Monday, December 28, 2009

Between Reason and Faith, part I

From the introduction of Between Reason and Faith: Anti-Rationalism in Italian Jewish Thought 1250-1650 (The Hague: Mouton 1967), by Isaac E. Barzilay:

During the five centuries which separate Sa'adyah Gaon (d. 942) from Joseph Albo (d. 1444) a supreme effort was made by Jewish intellectuals to reinterpret Judaism in the light of Greco-Islamic philosophy and science which, from about the tenth century on, began to penetrate the Jewish world, exerting a marked influence on it. A tenacious loyalty to an ancient law and culture, on the one hand, and a growing awareness of the intellectual and scientific trends in the milieu, on the other hand, prompted such an interpretation and made it imperative. The creative minority within Jewry, it seems, could not respond to the challenge of the philosophical and scientific awakening in both the Islamic and, at a later period, the Christian world in any way other than by absorbing the new ideas and attempting to reconcile them with Judaism.

The product of this effort was, indeed, a new synthesis necessitated by the historical reality. This synthesis had twofold implications. On the one hand, the interaction with the wider intellectual currents of the time caused Judaism to emerge from its insularity, enriched it, and demonstrated its vitality and adaptability. On the other hand, this process was wrought with grave dangers as far as the spiritual survival of the Jewish people was concerned.

Since Jewry was deprived of the natural prerequisites for a normal national existence, its preservation in the Diaspora depended primarily on the integrity of its religious beliefs and practices, as well as on the preservation of its national hopes and aspirations. These foundations rationalism, by its very nature, tended to weaken and undermine. Although the spread of rational speculation and knowledge generally constitutes a positive force in the life of normal societies, enriching their ethos and elevating them to higher cultural levels, it has proven throughout exilic Jewish history to have had a rather adverse effect on the national Jewish ethos, evoking in the people centrifugal tendencies of social dissolution and religious decline.

Being both individualistic and universal, enlightened and skeptical, rationalism is bound to have an adverse effect on Judaism, an essentially national religion centered on the community rather than the individual, and based on practices rather than abstract creeds. Notwithstanding the fact that medieval Jewish rationalism evolved its concepts and attitudes within the framework of traditional Judaism, its character was essentially individualistic.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Messianic Wonders and Skeptical Rationalists

In yesterday's e-shiur, I referenced my article Messianic Wonders and Skeptical Rationalists which I published in Hakirah. You can download it here, and I'll add the link to the "free resources" section on the right.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rationalist Judaism: The Movie

In today's live video e-shiur, the topic will be Rationalist Judaism: Its Nature, Decline and Rebirth. It will be an overview of the entire topic, and I highly recommend it, if this topic interests you! To register, click here. If you can't make it to the class, you can purchase a recording of it afterwards.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And Man made Godolim in his image

Jonathan Rosenblum has a fascinating article on Cross-Currents , the latest in a series of iconoclastic pieces that he has been writing as of late. He states as follows:

1. The charedi system of mass kollel is a deliberate reform of traditional Orthodox society.

2. It is causing financial disaster and other problems.

3. It is unsustainable – bitachon won’t help.

4. The Gedolim know and accept that many people should be seeking work instead of learning, and that the “system” should promote this as a perfectly legitimate option.

5. One of the reasons why they don’t say so is they cannot do so without it sounding like the policy for the last sixty years is a mistake (I don’t understand why Rosenblum can say it without giving this impression, but the Gedolim can’t.)

6. Another reason is that they are afraid.

7. Another reason is that they would instantly be delegitimized as Gedolim. People only respect Gedolim as Gedolim when they say what people want to hear. “If you don’t agree with me, then you’re not a Gadol.”

Rosenblum should be given much credit for saying this. Charedi society is in desperate need of reform, and it is courageous of Rosenblum to say so. However, there are a number of disturbing questions that his article raises.

First of all, what does it mean that Gedolim are “afraid” of saying that which they consider true and important for helping people?! I say things that I believe are true and considerably less important for helping people, even at great personal cost (and even requiring me to file a police complaint about threats to my family). And I am not a Gadol – merely someone who was taught by his parents that integrity is of paramount importance. Rosenblum is apparently not afraid to say these things, either (at least on Cross-Currents). If someone refrains from saying something that needs to be said, on the grounds that he is afraid of people, does that not show that his yiras bnei adam exceeds his yiras Shamayim? This would be a severe deficiency in any person – kal v’chomer for someone in a position of leadership. And if the Gedolim sometimes are motivated by fear of the kanna'im, how can anyone trust their leadership? If what Rosenblum says is true, this is an extraordinarily damning indictment of the Gedolim.

Second, with regard to Rosenblum’s comments about how people only respect and follow Gedolim insofar as they say things that they can agree with – this is true. People always claim that the Gedolim agree with them, and are loathe to say otherwise. But perhaps this is equally true of Rosenblum himself. In this article, Rosenblum claims that the Gedolim secretly agree with him that the kollel system is deeply problematic and should be radically changed. How do we know this to be true? I think it is entirely likely that this is only true of the more Americanized Gedolim that Rosenblum is in touch with – people such as Rav Aharon Feldman and the Novominsker. But I highly doubt that Rav Shmuel Auerbach, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel and Rav Michel Lefkowitz feel the same way.

Unfortunately, I have personal experience with a case of Rosenblum re-creating the Gedolim in an image with which he is more comfortable. In a public lecture to a mixed group of modern Jews and non-Jews, he claimed that the Gedolim who banned my books are not (narrow-minded, primitive) people who object to the idea of the universe being millions of years old or to the Talmud being fallible in science. Rather, they objected to my “tone” - the dangerous rationalism of someone who is arrogantly trying to appropriate Rambam’s approach and innovate new paths in Judaism. But the truth is that clearly the majority of those Gedolim who banned my books, and especially those more prominently involved, such as Rav Elyashiv, Rav Wachtfogel, Rav Shiner, and Rav Moshe Shapiro (who is a rebbe of Rosenblum) were indeed objecting to the idea of the universe being millions of years old and Chazal being fallible in science. They said so explicitly! But it is uncomfortable to Rosenblum to admit that, so instead he publicly re-creates the Gedolim in his image (see my letter to him here – he did not reply.)

As I have said before, I think it is far more disrespectful to deliberately distort someone’s position than to dispute it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

EJF Update

On December 14th, EJF announced that Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtogel was taking over from Rabbi Leib Tropper as Chairman of the Rabbinic Committee of the Eternal Jewish Family. It also included an announcement by Rabbi Reuven Feinstein expressing enthusiasm that Rav Wachtfogel had agreed to accept the position. My sources tell me that there was also a letter from Rav Steinman to Rav Wachtfogel, wishing him success upon the appointment.

Four days later, on December 18th, Matzav.com published a letter from Rav Wachtfogel claiming that the "rumors" that he had accepted the appointment were "in fundamental error" and "utterly without basis."

I am glad that Rav Wachtfogel will not be accepting the position.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Orthodox Biologists Do

The following was left as a comment by "MJ" to an earlier post. I thought it would be valuable to give it prominence as a post:

Science is a process of inference to the best explanation. A hypotheses is a current best explanation and experimental data is but one way we try to verify whether such explanations fit with data.

In that sense evolutionary theory is one of the best explanations as it provides a unified explanation of data gathered from a variety of fields using a variety of different methods and has suggested programs of further research that have resulted in further discoveries and explanations that cohere with, and thus support the evolutionary meta-explanatory framework.

Having personally worked side-by-side at the bench with half a dozen other orthodox biologists and having studied with others and after having been professionally and personally acquainted with yet more, I can say without reservation that the vast majority of us who believe that standard evolutionary theory is the best explanation and that attempts at so-called reconciliation with Torah is unnecessary and foolish. We do not write articles on Torah and science, we do not publish in Tradition or the Jewish Observer or even attend the UOJS conferences anymore since they became nothing more than weekend getaways for MDs and DDSs to get CMA credits.

We simply publish in scientific journals like all our colleagues in the small sub-fields that most laypeople would probably find rather boring. We do not get involved in these intrareligious fights because they are driven solely by religious dogmatic considerations which we do not share in by laypeople with religious dogmatic agendas who will not be persuaded by argument or by evidence.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Things I Hate About Blogging #1 and #2

#1. When I write for publication in a book, journal, etc., I go over it again and again, I show it to others for their feedback first, I chew over it for a long time, tweak it and tweak it, etc. When I write on a blog, it's not possible to write with that kind of care. That's a problem with blogging in general.

#2. I open myself on my blog for a frank discussion of my view on a variety of sensitive issues, and I do it under my own name. This is even though I am a target of attack for many people, of all sorts (which in one case led me to having to make a police report). But many of the people who comment and argue with me do not do so under their own name. So they get to try to catch me out/ insult me under the safety of anonymity.

The combination of the above two is what really frustrates me about a comment on an earlier post, by a person who does not give his full name, and who makes a comment about my not giving my opinion on something. I've been quite busy (baruch Hashem) and have not had the time/head to formulate a proper response. Sure, I could toss something out off the top of my head. But why should I? Since I am the one putting my name to my comments, shouldn't I have the right (even the obligation) to refrain from responding until I have time to do so properly?

Rabbi Leib Tropper Resigns

Readers may remember an earlier post about Rabbi Leib Tropper and Eternal Jewish Family. Rabbi Tropper just announced his resignation. Unfortunately, Rabbi Tropper's replacement, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, maintains the same views as Rabbi Tropper, regarding the acceptance of the antiquity of the universe and of scientific errors in the Talmud placing one beyond the pale of acceptable Jewish beliefs (Rabbis Tropper and Wachtfogel were two of the figures primarily involved in the ban of my books).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Following the Majority

In response to the following comments to earlier posts:

"what do you make of the far greater number of scientists who consider it true?"

What about the far greater number of shittos that say chazal's science was true?

"Personally, I am far from an expert on climate change. But I do know how to determine the majority opinion of experts, and I see no reason to dispute them any more here than with the age of the universe."

The problem is, R' Slifkin, if we applied a similar process of reasoning to those gedolei HaTorah who banned your books, we might argue that their view of a 6000 year old universe, etc. is the "correct one," (at least with regards to what constitutes the correct reading of Genesis) and your views are "fringe," and hence not true.

I would like to make the following points:

1. In the times of the Rishonim, the overwhelming majority view was that Chazal's statements about the natural world are not infallible.

2. In the times of the Rishonim, the overwhelming majority view was that we should interpret Bereishis in such a way that it does not conflict with proven science.

3. You don't need to follow the majority if you are qualified to have your own opinion!

4. If you are not qualified to form your own opinion, it makes sense to follow the majority of those who are qualified to form an opinion, all else being equal. There can be factors which change this.

5. Many people, myself included, do not agree to the popular view that great Talmudists and halachists automatically qualify as great experts on the interface of Jewish theology and science.

(This is not a post about climate change - please keep the comments away from that topic. If you want to discuss climate change, do so on the earlier posts.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yated on Global Warming

"Is Global Warming a Scientific Hoax?" by Yaakov Kornreich. Yated Ne'eman (U.S. Edition), December 4th 2009.

(Thanks to Baruch for sending me the article. I don't know anything about Yaakov Kornreich, but according to what I found on the internet, he published a book for NCSY in 1970 entitled Jewish Youth Monthly, A Science and Torah Reader. Here is a small extract from the Yated article.)

The Evolution Analogy

Global warming has been promoted as science, but in fact it is no more scientific than evolution, which has also been promoted by the liberal, secular left as a means with which to try to discredit all forms of traditional religious belief.

While evolution had its roots in the relatively crude scientific theories promoted by Charles Darwin 150 years ago, it has been promoted ever since by committed secularists as a weapon with which to attack the credibility of the Torah Sheb'ksav and to heap ridicule on the simple faith of people.

Religious scientists have proposed numerous alternative theories which are as consistent with the biological and archaeological evidence discovered since Darwin's time as the current version of evolution, which requires as much faith to believe as any religion.

Similarly, global warming has been zealously promoted by the far left wing for reasons which have very little to do with the findings of science, and which are, in fact, driven by its political ideology.
Perhaps global warming has indeed been promoted for reasons driven by political ideology rather than science. On the other hand, the same is most certainly true for the Yated's opposition.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Climate Change Skeptics

People like package deals. When you are a part of a community, it's nice to be able to adopt all of that community's attitudes and values. So if your group of people is anti-abortion and anti-Obama, and they also turn out to dispute climate change, well, let's join in that, too.

That is one theory as to why many Orthodox Jews are dismissive of global warming. Jonathan Rosenblum knocks it here, here, and here (where he accuses others of not being empiricists!) and R. Avi Shafran expresses skepticism here and here (where he quotes Michael Crichton?! I loved Jurassic Park, but I would hardly cite Crichton as an authority).

Another possibility is that it may be part of a general attitude of skepticism towards science. With evolution being the hottest topic in science for religious people, and the overwhelming consensus of scientists being in favor of it, it is natural that anti-evolutionists would feel a need to attack the scientific edifice in any way that they can.

A third possibility is that it has to do with the same mistaken theological worldview that led Sefer HaChinnuch, Malbim and others to deny the possibility that species go extinct. One trusts that God is taking good care of the world, and that we don't need to take responsibility (cf. R. Shafran writing about natural catastrophes being prevented by "Divine Guidance.")

What I don't believe is that this dismissiveness is the result of clear, rational assessment of the evidence and of the scientific consensus. As demonstrated with evolution, these people do not have shining records with such things. And just compare Rosenblum's presentation of surveys of scientific opinion with that presented on Wikipedia. In any case, the majority of scientists clearly believe in global warming, and I seem to recall Charedim being very into the idea of following the majority, or even being yotzei according to all views - not dismissing the majority in favor of the minority.

Whatever the cause of their antipathy towards climate change (I would like to hear readers' suggestions), the recent scandal over severely inappropriate behavior by some climate scientists is bound to have been greeted with glee, and we can probably expect an article to appear on Cross-Currents soon.

Personally, I am far from an expert on climate change. But I do know how to determine the majority opinion of experts, and I see no reason to dispute them any more here than with the age of the universe. I can't see a secular (or any other) bias that would account for their conclusions, while I can certainly see the flaws with the anti-global warming crowd. In addition, it makes perfect sense to me that the amount of chemicals we put into the atmosphere would change it! With regard to the scandal of climategate, this looks to me to be the same as Piltdown Man or Haeckel's embryos: utterly shameful, but it doesn't mean that the overall model is false. One has to look at the context in which the emails were written, and in general to look at the overall picture.

I think that it would be wise to remember the words of the Midrash:
“Look at the work of God, for who can rectify that which he has damaged” (Ecclesiastes 7:13) – At the time when God created Adam, He took him around the trees of the Garden of Eden, and He said to him, “Look at My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! Everything that I created, I created for you; take care that you do not damage and destroy My world, for if you damage it, there is no one to repair it afterwards!” (Midrash Koheles Rabbah 7:19)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Come Meet Me at the Bet Shemesh Book Fair

Beit Shemesh Authors book Fair

יריד סופרי בית שמש

In Memory of Charles H. Bendheim זצ"ל

Thursday 10th December 2009

יום חמישי כ"ד כסלו תש"ע

7.30pm

Come meet local authors and enlarge your library

בא להפגש עם סופרים מקומיים

R’ Pinchus Bar Giora

ר' פינחס בר גיורא

David Guedalia

דוד גדליה

R’ Dov Lipman

ר' דב ליפמן

R’ Natan Slifkin

ר' נתן סליפקין

R’ Jonathan Duker

ר' יונתן דוקר

Shoshana Kesner

שושנה קסנר

R’ Zvi Miller

ר' צבי מילר

R’ David Spektor

ר' דוד ספקטור

R’ Ari Enkin

ר' ארי אנקין

Dov Krulwich

דב קרולוויץ

R’Yaakov Montrose

ר' יעקב מונטרוז

Penina Taylor

פנינה טיילור

R’ Yehonasan Gefen

ר' יהונתן גפן

Eli Lepon

ר' אלימלך ליפן

R’ Haim Perlmutter

ר' חיים פרלמוטר

R’ Tal Moshe Zwecker

ר' טל משה צווקר

Gita Gordon

גיטא גורדון

Shoshana Lepon

שושנה ליפן

R’ Moshe Pinchuk

ר' משה פינצוק


R’ Karmi Gross

ר' קרמי גרס

R’Moshe Lichtman

ר' משה ליכטמן

Riva Pomerantz

ריבה פומרנץ


Menorat Hamaor Shul

6 Nachal Maor, Ramat Beit Shemesh

בית כנסת מנורת המאור, נחל מאור 6, רמת בית שמש

Refreshments will be served

כיבוד קל


(Note: My books will be on sale at a discount)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tech Help Needed!

Note: This is nothing to do with Rationalist Judaism.

I am having a technical problem with my computer and I was wondering if there are any computer gurus who read this blog and can help!

I am trying to upgrade from Windows Vista x64 Home Premium to Windows 7 x64 Home Premium. Compatibility is fine, everything goes fine until the last stage, when it gets to 62% in putting in the new files etc. Then it reboots, says that it's starting services, then says that the installation failed and it's rolling back to Vista. This is NOT the notorious "continuous reboot cycle" that's all over the net. Nor is it the problem that Microsoft describes here. Instead, looking at the error log (reproduced below), it seems to be a problem with a bluetooth driver - it says "BthMig: Failed to migrate bthport keys, bailing out." But my computer has no bluetooth hardware or software that I know of. I found this exact problem discussed here, but with no solution proposed. If anyone can help, I would be most grateful!

2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Number of Enumerated Devices = 11[gle=0x00000103]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:20:35, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Number of Enumerated Devices = 11[gle=0x00000103]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:20:38, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Number of Enumerated Devices = 11[gle=0x00000103]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:21:10, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Number of Enumerated Devices = 11[gle=0x00000103]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=00000002x[gle=0x80092004]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:21:13, Error Failed to find driver file path. Error=ffffffffx[gle=0x00000003]
2009-12-03 18:37:16, Error [0x0808fe] MIG Plugin {e0cbf06c-cd8b-4647-bb8a-263b43f0f974}: BthMig: Failed to migrate bthport keys, bailing out

Ten Bites

There was a game going around Facebook in the last few days, in which people would give lists of ten types of "something" that the...