Thursday, March 21, 2013

Two Sentences of Inspiration


For many rationalists and skeptics in today's era, it's increasingly difficult to summon inspiration and faith with regard to Judaism. Torah codes and other outreach proofs just backfire. And when a critical eye is turned to the Torah and Talmud, many difficult questions arise. I constantly receive inquiries from people who are disillusioned and deeply distressed.

Personally, I am able to draw inspiration from the extraordinary Divine Providence that I feel with regard to how my own life has unfolded. But, aside from this being rather non-rationalist, it's not something that can be expected to inspire other people!

However, there is something else that I find extraordinarily inspirational. And it's not some sort of cute shtick, like a Scriptural encoding for Pi or a Midrashic reference to an unusual manner of frog reproduction. Instead, it is a very basic and fundamental part of Jewish history. Furthermore, notwithstanding the disturbing phenomenon of many millions of people that deny it, it is factually true.

The matter I am referring to was mentioned today by President Obama. I'm no fan of Obama, and the reference to Israel in his 2009 Cairo speech was severely disappointing. Still, unlike some people I know, I don't consider him to be Satan incarnate, either. In his speech upon arriving in Israel, he beautifully encapsulated the matter to which I am referring in two sentences:
“More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.”

And there you have it. A simple but mind-blowing historical account: an ancient home, centuries of exile and the worst, most irrational persecution in history, followed by the extraordinary return to the land and creation of a vibrant country. (And if you study some political history, you realize just how extraordinary it was that the State of Israel came into being and survived the War of Independence.) Is it not an astounding history?

It's tragic that many Jews, who will proudly point to the Hand of God in everything from missing a train to the landing of a locust on a table, entirely downplay Providence when it comes to the return of the Jewish People to their homeland and the creation of the State of Israel. It's far and away the most extraordinary and inspirational part of the Jewish experience.

92 comments:

  1. Your "non-rationalist" explanation sounds very rational to me!

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  2. Just because something is astounding, doesn't mean that it could only have happened as a result of the intervention of a supernatural being.
    That still requires a leap of faith...

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  3. My father often said that the surest proof of God's existence is the endurance of the State of Israel despite the mismanagement of the people running the country.
    But I could quibble with the speech. First of all, it wasn't 3000 years ago. It's been the last 3500 years non-stop. There has always been a Jewish presence in the Land. People use the argument that the Jews were gone and only the Arabs were here way too much.

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  4. Thank you for the positive post :-)

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  5. Mark Twain on the state of eretz yisrael in 1867:

    “...A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

    A hundred and 146 years later, and look what we've built. While it can all be explained as ordinary, just like the book of Esther, it also lends itself to seeing the fulfillment of prophesy. That's how God works, miracles are hidden. It's up to us to see them. So, it's true faith can never be completely rational. However, the recognition that a miracle both now and in the past was not necessarily an objective observation is hugely more rational when compared to the views held by the mystic Jew.

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  6. I'm a fan, Rabbi Slifkin. HOWEVER, this post is an extreme example of the confirmation bias.

    Think about what you just said: The Jews have survived despite the worst persecutions possible; therefore, an all-good, all-powerful being must be watching over us. You see what you did? You completely ignored the evidence that goes AGAINST your hypothesis of an all-good, all-powerful being watching over us (i.e. the torture, the pogroms, the forced exiles, the holocaust, etc) and you cherry picked the part (i.e. that our people still have an identity and a land) that confirms your hypothesis and said, "You see? The good L-rd's watching over us."

    To beat a dead horse, the Jewish survival argument is:

    A: We've suffered and no divine being stopped it
    B: Yet we still exist as a people and have a land
    Therefore C: A divine being must be working His magic.

    But what happened to A! "Well, there is an explanation, we just don't know what it is." Then say that for B, too!

    Chag kasher v'same'ach! :)

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  7. So why is it that thousands of years of pious Jews davening every day for a return to Yerushalyim didn’t produce results, while less than a century of political maneuvering by secular Jews in the age of nationalism produced an independent Jewish state?

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  8. @Mighty Garnel Ironheart:
    I think you're splitting hairs-he said *more than* 3000 years, and he never denied the continuous Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael-but it is a fact that most of us were exiled, and all of us were persecuted.

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  9. Every word of this post truly resonated with me. Not a day goes by that I don't take a look at the gorgeous land we live in, and thank G-d for allowing me to live in times when we are privileged enough to be here in Israel in a time of freedom. The rationalist aspect of the post also really spoke to me.

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  10. freethinking jew gets it wrong. Rabbi Slifkin talks about faith and inspiration not proof of G-d. The distinction is extremely important. inspiration and faith is rooted in emotion not (primarily) in intellect. Is there room for emotion in a rationalist person? I say yes - as long as the distinction between intellectual proof and something that "speaks to you" remains clear.

    Personally, long after I dismissed discovery-style proofs in my childhood, really the only thing that does often bring out emotional faith in me is the story of the Jewish people and the miracle of the State of Israel. I would never use it as a proof of G-d - it stands on its own and you either feel it or you don't.

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  11. "So why is it that thousands of years of pious Jews davening every day for a return to Yerushalyim didn’t produce results, while less than a century of political maneuvering by secular Jews in the age of nationalism produced an independent Jewish state?"

    Because "davening piously" on its own and hoping for geulah to turn up is not what Hashem has ever told us to do. We are supposed to do what the secular zionists did, not in every detail, but broadly speaking. And we see that when we stop staring at our navels and get up and try to fulfill our national mission as laid out in the Torah, even in a very incomplete fashion, we succeed wildly against the odds.

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  12. Aharon Haber, the problem is when Rabbi Slifkin and you use the innocent term "inspiration" and say Jewish survival "inspires" you, you're really saying it gives you reason to believe in divine providence.

    R. Slifkin: "It's tragic that many Jews ... entirely downplay Providence when it comes to the return of the Jewish People to their homeland and the creation of the State of Israel. It's far and away the most extraordinary and inspirational part of the Jewish experience."

    You: "Long after I dismissed discovery-style proofs ..., the only thing that does often bring out emotional faith in me is the story of the Jewish people and the miracle of the State of Israel." "Emotional faith" in what? In divine providence, no? You're saying Jewish survival gives you reason to believe in divine providence.

    Once you make that claim, we can all use the tools of logic, reason, and the need for evidence to assess whether there is any good reason to believe, have "emotional faith", or whatever that Jewish history has in any way been influenced by an invisible, all-good, all-powerful being. As I pointed out, it would seem a critical look at this question would suggest not.

    Words like "emotional faith" and "inspiration" are not cities of refuge allowing us to make claims about what is true that are not based on sound reasoning.

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  13. Dear R Slifkin,

    It is true that it is inspirational, but is it sufficient to make you beat up to death a woman who cheated on his husband by throwing stones at her or various others lichora irational laws that the Torah has?

    What is supposed to be the hope for those who try to find the right path if reason is not the approach?

    Let me answer this question in the most contreversial way for this blogg.

    If the Torah is true, and it clearly does not make any sense rationaly, then we have just another method to approach its supossed divinity, and that is mysticism.

    Jewish literature is very extense about this approach, the rebbes of lubavitch talk about some kind of knowledge that sorrounds us and therefore cannot be explained by reason but is just true beacuse of some kind of transcendental experience.

    Also other cultures talk about this knowledge describing it as the most sublime of all, for example buddhism and induism. This gives support for the jewish claim because other cultures that were never in touch with us claim the same thing.

    I think that reason is very effective in some areas, but when it is implemented for others it is the straight way for uncertainty.

    Let me say and my provisional conclusion that mysticism might be the only hope for those seeking the truth.

    Please comment on what I have written, maybe I will chamge my position

    Kind Regards




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  14. Inspiration is a wonderful thing... if you put it to good use. If the history of the Jewish people inspires a person, that's fantastic, but if we then go back to our petty squabbling and in-fighting are we not undermining that selfsame story?

    Whatever it is about yiddishkeit that truly heartens a person, let him, or her, use that sense of encouragement to uplift others and increase our collective avodas Hashem.

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  15. Yehuda said...
    > Because "davening piously" on its own and hoping for geulah to turn up is not what Hashem has ever told us to do.

    That’s not what I was taught. I was taught in school that when Klal Yisroel is worthy Moshiach will come and the Bayis Shlishi will descend from shomayim on a bed of fire.

    But to follow through with your reasoning, does that mean that Hashem favors a-religious or even anti-religious people who get up and do something over those who piously keep all the mitzvos and ask Him to miraculously save them?

    Elias Cohen said...
    > Let me say and my provisional conclusion that mysticism might be the only hope for those seeking the truth.

    How do you evaluate the truth of a “mystical” proposition?

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    1. G3,

      The trascendental experience itself makes selfevident that whatever expeience you had is truth.

      The only one who can evaluate the trascendental experience is the one who had it.

      The tupical skeptical question would be: how do you know it is not a allusination? To that I would answer the following: when I do any mundane affair like going to the supermarket, watching tv, etc i never experience this unity that i am feeling right now, therefore it must be that whatever method i used to meditate is the cause for the unity that i am feeling (unity is just an example)

      Anyhow there is a way of rationalizing the trascendental experience without having you to actually have it. That would be reading about the trascendental experience of meditators while usong the same meditation. I they all experience something trascendental then this would suggest that it is in fact true.

      There is a book written by Aryeh Kaplan called Kabbalah and Meditation. That is a good source to have an idea of the level of Knowledge Israel sages Have.




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  16. I agree fully with R' Natan's viewpoint. I would add, however, that the continued existence of the Jewish people for 3.5 millenia is even more striking than the resurrection of a Jewish state after 2 millenia of statelessness. The close sequence of the large-scale destruction of the holocaust and the formation of a Jewish state is not an accident of history. Had there not been a holocaust, the Jewish state would not have appeared when it did. Call it divine compensation - not that the state cancels out the deaths and suffering of the holocaust, or call it guilt and sympathy felt by many nations. But that was involved in the UN vote on the partition plan.

    The divine hand acting in history can be seen, for those who are so inclined, in the more recent dissolution of the Soviet Union. The USSR saw a rapid succession of leaders; first Breshnev died, followed shortly thereafter by the deaths of his successors, Andropov and Chernyenko, and, finally, the rise of Gorbachov to power. The latter marked the accession of a humanist and pragmatic leader who irreversibly altered the Soviet system so that the satellite nations and the USSR components were allowed to break away.

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  17. It's not too often that R' Slifkin uses his blog to help boost his readers' emunah. And look what he gets for his efforts!

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  18. Dear Free Thinking Jew,

    You said: " words like emotional faith and inspiration are not cities of refuge..."

    If by emoional faith you mean blind faith, then you are right. But when we talk about faith in mysticism it is a a trascendental experience that tells you that this is true although you cannot express it through words. All trascendental experience by definition, cannot be expressed, but for the one that is experiencing its an undeniable truth.

    Regarding business reason is a good tool, regarding matters of the divine meditation and purity is the tool

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  19. I was taught in school that when Klal Yisroel is worthy Moshiach will come and the Bayis Shlishi will descend from shomayim on a bed of fire.

    It's not exactly surprising that your school taught you the non-rationalist approach of the Rishonim of Ashkenaz. But that does not negate the approach taken by others.

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  20. To ignore Barack Obama until he admits the dishonesty of a fictional nation is the only course for those that love and keep Torah.

    Our existence is not a high school popularity contest.

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  21. Great post. In addition, simply from perusing Jewish history, it's easy to come to the conclusion that the Jews are different in a fundamental way -- everything that happens to us, happens in Biblical proportions. (The exile, the Shoah, our influence on other major religions, anti-Semitism, the worldwide obsession with Israel, the enormously outsized contribution of Jews and Israelis to science, medicine and most other fields, etc.) Sociological or historical explanations just aren't adequate.

    I don't think personalized Divine Providence and rationalism are really at odds with one another. Even Rambam says that when one gets pricked by a thorn it is a punishment from Above. You don't have to believe everything is bashert to believe that many things are (such as major life changes.)

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  22. "or call it guilt and sympathy felt by many nations. But that was involved in the UN vote on the partition plan."

    1. This is a trite claim often bandied about but has anyone actually proved this to be true? Can anyone present evidence that clearly demonstrates that "guilt" influenced the UN vote on partition? There was well-documented (or documented enough, at least) political wheeling and dealing, global implications for superpowers, etc but where is all the supposed guilt feelings that motivated that outcome? I think this is just another false claim of arab propaganda that seeks to tie the state of Israel to the holocaust as a way to paint it as victimizing arabs for the crimes of Europeans. And people have gradually come to accept the lie after it's been repeated enough times.


    2. The state of Israel would exist even if the UN voted no on the Partition Plan. Shocking? I am absolutely sure of it. Hindsight and political rhetoric (which came to use it as a "proof" for Israel's justice) inflate the importance of that vote.
    (or, at least, it would "very likely exist" since of course I don't have a crystal ball. But reading the historical circumstances really don't suggest it all depended on that vote. It was nice validation and gave people further confidence, but it wasn't the end all or be all and the Jewish underground was not about to lay down its arms if the UN voted against a Jewish state).

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  23. Whenever I hear someone talk about irrational faith – or belief – I fear for our safety! Belief is a place where thinking stops.

    Nazis had a lot of inspiring moments (before WWII.) They had beliefs.

    So did Communists. And like all belief systems – it depended on indoctrination, manipulation and the omitting, suppressing, and distorting of all outside information that would engage the rational faculty in evaluating the beliefs.

    The persecution of Jews, blacks, women – all due to beliefs.

    The receding of these persecutions was due to the end of superstition, the rational look at beliefs, the Enlightenment.

    Jewish life has been safer since “belief” took a back seat to the Age of Reason.

    Belief can get you anywhere: to becomeing a Nazi, orthodox Jew, KKK member, Hare Krishna.

    Isn’t that ironic?

    Tuvia

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    1. @Tuvia March 24, 2013 at 8:18 AM

      You make a compelling point below about the comparison between control of freedom of thought and information in Soviet communism and Orthodoxy. And I think it's certainly a good thing to emphasize empirical, evidence-based thinking over magical, supernatural thinking. That said...

      1. Given the kind of harmful manifestations of religious fundamentalism in the world today (including within Judaism), I'd hardly qualify R. Slifkin's ascribing Providence to the great return to Israel as anything other than benign belief. He's not saying "therefore" this gives us the right to do x, y and z. He's saying it's an occasion for gratitude.

      2. Do you think the Nazis or the Soviets saw themselves as operating from a nonrational premise? Of course not! One can after all use logic and reason to rationalize the most barbaric acts of violence and oppression. So in fact we DO need belief - belief in benevolence, in it being "good" to seek the welfare, freedom and happiness of all people, in the value of human life.

      Reason alone is not sufficient to carry the day. More importantly you need a law/ethos of freedom and benevolence. And that is entirely compatible (in theory, and in R. Slifkin's sense) with the belief in Providence.

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  24. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

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  25. It would be interesting to trace how "The Three Oaths" went from a drasha at the back of Kesubos to a principle of faith that is yehareg v'al ya'avor and how people who think so explain that all three were fulfilled in the last 100 years.

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  26. "But to follow through with your reasoning, does that mean that Hashem favors a-religious or even anti-religious people who get up and do something over those who piously keep all the mitzvos and ask Him to miraculously save them? "

    Short answer: if you are sitting in Poland, davening piously and waiting for geulah to turn up, you are NOT keeping all the mitzvoth.

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  27. Elias Cohen your first point was like a breath of fresh air. As a BT i was invited once to some holy guy on a fri night. We came to speak about the Rambam, rationalism and other related topics.... He took out his old musty Rambam and read out for me a few examples of where the rambam was most irrational.
    It was then that i realised that the Rambam was a rationalist like Darwin was a creationalist!
    I always felt there is one thing the Briskers and the Slifkinites have in common.....when it comes to the rambam, they both do alot of cherry picking!

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  28. "does that mean that Hashem favors a-religious or even anti-religious people who get up and do something over those who piously keep all the mitzvos and ask Him to miraculously save them? "

    It would have been better if those people were also Shomer Shabbos, but yes, Hashem did favor them.

    Chazal say the same thing about Omri the King of Israel - he was an idol-worshiper, but Hashem saw fit to give him a 4 generation dynasty, because he built a city in Israel.

    In our generation, when one can be Shomer Shabbos and also build cities in Israel, is there any excuse to not try to find favor in Hashem's eyes by doing both?

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  29. R' Natan - even before the State of Israel, our very survival was a cause of wonder.

    I believe it was Alfred Toynbee, not a friend of the Jews by any means, who said that his theories of history explain everything, except us.

    But now when the very traffic jams of Chol HaMoed fulfill explicit prophecies ... it may not be "proof", but it is certainly support for the idea that Hashem runs the world.

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  30. Rabbi Slifkin,
    Please - this post was really not fair. With your history of building a Judaism on rationalist pillars, you cannot simply allude to "inspiration" by pointing to one that is supposedly rational (since it is based on historically accepted facts) without explaining why you need inspiration in the first place and what role inspiration plays in a rationalist universe. Scientists do not need inspiration, nor do any other academics. Why should you? Is it rational to hold your beliefs or not? You have been getting away with ignoring this question for far too long. If it is rational, why do so few members of the human race agree with you, considering that they have accepted other rational propositions? If it is not rational, on what basis should anyone believe it? Whatever basis that is, why wouldn't it lead to other non-rational beliefs, such as those you consider mystical? This has always been the giant hole in "Slifkinism" and it is high time you took it up.
    [As far as I understand it, your primary goal in all this is to "weed out" a lot of nonsense and restore a *more* rationalist approach to Torah and that you are not an absolute rationalist, discounting all propositions that are not rational. Yet you have never showed your real cards, presenting the basis for your own non-rational beliefs and for non-rational belief in general. With Pesach upon us, a holiday known as the foundation for emunah, is it not the perfect time for you to open up? Throwing us a bone of inspiration is much appreciated, but are you satisfied "constantly receiv[ing] inquiries from people who are disillusioned and deeply distressed"? You've done a great service (for argument's sake - I'm not sure if that's true) in modeling a more rigorously intellectual Judaism. Perhaps you now have an obligation to model and teach the foundations of belief in G-d and His relationship with the People of Israel as provided in the Talmudic tradition of His Torah.]

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  31. Natan Slifkin wrote:

    “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law”
    -

    I know my Nazi reference is disgusting, but I’m just trying to make a point.

    The education of the orthodox is built to confirm the tradition. It’s a religious education built to keep people religious and it is not modern in that way.

    It is Soviet communism style. Communism (they said) is superior and obviously true. The West is decadent and materialistic and classist.

    Only under their rules, you could not ever travel abroad to see for yourself. You could not read information from the outside, unless it is filtered by Pravda and Tass. If you didn’t agree that communism is obviously true and superior, you went to a forced labor camp. All radio, newspapers and tv were state run – communist party run.

    It was a closed system. That is what the Amish have, the orthodox Jews have. It’s what the Nazis instituted. All outside information is subject to suppression, omission, and distortion.

    The other style of society, what we call the modern world, the West? People come and go as they please. They argue freely with others about politics, history, ideology. There is freedom of the press, of speech, of belief. You can stroll into a bookstore and read everything from Das Kapital to Ayn Rand. You can exercise your faculty of REASON.

    The orthodox world is far, far closer to the communist style. But you are a “happy” member of the party – so you just don’t care!

    I get it. And I love traditional orthodox living – but that doesn’t make my critique wrong.

    Tuvia

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  32. And by the way, the UN didn't help the Jewish armed forces (hagana plus absorbed irgun and lechi) defeat the Arab Legion, the other arab armies, or even the British helping the arabs in early battles, after that celebrated vote declared an international acceptance of partition. The relevance of the vote becomes difficult to discern especially in light of the discussion here where miraculous Jewish historical revival is associated with inner feelings of emotional faith - UN played almost no role in any of that. Except perhaps as just another detail of "circumstances falling together" but even without the UN vote, they would eventually have to fend off arab armies and the british would eventually have left.

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  33. Well surely the point is that the survival of the Jews and return to their homeland despite all the persecution (all or most other historical analogues with similar experiences having disappeared) over such a long period of time is what is amazing.
    However, R Slikfin, do you find this to be evidence of divine intervention in history? If so, isn't this a hugely non-materialist (and thus non rational in your frame of reference) account? In fact, taking the question further, why in fact are you not a materialist if you are so wedded to rationalism?

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  34. Also, to speak to your point of the miraculousness of the return of the Jews to Israel.

    It is interesting, but it is not (I think ) any more “miraculous” than some other wild stories that are also true.

    For instance, the history of Mormonism is pretty miraculous.

    Six people started the cult in Western NY 180 years ago. It was one of dozens of cults that started and burned out in that place at that time (the second Great Awakening.)

    Now? Salt Lake City is the epicenter of this religion. Six million Mormons in the US, five million more around the world. Two large universities – BYU and BYU Idaho. And two presidential candidates.

    That’s a pretty wild story, no? And this is a church that doesn’t allow liquor, caffeine or cigarettes! And for a hundred years was the laughing stock of religions. How could they thrive? Miracle I guess…

    Also the Samaritans – how many? Maybe a thousand? They have a chart tracing their history back to Adam and Eve. What are they doing here?

    And who would have thought that one itty bitty man like Jesus Christ could launch a two billion member religion? Pretty wild.

    When it comes to religion – all bets are off on the miraculous. Religions have the advantage of not being rational. They will do things that defy the laws of nature as a result.

    Just want to also say: I enjoy your blog.

    Tuvia

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  35. "Scientists do not need inspiration"

    What?

    I don't believe this is accurate. Many (if not most) irreligious scientists do in fact use some sort of inspiration or motivation to pursue and continue their work. Ever talk to any?

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  36. "It is interesting, but it is not (I think ) any more “miraculous” than some other wild stories that are also true.

    For instance, the history of Mormonism is pretty miraculous."

    I don't believe Rabbi Slifkin's point was that "wild stories that come true are miraculous." So your comparisons are not valid.

    The fact that a cult grew from 6 people to a billion people does not make the detailed beliefs and practices of that cult any more or less believable.

    How do you equate "growth of a cult to a big following" with Biblical prophecy seemingly coming true with an unprecedented Jewish historical revival. The Jewish religion didn't grow from 6 people to a billion and that's not what would make the story compelling if it did.

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  37. Well quite, Student V
    Perhaps start with reading Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions and see if one then thinks that science is somehow a sterile objective process..

    Tobe - you are also right that there is in terms of historical analysis no provable "laws of history" and no clear definable way of saying "this is clearly an episode that obeys history's laws" and "this doesnt so its miraculous". By the same happily inescapable non-rational reading of historical process, there's at the same time nothing to say that Christianity, Judaism and indeed Mormonism are all expresssions of divine force in the world (and of cousre the Rambam, your rationalist friend R Slifkin, made that very point - although even he might have stopped at the story of Brigham Young :)

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  38. Student V said...
    "Scientists do not need inspiration"

    What?

    I don't believe this is accurate. Many (if not most) irreligious scientists do in fact use some sort of inspiration or motivation to pursue and continue their work. Ever talk to any?
    -------

    I was not referring to inspiration to "pursue and continue their work," I was referring to inspiration as R' Slifkin used it in the first paragraph of his post - to believe in the validity of Judaism. This is clearly how he intended it, as he continues: "Torah codes and other outreach proofs just backfire. And when a critical eye is turned to the Torah and Talmud, many difficult questions arise."
    Scientists do not need similar inspiration because their "codes" and proofs support the validity of their system and because a critical eye tends to reinforce their conclusions. R' Slifkin's pointed out quite correctly that such is not true of Torah Judaism. I am simply asking him to present the basis for his beliefs in propositions that are not rational and to explain why that basis would not extend to other non-rational beliefs.
    [Personally, I believe I have answers to these important questions (though they do not appear to be consistent with R' Slifkin's writings). I do not ask this as a challenge - only to emphasize how important the answers are and that ignoring this pillar of Judaism cast doubt on any other pillars one might construct.]

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  39. And another thing - let's say there was a law of history, what does this ultimately mean? Is law in the world the only meaning that counts? Does rationalism mean the law of atoms and coefficients and force and movement? A universe that is just a machine or history that is just a process? Well maybe, but as R Slifkin's post inescapably points towards, surely more important than reason is meaning in the world and isn't the ultimate meaning that of love? If we see in the history G-d's love for Israel, or Israel's search for the love of G-d, and that mirrors our love for each other - isn't that something of infinitely more value than pure rationalism? And if that's so, does it really matter all that much if the Bible has science in it, or the Talmud gets the size of olives wrong? Is that what you think Judaism or religion or life is about? Plenty of people do - rationalists - the likes of Dawkins or Dennett, or Hitchens - but it's a thin gruel they offer, a thin gruel compared to the majesty of the vision of Chazal, even if they don't get cover the totality of "rational" experience. Think on, R Slifkin.

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  40. Search the web, Christianity has great proofs. So does Islam.

    Islam should be looked at by R. Slifkin – they have a bunch of proofs regarding Mohammed’s supernatural understanding of a bunch of different sciences. Also something in the Quran about embryology that knocked the socks off some British scientist. He was spooked.

    Probably Nostradamus has some great proofs too.

    Maybe if gullible, need-to-prove-it-to-themselves Jews would take a look deeply into the apologetics for these other religions they would cool on proofs for Judaism? Realize it is all complete low IQ crap? I don’t know – that’s what I like to think would happen.

    If I could ask one thing of kiruv type lines of reasoning, it would be – let the “other side” on any topic make their case for themselves!

    If they want to show me how evolution is “scientifically” impossible – let some evolutionary biologists into the room to tell me their side.

    The rabbis and the scientists could share a lectern and each side could make their case, and there can be cross examining and evidence and counter evidence and questions from the audience.

    This could go on for a few weeks, and the class could vote in the end.

    Do the same thing for age of the universe, and for the possibility of a worldwide flood.

    Do the same thing on the topic of where the Torah came from, and how it was composed.

    I am so tired of these presentations by rabbis who are going to “disprove” the Documentary Hypothesis, and then argue both sides.

    They spend two minutes (wrongly) summarizing the documentary hypothesis, and then ten minutes smashing it with the traditional view. Then they say: you see, you heard both sides, and our side wins!

    Even the goyim understand this is a show trial. Why don’t we?

    Makes me sad sometimes. The best indoctrination makes you think you’ve been shown both sides. You have to seek out education, not manipulation. Information, not indoctrination.

    Tuvia

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  41. Joel said:
    “at the same time nothing to say that Christianity, Judaism and indeed Mormonism are all expresssions of divine force in the world”

    -

    I hope not. Or we are in for a lot of religious strife.

    Remember: to Christians, the Pope is the anti-christ, and Catholics are going to hell!

    And Christians initially gloated that the holocaust was just deserts for the Jews for not accepting Christ as their savior! What changed their minds? Ex-Jews who had become Catholics and moved to high up places in the Vatican were very important to this revision.

    I don’t know what Mormons think – but have you ever read their wiki page? Their creation story is pretty, pretty wild.

    And I guess Scientologists are on the way to being an accepted religion (give it a hundred years.) I guess they are divine too. Their creator wrote up the religion in order to get non-profit status and stop having to pay taxes. He just wrote it up – right in front of the whole world -- and now they believe his wild tales are real.

    Where does it end?

    Do we need a new Enlightenment to remind us of why G-d gave us a rational faculty? Where is Spinoza when you need him?

    Tuvia

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  42. Dear Rav Slifkin,

    I have posted the following twice:

    Dear Rav Slifkin:

    I would appreciate i you could address my comentaries on this article where i talk about mysticism epistemology.

    Both times it has not been published and i waited to the sign that says: your commentary will be published when the owner approves it.

    This situation seems to me lile a reminiscence of some Doctor. I hope i am wrong and that you will addre this matter. I think that it would be very trascendental, at least for me

    Kind Regards

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  43. The embryology claim about koran is a fraud when looked at in arabic which the koran was written in. Most of the "science" in koran comes from Galen, and almost every "scientific" claim in koran is incorrect. They twist things to make it fit, and even then they have to lie. Why should this mentally warped exercise be equated with fulfillment of prophecies?

    Saying "you have supposed proofs, well the koran has supposed proofs and the mormon crap has supposed proofs too" doesn't cut it as a thoughtful argument or a suitable response to Rabbi Slifkin.

    I do appreciate Dave's questions however, and I hope that RS will address them.

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  44. I feel there is something deeply missing from this post.

    It's one thing that we came back to our land after such a long period of time, and survived through the milenium.

    What is missing from this post is the fact that the Prophets and the Torah told us that we would come back, and that we would suffer hardships in exile.

    FreethinkingJew completely misses the fact that how he thinks Gd should behave, is not how our Tradition tells us that Gd will behave. Rather we see Gd behaving as our tradition says, rather than how we would wish it to be.

    Yes, hundreds (thousands?) of Rabbis got it wrong, but the Tanach got it right.

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  45. Atheodox Jew writes:

    “…we DO need belief – belief in benevolence, in it being “good” to seek the welfare, freedom and happiness of all people, in the value of human life.”

    -

    I am no expert on this, but this is pretty close to the founding fathers’ view – the men who framed the US Constitution. I know that at least some of them were theists (or deists?) and took from religion the idea that all men were created equal under G-d (meaning all people, but it took some time to come to grips with that.)

    I think modernity, natural law, and the Age of Reason exactly led to all of the concepts you put forward above – seeking the good, value of life, the value of freedom, etc. And those values and ideas had their origins as well in the idea of one G-d (taken literally or metaphorically) and the conclusion that all people had inalienable rights. They also drew heavily from Western philosophy – particularly John Locke and some other biggies (going back to the Greeks I believe) and even heavily from our own Baruch Spinoza.

    Other ideas discovered in the Enlightenment: that kings did not have divine power, that science trumped superstition, and that tradition, prophecy and revelation were not reliable ways of knowing the truth, and were to be essentially, discarded.

    The Enlightenment also inclined us as a society towards the idea that you should “do unto others as you would have done unto you,” which as we know, at least one story has it that a famous rabbi (Hillel?) taught that this was the essence of the Torah (the rest, commentary.)

    So the answer to your question is: we HAVE the beliefs we need – we do believe in benevolence and the value of human life.

    And even the rabbis observed that mankind would develop morality without Torah.

    So we never needed Providence – and certainly fundamentalist religious beliefs were not needed.

    Choosing to live your life with a strict code, as the OJs do, is another matter entirely. This is entirely compatible with our modern society and the post Enlightenment world. It’s spelled out specifically in the Bill of Rights where freedom to practice religion is discussed.

    But the tricks and deceptions that fundamentalist religious communities use to keep others in the fold are utterly despicable, spineless, weak and shameful.

    Tuvia

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  46. Regarding the “fulfillment of prophecy,” which is the original point of this post by R. Slifkin.

    The return to the land is actually referencing the return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.

    Everything in the Torah is actually written by various people starting I believe about 1000 BCE and over I believe the four hundred years after that.

    This is a very well fleshed out area of the Documentary Hypothesis.

    There has been enough work done to show that the Torah appears to speak in roughly four voices, and that if you separate it back into those four documents, each reads as a stand alone narrative. I believe even an orthodox academic using the latest computer research at Bar Ilan says it does separate nicely and neatly into four narratives.

    I am less clear on the idea that the four narratives are written at different times, based on differences in the Hebrew that put the writing in different eras. But I’ve read that this is the case.

    I think evidence for a composite document comes from different academic realms and is “converging.” That is, mutually reinforcing.

    The idea of an author is also a later idea in human history. Probable that the idea of one author of the Torah was a later addition to suit the style/needs of a later time. This part I’ve read very little about.

    Despite what rabbis say, the evidence is moving more toward the DH than against it. More now than even thirty years ago.

    If you value reason above all else you will find this stuff both interesting and worth exploring. The orthodox community cannot afford to do this.

    I think that if you were to take the biggest believer in Torah from Heaven, and let him take a few years of serious classes into what the Doc Hypothesis says, and what the evidence is for it, and what the problems are with it, he would come away understanding why academics see it the way they do, and he would find their arguments solid.

    I strongly believe the orthodox community is afraid of having a sustained, unflinching encounter with academic findings on Torah.

    Probably this is why you will NEVER see a scholar of biblical criticism give a lecture at an orthodox yeshiva – or be invited to a substantive debate on the topic, or share a lectern with a rabbi for a semester long course for yeshiva students where they would discuss their respective positions and why they hold them.

    What it speaks to is abject fear, and a need to cut off orthodox Jews from seeing the other side and rationally evaluating it. Instead, rabbis debate with themselves – summing up the DH in two minutes (and wrongly) and then smashing it with a ten minute talk on why tradition is the only correct way to see the Torah.

    It’s not education – it’s indoctrination. And it is the only thing acceptable to orthodoxy. “The Torah is obviously true” they will say – but you are not permitted to test this statement. It reminds me of the Soviet Communists – Communism is obviously superior and the West is decadent and classist – but you cannot ever travel abroad to see for yourself.

    It’s an obvious weakness in their argument that you cannot hear the other side speak – why is this acceptable to you?

    Tuvia

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  47. Couldn't agree more! And as Pliny writes, "Your "non-rationalist" explanation sounds very rational to me!" Thank you for the much-needed Pesach inspiration.

    Actually, the reason I even came to look at this site today was that as I was bringing down the Hagadot for the Seder, it occurred to me that we are missing "THE RATIONALIST HAGGADAH". Or, if you prefer, the Zoo Rabbi Hagadah. Please, please write it! This blog post would make a good starting point, wouldn't it?

    Pesach kasher v'sameach!

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  48. @Tuvia March 25, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    Yes, it's precisely the more "deistic" and less "theistic" frame, whose goal is to channel our sense of awe and gratitude (as opposed to smoke & mirrors designed to keep people in the fold), which I see in R. Slifkin's words.

    And while some day we may wish to "clean house" entirely and evolve beyond even the deistic frame, for the time being it has an important place, particularly as a benign and positive alternative to dangerous fundamentalism.

    Chag sameach for now...

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  49. "Scotty said...

    Just because something is astounding, doesn't mean that it could only have happened as a result of the intervention of a supernatural being."

    He didn't say that. You have made a straw man of his argument.

    "That still requires a leap of faith..."

    Baloney, every argument reaches a point where you just believe a proposition because you do. Thinking something is so incredible it cannot be a coincidence is used in science (its leap of faith).

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  50. R Slifkin -

    You posted:

    "I constantly receive inquiries from people who are disillusioned and deeply distressed. "

    Is this, I wonder, also an autobiographical statement, and perhaps it is even more distressing for someone who holds and makes regular use of their semicha? -
    Isaac Bashevis Singer's account of disillusioned rabbis encountering the Enlightenment comes to mind

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  51. Oh so religion is OK if it keeps in its little corner and doesnt dare to suggest that not everything the Enlightenment came up with is so great. We see that quite clearly in the liberal consensus of the intelligensia in the developed world. Think on about bans on Kashrut and Milah if you really think that because its in the Bill of Rights that religious expression (true expression which means the right to hold and express views and put them in to practice) is safe in the US or anywhere else in the modern world. Yet it's all based on a delusion - the scientist dogm that materialism is an adequate explanation for reality. Really? How about consciousness, love, morality, free will? The materialist successors of the Enlightenment (although Enlightenment thinking was a lot more nuanced than what passes for debate in most of the West today) don't have the answers - science tells us much, but to pretend that it tells us everything is - they why as opposed to the how is in the end just another dogma, albeit one that is heavily, heavily entrenched in modern discourse and thinking.

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  52. Freethinking Jew said:"But what happened to A! "Well, there is an explanation, we just don't know what it is."

    Yes we do. We sinned and got scattered. According to your definition a good God leaves us alone with no hard hand for our destiny's sake. That's not good parenting and leaves out the whole point of creating the Jewish people to begin with. It seems weak to use arguments based on agnostics and atheists with a Christian background and in response to Christianity and ignorance of Judaism (and to be fair to a lesser degree than Judaism, ignorance of Christianity) and to except that Judaism is so weak arguments made in the comfort of an armchair from a foreign culture yet, can just simply blow it away with arguments reflecting little or nothing of Judaism as it is known amongst Jews. An argument like that is preaching to the choir. I prefer a drasha to the congregation, over preaching to the choir.

    Further seeking explanations is called science. Giving up is called agnosticism. Using your logic I can say: A.why look for scientific explanations for things in the universe? B.The universe just happened so don't look for a cause for it. So C. Don't look for any causes because the burden of proof is on anyone making an argument for a cause so forget science.

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  53. tobe said...

    "Whenever I hear someone talk about irrational faith – or belief – I fear for our safety! Belief is a place where thinking stops.

    Nazis had a lot of inspiring moments (before WWII.) They had beliefs.

    So did Communists. And like all belief systems – it depended on indoctrination, manipulation and the omitting, suppressing, and distorting of all outside information that would engage the rational faculty in evaluating the beliefs.

    The persecution of Jews, blacks, women – all due to beliefs.

    The receding of these persecutions was due to the end of superstition, the rational look at beliefs, the Enlightenment."

    Communism was supposed to be the result of a rational look at beliefs. It's still influencing many on the left. Economic reality kills Communism among former adherents for the most part as opposed to rational reflection.

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  54. YA said," You have made a straw man of his argument."

    Huh? What straw man? Rabbi Slifkin is asserting that astounding aspects of the history of the Jewish people indicate divine providence. My point is that one does not follow from the other.

    YA continued:
    "Baloney, every argument reaches a point where you just believe a proposition because you do."

    Rational arguments don't reach such a point. Rational arguments reach conclusions based of evidence, reasoning and proof.

    YA then stated:
    "Thinking something is so incredible it cannot be a coincidence is used in science (its leap of faith)."

    I don't understand what you are trying to say with this last statement.

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  55. Tobe said, "When it comes to religion – all bets are off on the miraculous. Religions have the advantage of not being rational. They will do things that defy the laws of nature as a result."

    That might explain the survival of Judaism as a religion, since it could have adherents even if it's not rational--like scientology, l'havdil.
    But that ignores the Jewish people's survival despite persecution--especially considering the pressures over the centuries to just drop everything and just assimilate to the surrounding culture. (Your example of the Samaritans is not so comparable--the Samaritans are locked away in the Shomron, not different than American Indians on reservations in the U.S.) All the Biblical nations surrounding Israel have long since disappeared, either scattered or subsumed into some other culture.

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  56. Ametuer and YA, thank you for responding to my comments. Here are my thoughts for each of you.

    Ameteur: I would just encourage you to consider again the confirmation bias I mentioned - i.e. that we tend to notice things that confirm our hypothesis and disregard things that challenge it.

    Since your hypothesis, if I understand it correctly, is that all of the Torah's predictions, including those about Jewish survival and return to the Land, are true, and therefore the Torah must have been written by G-d and G-d must have guided Jewish survival, some things to consider are:

    a) Does the Torah really say what you think it says? Sometimes we hear certain claims from kiruv types, but when we actually take an honest look for ourselves, we find something different.

    b) Is it possible that those predictions you have in mind were actually written AFTER the events they describe? E.g. most scholars have concluded that those curses in Deut. fit well with the 1st Temple period - something that also leaves plenty of time for later additions to creep in.

    c) Is it possible that there's a Jeanne Dixon effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeane_Dixon#The_Jeane_Dixon_effect); i.e. that if you went back and looked at all the predictions in the chapter you have in mind, as well as any other predictions in the Torah, you would find some that turned out false?

    d) If you do find that no predictions in the Torah turned out to be false (editor's note: you won't find that - just Google "false prophecies Bible" and you'll find several), is it fair to conclude therefore the writer must be G-d? E.g. had all of Jeanne Dixon's predictions come true, would you conclude that she was G-d and that she actually CAUSED all the predictions to come true? I would assume that at best you would conclude that she could tell the future. Similarly, even if every one of the predictions in the Torah turned out spot on, I would assume you would conclude that the author could predict the future, rather than saying the author must be G-d and that the Author caused the predictions to come true.

    e) After 250 or so years of modern scholarship, we now know that all the contradictions, anachronisms, linguistic variation, scribal errors, emendations, glosses, etc, in the Torah make it difficult to conclude that the Torah was written by a divine being. Therefore, to look at one or two chapters and believe that they are predictions from a divine being wouldn't seem logical.

    YA: I couldn't follow all of your argument, but I would just say:

    a) I really hope you don't think putting your children through pogroms and holocausts is good parenting, and

    b) I completely agree that seeking explanations is good science and should be encouraged. E.g. in this case, we should ask how this incredible Jewish survival has happened and try our best to understand it, the same way we try to understand everything else in the world. In contrast, declaring, "I understand how it happened; G-d did it" is saying you already know the explanation and need no further inquiry. Doing so would seem to be the antithesis of what you're advocating. No?

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  57. > It reminds me of the Soviet Communists – Communism is obviously superior and the West is decadent and classist – but you cannot ever travel abroad to see for yourself.

    Funny, having actually lived in Soviet Russia, Orthodox Judaism does not remind me of Soviet communism at all.

    If you find fault with your educational system, nothing is stopping you from supplementing it with information that is freely available to you.

    In the Soviet Union, I could have been sent to jail for learning the Hebrew language. Just the language, never mind actually learning Torah. Which I didn't know existed, because my parents could have gone to jail for telling me about it.

    So please stop using that analogy, it is offensive.

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  58. Can someone explain to me the meaning of this part of the last comment: "editor's note: you won't find that - just Google "false prophecies Bible" and you'll find several)"--Who is the editor? Rabbi Slifkin said once he can't edit the comments that come in.

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  59. Yehuda P, the "editor" was me. I was just trying to be cute. :) Don't ever suspect R' Slifkin of such Epicursus.

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  60. Kira's last statement also echoes, on a smaller scale, the thrust of Rabbi Slifkin's post about the miracle of Israel's revival and existence. The fact that people can practice Judaism so freely now in the former Soviet Union, after 70 years of oppressive communist rule, is also a miracle of sorts.

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  61. @Kira March 27, 2013 10:16 AM

    Kira says: “If you find fault with your educational system, nothing is stopping you from supplementing it with information that is freely available to you.”

    --

    There is no education system – there is an indoctrination system. They can’t afford to have you be educated, just manipulated.

    In indoctrination, you are successfully fooled into thinking you are being educated – that you are getting both sides.

    One hint that this is not happening? The other side never gets to make their own argument. So a rabbi will tell you what the Documentary Hypothesis is (wrongly) in two minutes, and then he will proceed to smash it for ten minutes with the traditional argument. You see? You heard both sides, and the traditional argument wins!

    Even the goyim know this is a show trial.

    If indoctrination is not enough, they have the spiritual “carrots and sticks.” Live the way we say, or you will suffer in this world and the next. Live the way we say and you will have blessings in this world and the next.

    People everywhere are vulnerable to this spiritual fear-mongering. It works on many people, which is why they use it. Do you go along with this? I hope not. It is weak and shameful.

    And why as a modern person, I can supplement it with information freely available (although actually it is not that easy to find), a person born into the community is not in the same boat – he is controlled, manipulated and indoctrinated from birth.

    I’m sorry if it offends you, but I think controlling, indoctrinating, manipulating, and fear mongering techniques suck. So the analogy is, for me, valid. And since this is not the former Soviet Union, I guess you will have to learn to live with points of view you do not share.

    Tuvia

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  62. Reb Natan,
    I’m always grateful that I learn much from you, but this must be one of your weakest post from among those that I have read.

    First off, please re-read your quote from Obama more carefully. He did not say that the Jews were exiled and that then the direct descendants of these exiles returned to re-establish themselves on the land. In fact we have no way of knowing what percentage of Jews in the world today are actually true (either halakhically or genetically) descendants of the exiles.

    So then, what actually happened historically is a lot less remarkable.

    Considering several points:

    a) the founders of (current, traditional) Judaism were prescient enough to provide the faithful with several powerful tools that aided in the survival of the religion, the most important among them instilling in the people an unshakeable belief that religious Torah practice was actually and truly the will of God. It was this very belief that kept the religion alive.
    b) further, tand what an irony, is that 2 people, from among our bitter enemies, greatly helped in maintaining the belief in “the divinity of the Torah”. I.e Mark, the founder of Christianity and Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
    c) additionally, instilling in the people the strong belief that God will return us to the land, eventually. A self-fulfilling prophecy, if there ever was one.

    All this worked to create the current situation. However, not to say that this couldn’t have been divinely engineered. And, if He was involved, I have a tremendous bone to pick.

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  63. I don't get elemir's problem: President Obama said the Jewish people tended the land, got exiled and persecuted, and founded the new state. Where is there discontinuity in that narrative? No one else got exiled and persecuted in our place.

    And the "self-fulfilling prophecy" of being here isn't so clear either--there was a chance we'd either end up in Uganda, or lose one of our wars. (Someone I met who fought in the War of Independence described what a miracle that was, due to the shortage of ammunition.)

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  64. "He did not say that the Jews were exiled and that then the direct descendants of these exiles returned to re-establish themselves on the land"

    There isn't really any other way to logically understand what he did say. He said "after centuries of exile and persecution" - Who did that happen to? The subject of his first sentence.
    Likewise, how is the Jewish state of Israel a "rebirth" if not involving at all his original subject matter (the Jews living 3000 years ago here). notice also the word Jewish, referring again back to the subject in his first sentence. His comments don't make sense except reading it this way.

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  65. Dear Rav Slifkin,

    It would Be very helpful If you could comment on my posts.
    I guess you were busy in the holidays

    Kind Regards

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  66. Freethinking Jew said...

    Ametuer and YA, thank you for responding to my comments."

    You're welcome.

    "a) I really hope you don't think putting your children through pogroms and holocausts is good parenting,"

    Well the analogy of a human parent is just that. A human being doesn't kill old people. God does that all the time. We call that nature. The point of mine still stands.

    "b) I completely agree that seeking explanations is good science and should be encouraged. E.g. in this case, we should ask how this incredible Jewish survival has happened and try our best to understand it, the same way we try to understand everything else in the world. In contrast, declaring, "I understand how it happened; G-d did it" is saying you already know the explanation and need no further inquiry. Doing so would seem to be the antithesis of what you're advocating. No?"

    Only if you think the word God has to imply a lack of explanation. Dawkins in his ignorance says that about God. There is the question of why even with God. If we Jews have had no special destiny in the world it becomes harder to understand both the justice and the cause.

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  67. "Anonymous Scotty said...

    YA said," You have made a straw man of his argument."

    Huh? What straw man? Rabbi Slifkin is asserting that astounding aspects of the history of the Jewish people indicate divine providence. My point is that one does not follow from the other."

    I meant you were simplifying his argument. He was leaving out details to connect with his theory but certain aspects of Jewish history may be to him more than just plain astounding. They certainly are to me.

    ""YA continued:
    "Baloney, every argument reaches a point where you just believe a proposition because you do."

    Rational arguments don't reach such a point. Rational arguments reach conclusions based of evidence, reasoning and proof.""

    And so how do rationalists ever disagree with each other? In the end they reach the point I said they do or else you can't make an argument. Every argument starts with a proposition which is accepted by the arguer just because or else there would be an endless number of arguments that would have to be made on its behalf. If I say for example that the Earth is round because people have traveled around it,you can say it was an illusion. I could then say no because I believe we can trust our senses. You could say we can't. So we could just be at an impasse.

    "YA then stated:
    "Thinking something is so incredible it cannot be a coincidence is used in science (its leap of faith)."

    I don't understand what you are trying to say with this last statement."

    Science decides if something is a coincidence or statistically significant. Why because it does. You could challenge it but science has its assumptions, its leaps of faith.

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  68. Tobe's (Tuvia's) displeasure with the Orothodox Jewish response to the Documentary Hypothesis is similar to the reaction to findings that support evolution.

    But, at the same time, there has to be a distinction made between findings and conclusions. Rabbi Slifkin adequately can provide views of Torah greats that accept the findings of evolutionists, but wouldn't entertain for one second the conclusion that Hashem didn't create the world.

    The same thing can be said for the Documentary Hypothesis. I understand that Prof. Weiss Halivni has dealt with the findings Documentary Hypothesis in his book "Tradition Restored", but would never go on to conclude that there wasn't a Mattan Torah, or that there wasn't any prophecy. (I personally don't see how the Jewish people could so venerate the Torah--and all the exegesis around it--if it suddenly appeared along the way as a compilation of strands from different authors.)

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  69. @ Yehudah P

    I don’t object to someone choosing to be orthodox. I object to a strategy of distorting, omitting, suppressing of outside information that would challenge traditional understandings (like the traditional understanding of where the Torah came from.)

    I object to indoctrination posing as education. The best indoctrination pretends to be educating you about both sides of a controversy, but really isn’t. You might hear about a Halivni – but when will actual modern biblical scholars be invited to explain and show just why they see the Torah as a composite document hundreds of years in the making (a year long course I’m thinking)?

    They only reason they can get away with it is, like the soviet era communists, they are the only show in town.

    And those who seek to educate themselves are warned: you will have a terrible time in this world and the next. G-d, their enforcer, will see to that.

    Tuvia

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  70. To Tuvia: I remember reading a biography/article about Rabbi Dovid Berger. He said that when as part of his university studies he had to learn about the Documentary Hypothesis, it was the greatest strain to his faith he had experienced. And this is someone who had done quite a bit of learning before that.

    At what age would you suggest teaching about the Documentary Hypothesis?

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  71. @ Yehuda P

    There is no right age to make education available to the orthodox. The two are like oil and water. They don’t mix.

    Rabbis will always be the ones (badly) describing the outside argument (in about 1/1000th of the time it would take to show the real evidence anyway), and then smashing it with the traditional arguments.

    It’s farce – but it seems the only workable approach they can come up with in the modern era.

    The problem is the modern world says belief, tradition, revelation, prophecy are not reliable ways of finding the truth. (Spinoza was put in cherem for this one.)

    That’s why we have so many religions – all with proofs, adherents, textual and oral traditions, sacred texts – and the belief that they really have it right.

    The obvious solution is you say it is tradition – a subtle and nuanced concept that doesn’t make a claim on scientific truth, or provable history. We have Eastern traditions, and traditions from the Fertile Crescent, and other places – and they have helped shape our world.

    And then orthodox Jews can join the modern world – where we have open inquiry, and free debate and discussion, and no supernatural fear mongering or censorship.

    But is this enough to keep adherents?

    The rabbis, it seems to me, feel it is not.

    Obviously, the rabbis don’t have the barbed wire, flood lights, and machine guns of the Communists – but they do everything they can to keep modern methods of discerning truth as far away from adherents as they can.

    So we are stuck with indoctrination, inspiration, rewards, fear mongering – and the deliberate omitting, suppressing, and distorting of the outside world’s findings.

    As far as when believers find themselves exposed to other arguments – and how it tests their faith – I recall Christopher Hitchens writing about the inner turmoil he felt when he began to grow disillusioned with the “obvious truth” of the ideals of Communism. It was very hard on him to stop being and believing, to stop being an ideologue. To see that his idols had lead feet.

    I think his path is a part of growing up.

    I really believe that indoctrination is thrilling, and uplifting. And real education is boring and a bummer and not really inspiring (at least for some.)

    This is why way out conspiracy theories, and stories about UFOs, lizard people who run the world (12 million American believe this), and faith healing, and New World Order stuff finds an audience. And adherents rarely want to hear the other side, or seek it out.

    I do feel traditional living has amazing things to offer -- but there are real problems as well.

    See the film Kumare – it is available on Amazon instant. It is a documentary about a fake guru – and the people who believe him.

    They see real power in him. Supernatural power. Very illuminating about the emotional realities at the foundation of adhering to a religion. But he’s a total fake, running an experiment that basically gets out of control. And when he breaks it to them, their reaction is very illuminating also.

    Tuvia

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  72. Another response to Tuvia: It's somewhat of an exaggeration to compare the principles of faith of Judaism to those of a cult.

    It's true that Orthodoxy has pretty much dogmatized the Thirteen Principles of Faith of the Rambam, both in the poem Yigdal and in Ani Ma'amin, which in a lot of prayerbooks is part of the liturgy. (It was quite a shock for me when I read Rabbi Marc Shapiro's paper on the Thirteen Principles of Faith, and how many other Rishonim differed with the Rambam on many of the points.)

    But that's a far cry from saying that Judaism doesn't allow critical thinking--there is quite a lot of criticism, both in matters of dogma, as well as in matters of halachah.

    The Ibn Ezra also implies (as Spinoza concluded so definitively) in several places that parts of the Torah are not of Mosaic authorship--but the Ibn Ezra still revered the text as prophetic and Divinely inspired--which Spinoza did not.

    Just because the world at large at the time after the Enlightenment rejects prophecy as a source of knowledge, doesn't mean that we should (just like the fact that Judaism was the only monotheistic religion when everyone else was pagan, doesn't mean that we should have also pagan.).

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  73. Yehuda P. writes:

    “Just because the world at large at the time after the Enlightenment rejects prophecy as a source of knowledge, doesn't mean that we should…”

    We actually do reject prophecy – everyone else’s prophecy.

    We privilege our Jewish prophecy – and dismiss the prophecy of every other religion.

    We privilege it even if it defies the rules of the religion itself (by never coming true.)

    YP, you are engaging in apologetics – which is what insiders do to calm the nerves of other insiders who fear looking outside their own little nook of a religion for information or knowledge or perspective. Who fear a search for truth.

    What can I say? You’ve been successfully indoctrinated!

    Whatever makes you happy. Happiness trumps the search for truth any day of the week.

    Which is why if the righteous dead of all generations are not resurrected sometime before the year 6000 - an ikkur ‌linked to the coming of moshiach - the frum world will ignore it.

    Because being frum is what matters.

    Tuvia

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  74. to Tuvia: O.k., one more try:
    Elias Cohen said upstairs in a previous comment: "Also other cultures talk about this knowledge describing it as the most sublime of all, for example buddhism and induism. This gives support for the jewish claim because other cultures that were never in touch with us claim the same thing."

    So, maybe it's not so true that we reject what other cultures' "prophecies" outright. (I understand the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim III:32 as implying that anyone sufficiently refined can achieve some sort of prophetic vision.)

    My head is starting to spin: it seems I can't rely on any authority or quote anyone without being called "indoctrinated". (When I'll quote someone, I'll perforce be rejecting the opinion of someone else.)

    In any event: Don't you enjoy the thought-provoking conversations on this blog? It's rather unique.

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  75. @ Yehuda P.

    My comments were not about prophecy exactly, but about indoctrination.

    Remember: beliefs (including the belief in prophecy) can get you anywhere. Your prophets tell you one thing, another group’s prophets can tell them to wipe out the Jews.

    It is the Enlightenment that made the thinking of the secular world more morally sound than the orthodox Jewish world. It is why the Bill of Rights exists. Why human rights exist.

    The Enlightenment is why Jews are alive. It will keep us out of the next Inquisition, the next pogrom, the next crusade. It protects the lives, liberty, dignity and property of every minority.

    Belief systems are why Jews could wind up killed en masse again.

    Even within OJ, I read today that two more infants got herpes from metzitza bal peh (who knows how many are hurt or die and are not reported by scared haredi parents!) The secular authorities are gingerly trying to stop this practice – a practice sanctioned by belief. A practice that can wind up in a dead infant.

    You want to bury your child – who you couldn’t protect from beliefs?

    How about that mesirah belief? How’d that work out for hundreds of kids damaged by sexual predators?

    I tell you what: you tell your metzitzah bal peh brain-damaged kid who winds up the victim of a known orthodox sexual predator that it is all hashgacha pratis and you were just following orders (I mean mitzvohs), and I’ll believe that you believe that strong beliefs are the best way to go.

    Tuvia

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  76. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  77. Dear Tuvia,

    I Agree in most of the thibgs that you have said, but if my deduction is correct, you seem to be claiming that reason is the best abd only way to aquire knowledge. I did hold the same thing until a couple of months when i started studying chassidut and the books that Aryeh Kaplan wrote about mysticism, since then i have been considering the possibility that maybe there is a higher knowledege tool than reason. Before i begin the argument let me say that do not hold that the Torah is the truth yet, but i do hold that there is some divinity involved in the knowledge of the sages.

    Certain ascetic measures like fasting, meditating, separating from wordly pleasures, and others enhance your perception and good midot There are various arguments that suggest that this is true.

    Like i said above, different Doctrines like hiduism, Buddhism and judaism argument the same thing. Since they never were in touch with judaism it suggests that they also arrive to this conclusion by themselves by their own experience.

    In Aryeh Kaplans meditation and kabbalah he talks about what level of stoicism mystics had to aquire before entering an especific circle of meditative kabbalists. In short, to get into this circles no wordly matter should do any difference to you, even if someone praised you and you felt good about it you could were not ready to enter to this circles. In other words you had to have no ego at all, that meaning that you had to be honest in its widdest expression.

    This book also brings the different techniques that were used by the kabbalists in orther to attain high levels of concioisness. Many of these techniques consist on names of god, bible verses, permitattion of letters, and others which suggest that the hebrew language and the bible have some kind of divine properties.

    Please let me know what you think about this arguments, i am ready to change my position if anyone shows me that i am wrong.

    It is also worthy to notice that I myself have actually tried some meditations of the Tanya and reached a higher level of conciousness and even though that logically i could understand that by the arguments that I just said mystic knowledge its a true kind of knowledge, expericieng it definetly its a much stronger proof.

    Kind Regards


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  78. @Elias Cohen

    You’re having a personal experience. It’s very meaningful and could be valuable to you.

    There are a thousand books and even medical journal articles on meditation and its positive benefits for the mind and body.

    It’s just not the same thing as what I’m talking about.

    If it gets you somewhere good, great!

    We are a better world because the men of the Enlightenment, including Spinoza and Locke and Jefferson – saw the primitivism of strong religious beliefs – and replaced it with scientific inquiry, human rights, natural law, human dignity, and the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people.

    Religious indoctrination is exciting and inspiring and fulfilling. Education is boring and not inspiring. Many people will not seek to go past the indoctrination.

    The reason in frumkeit there is such an emphasis on cutting oneself off from secular influences (including education) is that it keeps you from exercising your rational faculty – it keeps you compliant.

    Compliance is what really matters in fundamentalist religions (regardless of what you’re really thinking or believing.)

    Tuvia

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  79. To Tuvia: The Enlightenment might have led to more tolerance, but at the same time, "enlightened" doesn't always mean "tolerant". Every so often we see Jewish communities in Europe (or in California, for that matter) being threatened that circumcision or kosher slaughter will be outlawed, as being inhumane. (Remember the infamous "Foreskin Man" comic? For all the apologetics of those who put it out, that comic is blatantly Anti-Semitic--under the guise of being in favor of a child's right to choose whether to undergo circumcision.)


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  80. Another point: It's true that the Declaration of Independance and the Bill of Rights are the foundations of American democracy, but we see in the wake of the September 11th attacks that, when faced with an existential threat, we'll have to violate those human rights.

    Perhaps in the same vein: Torah learning involves a lot of questioning, but certain things perhaps should remain unquestioned. The Rambam in Hilchos Avodah Zarah 2:4 says that certain things of the dogma of Judaism shouldn't be questioned--he says it is more because of the limitations of our intellect, that we might reach an errant conclusion.

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  81. @ Yehuda P.

    If society finds something inhumane, then they oftentimes will ban it. We don’t allow honor killings in the US (where a father kills a daughter for disgracing the family name.) We don’t permit clitoral circumcision be forced on a girl.

    We also stopped other religious rituals: child sacrifice is illegal, for instance. So is cannibalism.

    We are a society of laws. Absolutely nothing about that is in conflict with the Enlightenment or modernity.

    If Jewish slaughter rituals involved taking a an animal and slaughtering it by running it over with a bus, a society today might find that unacceptably cruel, and ban it.

    Is circumcision inhumane? That’s for a society to decide. We ban forced clitorectomy so far.

    And, we are trying to ban metzitza bal peh – or at least regulate it. Oral suctioning of blood has led to the death or injury of a number children.

    Society has a right to ban such a practice – it has a responsibility to protect children from needless exposure to harm.

    That’s why we make it a law that kids buckle up, that babies use baby seats in cars, that mattresses be made of fire retarded materials, that smoke detectors be mandatory in housing, etc. etc.

    Of course, orthodox Jews can fight the ban. That’s their right too. Bring it to court.

    Really don’t understand your point at all.

    Regarding your other point, that we violate human rights when faced with an existential threat.

    Yes, sure.

    Self – defense is a right.

    Your “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” does not include your right to deprive me of my “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

    Your free speech does not include your right to yell “fire!” in a crowded theater.

    If you take a simple course in civics, or citizenship, all of this will be very clear.

    What makes our laws legitimate is that we have an open process for making law. We have elected officials, courts for appeal, we have an executive that has to sign laws into existence. We can overturn laws if the courts find them unconstitutional in some way.

    It’s quite an interesting system. Checks and balances, redress in the courts, popular referendum. You should learn about it.

    Tuvia

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  82. To Tuvia:
    I guess my point is that everyone is coming from some sort of bias or indoctrination--animal rights groups will say that eating meat or experimenting on animals is cruel; while Jewish law allows eating of meat if slaughtered properly (a slaughter which is supposed to minimize the animal's suffering), and experimenting on animals, if human beings truly derive benefit from it.
    The same thing applies to circumcision--since there are arguable health benefits to being circumcised, and the operation is easier on a newborn, so there is reason not to outlaw it, even when administered on an eight-day old.

    Also, a Muslim country would have no problem with these things (despite their barbarism in other matters), whereas every so often Jews have to defend ritual slaughter and circumcision in enlightened, European countries.

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  83. Also, about a system of checks and balances: a Rav of mine said that Jewish law also had a system of checks and balances:
    1) A prophet can appoint/dethrone a king,
    2) A king can override the Sanhedrin, and execute whomever he wants,
    3) The Sanhedrin can try a prophet, and determine if he is a true prophet or not.

    It's questionable if there is a similar set of checks and balances in the present Israeli system--judges are not voted into office, but are chosen by other similarly- minded judges. (A common Charedi complaint when Aharon Barak was Chief Justice.)

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  84. @Yehuda P.

    And regarding not questioning certain parts of Judaism:

    All religions have the same warning. You cannot question their beginnings, their basis.

    The Russian communists had the same warning. Those who questioned were sent to forced labor camps.

    Why do you think this is? (Or is this another question we are not supposed to ask!)

    In the modern world, it’s ok to ask – to challenge authority (In the Age of Reason this caused the collapse of the idea that kings had divine rule – and led to natural rights, natural law, and democratic institutions.)

    Tuvia

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  85. @ Yehuda P.

    Look, it is actually ok to examine ritual slaughter in the West. It is ok to examine it because the society as a whole needs to figure out whether the slaughter is consistent with its values and laws.

    And it is equally ok for the OJ community to make the case that the slaughter is consistent with the society’s values and laws.

    It is ok for the Western world to tell Muslim citizens that they cannot commit honor killings.

    It is equally ok for the Muslim citizens to make the case that honor killings, a religious value, are consistent with society’s values, and are legal and Constitutional.

    I don’t think they will win that one, but they can make the case. They can appeal it. They can ask for a public referendum on it.

    It is ok to look at the practice of circumcision, which is a medically unnecessary operation done on an eight year old baby without his consent – and it is equally ok for the OJ community to make a case, or several kinds of cases (including freedom to practice religion), why it is consistent with US law and values and should not be prohibited.

    You see the difference? It’s all ok. We all can have opinions.

    It’s true, Yehuda, that if you started your own version of Judaism, and decided to bring back stoning of children for being bad to their parents (basing it on an obscure minority opinion you found in the Talmud), that you might be challenged by a civil rights group, or the US Attorney’s Office or some other party. And it might wind up in a court of law.

    And Yehuda, they might decide it is not ok to stone children, period. And you could appeal this, and make a new argument, and start a petition. And you still might not win. You might not be able to practice that part of “Yehudaism.”

    And that’s ok too. Do you see how that’s ok?

    Tuvia

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  86. To Tuvia:
    The Rambam doesn't say not to question the dogmas of Judaism, because "Don't ask any questions on this, or you'll be sorry"--he says it's due to the limitations of our intellect, that we might reach the wrong conclusion:
    מפני שדעתו של אדם קצרה, ולא כל הדעות יכולות להשיג האמת על בורייו; ואם יימשך כל אדם אחר מחשבות ליבו, נמצא מחריב את העולם לפי קוצר דעתו.

    I wish Rabbi Slifkin would have a post on this, since the question of "drawing the line" comes up every so often--if I study evolution, am I questioning the veracity of the Torah, etc.

    I hope you're not writing agressively--it's just a casual discussion. It's no fun discussing things who agree 100% with your viewpoint.

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  87. @Yehuda P

    All religions say you can’t ask that question.

    The Age of Reason said, wait: why not? We can.

    And kings who said they were divinely anointed to rule suddenly had a big problem on their hands. So did people who said blacks were born to be slaves, and people who said women were not mentally up to having rights.

    Come to think of it, people who burned witches at the stake had a problem on their hands, as did people who killed gays for their lifestyle, and people who killed Jews too, and who killed the handicapped and mentally retarded too.

    People started asking questions – challenging the use of tradition, belief, prophecy and revelation as a reliable guide to the truth. Using their rational faculty, not their ancient prejudices and preconceived notions to understand the world.

    Just remember not so long ago some Nazi soldier may have said “why are we killing all these Jews again?” And the answer was the same as the Rambam: listen man, you just don’t get it. Your mind is too small to understand! It takes a great man to understand! Now get those twenty starving, crying kids in to that Zyklon B shower. We got a big day ahead of us!

    Belief can get you anywhere. To being an orthodox Jew, a Hare Krishna, a KKK member, a Nazi.

    Look: amalek babies -- your responsibility is to smash their heads in. It’s a mitzvah I was told.

    You be willing to publicly crush the head of some infant some rabbi you respect says is amelak (a Palestinian toddler might qualify), in front of cops and people and your parents – you let me know. I want to be there. And I will say: boy that Yehuda, he is some stark Jew!

    And we can drink a l’chaim together. And then I’ll bear witness against you in a court of law, and send you to jail for the rest of your life.

    Deal?

    Tuvia

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  88. @Yehuda P

    If Rambam was alive today – post enlightenment – I bet he would recant that idea that we can’t intellectually understand the basis for religion.

    He would be a professor at Harvard with a dual appointment at the divinity and medical school. He would teach philosophy of religion.

    He would be enthralled at what rational discourse had done for the world. He would be ashamed of dark age thinking.

    He would be conflicted about his own yiddishkeit – maybe like a James Kugel – he would do it because he had an affection for it beyond what his rational mind told him. He would call it tradition, and note that tradition is not the same thing as unalloyed truth. He would respect the limits of what tradition can claim to know.

    He would recant his line about not being able to understand the roots of Judaism as the kind of clap trap cult leaders, fascists, and communists had used for decades to control people’s minds. He would think it was shameful.

    He would be considered an apikorsos today by the orthodox. And, in five hundred years, after dozens of false messiahs not one of which could resurrect the righteous dead of all generations, he would be considered a genius. Again.

    He might even be a Zionist!

    Tuvia

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  89. I liked the "Yehudaism"-Judaism pun. But I have no intention of starting my own religion.

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  90. About Judaism having a 3000-year old tradition: I read a very powerful statement in the book "Thinking Jewish" by Rabbi Zalman Posner. If a generation is around 20 years, that would make Judaism a 150-generation tradition.

    Rabbi Posner said that in actuality any tradition is only one generation old. Because if Generation No. 150 fails to pass on its values to the Generation No. 151, that break is essentially the end of the tradition. That's quite a responsibility.

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