Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is it only a package deal?

The more I think about my issues with Orthodox Judaism, Torah, and God, the more I realize that I really have no problem with God at all. Or Gods. Or some other supernatural being that made/started the universe as we know it. Regardless of the answer science comes up with, I feel like we are still left with the question of what created that first thing regardless of how primitive it may have been. Maybe I like the idea of putting it on a God that I don't have to explain. It just seems convenient since I don't think we can ever know the real answer with total certainty (even if it was God as described in the Torah). We all can look at the different theories and just put our faith into one that works best for us.

That said, my issues with OJ and the Torah are ones that bother me constantly. The laws, the historical/scientific issues etc. are on my mind all the time.

So I was wondering if it makes sense to anyone else that I have no problem believing a God figure could have created the earth, but that this God did not give the torah and doesn't really care much about us humans. That is, can you believe in an initial God, but not an everlasting one?

36 comments:

Dave said...

That's pretty much Deism. "Someone" set things in motion, but isn't intervening in daily affairs.

jewish philosopher said...

So long as your allowed to do whatever you want sexually, believing in God won't bother you.

frumskeptic said...

there are alot of people who believe in some initial IT that created the world.

Rich Perkins said...

JP - You are like a broken record and a pretty annoying one at that. For the millionth time, I have no interest in leaving my wife and am not interested in sexual escapades.

Did you ever stop for a second and think that it's possible that you are WRONG and that people actually have real issues with OJ, God & the Torah?

If you have nothing meaningful to offer, please do everyone a favor and go along your merry way. use the time to create other insane posts on your own blog.

shoshi said...

If you believe that there is a G-d who created the atoms and the molecules and DNA and the concept of DNA and the force of gravity and the elecromagnetic force, etc, it would not make sense that this G-d stopped his activity once everything was achieved.

I think it would be more reasonable to postulate that there is no driving force behind all this and it just evolved.

On the other hand: Of course you can say that there is a G-d who created all this, but he is not the one who gave the Torah. The Torah was manmade.

On the other hand: the concept of a single G-d who created all this comes from the Torah. So why would you insist on the concept of G-d?

Than there is the cultural aspect, which does not have to be linked to beliefs...

Rich Perkins said...

Shoshi -

So why would you insist on the concept of G-d?

I do not insist on a God per se. I merely believe that it is possible for a higher power or multiple ones to have created the earth.

In terms of it not making sense for God to create the world and then step back . . . I am an engineer and design building stuff all the time. I rarely check in to see how they are doing after the fact. So I don't really see it is a problem to have God create the world and then not have involvement in the daily stuff.

His Lordship, Garnel Ironheart said...

First of all, Rich, your approach needs work.

You have legitimate concerns but demand answers with all the grace of a bull in a china shop.

Try approaching the question from a more gentle perspective instead of screaming in frustration as a first resort.

For example, there is a long philosophical tradition that believes that while a diety started up the universe, he then went on permanent vacation and left us up to our own devices. The Flood, Tower of Bavel and Exodus from Egypt are in the Torah to tell us that this is untrue. God created the world, maintains an active interest in it, and is prepared to intervene in history when necessary to make sure things turn out right.

Secondly, there is your statement:
>I am an engineer and design building stuff all the time. I rarely check in to see how they are doing after the fact.

Now, there are two major problems with that.

Firstly, you probably wear an iron ring on your finger (is it the baby one?). Are you aware of why? Because of engineers who built an iron bridge and never did check to see how it was doing after the fact... until it collapsed. As I was told by an engineering friend years ago, the ring is to remind you that you carry a responsibilty for what you build.

Secondly, think about how any major company works. You buy a computer from Dell and it breaks. Imagine calling them and being told "Hey we just assemble the damn things. If they break, tough noogies for you!" Rather, they have a whole department in the company just for that!

When a new vulnerability is discovered in some version of Windows, does Microsoft say "Well, that sucks but hey, who cares? We're done with the product once you bought it"? No. Without even asking, they access your computer and put in a repair patch. Imagine that.

Consider God not only the CEO but also the CFO, COO, Board, and IT department of creation and you will get a better sense of what He does.

Rich Perkins said...

Garnel - Yes, as an engineer I do remember old projects and theoretically am around for warranty work. However, that is a far cry from being involved in the daily activities of the finished product.

So while God could have created the world and he could be watching from above, i don't see why that has to mean he is involved in our daily lives.

"The Flood, Tower of Bavel and Exodus from Egypt are in the Torah to tell us that this is untrue. "

it is a circular proof to say this. you are basically saying God exists because the Torah says so and the Torah is true because God wrote it.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> theoretically am around for warranty work

theoreetically? Great, I'll know what to expect next time I call the support number! 8-)

> So while God could have created the world and he could be watching from above, i don't see why that has to mean he is involved in our daily lives.

Consider what the Michtav MiEliyahu wrote about this - there are two kinds of miracles - the ones where God intervenes in nature, like the splitting of the sea, and then the simple daily ones, like us continuing to breathe at night automatically. We say in the Modim in every amidah that we are thankful for the miracles that are with us constantly. For a believing Jew, every moment of existence, being that it is provided by and supported by God, is a miracle to be thankful for.

You can look at the humdrum pace of your day and say that the world is running on automatic. Or you can look deeper and see God behind it all.

> it is a circular proof to say this

That wasn't my point but fine. Given that God exists and that He gave us His Torah (and I'm going to insist on that), we have to ask: of all the myriad events that have occured since the dawn of history, why did certain stories make it into the Torah and others not? The ones that are there are to teach us lessons, like the ones I cited.

Oh! Oh! I found a book on prayer for you that you'd probably really like. Just make sure you have an English dictionary (not Hebrew-English, just plpain English) for this one, unless you throw words like ontological and teleological around in casual conversation.

http://www.amazon.com/Worship-Heart-Essays-Soloveitchik-Selections/dp/0881257710/ref=sr_1_15?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228011216&sr=8-15

shoshi said...

I find your post very interesting, because, in my head, it raises a lot of questions:

Why do human beings feel the urge to postulate a G-d or ghosts or supranatural beings?

Would it work just to postulate "humanity", i.e. a set of basic moral rules, like the Universal declaration of human rights?

Why do humans like to strife for a "higher ideal"?

Does "believing in G-d" or "not believing in G-d" make a difference at all, or does this theme merely seem to be so important because we live in a culture that was marked by monotheism for centuries?

Do people who say they belive in G-d really act as though they did? Do people who do not believe in G-d act as if there was no instance who will hold them responsible? Do people who do not believe in G-d fall back into believing in desperate situations? Do people who believe stop believing in desperate situations?

Is an ideology, once it has become established, in danger of being abused (abuse of power by the leading elites)? So how could this problem be avoided?

What is the gain of faith? What is the gain of breaking the faith? What is the gain of establishing a new faith? Of holding on to the old one?

Garnel Ironheart said...

>Why do human beings feel the urge to postulate a G-d or ghosts or supranatural beings?

Lousy question. From our perspective, we feel no need to postulate God because He exists. The question back though would be: why do non-believers automatically assume they're right and we're postulating?

> Would it work just to postulate "humanity", i.e. a set of basic moral rules, like the Universal declaration of human rights?

No, because as much as I like Star Trek, ideals like a "humanity" based series of moral rules is a fiction that could never actually exist. In the absence of an objective external authority, who are you, or anyone else, to tell me what natural rights are?

And on that as well, have you ever noticed the emphasis on rights? I think that's one reason non-practitioners are so hostile to the religious - the secular world screams about their rights but we remind them about their responsibilities.

> Does "believing in G-d" or "not believing in G-d" make a difference at all

All the difference in the world. A non-believer doesn't kill because he's worried someone else might kill him. A believer doesn't kill because it's wrong.

>Do people who say they belive in G-d really act as though they did?

Ask me at 6 in the morning when I get up to daven.

> Do people who do not believe in G-d act as if there was no instance who will hold them responsible?

They fear the law, their local government, etc. But really the only true law of the jungle is "It's only wrong if you get caught".

> Do people who do not believe in G-d fall back into believing in desperate situations?

There are no atheists in a foxhole.

> Do people who believe stop believing in desperate situations?

No, it becomes their only source of comfort. It's usually after the desperate situation ends and they survive and conclude that they did so by random chance that they stop believing.

>Is an ideology, once it has become established, in danger of being abused

Of course. Religion has no monopoly on this either. Secular liberalism, ecofasicm, feminism, communism, etc. all fall into the same trap.

> What is the gain of faith?

A feeling of hope that despite the seeming injustice of this world, there is a Judge who dispenses final justice and this gives many the strength to endure seemingly hopeless life situations.

> What is the gain of breaking the faith?

At the risk of sounding like JP, physical gratification in the here and now. Religion is about responsibility, secularism is about rights. A person breaks faith because he wants something his faith says he can't have and that he thinks he has a right to.

> What is the gain of establishing a new faith?

Possible charity status for donations.

> Of holding on to the old one?

Established charity status for donations.

shoshi said...

Hi Garnel,

thanks for answering all the questions. Your answers prove that you are full of certitudes. But do they really reflect reality?

You say: "A non-believer doesn't kill because he's worried someone else might kill him. A believer doesn't kill because it's wrong."

But what about people who kill in the name of religion, because of religion? In jewish religion, it did not happen for a long time, but it seems to have happened in the past. In christian religion, it happened during the inquisition, and is still happening in Ireland. In muslim religion, it happens in the present.

So I think that there is no garanty that "religious" morality or even "jewish morality" (since you would not defend christian or buddhist or muslim religious morality) is superior to "secular morality"

When I asked: "What is the gain of breaking the faith", I did not so much think of the individual level, but for society as a whole. What is the gain of breaking the established "prejudices"? Much of technological progress of the last 200 years was possible because of rationalism and the rebuttal of the classical (in this case christian) faith.

that people who believe do not kill because they b

shoshi said...

PS: garnel Ironhart: I have the impression that your worldview is too limited to defend judaism efficiently on this website. You answer with what you think are certitudes, but in reality they are just wild guesses. How do you know how each and every individual will react in situations of despair? You can't. You do not even know if you yourself will hold on to faith in a desperate situation.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Hi Shoshi,

> But what about people who kill in the name of religion, because of religion?

Excellent point. One must then distinguish between the messenger and the message.

I highly doubt the original church fathers envisioned rampaging hordes of illierate Crusaders sacking and burning their way across Europe and Israel. I don't think they believed their followers would ever create the Inquisition. And if one looks at the Catholic Church's fundamental tenets, they don't encourage such behaviour.

We see it within Orthodox Judaism as well. There are plenty of frum groups that have twisted the true principles of Judaism through their hate-filled perspectives and present a version of the faith that is not consistent with the actual basic principles of it.

Thus the message and the messenger have to be distinguished.

> How do you know how each and every individual will react in situations of despair?

A la Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, one cannot predict the behaviour of a single individual under stress. Yes, I have no idea how I'd react if a new Nazi party suddenly took control of my country tomorrow and threw me in a concentration camps. I might rise to occasion and become a martyr, or I might cut and run first chance I get in a desperate big to survive.

And to tell the truth, I hope never to find out.

However, on a group basis, predicing what the "mob" will do is a valid exercise. Individuals who are generally midl mannered can commit all manner of excess if they're part of the right violent outburst. People can perform positive acts they never knew they had the strength for as part of a rescue operation as well.

My worldview is not limited. I present certitudes because
a) I believe they are the truth with all my heart. I'm prepared to defend them in debate but I'm going to stick by them.
b) The people who are attacking Judaism, both from within and without, are just as full of certitudes and bring their biases to the table just as easily. It's just that they insist that their underlying believes (eg. no evidence for God) be the acceptable starting point for the debate. They're just doing what I'm doing but can't stand that I won't accept their point of view.

David said...

"So I was wondering if it makes sense to anyone else that I have no problem believing a God figure could have created the earth, but that this God did not give the torah and doesn't really care much about us humans."

Mostly. Although whether or not God continues to "care" would require our projecting some kind of feelings onto Him without any legitimate ability to do so.

I think it's easy to imagine that there's a God but that He didn't give the Torah. Indeed, while belief in the Torah certainly requires belief in God, the reverse isn't true.

Whether or not there is a God, it makes perfect sense for people to want to know/approach Him. Thus, the act of creating a "Torah" makes far more sense for humans than it does for God. After all, if God cares enough to send long written messages with implausible stories, why can't He continue to do so every few years, just to keep people on the straight and narrow, if that's really what he wants?

Garnel Ironheart said...

> After all, if God cares enough to send long written messages with implausible stories, why can't He continue to do so every few years

For the same reason parents eventually give up telling their kids how to avoid making the same mistakes they did. The little buggers didn't listen the first 100 times...

Everything we need to know about what God wants from us is written throughout the Tanach. Anything He would want to tell us, He's said before. It's not that He didn't talk to us. We did not listen. We're still not listening. So what's the point of His saying anything out loud further?

shoshi said...

Garnel Ironhead: I think your comparison to parents and children is not appropriate at all.

I think the "right answer" for a religious-orthodox person to give would be: because there is the freedom of choice, and if G-d were to present, everyone would have to follow him and there would be no freedom of choice.

However, DAvid is right in pointing out the problem.

By the way: In the moment were G-d speaks to a human being and this human being has the mission to transmit the messagt, there is a risk of confusion: what is it that G-d himself says, what do the humans say.
It is all the worse since religion often gets abused and deviated by people with evil intentions.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Gosh Shoshi, at first I thought you were misspelling my name on purpose. Then I kept on reading...

>I think the "right answer" for a religious-orthodox person to give would be: because there is the freedom of choice, and if G-d were to present, everyone would have to follow him and there would be no freedom of choice.

> By the way: In the moment were G-d speaks to a human being and this human being has the mission to transmit the messagt, there is a risk of confusion: what is it that G-d himself says, what do the humans say.

You're not coming up with anything that isn't discussed ad nauseum in the gemara, such as the difference in quality between Moshe Rabeinu's prophetic perception (he could accurate repeat what God had told him) and those of the later prophets who could only give a basic message based on what they'd been told.

> It is all the worse since religion often gets abused and deviated by people with evil intentions

Ah! So how does that make the religion bad?
Such a short paragraph yet so much silliness. You think you have the "right answer". And your qualifications are?

Freedom of choice and God speaking to a person have very little to do with one another. The first national sin committed by our ancestors, that of the Golden Calf, was commited in the shadow of Mount Sinai even as God's cloud roiled at its peak. Not 40 days before God had announced: no idols, please. And what did the people do? Thus the point of this story clearly refutes the thought that people lose free will when God openly tells them what to do. What's more, countless prophets came with the word of God and didn't succeed in getting our ancestors to abandon their wickedness. So why would I use that as an answer?

David said...

"Everything we need to know about what God wants from us is written throughout the Tanach."

Utterly ridiculous, Garnel. If that were even remotely true, we wouldn't be plagued with hordes of rabbis who have invented about 50% of the halakhas we follow. Am I supposed to believe that God gave one message to one group of people, and then basically checked out and said "just do whatever the rabbis tell you?" Besides, what about the prophets? If what you're saying is true, why would we have needed them? And, if we did need them, why don't we need them now?

"Anything He would want to tell us, He's said before. It's not that He didn't talk to us. We did not listen. We're still not listening."

Again, that's a crock-- and you know it. I don't believe that He "talked" to us. I can't speak for you, but I haven't heard from Him. If it was worth God's time to speak to us a few thousand years ago, why isn't it worth it now?

David said...

Shoshi--

"I think the 'right answer' for a religious-orthodox person to give would be: because there is the freedom of choice, and if G-d were to present, everyone would have to follow him and there would be no freedom of choice."

One hears that a great deal, but isn't there a problem with it? If the Torah is true, then all those people who were personally rescued from Egypt by God, witnessed the miraculous destruction of Pharaoh's army, heard God's voice at Sinai, were led by a pillar of fire, etc., also managed to be flagrantly disobedient on a regular basis. Clearly, the immediate presence of God does not negate free will.

Garnel Ironheart said...

David, I wasn't being clear. I meant all the MORAL lessons that God wants us to know He's told us through the Tanach. I was not referring to halachos. The Nevi'im did not deal with those because their function was to restore the moral standing of the people.

And thus I stand by my statement: He has told us dozens of times to be decent, honest, modest and upright in our business and personal dealings. What good would repeating it today bring?

David said...

"And thus I stand by my statement: He has told us dozens of times to be decent, honest, modest and upright in our business and personal dealings. What good would repeating it today bring?"

Possibly a great deal. You and I have both seen those commandments twisted from their plain language, and used to justify dishonest business practices, different standards of integrity for non-Jews, and bizarre notions of modesty imposed on women. In the end, most people believe that most of the interpretations of those laws are the products of human imagination, rather than divine guidance. I'd say some divine pronouncement might go a long way towards clearing things up.

I'd also add that I am convinced that your argument (i.e., there's no point in repeating what's been said) is a post-hoc rationalization for the absence of the much-needed guidance, and not a serious justification for not providing the guidance. Times change, new situations arise, and laws which made sense 4,000 years ago may not make quite as much sense today.
Either we're stuck having to assume that everything rabbis say is God's will (in which case, why did He bother speaking to begin with, when He could just as easily have sent rabbis?), or we're stuck having to believe that God has left us hanging.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> Possibly a great deal. You and I have both seen those commandments twisted from their plain language, and used to justify dishonest business

But you're confusing the messenger and the message. The messengers, especially nowadays, are a source of the problem. We all agree on that. But the message? Hardly.

> I'd say some divine pronouncement might go a long way towards clearing things up.

No, it probably wouldn't. Those who don't want to believe wouldn't accept that it was a real divine pronouncement. Look at all the 9/11 conspiracy freaks and anti-vaccine idiots out there. People can deny the obivous quite easily.

And those who want to twist the message will do so again after the Divine pronouncement has finished.

> Times change, new situations arise, and laws which made sense 4,000 years ago may not make quite as much sense today.

No they don't. Urban pollution, the raising of children, politics and manipulation, literature and culture, nothing has changed in 5000 years, only the curtains on the windows. Read the stories of intrigue in the court of King David, look at the political history of the Roman Empire and you'll see that they had all the same problems we still have today.

> Either we're stuck having to assume that everything rabbis say is God's will (in which case, why did He bother speaking to begin with, when He could just as easily have sent rabbis?),

Well he did send them. Moshe Rabeinu, for example, wasn't just a prophet. And although we have this fixation on the word "prophet" denoting a guy in a long beard predicting doom and gloom, the primary function of prophets in ancient Israel was to teach. So he did send rabbis.

> or we're stuck having to believe that God has left us hanging.

No, there's a third option. Read the primary sources. Read the Nevi'im for yourself. Read the gemara for yourself. Read the Codes for yourself and see what's actually in there. People too often rely on guides when they could learn things for themselves and then blame the system when the guide goes wrong.

David said...

"But you're confusing the messenger and the message. The messengers, especially nowadays, are a source of the problem."

A message is a communication. Communications are subject to the interpretations of the recipient. To the extent that the interpretation differs from the intent, the sender must either accept the interpretation or send a follow-up message. Thus, it is unacceptable to split hairs over imperfect messengers. If the message is actually perfect, as it purports to be, then a) it shouldn't be so easy to mess up; and b) the sender ought to be more concerned about follow-ups when the messengers mess up.

"No, it probably wouldn't. Those who don't want to believe wouldn't accept that it was a real divine pronouncement. ... People can deny the obivous quite easily."

Some people will deny anything. Others will believe anything. The vast majority in the middle are more likely to be persuaded by hearing the actual Voice of God, seeing pillars of fire and smoke, and watching the sea split in two than they are by a bunch of ignorant, superstitious bigots who claim to have the answers to everything.

"And those who want to twist the message will do so again after the Divine pronouncement has finished."

Great. So, every few years, God can add a few salient remarks to help everybody understand. Congress didn't go out of session after they passed their first few pieces of legislation, did they?


"Urban pollution, the raising of children, politics and manipulation, literature and culture, nothing has changed in 5000 years, only the curtains on the windows."

Yes, Garnel, the fundamental human condition remains what it has generally been. That said, life today is a far cry from what it was 50 years ago. We live under different conditions, our neighbors cannot reasonably be characterized as either idolaters or as "ger toshav." Long ago, the economic rules of the Torah became so completely unworkable that Hillel had to create prozbul, which, in effect, nullified them. Harvests in Israel don't triple prior to shemitta years (not that they ever did). The temple is gone. The list goes on. Jews today don't live under Torah rules, we live under rabbinic rules, which means that the rabbis considered the rules in the Torah inadquate for managing society 2,000 years ago. Kal v'chomer...

"Well he did send them. Moshe Rabeinu, for example, wasn't just a prophet. And although we have this fixation on the word "
'prophet' denoting a guy in a long beard predicting doom and gloom, the primary function of prophets in ancient Israel was to teach. So he did send rabbis."

Baloney. Rabbis sent themselves.

"No, there's a third option. Read the primary sources. Read the Nevi'im for yourself. Read the gemara for yourself. Read the Codes for yourself and see what's actually in there...."

You're assuming I haven't. My problem is that, the more I read these things, the more convinced I become that they are not particularly divine in origin, that their solutions to problems are not the best possible solutions and, frequently, are not even good solutions.

Moreover, I see no particular reason (besides traditionalism) to believe that God is the source of these texts. Which gets back to my original point. Current evidence is inadequate to persuade me (and quite a few other fairly reasonable people) that God wants me to follow all the rules in the Torah (to say nothing about the rules invented by the Rabbis). If God really cares about this, He's free to get in touch with folks and let them know. We might actually be more receptive to direct communication than to ancient folk tales pushed by people who make their livings pushing ancient folk tales.

Garnel Ironheart said...

>A message is a communication. Communications are subject to the interpretations of the recipient.

Yes, but there's also the point of being able to check the original text and sources. Now, for someone who rejects Torah MiSinai, this is quite simple. The Torah not being divine, it can be said to have been corrupted. Nothing can be believed. The message and the messanger are both illegitimate. But for those who believe the Torah is the true word of God, then going back to the primary sources is a good way to overcome these issues.

Consider the issue of the State of Israel - the Satmars say that it's wrong, against God's will and that they can probe it from the Torah. Well go and look at the actual Torah, then check out the Navi in the relevant places and look at the Gemara's dealings on the subject. In fact, the Satmars are quite wrong. So the message is there and the messenger needs to be ignored. This is just one important example.

> To the extent that the interpretation differs from the intent, the sender must either accept the interpretation or send a follow-up message.

Except the principle "Lo BaShamyim Hi" is written into the Torah - God, having given the Torah, trusts our religious leaders in each generation to honestly approach new issues and analyze them from the prism of halacha. Yes, you'll get people (eg. the Satmars) who approach with an ulterior, pre-decided conclusion) but that can happen in any system.

>then a) it shouldn't be so easy to mess up;

Oh come on! Of course it can be. Torah is complex. The basic principles are simple, yes, but the applications are extremely deep and broad.

and b) the sender ought to be more concerned about follow-ups when the messengers mess up.

No, because the Sender trusts us and, having given us free choice, leeaves us to run the system to our best ability.

> seeing pillars of fire and smoke, and watching the sea split in two than they are by a bunch of ignorant, superstitious bigots who claim to have the answers to everything.

Maybe, but if God keeps doing it every time we screw up and need "correcting", then where is free will? Where is the value in our making the right decision?

> Great. So, every few years, God can add a few salient remarks to help everybody understand.

But that's my point. The remarks have been made. Restating them interferes with our decisions.

> Congress didn't go out of session after they passed their first few pieces of legislation, did they?

Actually you're totally wrong about that. The entire legal structure of the United States is based on their Constitution and the whole ideological divide between left and right in the U.S. is based on "What would the founders have said?" In any given constitutional situation, the Supreme Court justices have to consider what Ben Franklin, George Washington, etc. would have concluded had they had the problem to deal with. And since they can't ask them (they're dead, after all) they have to look at legal precedents, and use their wisdom and judgement.

Well it's the same with halacha except the Founder is up in Heaven trusting us to do the right thing.

> That said, life today is a far cry from what it was 50 years ago.

You'd be surprised how much it isn't.

> We live under different conditions, our neighbors cannot reasonably be characterized as either idolaters or as "ger toshav."

Yeah, that's been the situation since the Roman Empire abandoned idolatry 1700 years ago or so.

> Long ago, the economic rules of the Torah became so completely unworkable that Hillel had to create prozbul, which, in effect, nullified them.

No, overrode them. He used an existing loophole to sustain economic reality.

> Harvests in Israel don't triple prior to shemitta years (not that they ever did).

You're right, and that's why many important rabbonim support Heter Mechirah.

> The temple is gone.

It is? Damn! And I just bought my Pesach lamb last week!

> the rabbis considered the rules in the Torah inadquate for managing society 2,000 years ago.

Really, other than prozbul can you give me one other example?

> Baloney. Rabbis sent themselves.

I'm sorry but that's not a good attitude for debating. Tell me, did David HaMelech ever go to the bathroom? Because I can't find any mention of it in the Bible...

> You're assuming I haven't.

No, I'm assuming that you, like all these other guys, have but no one's shown you the big picture, the ongoing continuity and development.

> My problem is that, the more I read these things, the more convinced I become that they are not particularly divine in origin,

Well of course the particulars aren't. Listen, there are all sorts of rules on kashrus vis a vis the microwave. You think God mentioned microwaves to Moshe Rabeinu at Har Sinai? Halachah, despite what it's opponents claim, is a living, growing system that constantly adjusts to new situations by analyzing them according to its basic principles. No, these pearls aren't from Sinai, they're from rabbonim who want every aspect of life to have a bit of kedushah in it.

> that their solutions to problems are not the best possible solutions and, frequently, are not even good solutions.

So can you do better? One of the main reasons for the greatest of Rav Moshe Feinstein, for instance, was his attempt to use his massive Torah knowledge to find reasonable answers to complex modern problems. Rav Eliezer Waldenberg did the same for medical halachah.

Let me give you an analogy - a patient presents with a cough, fever and green sputum. You diagnose pneumonia. Why?

Well, there's the symptoms and he has crackles in his lungs.

Why?

Well, because there's inflammation there.

Why?

Because the body is reacting to the bacteria by dilating blood vessels and the lung is filling with fluid and pus as a result.

Why?

Well because bacteria release cytotoxins which induce a chemotactic response....

Simple approach: Because he's got pneumonia. Why are you making it so complicated?

Simple answer: Because it is.

> Moreover, I see no particular reason (besides traditionalism) to believe that God is the source of these texts.

Yes, but that's the point. It's all based on faith in God and the revelation at Sinai. Without that, you're right, there's no reason. It all comes down to faith.

> Which gets back to my original point. Current evidence is inadequate

Because you're dealing with two different systems - material vs spiritual. The spiritual cannot be quantified by the material, it's metaphysical, so therefore those who define the material as the be-all-and-end-all deny it exists. Then they deny faith and then they say "See, no proof for God and Torah!"

David said...

"Yes, but there's also the point of being able to check the original text and sources."

Not really. There are no Torahs that date back anywhere near the supposed date of Sinai (and, moreover, the script is different from what would have been used then). The most you could check is a copy of a copy of a copy (etc.). But the original point of the post was the question of whether or not belief in the Torah was a necessary adjunct to a belief in God. I'm not seeing it.

"Consider the issue of the State of Israel - the Satmars say that it's wrong, against God's will and that they can probe it from the Torah....This is just one important example."

So, everybody's got his own take on this. You say the Satmars are wrong, the Christians say you're wrong, I say you're all wrong, and, for all I know, I'm wrong, too.

"Except the principle "Lo BaShamyim Hi" is written into the Torah - God, having given the Torah, trusts our religious leaders ..."

That's a grossly self-serving rabbinic interpretation of a line in the Torah that was used to say that observance of the mitzvot is easy, not that rabbis got to say whatever goes. In fact, I'd say that the rabbis made observance such a miserable and difficult chore that they had to reinterpret this line, because it makes no sense in light of their anal-retentive system of halakha.

"Oh come on! Of course it can be. Torah is complex. The basic principles are simple, yes, but the applications are extremely deep and broad."

Fine, then God should revisit some of the issues and provide better guidance than we can expect from a collection of uneducated bigots who think the world is 6,000 years old, that humans are all descended from Noah's family that lived 4,000 years ago, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs.

"No, because the Sender trusts us and, having given us free choice, leeaves us to run the system to our best ability."

That's mighty foolish of Him. You don't trust the Satmars to come up with a reasonable interpretation. I don't trust your interpretations. You certainly aren't buying mine. So why is God so laid back about the whole business?

"Maybe, but if God keeps doing it every time we screw up and need "correcting", then where is free will? Where is the value in our making the right decision?"

I don't know. Where is the value of my son cleaning up his room if I have to keep reminding him? Hopefully, he'll learn to do it by himself, but, until he has, I'd be a very poor parent if I just assumed that the fact that I mentioned it once when he was three should hold him for the rest of his life.

"The remarks have been made. Restating them interferes with our decisions."

But you said our decisions haven't been all that great. Also, you acknowledge that many of us don't believe that the remarks really were made by the purported source. So there's the little matter of the authority behind the remarks remaining in doubt. Why not remove the doubt? Is it really fair to judge people on whether they can force themselves to accept a proposition which makes no sense to them?

"Actually you're totally wrong about that. The entire legal structure of the United States is based on their Constitution and the whole ideological divide between left and right in the U.S. is based on 'What would the founders have said?'"

Actually, you're totally wrong about that. The Constitution limits itself to very broad principles and delegations of authority. All legislative authority is vested in Congress, and they do not make decisions as to legislation (nor are they expected to) based on what Franklin or anyone else might have thought.

"No, overrode them. He used an existing loophole to sustain economic reality."

So reality does change. You just said it didn't.

"You're right, and that's why many important rabbonim support Heter Mechirah."

And many others don't. Too bad God doesn't provide a bit of guidance, especially since He chose to renege on his explicit promise in this regard.

"Really, other than prozbul can you give me one other example?"

How about "muktza?" How about "yayin nesach?" How about the waiting period between flaishig and milkhig? How about Rabbeinu Gershom's edict? How about the Shemona Esrei? And that's just what I came up with in the last 25 seconds! None of that crap is in the Torah. Why did the rabbis add it? I guess the Torah just wasn't good enough.

> Baloney. Rabbis sent themselves.

"I'm sorry but that's not a good attitude for debating."

Why not? That's the whole point of this debate, isn't it? If I believed that God really appointed the rabbis to tell me which shoe I need to put on first, and how I should wipe my ass on Shabbos, then I wouldn't be having this debate. Now, you want me to argue my case while assuming your view to be correct? I'm not sure I can do that.

"No, I'm assuming that you, like all these other guys, have but no one's shown you the big picture, the ongoing continuity and development."

Right. The only reason anyone could possibly disagree with your views is a glaring gap in one's education. That kind of thinking may help you (and Jacob Stein) sleep at night, but it's not a persuasive argument.

"You think God mentioned microwaves to Moshe Rabeinu at Har Sinai? Halachah, despite what it's opponents claim, is a living, growing system that constantly adjusts to new situations by analyzing them according to its basic principles."

Back to my original point about why God should add a bit more to this message (if, in fact, it came from Him). I don't see any reason to believe that a bunch of self-appointed gynophobic reactionaries who never made it to college, and who reject most of modern science should be able to make up these rules and have them apply to the rest of us.

"So can you do better?"

Of course. I'm not sure I could do much worse if I tried. But, again, if God cares, let Him do it. If He doesn't care, He could hardly do better than leave the current crop of self-appointed gedolim in charge.

"Let me give you an analogy - a patient presents with a cough, fever and green sputum. You diagnose pneumonia. Why?
...

Simple answer: Because it is."

But the credibility of my diagnosis would only be established if I could prescribe medicine that would cure the pneumonia. "Because it is" is not an answer that would satisfy any patient in his right mind. So your analogy is way off, because (like the rest of your arguments), it just assumes its conclusion.

"It's all based on faith in God and the revelation at Sinai. Without that, you're right, there's no reason. It all comes down to faith."

Wow. We should have skipped right to this part, because it's the essence of our whole disagreement! Why should I have faith? What will it do for me? What do I do if reason contradicts my faith?

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Somehow we've got to shorten this thing down.

> Not really. There are no Torahs that date back anywhere near the supposed date of Sinai

No, but the Damascus Bible does go back a couple of millenia. In addition, there are fragments, like those found with the Dead Sea scrolls and my understanding is that the rate of change over the centuroes is pretty low.

> the question of whether or not belief in the Torah was a necessary adjunct to a belief in God.

No, it all depends on what you believe God to be. I believe in a God that gave us the Torah at Sinai. Others believe in a god that fits the deism model. Okay, we have to conclude we don't believe in the same diety, that simple.

> I say you're all wrong, and, for all I know, I'm wrong, too.

Well then I'm one ahead of you because I know I'm right!

8-)

> That's a grossly self-serving rabbinic interpretation of a line in the Torah that was used to say that observance of the mitzvot is easy,

But why should interpretation of that verse be limited to the superficial when no other verse of the Torah is dismissed that way? Surely you don't hold that "an eye for an eye" is taken literally, do you?

> I'd say that the rabbis made observance such a miserable and difficult chore that they had to reinterpret this line,

Interesting you say that because of a recent comment I saw on a different blog: If you make the derech 1 mm wide, don't be surprised when more people fall off it.

As for the miserable chore, well it all depends. Lots of people out here seem to think that the Chareidi way of doing things is some kind of "gold standard". It isn't and, other than in Chareidi eyes, it never has been. A person can live a modern, yet fully observant life and not be miserable. It's not an either or choice.

> Fine, then God should revisit some of the issues

Why? Can you provide me with an example of an issue that needs revisiting, other than because the original value is out of sync with secular liberal political correctness?

> Noah's family that lived 4,000 years ago, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs.

When you say things like that, you undermine the rest of your arguments. For example, where does it say humans coexisted with dinosaurs? It doesn't and I suspect you know that too.

> That's mighty foolish of Him. You don't trust the Satmars to come up with a reasonable interpretation.

Sure I do, for their community and their community only. The problem isn't the interpretations, it's the attitude that their interpretations must be accepted by all of klal Yisrael. If the Satmars were to say "This is what we believe, but your views are also equally valid" would you still say that?

> I don't know. Where is the value of my son cleaning up his room if I have to keep reminding him?

Because one day you hope he'll realize the value of it and start to do it because of that, not because of the constant reminders. And that will be one more step he takes towards adult maturity.

> But you said our decisions haven't been all that great.

That's the price of free will. If failure is prevented, success is worthless.

> So there's the little matter of the authority behind the remarks remaining in doubt.

I believe in the authority and the authenticity. Obviously I disagree with those who don't but again, it goes back to what I said: what diety do you believe in?

> All legislative authority is vested in Congress, and they do not make decisions as to legislation (nor are they expected to) based on what Franklin or anyone else might have thought.

I think we're almost saying the same thing here. Yes, Congress legislates but any law they pass has to be consistent with the broad principles contained in the Constitution. Otherwise a good lawyer can challenge the law and have it thrown out for being unconstitutional.

> So reality does change. You just said it didn't.

Semantics. Reality doesn't change. Circumstances do.

> And many others don't. Too bad God doesn't provide a bit of guidance,

But He set up the system to allow us to guide ourselves. The debate over heter mechirah is a great example of the system working. Unfortunatley, it's also a great example of how people can be intolerant of the legitimate views of others.

> especially since He chose to renege on his explicit promise in this regard.

No, He didn't renege. If the Jewish farmers in Israel all observed Shemittah without any heters and the nation lived al pi halachah and then the extra harvest didn't show up, you'd be right. But you can't have it both ways. If modern Israel is to remain a secular state, it won't merit miracles such as extra crops. That's like a child refusing to clean his room, to use your example, but still expecting to get his allowance.

How about "muktza?"

None of your examples are the same as prozbul. In the case of prozbul, strict interpretation of the law was destroying economic actvity. Your examples are all based on safeguards to maintain the integrity of the original law.

> How about Rabbeinu Gershom's edict?

Dude, I have enough trouble with one wife...

> How about the Shemona Esrei?

According to most Rishonim, there is a biblical obligation to pray. The Amidah was written down to allow a universal method of expression for everyone to use, instead of forcing people to struggle to remember to fulfill all their praying obligations. And again, what does it have to do with prozbul?

What you're doing is saying all rabbinic innovations are the same. They're not. The reasons for each can be quite varied but you're ignoring that facet.

>I guess the Torah just wasn't good enough.

The Written Torah, by itself, is unworkable. The Torah forbids work on Shabbos, but it never defines work. The Torah permits a father to sell his daughter into slavery. Yoy think a society could work if a father really had such unfettered power?

> Why not? That's the whole point of this debate, isn't it?

No, debate is point vs counter-point, not exclamations like that.

> Back to my original point about why God should add a bit more to this message (if, in fact, it came from Him).

So everytime we invent a new piece of technology, we deserve another revelation from God on the subject? Windows vs Mac? Diet vs regular? Smoking vs non-smoking?

> I don't see any reason to believe that a bunch of self-appointed gynophobic reactionaries who never made it to college,

Yet have read and learned far more in terms of absolute amounts of knowledge than most college graduates today who are barely literate and unqualified for working at any job that requires intelligent thought...

> and who reject most of modern science

And the Institute for Halachah and Technology is what, in your opinion?

> Of course. I'm not sure I could do much worse if I tried.

You certainly have a high impression of yourself. Read the last few chapters of Iyov again.

> "Because it is" is not an answer that would satisfy any patient in his right mind.

On the contrary, speaking from ample personal experience, all patients just want is a one word diagnosis and a 'script. Most don't give a whit about the explanation behind it.

> Why should I have faith?

I dunno. Why? Listen, I don't particularily like kiruv, OfftheD's deranged vulgarity aside. I've found people are either looking for some bigger meaning to life, the universe and everything or they're not. Why some and not others? Maybe a chemical in the brain. Maybe it's a spiritual things. Who knows? And I certainly don't know how to induce a desire for faith in a person.

> What will it do for me?

It will give you something to believe in that's bigger than the here and now you're currently working with. Faith that God is out there, wanting your good and hoping you will fulfill His Torah as a means of reaching that good, that's all based on faith, something to believe. No, it's not rational because rationalism, reason, only sees the material. It rejects that which we cannot see or feel as non-existence, hence the spiritual, the thing that makes each of us special, disappeaers. If you're not looking for it in the first place, then I would say your job is to simple decide what makes a good person and stick to that.

What do I do if reason contradicts my faith?

Garnel Ironheart said...

Sorry, last part got cut off.

What do I do if reason contradicts my faith?

It sounds simpllistic but that's the beauty of faith - I assume there's a flaw in my reasoning because I believe my faith is correct.

After all, any human being can err. To sit back and announced "I've reasoned something through and there's no way I could be wrong!" is presumptive arrogance.

Yes, yes, the faith could be wrong too, but that's the beauty of belief - I believe it can't be. I can't apply that to reason since I need to prove reason.

David said...

"Somehow we've got to shorten this thing down."

Well, there's one point of agreement. I'll skip to the essence-- reason contradicting faith.

"It sounds simpllistic (sic) but that's the beauty of faith - I assume there's a flaw in my reasoning because I believe my faith is correct."

That is not beautiful-- it is Orwellian. It is only through reason that I could accept a belief; therefore, I cannot sustain a belief that contradicts reason. And, frankly, neither should you.

"After all, any human being can err. To sit back and announced 'I've reasoned something through and there's no way I could be wrong!' is presumptive arrogance."

On the contrary. I acknowledge that I can (and do) err, and am willing to change my beliefs if and when they are shown to be incorrect. Arrogance is stating as a foregone conclusion that your beliefs are superior to those of everyone else, and that no amount of evidence or logic could ever prove the contrary.

"Yes, yes, the faith could be wrong too, but that's the beauty of belief - I believe it can't be. I can't apply that to reason since I need to prove reason."

Again, that's not beauty. That's slavery to a particular idea that you place beyond the scope of debate. In so doing, you allow the self-appointed leaders of your religion to dictate your morality, and, when and if it conflicts with your conscience, you shrug it off and assume that the rabbis must be right and you must be wrong.

I used to have a poster that I picked up in the USSR-- it said "The Party-- Mind, Honor and Conscience of our Epoch." The notion of someone else's rules acting in place of the individual's conscience strikes me as a long step towards barbarism.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Let's shorten it down even further.

First of all, over on my blog there's a whole thing on faith and reason where we can pick this up.

But before I go...

> The notion of someone else's rules acting in place of the individual's conscience strikes me as a long step towards barbarism.

What's the dividing line? Canadian law says that same-sex marriage is fine. I personally disagree but if I was working as a clerk in the office handing out marriage licences, I would have to hand one out to every same-sex couple walking through the door. What about my conscience?

Okay, you might say that I should then not work for the government. Fine, what about if I own a private business and want to restrict marital benefits on my company plan to heterosexual couples? The government then steps in too and says that they don't care about my conscience and private beliefs. I have to follow their rules.

Yet these "rules" are simply the result of a bunch of opportunitic, vote-hungry politicians worried about maintaining a politically correct image and placating the militant edge of the gay community.

Is there not something wrong with this? Isn't this the barbarism of which you're afraid? Yet it's 100% secular.

David said...

"Is there not something wrong with this? Isn't this the barbarism of which you're afraid? Yet it's 100% secular."

No; barbarism would be insisting that you marry a gay person. Insisting that you not be permitted to stone people because their behavior fails to measure up to your standards is just sound policy. Fortunately, it works the other way, too, which, in the end, is a very healthy thing for the Jews.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

I don't know where my last comment went so I'll try again.

> No; barbarism would be insisting that you marry a gay person.

Consider the case of Scott Brockie, a printer in Toronto who was approached by a homosexual group that wanted him to print some flyers for them. As a "strong Chrisian" he refused but also handed them the business card of a friend of his down the street who would do it at the same price.

But no, this group decided that HE had to print the flyers and financially destroyed him by taking him to the local human rights court.

Never mind they weren't denied access to a service - they could have walked down the street to the other printer. They didn't even have to make the effort to look in the phone book, Brockie gave them all the info. They wouldn't have lost money because the other guy cost the same. But the thought that someone wouldn't jump when they said so? Intolerable!

That's the tyranny of the secular right there for you. What looks like a good thing - live and let live - really isn't.

How long before some human rights group walks into the local Orthodox shul and demands the mechitzah be taken down?

David said...

Garnel:

Your point is completely lost on me. I think Canada's civil rights tribunals (or whatever you're calling them) are a complete disgrace.

That in no way alters my opinion on religious issues. To take it a step further, an irrational insistence that gays ought to be stoned is probably much worse than an irrational insistence that printers print flyers for any paying customer, regardless of his or her sexual predilections.

Steve said...

In response to David's question (December 10) "So I was wondering if it makes sense to anyone else that I have no problem believing a God figure could have created the earth, but that this God did not give the torah and doesn't really care much about us humans.".

It makes perfect sense. Perhaps there is ONLY a God - nothing else. And the whole of reality (including us) is all part of that manifestation. There is only what is. Everything. Imagine two atoms in a table asking whether there is such a thing as a table.

As for the Torah... perhaps it is some sort of crystalisation of our collected response to the horror and uncertainty with which many people experience existence - a way of providing meaning and purpose but one which has become rather distorted over the centuries and one which preserves humankind's neuroses. We are trying to be so safe that we end up being sorry.

Also, I think there is an element of keeping up with the Joneses! If one person sets a particular 'standard' for religious observance, someone else feels they have to come along and go one step further in order to appear pious. That then becomes the standard for everyone else. And so it goes on.

Jewish Sceptic said...

I had the exact same problems with science, before leaving my agnostisism and becoming an atheist.

I got over it by realising that though science doesn't know everything, it doesn't try to hide that fact and is therefore ultimately more honest than religion.

Also, comfortingly, there will be a time when humanity does figure out how the most primitive object got to where it was before we sprang into being, even if we don't. Science will continue to progress beyond our life spans.

Hope that helps.

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