Monday, January 22, 2018

An Aura of Respectability?

We've discussed lots of pseudoscientific claims in this forum, but there never seems to be a shortage of new ones to explore. The latest was mentioned in a recent article in Hamodia magazine.

Significantly, it was presented by Rabbi Pinchos Jung from the Ani Maamin Foundation, which has the backing of Rav Shlomo Miller, Rav Avraham Levine, Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky and Rav Aharon Feldman. This is an organization which disdains primitive approaches to faith such as that expressed in Reuven Schmelczer's book The Heart of Emunah and which presents miraculous stories of sentient pigs, mermaids and sorcery.  They set out to reinforce emunah in a "mature fashion," with an aura of respectability. And in the summer 2017 issue of Dialogue (the journal under the aegis of Rav Miller and Rav Feldman), there was a harsh critique by Dr. Jonathan Ostroff of The Heart of Emunah.

Now, in the past, I have pointed out that the criticism of Schmelczer's approach by these people is somewhat ironic, in that the Ani Maamin Foundation, relying on Ostroff himself, spreads nonsense such as that the universe is only 5778 years old, and dinosaurs lived just a few thousand years ago, concurrently with contemporary species. And the arguments for emunah given in the Ani Maamin Foundation's book, Emunah: A Refresher Course, contain the usual specious claims about the Torah's claims regarding animals with one kosher sign, the fins and scales of fish, and so on. But in the new Hamodia article, a new type of pseudoscience is presented: Auras.

According to Rabbi Jung, the aura, "a possible manifestation of some aspect of the neshamah," can be captured by a special type of photography which shows ultraviolet. "This has advanced to the degree that we have photos depicting the difference in the glow around a person before and after laying tefillin! The same has been shown of a married woman before and after covering her hair." As a source for this astonishing claim, Rabbi Jung cites Rabbi Zamir Cohen's book The Coming Revolution. (You can also see Rabbi Cohen's material online at this website and also at a website called "Absolute Truth".)

Aura photography began back in 1939 with Russian scientist Semyon Kirlian. He discovered that a hand placed on a photographic plate connected to a source of voltage produced an image of the hand surrounded by an "aura." Kirlian photography, as it is known, became very popular among paranormalists and new-age spiritualists. Its most recent incarnations include special Aura Cameras that you can buy for just a few thousand dollars.

However, as with countless other such paranormal claims, aura photography is a simple fraud. Needless to say, there are no rigorous double-blind tests to prove its efficacy. The photographic effects are produced not by a spiritual aura, but rather as a result of moisture in the air surrounding the object being photographed. There are various factors which determine the color of the aura in the photos, and there is no consistency. Yes, the photos of people before and after laying tefillin show differently colored auras, but so would photos of anyone taken in slightly different circumstances - especially if you wrap an item of clothing such as a tallit around the head!

I have great sympathy with those who are trying to reinforce emunah, and especially with those who are attempting to do it in a scientifically respectable way. But they bear a tremendous responsibility. Professing to have an aura of respectability, and yet presenting pseudoscientific nonsense which can be exposed by a simple Wikipedia or Google search, is a shirking of that responsibility. It is going to result in the brightest Jewish minds being utterly turned off to Judaism.

So how should one teach emunah? Well, you can teach about the single greatest miracle in our history, which nobody denies the factuality of, although some would downplay how extraordinary and special it is. Or, you can opt to teach emunah as it really should be - not Discovery-style "proofs," but rather loyalty (which is the true etymological meaning of emunah) to our sacred and wonderful mesorah.

My second child, my oldest son, just put on tefillin for the first time. There was nothing that could be captured by Kirlian photography. But I saw an incredible aura radiating from him.



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42 comments:

  1. The concept of aura derives from עבודה זרה and has been proven nonsense. דרכי האמורי and חוקת עכו"ם.

    (That being the case, I'm sure that under double blind lab conditions, auras can determined quality of kashrut supervision by examining auras of people after they've eaten Eida Haredit or Rabbanut!)

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  2. Is it aurora borealis
    Or an aura that I see?
    Does a person get an aura
    Captured by photography?
    Is there a special radiant quality
    (or is this just frivolity?)
    That develops and envelops
    Folks whose holiness shines free.
    If it’s limited to tefillin the #me too’s will raise a fuss
    When a woman bakes a challah for a mitzvah, where’s the plus?
    Folks whose lives are full of chesed and kedusha have their glow
    But an aura? Stick to Torah, we have no need for this show.

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  3. Yes, the photos of people before and after laying tefillin show differently colored auras, but so would photos of anyone taken in slightly different circumstances.

    Do you have a proof of your above? Has anyone tried to demonstrated a change of the colors "in slightly different circumstances"? If you admit the difference in colors before and after laying tefillin, your latter claim is just an empty statement.

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    Replies
    1. Lazar, you appear to be confused as to upon whom the burden of proof rests.

      Delete
  4. The aura is the nefesh. It is quite simple to show this; the Rambam in shmone prokim states that the Greeks were wrong in saying that the nefesh is divided into three parts, it is a single unit. It is clear that we are talking about the same structure, just a matter of how we look at it. The Greek psuche went underground in Roman times, but the tradition was carried on in the Rosicrucians, who know of hte aura and crucially are aware of the chakras from their tradition.

    I am quite fed up of people routinely trotting out the avoda zara and kishuf story with things like the aura and chi. Everyone has an aura so are we all avoda zaras? Seriously, one doesn't go into a shechita house and shout 'it's all treif'; for az to exist there has to be an object that is worshiped and some form of worship, even throwing a stone like markulis. Even if someone would worship an aura this does not asur all auras, just like the sun is not asur because someone in India chooses to make it an avoda zara, or all cows do not become assur because the Indians worship them.

    Chi is a universal energy, which the Chinese don't worship. Because as non jews they are ovdei avoda zara. We, on the other hand, might want to call it the 'or ein sof baruch Hu', the endless light that is memale kol almin. Just the Chinese didn't have the benefit of the Ovos and the Torah and did not realise what they were seeing. That Jews routinely think of Chi in terms of az shows how far we have gone from a genuine Jewish theology, and i think is also the fulfillment of the 'anochi haster astir es ponay' I will double hide - i.e. you won't even realise Hashem is hidden.

    If you don't want to believe in the aura that's fine by me However there is only one culture - Esov - that does not accept the existence of anything more than the physical and sets up the requirement of rigorous scientific proof to block it out; it's a shita that derives directly from christianity and ultimately the trinity of that religion is so crucial because they are saying that yoshke had no nefesh, i.e. he was not a person.

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    1. "The aura is the nefesh."
      No it isn't. The ancient Chinese didn't have access to kabalah.

      "It is quite simple to show this; the Rambam in shmone prokim states that the Greeks were wrong in saying that the nefesh is divided into three parts, it is a single unit. It is clear that we are talking about the same structure, just a matter of how we look at it."
      In other words the Greeks didn't know about "nefesh" either, not in the Rambam's terms nor in terms of Kaballah.

      "The Greek psuche went underground in Roman times, but the tradition was carried on in the Rosicrucians..."
      The "Rosicrucians" never existed. It was a 17th century hoax- long after the Greeks. Later self-styled "rosicrucian" groups made up their mythical pedigrees.

      "who know of the aura and crucially are aware of the chakras from their tradition."
      Again, so-called "rosicrucians" have no tradition. They made it up. For example, the self-styled "rosicrucian" AMORC is a little over 100 years old. Nothing ancient about it.

      "I am quite fed up of people routinely trotting out the avoda zara and kishuf story with things like the aura and chi."
      People do worship chi, it's certainly עבודה זרה when it's part of a pantheistic cosmology.

      "Everyone has an aura so are we all avoda zaras?"
      No and maybe.


      "Even if someone would worship an aura this does not asur all auras, just like the sun is not asur because someone in India chooses to make it an avoda zara, or all cows do not become assur because the Indians worship them."
      So if you believe the sun to be a creator/sustainer, it wouldn't be idolatry if you didn't actively worship it?

      "Chi is a universal energy"
      No it isn't.

      We, on the other hand, might want to call it the 'or ein sof baruch Hu', the endless light that is memale kol almin.
      אז הוחל - לשון חולין, לקרא את שמות האדם והעצבים בשמו של הקב"ה, לעשותם אלילים ולקרותם אלקות.
      This was the sin of דור אנוש, they called mundane things (and non-existing phenomena) by the name of God. (Rashi)


      "If you don't want to believe in the aura that's fine by me However there is only one culture - Esov - that does not accept the existence of anything more than the physical and sets up the requirement of rigorous scientific proof to block it out..."
      Scientific proof (and disproof) is an essential criteria of determining whether a belief/practice is דרכי האמורי. It can be debated how rigorous such proof need to be (Rav Elyashiv paskened treatments not proven by rigorous science may be indeed forbidden) but scientific proof is indeed required by Halacha.

      By the way, חוקת הגויים is not necessarily עבודה זרה per se; however beliefs/practices derived from עבודה זרה are חוקת הגויים. See the רמ"א in יו"ד. (Either 178 or 179) So you're chasing a straw man.

      Delete
    2. I don't know where to start with the idiocy in your comment. But if you really think that you can see the Or Ein Sof, I guess it can't be helped. Maybe you should bother researching the concepts you're throwing around.

      Delete
    3. "Chi is a universal energy"
      Use the Force, Luke!

      Delete
    4. Well, here is the Piasezna Rebbe: רצוננו בזה לקרוע בקריעה אחת את כל המסך הפרוס על כל החיים ופתאום תראה עצמך עומד לפני כבודו ית,.... עד שתתגלנה בך התלהבות מחשבה בלי ציור ... עד שבכל דבר תראה את ה' ית.

      and not to forget the Chazon Ish: אין כל עצב בעולם למי שמכיר אור אורות של האמת

      please suspend your cries of 'idiot' for the moment and think what kind of light the Chazon Ish was talking about. And btw the term 'idiot' is really the old 'hedyot', who is someone that doesn't see....

      But I guess you'll probably just think I really am an idiot and continue worshiping the god of science.

      Delete
    5. "Well, here is the Piasezna Rebbe..."

      What does this have to do with aura?

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    6. The Piaceszna makes clear in multiple places that all his descriptions are "a mashal of a mashal." Stop making a fool of yourself. And yes, some of us evil rationalistic types have read the Piaceszna and respect his work.

      Delete
    7. well, what does 'chelek Eloka mimaala' mean? if you see the Divine then you see the souls which are a part of it.

      Here's the lexicon from Emunos Vedeos; they wrote introductions to these seforim to help people understand the technical Greek philosophical terms they used:
      'Sechel Iyuni' : the sechel iyuni is divided into four parts. The first is that which can grasp first principles... such as a whole apple is more than a half... and the second level is that which can derive principles from first principles, like grammar, and the third level is that by which a person will perceive the natural forms (greek Form) of all beings in the lower world (i.e. the nefesh or the aura (do you have a car or an automobile?) and with this sechel he will detach it from the matter (chomer) that bears it, and with this sechel he will see the essence of the nefesh of a person as long as it is attached to a physical body.... and the fourth sechel is that by which a person will perceive the forms that are separated (from the physical) in their existence, such as the angels and the essence of the nefesh of man (I guess that means nefesh hasichlis).

      Note that none of this is relevant to kabalah, which only starts at a level beyond all this. We are just talking about the basic level of soul around the body. Hence it is universally accessible.

      It is true that you can use this stuff for az and kishuf and so on, as the Sfas Emes said היונים הרשיעו בחכמה
      (חכמה is the visual knowledge of this level and beyond) but it's basically just the world as it really is, beyond the parameters and vision of science. You can use an apple for az too, but that doesn't mean all apples are osur.

      Delete
    8. Nobody here is denying the existence of the soul. Why don't you get that? I don't understand why you don't process the difference between being able to "perceive" something via sechel and being able to see it with a UV lens.

      If the level on which one can perceive the soul is actually visual, not intellectual, putting aside all the other problems with saying such a thing, can you imagine how taken aback all these kadmonim would be if they heard that the thing which they perceived as the height of spiritual or philosophical perfection actually was something you just needed the right lens to see?

      And even if it ALL added up and the cards were JUST right...

      ...AURAS DO NOT EXIST
      Seriously bro what on earth
      Why would you defend with such emunah a concept which is at best highly peripheral to Jewish belief and practice?

      Delete
    9. What I am trying to say is that 'sechel' is a visual experience. You see it. It's not a perception like understanding 1+1=2

      What do you think spiritual / philosophical perfection is? As I understand it the goal is to reconnect to the nefesh hasichlis, the higher level of nefesh that was lost after the chet of adam harishon. This involves detatching from the body and shifting into a new kind of existence. Becoming who you really are. Atwhich point you can see the world through the eyes of the nefesh hasichlis, spiritual eyes, which see the Divine and see the soul. It's one thing.

      And what I really don't get is that you accept that the nefesh exists but when I call it 'aura' it DOES NOT EXIST. So you can have a car but NOT AN AUTOMOBILE? What do you think the nefesh looks like?

      Delete
    10. @Asher
      Well I'm not sure where the Piasezna writes that everything is a mashal, but here he continues:
      לא שחושבים אנו לבטל בכלל את חושי הגוף שלא יראב באדם עולם לפניו, עולם יראה, רק גם את קדושת השי''ת יראה עליו.... ולא שיתבונן בדעתו בלבד... רק שיתגלה בקרבך מין מחשבה חדשה... ובה תראה הכל. לא דברי הזיה אנו מדברים אליך ולא דברים שלמעלה מן העולם והטבע ... רק דברים בטוחים וודאים אשר כל איש ישראל יכול לבוא אליהם...
      I kind of think he means it for real. But I guess I'm just an idiot making a fool of myself....

      Delete
    11. Since this seems to be a challenge for you, I will distill my tainas down to three points.

      1)What about the words מחשבה and שכל suggest to you, "UV camera?"

      2) Why would this "nefesh hasichlis" vision be accessible to the very worst Reshaim, as long as they have a UV camera?

      3) Why are you defending with such perfect faith a new age spiritual concept which is scientifically proven to be a completely irrelevant phenomenon to the actions of the subject?

      I will say it again. We ALL believe in spirituality and the soul. What's IDIOTIC is believing that you can see them WITH YOUR FLEISHIGE OIGEN.

      Best of luck.

      Delete
    12. @ Asher
      You really have not understood what I wrote at all/

      1. Machshava and Sechel have dual meanings.

      2. Anyone who has the power of speech has nefesh hasichlis. What differs is the level you can reach in the spiritual. Chazal say that Nimrod saw the Shemos, was he a tzadik.

      3. I don't accept scientific proof on non physical matters. It cannot and does not deal with anything beyond the physical. Science has no idea what kind of effect it has to judge relevance. Scientifically speaking Moshe Rabenu was psychotically ill because he claimed to speak with G-d. Do you accept that?

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    13. @ Asher

      and finally I did NOT say that you can see them with your fleishige oigen. Nowhere. What I said was that you can detach yourself from your FLEISHIGE OIGEN and see them with your NEFESHDIGE OIGEN. Is that clear enough for you?

      Delete
    14. In your first comment you write that "the aura is the nefesh." This article is about the visibility of auras. Please don't be dishonest.

      Delete
    15. "And what I really don't get is that you accept that the nefesh exists but when I call it 'aura' it DOES NOT EXIST. "

      Why would you conflate a pagan/new-age term for 'nefesh'? What makes you think that some new age neo-pagan crackpot suddenly attained understanding of subtle traditional Jewish concepts and simply used a different term?


      "What I said was that you can detach yourself from your FLEISHIGE OIGEN and see them with your NEFESHDIGE OIGEN."
      But these kirlian photograph which purport to demonstrate auras are seen with the FLEISHIGE OIGEN. The aura, or rather corona discharge are physical (fleishige?) phenomena- they are not spirtual (nefeshdige?) phenomena.

      Delete
    16. Firstly drop your obsession with new age, and remember that 'pagan' is a term used by the christians for the ancient Greeks and has no Jewish significance. Go back to first principles. And take Judaism out of it for the moment.

      Human beings have nefesh habehamis and nefesh hasichlis. That's why they are humans and why they can speak. Aborigines, Chinese, Germans, everyone. That's the metzius.

      So it should not be a big surprise that all ancient cultures knew about it. It's just a natural phenomenon. Some people have/had the gift of seeing more, and others worked hard to attain it, and built systems to help others to do the same. All ancient cultures have this knowledge, in various levels of development. From the witches who took psychedelics to obtain out of body esxperiences to Tibetan monks who meditated for years. They had wildly differing experiences but they all gained the ability to use the faculties of their nefesh.

      The Rishonim quite happily use Greek philosophical terms, so we can see the crossover is accepted.

      Now visualise a long period in the West of decline of knowledge and loss of traditions, plus the advent of the church and the enlightenment, which resulted in the old knowledge being lost except for a few crackpots who held onto it. In Jewish communities the advent of Shabetai Zvi caused a backlash against kabolo (see more below before you shout at me that kabolo is not relevant) and anything beyond the logical. Some years ago there was and explosion of interest, call it the 'new age', and the old ideas of nefesh were unearthed, with misunderstandings and poor levels of knowledge, and a different terminology. But they were onto the same structures. There is a body of light around the physical body of a person no matter what you call it. I don't know if Kirlian photography is picking up on it really or not, but there is something there to be seen. Maybe they have found a way to reveal the aura at a physical level, like you could use strands of material hanging from a stick to make wind visible. You're not seeing the wind, but something that is moved and shaped by the wind.

      Coming back to a Jewish theology, this is below where the Torah starts; it's the raw material that the Torah works with. Kabolo deals with the shemos and the structure of the olomos, coming down from atzilus and pretty much ending at the top of asiyah, and it is the level of asiyah where the nefesh resides. So it's not subtle jewish concepts at all.

      Delete
  5. I went through Rabbi Zamir's first "scientific" book and was amazed at its naivety. He cites people who believe plants have feelings or that water came to the world in the form of icebergs from outer space (mayim ha'elyonim) as "proof" for Torah ideas.
    A two minute Google search sufficed to find that the originator of the second idea was about the only person who accepted it.

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    1. Naivety is a very generous description.

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    2. Avraham, not to get involved with R' Zamir's book, but your statement about the source of water that we have on earth is only correct if R' Zamir wrote about falling 'icebergs'. Actually, it was presumed to be icy comets bombarding the earth after the initial period when such impacts turned the earth molten. The earlier, Hadean, era with a molten earth could not have retained its native water. The water that we have is, therefore, presumed to have been contributed by icy comets after the earth cooled.

      Y. Aharon

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  6. Is there a different aura for Rashi tefillin as compared to Rabeinu Tam?

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    Replies
    1. As the old song goes:
      With Rabbeinu Tam's, it's Aura לא;
      For Rashi's it's Aura לי.


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    2. Rashi is the Light side of the Force, RT,is the Dark side. Really there is no dark side...

      Delete
  7. I value your work but you should know that you sound the same way real rationalists laugh at you. People who are true to a pure rationalist way of thought view religion a irrational, period. And they look at your articles as less intellectually honest than the ridiculous things the charedim write.

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    1. What you say is not accurate, because you are being too vague with the word "religion." (Also, while I let your comment through this time, in future please use a pseudonym.)

      Delete
    2. The name of this blog is Rationalist JUDAISM.

      Delete
    3. They may view religion however they want, but please explain why religion is irrational in your opinion. I'd also like to know the percentage of these so-called rationalists have more than a 1st grade knowledge of religion.

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    4. You’re the naive, probably chareidi guy. Many of them know more about religion than many rabbis. I do not want to begin spewing kefira and other questions that lead to hearsay on a blog that is not mine but if you’re not aware of the basic questions on religion including Judaism you can not call yourself rational or educated. I believe in God and I support explaining things rationally, however, I realize that there are parts of belief that are irrational (or difficult to truly comprehend etc) and if you insist on being rational only then there is no way you’re really believing.

      Delete
  8. My biggest issue is that God, and by extension, faith, is inherently unprovable. The ideas of emunah and bitachon require a suspension of disbelief, a leap of faith. We don't talk about whether people believe in the blueness of the sky or that 2+2=4 because those are facts, not things to be believed in. God, on the other hand, must be believed in because God's existence is inherently unprovable, and kiruv folks who trot out St. Thomas Aquinas are doing nobody any favors, let alone those who start blabbering on about auras.

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    1. Even the facts you mentioned are not necessarily facts. I believe the philosophy of math deals with your first example (what are numbers? do they exist? why is it that we all "know" that 2+2=4? from where do our brains access this fact? etc.).

      As to the second example: Perhaps the sky is really red and we are all being fooled by some malevolent master god who is pulling the wool over our eyes. Maybe the sky doesn't even exist. Maybe we're all just dreaming.

      All this sounds a bit absurd, but if you want absolute proof -- well, even basic "facts" are hard to prove.

      All that said, I agree with you that proving God's existence is not the same as "proving" that the sky is blue. But we should remember that absolute proof eludes us in all sorts of things. You can't prove to me, for example, that the sun will rise tomorrow. (I believe Hume claimed we have no rational reason to believe it will.)

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  9. One thing that interested me about Rabbi Zamir's book was the claim that Hebrew letters can be seen as the actual letters when converted to sound waves. I find this basically impossible to believe, but if true, very cool. If anyone has tried this or can confirm or deny the truth to his claim, I'd be very interested to hear.

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  10. Mazal Tov on your son's Hanachat Tefillin!

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  11. To paraphrase Curt Schilling (!), Mystique and Aura are dancers in a nightclub; those are not things we concern ourselves in the Beit Midrash.
    Your point at the end is absolutely correct, but could be made more strongly, in my humble view: looking for proofs of basic beliefs such as the divine origin of Torah is not only a fool's errand and the domain of charlatans, it is antithetical to the very notion of אמונה. As Rabbi Lamm taught, doubt is implied by faith, and to believe is not to know; if you need to know something with scientific certainty, הא ראיה that you don't believe.

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    Replies
    1. We will never be able to fully "prove" the matter, but that doesn't mean we can't search for "support" of it. And the believer has the choice as to the level of doubt he is confronted with, and that will depend on whether or not he decides to investigate those "proofs" or simply shy away from them.

      One can either run away from the issues, or face them head on.
      As to your last point: Aux contraire, someone who searches for the "scientific certainty" is not afraid of coming across ideas that contradict the Torah because his faith is strong enough to know that they will not sway him, and he will resolve the dilemmas, ultimately strengthening his faith even more. But someone who is afraid to engage in them, הא ראיה that they don't believe. If they did believe fully, then what would they be afraid of?

      Delete
    2. Well said, and I do understand yours (and R. Lamm's) point, but let me ask you - is this a contemporary notion, or has this always been the correct understanding? In other words, in Talmudic time, or even in the times of the Rishonim, would it have been acceptable to speak of אמונה as something inherently doubtful? Or would one have said אמונה requires belief as sure as one believes the sun will rise and set. (It should be noted, even if one concedes this is only a modern conception, in no way does that by itself make it wrong.)

      Delete
    3. I can't speak about the Talmudic period but in the medieval period people definitely saw God as needing to be proved, as demonstrated by the existence of the Summa and Anselm's Proslogion. Given the amount of effort put in to both of these works I would conclude that there existed a level of inherent doubt in the minds of medieval people.

      Delete
  12. "Well, you can teach about the single greatest miracle in our history"

    Ahem. What parshaot have you been reading recently?

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  13. Speaking of the modia, a few years ago they ran a series of חשגחה stories, at least 2 of which i knew personaly. One was of r' shimion zietlan ז"ל. The english modia wrote that he was about to go to munich olympics in 1972.a few days before he was to leave he met rav gershon weinberger of k. Tzanz jerusalem( a real person i know) who returned him in תשובה and his life was saved .fine. except the story is a lie... he never qualified for the olimpic team. I called rav ACC of the modia how he could print such lies... he answered "what do you care... it makes people frum".

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