Thoughts on Judaism

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Will we lose a great blogger?

Yet another blogger has declared (possibly) his intention to hang up his keyboard, Tzemach Atlas, of mentalblog. Showing a moodiness typical of creative minds, Tzemach announced that he feels misunderstood and feels it is time to quit. I, for one, will miss his independent, rebellious spirit, his fearlessness, both in attacking and defending Chabad, and his very straight honest attitudes. Tzemach's wide interests, from art to Jewish history, spawned a wide array of discussions, and revealed some lesser known facts, especially about Chabad insiders and characters. (This sounds like code for a Chabad bashing site, but in truth, mentalblog does not bash Chabad, Chabadkeit, nor the Chabad Rebbe, showing respect in many instances, disappointment in others.)

I surely hope you change your mind Tzemach, but if you do not, I wish you Hatzlacha in all and my thanks.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Real Rambam

The Rambam was the father of all rationalists in Jewish thought (influenced by Saadia gaon), but often, we think of him as the recepticle for all rationalist opinions in the Jewish velt, even to the proposition that his views were heretical. A la

While a cursory skimming of the Moreh may give this impression, the Rambam himself writes in the introduction that the Moreh is not intended to be read this way. It is written to be absorbed, piece by piece, sequentially. Reading it this way, there is no doubt that the Moreh gives a disturbing view of Jewish thought 800 years ago, in the same way that Mishneh Torah gives a view, clearly following classical Jewish sources, on halacha. The analysis shows that the halacha is still halacha today, but much of the Jewish thought does not conform to modern "mystical approach" Judaism (hence, it is "disturbing"). The Rambam obviously has SOME mystical approach, as he discusses halachas that were not applicable, even in his time, but it is not the SAME "mystical approach" that is trumpeted today throughout the Charedi world. YET his principles and likely sources conform with classical Judaism in every way.

For instance, the treatise on Hashacha Protis is often displayed as heretical, against what is taught today. The Rambam holds that the events affecting humans are governed by hashgacha protis, while the events governing lower creatures are not. It is well known, that the Ba'al Shem Tov stated (no one is sure on which page of which book, of which tradition) that if a leaf falls and is blown by the wind, it is by hashgacha Protis. Thus, the Rambam has violated a maxim of a mystic and is thereby heretical. However, upon careful examination, one finds that the Baal Shem Tov and the Rambam are in perfect accord. The continuation of the quote from the Besht is that if a leaf falls and is blown by the wind, it is by hashgacha protis, that the viewer may learn from it regarding service to Hashem. No heresy required.

Another good example is the Rambam's defense of the concept that the universe began, as opposed to its being eternal (Moreh II,25). Summary: If we were forced by science to say that the universe was eternal, we could re-examine and reinterpret the verses of the Torah to accept that view. Just as G-d is described as having body parts, and we reject that notion that G-d has a literal body out of necessity and logic, we could also reject the temporality of the universe, if necessary. However, concludes the Rambam, since an equally tenable case can be made for the literal temporality of the universe, we should defend it. (An apparent premise runs under this, in that he must mantain that, as science changes, our hashkafa could change. This presents no problem for him.) He mentions the Muhamedan philosophers that have already, in his time, allegorized the creation, and he dismisses them. In other words, if there is a logical reason to allegorize a principle in Chumash, the Rambam feels we "must and can" do so. However, without such a reason, we should understand literally, even if both cases are equal. While far from the modernist tendency to allegorize everything, it is also far from the fundamentalist extremist tendency to say that scientific observation means nothing. The rejection of dinosaurs for instance is hard to defend in the face of actual physical evidence. The Rambam does not seem to have favored the Fossean approach so popular today ("G-d made this evidence as a test").

Another thing that the casual reader misses in the Moreh is that the Rambam never uses a secular source as the only source for a piece of information. He correlates the secular books that he quotes with the work of the Chachamim, apologetics perhaps, but nowhere near heresy, quite the contrary.

So why the fuss? In a word: Darwin! The emotional repulsion that the modern fundamentalists feel toward what they perceive as Darwinism, akin to diabolical designs, drives them to reject anything, ANYTHING, that might support the notion that we can accept Darwinism into frumkeit. Hence, we must solidify science back at a time before Darwin (or Copernicus, Galileo, Pasteur, in the process), we must assign some fuzzy mystical value to it to prevent critical analysis, and then we must fight fight fight or risk simian ancestry. The Rambam disturbingly rejects giving mystical value to scientific principles, thus undermining this whole mantra defense against Darwin. Note: by "Darwin" in this sense, we mean the Charedi version of satanized Darwin, not the actual theories of the actual scientist of the same name.

Actual Darwin (a somewhat religious Catholic himself) proposed a unique device in that he saw evolving species and diversification as a result of random mutation and natural selection, the survival of the fittest. There is nothing inherently antiTorah about this. It is a discussion of the mechanism of the observed world. But it runs against the grain of "mystical approach" hashgacha where everything is miraculous all the time. Darwinism does not refute that underpinning, just the obviousness of it. And in Charedism all miracles, which occur all day every day, must be the obvious and only explanation. (In fact, that seems to be the prevailing view on how to live in the world with other people as well.) Darwinism is also weak in that diversification, Darwinism's main distinction, seems not to be a matter of time and mutation, but of opportunism. I am sure Darwin would agree that much of his theory would need to be revised in light of modern paleontology. However, anything that smacks of allowing anything Darwinian to filter in, even patently obvious and observal effects, might "confuse" the masses. Rather than reducing the entire matter to a time problem and addressing the question, its seems that many Jewish "authorities" (self appointed though they are) would like to simply declare the king's priviledge. I think that it is blaringly, unavoidably obvious that the Rambam would not have approached the subject in this manner.

This is the root of every "Torah v. Science" conflict. The problem is neither Torah nor science. It is that we have tried to apply an outdated educational apologetic method, a method that was fine for the majority frum, less educated, less scientifically aware Jews of the last few centuries, but is sadly insufficient for our times. We can't blame that on the Rambam.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Hashkafa 101

This is copied from the site of the blogger formerly known as Godol Hador. I DO NOT AGREE WITH ALL OF IT AND ITS APPEARANCE HERE DOES NOT IMPLY THAT I AGREE WITH ANY PARTICULAR PART OF IT. However, it is an excellent and succinct statement of the rationalists' mind today, the types of questions, the attempts at resolution and so forth. It is a starting point for discussion, and all of its questions are patently obvious to anyone who lives in reality and Judaism simultaneously. It is required reading for anyone who thinks, (or thinks that they think). Lots of you ain't gonna like it. Neener. Neener.

If the point of the religion of Judaism could be summed up in a sentence, then this would be it:

To take the physical and mundane, and invest it with spirituality and meaning, and by doing so set an example to the rest of the world.

This is why we indulge in the physical and and make it holy.
That is why we take goyish customs and turn them into minhagim.
That is why our Jewish purpose in life is to set an example to the goyim.

That is why we have the Jewish Religion. Because the Jewish Religion takes a people and invests them with holiness, thereby illuminating the fact that the rest of the nations can be holy too.

That is why Shabbos is a fundamental of Judaism. Because Shabbos takes a day and invests it with holiness, thereby illuminating the fact that the rest of the week can be holy too.

That is why the Bes Hamikdosh is/will be a fundmental of Judaism. Because The Bes Hamiksdosh takes a place and invests it with holiness, thereby illuminating the fact that the rest of the earth can be holy too.

This gets distorted by the fundamentalists in the following ways.

They lie about the origins of the customs.
They look down on the goyim and feel they are just background players.
They ignore the meaning and focus entirely on the externalities.

Most importantly:

They confuse the point of Judaism with the point of life.
These are two entirely different concepts.

The Point of Life

I finished off the last post with the following comment:

They confuse the point of Judaism with the point of life.
These are two entirely different concepts.

I then omitted to explain the point of life. Sorry.

The point of life is to become a better person.

What does it mean to be a better person ?

We can roughly divide this into 3 areas, roughly corresponding to the 3 amudim of the world. However it should be realized that these are not 3 completely distinct categories, but are somewhat intertwined.

1. Man to Man = Gemilus Chasadim
Clearly you need to be good at bayn odom lechavero. This can be a lifelong struggle. However you may ask, is this the true goal, or just the foundation for the goal ? Thats debatable. Based on numerous pesukim, I could construct an argument showing this is the true goal, or at least a significant part of it. But thats for another time.

2. Man to G-d = Avodah
You need to get a close connection with G-d, bayn odom lamokom. This is a spiritual, non physical, devekusy type of thing. As I have posted previously, I am have a semi-yekkish, semi-litvish, intellectual type of background, so I have no real concept of what this means. If I feel G-d is in my head, does that make me spiritual, or just certifiable ?

3. Man to himself = Torah
One needs to perfect / improve ones internal self, which basically means the mind i.e. the neshomoh, since your body is going to decompose one day. This can be done through Torah, maddah, intellectual speculation etc. Similar to the Rambam's philosophy of what makes someone a tzadik. However the Rambam stressed this above all else, I would take a more balanced approach.

Now here comes the interesting part.

Ask any UO whats the point of Judaism, and he will most likely answer 'learn Torah and do Mitzvos'. Then ask him 'whats the point of life', and he will look at you somewhat confused, and repeat 'learn Torah and do Mitzvos'.

But thats not it. G-d put man on the earth for a purpose. Its a bit cryptic in Breishis, but you can get the rough gist of it. You need a lot of medrashic help and good dose of drush. But things didn't work out so well. So G-d decided to create the Jews as a special people to set an example. (Note whether or not this actually happened is besides the point somewhat. Either way I contend that this was the idea of Judaism).

The heavy focus in Tenach on being apart from the goyim was in order to create an identifiable people. The heavy focus in Chazal on dislike of the goyim was because, well Chazal disliked the goyim. They were only human (chas vesholom). I am not advocating intermarriage, but the anti-goy attitudes are more due to 2000+ years of persecution then any notion inherent in the religion. The neviim were often quite universalist. And some of them made it into tenach.

So Judaism is composed of a number of elements, designed to show mankind the types of things one needs to do to become a better person, thus fulfilling the universal goal of life.

These elements include the following aspects. Again these are not completely distinct, but are somewhat interwoven.

1. Gemilut Chasadim = Improve Your Character
There's a lot of this in the Torah, many obvious examples. The whole point here is to improve your character.

2. Avodah = Improve your spirituality
I would include tefilah and possibly shabbos in this category. The whole point here is to become more spiritual and get a closer connection to G-d.

3. Torah = Improve your mind
The concept of learning for intellectual improvement and refinement. The whole point here is to improve your mind.

However, by neccessity, Judasim also had to include a 4th element:

4. Jewish Identity = Keeping the Dream Alive
Yomim Tovim and associated Mitzvot, Tzitzit, Kashrut etc. All the things that set us apart. The whole point here is to maintain our Jewish identity.

Number 4 is where people get confused. Number 4 is the unique set of additional commandments that the Jews have which the goyim don't, nor do they need to. These are required to maintain a strong sense of Jewish identity and purpose, or else the notion of peoplehood will be lost and the goal of Judasim will fail.

So the point of life is to become a better person through 1,2 and 3 above. These apply equally to everyone on the planet, Jews and Non-Jews alike. Remember that the saying is 'On 3 pillars the world rests', not the 'Jewish people rests' but 'the world rests'. The 3 pillars are universal.

The point of Judaism is to set an example in 1,2 & 3 type things to the rest of the world. To do that we have a bunch of 1,2 & 3 type mitzvot which assist us in demonstrating these things.

The point of 4 is to maintain Judaism as a viable concern, so that we can continue with our goal. However 4 is a means to an end, not the end itself. Jews, especially frum Jews, tend to confuse 1,2,3 and 4, and the various goals, and think that goal of being Jewish is to be Jewish and seperate. This is almost the opposite of what the point of being Jewish is.

Thats my philosophy. But if you don't like it, I have others.

The Point of It All Executive Summary

Especially for consultants and high level executives.

The point of life is to improve yourself, and thereby the world. Or maybe the world, and thereby yourself. Either way you want to think of it is fine, as it amounts to the same thing, since we are the world.

How do you do this ?

1. Improve your character = Gemilas Chasadim = Bayn Odom LeChavero
2. Improve your mind = Talmud Torah = Bayn Odom Leatzmoh
3. Improve your spirituality = Avodah = Bayn Odom LeMokom

We can argue over which of these is just foundational and which is the ultimate goal. There are ample statements in Chazal stressing each of these individually, plus many movements over the years which focused on one or another. For example, 1) Mussar Movement 2) Litvish Yeshivah 3) Chasidim. A broad perspective of Jewish history shows that a synthesis of all 3 is most likely where the truth lies.

All of humanity have this task, and all of humanity are equal with regards to this task. However they were not doing too well at it, so G-d chose one people to be his ambassadors and show how it could/should be done. Consequently Judaism has copious amounts of rules and regulations for 1,2 and 3 above.

In addition, Judaism has a unique 4th component:

4. Keep it going = All the things that make Jews unique = Yomim Tovim, Kashrut etc etc

This is a very important component, because without it the Jewish people would be lost. Plus it is demonstrative in its mechanisms and produces good effects in 1,2 & 3 above too.

One of the key mechanisms in Judaism is symbolism = taking the mundane and making it spiritual.

Unfortunately many people, espcially fundamentalists, confuse all this, and believe that 4 is the ikkar, the external ritual / physical aspects of 3 are to be focused on, and 1 is simply a nice-to-have, but not that mandatory, especially when it conflicts with the other aspects.

In addition, they narrow the definition of 2 to the point at which it becomes an exercise in not using your brain, making up lies, and ignoring facts, thereby thwarting the whole objective.

For more detail see below.

Everything I know about UO Theology I learned in Kindergarten

One of my commentators declared that I had a 'Kindergarten level grasp of UO theology'.

Well, he might be right. Even though I went to a UO day school, a UO high school, and spent 4 years in UO yeshivot, there was never any attempt at all to provide a systematic course of theology / religion / philosophy.

I spent years and years learning baba kamah and baba basrah, but never once was Moreh Nevuchim, Saadia Gaon or The Kuzari even mentioned. I didn't even know these guys existed until I was in my 20's.

And it wasn't just the rational 'Modern Orthodox' philosophers who were ignored. The Chazon Ish, The Besh"t, in fact everyone and anyone and their views on hashkafah were entirely ignored almost all the time. Except for the occasional shmooz, or possibly if there was some aggadatah dealing with a philosophical / theological issue.

But there was certainly no systematic presentation, and of course it goes without saying no discussion of opposing views. Where did these institutions think I was going to get my hashkafah from ? And these were not in general lousy institutions. In fact they were very highly regarded.

So my view of UO theology ? I can sum it up in a sentence:

"Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere !".

Well, at least I got that part down okay.

The Sacred Cows of the Ultra-Orthodox

1. First 11 chapters of Breishis are literally true
2. Daas Torah / Emunas Chachamim
3. Yeridas Hadoros
4. Moshiach = Olam Habah = Miracles Galore = Grand Finale
5. Nissim bizman Chazal, Rishonim & Acharonim
6. Zohar Kabbalah is an authentic part of our mesorah dating back to Sinai
7. Chazal were all Chareidim (except for Acher)
8. Judaism doesn't ever change much
9. Men and women have different roles in Judaism
10. Jews and Goyim are fundamentally different in G-d's eyes

Cow number 1 is currently in the process of being slaughtered, and consequently Cow number 2 is not feeling too well either.

Any takers for the rest ? You can do it humanely if you like !

11. Gilgulim, Dibbukim and Golems

Talking of gilguls, I should like to quote a famous Chazal: letzonim afilu bemaysoson nikraim letzim.

Machshavah Cholent

It seems to me, based on my limited reading in such subjects, that machshavah, pnimiyus, jewish philosophy, hashkafah, kabalah etc, are all basically a similar phenomenon. Attempts by man to go beyond the mundane and create some kind of super-natural system of thought, either as a means to get closer to G-d, to understand G-d, or maybe just because its interesting.

Examples I can think of include the works of the Maharal, Rav Kook, Nefesh Hachayim, R YB Soloveitchik, AJ Heschel, all of Chasiddus etc. There doesn't seem to be much of this pre 12th? century though. Chazal did this a bit, but usually it was real short, just a pasuk and a quick 'homily'. Did no one before the Rishonim ever engage in this ?

Maybe some or all of this is somewhat divinely inspired, but its still a human creation. That doesn’t mean it doesn't have value, I just don't believe any of it came down from Sinai that’s all. When Rav Moshe Shapiro gives an awesome machshavah shiur for example, I am sure its valuable, but at the end of the day, its his invention, its not Torah Min HaShamayim. Take what appeals to you and leave the rest. (Maybe thats obvious ?)

The base side of this same tendency is all the stupid gilgulim / shaydim / kabalistic trickery / dibukim / superstition / mekubalim nonsense, which is also expressly forbidden by the Torah in my opinion, and has no value at all. Its amazing that the UO world is still so steeped in this. Are they still using pigeons in Eretz Yisrael to cure hepatitis ? Wasn't the whole point of Judaism to steer us away from all these kinds of things ?

The problem in the UO world is that they seem to be unable to distinguish between the good stuff and the bad stuff. The whole lot of it gets mushed together into one huge UO ideological cholent, and if you don't believe in any part of it, you are a kofer, or worse, a modernishe (chas vesholom).

Well, my advice is don't eat too much of that cholent, it's after effects can be quite, shall we say, unpleasant.

hareidi Ideology: Science Bad, Pagan Superstition Good

I said this in the comments to the previous post, but its something I have been wanting to say for a while. Chareidi ideology has become such a twisted cholent that they seem to have a problem in being able to distinguish the good from the bad.

Science is derided as being the treif product of 'atheist' reshoim, whereas all manner of pagan superstition has crept in via talmudic aggadatas read literally, kabbalah, mysticism, chasidut and the like and nobody says a word. Its unbelievable.

Dinosaurs are out, but devils, demons and dibbukim are in.

Is this really our religion ?

Machshavah Candy Mix

I recently blogged about Machshavah Cholent, an unpleasant stew of quality philosophical meat, mixed with a bunch of rather inferior ingredients, such as pagan barley and superstitious beans. Well, even if you are careful to avoid the cholent, its hard to avoid the candy mix.

In Machshavah Candyland, there are lots of enticing, nicely presented machshavah candies, and we are welcome to pick-n-mix as we like. A bit of Rambam liquorice here, some Ramban jellybeans there, some Chassidut, some GRA, some Kabbalah, some RYBS (but only if you are okay with that hechsher), and eventually we fill up our little Candyland 'sackit' with an inviting mix of delicious goodies.

But have you ever left one of those bags out in the heat for too long ? All the candies start to ooooooooooze together, and eventually you are left with one great big mass of inedible goo. Not pleasant at all, and a waste of 50 shekel to boot. Even my 2 year old won't eat that mess.

Seriously, this is what Jewish thought is in danger of becoming. Open any Artscroll, or listen to any shiur. All those great Jewish thinkers must be spinning in their graves. Rambam quoted on one page, on the next page some completely antithetical idea from the Ramban. The GRA here, the Besht there. Its one big heap of goo.

I can think of 3 responses to this:

1. Its all good
Judaism has evolved for the better. We are able to take opposing schools of thought and philosophies, and pick the good from the bad, synthesize thesis and antithesis, and ultimately it will all lead to a truer understanding of G-d, religion, or whatever it was that we were trying to understand in the first place.

2. Its all bad
We are a bunch of intellectual losers. Unable to distinguish one school of thought from another, we mix all sorts of incompatible ideas together, creating one heck of a mess. We need to decide whether we are rationalist Rambamnicks, or mystical Beshtnicks. We can't be both.

3. It makes no difference
All this machshavah stuff is man made anyway, so it really makes no difference whether we pick-n-mix or not. As long as we are thinking about this stuff and not wasting our time on movies, tv and other bittul zman, thats the main thing.

I honestly can't decide which of the above is correct. I recently went from 1, to 2 to 3, and now I'm not sure again. Maybe its 1. Or 2. Or maybe 3.

Darn it, I wish I could decide ! My sackit is geting gooey.

Systematic Hashkafah

I see dead people.

OK, to be honest, I don't. Except at management meetings, but thats different. Truth is, I don't think anyone has ever seen a dead person, or crossed over to the other side (except maybe Eliyahu Hanovi etc). I don't think anyone knows anything about what really happens after death.

A notion you read about a lot in literature about religion (as opposed to religious literature) is that one of the primary reasons for religion is fear of death. The theory is that mankind is so terrified of death that they made up religion to give them an afterlife.

I can't say whether thats true or not, however I am beginning to realize that our views of the afterlife are not exactly 100% either. There is plenty of machlokes about what actually happens. The Rambam had a very different view of things.

I remember all the immature questions we used to ask about techiyas hamesim. If you lose your legs in an accident, in techiyas hamesim do you get them back ? And if the answer is that you always get your original body back, then what about people who had abnormalities fixed or nose jobs ? Do they have to spend eternity with cleft palates, or worse, with great big honkers ? So maybe the answer is you get to choose your body for olam habah. But what if you lost your legs and then had a nose job ? Can you pick and mix ?

Okay, so maybe you get some kind of idealized spiritual body. But what happens if lets say chas vesholom you lost your spouse and remarried ? Then in Olam Habah your first spouse comes back and now you have a new one too. It will get very awkward. Especially for eternity. Maybe in olam habah you don't have a spouse. Hey, that might be heaven for some people !

Of course, the real answer to all these questions is we have no clue what really happens after you die. The Rishonim advance various ideas but they don't know for sure. And it seems to me that on many of the other big hashkafah questions there is plenty of machlokes too. Hasgachah Pratis is another good example. True, the current Gedolim / Chareidim have narrowed hashkafah down to one narrow set of 'acceptable' beliefs, but once you realize thats bogus, the whole field is wide open.

Perhaps thats why we don't get taught systematic Orthodox hashkafah in school or yeshivah. There isn't any.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Good Yom Tov

Mt. Sinai leaves us with some principles that anchor our emunah, apologetics for the actual occurance of events aside:

1) The entire Jewish people received the Torah together. Hence, no one has more rights to its reigns than anyone else.

2) The Sanhedrin Musmachim (Moshe) and the priesthood (Aharon and his sons) have a special place in the mix. That's all, no omniscient superhumans.

3) There were tribes but no sects. Everytime there were sects, stuff got ugly (Eigel, Korah, Meraglim, etc.)

4) The entire revelation was given to the entire Jewish people. No one had a secret knowledge that the others did not have.

5) The entire nation saw Moshe speaking to Hashem. No one had to "have faith" (read blind belief) later that Hashem had spoken to him. Hashem specifically avoided that.

6) The nations heard and they trembled. Hashem gave proof, because He, in his Wisdom, did not expect people to accept authority with mere blind adherence.

Good Yom Tov all. Let's receive the Torah that we were given.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Rebel's Dictionary

Tip of the hat to Ambrose Bierce

Atheist - Someone who does not believe in a god that he has created.

Monotheist - A person who believes in exactly one more god than the atheist.

Agnostic - Someone who is too wishy washy to say that he doesn't believe in G-d, among religious people, nor to say that he does, among staunch deniers.

Heretic - Someone from my community who disagrees with my religious views.

Infidel (pagan, goy)- Someone from another community who disagrees with my religious views.

Lashon Hara - When someone speaks negatively about me

Musar - When I speak negatively about someone else

Ahavas Yisrael - What those guys in that shul (of which we do not speak) don't have.

Chabad - a monomonastical cult of crazed amharatzim, with some customs similar to Judaism (colloquial: Misnagid)

Misnagid - a multimonastical platform for self aggrandizement and misguiding the Jewish people (colloquial: Chabad)

Charedishe - the fear that someone somewhere might be enjoying themselves, or having a rational or original thought (Menken, revised).

Takanas Olam (correction) - when I disagree with you

Machlokes - When you disagree with me.

Teefa Machshoves - Conversation that interests m

Sh'tus - Conversation that interests you

Moshiach - Some sort of thing that Chabad people talk about alot.

Creationism - The scientific notion that G-d created the world in 6 days as the Torah literally specifies.

Intelligent Design - A way to teach creationism in science class without sounding religious

Evolution - Change; an evil doctrine which states that things change over time. For instance, scientists claim that once there were large reptiles with arms and legs and possibly a high measure of intelligence, but they changed into birds. This a terrible heresy. The next thing such people will teach is that snakes once had arms and legs and could speak, but lost these limbs and abilities.

Toyre - Compilation of every Charedi holy book from Cheemish to the latest fatwa against some heretic or another.

Scientists - an evil cult of maniacal atheists, bent on destroying the universe (colloquial: Charedim)

Mathematics - The main tool of the scientists, forbidden black art (colloquial: Charedim)

Science - Religion of the scientist cult. Unlike a system of truth based on sagacious interpretation of ancient tradition, Science bases its judgement of truth on mere observation and facts.

acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, oriental medicine - True Toyre scientific healing arts. Doctors don't know everything!

America - an evil place where people are free to do anything they want. A place where, according to logic, people should fall off of the Earth.

Russia - A holy land.

Israel - no such place, though there is an evil gathering of chilonim on the ancient land that once used this name (colloquial: Charedim)

English - language of America, not fitting for a Toyre kind to learn such a language.

Yiddish -language of the entire Jewish world, except for Sefardim ... and Taimanim ... and most American, European and Russian Jews under the age of 60. Most of the Toyre is written in Yiddish.

Superstition - a belief in something irrational based on a failed ancient scientific fact, an illusion or a common fear. (See: mystical approach)

Evil eye, shaidim - Real malevolent forces of nature, solidified into reality by our infallible sages and their always literal pronouncements.

Failed science - Sciences that show no promise like modern medicine, archeology, or cosmology

successful science - Any science that is so obscure that I can say anything about it and only professors of that science would understand or be able to examine my statements, like quantum mechanics

Apologetics - Demonstrating the truth of Torah from successful science

Chasidishe - Something with which a chasidic believer agrees. A color which a chasidic observer likes. A practice of which a chasidic observer approves. (Antonym: apikursis)

oo=ee, aw=oo, o=oy, ee=i - Pronunciation guide for Yiddish, the true chasidishe language

Internet - No place for a nice Jewish kind, as expained on our website

modern - Concept that there are ideas, modes of dress, and scientific facts less than 1000 years old that might be valid. Forbidden philosophy.

Shtreimel - dead animal worn on the head

Mashke - What we must constantly consume for full Toyre understanding

Slifkin - He wrote books that were modern.

kefira - any religious concept with which I disagree

apikorsis - See kefira

Rambam - Greatest sage of all time, though some say he converted from Judaism to scientist, and he didn't really mean anything that he wrote.

Kabalah - Deep concepts of truth like how to make a goylem, how to exorcise a dybbyk, the secret behind the Ptolomyan astronomy and false observational facts in Toyre, and the undisputed source of the pidgeon cure for hepatitis (though no one is sure quite which page). Main dumping ground for all nonsensical concepts that are part of the creed. Fortunately, few people have enough real knowledge of kabalah to examine these assertions.

Mekubal - Israeli psychic performer

Miracle - a rare wonder that works against the laws of the physical world, even though they occur every day if we know how to look for them, and they may be couched discretely in natural occurances.

revelation - a revealing of G-dliness opening knowledge of G-dliness, though it may a hidden or uncomprehendable revelation.

Why Rebel?

Orthopraxy is the plague which follows Charedishkeit.

Looking in the Rebel's dictionary, parts of which we will publish here, IYH, Orthopraxy is a condition where the practitioner conducts himself or herself with Orthodox Jewish practices, like Shabbos, kashrus, and yoga classes, but does not believe in theological Judaism. Many of the past and present bloggers fall into this category, perhaps even began blogging because they fall in this category. (As an aside, you can only "fall" into a category. It rarely raises anyone up, to label them.) Nonetheless, I have tremendous sympathy for these folks, and the forces of modern Judaism that have driven them to this dark place, where appearances count for all, your heart is not your own, and in many cases, the threat of being "outed" constantly hangs overhead. Why would someone choose such a life? Because they had no choice.

Charedishkeit, a condition which you can read about in mishna Mesichta Sotah 22, and the attending Gemora, and in the introduction to Moreh Nevuchim, is peaking today in the frum world. This statement, borrowed from (1/20/05) sums it up.

One solution, offered up by HaRav HaGaon (HRHG) Uren Reich shlit"a (henceforth: HRHG), an up-and-coming star of the yeshiva velt who sounds like my kind of guy, deserves to be quoted verbatim:

If the gemara tells us a metziyus, it's emes veyatziv. There's nothing to think about. Anything we see with our eyes is less of a reality than something we see in the gemara. That's the emunah that a yid has to have.

Besides the theology, fundamentalism run amok, its practice seems to be every aphorism of Jewish exclusivity. Shlomo HaMelech instituted eruv, according to tradition, so that Jews could be together on Shabbos. Charedishkeit is increasingly about pride in who will not associate with, what we will not eat, what we must not read, what we may not think, who we would never marry, what our last name is, what our wife's maiden name is, and above all, about ahavas and achdus yisroel. It seeks to impose itself in every aspect of Jewish life, especially in education. By reading this, you have violated basic tenets of Charedishkeit, questioning authority, browsing the Internet and reading unauthorized materials.

The modern Jew is more educated than in the past. Education is more educated than in the past. In the Rambam's time, few people learned fundamentals of science, mathematics, philosophy, history or even basic things about their local culture. Today, an elementary school education rounds us well enough to ask some blaring questions. The Charedi offers only that such questions are bad, that the person asking them is troubled, that such questions are the result of bad external influences, that the Moreh Nevuchim was written for "Nevuchim", which is a bad thing to be. What is left for a modern Jew is a choice of paths in Orthopraxy:

1) Becoming more Charedi and pretending that there are no questions (secret Orthopraxy).
2) Orthopraxy, dodging the questions and getting on with "real" life.
3) Modern Orthodox, commiserating with others in the same boat (wannabe Orthopraxy) (not all MO are Orthoprax, but Orthopraxes that become MO as a solution to their predicament, fall into this category).
4) Conservative, the less guarded stage of Orthopraxy.
5) Frei out, but thanks for stopping by (true to oneself Orthopraxy).

But there is another way. It involves alot of research, unlearning, soul searching, extreme care, but most of all it involves the will to understand that you are under your own care, not the care of some celebrity that you may never have even met. Not under the care of a student of said celebrity that happened to befriend you. Sure, a mashpia can give you a third party assessment of your path, but ultimately, only you can determine what you will do, what you are comfortable with, and what your values are.

The 6th way is the way that every true soul search will conclude, the way of the rationalist approach. By relearning the mesora properly, as mesora, we refocus on what Judaism is truly all about. By not confusing the examples, the mada, with the lesson, the mesora, we can reclaim the sanity that once prevailed in Orthodox Judaism. By not trying to build outdated mada into some deep mystical mystery, we can reclaim our heritage, without going through the crazy hoops that drive what may be our best people up the 5 paths of Orthopraxy. This is the heresy of the Rambam. This is the heart of the rebellion.

Orthodox Judaism should not be about ceding your common sense to a misunderstood philosophy, one which you must uncomfortably rationalize to promote. It has become so, as we have built a strange culture, based on magic supermen, odd superstitions and scientific facts that are "not understood". In truth, they are understood. That is the problem. They are understood as they were 1000 or 2000 or 3000 years ago. They are understood as hashkafa, rather than as symbols, and parts of the real mesora are relegated to the dustbin. When we are young children, we get a reason befitting a young child. That reason is not intended to satisfy us throughout our life. It is only meant to get us to the next step of understanding, the next question. To try and cling to that childish teaching as a life-preserver assueres that we will never grow in our knowledge, our faith or our frumkeit. Clinging to that life-preserver is the heart and soul of "mystical approach" charedishkeit. I venture that most people, even very religious people, would like to sweep this under the carpet. It bothered the Rambam immensely, and it is clear to see why. It is driving us to a situation where we must either be Orthoprax or untrue to our own driving common sense. The only solution is to struggle to return Judaism, or at least a corner of it, to the rational approach of our sages.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Chabad and Elokistim

Via Tzemach Atlas:
A disturbing trend, Elokism. Apparently, there are arguably the seeds of a movemen within Chabad to believe that the Rebbe is one and the same with G-d, Rachmana Litzlan. The movement hasn't got much momentum, but its very presence is disturbing nonetheless. I am sure every Lubavitcher reading of this (and every other Jew as well) will fight furiously to keep these fanatics from making any sort of inroad anywhere. Remember, if this is true, they are using your good name for evil purposes, and thwarting any positive actions done in the name of Chabad.

There is already a discussion on