Monday, January 31, 2005

I respond to Rabbi Plaut

As seen below, Rabbi Plaut responded to my reviews of his articles. He notes that I wrote that I didn't understand his need for differentiation between what is easily observable and what is not. To clarify, I wrote that R. Plaut says that


Science at present does not seek to describe reality as readily observed, it seeks to describe events that can be seen only with instruments and other technology. "Since science is practiced at such a remove from everyday experience, it is clear that understanding our familiar world cannot provide a credible motive for the practice of science as it is now done."

My objection was not only differentiating between the easily observable and the not easily observable, but making the leap that understanding the not easily observable was not a credible motive for the practice of science. I have certainly read positions of those in the philosophy of science that question the validity of observation, but no where have I seen anyone take the position that the difference between easily observable and not easily observable is a basis for invalidating a motive for the practice of science. Since R. Plaut claims that this is quite common, I will be happy to see his citations on this specific point.. Despite his view that this is common in textbooks, I reviewed my books and happened to be at the library(501 in the Dewey system) and could not find a reference to this.

Otherwise, R. Plaut does not give any other specific refutations of my comments, so I cannot address any more of his concerns. I would be gratified if he could address more of them. I noted other problems with logic and unsupported assumptions in his papers. I especially hope he addresses the ambiguity of his position on the age of the world. He notes again that

The world is 5,765 years old and counting,

but has not cleared up if he believes that he is counting from the begining of creation, or the begining of man. Also, there is ambiguity in his position if all the years, days and hours are the same as we understand them to be today, or if his 6765 years allows the first days to be defined as something other than days as we know them.

I look foward to his responses.

Comments-[ comments.]

Sunday, January 30, 2005

R. Plaut responds to my critiques and the comments

Rabbi Plaut sent me this response to my critiques and your comments:



Right near the beginning of his comments, Dilbert writes: "I don't
understand why there needs to be a difference between what is easily
observable and what is not easily observable." He has correctly
identified
this as one of the critical points of the essay, but confesses that he
does
not understand it. I, for one, would have been happy to take him at his
word. However Dilbert seems to think it important to prove that he is
honest, for he continues on with several hundred more words of comments
that make it absolutely clear that the first comment is correct.

The distinction is not one that I made up and it is not obscure. Any
undergraduate text on philosophy of science should have several essays
explaining it. It is not controversial.

While the misunderstandings in the comments to the second essay are not
as
egregious, I would nonetheless suggest that interested readers not rely
on
the comments. but read the essays for themselves.

How to Succeed in Knowing Without Really Seeing is at
http://www.geocities.com/mplaut2/htsikwrs.html

The Scientist as Poet; the Baal Mesorah as Scientist is at
http://www.geocities.com/mplaut2/tsap1.html

and a third essay that was referenced is

And How is the Way to Love of Him? which is at
http://www.geocities.com/mplaut2/ahistwtloh.html

To answer some of the comments and questions that have cropped up:

I do not condemn, ignore and certainly do not regret any science that
leads
to concrete, practical results and the knowledge that underlies the
same. I
make a distinction between the parts of science that are involved with
this
(called technology) and parts that are not, which are pure scientific
"knowledge." Some entire fields are part of the the latter such as
cosmology, and in other cases the same field can include both, such as
evolutionary biology. In ancient times, the first type of field was
called
an "art" and only the second was called "science." The usage today is
not
the same, but it must be borne in mind. My critical remarks are only
directed at the second area, in which science presumes to deal in
knowledge
and not just problem solving. I am happy with technology, in general.

On a related topic, even in the medieval era, science was full of the
study
of the purpose of the world and, as all the science text books say
derisively, it did very little experimentation. It was quite different
from
what is called science today. Here is a quote from Peter Gay: Medieval
science, then, like medieval philosophy, took its place, prominent but
secondary, in the hierarchy of human activities: it was, like
philosophy,
guided by man's search for holiness and salvation. . . . Medieval
science
was thus double teleological: its purpose was knowledge for the sake of
G-d; and its discoveries were discoveries of purposes -- G-d's
intentions
for His creation. ("The Enlightenment," p. 248)

Gay is not chareidi and he does not like this (so you do not have to be
suspicious of him), but he describes it. I have a whole series of
quotes
from him, but I do not think this is the place to post them all.

In my opinion, anyone who realizes and appreciates this difference will
see
that applying the statements that were made about science by the
rishonim
to what is studied today is problematic, and in some important cases it
is
downright wrong.

It is one of the proudest achievements of modern science that it has
banished all discussion of purpose, even from biology where the last
vestiges existed only 40 years ago and it is the first to distinguish
itself from the science of earlier eras.

At first the distinction seems to apply only to the atmosphere and
environment in which science was conducted in those days, and it is
tempting to think that it is just similar to the different ways in
which a
modern believing scientist and an atheistic scientist approach their
work.
But this is superficial and wrong since the differences go very deep
and
embrace the very subjects studied and how they are/were evaluated.

I do not think that the observation that modern science can help only
in
emunah and not in ahavah as the Rambam says about his science, should
really be that controversial once all the ideas are sorted out
properly,
though it is very surprising and it is surprising that it was never
noted
before.

The world is 5,765 years old and counting.

Comments-[ comments.]

Friday, January 28, 2005

I am not a one issue blog, really, I am not

Looking back at the past few weeks, I find that most of my posts have been related to R. Slifkin or R. Plaut. the main reason is that I have been quite interested in the issue, and that I haven't had much time to blog about anything else. That is about to end. I plan to have a final thought posted early next week, and unless I get any other info, that will be the end of that.

In other news, long time readers may remember a concern about a pizza place with very nice people, good food, but no organization. When I stopped by there this week during lunch time, they were closed. I knew it would happen.

I wish everyone a Shabbat Shalom, Gut Shabbos, or however they wish their Sabbatical felicitations. I am going to a lecture on Halacha and cloning sometime motzei Shabbat, and may have some new insights. Or not. Maybe I will figure out what I think about the topic.

Comments-[ comments.]

Monday, January 24, 2005

How to succeed in identifying unsupported assumptions and faulty logic

I have read R. Mordecai Plaut's "How to Succeed in Knowing without Really Seeing." The essence of the arguement is this: If you can prove that a certain body of knowledge, call it 'b', is true, and then prove that subsequently a series of parties know with 100% certainty that the proceeding party knew that knowledge 'b' was true, then there is certainty down the line that knowledge 'b' is true. This has an obvious connection with Mesorah, where, if you accept that what was given to Moshe is true, and you are certain that each teacher down the line of Mesorah knew with 100% certainty that what his teacher knew was true, then, we here today, can know, with 100% certainty that our Mesorah is true. This is what R. Plaut terms mathematical induction, and the basis of his claim that Mesorah can be proven mathematically to be more true than science.

As I have found with the other articles written by Rabbi Plaut, this conclusion is based on a number of unstated(and possibly false) assumptions, and faulty logic.

The first question is, what is Mesorah? What does Mesorah include? What does it exclude? Is the body of knowledge at the begining of the chain the same body of knowledge at the end of the chain? has it changed? (you could also add the question: who gets to decide what is Mesorah and what isn't?)

Obviously, Hashem gave the Torah to Moshe at Sinai. We believe it was the written and oral Torah. Did it include Neviim and Ketuvim? Are Neviim and Ketuvim part of the Mesorah? It appears that what was given at Sinai may not be the entire Mesorah. Was the Gemara in its entirety given at Sinai? what about the Shulchan Aruch? Shulchan Aruch Harav? Moreh Nevuchim? Mishneh Torah? what exactly are we claiming as being given at Sinai at the source of this chain? Unless one is going to claim that all of the above were given to Moshe, in addition to numerous books that have yet to be written, we have to come to the conclusion that the Mesorah we have now is not exactly what was given to Moshe.

Next: has the Mesorah been transmitted with total accuracy? 100%? The proof of this from R. Plaut is a quote from Chagigah "If a Rav is like an angel of the God of hosts, one should seek teaching from him...."
One Shouldseek teaching from such a teacher. It doesn't say that one must. It also doesn't say that neccessarily all teachers are going to be like angels, or that a teacher fitting the criteria is always going to be available. Therefore, there is no proof that the Mesorah has been transmitted with 100% realiability. Incidentally, assuming a piece of the Mesorah(in this case Chagigah) is true, and relying on this piece of Mesorah to prove that Mesorah is true, is a no-no in logical reasoning.

On a practical level, If we did have 100% reliability, how do we explain kri/kitiv? or the puncta extraordinaire(dots on top of certain words in the Torah)? or the fact that Sephardi sifrei Torah have a different letter than Ashkenaz(somewhere in Devarim there is a difference- one has a heh, one has an aleph)? Is a claim being made that Hashem told Moshe that many years from now He wants certain Jews to eat beans on Pesach, and some not to?

One other problem, which R. Plaut glosses over. Just because I know with certainty that you know a certain truth, doesn't mean that you have passed that truth on to me, or that I know that truth. R. Plaut says "If b know (a piece of knowledge) p, then p must be true. If (person) a knows that (person) b really knows p, then (person) a should reason that p is true, and hence should know p himself..." That is a big jump, from knowing that someone knows the truth to knowing that particular truth himself, and there does not appear to be a logical justification for it. Let us assume, for example, that I know with 100% certainty that R. Gil knows the truth about when Mashiach is coming. That doesn't mean that I know when Mashiach is coming, just that I am certain that what R. Gil knows about the topic is true.

If you can have 100% certainty of transmission, R. Plaut's equation in theory allows you to prove that we have certainty that what was given to Moshe by Hashem is true. It doesn't say anything about what we know today. It again, is only a theory, marred by human reality. It doesn't address what Mesorah is, what was added, if anything, and what has been lost.

I have not addressed R. Plaut's comments on science, and the lack or reliability of science. I would only say that science is proven by the realiability of the explainations and the predictions that it makes. And, out of all other modes of knowledge, only science can make that claim. Therefore, anyone can theorize that we are like the matrix, only a computer program, and that reality doesn't exist, or that reality isn't anything like what we percieve it to be, but those are unprovable theories. And in the absence of any other evidence, science has the best proof. As is said about democracy, it is the worst form of governement, except every other form.

In summary, R. Plaut has not succeeded in proving that everything in Mesorah is in a direct line from Sinai. He has not even proven that we have certainty of truth in Mesorah. I for one, would rather rely on belief in Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and the Mesorah, rather than trying to scientifically prove Him into existance. Additionally, it is quite clear even from the Mesorah that the majority of our Mesorah(Neviim and Ketuvim were transmitted via Nevua, but written by humans, Mishna on down was written by humans) was written by human beings and human beings, saintly though they may be, are human beings by definition, with all the frailties associated with that definition. It doesn't mean that mistakes or errors in transmission had to made, but it certainly doesn't rule out the possibility.

Comments-[ comments.]

Out or order entries

There are a number of entries(go back about 3 or 4) that are new, but because they languished in draft status, did not get published at the top of the blog. For those that are interested, please read down 3 or four entries. Sorry

Comments-[ comments.]

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The age of the universe-how did we get that number?

This information is straight from the Encyclopedia Judaica(see articles entitled Chronology, and Seder Olam). Even the idea for looking for this info wasn't mine, but a suggestion from a friend.

In the Biblical period, years were counted according to the regnal years of the Israelite and Judahite kings. There was never a fixed era.... In the Hellenistic period, the Seleucid reckoning came into use. The victory of Seleucus.. in 312 BCE was the mark of a new era. The Seleucid era was in vogue among the Jews until the Middle Ages.

The era at present in use.. is the minyan la-yetzira(Anno Mundi). This era came into popular use about the ninth century c.e. In various rabbinical computations the "Era of the Creation" began in the autumn of one of the years between 3762 and 3758 B.C.E. From the 12th century C.E. in became accepted that the Era began in 3761 B.C.E.(Oct. 7th). This computation is founded on synchronisms of chornological elements expressed in the Bible and calculations found in early post-biblical literature.

The earliest Jewish chronological works have not survived. Demetrius deduced historical dates (third century C.E.). In the Book of Jubilees, events are dated by cycles of jubilee and sabbatical years. The earliest and most important work extant is the Seder Olam, which, according to tradition, was complied by Yose b. Halafta in the second century C.E. THe author was possibly the first to use the rabbinic "Era of the Creation. "

Seder Olam is mentioned in the Talmud. The most significant confusion in the author's calculation is the compression of the Persian period, to no more than 34 years. According to the calculations in the book, the destruction of the Temple took place in the year 68, which is in contradiction to the accepted chronology that it took place in the year 70 C.E.

It was a long time until the reckoning according to the anno mundi era took root in Jewish chronology. For many centuries, Seder Olam Rabbah was of interest only to talmucdic students who tried to satisfy their curiosity for historical reconstruction. The usual calculation accepted by Jews in Talmudic and even post talmudic times wa that of the Seleucid era, referred to as minyan shetarot.

The first mention of the anno mundi date is in the chronological book Baraita di-Shemuel(8-9 century), on tombstones in southern Italy(9th century), and in the commentary of Shabbetai Donnolo(10th century) on Sefer Yezirah. From the 11th century on, it became dominant in most of the communities. In the 16th Century, Azariah de Rossi, was the first to doubt the antiquity of the usage of this era (Me'or Einayim, ch. 25).

So, what exactly are we arguing about? Seems like the exact number may not be as fixed as we believe. It would be nice to chase down those 8-9th century references and see exactly what they say.

Comments-[ comments.]

Rabbi Plaut responds

I recieved this email from R. Plaut

For better or - mostly - for worse, people commented on my one-sentence
summaries of the much longer papers I referenced. I would just say that
if you are about to do something like that, you should at least not ignore
any of the words in the sentence. If I am trying to summarize (and a bit
provocatively at that) a 3,000 essay in one sentence, each word counts.

I wrote: "philosophically, a tradition (mesorah) is a much more
powerful and better path to knowledge than sensory observation based on
induction." The comments ignored the last three words. Simple sensory observation
only yields very simple facts that are important in day-to-day life but are
of little universal value and not what most people call real knowledge of
the world. A white pages telephone book is packed with tons of truths, but
so what?

I did not challenge direct sensory observation at all. Rather the
reference is to the consequences of modern scientific observation which, as
philosophers of science have pointed out at great length and in great
detail, rest on induction and elaborate theories including assumptions
(and presumptions) of how the world is and of how instruments work and what
they show.

This does not mean that the instruments are unreliable but it does mean
that anyone's understanding of what they show is subject to change.

Direct sensory observation does not challenge the Chumash. The
challenge comes from elaborate theories built on direct sensory observation but
that nonetheless require large inductive leaps of faith, as Hume pointed out
in the 18th century and as philosophers pointed out in most of the 20th
century.

Modern science thus rests very heavily on what may broadly be called
interpretation of the data that it generates in such tremendous
quantities. I did not make this up. This is standard philosophy of science.

There is a conflict between science and Torah about the age of the
universe. This conflict is logically resolvable, and then, logically
speaking, it does not matter whether you force Torah to bend or science to
bend in settling on a way to think of things. However it does matter
very much philosophically and religiously which side is forced to make way
for the other.

There is a concept in Pirkei Ovos of making one's Torah "keva."Rabbonim
explain that this means that one's daily Torah learning should be the
fixed point in his life. Everything else is ara'i. Just the Torah is keva.
Even if much more time is spent on everything else, the Torah time must be
qualitatively the main part of one's life. Logically you can wiggle
around either to make them not conflict. But religiously and really you should
do all the wiggling to science. I have argued that science deserves it on
its own merits, and not just on the a priori religious obligation.

On a separate but related issue that was raised, in my opinion, you
cannot apply statements made by rishonim about science to the science of our
day. The physical world and its knowledge was a very different thing in
those days and what the rishonim said about science in their days does not
apply to science of our day. This is clear from the rishonim, and, lehavdil,
from what modern historians have written. I have an essay about this on my
personal website (http://www.geocities.com/mplaut2/ahistwtloh.html) but
have seen very little interest in the issue so I have not posted
anything further.

To summarize that essay, the Rambam says that we acquire Ahavas Hashem
from contemplating the universe. I argue that modern science has nothing do
to with ahavas Hashem. The only thing that can possibly be gained from
modern science is emunah and not ahavas Hashem. Emunah and Ahavah are quite
different and it may not seem easy to confuse them. However when I once
wrote about that modern science cannot (not does not, cannot) bring to
ahavas Hashem, a very respected authority wrote back indignantly, and
argued fervently that modern science brings to Emunah. Unfortunately,
few people think about the distinction between Emunah and Ahavah even
though it is obvious when attention is focussed on it.

In any case, the rishonim were talking about the scientific knowledge of
their day, which assumed emunah as an unshakable premise. They saw the
world as full of purpose. Modern science has banished purpose from its
discourse and is very proud of that. This is a policy decision and not
something that the data forced upon it in any way. Hence, theoretically
modern science may lead to emunah but cannot lead to ahavah. In practice
modern science paints a cold world of hard facts that are not conducive
to emunah.

A person should not have his thinking planted in the scientific world
of today. If he deals in science he must make it ara'i and make Torah
keva.

I(Dilbert) will have more to say later.

Comments-[ comments.]

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Science and why Stevie Wonder is god

I read R. Mordecai Plaut's "The Scientist as Poet; the Baal Mesorah as Scientist." It is well written, compelling, and, well, not only inaccurate, but logically flawed. Before I get into details, I readily admit that I have not heard of, nor read, of the experts he quotes, whom, he admits, have been in relative obscurity. I have to say that, based on the quotes provided, it is well deserved. My background in science has been mostly doing it, not studying the philosophy behind it.

R. Plaut's argument can be summarized as follows:

1. Science at present does not seek to describe reality as readily observed, it seeks to describe events that can be seen only with instruments and other technology. "Since science is practiced at such a remove from everyday experience, it is clear that understanding our familiar world cannot provide a credible motive for the practice of science as it is now done."

comment: The goal(motive) of science is to explain the world. I don't understand why there needs to be a difference between what is easily observable and what is not easily observable. The motive for science is to explain all observations, readily observable or not. The fact that technology is neccesary to collect observations does not negate them. Understanding our world is a credible motive for the practice of science as it is now done. Here R. Plaut appears to say that explaining subatomic particles, the inner workings of cells, research on a molecular and cellular level, to say nothing of astrophysics, are not a credible motive for the practice of science, since all are done "at a remove from everyday experience."

2. R. Plaut then goes on to say that science must have some other function.


comment: The comment on number one shows that science does not need to have any other motives, so the arguement has already failed. The function of science is to organize and explain the function of the world. However, since R. Plaut has his own definition of what are the motives for science, he can procede with this erroneous assumption.

3. And that function is to ".. achieve .. a psychologically satisfying world view." Furthermore, "this subjective motive has a decidedly unscientific character to it...the motive behind it all is reminiscent of what drives poets and creative writers."

comment: Actually, it is the function of philosphy and sometimes religion to give man a psychologically satisfying world view. Science is concerned with how the world works, bit by bit, part by part. Science is based on data, and proving hypotheses. Here it seems that R. Plaut is trying to redefine science to fit his purposes yet again, transforming science from the rational to the irrational, from data based to figments of the imagination.

4. Next, R. Plaut states that "the material which remains of the efforts of other cultures to answer this need we call myths..(which is).. the attempt to deal with the larger questions that confront.. the authors." Furthermore, he says that modern science and "earlier mythologies" are not directly related to truth, and "there is no reason to think that modern scientific answers are true.

comment: Science, as noted previously, is data based. A proof is accepted in the scientific world if it: explains the known data in a rational fashion, accounts for any lacunae in the data, and predicts correctly other verifiable data. Therefore, there actually is good reason to think that modern scientific answers are true, when they adhere to these concepts. Modern science is directly related to the truth. since science is always ready to accept new evidence and new theories, as more data is added to the knowledge base, the closer one comes to the truth. Here, R. Plaut appears to deny any validity to scientific conclusions, saying that they are "not directly related to the truth."

5. Finally, he says "Science aims..at literary creation. It tries to produce a mythology for modern man." In essence, since science attempts to explain experience, and is not true, and myth attempts to explain experience, and is not true, then science is myth.

comment: lets start with some definitions(taken from the webster online dictionary)

science- : the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding

2 a : a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study b : something that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge
3 a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b : such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena : NATURAL SCIENCE
4 : a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws


myth;
a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon .


So, the difference is that myth is a story that explains a practice or belief, or natural phenomenon. Science is the system of knowledge covering general truths obtained and tested through scientific method. I guess if you dont want to accept scientific method, or that the world works in an orderly fashion, you might start to believe that science is a myth. However, the logic is still flawed. Just because science and myth share the same characteristic(trying to explain the world) doesn't mean that they are the same. By the same logic, you could say that

Stevie Wonder is blind
love is blind
god is love
Stevie Wonder is god.
QED


Comments-[ comments.]

Friday, January 21, 2005

Time must be relative, or, a rose by any other name

R. Mordecai Plaut, in his comments on this site states " I discuss the age of the universe in the article he(that would be me) references, but my conclusion is that the Torah age is fine."

Well, maybe. It depends on what is meant that "the Torah age is fine." If what is meant is that the Torah age means exactly 5763(using the year R. Plaut uses in his article) years have elapsed since the begining of creation, with years being defined in the usual 365 day fashion(and day being defined as 24 hours as we know it now), then R. Plaut has not proven his point. If 5763 years is defined from some other starting point, or the term years is allowed to have meanings different than 365 days as we know them now, then R. Plaut has substantiated his conclusion. However, that conclusion is not the definitive statement "5763 years have elapsed since the begining of creation as we reckon years."


R. Plaut starts by discussing measurement, and correctly stating that measurement requires a standard, and a point of reference. He then comes to three explainations for the difference between the Torah age, and the scientific age:

1. the word yom, especially in the first days, does not a day as in specifically 24 hours.

2. the age of the world is calculated from the creation of Adam, not from the very begining of creation

3. yom can have a qualitative, not just quantitative aspect, and before the presence of man, "a much larger amount of change is necessary for it to be spoken of as a qualitative equal to a human day."

So, R. Plaut comes to the conclusion that 5763(at the time the article was written) "is fine."

However, if you look at caveats 1-3, that 5763 comes with an asterisk. When you look at the bottom to see what the asterisk means, it means either(following the list above)

1. the first few days may have been more than days, in fact "we may grant that the events described in the Torah account of creation took many(perhaps billions of ) days." So, if you add those perhaps billions of days to 5763 years, you get, billions of years.

2. 5763 only counts from day 6, and who know how much time elapsed from the very begining of creation until day 6. Therefore, the real number of years from the very begining of creation is 5763 plus an unknown, but real number, therefore 5763 is not the correct number.

3. Similar to the previous arguements, an arguement that time has a qualitative, not just quantitative aspect, does not annul a quantitative measurement of time, and again, converting the qualitative to quantitative appears to result in a number greater than 5763.

In summary, by R. Plaut's own data and reasoning, the Torah age, 5763, only works when enough caveats are arranged around it. And, so many are there as to make the number meaningless as a definitive quantification of an amount of time on its own. Maybe I should have stuck with 'gasp'.

Time does not allow me to comment on the two articles R. Plaut referenced in the comments section, but B'N I will have something posted by Monday

Comments-[ comments.]

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Conversation and respect

I wanted to let all the commentors know that the comment on the previous post from R. Mordechai Plaut is indeed authentic. I ask that he be treated with respect(not like what happened to others who have brought their views here). I for one have printed out the articles he referenced and am going to try to read them this evening. As before, disagreement is ok, disrespect is not. Thank you

Comments-[ comments.]

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

my limited media watch

The Science of Torah is available here. Go to R. Gil's house to buy the rest. Ben Chorin has an excellent spoof(in Hebrew) here. Aside from the one Cross Currents entry and Hirhurim, silence reigns. As noted by others, R. Mordecai Plaut, who appears to also be the editor of Deah v'Dibbur, has an article on, gasp, the age of the universe here.

Comments-[ comments.]

Erratum

I apologize to anonymous for the length of time it took to put this out. References to dress in the time of the Gemarah can be found in part here, and I will find the rest for you. Epstein's book did not go into that area. This is what I get for posting from memory, without the books in front of my. I am sorry if I misled anyone regarding the accuracy of the data. I still hold by it, and will get the rest of the references as soon as I can remember where it was.

Comments-[ comments.]

Monday, January 17, 2005

I have a dream

I thought of what might happen if those who were distressed by the kefira issue decided to get together and issue a joint statement. If the leaders and faculty of Yeshivot got together and say something. Starting on the left(take your pick where you want to start, this is where I would)) you would have the UTJ, Chovevei Torah, YU/REITS, (I dont know what the heirarchy is, I am kinda making this up, just for example), Skokie Yeshiva, Ner Yisrael, Chayim Berlin, Chofetz Chayim.....On and on towards the right wing. Somewhere along the line, someone would look at the rest and say..." I am not going in on a joint statement with THEM"

The saddest quote I saw today was in the Hirhurim comments, from Ari Adlerstein(I assume it was from him, obviously anyone can post with anyone's name) son of R. Adlerstein who posted a defense of R. Slifkin in Cross Currents. He berated those(including me) who were attacking his father, seeing as R. Adlerstein is the only Rav(aside from R. Gil) who has come out in support of R. Slifkin. He says

Unfortunately there are people who will see to it that for one simply expressing his opinion his children could be excluded from certain yeshivas or prevented from making some shidduchim.

Ari is right. I applaud his father for saying what he did. It is appalling that Ari Adlerstein or his father could suffer consequences for it. As I posted before, a lot has to go into deciding when is the time to get off the fence, and when making a statement is worth the consequences. If more people stood up and said something, maybe the majority will be with the those that disagree, and the social pressure will be on those that support the bans. While I applaud R. Adlerstein for his courage, and sympathize with Ari because of the possible fallout, I still hold by this. I certainly do not fault him for not saying more, but there is more that could have been said. I am glad I am not in his shoes.

I have a dream........ maybe when Mashiach comes it will work out.

Comments-[ comments.]

Science and Torah

In my row in shul there used to be a dentist, pediatrician, anesthesiologist, nuclear physicist, cosmologist, surgeon, psychologist, and chemist, not to mention the banker, butcher, and candlestickmaker, but no rocket scientist(cosmologist was close.) We had similar views on the interaction of science and Torah. Ultimately, the Torah contains all knowledge, but to understand the world, we need science. (I forgot where I got this, but in a discussion on Da'at Torah, it was mentioned that we believe thath the Torah contains all knowledge, but until you find someone who can find particulars on pipes and water flows in the Torah, when you have a plumbing problem, you need a plumber, not a Talmid Chacham.) Science was science, Torah was Torah. Science was the study of the laws of nature(happens that Hashem set them up), and if you wanted to see the hand of Hashem in nature- fine, if not, fine also. Being frum and being a scientist was not a contradiction, nor a dichotomy. We believe that Hashem runs the world of course, but in the general scheme of things, He has laws of nature and a world for us to discover, use, and master. Therefore, I would be hard pressed to think of a discovery in science that could shake my faith in Hashem, because my faith in Hashem is not based on any connection to science. Also, not having a doctrine of Chazal infallability,there is no threat from proving Chazal wrong about some scientific/natural world fact.

Inquiries into the nexxus of science and Torah fall into three catagories: The first is simply descriptive, finding out what exactly the Torah and Chazal meant, delving into what they said as can be understood from the viewpoint of modern scientific knowledge. The second, is trying to jive the findings of science with what the Torah and Chazal said. This is important to those whose belief depends on Judaic teachings being compatable with scientific findings. People in this catagory are in danger of losing their faith if science is found to contradict Torah. This approach is useful as one way to counteract those who try to prove that frum Judaism is incompatable with science knowledge. The third catagory is, l'havdil , parlor magic Judaism, trying to induce faith by showing how Torah/Chazal predicted scientific findings, and other discoveries. Successfully done, this demonstrates the supernatural quality of Judaism, predicting the future or nature unkown at the time. I am not opposed to any of these types of inquiries, but inconsistancies found in types 2 and 3 can shake the faith of those who depend on them.

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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Left handed support

I dont personally know any of the bloggers at Cross Currents. I dont know what positions they hold in the community. Please excuse my ignorance. Actually, I have read Marvin Shick and know a little of what he does from his columns in the Jewish week. I have to agree with Shmarya(who appears to have posted comments everywhere I visited) that R. Adlerstein's post is a very carefully worded response regarding R. Slifkin. I do give him credit for posting, and initially saying "unqualified support" for R. Slifkin. But, by usings words as "thrust" and bringing in the 'kiruv' aspect, It does not appear that he is giving unqualified support for R. Slifkin. If you support the thrust of the book, you can still disagree with details. Obviously, by reiterating his support of the 'thrust' of the books, he is going against the ban against the books, but it clearly isn't total and unqualified. Why? And why have we not heard more?

In my shul, I dont think the rabbi addressed the issue. My small and unscientific survey revealed few who knew about the ban, and even fewer who cared. It is a pretty stereotypical middle of the road MO shul, if you need a label. NO ONE CARED. The rabbi could have made a huge speech against the ban, and it would have made no waves at all. Obviously, this ban right now only affects those in the Yeshivish and Chareidi world. It is there that the words of the banning rabbis carry weight. So why have we not heard more?

Possibilities:

1. they haven't decided where they stand.

2. they dont want to make waves, create contraversy

3. they want to try to resolve it without causeing a big fuss(probably too late)

4 true respect for the gedolim who signed the ban

5. fear. yup.. sad but true. fear of either looking like a kofer themselves. fear of taking on the gedolim signed onto the ban. fear of personal and professional repercussions.

Take this example out of the sphere of religion and look at it in a different context. Suppose a geologist came out and said the theory of plate tectonics is wrong. I would assume that all prominent geologists who still agreed with plate tectonics would howl in protest. They wouldn't just sit in their office and say, "well, I wrote a book agreeing with plate tectonics 3 years ago, and I haven't retracted those views." They would stand up for what they thought was right, and not want to leave the public with the mistaken impression that the guy was possibly right.

If the gedolim who signed the ban really believe it, and it wasn't instigated(as my informant tells me) by a rabbi who was looking for more chareidi "street cred", then I respect their right to hold those beliefs, even if I think they are wrong.(and that is another issue to blog about later) That is a seperate issue. But the way it was done, with no due process, and the silence of those who dont hold by it, that is even more troubling. It is sad that fear, or the suspicion of fear, taints this whole conversation.

I guess I am not one of the mevinim.

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If you are going to wear the hat, be the hat

I grew up being the only one(along with other members of my immediate family) to waear a kippah in my school. You haven't lived until rich spoiled Presbyterians throw pennies down the hall to see if you will go pick them up. Even now, frequently, in my metropolis, in my office, and many other places, I am the only one wearing a kippah. I know that I am seen as a representative of Judaism. Not only that, but a representative of orthodox Judaism by other Jews. Knowing this(and also, because I was brought up properly), I am very careful about not making a scene, being nice to people, because I know that my poor actionswill be attributed to "those Jews". Even if I have to legitimately return something to the store(broken, or not working, etc) I take off my kippah, so they wont think "that money grubbing Jew is trying to take advantage of the system."

In shul this week, a few visiting 16-17 year olds got into a shoving match in the back of the shul during aleinu. I had to break it up. The guy sitting next to me looked at them, shook his head, and said "and you are wearing hats." and peyos. and suits. Not many in my shul wear hats. seems to me, your clothes should reflect who you are. I know many people who wear hats and suits and they are perfects examples of bnei Torah and middot. People to look up to respect, and aspire to imitate. In retrospect, I am kind of glad the boys weren't wearing kippot serugot. That would have looked bad for my mode of dress. But I guess the guy in my row expected more out of a hat wearer than a kippah serugah wearer. Go figure.

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Friday, January 14, 2005

What is Courage? What is self destructive unproductive idiocy?

I wrote yesterday asking where are the public views opposing the ban of the books. I haven't seen anything in print. Obviously, a chareidi, or yeshivish rav, or public person, coming out against the ban, puts himself in a precarious position, open to criticism and retribution.

John F. Kennedy, in Profiles in Courage, defined Courage as "grace under pressure." I think what he meant was finding the right thing to do under trying circumstances. Sometimes it is "better to fight and run away and live to fight another day." Sometimes it is better to fight to the death. The only story I remember from the book is about Edmond G. Ross, a member of congress during the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. His was the key vote, if he voted to convict, the president would be convicted. If he voted against, he would be acquitted. He gave a speech, and the most memorable line was

".. I look down upon my open grave.."

(or something like that). Voting against would mean the end of his political career, being subject to intense criticism and abuse from members of his own party.
Despite the pressure, he followed his conscience, and voted against conviction. His prediction came true, and that was the end of his political career. He had no regrets.

Pasuk of the week: Viyikra(Leviticus) 19:15 "... lo tehedar penai gadol, b'tzedek tishpot amitecha." (In matters of justice).. do not give reverence to the (face of ) the mighty(literally gadol), with justice you should judge your neighbor"

I cant ask anyone to put their career at risk, and I cant guarantee that I would have the courage to follow the correct path, only that they should try to do the right thing.

Shabbat Shalom

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Kefira-last word of the day(from me)

Shmarya points out that the Aish HaTorah web site has deleted an article by Dr. Gerald Schroeder regarding the age of the universe(like Big Macs, billions and billions served) and put up a notice instead that the page is under review with consultation with Torah authorities. R. Gil tells us that Feldheim is not going to publish the books, but Yashar will(Yashar Koach). What are the implications?

Depends on where you are and if you care. For me, this does not affect me in the least, except for taking a lot of my time blogging it all(luckily they have been slow days). I am not Chareidi, few if any in my 'hood are going to look funny at me for having the books. The Rosh Yeshiva at my kollel(a very fine frum black hat and suit wearing fellow), when I talked to him about this, made these points(in no particular order):

1. Its sad, because there are a lot of good things published in Yated, except only these things get publicized in the non-Chareidi community

2. He(Slifkin) is probably going to sell a lot of books, but he(the Rosh K) feels very sorry for him

3. the Rosh K thought they were good books, and I could see he was not in a rush to take them off the kollel shelves

4. he arched an eyebrow when I told him that R. Dovid Feinstin was one of the signatories, and he said he would be happy to look at the whole thing and tell me more of what he thought.

So why, as someone usually id'ed as MO, should I care? because it gives me an opportunity to bash the Chareidi? NO. because it affects me personally? NO.

Because, if not opposed, it moves the whole community, whether you are chareidi or not, to the right. New standards are set. It may seem like just a little, or not at all, but all these little and not so little decisions and issues have an effect. The only way not to be affected is to declare independence from the chareidi. That they are so far out and different that what they say and do does not affect us. Who is ready to say that? Maybe in one matter like this. But the next time there is a big water or sheitel issue, we will hear the opinions of the Gedolim quoted and some will go by them. More drift to the right. More chumra.

Last week at kiddush, before the story broke, one of my friends was telling me that one of the problems that afflicts Modern orthodoxy is that they are too respectful of the Chareidi. His opinion was that just as MO does not hold by Conservative views, the MO should not hold by Chareidi views. If they happen to coincide- fine. If they dont- we agree to disagree. I was, and still am not sure about this approach. It does in fact at times appear to be operative as we speak. I doubt any MO institutions are going to take R. Slifkin off the shelves. This ban will either open the divide even more, or, if not opposed, drag the community to the right.

WHERE ARE THE RESPECTED GEDOLIM WHO OPPOSE THE BAN? How can they remain silent? they dont want to look less than frum? they dont want to banned from the club? An innocent Rav is being tormented. Revision is happening. What happened to Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof? As Bob Dole said, where is the outrage? Miriam Shaviv rightfully asks where are the respected bloggers at Cross Currents? I agree with the Bear, send respectful emails of support and questions to all involved, and respectfully ask for answers. We do not have a doctrine of Gadol infallability, regardless of what the most right wing Da'at Torahnik might say. To paraphrase, all that is neccessary for this to contnue, is for thinking people to be silent.

(Note: I am taking down the two notices because they are accessable all over the web, and only taking up space here. If anyone wants me to email them to you, please let me know. D)

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R. Slifkin defends himself

As I and others noted, there is a discrepancy in what Deah v'Dibbur claims and what R. Gil Student notes in the banned books saga. D'vD claims that R. Slifkin refused to meet with the Gedolim. R. Student noted that R. Slifkin offered to meet but was refused. Here is a quote sent to me. As usual, I have no independent confirmation of this, but so everything from this source has been accurate. I assume that the I refers to R. Slifkin

The Real Story - On September 21st I was given the
ultimatum that I had six hours to withdraw my books
and publicly recant my views or face public
humiliation. I immediately tried to contact the four
Rabbonim who were about to condemn the books in order
to find out their precise objections (obviously I
would be willing to retract anything in the books that
was mistaken or, chas ve'shalom, heretical) and to
discuss the matter. Two of them immediately sent a
response that they refused to meet or speak with me.
One of them initially agreed to meet with me, and we
set a time to meet. The fourth, I was not able to
reach despite extensive efforts, but I left a message
that I was trying to reach him. The person who gave me
the ultimatum then contacted me and said that he had
heard that I was trying to arrange meetings, and he
said that I would not be permitted to meet with any of
the Rabbonim. The Rav with whom I had arranged a
meeting then called me back and said that he had
changed his mind and refused to meet with me. He said
"I am not one of the gedolim in this," and "you will
only try to argue and defend yourself." Approximately
two months later, someone who was not at all involved
said that he would be able to force this Rav to meet
with me, even though this Rav did not want to do so,
and this person would accompany me. I said that I
would think about it, and I ultimately decided against
it, for several reasons. One is that this Rav's letter
of condemnation had already been posted on walls
everywhere. Another reason was that this Rav had made
it clear to me over the phone that he was adamantly
opposed to hearing anything I had to say to defend
myself. I also had other reasons, but I will not make
them public at this time. A wise person may be able to
guess them.


R. Slifkin also has posted a lot on his web site here(lifted from a comment by Dov left on the Hirhurim site). Lots of good info

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

One more on the ban

Required reading from R. Gil Student at Hirhurim here, and the English translation in Deah v'Dibbur here(thanks to Yoinoson Schreiber(my fingers kept typing Yonatan for a while) for providing links)(guess my translation wasn't too far off)

I recieved this email from my usual source. I do know him, except what he puts in the email. I cant vouch for his veracity, but up to now I have had no reason to doubt what he has sent.



R.Slifkin does live in a predominatly "frum" area,
ramat modeian. His life is in shambles now. In fact,
before the Yated thing there was another broadside
that was pasted up mainly in his neighborhood The true story,
and I don't have documentary sources on this, but I
have this an excellent authority is the following.
One of the signors(I dont'rembember the name) has a
ba'al teshuva yeshiva in Beni Brak. This particular
yeshiva is for people that are not sucessful anywhere
else (read not that bright). Because he is only the
head of this particular type of Yeshiva he feels that
people don't think he is "haradi" enough. One of his
students showed him the book and he found his
oppurtunity to "make a name for himself." He then
went around and got the rest of the signators and as
you can imagine it snowballed. I realize that you may
read this and say "no one can be this mean, just for a
little respect" However, I must tell you that I did
get this from an unimpeachable source, albeit not the
actual person in question, but good enough for me.
The way in which he was sucessful in getting these
people to sign on was to do exactly what you
intimated. He noted that R. Slifkin is from their
world and seems to be broadcasting the "haradi" view.
Thus, if he would not have been one of them it woudl
have been less problematic.

Where are all the voices of Rabbanim who dont agree with the cherem? Are they going to let R. Slifkin be, excuse the word, crucified, even though they agree with him(and wrote haskamot)? The poor guy's life is in shambles, I am sure his family is suffering, where are the people who have standing and respect in the community comming out to support him? kudos to R. Student for blogging what he did, and to Yashar books for picking up the publishing of the books. I plan to buy them all. Everyone should.

Incidentally, when comparing what R. Student at Hirhurim wrote versus what is in the Deah and Dibbur article(but not in the Hebrew version), one notices a very significant difference in who didn't want to meet with whom.

I will try to post the original poster of the cherem, and you will see the names of the original instigators .....

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the Jack NIckelson view of Judaism

"you want the truth... you cant handle the truth."

guess we cant. R. Gil(hard to stop calling him Simcha) points out censorship of responsa. Books get banned. R. JJ Shachter has a whole article on censorship/revisionism. Way back when I blogged the revisionist history of the Belzer Rav. What gives? Bottom line- some people do not want to face history, and do not have confidence in their flock to be able to find the right path without being steered. Unfortunately, some people want to be steered. Not me.

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And one more thing

The person who sent me the Yated article has read R. Slifkin's books and informs me that they are 70-80% made up of quotations of sources, such as the Tiferet Yisrael, R. Avraham ben ha-Rambam, and many others. Does the claim that this book is full of heresy imply that those quoted are themselves heretics? The more I find out about this, the more surreal and incomprehensible it gets. I feel most sorry for R. Slifkin and his family. Did the Gedolim think this through? Did they contemplate what effects this would have on someone who appears to be a frum and ehrlich yid? If he lives in a charedi area his neighbors may not talk to him. I think he has kids. Hope they are not in a chareidi school. I have studiously avoided saying anything derogatory about people who devote their life and time to clal yisrael and avodat Hashem, learning Torah day and night in a way that I dont think I ever will be able to do. But I am getting close.

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Can you teach an intellectual appreciation of God? yes, but its hard to do

Dov Bear blogs about my post on my and my wife's grandparents, and the commments are quite good. As I noted, my grandparent's connection to Judaism was more intellectual and also more innate. I am not sure they were constantly trying to think of what Hashem wanted them to do next, but they were comfortable with their relation to HKBH. I think this sort of relationship between man and God is what R. Haym Soloveichik was referencing in his landmark article. In the absence of a constant feeling of God's presence, or a feeling of deep obligation to follow each dictate of the Torah, can a religious sensitivity and affiliation be preserved? Here is my answer to DovBear's question as to what happened to the children of the grandparents.

On one side, they grew up speaking Hebrew at home(in the USA in the 30's), were very zionist, affiliated ortho, but did not keep all the personal/indevidual mitzvot(davening 3/day, tzitzit). 2/3 got advanced degrees(not in religious studies). One made aliyah and they(and their family) are all personally frum and in the MO spectrum, and most of the kids have or are pursuing advanced degrees as well. One stayed in the states, kids all in the MO spectrum, all finished college, 2 went for advanced studies. The third and family still affiliate, but are not personally observant.

On the other side, they grew up in an English speaking home, went to afternoon Hebrew school, affiliated conservative, kept kosher at home. One went on for advanced studies, married someone a bit to the right of themself, and today and family is found in the MO spectrum. One went to college, affiliates reform,2 kids, one of whom married out and the other one affiliated peripherally .

In one case, the intellectual love and comfort of yiddishkeit was passed on essentially intact, in the other case some(but not a lot) was lost.(recall that conservative 50 years ago was much different than what it is now). And more was lost in one case going into the next generation.

I would disagree with MoC that it is impossible to keep it going for generations. It is difficult to maintain a path, especially when there is no support around you. When on one side there is assimilation and deviation from tradition, and on the other side there is detailed frumkeit, to make up a term. It is hard to maintain a practice without support, especially when it comes under attack as being less than frum. Nowadays I think there is more of an awareness of the specifics of halacha, whereas previously there was a comfort that one was serving Hashem adequately in doing what one was doing. Now I worry about everything I do, rather than be happy with what I am doing. Some call what had been before laziness in following Mitzvot. I dont know. Now people worry about the shiur of matza, I knew someone who had eaten at the seders of gedolim of 100 years ago, and he said the shiur of matza they ate was what they put into their mouth after hamotzei.

Clearly, there are new benchmarks of practice, or at least more awareness of those benchmarks, and that makes the casual observance of Judaism more difficult. Either you are in, or you are not.I think many of those 100 years ago were able to substitute zionism, intellectual excitement, or other connection to Judaism for detailed practice. For the reasons cited above, it is next to impossible today. The idealism isn't there for one. There still is intellectual excitement about Judaism, but it is to be found more often in the context of religious belief, whether it be formally ortho, conservative, or reform.

In answer to the question about whether love of poetry, hebrew and zionism was the norm: In certain areas and circles, many schools sprang up that taught in Hebrew, and encouraged thought and art/culture. I am not sure how many schools and how big they were, but certainly there is a segment of the Jewish population that grew up like this, well schooled, appreciative of the arts, zionist, hebrew speaking, idealistic, and varying degrees of personal observance.

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More on heresy and Gedolim

Thanks to all who commented and sent me emails about R. Slifkin and his books. I have been informed that only one person who gave a haskamah has retracted it. Unfortunately, the article in Yated allows the impression to be formed that many if not all retracted- a case of genevat da'at, if you ask me.

"ki eleph shanim b'einecha k'yom etmol" Tehillim. 1000 years in your(God's) eye are like yesterday. 30 years ago I remember a (devoutly Orthodox) rabbi using this verse to explain that some sort of evolution and creation were not neccessarily mutually exclusive. And now, this belief gets labelled as heresy. I have to call him right away.

I think that most of the readers would disagree that this is heresy. So I wonder a lot of things:

Do those rabbis really believe that it really is heresy? or are they trying to keep their flock from even coming into contact with these beliefs(a fence around the fence, around the fence around the Torah)?

Does the fact that R. Slifkin went to Mir, and has some chareidi credentials inflame the Gedolim even more than if he had been, say a YU grad? my guess is they would have just ignored the book in that case.

If we can feel free to disagree with the Gedolim on this subject, and state with confidence and good backing that they are wrong, why should they be listened to on other subjects? Or does this claim of heresy come under the rubric of Da'at Torah and other things come under pesak halacha, and a differentiation can be made?

Who are those people we label as chareidi? Is it all the roshei yeshiva who signed the article? is it my neighborhood rosh kollel, the nicest sweetest person in the world, who goes out his way to make time to learn with me at odd hours? Does the whole chareidi world agree with this? I didn't see any Roshei Yeshiva from Ner Yisrael Chaim Berlin, or the Skokie Yeshiva on the list. I guess I dont know enough about the chareidi world to say. I would be happy to hear more. The floor is open. I have one more post on this topic that has been germinating even before this heresy issue

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

More BANNED BOOKS?

I recieved an email from a gentleman, I am not sure if he wants his name used, if he does, I will be happy to give credit where credit is due. It is a page which is supposed to be from Friday's Yated in Israel, and is a ban on the books of R. Nossan Slifkin. R. Slifkin has written 8 books. his bio and web site are here. He studied at Midrash Shmuel, Mir Yeshiva, and got smicha from Ohr Somayach. He is an expert in biblical zoology. Here is in part my poor translation of the (unfortunately poorly reproduced) page:

The great rabbis are revealing their thoughts against the disqualified books that were published in english by someone who learned in yeshivot..and found new beliefs and brought in his books ..words of heresy and nonbelief..

When these books were distributed and brought to the sages who speak english..(gets too flowery here to translate accurately).. a few months ago the Gaon R. Yitchak Shiner Shlita, head of the Kamenetz yeshiva, member of the moatzot gedolei hatora, sent a letter to the Gedolim of the generation, who stand on guard for the Torah. And in it is said: " as one who speaks English, I testify that a talmid chacham who worries about the honor of the Torah showed me the books written my R. Nosson Slifkin, that the hairs on the head stand on end from what I read in it. I dont know if I was over on the prohibition not to read things that appear to be heresy...He(Slifkin) believes that the world is millions of years old..things like this, that are forbidden to be heard, and cannot be believed. and there are many other things like this. In summary, it is forbidden to bring this books into a house where there is belief in Hashem and His Torah.

On top of this letter, the Gaon Rabbi Eli Dov Vichtfoigl(sorry, cant transliterate it that well) added " also it is written that Chazal, could have been wrong Chas V'Shalom, in details of the world, and from this, Cv"S, also in halacha...and the whole book is full of total heresy. and even the things that are not total heresy, nevertheless, the reader who accepts them is destined to be a total heretic....

The publicity of the book, generated a general storm, in that the horrible hidden obstacle, in particular, that the author puts himself out as one who has Torah standing.... Those Rabbanim who gave a haskama(approbation) to the book, reversed themselves in a letter in which they explain that they gave approval to the author, in that they knew that he learned in yeshivot.. they wrote "we are deeply distressed about the book(literally obstacle to observance- michshol) that was put out under our hand, and we warn all who read this... should distance themselves from this book.. because of the danger buried within it....

further on, a quote from another rabbi. " it is forbidden to own(these books) or to publicize them, like the laws dealing with books of heresy"

It goes on. in the end it is signed by a long list of rabbis in Israel, and a bunch in the US. Lots of Roshei Yeshiva, Telz, Beit Medrash Gavoah(R. Kotler), R. David Feinstein(Yeshiva Tiferet Yerushalayim). and many others.

I think I need to read the books and figure out for myself if it is heresy or not. With an incrdible amount of respect of for the learning, erudition, Yirat Shamayim, and personal middot of all the signatories, and total disagreement with their hashkafa, they books can be found here

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cultural influences in halacha

A number of books that I have been reading have coalesced and ganged up on me. Louis Epstein, in Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism(among others) have documented how talmudic views on women's clothing mirrored the society around them. It is well known that the customs of the Seder mirror a Roman banquet. R. Eliezer Berkowitz, the student of R. Ya'akov Yechiel Weinberg, and one of the more reknown graduates of the Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, in Jewish women in time and Torah, holds that the negative remarks regarding women in the Talmud reflect the culture of the time, and not a halachic imperative. In this manner, statements such as 'he who teaches his daughter torah is as if he taught her tiflut(foolishness, some translate liscentiousness) are reflections of the common understanding of the time, not a Torah based commandment or view.

This view is not widely accepted, even in MO circles. R. Emanuel Rackman, in trying to help agunot, tried to argue with the widely held concept that a woman would rather be married than not at all, which has implications in divorce(get) law. RYBS criticized him severely for this.

We know that at least some of the science in the Talmud is not accurate, and it is not reasonable to expect human beings 2000 years ago, even on the level of tannaim and amoraim to have knowledge that we have unearthed only in the last few hundred years. Can this admitted imperfection be generalized from the "hard sciences" to "soft sciences" or culture? One could argue that "human nature" has not changed, and that the talmud bases itself on mesorah, and observations and knowledge of human nature and desires, not on changing cultural values. it would be a coincidence, that these statements just happen to reflect popular culture exactly at that time.

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Monday, January 10, 2005

Where were you during the Haskala?

Both my grandfather and my wife's grandfather were typical products of the educational changes of the Haskala. They were incredibly fluent in Hebrew(able to argue successfully the conjugation of obscure verbs with any 7th grade teaching Geveret), ardent Zionists, college educated, and, in the case of my grandfather-in-law, took medical school notes in Hebrew(being newly arrived from Lithuania, he didn't know English at the time). They read voraciously, wrote poetry, and knew Tanach backwards and fowards. In religious practice, my grandfather was traditional, keeping a kosher home, identifying as Orthodox, but driving on Shabbat to shul when neccessary. My wife's grandfather was less personally religious, but also kept strictly kosher at home. Judaism, for both of them, was incredibly important, but more in terms of intellectual effort, Zionism, Hebrew language, culture,and community(my paternal grandparents spent more than 50 years each as Hebrew teachers), than in terms of the minutiae of observance. Not to say that my grandfather was not observant to a large extent, but I dont think he agonized over the particulars of observance, as is common nowadays.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Save one life, its as if you saved the entire world. mess up one life.....?

Last week I saw a patient in the office I have been taking care of for a couple of years. I first met him in a psychiatry ward, where he had been put for evaluation of his Altzheimer's disease. He had all the classic signs, poor memory, speech problems,etc. They were planning to send him to hospice, as his symptoms seemed to be progressing quite rapidly. Unfortunately, no one had ever done a scan of his brain, and when it was done, it showed a large benign tumor, pressing on his brain. After surgery, he gradually improved, and when I saw him this past week, he was totally normal. NORMAL. He is working, driving, enjoying his family, totally normal(well, except for the nicely healed scar on his head).

The point of this story is certainly not self aggrandizement, especially because what transpired was ordinary care of a patient. There was nothing heroic about it, just doing what normally should and would be done. But I think that in many cases, there is a point in people's lives where some sort of intervention makes a huge difference. In this case, it obviously was a medical issue. With others, it is a financial need, or a legal problem. Sometimes it is an emotional or psychological need. The key is in identifying the problem, knowing the solution, and carrying it out in a timely manner. Sometimes accomplishing these steps is easy, sometimes not.

In Iraq, I think most Americans feel we have missed the opportunity to build a stable country. I think that if we had more people, more money, a better plan for reconstruction, we may have been able to avoid the growing mess. There may have been a key point where doing the exact right thing would have been critical to success. Obviously, it is a lot easier to identify in hindsight.

In Southeast Asia, early intervention with food, water, and keeping disease under control will be a key in controlling the further effects of the tsunami. Done right, we will look back and congradulate ourselves on keeping a horrible situation from being worse. Done wrong, and we will look back and regret what could have been done, but wasn't.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

I get the last word(maybe)

While reading The Jews of Lithuania by Masha Greenbaum, I came across the following statement regarding the Vilna Gaon: " He stressed the importance of mastering...any secular science that would promote better understanding of the devotional text....he commissioned his disciple R. Baruch of Shklov to translate Euclid's Geometry into Hebrew, the only language he knew, apart from Yiddish. In the introduction.. R. Baruch summarized the Gaon's doctine as follows-

If a man is deficient in the sciences, he will be deficient a hundredfold in knowledge of Torah, for Torah and science go together."

The book also notes that the Gaon wrote more than 70 works, including one on Hebrew grammar and several books on mathematics. Although I was in error in claiming that Kramer's law was authored by the Gaon(thanks to F-P, I think), I can take solace that he did publish on the topic.

I don't want to start a huge discussion on the Torah U'Madda implications of the Gaon's views, but obviously he put some value in secular studies- but limited to its use as a vehicle to better understand Torah

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Noach, breakfast rolls, and the way of the world

Note: R. Student at Hirhurim has an excellent erudite post on this topic

Obviously many bloggers have taken note of the tsunami and the horrible events in southeast asia. Miriam (bloghead) had a very appropriate quote from the chief rabbi of England, R. Saks, who essentially said our obligation is to ask what can we do to help, no matter what the why's are. Shira Salamone(On the Fringe) rejects what R. Mordechai Kaplan termed meteorological Judaism, and in a a somewhat similar fashion calls on us as human beings to assume responsibility for helping out, kind of leaving God out of the equation. I obviously agree that all of us have an obligation to help as much and as quickly as possible. But I also wanted to address a bit of the why , or at least my way of looking at it.

In Genesis 8:22, God says to himself "..in addition, all the days of the earth,(there will be) planting and harvesting, cold and hot, summer and winter, day and night, it will not cease." This appears to be a statement from God that the way of the world, what we call laws of nature, have been set in motion, and will continue to operate unimpeded until the end of time.(Incidentally, I have seen this used as a assurance that mankind will not self-destruct). One of the Parasha sheets I read in shul noted that orderly laws of nature are a gift to mankind. Instead of wondering when the sun will shine, when the rainy season will come, if the apple will fall up or down, there is a (at least partially) comprehensible pattern to the world that we can learn about, follow, and rely upon. The bounty of the harvest, the beautiful beaches, sunrise, sunset, volcanos, earthquakes all follow from this orderly march of the "laws" of nature. Our ability to treat sickness, have rocket ships, clone, predict the weather(sometimes) all stem from our understanding of nature. Very unfortunately, natural disasters occur in the course of nature. If we had known more about predicting earthquakes, if the areas had been in posession of early warning systems, much of the tragic loss of life could have been avoided.

So, where is God in all of this? Can there be supernatural events? I dont know, I can only tell you what I believe. There are three options. One is to deny the existance of God. Secondly, to believe that God wound up the clock and left it to tick tock on its own, taking a hands off approach, letting event unwind on their own without His intervention(possibly evening things out in the afterlife or some other way(gilgul)). Thirdly, that God takes an active interest and part in the world. This can be either by so perfectly setting up the world in the first place that His interventions are consistant with the laws of nature as we know them (has poor implications for the doctrine of free choice, if everything is set up in advance) or by intervening in a specifically supernatural way, that is clearly identifiable as something that is not consistant with the laws of nature. The Rambam and Ramban debated the nature of miracles on similar grounds. What comes from this analysis is that you cannot "prove" the existance of God from looking at nature, unless you have specific proof of a supernatural event(everyone will have their own definition of what this is). I choose to believe that God is taking an active interest and part in the world, but I cannot prove it.

In every US airport I have been through, there is a Cinnabon stand, selling deliciously smelling sweet rolls, and the aroma is identifiable instantly. Many times I have been tempted to have one(just for background, I only eat uncooked fruit or veggies at the myriad of non-Kosher restaurants that I get dragged to for meetings). I even went so far as to look at the ingredients and see if there is anything specifically not kosher(there isn't). Aside from my usual inhibitions about not eating questionable foods, I worry that if I eat that Cinnabon, the plane that I am about to board is going to crash. The specific cause of the crash could be one of many different reasons, ice on the wings, landing gear failure to retract, spark in the fuel tank, lots of things. But I feel that by eating that Cinnabon, I will increase the chance that one of those events will occur. Obviously, this is somewhat of an irrational fear, but this illustrates two points. One, that what might appear to be a event occuring in the natural course of things(plane crash due to icing, for example) is actually an event orchestrated by God for a specific purpose(punishing me for eating the Cinnabon), and two, that in the usual course of our day to day life, we dont usually think that events that occur are specific punishments(or rewards) for our activities. It is only in certain instances, like being at the airport, or seeing a horrible disaster, that we start to question the links between our actions and what happens in the world around us. Please do not misunderstand, I am NOT making a claim that the tsunami was a punishment by God for anyone or anybody, or in response to a particular sin or misdeed(nor am I ruling it out). However, as a human being, I should do my upmost to help the victims in everyway I can. As a Jew, believing that God does watch over the world, and that in some mysterious way He brings perfect justice to the world, I should use this, and every opportunity, to look at what I do, and what we as a people do, and ask, what can I and we do better?

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Monday, January 03, 2005

Bracha on a donut

I visited with my relatives and found that not only do they have carvel, but also the krispy kreme 5 minutes away is under hashgacha. It used to be you had to drive 1/2 an hour, but now.... right on the way to the main drive. If this isn't a reason to bench hatov v'hameitiv, I dont know what is.

On the same note, I think it would be great for Nisht to return to blogging.

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