Sunday, July 31, 2016

Strengthening Emunah: Via Denying Dinosaur Eras, or Sentient Pigs?

There's a fascinating and disturbing battle taking place about how to strengthen emunah with students. It pits one group of charedi Gedolim against another, and both of them against modern educated people with the capacity for critical thought.

Today I was in a Jewish bookstore in New York, and prominently displayed were two new books on emunah. One was by Rabbi Dovid Saperman of the Ani Maamin Foundation and was entitled Emunah: A Refresher Course. The approbations are from Rav Shlomo Miller, Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky and Rav Aharon Feldman. It contained the usual specious "logical" and "scientific" arguments of the sort popularized by the Discovery seminar - the Kuzari argument, the claim that the Torah claims there to be only four animals with one kosher sign and no others have ever been discovered, the claim that Chazal made a supernatural prediction that there are no fish with scales and without fins, etc.

Unlike the Discovery seminar, however, Emunah: A Refresher Course also included extensive pseudo-scientific material attempting to prove that there was no era of dinosaurs; the universe is only 5776 years old, and dinosaurs lived just a few thousand years ago, concurrently with contemporary species. Likewise, there was extensive presentation of kashyas on evolution, arguing that it is false and nonsense. This material all appeared to be from computer scientist Jonathan Ostroff, well known to long-time readers of this blog as a Young Earth Creationist with bizarre debating tactics and even more bizarre beliefs. Rabbi Saperman apparently rates Ostroff as some kind of scientific expert and unhesitatingly accepts all his material. He appears to believe that convincing people that modern science is all wrong will strengthen people's emunah.

The other book that I saw takes a very different approach and indeed was apparently written as a direct response to Rabbi Saperman. It is entitled The Heart of Emunah: The Torah Approach for Conveying Yiddishkeit to our Children, and it is written by none other than Rabbi Ruven Schmelczer. For those who don't recognize that infamous name, Ruven Schmelczer is the person who, along with Leib Pinter and Leib Tropper, engineered the ban on my books. He subsequently wrote a book in opposition to my own, entitled Chaim B'Emunasam, with glowing endorsements from his rebbe Rav Moshe Shapiro, Rav Elya Ber Watchfogel, and numerous other charedi Gedolim who had signed the ban on my books. Chaim B'Emunasam was a masterpiece of intellectual dishonesty (full critique at this link), rivaling Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's Torah, Chazal and Science as the most dishonest Torah work ever written. Rabbi Schmelczer not only ignored the views of Rishonim and Acharonim which contradicted his claims; he actually re-arranged the words of Rambam in order to entirely change their meaning!

After I printed and distributed a booklet exposing the dishonesty of Rabbi Schmelczer's work, I received reports that Rav Moshe Shapiro's circle was very embarrassed by the whole matter, and claimed that Rabbi Schmelczer was not, in fact, representing Rav Shapiro's positions. (Subsequently Rav Moshe Shapiro himself severely harmed his own reputation, with the police indicting him for instructing one of his followers to beat an old woman half to death, Rav Moshe's denial of any guilt in the crime, but a video then emerging of his giving these exact instructions.) So I was quite intrigued to see Rav Moshe Shapiro again writing a glowing approbation for Rabbi Schmelczer's book, alongside Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rav Yaakov Hillel and Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler.

As the approbations and introduction to The Heart of Emunah make clear, this book is written specifically to counter works and programs such as those of Rabbi Saperman. Emunah, it says, should not be taught via any kinds of "proofs" or "arguments" based on history, science or philosophy, which can lead to dangerous confusion. Rather, it should be based on emunah peshutah, straightforward simple faith.

That actually sounds quite reasonable, in and of itself, but when Rabbi Schmelczer fleshes out what he means, it becomes very problematic. On p. 33 we are told that "the foundation of emunah is surrendering one's own sechel to those who have acquired sechel haTorah." On p. 71, Rabbi Schmelczer guarantees that one can cure a bone stuck in the throat by placing another bone from the same dish upon the forehead and saying certain Kabbalistic words. He then proceeds to insist that a person is obligated to believe in the existence of salamanders that are formed from fire, mice that are formed from dirt, mermaids and phoenixes. The main thrust of the book is that children must be be brainwashed with emunah peshutah, by having it repeatedly drilled into them, and removing any influence that might cause them to have any questions. Any questions or discussion should be strongly discouraged; the ideal is to accept everything without questioning anything.

The book mixes this message with all sorts of questionable hashkafic dictates, such as that one's non-Jewish "cordial neighbor" lives a life of "transient self-indulgence," and can turn against you "with utmost cruelty," because it is a halachah that Eisav hates Yaakov (p. 219). Chapter 24, "Combatting Disenchantment," addresses those who "claim" to feel disenfranchised from Klal Yisrael, and who have unanswered questions; Rabbi Schmelczer assures his readership that such heretics are simply seeking license to pursue their lusts for corrupt behavior. The possibility that there are other approaches to these issues amongst the Rishonim and Acharonim is entirely negated; when Rabbi Schmelczer discusses the topic of the sun's path at night (p. 368), his extensive Hebrew footnotes entirely ignore all the dozens of Rishonim and Acharonim who saw this topic as demonstrating that the Sages' beliefs about the natural world were not always correct.

Rabbi Schmelczer relates countless stories about the supernatural powers of Gedolim, the truth of miraculous phenomena, and suchlike. He saves the best one, a second-hand story allegedly told by the Chafetz Chaim, for the final chapter. In the city of Shavel (Šiauliai), a pig once forced its way into a shul, went to the ammud, and stood up on its hind legs. Demonstrating a level of intelligence, eyesight, and dexterity not normally seen in this species, it opened up the siddur, and began turning pages. It found its way to a piyut that mentioned pigs, tore that page out of the siddur, and ran out of shul. The rav explained that this pig was a gilgul of Eisav, and that this was a bad sign; a few days later, the entire city was destroyed in a fire. Rabbi Schmelczer concludes by noting that "stories such as these, told by tzaddikim and gedolim who personify trustworthiness.... are proof to our emunah that there is always a spiritual dimension above what we can see and understand."

So, this is the debate between the charedi gedolim. How do we strengthen emunah in our children? Do we give them pseudo-scientific proofs of the truth of Torah, and explain why all the world's scientists are wrong and there was never an age of dinosaurs? Or do we tell them that they have to unquestioningly accept everything, and demonstrate the truths of Torah with tales of sentient pigs?

I wonder how this battle of giants will play out. Personally, I think that for students who are connected to modern knowledge (which is virtually everyone), the healthiest approach is to avoid insisting that they must accept far-fetched claims, and to focus instead on the wonderful experience of Judaism, the significance of Jewish identity, and that which is unquestionably true (yet no less miraculous), such as the return of the Jewish People to the Promised Land. And if I'm going to inspire people with amazing animals, I prefer elephants and chameleons to mermaids and sentient pigs. But then again, I'm an apikorus, so what do I know?

143 comments:

  1. If "...dinosaurs lived...concurrently with contemporary species..." there would be no contemporary species today.

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    1. Why not? If myriads of contemporary species were due to survival of fittest, as the textbooks are trying to brainwash us, today there would no butterflies, koalas, rabbits, etc.

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    2. You have no concept of what "survival of the fittest" means. It's not referring to the idea that individuals within a species fight each other simply to live, nor does it refer to some kind of gang warfare between species. The idea is nothing more than that changes which occur at the genetic level only spread throughout a species if the change is neutral at worst, and helpful at best.

      Like many (religious) zealots, you seem confused as to what science is. People observe things. They come up with explanations. They logically deduce that if their explanations are correct, that these other things should be observable. They perform tests to see if they are correct. If they are, their explanations are accepted. If not, they come up with different explanations. This whole process is repeated, ad infinitum, in order to refine the explanations.

      There is no brainwashing involved. You can make the same observations and perform the same tests. You are free to come up with your own explanations and demonstrate their veracity through experimentation. Or, you can place some trust in those who have done these things and not spend your own time and money on it. The point is, you don't have to take any scientist's word for any theory.

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    3. It's not referring to the idea that individuals within a species fight each other simply to live, nor does it refer to some kind of gang warfare between species.
      Unless you did not notice, I was replying to the comment If "...dinosaurs lived...concurrently with contemporary species..." there would be no contemporary species today.

      People observe things. They come up with explanations. They logically deduce that if their explanations are correct, that these other things should be observable. They perform tests to see if they are correct.

      I am aware of this slogan. You must know any test that supports macroevolution? Or any test that produced a sufficient amount of identical beneficial mutations so that these mutants breed and took over the population?

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  2. Although she hates it when people use this quote, author Pat Hodgell is right on the money

    "That which can be destroyed by the truth should be."

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  3. To clarify my above remark, Rabbi Schmelczer and his ilk are exactly the sort of self-idolaters whom all good people, Jews in particular, should flee as if the Angel of Death Himself were after us. He stands for lies, demagoguery, worship of men as gods and the abandonment of our duty to be moral creatures with the Divinely-given powers of reason and discernment.

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    1. I had to read this twice to make sure you weren't talking about Trump.

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  4. Great stuff!!

    I would "prescribe" both camps with a dose of this video https://youtu.be/PPNuB00AkhI ("Atzeres tfillah" outside Berland court case.)

    It is required watching for those that think teaching your kids to have blind faith doesn't have consequences.

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  5. I was waiting for your response to wonderful addition to Jewish rational scholarship.
    You didn't note that as comically irrational his thesis might be, he does produce copious support for his position from a substantial number of Rishonim and Acharonim. His one-time, - or even multiple-time - distortion of the words of Rambam doesn't detract from what his book defiantly reveals: There is a long-standing mystical and sechel-surrendering vein of thought in our hallowed tradition, much as rationalists try to believe that "True Judaism" has always been the religion of emancipated rational thinkers. (And Chaim B'Emunasam, as well, DOES contain hundreds of accurately quoted citations from Achronim whose views support his thesis, some distortions notwithstanding. It is dishonest to present it otherwise, and indeed, unnecessary: the rationalist position is supported as well).

    A bit of irony: Schmelczer claims to be representing the opinions of Rambam. In a way, he does so more accurately than you, R. Slifkin. After all, Rambam maintained that children were not to be taught the true nature of hashgacha pratit and schar v'onesh, rather one should instruct them acc. to their intellectual grasp, and in fact, he put this into practice when he distorted his own views, such as in Iggeret Teiman. Moreover, he believed that the Torah did so too, when it affirmed the immediate efficacy of petitionary prayer. So, by publicizing Rambam's true opinions, you are violating Rambam's directive, and by distorting them, Schmelczer is complying.

    R Stefansky

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    1. I don't think R' Slifkin has ever denied that.

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    2. "There is a long-standing mystical and sechel-surrendering vein of thought in our hallowed tradition".

      I have not read the book, but is it really Sechel-surrendering? Or is it an attempt to reveal a deeper system with Sechel that requires the surrender of a certain amount of common sense.

      To make an analogy, quantum physics requires you to surrender a lot of common sense, but does not require surrendering the Sechel at all. In fact the surrender of common sense requires more Sechel.

      I may be completely wrong, but I think that the notion that the a proper view of the world is inherently anti-intellectual is a more recent phenomena, resulting from the advance of secular knowledge leading to a clash with religion. Rav Soloveitchik squared this circle in a different way: of course science is right, but religion has its own cognitive methods and sphere. Religious experience is a direct cognitive perception of God. Not that I can agree with him, but it demonstrates that this is the problem and how the conflict can lead to anti-intellectualism (which the Rav decried).

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    3. So, by publicizing Rambam's true opinions, you are violating Rambam's directive, and by distorting them, Schmelczer is complying.

      Nishtanu HaTivim :). The Rambam talks about how trying to explain to someone that the spheres are much larger than the earth would confuse people. Today, basic science education, far beyond what the Rambam conceived of, is available and fed to every man, woman and child. As R Slifkin has pointed out, the "abstinence" approach may work for the parts of the Charedi world where secular knowledge is tightly controlled and withheld from children at a young age. For the rest of the world, no secrets are being revealed.

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    4. "I have not read the book, but is it really Sechel-surrendering? Or is it an attempt to reveal a deeper system with Sechel that requires the surrender of a certain amount of common sense."
      No, unfortunately, it is definitely there, even in earlier works, and not in the quantum physics sense of "this is absolutely preposterous but scientifically testable and reproducible and hence must be true". It involves surrendering one's own mental faculties to the conclusions of the mesora, (and, in current chareidi vogue we must add: as decided by the gedolim), even in face of direct evidence or logical reasoning to the contrary. Science, for the most part, is the conclusions of an eminent logical enterprise, and, in the non-controversial areas, subject to constant criticism, (why am I telling you this?).

      I think that anti-intellectualism is a natural outgrowth of certain philosophies of the Ari, Ramchal, and many other Kabbalistic trends, some even in Rishonic (can I write that? is that a word?) works.

      On the other hand, maybe I should stop writing about these things. Perhaps Rambam's directive should be incarnated today as the necessity to hide the anti-intellectualism from the enlightened masses.

      R Stefansky

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    5. "Some distortions not withstanding?" Wow. That doesn't fly in my field, and it shouldn't fly in Torah scholarship either.

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  6. Schmelczer also seems unaware that the theory of classical elements (i.e. fire, water, earth, air) has long been relegated to the scientific dustbin. Is he so uniformed, or afraid to part with an idea that once permeated Jewish thought?

    R Stefansky

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    1. R. Stefansky, you unwittingly are doing the same think that you accuse R Slifkin of doing. Revealing that the notion of Yesodos (which, as you note, permeates Jewish thought) is actually based on outdated Greek theories of physics is very upsetting to people. While few people study the Moreh, there are many who study Derech Hashem and the Yesodos are in there. In fact, I would say that "once permeated Jewish thought" is inaccurate. It is still there. This probably explains R Schmelczer's approach (which I have never seen or read).

      BTW, welcome back and please stay for more!

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    2. Thank you for your kind words, David.
      The extent to which it still remains a part of chareidi thought became clear to me when I found it in some recent essays, and commentaries on classical works even when it was unmentioned in the original. (Chovot Halevavot comes to mind).
      But I would say that it no longer permeates Jewish thought in the sense that it is absent in the works of current Jewish thinkers, (i.e. not those that merely regurgitate the same six ideas on the parsha). But yes, if Jewish thought is to have been crystallized and codified around 200 years ago, it is certainly still there.

      On another note, I'm not sure how much of a surprise it would be to Kabbalists, since everyone knows that the Greeks got all of their philosophical knowledge (if you can call it that) when they raided the library of Shlomo Hamelekh. Silly David, it's proof of its veracity!

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    3. I preface by stating that I haven't read Schmelczer so my comment vis-a-vis his work may be totally off the mark. Nevertheless, the topic of the 4 yesodos and how they permeate Jewish thought even today when everyone knows that they are outdated as David Ohsie notes needs to be addressed.

      As R. Slifkin points out many times in his books and others do as well, the Torah was given for all times and all places. This includes the generation that actually received the Torah. I go further and say that the Torah was given for us to understand the world from the perspective of an intelligent reasonable person using his own eyes, ears and mind. For example, we are not required to check lettuce for bugs or the kashrus of an esrog with a magnifying glass. From the perspective of an observer standing on Earth, the universe appears to be geocentric. That's good enough. It is not a statement favoring Ptolemy over Copernicus. It is simply a perspective.

      The same is true of the four elements. From the perspective of an intelligent observer using only his senses, it is easy to conclude that everything is made of the 4 elements. That does not contradict our current understanding. It's simply a perspective and should be accepted as such.

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    4. The 4 Yesodot is pashut Aristotle, and wrong. We should celebrate its demise as the demise of a false gentile philosophy.

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    5. From the perspective of an intelligent observer using only his senses, it is easy to conclude that everything is made of the 4 elements.


      I have no idea what you are talking about. Unlike geocentrism or naked-eye examination for bugs, the "4 elements" were never anything that was perceived directly by anyone. They were nothing but a product of people's wild imagination and a need to seem to understand things that were actually beyond the reach of observation, due to lack of technical knowhow.

      For example, today we know that the observed difference between iron and copper has to do with the number of protons and electrons in their respective atoms and the consequent chemical properties produced by the electron structures. In the past, there was no way to even start investigating such things, and unfortunately, people couldn't just bring themselves to say "we don't know". If the "4 elements" are a "perspective", they are one which has no basis except in someone's imagination

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    6. forehead slap. allow me to open up and explain the 4 elements. earth water air fire. there is nothing to run from here, and I would relish the chance to be in some extremely overflowing academic venue when some otherwise intelligent professor has a jab at this relic of the dustbin:

      earth= solid, water= liguid, air=gas, fire=energy.

      everything to be found in this world exists in one of these 4 forms, or it is not physical. it would then belong to not olam haasiyah, but olam hayetsirah.

      I would if they permitted me stand up to the white-board or chalk-board or over-head projector and write down earth water air fire, from bottom to top, and the equate them. then I would explain, it is the fire or energy element, that by its application regulates the states at which every physical think in this world is found. each of all the many elements that all is made of, finds itself crossing from one state to the next according to how much heat or light (fire = energy) is applied to it.

      is this not scientific?

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    7. The 4 Yesodot is pashut Aristotle, and wrong. We should celebrate its demise as the demise of a false gentile philosophy.

      Are the 92 naturally-occurring elements also Gentile? There's lots of stuff in the past that was wrong. Let's leave classifying Jewish vs. Gentile science to our enemies, IMO.

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    8. Hah! I was being facetious. The funny thing is that the very same folks who want to keep Aristotle in the Jewish picture are the same ones who denigrate true "gentile" science as sheker. Go figure.

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    9. My apologies to BreadFromTheLand :).

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    10. is this not scientific?


      Yes, it is not scientific; scientific-sounding, but unrelated to modern science. "Solid, liquid and gas" are physical states of matter which are dealt with in great detail by thermodynamics, but they are not "elements" in the sense which the ancients used "earth, water and air", i.e., that they can be combined to produce other "compound" substances which have varying amounts of the "elements" in them. Energy is an abstract quantitative concept, the amount of which can be calculated in various situations and which is observed to be conserved, i.e., cannot be created or destroyed but only transformed.

      The "4 elements" idea (which I think predates Aristotle in Greek thought) was never of any use in understanding or manipulating the physical world, and turning it into a "holy" Jewish idea was a big mistake.

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  7. These people are either extremely stupid or they are pathological liars. What a world we live in.

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  8. Unfortunately, too many academics and experts of all sorts have proven to be biased/dishonest in so many recent hot-button issues that they've given charedim enough material to say, "You see! They're all liars!" The inference is wrong, but "science" is not as pristine as we would like to believe (this is the fault of scientists who are not rigorous and who make pronouncements which the strict evidence does not suggest) and charedim use this fact to their advantage.

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    1. You might want to give examples, but the main point is that the scientific process itself insulates itself from bias and dishonesty by subjecting all propositions to the criteria of refutation and independent confirmation.

      The charlatans will eventually be exposed in the realm of science.

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    2. I'm not talking about charlatans. I'm talking about people who are less than rigorous in interpreting data, and often these people are not "exposed" (at least not fully or comprehensively by mainstream publications) since 90 percent of the industry already agrees with their conclusions even without seeing their research. You can find many examples when it comes to politically-charged issues (in science, health, social matters, gender matters, educational matters, psychological matters, etc.).

      I think science is great. It's ideally the dispassionate study of objective reality. But I have seen too many examples of bias over the years to trust so-called scientific studies blindly as I once did.

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  9. Just a little recommendation to change "He appears to believe that convincing people that modern science is all wrong will strengthen people's emunah" to "He appears to believe that convincing people that *part of* modern science is all wrong will strengthen people's emunah." It surely doesn't flow as well, but it's probably more accurate.

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    1. Very true.
      Dr. Jonathan Ostroff repeatedly makes the distinction between "operational science" and "origin" or "historical" science.
      He is not alone in making this trenchant distinction.

      So it is quite dishonest of Rabbi Slifkin to paint this group as preaching "modern science is all wrong".

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    2. I don't think that anyone read this blog post as accusing Rabbi Saperman of rejecting opthalmology or ornithology. It's pretty obvious that "modern science" is referring to the fields of modern science that are relevant to the topic under discussion.

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    3. "operational science" = stuff I agree with
      "origin/historical science" = stuff I disagree with since it conflicts with my religious view of history

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    4. The distinction between operational science and origin science is very important. More and more I find my skepticism growing in the "science of dinosaurs." The dinosaurs I see in my children's books of today did not exist in my own childhood. I see how entire species, and their characteristics, enemies, life span, etc., are created upon the slenderest of thin reeds. I see how few people actually ever see the actual bone fragments discovered, how from these fragments entire skeletons are theorized and then created by designers in museum studios, and then how many people are then misled into the badly mistaken impression that the skeletons we see in museums were actually discovered, or are "exact copies" of skeletons that were discovered. Then I see the way science has been politicized in other areas in which I am more familiar with, and I see the fraud, and I ask myself, if it can happen in one area of science, why can't it happen in another? So I have become quite agnostic of paleontologists, and don't tell me it has anything to do with my religious view of history either.

      Does this mean the Meiselman's of the world are correct? No, of course not. No thinking man could ever accept their premise, which basically says we must blindly and uncritically accept the viewpoints of others. But in the same way as we reject that view, we should also reject the almost blind faith some seem to have in anything labeled "science." There's quite a lot of stuff out there masquerading as science, much of which in reality is science fiction.

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    5. Come on Mr. Ohsie, surely you can see that there is a meaningful difference between science that can be tested in the present and science that tells a story about the past. A theory of the origin of our solar system, for example, will never be on as strong ground as a theory of electro-magnetism for the simple reason that the latter is present and available for testing and the former is not.

      Obviously the evidence for any theory should be examined independently, but specific evolutionary theory will always have a "just-so story" quality.

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    6. Rambam held and expounded a four element view, and it informed his medical thinking including that on diet and regimen, which is a) basically sound and b) basically similar to that provided by (at least) Asian and European traditional medical systems. The Western ones are under Greek influence, but the foundational texts of Ayurveda, (contemporaneous with Empedocles) contain an elemental concept similar to Empedocles'. His basic insight, that human beings are made up of the same sort of building blocks as the cosmos, is correct. The details turned out to be different from what he thought.
      Three, four, and five element schemata persist. My employer, unfortunately, is currently afflicted with an outbreak of Myers-Briggs with its four dichotomies and chronic poor validity and reliability. At least the Big Five model has some animal research that supports it.
      Acupuncturist, ancestral health, and functional medicine expert Chris Kresser recently interviewed neuroscientist Dale Bredesen. Dr. Bredesen's interesting work has moved from the lab to the clinic. In application, it is converging on the kind of things that Kresser and his colleagues are saying and have been saying for many years now.
      The interview is very germane to the "operational" vs "origin/historical" debate, particularly the part about the ApoE4 gene. discusses evolutionary biology thinking about ApoE4 and ApoE3, and says:
      [continued in next comment]

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    7. "Dale Bredesen, MD:if you go back to our common ancestor 5 to 7 million years ago, when hominids first appeared, we descended from a group that had a different ApoE. ApoE4 really began with the hominids 5 to 7 million years ago, and it changed the structure of the ApoE, interestingly, and made it more proinflammatory. So it has to do, as you know, with cardiovascular disease, with Alzheimer’s risk, with inflammation, and with evolution, and the question was, how can something which is supposed to be a fat bucket, supposed to be carrying around lipid and that’s supposed to be it’s only job, how does it have such broad reaching effects? What we found and actually just published a few months ago was really a surprise, that, in fact, if you look at what ApoE4 does, it actually enters the nucleus and binds to the promoter regions of 1700 different genes. So it’s a little bit like finding out that your butcher who’s supposed to be the guy carrying around the fat is also a senator who’s also making the laws of the land. You’re really changing the entire program in your cells by the presence of ApoE4.

      And therefore, not so surprising, but as we came down out of the trees and started walking along the savannah—and you probably know that Tuck Finch had suggested this a number of years ago—that what was required for us to become hominids and to be walking on the savannah was a proinflammatory state, surprisingly. This is somewhat of an antagonistic pleiotropy. It helped us as we were young but then was a problem, of course, as we began to age. It allowed us, for example, to step on the dung that we were walking along. It allowed us to eat raw meat with microbes in it—

      Chris Kresser: Right.

      Dale Bredesen, MD: —because you had this chronic proinflammatory state. So that was a good thing 5 to 7 million years ago, and it’s only been in the last 220,000 years—really only the last 4 percent of hominid evolution—that we’ve had ApoE3, which has now, of course, become the dominant one. And then ApoE2 just appeared about 80,000 years ago. So you’re absolutely right. This was part of evolution.

      http://chriskresser.com/prevention-and-treatment-of-alzheimers-from-a-functional-perspective-with-dr-dale-bredesen/

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    8. The difference between operational science and origin science is similar, in many ways, to the difference between pshuto shel kra and Biblical criticism. In each case, one looks to explain what we have, and the other tries to explain how it came to be. And just as we are skeptical about biblical criticism (without automatically rejecting everything it has to say altogether) in a like manner we should be skeptical of the claims of origin science.

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    9. > The dinosaurs I see in my children's books of today did not exist in my own childhood.

      That science is updated and changes with new discoveries is a feature, not a bug.

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    10. @Benignuman: You are committing a false choice fallacy. Stories about the past can be tested in the present. And some theories about the present are harder to test than theories of the past. To take a simple example, which of these is least certain: that George Washington was the first president of the United States, that there was a solar eclipse on 12 June 2000 BC, or that drinking sugary soda is bad for you?

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    11. DF=I am not sure what you are trying to say here. Yes, I understand how paleontologists extrapolate a lot of assumptions based on a minimal fossile record. Interestingly enough, astronomers and astrophysicists do the same. Thus, we can be skeptical about assertions made about how dinosaurs lived, now one species evolved into another.
      My question is are you now using legitimate doubts about paleontologists research methods going all the way to doubting whether dinosaurs existed at all and questioning the whole "ancient earth" (i.e. more than 5776 years old) science?

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    12. Y. Ben David - no, I don't doubt the ancient earth science. And I have no problems squaring that with Genesis via any number of means, including metaphor. I simply inject a note of necessary skepticism into the modern-day religion of "science." The parallels between traditional religion and the religion of science (including heresies, orthodoxies, appeals to authority, and dogmas) are exact. In both religion and science we should go by the motto of כבדהו וחשדהו.

      (Agav, one need not question ancient earth to also not accept the 5776 dating. Studying the first chapter of Avoda Zara shows that this date is predicated on all sorts of questions and unproven assumptions. Of course, it was also suddenly invented mid-stream, and does not therefore have uninterrupted continuity or even tradition to support it.)

      G*3 - it is neither a feature nor a bug. It simply shows that at any given time, what is asserted today as fact may be proven tomorrow to be fiction. Hence, as I say, one should not be intimidated into silence by invoking the magic incantation of "science." (By the way, I checked out your blog linked to above. I like your style and thinking, but I couldn't really get into the book you were writing. it just looked a little cheesy, no offense.)

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    13. > It simply shows that at any given time, what is asserted today as fact may be proven tomorrow to be fiction.

      Sure, which is why scientific conclusions should be accepted only contingently, as the best current approximation of observed reality.

      > I couldn't really get into the book you were writing. it just looked a little cheesy, no offense.

      None taken. It's a work in progress, and I welcome constructive criticism. Was there something specific that I could improve?

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    14. And just as we are skeptical about biblical criticism (without automatically rejecting everything it has to say altogether) in a like manner we should be skeptical of the claims of origin science.

      This is a perfect analogy, just as we reject biblical criticism which contradicts our view of Torah MiSinai for religious reasons, so to we reject science that threatens are our religious views by calling it "origin science" or by putting "science" in quotation marks.

      As an aside, peshuto shel kra if of course completely highly dependent on origins and religious view. Our peshuto shel kra eliminates any interpretation of other gods, corporeality, punishment by removal of limbs, etc.

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    15. More and more I find my skepticism growing in the "science of dinosaurs." The dinosaurs I see in my children's books of today did not exist in my own childhood. I see how entire species, and their characteristics, enemies, life span, etc., are created upon the slenderest of thin reeds. I see how few people actually ever see the actual bone fragments discovered, how from these fragments entire skeletons are theorized and then created by designers in museum studios, and then how many people are then misled into the badly mistaken impression that the skeletons we see in museums were actually discovered, or are "exact copies" of skeletons that were discovered.

      I recommend to you that you learn the notion of "margin of error". Set aside the bones; almost all of the soft tissue and the animal's stance is reconstructed via a variety of techniques which are not certain. Together they provide a "point estimate" (or "best guess") of what the animal may have looked like with a wide range of possibilities. This is not a reason for skepticism, because everyone understands that there is a lot of uncertainty and new discoveries will mean new best guesses. This is not some kind of hidden knowledge (e.g. see here).

      All science is open to doubt, but the method is to identify the mistakes, not to look at the conclusions that you don't like and then by analogy to uncertain hyphotheses reason that this think that I don't like is similarly uncertain.

      Bottom line being that no one here has shown (because it isn't true) that anything having to do with the origin of something is inherently questionable or more questionable than something that had nothing to do with an origin. What there is a more certain and less certain conclusions which are based on how much evidence there is and not other characteristics.

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    16. "Just as we reject biblical criticism which contradicts our view of Torah MiSinai for religious reasons, so to we reject science that threatens are our religious views".

      That, or, just as we reject biblical criticism because its an unproven hypothesis, so too we reject unproven theories that calls themselves "science." In other words, if you believe in biblical criticism but don't follow its conclusions purely for religions reasons, then you're not intellectually honest.

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    17. That, or, just as we reject biblical criticism because its an unproven hypothesis, so too we reject unproven theories that calls themselves "science." In other words, if you believe in biblical criticism but don't follow its conclusions purely for religions reasons, then you're not intellectually honest.

      1) The fact is that the Orthodox have a faith principle that the Torah (Pentateuch) was divinely given in pretty much the form we have now. That colors our entire approach to analyzing it. E.g., if you took any other books outside of Tanach and looked at fantastic or miraculous stories, then you would interpret them as legends, and if you found contradictions, you would consider the possibility of them actual being contradictions (which you might do in Nach, but not Torah). You would not base your evaluation of the authorship of the books simply because of claims within the book itself. You would also interpret depictions of dieties according to the culture of the time and not in line with the Jewish Orthodox principles of faith (monotheism etc.). You would evaluate historical claims based on other evidence available and the plausibility of the claims.

      Conversely, when bible critics approach the bible academically, they treat it like you or I would treat texts from any other culture. For example, an explanation of an historical event as a "miracle" would not be considered a valid explanation, just as positing a "miracle" to explain an unexpected result in science would be completely invalid.

      2) On the questions of intellectual honesty, I think that it is intellectually honest to admit that we approach religious text with a different set of assumptions than we approach other phenomena, because that is true and the faith principles of Judaism appear to us to require it. What is intellectually dishonest is to claim you evaluate texts from all cultures equally. Also, to say that adherence to tradition plays no role is both intellectually dishonest and counterfactual.

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  10. There is one claim that may seem far-fetched, without which all of it is meaningless, and that is the idea of Nevuah, of G-d communicating directly with human beings.

    The "wonderful experience of Judaism and the significance of Jewish identity" rests on that concept more than on anything else - that G_d created human beings who are capable of receiving prophecy, and capable of talking back. After the age of prophecy ended (temporarily), we have the Torah, which is another form of dialogue with G-d.

    But besides that, the Torah tells us stories, it doesn't tell us lies.

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    1. The experience of Judaism and the significance of Jewish identity has nothing to do with whether the tenets of Judaism are true, including the claim that God talks to people. Even if Judaism is completely false, Jewish identity, as a people with a shared history stretching back thousands of years, is significant. And Jewish practice can and does produce wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) experiences regardless of whether or not those experiences are grounded in revelations from God.

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    2. Only if one can extrapolate from that experience to the possibility of it being many times stronger, to the point of actual communication. Otherwise, when the Torah says, "G-d spoke to Moshe, saying" is a lie. And so is, "Nachamu, Nachamu, Ami". And we cannot live like that.

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    3. The experiences of Jewish practice have almost nothing to do with what happens to be written in the Torah. For example, Shabbos is enjoyable because it is time to disconnect from everyday concerns and spend time with family and friends. That experience of Shabbos has value and meaning whether or not God spoke to Moshe.

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    4. That experience of Shabbos has value and meaning whether or not God spoke to Moshe.


      Do you realize that you have redefined "meaningful" to be equivalent to "enjoyable" or "emotionally satisfying", essentially emptying the word of its original connotation?

      I'm as disturbed as anyone else here at these clowns, Sapirman and Schmeltzer, who are selling their ignorant views of emunah, but at the same time, I can't grasp how anyone could take the idea of being "orthoprax" seriously. It only works until a serious (or even mild) difficulty arises, but how could Shabbos observance, for example, based on enjoying Shabbos at whatever level stand up to some real deprivation or pain, or certainly to (perceived) damage to one's career or lifestyle?

      Religious observance based on what is "enjoyable" is not religious observance at all, but something else altogether. One may value it, but it has nothing to do with religion.

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    5. > Do you realize that you have redefined "meaningful" to be equivalent to "enjoyable" or "emotionally satisfying"

      Meaningful = emotionally satisfying and important, yes. What else would it mean? Spending time with family and friends free of everyday distractions is important and emotionally satisfying. If you think that you're doing something of cosmic significance, then you think it's important and find it emotionally satisfying.

      > essentially emptying the word of its original connotation

      Which is what? Should meaningful = Doing God's will? What makes that meaningful, except that it's important and emotionally satisfying to obey the Creator of the Universe?

      > It only works until a serious (or even mild) difficulty arises, but how could Shabbos observance, for example, based on enjoying Shabbos at whatever level stand up to some real deprivation or pain,

      It can't. So? Does that mean it has no value or meaning? Isn't that like saying, "If owning paintings were dangerous, you wouldn't keep your paintings, so they have no value or meaning."

      > Religious observance based on what is "enjoyable" is not religious observance at all, but something else altogether. One may value it, but it has nothing to do with religion.

      Agreed, but the pleasant experiences of religious observance isn't really connected to dogmatic beliefs about the truth of prophecy, either, which was the point under discussion.

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    6. If you think that you're doing something of cosmic significance, then you think it's important and find it emotionally satisfying.


      Classic backwards reasoning. Cosmic significance implies emotional satisfaction (under some conditions), but the reverse is not necessarily the case.

      I got the message right away that you don't believe in the existence of "cosmic significance" or "true prophecy", so your highest possible value is some kind of "pleasant experience". That doesn't mean that I have to accept your redefinition of words and phrases which have meant something very specific for hundreds or maybe thousands of years.

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  11. I fail to understand what can be proved from the tale of the smart pig (even if it is true, which I also doubt). Does the Torah anywhere indicate that pigs can read?

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    1. Even as a story of "gilgul", it seems questionable: Stories resorting to explaining someone's conduct by being a "gilgul" usually present that someone as doing something to rectify what happened in the past. (I can provide examples if you like.)

      Here, the pig seemingly is continuing in it's Eisav-like character, and not rectifying anything. I don't think this story is particularly edifying.

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    2. But even if it was a gilgul, that doesn't prove that the TORAH is true - at most it proves that there is some kind of supernatural phenomenon.

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    3. @dlz, exactly as you say. But proving supernatural phenomena is a step towards proving Torah and disproving secularism. In combination with other parts of the book or with info that a reader already has, they might get him all the way to beliefe in Torah.

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  12. I really don't understand why you ignore the explanation of nearly all the prominent rabbis here in Israel!
    The world that the Torah talks about is the world where man exists.
    There were previous "worlds" and of course the Torah mentions dinosaurs!
    Respect in order to be respected!

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    1. Where exactly does the Torah mention dinosaurs?

      And who are "nearly all"?

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    2. Exactly! B-reshit bara. It isn't necessary to disprove science in order to teach emunah. Knowledge of chazal teachings on the Torah is all out takes. There were precious worlds in which the dinosaurs could have been prominent figured. It's also worth noting that there is an obscure text written by a frum Yid that takes the order of evolution and teiches jujitsu yup with the creative order of the Torah. Emunah exists in children naturally. It's the shtut that they're subjected to that kills it. It needs to be nurtured naturally, not artificially fortified by nonsense.

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    3. @Nachum: Silly rabbit, don't know you about Bible Codes?

      http://www.muphin.net/biblecode/pic/p149.jpg

      SIXTY-FIVE million years ago an asteroid bigger than Mount Everest struck the Earth, exploding with the force of 300 million hydrogen bombs, and killed all the dinosaurs.

      "Asteroid" and "dinosaur" are encoded together in the Bible. The Biblical name for the first creatures God created on Earth is also encoded in the same place.

      "And God created the great Tanin," states the first chapter of Genesis. The word means "dragons" or "monsters." It describes some huge animal that no longer exists.

      And "dragon" is encoded across "dinosaur," just above "asteroid." With them is encoded the name of the dragon that, according to legend, God slayed before Creation.

      It is surely intentional that the name of the dragon the Bible says God fought-"Rahab"-appears in the Bible code exactly where the "asteroid" hits the "dinosaur."

      In fact, the full hidden text states, "It will strike Rahab."

      It suggests that the extinction of the dinosaurs was the real slaying of the dragon, the cosmic event recalled by Isaiah: "Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, and pierced through the dragon?"

      Scientists now agree that mankind would never have evolved unless the dinosaurs had been wiped out by the asteroid.

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    4. There's a great chapter on big crocodiles in the book לא כך כתוב בתנך:

      http://www.kotar.co.il/kotarapp/index/Chapter.aspx?nBookID=97257445&nTocEntryID=97259084

      מבוא, או מתי נבראו התנינים הגדולים?

      מתוך:לא כך כתוב בתנ"ך > לא כך כתוב בתנ"ך

      מתן תורה בסיני מלווה היה בזעזוע רב רושם : ... " ויהי קולות וברקים וענן כבד על ההר וקול שופר חזק מאוד , ויחרד כל העם ... והר סיני עשן כולו מפני אשר ירד עליו ה' באש , ויעל עשנו כעשן הכבשן ויחרד כל ההר מאוד" ( שמות יט , טז-יח . ( עוצמת האירוע שליווה את מתן תורה משולה בעינינו לבריאה חדשה , למפץ הגדול בתחום התרבות האנושית : מתן תורה הוא ראשיתו של תהליך ; הטקסט הכתוב הולך ומתפשט כיקום חסר גבולות , הוא יקום הטקסטים המשתלשלים מן הכתוב המקראי ויוצרים אגב כך אין ספור גלקסיות - יהודיות , שומרוניות , נוצריות ומוסלמיות . אכן , תרבותנו היא תרבות טקסט צנטרית : מן הכתוב היא יוצאת ואליו היא שבה , לינוק ממנו בכל דור ודור אורחות חיים ותעצומות נפש . כל כתוב מוליד את ביאוריו ואת ביאורי ביאוריו , בנים ושילשים וריבעים , עד אלף דור , וכתוב אל כתוב יביע אומר , וכל החיבורים כולם כצבת בצבת עשויה , מרבים שיחה האחד עם רעהו . כל שיבה אל המקרא שיבה חדשה היא , ואין דומה הקריאה המאה ואחת בספר הספרים לקריאה המאה בו . כל דור , כל קבוצה ואף כל יוצר וקורא רואים את התנ"ך בעיניהם שלהם , או ליתר דיוק במשקפיהם שלהם , המראים ל... אל הספר

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  13. Hi,

    Could you elaborate more on your point of view about Emunah instead of solely criticizing the people cited in your article?

    You criticize a LOT on this subject, but what is your alternative to keeping children going OTD besides telling them about the miraculous return to our land(which is in deed miraculous, but that does not make you a kookist/Zionist jew right?)??

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    1. > what is your alternative to keeping children going OTD

      Is that the overriding goal, the end that justifies any means? Suppose that there was no way to keep people from going OTD except for lying to them about the world or indoctrinating them to never think for themselves. Would the lying and brainwashing then be okay?

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  14. Why do you continue to refer to these people as "Gedolim"? (I get that your use of the words "giants" is ironic, but still.) This is an artificial category of indeterminate content that has long since lost any positive value it may once have had. These people are waging war on ethical autonomy and, inevitably, responsibility. Far from embodying Torah values, they falsify them.

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    1. He refers to them as "Chareidi Gedolim".

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  15. Rav Slifkin, you are as well-educated as you are well-spoken and well-meaning. But I think you are like the little Dutch boy of legend trying to plug the dike with his fingers. Your efforts are truly heroic but, like those of the little Dutch boy, will (I fear) in the end prove futile. Stuff like this certainly contributes to why some of us go orthoprax.

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    1. Northward Bound, why should these books and their approbations justify rejecting all traditional beliefs? The Hareidi notables approving these books are not people that the MO world worships or uses as halachic authorities. There are halachic authorities who accept established scientific findings about evolution and the age of the earth even if they have difficulty in reconciling such acceptance with the evident meaning of the words of the torah in Gen:1-11. It is certainly not obvious that the rationalist viewpoint will ultimately prevail given current demographics. However, it is hazardous to extrapolate to the distant future from current trends.
      Y. Aharon

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    2. Is it possible that just as the term 'Orthodox' has shifted from it's original meaning and now means something more akin to "group of jews that rejects the outside world" so too the term 'orthoprax' now means something more akin to "a good old fashioned jew"?

      (or perhaps "someone who just tries to act like a good jew"?

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  16. Yehuda-the world of science may not be as "pristine as we would like" but they do admit when they are mistaken and views are modified. Unfortunately this does not happen too often in the Torah world. No human being can be right 100% if the time and the Rabbis lose credibility when they insist they know the "truth".

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  17. To be an apikorus you have to be learned and knowledgeable. It would be difficult to explain why you are so mistaken for the same reason that you are in the position you are today; you lack the intelligence to truly understand basic elements of Torah and the world. So, fortunately for you, you cannot claim the title of "apikorus". Arrogant, bruised, confused, unfortunate, but not apikorus.

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    1. I understand that it's difficult to explain why all of us here are so mistaken, but perhaps you could give it a go. After all, many of us have spent many years in yeshivah and kollel, as well as possessing graduate degrees in various disciplines, so hopefully we do have "the intelligence to truly understand basic elements of Torah and the world." Perhaps you can begin by explaining why the story of the pig should be believed.

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    2. You write: "To be an apikorus you have to be learned and knowledgeable." What is your source for that assertion? The Rambam holds that mere lack of awareness of the 13 ikkarim renders one an apikorus; no knowledge needed.

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    3. Well, "Oy" has convinced me. The strength of his sources and his rigorous arguments was exceeded only by the power of his authority.

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  18. Has there been any research on what percentage of the population (general, mo, co..) actually thinks about this stuff? how seriously? It could well be that percent is small enough that one could make a consequentialist case that the greater good for a certain community is served by books that say don't worry be happy, rather than introducing "problematic" thoughts.
    She-nir'eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,
    joel rich

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  19. > One was by Rabbi Dovid Saperman of the Ani Maamin Foundation and was entitledEmunah: A Refresher Course.

    I stumbled across an ad for this book awhile back, and was curious enough to google it. After all, the ad promised, "Incontrovertible evidence for Maamid Har Sinia and Torah min Hashomayim," and, "Where the evolutionists went wrong (and why they believe it anyway)." I wasn't expecting much, but what I found was still disappointing. Interestingly (for me, anyway), R. Saperman was one of the people I was sent to talk to way back when I started asking awkward questions in high school. Twenty years later, his arguments don't hold up.

    I do have to give him credit for his book inspiring me… to write my own to demonstrate that disagreeing with Orthodoxy is reasonable (not inevitable, or that those who think Judaism is the truth are foolish, just that it is a reasonable position to take), and not just an excuse to throw off the ol hatorah and wallow in one's taivos.
    I wrote about my impressions of his book/website here: http://2nd-son.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-reasonable-doubt.html
    And posted the first bit of my own here: http://2nd-son.blogspot.com/2016/06/questions-not-excuses.html

    > it should be based on emunah peshutah, straightforward simple faith. That actually sounds quite reasonable, in and of itself

    That's not reasonable at all. Emunah peshuta is a terrible way of determining truth.

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    1. No educated, open minded, intelligent and thought out person could make the claim that orthodox Judaism is unarguably true. However strong feel the evidence for it is some doubt always remains. For some people that doubt is small. For others larger. So at some point we say "I don't really care if it's true. I believe that my life is better off and more meaningful as a believing Jew than not. So I'm going to live my life as if it's true anyway and not worry too much about it". It is that which I call אמונה פשוטה.

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    2. Wouldn't that argument work for Mormons, Scientologists, JW, etc?
      'I do have some questions but I feel my life is better this way, so I won't worry too much'
      Would you say that their Emunah peshuta is a positive thing or a negative one?

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    3. I have no problem with your position. I think it is honest to say, "I don't know for sure this is the truth, but it works for me, and for XYZ reasons I'm going to behave as if it were true." It reflects reality, explains your motivations, and is difficult to turn into a fundamentalist ideology. But it is still not a way of determining truth, and more importantly in this context, is not what "emunah peshuta" means. The archetype of emunah peshuta is the wagon driver in chassidish stories, an illiterate, ignorant man who implicitly believes in and trusts Hashem.

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    4. Yavoy, I beleive that at the point where one has explored all options, but doesn't have conclusive evidence, the Jewish nation can turn to look at its history, heritage, the chain of tradition and outstanding individuals and say that,on balance, we have a good precedent.

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  20. These are what Ani Maamin is recommending: http://animaamin.org/news/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Bibliograpy-updated-Aug-2013.pdf It's interesting that nothing from the Rambam (Hebrew or English translation) appears on the list.

    As an aside, the Rambam did not write of 13 Ani "Maamin"s. If anything they are better referred to as Ani "Yodeia"s. People can disagree with the Rambam, but it has to be recognized that the Rambam advocates knowledge (ידיעה, not that belief, אמונה, doesn't come first, as in kids' education). That's clear from the Hebrew (e.g., Mishnah Torah, Yesodei HaTorah, 1:1 לידע, see there with Rav Kapach's note). As to the Arabic (e.g. Peirush HaMishnah), HaRav Yosef Kapach frequently states that previous translations of as אמונה are incorrect and the correct translation of the Arabic אעתקאד is ידיעה. Similarly the חובות הלבבות, among others, explains that those who are able to MUST (שער היחוד, פ"ג) strive to reach knowledge.

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  21. Did Schmelczer truly do something of such paltry worth? The people buying his book for pedagogical purposes are already the sentient-pig-believing crowd. I don't know - maybe anyone else does - of any deniers in sus sapiens who were convinced after reading the book. His intended audience, the already pro-emunah peshuta people, will only strength their religious devotion by reading his book. And he is right, in a way, that dependence on classical kiruv proofs (save the Kuzari - which is mislabled, it should really be RSG - if presented in the proper context), is dangerous and can lead to "kefira", if not for the reasons he presumes.
    A large number of people - Jews, Christians, Muslims, Shintoists, athiests, Republicans, Democrats - are comfortably entrenched in an emotionally and instinctively satisfying worldview, and will never question the intellectual basis of their beliefs. Schmelczer is just providing emotional support for the Jewish contingent.

    R Stefansky

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    1. R' Stefansky or R' Slifkin,

      Please provide links to writings that argue against the Kuzari Principle, as explained in depth by Rabbi Dovid Gottleib on his website. I would like to see what the contrary view is, and judge for myself.

      Andy

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    2. @Anonymous Here is one http://kefirahoftheweek.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-modern-kuzari-argument.html and check out the links he provides. I also wrote a series of posts on the Kuzari argument including some that directly address Rabbi Gottleib. I had a discussion with one religious guy who actually advocates the Kuzari argument at Kefirah and after a long back and forth amazingly he admitted the Kuzari does not prove G-d.

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    3. Thanks!

      You do realize, though, that if you succeed in making me an atheist, I will see the world as utterly meaningless, and never bother with silly man-made morality ever again. (Watch your wallet!) :)

      Andy

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    4. @Anonymous - Not all atheists see the world as meaningless, most probably do not. Nor are all 'man' made ethical systems silly. Nor are atheists necessarily without morals. Anyway, by becoming an atheist you are helping to bring about Moshiach - sort of. I base this on one opinion of the Talmud; in Sanhedrin if my memory serves me. So encouraging atheism has a positive side. Refuting the Kuzari argument does not mean you should become an atheist - just so you know. It just means that argument for G-d is weak.

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    5. Most atheists have morals---because they mimic some aspects of the believers' morals (e.g. do not murder).

      But at bottom, there's no reason in the world why one man is bound by another man's morals. There's no reason to believe that the temporary configuration of the molecules of an innocent human are more worth protecting than the temporary configurations if the molecules of a rock.

      Honest atheists (e.g. Sam Harris) admit this.

      Andy

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    6. Most atheists have morals---because they mimic some aspects of the believers' morals (e.g. do not murder).

      But at bottom, there's no reason in the world why one man is bound by another man's morals. There's no reason to believe that the temporary configuration of the molecules of an innocent human are more worth protecting than the temporary configurations if the molecules of a rock.


      Are you arguing logic or psychology:

      1) If logic, then there is no more logic to the morality of a believer than a non-believer. You still take it on faith that whatever God says is moral. There is no logic to compel that and in fact Judaism doesn't even embrace it as both Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu argued with the morality of God's actions. To paraphrase you, there is no reason to believe that which God tells you do to is worth more than what he doesn't tell you to do.

      2) If psychology, then it becomes an empirical matter. Are atheists more likely to become criminals that believers? Are countries which a larger percentage of atheists less moral. Did Sam Harris say that he has no morality or that he can't justify it logically? If the latter, then examine #1 above.

      I would say that both believers and non-believers have morality because it is partially built in and partially socially conditioned by any culture, religious or not.

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    7. @Anonymous This Rav Slivkin post is not the place to discuss morals. But you are WRONG according to: "The Ramban commentary on Genesis 6:13 explains the prohibition against violence is a rational commandment there being no need for a prophet to admonish against it. He adds in his commentary on Genesis 6:1-2 that not doing violence is a reasoned concept and does not require Torah to prohibit it. And Yehudah Halevi Al Khazri II 48 explains the rational laws [i.e. no murder] precede divine law in character and time and being indispensable in the administration of every human society." For more see http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2014/05/proof-of-god-from-morality.html

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    8. @Anonymous - But we sort of agree on somethings. IMHO - At the deepest level of nature 'morals' and 'ethics' do not exist. However, as my previous comment from Ramban and Halevi indicate it does not mean there is no such thing morals and ethics at the human society level.

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    9. Atheists who like morality always distort the argument presented by religious believers on this subject (often due to the religious people's themselves expressing themselves unclearly or in an immature fashion).

      The point is not that one cannot be moral without an explicit command from G-d. It is that morality makes no sense in a universe where there is nothing but blind material forces. "Good" and "Evil" themselves are concepts which transcend the material, however defined. This is what "Anonymous Andy" wrote, if one reads his words carefully.

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    10. @FSY - Good grief. Did you even bother to read what I wrote. Also I dont think the Divine Command theory of morals is workable or even that it makes sense. See the link I have given.

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    11. But why is it moral to follow G-d? If it is because G-d defines morality then you reduce the argument to a meaningless tautology. And if you say because G-d is moral, then you admit there is some non G-d based definition of morality. Doing as G-d says may be the only sensible option but it is difficult to argue it is the only moral option.

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    12. It appears to me that Ramban and the Kuzari are saying that you would not need a *direct command from G-d through a prophet* in order to find these behaviors reasonable, i.e., you could surmise that this is what G-d would want, even without a direct command from G-d.

      I don't see how you extrapolate from this that they held that morality is reasonable even if there is no Creator.

      Andy

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    13. @ Anonymous Andy Why not commit violence ? Essentially per Ramban and Kuzari - Because we reason you should not. This is why G-d floods the violence committers. They should have reasoned violence is wrong without a command from G-d. Ramban and Kuzari both are emphasizing 'reason' and not appealing to a Divine Command Theory or claiming they should have 'surmised' what G-d wants. Seems like you are stretching their meaning.

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    14. I'm no expert, but it seems to me that these two people did not think in terms of atheism when they were explaining Judaism. This question of whether one must be moral even without a G-d would not have crossed their minds; they were totally focused on explaining what G-d wanted, and why.

      I believe the burden of proof is on you to show that they meant that even an atheist has real morality.

      In addition: what reason would that be? Why would it be reasonable to not murder, assuming you could get away with it? Because Alter CJA doesn't like it??

      I believe this is why "The beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d......"

      Andy

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    15. Alter CJA---

      Your version of Kuzari and Ramban has G-d essentially saying about the generation of the flood, "They should have known that violence is wrong even if I did not exist."

      I just don't think they would have explained it this way. It does not fit well in the Torah narrative.

      Andy

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    16. @ Anonymous Andy Halevi Al Khazri II 48 explains the rational laws [i.e. no murder] precede divine law in character and time and being indispensable in the administration of every human society. Halevi is not appealing to G-d to explain why murder is wrong - he is appealing to the the needs of human society. That is what he writes. It seems Ramban and Halevi are giving reasons for the flood. They could have said it was because murder is wrong per G-d. But they did not write that.

      "Your version of Kuzari and Ramban has G-d essentially saying about the generation of the flood, "They should have known that violence is wrong even if I [G-d] did not exist." Yes.

      Why should murder be wrong ? Have you read my blog post on it ? Anyway per Ramban and Kuzari because of rationality and the functioning of Human Society. Maybe an expert on what they meant by that can chime in.

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    17. @ Anonymous Andy - Correction. Halevi was not referring to the flood. It was Ramban who was referring to the flood.

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    18. @ Anonymous Andy again per Halevi in same section "Even a gang of robbers must have a kind of justice among them if their confederacy is to last. When Israel's disloyalty had come to such a pass that they disregarded rational and social principles (which are as absolutely necessary for a society as are the natural functions of eating, drinking, exercise, rest, sleeping, and waking for the individual), but held fast to the sacrificial worship and other divine laws, He [G-d] was satisfied with even less." Again this suggests per Halevi there can be reasons not to murder even if G-d don't exist. ON THE OTHER HAND "The rational law demands justice and recognition of God's bounty." This is ambiguous. Can rational law alone demand Justice ? Or does it mean rational can not demand justice unless G-d is recognized ?

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  22. I believe that the story of the pig is a silly distortion of a story told by Rabbi Chaim Vital, the premier student of the Arizal, in his autobiographical Sefer Hachezyonot: The Book of Visions.

    He writes:

    Rosh Chodesh Tevet.

    We were isolated in Kefar Ein Zeiton and there completed the tractate of Chagigah. We decided to make a festive meal for two reasons: one, because we had competed the tractate, and, in addition, because of Rosh Chodesh and Hannukah.

    On the evening of Rosh Chodesh, I saw in a dream the spirit of Rabbi Yitzchak Amigo the musician, who had died three years before from a liver and intestinal disease. When he had been ill, he had ejected bits of his liver. I saw him in my dream in the great synagogue, which he had attended in his lifetime. The members of the congregation were together with Rabbi Yosef Karo, who was the prayer leader. Rabbi Yosef Karo and Rabbi Avraham Laniado, the sexton, came to me and pleaded with me to rectify the spirit of the dead man. The dead man himself told me, “I will come to you so that you will be able to help me.”

    And I awoke.

    The following morning, I told the dream to the yeshiva scholars.

    In the village, the gentiles were bringing a calf to the slaughter, when it broke away from them and entered my beis medrash. It climbed up onto the platform where I and my colleagues (who comprised the yeshiva) were sitting. There was a long table upon which books were placed. The calf stood before me with its two hind legs on the platform and its two front legs on the table. It gazed into my face and its eyes were overflowing with tears. When the yeshiva scholars saw this, they were astonished.

    But I said to them, “This is the dream that I told you about.”

    Then we went outside and bought the calf from its owner. We slaughtered the calf with the intent of rectifying the spirit of the dead person who had been reincarnated into the calf. The calf stretched out its neck of its own accord without any trouble at all. We checked it and found it to be kosher without the slightest question.

    I told my colleagues, “Tear open the liver and you will find that it is rotted, as was that of the sick man who is reincarnated here.” When they tore it open, they found all its chambers filled with blood and an endless amount of very long worms.

    I commanded them to take care not to throw anything of it away. And they took care not to do so. They took out all the worms and all the forbidden fat in the rest of the calf, and they did not lose the slightest bit of any edible part of it. I also did not let any outsider eat of it at all—only us, with the intent of rectifying that spirit by means of a festive mitzvah meal.

    Afterwards, on the following night, I saw that spirit in my dream, and he said to me, “May your mind be at rest as you have put my mind at rest.”
    pp. 150-51

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    1. So he ate a treyfa?

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    2. ******************August 3, 2016 at 4:16 PM

      I'm no expert but surely an animal without a liver is a treifah?

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  23. His name is Rabbi Dovid Sapirman, not "Saperman".

    http://animaamin.org/news/about/bios/

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  24. A person had a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe asked the man what is his parnassa. The man answered that he's a melamed.
    The Rebbe asked, "Do you tell the children סיפורי צדיקים?
    The melamed answered, "No. I think that telling stories is bittul Torah."
    The Rebbe answered, "Stories of Tzaddikim are themselves Torah."

    At the same time, there is another incident that comes to mind. In Rav Zevin's סיפורי חסידים (Story 80, Parshas Vayetze), there is a story of Rav Zusia of Anapoli. A man came to him and said that he has been having a dream lately where his deceased father comes to him and tells him to convert to Christianity, G-d Forbid. R. Zusia said, "Where your father is buried, there must be some appurtenance of Christianity or another avodah zarah. Go check." They reopened the grave and found a few coins in the grave, that must have fallen from one of the pallbearers. The coins had an insignia of a cross on them. Once they removed the coins, the dream ceased recurring.
    Word of the story reached the Vilna Gaon. The Gaon said, "That's an explicit Yerushalmi. But from where did a chassid possibly know that Yerushalmi?"
    They told R. Zusia how the Gra reacted. R. Zusia said, "In truth, I'm not familiar with that Yerushalmi. But I must have gotten the idea from where the Yerushalmi got it."

    When the Rebbe came upon that story in Rav Zevin's book, he asked Rav Zevin, "I would like to know where there is such a Yerushalmi."

    In short, "having אמונה פשוטה is not so פשוט"--a person isn't supposed to abandon all critical thinking.

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  25. "And he is right, in a way, that dependence on classical kiruv proofs...is dangerous and can lead to "kefira", if not for the reasons he presumes."

    Steve Savitsky interviewed Rabbi Moshe Benovitz of the NCSY( Savitsky Talks, "Technology and Social Media: How Are They Affecting the Post-High School Year in Israel?", 8/1/12, 14:00 in mp3, linked below):

    R. Benovitz: ...In the kiruv community, for example, they are coming to grips with the fact that some of the arguments-- historical arguments, philosophical arguments-- that like I said a charismatic educator could tell a person off the street and who would know better, is checked instantly on a hand held device that’s pulled out of a pocket. If those arguments do not hold water, then we've done more damage than good. We need to adjust to that, and we should adjust to that.

    Steve Savitsky: Do you have an example of that?

    R. Benovitz: ...This is probably beyond the scope of this limited discussion because there are obviously complexities and layers here. But examples like mass revelation at Sinai being the only way possible, when you have challenges from other sources, the fact that Torah seems to have been forgotten in certain periods explicitly in the Navi and the like. The chain of the Mesorah-- there is certain reason to believe that were times where it was if not broken, but then it was down to a precious few; that’s a challenge, just to use one example, [to that] mass revelation argument of sorts. [Similarly there are challenges] in the scientific realm, and in the archaeological realm.

    We need to be able to know that there is information at the fingertips of our students that of course we have answers to, and of course we have ways of responding to, but to just throw arguments out there, they’re not going to, nor should they simply accept at face value.

    Interview is available here:

    https://www.ou.org/life/parenting/technology-social-media-affecting-year-israel-stephen-savitsky/

    R. Benovits himself wrote an article last summer titled “Conquering Disbelief in Our Students and Teenagers” on the OU website(“what is needed is giving reasons to believe rather than absolute proof of the veracity of belief.”).

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    1. It is disturbing that, if not for smartphones, he would have no problem using "arguments do not hold water" on "a person off the street and who would know better."

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    2. How do you know that? Maybe he always had a problem himself.

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  26. Re the pig.
    4 legs good, 2 legs better

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  27. Rabbi Schmelczer's "Haredi" approach of discouraging people, and children, from asking questions is completely contrary to the spirit of Judaism. In fact, the Passover Haggaddah sees a "child who does not know how to ask" as somewhat problematic. In the Seder children ask "Ma Nishtana" and we do unusual things to pick their curiosity and encourage them to ask even more questions.

    (Furthermore, the Talmud is completely written in the form of questions and discussions between different sages, which disagreed with one another in innumerable critical issues.)

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  28. "On p. 33 we are told that 'the foundation of emunah is surrendering one's own sechel to those who have acquired sechel haTorah.'"

    The idea that G-d wants us to surrender our "sechel" to a Rebbi which will tell us what to do is common among many groups of Hassidim. It is absurd, because the "sechel" is the feature of humans that distinguishes them from the other animals and makes them "in the image of G-d" (Bereshit 1 according to some commentators). So why would G-d want you to abstain from using your "sechel"?!

    Also, this approach can be dangerous. See how Rabbi Berland still has devout Hassidim that keep going after him despite all the scandals? How can that be?! Well, it's because, according to them, "we don't understand anything in this world and a Tzaddik is something beyond comprehension".

    ReplyDelete
  29. There is no need to abandon both your faith and Modern Scientific facts
    I recommend you read " Open Your Eyes, Genesis and the Origin of Space Time by Melach Freedman: Who addresses the following tantalizing questions with candor and intellectual honesty. Is there any scientific basis for the biblical account of creation, and can any of the theories be verified or disproved? Is the creation narrative meant to be understood literally? Is there any way we can reconcile the age of the world, which the bible asserts is a mere 5775 years, with the geological evidence of 4.5 billion years? Can we logically explain the existence of dinosaur fossils when these creatures did not even merit a mention in the sacred texts? Is it possible that the Hebrew letters themselves are actually the building blocks of creation or that there is a hidden code embedded within the Mosaic texts? How does one explain what seems to be glaring inaccuracies and inconsistencies in Moses’ account of creation? These and other tantalizing questions are addressed with candor and intellectual honesty. Drawing from multiple sources, including traditional Rabbinic opinions, renowned philosophers, and scientific authorities, the answers are sometimes surprising, occasionally disturbing and always thought provoking. http://www.ktav.com/index.php/open-your-eyes.html
    or https://www.amazon.com.au/Open-Your-Genesis-Origin-Space-Time-ebook/dp/B00V4YC6A8

    ReplyDelete
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    1. @TruJew "Is it possible that the Hebrew letters themselves are actually the building blocks of creation or that there is a hidden code embedded within the Mosaic texts?" Most likely No, and No. Our universe is not made out of letters and Bible codes have been debunked. I truly wonder if the author knows what intellectual honesty means. It is obvious the Torah was most likely not teaching modern scientific theories.

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    2. It is obvious that you are indeed an AlterCocker. And a schmuck. You make a snide critical comment but have obviously not read the book which is not about Bible codes and certainly does not support them.

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    3. Can you give us a brief synopsis of his general מהלך? Just to help us decide if it's worth reading or not.

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    4. I can see that Ahavat Yisroel of Ahavat Yisroel really shines through.

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    5. @True Jew and Ahavat Yisroel - searched web for this book and based on what little I could find it seemed the books was referring to 'bible codes', the only hidden Torah codes people seem to discuss. This was a bad assumption and I stand corrected. I have not read the book. Please give some hints about this hidden code.

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  30. I think that fans of this blog might enjoy this t-shirt... although it might be a bit close to home for the baal hablog.

    https://www.redmolotov.com/catalogue/tshirts/philosophy-tshirts/voltaire-right-and-wrong-tshirt.html

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  31. Pigs may not be smart enough to read the siddur, but (on an admittedly unrelated note) they are not only sentient, but smarter than other mammals.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/15/are-pigs-intelligent_n_7585582.html

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mza1EQ6aLdg

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  32. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    "...I'm an apikorus, so what do I know?" Many an apikorus are quite informed. On the basis of 'it takes one to know one' - you are not yet an apikorus. I am giving you a hechsher for not being an apikorus which may be shown as proof against any accusations.

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  33. A Rav told me once that someone came up to him and said "Rabbi, I just want you to know that I am an apikorus". The Rav responded, "I am sorry to disappoint you but you are an Am Ha'aretz".

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It's a cute anecdote (if annoying to the non-believer), but does that work the other way, too? If someone declares himself a maamin, is it valid to tell him, "Sorry to disappoint you, but you're an ignoramus. Go learn how to think critically, study competitive religion, theology, philosophy, the psychology of belief, history, biology, geology, and cosmology, and if you then have the same unequivocal faith, you can call yourself a maamin."

      Delete
    2. I guess that is why people use the term "Yirei Shamayim" more frequently. One does not have to be a giant scholar to fit in that category.

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  34. 'the foundation of emunah is surrendering one's own sechel to those who have acquired sechel haTorah.'"

    The foundation of emunah is provided by the Rambam:
    יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון. והוא ממציא כל נמצא. וכל הנמצאים משמים וארץ ומה שביניהם לא נמצאו אלא מאמתת המצאו

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  35. It’s interesting that Rabbi Slifkin draws emunah from the “miraculous …return of the Jewish People to the Promised Land”. However, such a claim is a 2 edged sword. If you claim that God intervened in history to ensure the creation of Israel and the return of the Jews, then God could just as easily have intervened in history to prevent or even mitigate the holocaust.

    Instead, God chose to do nothing and allowed 6 million to die. If you claim the creation of Israel and the return of the Jews as proof of the truth of Judaism, doesn’t the Jewish catastrophe of the holocaust prove the opposite?

    PS Mitigating the holocaust wouldn’t have needed a miracle. For example, Claus von Stauffenberg 20 July 1944, attempted assassination of Hitler only failed due to a combination of flukes. Had the assassination succeeded much of Hungarian Jewry might have been saved.

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    1. Actually it was a "miracle" Hitler survived the assassination attempt, so claimed some Nazis. It is my understanding Hitler used his own survival as proof of divine protection and god was on his side.

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    2. You could ask the same about the slavery in Egypt or the churban beis hamikdash.

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    3. Londoner: without explaining the Holocaust which is unexplainable, various prophecies describe how Israel will be driven out of the land, oppressed to the point of even cannibalism and then will return to the land. So the Holocaust fits the prophecies in the same way. I'm not assessing the validity of the argument (although it is always fun to see how the anti-zionist believers strive to wriggle themselves out of this), but the Holocaust does fit the narrative.

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    4. > Mitigating the holocaust wouldn’t have needed a miracle.

      Hitler serves in the trenches in WWI and had a habit of volunteering for dangerous missions. Had he been standing just a bit to the left and caught a French bullet…

      On the other hand, I have seen historians argue that without Hitler, someone less psychotically anti-Semitic and anti-Slav might have been the leader of the Nazi party, and Germany might have not done a lot of the things that lost them the war. Had the Germans not banned "Jewish physics" in the '30s, they might have gotten the atom bomb first. Had they come into the Soviet Union as liberators and treated the locals well, many would have been happy to make common cause with them against Stalin. And so on.

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    5. @David Ohsie - many scholars have studied the holocaust and provide explanations. I think Hitler wrote he derived inspiration from the USA treatment of the native americans. Second Hitler speak "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

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    6. @ACJA: Of course the Holocaust is explainable in a historic context. I was talking about explaining it in a moral context.

      That statement from Hitler is him making fun of the hypocrisy and faults of the Western powers, not his true motivation. The Germans also poked fun at American racism against Blacks, I believe.

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    7. On the other hand, I have seen historians argue that without Hitler, someone less psychotically anti-Semitic and anti-Slav might have been the leader of the Nazi party, and Germany might have not done a lot of the things that lost them the war. Had the Germans not banned "Jewish physics" in the '30s, they might have gotten the atom bomb first. Had they come into the Soviet Union as liberators and treated the locals well, many would have been happy to make common cause with them against Stalin. And so on.

      The best proof that a somewhat different mad and murderous dictatorship could have conquered and held large parts of Europe is very straightforward: the Soviet Union did it!

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  36. A Rav told me once that someone came up to him and said "Rabbi, I just want you to know that I am an apikorus". The Rav responded, "I am sorry to disappoint you but you are an Am Ha'aretz".

    There are many such stories. Would that we had Rabbanim capable of intelligent and articulate responses rather than smug insults.

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    Replies
    1. What I wrote is a true story, told to me by the Rav whom I knew. He didn't say it in an insulting way. Of course, "Am Ha'aretz" has different meanings in different places. Originally, it meant the common people, but today it has come to mean an opinionated ignoramus. You have to admit that for someone to come up to a Rav and say they, he is intending to provoke, so it would not be surprising for a Rav to give back a sharp answer. When the Rav told me that, he said that to be a "apikorus", one has to know "gantze Shas" and he doubted the fellow had learned that much.

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    2. I don't doubt that the story happened as you describe it. And I'm disappointed, but not surprised, that the Rav in question responded with a sharp, rather than supportive, answer.

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    3. @Y. Ben-David and so to reject Islam you have to know the whole Koran and all their commentary ? I dont think so.

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  37. Dear Rabbbi Slifkin,

    Plsease use the post below instead of the one I sent earlier, I have made several minor changes.

    Londoner



    Rabbi Slifkin draws emunah from the “miraculous …return of the Jewish People to the Promised Land”. However, such a claim is a 2 edged sword. If you claim that God intervened in history to ensure the creation of Israel and the return of the Jews, then God could just as easily have intervened in history to prevent or even just to mitigate the holocaust.

    Instead, God chose to do nothing and allowed 6 million to die. If you claim the creation of Israel and the return of the Jews as proof for the truth of Judaism, doesn’t the Jewish catastrophe of the holocaust prove the opposite?

    PS Mitigating the holocaust wouldn’t have needed a miracle. For example, Claus von Stauffenberg’s 20 July 1944, attempted assassination of Hitler only narrowly failed due to a combination of several flukes. Had those flukes not occurred and the assassination succeeded much of Hungarian Jewry might have been saved.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Holocaust was not the only catastrophe in Jewish history. One could ask the same quesitons as to why the two Batei Mikdash were destroyed and possibly millions of Jews killed at the time, why so many Benei Israel were died in the Midbar as a result of their sins, or why so many died in the wars mentioned in the TANACH. For that matter one can ask why even a singe righteous person may have to suffer.
      These types of questions are not even unique to the Jewish people. What IS unique is the return of the Jewish people to Eretz Israel, AS PROMISED and its flourishing in spite of difficulties no other nation has had to face.
      Of course, someone can say "who needs to be part of such a nation subjected to such suffering?". The fact is that that millions of Jews have stuck in out in anticipation of the promised geulah and seeing it has given a real boost to the Jewish people and Torah observance. Even anti=Zionists like that Satmar get increased respect from the non-Jews as a result of Israel's renaissance, even if they may vehemently deny it.

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  38. Londoner said," If you claim the creation of Israel and the return of the Jews as proof for the truth of Judaism, doesn’t the Jewish catastrophe of the holocaust prove the opposite?"

    There are those that claim that both are foretold in the Torah: Both collective punishment for sins of individuals (in this case, the sin being the assimilation of European Jews into the secular society), as well as the return of עם ישראל to their land after being dispersed in גלות.

    ReplyDelete
  39. though I empathize with you in regard with the persecutions you have suffered, I'm always uncomfortable with your maintaining that chazal had wrong scientific beliefs, my learning of the Maharal, the Chamchal and the Zohar have led me to conclude that tey had no scientific believe at all. look at the introduction of Chamchal on Eyn Yaakov, who affirm that they only used the theories of their time as metaphore, and he is more clear in Adir Bamorom. You are not to blame on this, your opponents did also choose to ignore this third way. I'm a veterinary and not bothered with the dinosaurs, and there is a way base on the Zohar and the Kitvei Ari to resolve the problem of the age on the universe and the evolution, with a litteral reading of the Torah and in the same time the acceptation of the scientific data, without deny of our masoreth of 5776 years.
    Michoel

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    Replies
    1. Maharal's approach is entirely invented and goes against all the RIshonim. See http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2013/09/revolutions-in-jewish-intellectual.html

      Delete

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