Thursday, March 20, 2014

What Is The Mechanism Via Which Torah Protects?

There is undeniably a traditional concept in Judaism that Torah provides protection from harm. Previously, I have noted that the extent and parameters of this protection are classically (and logically and practically) understood very differently from how contemporary charedi apologists explain it. However, in this post, I would like to discuss a different angle: the very mechanism understood to lie behind this protection. It turns out that this is yet another powerful example of the difference between rationalist and mystical schools of thought.

As we have discussed before, the mystical and rationalist schools of thought have very different ideas regarding what mitzvos actually do. According the rationalist approach, mitzvos improve our characters, our intellect, and society - and do nothing else. According to the mystical approach, on the other hand, mitzvos primarily serve to create and manipulate various metaphysical energies. To pick one example, according to the rationalist approach, mezuzah serves to remind us of our duties, whereas according to the mystical approach, mezuzos create a metaphysical force-field that protects our homes.

The same is true for Torah. According the rationalist approach, learning Torah imparts valuable knowledge, improves our character, and teaches us how to improve society (see my post on The Rishonim on Torah Study.) That is it, and that is all. Which is not, of course, to trivialize these functions - from a rationalist perspective, these are of immense importance! With the rise of mysticism, on the other hand, came a new and primary function of Torah study. As  expressed by R. Chaim of Volozhin in Nefesh HaChaim, the primary function of Torah study was now seen as being to create spiritual energies and thereby metaphysically influence the universe. (See my post on The Goal of Torah Study.)

The notion of Torah providing protection is interpreted by mystically-inclined people in line with this. Learning Torah creates a metaphysical force-field around one's city, similar to that created by mezuzah around one's home. The more Torah that is learned, the more powerful the force-field. As one Beit Shemesh rabbi said when the Grodno yeshivah relocated to Beit Shemesh during Cast Lead, "the yeshivah is providing an 'Iron Dome' for Beit Shemesh."

The rationalist approach to the notion of Torah providing protection would be very different. (Note that I am not talking here about extreme rationalist interpretations of Maimonides, but rather about mainstream rationalist approaches that reflect Chazal's understanding in this area.) It would relate to the idea of the personal merit of the Torah scholar, rather than a metaphysical protection provided by the Torah study itself. Note that the Gemara's presentation of this concept is not phrased as "Torah study protects" but rather "Torah scholars are protected." It refers to the person who has performed the act rather than the act itself. Just as Sodom could have been saved in the merit of righteous people, so too righteous people can create a merit which leads to the machinations of enemy forces being divinely repressed.

(This is similar to the topic of benefiting someone who has passed away, discussed a few weeks ago. According to the mystical/ charedi approach, you can benefit anyone who has passed away, via learning Torah and transferring "spiritual currency." According to the classical/ rationalist approach, on the other hand, there is simply no mechanism for such a thing. Instead, only the descendants and disciples of the dead can benefit them, via creating a merit for them.)


One may wonder if there are any ramifications to this difference. In fact, the ramifications are very significant. Consider the following statement by Jonathan Rosenblum, in a criticism of Yesh Atid's plan to limit the number of yeshivah students receiving a full exemption from the draft: "I cannot understand how any believing Jew could ever think that we have enough Torah learning, and all the more so in the present security situation in which six million Jews in Eretz Yisrael find themselves." This reflects the mystical approach in which Torah study provides metaphysical protective energy, and thus the more Torah that is studied, the more protection is provided. With this perspective, it makes little difference as to whether the person should ideally be learning Torah or doing something else - the starting point is that Torah provides metaphysical protective energy.

According to the classical/ rationalist approach, on the other hand, protection is earned not by Torah study itself, but rather as a consequence of the merit of the person learning it. Accordingly, the first question to consider is whether it is indeed meritorious, i.e. whether it is indeed appropriate for the person to be learning Torah. If a community is inappropriately avoiding their share of the national burden, or displays no concern for the rest of the nation, then their Torah students will not necessarily be a source of merit. If so, they do not provide any protective benefits.

74 comments:

  1. I usually disagree with all your posts .But this one was finally spoken respectfully and calmly as opposed to the posts of the last two weeks .Thanks

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  2. Honestly, it's truly bizarre seeing this whole issue devolve to a point that so much discussion is focused on whether magical promises of protection from Chazal can be taken so literally.

    While you're at it, here's another one that people can start debating the efficacy of: "Shluchei mitzvah eino nizakin."

    Geez, Louise.

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  3. > With the rise of mysticism, on the other hand, came a new and primary function of Torah study.
    I suppose you should prepare to address the challenge that this wasn't a new movement, but a re-emergence of a particular traditional path.

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  4. But the mystical approach also admits that other mitzvos likewise provide some sort of metaphysical protection, benefit or whatever. So the question of whether they should be learning Torah at the expense of other important duties is relevant even for the mystics, as well.

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  5. And then they want us to thank them for protecting us. Which, in this context, is not nearly as irrational as it seems. Thank you for this explanation.

    However, this week is Parshat Parah, where we learn that HaKadosh Baruch Hu's mechanisms for running the world are not meant to be understood by human beings.

    They will interpret it their way, that G-d has given the Torah all kinds of powers, and maybe He has. Who are we to tell Him what the spiritual impact of our actions are and are not?

    But I choose to interpret it that we have nothing in front of us other than what the Torah tells us. And if it tells us "VeAsita HaTov veHaYashar" (you should do what is good and just), and does not tell us, "Learning Torah offers cumulative protection", then I will go with what the Torah says.

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  6. "According the rationalist approach, mitzvos improve our characters, our intellect, and society - and do nothing else"

    I wish you would have added Heschel's POV: Mitzvot create/solidify our connection to God. This, I think, both rationalists and mysticists agree

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  7. That is part of "improving our intellect" - which I could probably have better expressed.

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  8. Ditto-ing OJ on connection with Hashem. And i think that's more than just "intellectual", and deserves its own separate mention.

    When I don't understand the purpose meaning or benefit of a mitzva, I do it anyway, because I value my relationship with Hashem and trust there's a value in my doing it, even if that value is just "i care about doing what you ask" (a message to myself, really, far more than to Hashem, but it's still about creating a "relationship" and the experience of said relationship)

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  9. Heschel is talking about an emotional connection, not just an intellectual exercise. Like friendship and love between men, but bigger and stronger.

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  10. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzMarch 20, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    Do you feel that the YU/Har Etzion emphasis on "lomdus" (especially Brikser lomdus), often at the expense of other forms of Torah learning, and the statements of many of the roshei yeshiva that support this form, that this method of learning is the one and only "true" limmud torah, derive from the rational approach or has its origins in the mystical approach of the nefesh hachayim?

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  11. Let's do an experiment.

    Announce that the entire IDF, (army, navy, border guard & air force) will be taken on a trip to the USA for a two week period in June.

    Let's see if the 'Torah protects' absolutists have the courage of their conviction or not.

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  12. You forgot to mention the childish approach. I wouldn't even insult the mystical approach by comparing it to what we hear today. The mystical approach involves actual faith. What we have today are the musings of children.

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  13. A difficult question to formulate in a way that makes sense. One understands that in the time of the Chazal and Rishonim common people availed themselves of all amulets and magical formulas. Their use was so ubiquitous that even the Rambam accepted them as a sort of a placebo, while others even thought them effective. These appeared to have been either totally non-Jewish superstitions or old remedies of vernacular and syncretic Pagan-Jewish origin.

    At the same time we see that a very strict and limiting "fence" appears to have been put around Torah study, mezuzot, mitzvot and all other objects and actions. They are to provide us "only" with rationally comprehensible benefits; improvement of personal, communal and national character and intellect, personal merit for loyal and dutiful compliance with the Torah and perhaps a closer relationship with God (as suggested by OJ).

    This is a curious situation of a "dual world" of realities and perhaps Temujin is going off on a very thin limb with this, but can we take it that it's this "only" part, what we now call the "rationalist approach," which is the true "seal of authenticity" in Judaism? The Torah stands out as a radical rejection of polytheism, a world teeming with beliefs in spirits, godlings, supernatural quantities and effects. And if we begin ipening the door to this jumble of supernatural views and actions (even if we think they are effective as in the case of medicinal amulets some of the Sages accepted) we are blurring the line between monotheism and polytheism? Looked at from another perspective, Judaism appears to be the first religious system which rejects magic and limits humankind "only" to a precisely defined physical and metaphysical relationship with God, His Creation and the Laws which sustain it.

    One stands ready to be corrected or chastised for this early morning, second-coffee excursus into what may well be a ludicrously self-evident point, someone else's idea one absorbed and forgot from where, or even a naughty kefira.

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  14. Rambam writes in his letter to the community of Marseilles that we lost our kingdom due to indulgences in segulos and other such fantasies. "This is why our kingdom was lost and our Temple was destroyed and why we were brought to this; for our fathers sinned and are no more because they found many books dealing with these themes of the star gazers, these things being the root of idolatry, as we have made clear in Laws Concerning Idolatry. They erred and were drawn after them, imagining them to be glorious science and to be of great utility. They did not busy themselves with the art of war or with the conquest of lands, but imagined that those studies would help them."

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  15. What about someone who was with his wife not knowing that she was nidda? Why should he have to bring a chatat? forthat matter, why should someone who was kidnapped as a baby and raised as a gentile have to in nay case bring one chatat for all of his aveirot?

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  16. The notion of Torah providing protection is interpreted by mystically-inclined people in line with this.

    How can you interpret B'hukotai 26 "non-mistically" and what doubts does it leave the Torah protects?
    If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, ... you shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land... You shall give chase to your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall give chase to a hundred, and a hundred of you shall give chase to ten thousand; your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.

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  17. Avi, see "Maimonides Confrontation With Mysticism" by Menachem Kellner.

    Lazar, that is no different from any case of reward being promised for mitzvos. Incidentally, the pshat of that passuk is referring to fulfilling mitzvos in general, not studying Torah.

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  18. Lazar,

    Also keep in mind that such lashon was part of political alliances in the ancient Middle East and so might be included in lashon bnei adam

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  19. I can list you dozens of gimara's where a "spin" is done on any given topic, and magically it's referring to tora. For example, megilla 17, we find 14 years missing....so where was yakov for 14 years? learning tora. Is that mystical judaism? from a rational perspective and objective reading of tanach I don't see how this fits. How about, 'im bichukoisa teliechu" rashi-shetiyhu ameilim batora etc...

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  20. Of course, Judaism involves key non-rational elements - as does any belief system. It's is a question of how pervasive are the non-rational elements. I fully agree with Temujin's last post on the subject.

    A key element in the tradtional belief system is that there is a Creator who does interact with creation. As such, the torah assures us in the cited verses brought by Lazar that if the Jewish people establish a solid relationship with the Divine by following the precepts of the torah (not just studying it) then they will merit divine protection and the outflow of divine goodness. Such a good outcome is a result of the relationship - not from some kind of mystical or magical operation. Magic and superstition are demeaning to a rational, religious person - as per the Rambam. Kabbalistic notions, to the extent that they reflect such a world view, are subject to the same objection.

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  21. Lazar, a non-mystical interpretation is perfectly sensible. The Commandments simply please God and they also create a climate of proper behaviour which strengthens the Nation. This would be similar to the way we accept the need for secular laws; their cumulative effect results in a better, more prosperous and ordered society. One also understands that Jews are forbidden to live in in non-Jewish societies which do not have fair courts and laws.

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  22. Where does hishtadlus come in to the discussion? Surely even the mystics agree that a certain amount of physical effort is required in order to achieve anything.
    Then again there are those that believe that hishtadlus for parnasa involves simply purchasing a lottery tickets.
    Maybe they believe that no personal hishtadlus is required for defending ones country.

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  23. Temujin, and getting proper rains in proper times is also just a non-mystical function of proper behaviour?

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  24. The Yerushalmi in Peah (1;1) discusses the military successes of Achav, who with his generation worshipped idols, and says it is because of the merit of the people who did not report to the king about Ovadiah's actions. Apparently it is not simple to know what merit determines military success or failure.

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  25. Bertand Russel the 2ndMarch 20, 2014 at 5:20 PM

    Now you have really put yourself in a pickle. You see 3 years ago you wrote a post bemoaning how the Gedolim offer their undestanding on concepts they have not thouroughly studied.
    So I fail to understand how a zoologist has the audacity to contradict the understanding of the Ziknei Hador. Surely men who have studied Torah for 70 odd years should know a bit more than a 39 year old who has studied monkeys for the good part of his life on what protection Torah offers.
    Your inconsistency never fails to amaze me.
    My second point is do you have a post where you explain what the transgression of Korach was.
    The twisting you would need to do would make a fascinating read.

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  26. Surely men who have studied Torah for 70 odd years should know a bit more than a 39 year old who has studied monkeys for the good part of his life.

    You'd think so. And yet they insist that it's heretical to posit that Chazal believed the sun to go behind the sky at night, while I have demonstrated that this was the universal view of the Rishonim. (And there are many further such examples.)

    The conclusion is that an anti-rationalist mindset fundamentally colors one's understanding of Torah.

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  27. "Torah scholars are protected." It refers to the person who has performed the act rather than the act itself.

    If that's the case, I have some questions:

    1. Once you reach the level of "Talmid Chacham", who says you need to continue learning in order to merit protection? It strikes me that "level" is the key ingredient here, in which case from the standpoint of "protection" you gain nothing from further learning. (Conversely, if you don't reach "Talmid Chacham" status, you can learn 24/7 and won't be protected.)

    2. If Torah scholars themselves are protected, how does it help to bring them to places where missiles are falling? Unless you had a Torah scholar in every house. And even then, you could theoretically have the whole house fall down, and the Talmid Chacham would be the sole survivor!

    3. What does "Torah scholars are protected" mean anyway? Protected from what? Maybe it only refers to something like mazikin, or walking alone at night, or some other limited set of circumstances. Do Chazal say that they have protection in "any and all" circumstances, including war? If so, then we should davka have them out on the battlefield as "super-soldiers", no?

    Given that Chazal speak about Tannaim being slaughtered in droves at the hands of the Romans, and Rabbi Akiva's students (no doubt Talmidei Chachamim) dying of plague, it's hard to imagine Chazal could have thought that being a Chacham gives a person blanket protection!

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  28. righteous people can create a merit which leads to the machinations of enemy forces being divinely repressed

    This actually sounds pretty mystical, as well. Indeed, any kind of Divine intervention should be classified as a miracle and mystical at some level. I think the issue with Charedi view is different. It's that we should not institute policy based on mystical calculations that we do not really understand. We are supposed to act within the laws of natural cause and effect. As for mystical protections - that is not for us to try to predict. The gemara is telling us the greatness of Torah - but they don't say to leave aside logic based upon this greatness.

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  29. gimara makos daf 10a, 5 lines from the bottom. Who caused us to be victorious during wartime?...learning tora.what happened to "share the burden".

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  30. The conclusion is that an anti-rationalist mindset fundamentally colors one's understanding of Torah.

    That's certainly a plausible conclusion. I'm hoping to get your, and your commenters' thoughts on whether the issue is that most people cannot successfully understand Torah without 'derech eretz' as a fundamental component of their lives. If even most Tannaim couldn't successfully follow Rashbi's precedent, maybe it doesn't 'work' now either.

    (Usual caveats about my infinite ignorance go here. And my time has been wasted on issues much more trivial than monkeys.)

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  31. I am with the rationalist approach by and large, but on the other hand their is the example of King Hezekiah ordering everyone to study Torah, and through it the nation was saved from Sanherib, can someone address this vital incident?

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  32. How exactly can a secular state run under secular principles (assuming these really exist) arrive at an equitable plan to populate yeshivot and Tzahal that is consistent with Torah law and is best for achieving the nation's proper goals? That's a hard thing to know, but it's relatively easy to know what won't work, and stop doing it.

    Would-be social engineers need to get past their own biases and areas of ignorance.

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  33. בבא בתרא ז ע"א: מעשיהם של צדיקים שהם מרובים כל שכן שמגינים עליהם

    שו"ע יו"ד רמ"ג: שתורתם משמרתם

    These two sources certainly do sound like the mitzvah/torah itself so to speak provides the tzaddik with protection. It also brings the mishna in Avos to mind that one who preforms a mitzvah קונה פרקליט לעצמו, which sounds like some kind of spiritually protective agent. I'm curious how you would interpret these

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  34. Gimara says that more 'than a gentile hates a jew, an "am haretz hates a talmid chacham. why is that? And why doesn't it say "a sinner hates a righteous person? The maharal explains that the same way a is spiritually superior than a gentile-thereby causing the hatred. So too, a talmid chacham is on another spiritual plane- a higher one, thus the hatred. Why do we stand up for a t.c. Why are they treated so differently in almost all halachic aspects? why is a gavra raba in the gimara ONLY someone who is a t.c? Why does a person loss his entire olam haba for being "mivaze" a talmid chacham? Why ISNT a gavra raba someone that EXECUTES the tora umadda perfectly? By assuring he limits his learning time to share the burden? Why does the Talmud say that a person who has a "choleh" in his house should go to a chacham? does he have spiritual powers? Why does it say "killilas chacham afilu al tnai he bu",what about killilas "tora umadda jew" honest jew"? Why does the gimara search for "with what are women zoche"? do they lack mitzvos? They even have certain ones that men don't have like nida, challah,...The gimara answers again t.t of husband and children. the arizal chida, gra, and many many others explain that the main aspect of reward in olam habo is limud hatora..... Is it a matter of that talmiday chacham have more zichusim number wise? so then why don't we have all these halachos about respecting a philanthropist who donated millions for the poor? Bottom line. It is crystal clear that tora learning brings one to a whole knew MYSTICALLY SPIRITUAL level. It turns an individual who has intellectual and spiritual advantages over others. Which include powers of blessing, cursing, protecting during wartime (as demonstrated in previous post).

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  35. Hoda hashem, If your position is predetermined-you'll run into problems. Let the truth run it's course.

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  36. RT says"...It is crystal clear that tora learning brings one to a whole knew MYSTICALLY SPIRITUAL level..."

    Yet evidently it does not teach one how to spell or use grammatically appropriate sentences.

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  37. Moshe Dick writes:
    Many posters keep on repeating the "Torah protects" quote and,indeed,there are gemoros who do mention that. How does this square with reality? Talmidei chachomim and religious kehillos have been slaughtered throughout the centuries culminating in the Holocaust.Why didn't the Torah protect them? Additionally, there are other gemoros who caution people not to do certain things because of danger. Are talmidei
    chachomim exempt from that?
    No answer is ever given by chareidim.This truly negates any of those answers.Lastly, how do anti -zionist chareidim explain the succes of the medinah? Doesn 't the facyt of this obvious success totally disqualify their opposition? Too many questions, too few answers.

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  38. Basically the question is whether it is one step or two steps. Does the Torah learning itself protect, or is it the actions that are a by-product of learning that protects.

    Neither of these are rational approaches, because one's safety has nothing to do with whether he's a scholar (#1) or a mensch (#2). The issue being begged here, I think, is the Torah v. Chazal problem. That is, is the Judaism of chazal the same Judaism of the Torah, or not.

    According to the Judaism of chazal, clearly learning Torah is seen as some sort of protective measure (except in places where danger is commonly found, which is an exception that basically swallows the rule, but that's another article.) Whether its one step or two is largely academic unless youre a complete boor, in which case you better hope Option 1 is the winner. According to the Judaism of the Torah, however, which focuses overwhelmingly on deeds, its open to debate if learning causes protection.

    K'nl.

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  39. rt: "Which include powers of blessing, cursing, protecting during wartime"

    Did the Talmidei Chachomim 80 years ago not curse? Why did they not protect during wartime? Were they not Talmidei Chachomim?

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  40. Given that Chazal speak about Tannaim being slaughtered in droves at the hands of the Romans, and Rabbi Akiva's students (no doubt Talmidei Chachamim) dying of plague, it's hard to imagine Chazal could have thought that being a Chacham gives a person blanket protection!

    They didn't. They held that it potentially gives protection, which could be compromised by other factors, such as sin, divine decree, etc.

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  41. Eli Julian said...

    בבא בתרא ז ע"א: מעשיהם של צדיקים שהם מרובים כל שכן שמגינים עליהם

    שו"ע יו"ד רמ"ג: שתורתם משמרתם

    These two sources certainly do sound like the mitzvah/torah itself so to speak provides the tzaddik with protection.


    I think they just mean that this Torah/ mitzvos provide the merit via which the person is protected.

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    1. Your premise is that it isn't the torah and mitzvos themselves that create a protective spiritual force field, rather that they grant the performer a spiritual level that merits God's intervention on their behalf to protect them because of their great merit. My point was that they plain meaning of these three sources seems to jive more with the view you are opposing. I was wondering if you had a novel interpretation of the words themselves so that they may better support your position, as opposed to just a "lab davka" which is basically a concession that these sources seem to support the opposing view.

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  42. Basically the question is whether it is one step or two steps. Does the Torah learning itself protect, or is it the actions that are a by-product of learning that protects.

    That's an entirely separate issue from the point that I am discussing in this post.

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  43. You should know betterMarch 20, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    Surely men who have studied Torah for 70 odd years should know a bit more than a 39 year old who has studied monkeys for the good part of his life.

    You'd think so. And yet they insist that it's heretical to posit that Chazal believed the sun to go behind the sky at night, while I have demonstrated that this was the universal view of the Rishonim. (And there are many further such examples.)

    The conclusion is that an anti-rationalist mindset fundamentally colors one's understanding of Torah

    Nothin' like an overblown ego. Sad, actually.

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  44. No, I don't think it's anything special about me. There are hundreds of readers of this blog who have a better understanding of Jewish intellectual history than Charedi Gedolim.

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  45. Years ago one read an interesting description by an English traveler who once stopped at an inn somewhere in an Eastern or Central European ghetto and who observed how the coachmen and labourers spent their idle time studying and discussing the Talmud, rather than getting drunk, fighting and sharing bawdy tales. It can be said perhaps that these men "protected" and even sanctified their community by learning and applying the laws of proper interpersonal and commercial conduct at home and with their neighbours, thus raising its moral, intellectual and spiritual level.

    Push come to shove, Temujin would rather live in the protection and glow of a city with such humble scholars who lovingly snatch every minute to study their Torah to the best of their God-given abilities, than in one whose famous scholars may or may not reach indescribable spiritual heights, but who stay with their own kind, discuss matters only they understand, never see the light of day, never spend an hour's worth of work and must rely on the generosity of others.

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  46. According the rationalist approach, mitzvos improve our characters, our intellect, and society - and do nothing else.

    Of course it is also true to say that if mitzvot do not improve us, and in fact if they have a deleterious effect on our behaviour and character, then they are worse than useless, they are a chillel Ha'Shem

    Obsessive vacillation of the minutia of halacha being used as a justification for lack of good judgement is appalling.

    Thus protecting pedophiles is halachically required due to lack of qualified eidim. Or lack of responsibility to contribute to civic responsibility becomes limud Torah.

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  47. Push come to shove, Temujin would rather live in the protection and glow of a city with such humble scholars who lovingly snatch every minute to study their Torah to the best of their God-given abilities,

    Hear Hear

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  48. If I may be so bold as to reinterpret the Talmud passage on Kamtza/bar Kamtza (or perhaps my epiphany is realy a reflection of my childish and poor education?)

    As I was taught it, the issue in Kamtza/bar Kamtza was that Kamtza felt such hatred for everyone over the way he was treated, he had no compunction over betraying all of um Yisrael and setting up a circumstance that lead to our destruction.

    But I think this misses the moral message:

    The issue was that the Rabbanim were so blinded by the literal application of halacha (on blemishes), and obsessive on mitzvot ben Adam La'Makom but completely lacked any compassion for Kamtza. Although obsesed with the minutiae of halacha, they were unable to act with derech eretz

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  49. They held that it potentially gives protection, which could be compromised by other factors, such as sin, divine decree, etc.

    And there we have a sure-fire formula for making any dogmatic belief unassailable.

    1. Claim that [X] is true.
    2. Cite instances that demonstrate [X].
    3. When people point out cases where [X] is false, claim mitigating factors.

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  50. > so then why don't we have all these halachos about respecting a philanthropist who donated millions for the poor?

    Chazal said explicitly that if there is any mitzvah that protects, to the extent of overriding "fate" and saving from death, it is the mitzvah of tzedaka.

    Perhaps you are familiar with the story of R' Akiva's daughter on her wedding day? (Shabbat 155b) R' Akiva's Torah learning was not even mentioned as something that might protect her. The meal that she gave to the poor person was.

    Yet we do not say, let's take all the money we spend on the IDF and use it for tzedaka.

    Because there is a mitzvah in the Torah, "Tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokecha" (Devarim 18:13). We are not allowed to manipulate G-d, not with tzedaka, not with Talmud Torah, not with any other mitzvah.

    Yes, of course, all the mitzvot and all the Torah learning, and all the tzedaka and chessed of Am Yisrael causes the Ribbono shel Olam to protect us as He has promised. We see outright miracles, where bombs aimed at schools land in parking lots. But does that mean that we should not fight the enemies who aim those rockets? Nothing, but nothing in the Tanach or Chazal ever implies that.

    Actually, a suggestion more consistent with Chazal would be that people involved in tzedaka should be exempt from the army...

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  51. There are hundreds of readers of this blog who have a better understanding of Jewish intellectual history than Charedi Gedolim.

    According to the author of this blog, of course. Incidentally, there are hundreds of thousands of Torah Jews who think the Gedolim know better and who come from all over the world to seek their advice, get a brocha, or resolve a shayla.

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    1. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzMarch 20, 2014 at 11:08 PM

      There are a lot of moonies in that Korean led cult too.

      Delete
  52. According the rationalist approach, learning Torah imparts valuable knowledge, improves our character, and teaches us how to improve society (see my post on The Rishonim on Torah Study.) That is it, and that is all.

    No, it also literally protects the Jewish nation from extinction. If there was no one learning torah in this generation, there would be no Jews in the next generation.

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  53. Temujin,

    Can you give the reference to where I can find the Englishman's description so I can see it inside. Sounds very interesting.

    Thanks

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  54. Rambam Avodas Kochavim - 11:12

    יב. הלוחש על המכה וקורא פסוק מן התורה וכן הקורא על התינוק שלא יבעת והמניח ספר תורה או תפילין על הקטן בשביל שיישן לא די להם שהם בכלל מנחשים וחוברים אלא שהן בכלל הכופרים בתורה שהן עושין דברי תורה רפואת גוף ואינן אלא רפואת נפשות שנאמר ויהיו חיים לנפשך אבל הבריא שקרא פסוקין ומזמור מתהילים כדי שתגן עליו זכות קריאתן וינצל מצרות ומנזקים הרי זה מותר:

    Halacha 12
    A person who whispers an incantation over a wound and then recites a verse from the Torah, who recites a verse over a child so that he will not become scared, or who places a Torah scroll or tefillin over a baby so that it will sleep, is considered to be a soothsayer or one who cast spells. Furthermore, such people are included among those who deny the Torah, because they relate to the words of Torah as if they are cures for the body, when, in fact, they are cures for the soul, as [Proverbs 3:22] states: "And they shall be life for your soul."

    It is, however, permitted for a healthy person to read verses [from the Bible] or chapters from Psalms so that the merit of reading them will protect him and save him from difficulties and injury.

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  55. The concept that Torah itself can be detrimental in a sense is interesting. Although it really should be self evident, it seems to be oft forgotten. A learn Torah at all costs mentality is wrong, and it is contrary to Judaism.

    Rav Huna said, 'Whoever concerns himself solely with Torah is as one who has no God... (Avodah Zarah, 17b)

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  56. The fallacy of this claim is in the beliefs of many hareidi Ashkenazi rabbis themselves. They actually hold that Torah can destroy! How is this possible? they do the very opposite of what they are now claiming, and refrain from torah study, every Nittel! In fact, back in the shtetl, they knew that Yeshiva learning had no protective effects. Thus they would avoid going outdoors on Xmas eve, in case they were attacked. Until today, they continue this minhag, and engage in Bittul Torah every xmas.

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  57. Anonymous said...
    "Talmidei chachomim and religious kehillos have been slaughtered throughout the centuries culminating in the Holocaust.Why didn't the Torah protect them? No answer is ever given by chareidim."


    On the contrary, the central question of theodicy -- "tzaddik vera lo" -- is extensively discussed by charedim, with many answers given, some of which will apply to some people or at certain times and places and not others. Within the general, broad protection given by both Torah learning and the performance of mitzvos, there are many exceptions. One person may have had some sin that needed correction. In other cases a rule stated by Chazal applies: "kevan shenitna reshus lemachabel, eino mavchin bein tzaddik verasha." Iyov is all about the question of tzaddik vera lo.

    The Gemara says that Acher lost his faith when he saw a boy fall and die while he was performing two mitzvos that the Torah itself says grant long life (kibud av and shiluach hakan).


    Here in the world of blogs we seem to have many Acherim.

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  58. Lazar said: "How can you interpret B'hukotai 26 "non-mistically" and what doubts does it leave the Torah protects?"

    Lazar,
    The verse you quoted says nothing about sitting in a study hall day and night and reciting snippets of Oral Law. The verse talks about allegiance to and implementation of the commandments. Did you forget there is more than 1 mitzvah?
    It speaks of those following the Torah with loyalty and righteous behaviors receiving a special boost in battle to be able to pursue and defeat their enemies. In fact, it specifically states that our enemies will fall by the sword, (while we pursue them!) not by our thought processes or spiritual world manipulation. Enemies don't get chased inside a kollel. This special "boost" happens on the battlefield.

    The verse is specifically directed to warrior-servants of Hashem, not full time scholars who refrain from battle. It's mind-boggling how this verse could be so distorted by the conclusion you draw from it.

    What is an interesting aside here, is that according to the haredi worldview, there is no Jewish nationhood, the Israeli govt has no relevance as a Jewish entity, living in Israel is just another "galus" (Chas veshalom) but located in our ancient land, yet when it comes to justifying and trying to perpetuate their culture and lifestyle, suddenly we're 1 nation where everyone's lot is tied in because "chiloni Nimrod Israeli will fight better in war and protect us better thanks to my learning within the yeshiva walls!" Although for some of them, they don't even pretend it will help the IDF performance - they tell us that somehow they will divinely influence Achmedinejad's decision-making processes to refrain from launching a nuclear bomb at Israel. Please! Aside from those who see the need for changes or that something is lacking in their society, the charedim and their leadership generally feel they have a comfortable existence and are pleased with their culture, and they are desperately trying to preserve it. It really has little to do with actual interpretation of sources IMO.

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  59. "So too, a talmid chacham is on another spiritual plane- a higher one, thus the hatred. "


    Yet another example of someone who mistakenly assumes that any young man who was born into a family that wears black and white garb and who therefore sits in kollel all day long, is granted some kind of automatic status of "talmid chacham" by default. So this commenter goes on a long discourse about why Chachamim are special, but we already knew that. That doesn't make every single charedi Jew a chacham, does it?!

    And asking the black and white garb families to contribute to society like everyone else is apparently a form of hatred? Not really.

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  60. Rabbi Slifkin, When you get a chance, take a look at the sefer called "hilchos midina" (tzitz eliezer) perek:4 shar:3 page:59, he quotes rav kook as being vehemently opposed to drafting yeshiva students.

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  61. Are you kidding? dont you have anything you write fact checked by someone who knows Torah?

    Rambam MN 3:51 We have explained in this sense the words: "The wicked shall be silent in darkness" (1 Sam. ii. 9), whilst those who possess the knowledge of God, and have their thoughts entirely directed to that knowledge, are, as it were, always in bright sunshine; and those who have the knowledge, but are at times engaged in other themes, have then as it were a cloudy day: the sun does not shine for them on account of the cloud that intervenes between them and God.Hence it appears to me that it is only in times of such neglect that some of the ordinary evils befall a prophet or a perfect and pious man: and the intensity of the evil is proportional to the duration of those moments, or to the character of the things that thus occupy their mind. Such being the case, the great difficulty is removed that led philosophers to assert that Providence does not extend to every individual, and that man is like any other living being in this respect, viz., the argument based on the fact that good and pious men are afflicted with great evils. We have thus explained this difficult question even in accordance with the philosophers' own principles. Divine Providence is constantly watching over those who have obtained that blessing which is prepared for those who endeavour to obtain it. If man frees his thoughts from worldly matters, obtains a knowledge of God in the right way, and rejoices in that knowledge, it is impossible that any kind of evil should befall him while he is with God, and God with him. When he does not meditate on God, when he is separated from God, then God is also separated from him; then he is exposed to any evil that might befall him; for it is only that intellectual link with God that secures the presence of Providence and protection from evil accidents. Hence it may occur that the perfect man is at times not happy, whilst no evil befalls those who are imperfect; in these cases what happens to them is due to chance. This principle I find also expressed in the Law. Comp. "And I will hide my face them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them: so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?" (Deut. xxxi. 17). It is clear that we ourselves are the cause of this hiding of the face, and that the screen that separates us from God is of our own creation. This is the meaning of the words: "And I will surely hide my face in that day, for all the evils which they shall have wrought" (ibid. ver. 18). There is undoubtedly no difference in this regard between one single person and a whole community. It is now clearly established that the cause of our being exposed to chance, and abandoned to destruction like cattle, is to be found in our separation from God. Those who have their God dwelling in their hearts, are not touched by any evil whatever. For God says: "Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God" (Isa. xli. 10). "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee" (ibid. xlii. 2). For if we prepare ourselves, and attain the influence of the Divine Intellect, Providence is joined to us, and we are guarded against all evils.

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  62. Here in the world of blogs we seem to have many Acherim.

    When I first started attending the shul my family now attends, and they wanted to give me an Alyia, I told them to call my up as Acher.

    When they asked why, I told the the Eidat Charedie, and the Charedi Gedolim had degreed me a min.

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  63. When you put on tefillin in the morning are they rationalist or mystical tefillin? Or false dichotomy?

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  64. Here in the world of blogs we seem to have many Acherim.

    You mean people that disregard the gemara's explanation for what the Torah's promises of long life actually mean? I suspect that such folks are more commonly found in chareidi kollelim than on blogs.

    You're correct that many chareidim discuss theodicy, but they never seem to include the Rambam's criticism of abandoning the study of war, or accept that the qualifications that you listed also limit the protection they claim to provide.

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  65. Avrohom, Temujin is sure he has the book...most likely a popular history published in the 80s somewhere on his shelves...and will endeavor to find it after Shabbat. Check here again.

    The Jewish coachman or wagoneer, (balagola(sp?) in the vernacular and furman, as he preferred to be called), was a common feature on the roads of Poland, Russia and the Pale. And not all of them were scholars, of course, in fact they had a ruffian's reputation (had to fight off competition and defend cargo and passengers from highway men and brigands), and while some had their own shuls and studied the Gemera, many others read Marx, Garibaldi or Bakunin.

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  66. I would have assumed that his(Rav kook) opinion was not influenced by the right wingers.

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  67. Moshe Dick writes:
    Toby Katz : You yourself write that "tsaddik vera lo' has been discussed extensively and has many exceptions with many different applications in different cirumstances. All of that is true but you actually buttress the argument that we do NOT know what it means that rabbonon have protection because of their Torah. Clearly, this cannot be a general statement as you yourself indicate and as history has proven. Hence, we cannot rely uopn this position for anything,leaving us back at square one. This will mean that no one is free from the mitzvah of protecting his fellow jew. (Lo taamod al dam reieicho). Your mention of Acher is erroneous- he gave up the Torah altogether whereas the multitude of Jews who have major questionss on the chareidi leadership continues to be shomer torah umitzvos- and is asking the chareidi tsibbur to espouse this mitzvah of protecting jews.

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  68. Rabbi Slifkin, What exactly do you mean when you say this: "protection is earned not by Torah study itself, but rather as a consequence of the merit of the person learning it".

    To me, what you're saying sounds somewhat like the concept of karma, which is a non rational idea.

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  69. No, I'm talking about the classical Jewish concept of reward and punishment. Like the righteous that Avraham hoped to find in Sodom.

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  70. Ok, well if the classical Jewish concept of reward and punishment is derived from the story of Sodom, then I'm not sure whether it's any more rational than the non-rational concepts you contrast it against.

    Am I missing something here about the story of Sodom?



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  71. Recently there was an appalling report about the principal of Lustig girl's school in Ramat Gan, who told his students that Religious Zionism is nationalism and is therefore idolatry

    are you saying this essay of rabbi wasserman is appalling ?

    http://www.natrina.org/epoch_of_the_messiah.pdf

    Nowadays, the Jews have chosen two "idols" to which they offer up their sacrifices. They
    are Socialism and Nationalism. The new gospel of Nationalism can be defined very briefly
    as: "Let us be like the nations." All that is required of the Jew is national feeling. He who
    pays the shekel and sings Hatikvah is thereby exempted from all precepts of the Torah. It
    is clear that this idea is considered to be fundamentally idol-worship from the point of view
    of the Torah. These two forms of idol.worship have poisoned the minds and the hearts of
    Hebrew Youth.

    ...

    It is clear that since modern nationalism is fundamentally idol-worship, it follows automatically that the Religio-Nationalist viewpoint is nothing less than idol-worship coupled with service to
    G-d.

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