶךָ - And the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring
  4. אנוכי Anokhi - I (28:15)
  5. The word adama for ground (28:14)
  6. Building of an altar subsequent to revelation
AND notice that none of the distinct terminology found in "Elohist" passages appears in any of these passages.

It would appear that we have two types of Patriarchal blessings. Each type using it's own terminology and style yet both types essentially saying the same thing: "You get Canaan, you'll have a lotta kids, and I think you guys generally are pretty cool"

Any words, phrases, or ideas I'm missing?

The next logical step is to compare these passages with the name YHWH to the parts of the creation and flood narrative using the name YHWH. But another time.