Thursday, August 13, 2009

Survey! Not by Me

I got this email from a woman by the name of Chana Etengoff, I actually think it's a very good idea, and although it may not have much effect on the insular Orthodox community, it's definitely an interesting sociological study. Ironically, I saw this first on Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein's blog before reading this email, I don't check this address much. Anyway here is a copy of the email I got from Ms. Etengoff:

I am writing to you in the hopes that you could perhaps assist me in my research of the Secular Jewish/Cultural Jewish population. I am currently a doctoral student at The CUNY Graduate Center and am in the process of researching the post high school developmental experience of the Jewish population (with the many subcategories) between the ages of 18-29. At the moment, I have had better luck recruiting the Modern Orthodox Jewish population and I am strongly committed to the idea of equal representation and unbiased reporting-and it would thus be a great help to me if you could perhaps circulate the below text to all whom you think it is relevant to.

“Are you a Jew between the ages of 18-29? Would you like to take a couple of moments to discover more about yourself and your stage in life?
Below is a link to an on-line research study survey which will present you with questions regarding your assessment of your values, beliefs, and current stage of life. All answers will be confidential and your identity can be anonymous if you so chose.
It only takes 20-30 minutes to discover more about yourself, share your story, and contribute to psychological theory. Not bad, considering it can take years to write an auto-biography….

Copy & Paste/or Click this link to begin telling your story:

*Parents should click here:

Also, please keep in mind--that only one response per computer is allowed.

Many thanks for the time and effort,
Chana Etengoff
Doctoral Student of Psychology
CUNY Graduate Center

So if you feel up to it, I do recommend participating, I did, I think it would be interesting to see what she comes up with.

Good luck!

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Listening to Eichah last night, I realized a simple thing, namely that of the first 4 chapters in which the Psukim are composed in alphabetical order, there is a discrepancy in the order used. Only the first chapter goes according to the order we're familiar with, chapters 2-4 have Peh before Ayin in all three chapters. Is this a mistake in transmission, or more likely, there were different orders used in different times? Has anyone noticed this, also any suggestions about literature on this topic.
What disappointed me about this finding last night, was the following: I've read Eichah dozens of times already, and it took me to become an Apikores to realize something as simple as this? Were we really that blind? I know we were, but that blind!
Another simple thing that came to my attention is that the meaning of the Posuk,
רְאֵה יְהוָה וְהַבִּיטָה, לְמִי עוֹלַלְתָּ כֹּה: אִם-תֹּאכַלְנָה נָשִׁים פִּרְיָם עֹלְלֵי טִפֻּחִים, אִם-יֵהָרֵג בְּמִקְדַּשׁ אֲדֹנָי כֹּהֵן וְנָבִיא
'See, O LORD, and consider, to whom Thou hast done thus! Shall the women eat their fruit, the children that are dandled in the hands? Shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? (Lamentations 2:20)
has nothing to do with the Gemara's Pshat that says the latter half of the Psouk is a retort by God, referring to the slaying of Zecharyah by the Jews hundreds of years prior. This I kind of knew, but still the Drush which RSH"I brings down was always so vivid, I would automatically read it that way.

Nu, so what's the Mussar Haskel. Don't read TN"KH without Meforshim: you will become an Apikores. And conversely, the surest way to become an Apikores is to read the text of TN"KH by itself! But please boys and girls don't try this at home, it is dangerous.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sholem Aleichem

Nothing beats reading Sholem Aleichem in the original, and I mean nothing. Has anyone ever read it in the original? Any thoughts? Let me know.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Age of Reason?

I'm reading Gershom Scholem's autobiography, and the strongest impression that I got from it so far, was the intellectually stimulating environment he found himself in. The Apikorsus of all brands was there for the picking. There were groups, circles, clubs and organizations of all kinds based on this or that shared common belief. Today, there are a few of us here and there who have to go to great lengths to meet a like minded soul. When I read accounts of that time period, I feel like I'm in the wrong century. Granted, most of the intellectual fads of the time, were based on some sort of socialism, which is revolting to me, mostly due to it's naivete, and completely unfounded belief in humanity. Nonetheless, it was a time fertile for intellectual creativity, and Meshugaim like us, who cared or at least though they cared for the truth, were common enough to be a class for themselves, that can flourish as such.
This bring me to my second point, the different manifestations of our Apikorsus. It seems like these guys had guts, something that I find lacking in many of us, myself including, to a degree. Certainly, much of this difference can be attributed to demographics. Most Jews at that time, especially in Eastern Europe, were religious, and that was the time when those that couldn't stay were leaving. It was a mass exodus, simply because it's time had come. In numbers there is power, and it seems like the established religious power holders, were on the defensive. We're now a century after this process, and the religious community has come back in a much smaller, compact and introverted form. It's also been setup (at least the ultra Orthodox) with the primary goal of keeping its members in the fold. This has created a very different dynamic, a sort of reversion to tribalism if I may use the term, which is very successful at keeping it's limited numbers in the fold.
And still, I think there is something missing. Maybe it's living in America, the land of the cheeseburger and the SUV. I don't know, but why can't we be something more than just a couple of Meshugaim. We're definitely a product of the times, and times have changed, alas they've become more boring.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Random Ramblings

Ah, finally I can sit down and relax with a screwdriver, Oder A Bisseleh Stolichnaya Oif Dem rocks, and sing "M'Ein Olam Hazeh, M'Ein Olam Hazeh" after the last few months, it's been very hectic. A few things of interest:
Yesterday I popped into the only Sforim store in town worth visiting (my Landsleit will know which one I'm referring to), and I saw this on display:

I asked if this is a serious book or A Bisseleh Litzanus, and he said no no, this is for real, to which I replied this is the biggest Litzanus of all. Along these lines, I thought of a great title for a book: "Arbeit Macht Frei". The contents can be any of those tree killing publications all about the Chashivus of Toira, which aren't worth the sticker used for the price tag.

What else, it is beyond hilarious, pathetic, or any other such descriptive what's going on in Moscow. What sort of fool is Obama that he thinks he will cause any good to come out of that rotten mafia posing as a government. Any person with half a neuron in his skull knows, that what brought down the Soviet Union wasn't rhetoric, it was a combination of the arms race with the unnaturally low price of oil in the 80s. Nothing more, nothing less. In reality not much has changed since then, Medvedev is president, like Kalinin was head of state in Stalin's time. I sympathize with Obama's motives on both nuclear and social issues, but there is no one to talk to. There will never be freedom in that God forsaken corner. Freedom is something the people must demand in order for it to be maintained, and in Russia freedom was never demanded, only bread and land. In this country we're also forgetting how to maintain our freedom, but I won't get into that, I'm not going to ruin the blog by discussing politics. When Bernanke was appointed, Bloomberg Markets interviewed him and they asked about his religious orientation, to which he replied, my mother taught me never to discuss two things: politics and religion. One half of that dictum we're blatantly disregarding, the other I would very much like to observe.

On another note, I saw a very good Pshat explaining what was the sin of Moshe Rabbenu in the JPS Chumash by Jacob Milgrom. In short, he explains that the portrayal of a prophet and miracle worker in the Pentateuch is of someone silently performing a miracle, all the while atrtributing the power to God. Before the action, whether it was hitting the water, or throwing ash or the stick, Moshe would say what would happen and attribute it to God. This is contrast to heathen sorcerers and magicians who would say some incantations before performing. The important distinction is that pagans believed that there are certain rules in and outside of nature that govern everything, including the gods. By saying the correct incantations, it was believed that the sorcerer can tap into an existing mechanism, irregardless of the god's will, even in opposition to it. The Pentateuch is trying to stress that everything in the world is in God's power, and any miracle is performed through God's will.
כִּי הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה יוֹרֵשׁ אוֹתָם--אֶל-מְעֹנְנִים וְאֶל-קֹסְמִים, יִשְׁמָעוּ; וְאַתָּה--לֹא כֵן, נָתַן לְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
נָבִיא מִקִּרְבְּךָ מֵאַחֶיךָ כָּמֹנִי, יָקִים לְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: אֵלָיו, תִּשְׁמָעוּן.
For these nations, that thou art to dispossess, hearken unto soothsayers, and unto diviners; but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do. A prophet will the LORD thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; (Deuteronomy 18: 14-15).
That's why Moses never chanted anything when performing miracles. In this instance, God also told Moses to speak to the Jews before performing the miracle through hi ting the rock. Hence taking the stick along. Milgrom follows the interpretation of וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל-הַסֶּלַע as עַל הַסֶּלַע
therefore, Moshe was told to perform a miracle as usual, announce beforehand what is to occur, and then perform the appropriate action. He did so, almost. He said הֲמִן-הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה, נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם
implying that we, not God, will draw forth water. So the transgression was speaking. He brings proof for this from Psalms where it states:
כִּי-הִמְרוּ אֶת-רוּחוֹ; וַיְבַטֵּא, בִּשְׂפָתָיו.
the JPS translation is actually not exact as they translate: "For they embittered his spirit, and he spoke rashly with his lips." The text though literally just means, he uttered with his lips, which implies that the problem was in the speech itself not in the manner thereof.
Maybe I'll have some more on this next time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chumash Shiur: Behaloscha

Over Shabbos, the following Stirah, discussed by all the Meforshim, bothered me very much. In Parshas Bamidbor and Noss0, God tells Moshe to count the Leviim from age thirty to fifty in order to serve in the Mishkan:

נָשֹׂא, אֶת-רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי קְהָת, מִתּוֹךְ, בְּנֵי לֵוִי--לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם.
מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, וְעַד בֶּן-חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה--כָּל-בָּא, לַצָּבָא, לַעֲשׂוֹת מְלָאכָה, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
'Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their families, by their fathers' houses, from thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter upon the service, to do work in the tent of meeting. (Numbers 4:2-3).
נָשֹׂא, אֶת-רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי גֵרְשׁוֹן--גַּם-הֵם: לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם.
מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, עַד בֶּן-חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה--תִּפְקֹד אוֹתָם: כָּל-הַבָּא לִצְבֹא צָבָא, לַעֲבֹד עֲבֹדָה בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
'Take the sum of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers' houses, by their families; from thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou number them: all that enter in to wait upon the service, to do service in the tent of meeting.(ibid 22-23).
בְּנֵי, מְרָרִי--לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לְבֵית-אֲבֹתָם, תִּפְקֹד אֹתָם.
מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, וְעַד בֶּן-חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה--תִּפְקְדֵם: כָּל-הַבָּא, לַצָּבָא, לַעֲבֹד, אֶת-עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
As for the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them by their families, by their fathers' houses; from thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth upon the service, to do the work of the tent of meeting.(ibid 29-30).

While in Parshas Behaloscha it says:
זֹאת, אֲשֶׁר לַלְוִיִּם: מִבֶּן חָמֵשׁ וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, וָמַעְלָה, יָבוֹא לִצְבֹא צָבָא, בַּעֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
וּמִבֶּן חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה, יָשׁוּב מִצְּבָא הָעֲבֹדָה; וְלֹא יַעֲבֹד, עוֹד.
'This is that which pertaineth unto the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to perform the service in the work of the tent of meeting; and from the age of fifty years they shall return from the service of the work, and shall serve no more;(ibid 8:24-25).

The Meforshim have various explanations for this discrepancy. First there is RSH"I who as usual has a somewhat Midrashic explanation (taken from the Gemarah) that the Levi would come to learn his trade at the age ot twenty five for five years, at which point he would be ready to start at the prescribed age of thirty. Nu, enough said.
The Ibn Ezra writes that the Posuk in which the prescribed age is thirty doesn't contradict the latter Posuk because at the age of thirty the Levi would start carrying the Mishkan while at the age of twenty five he only serviced it. To which the RMB"N rightfully replies that it's incorrect because in 4:23 it says כָּל-הַבָּא לִצְבֹא צָבָא, לַעֲבֹד עֲבֹדָה בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד
and in the next Posuk: זֹאת עֲבֹדַת, מִשְׁפְּחֹת הַגֵּרְשֻׁנִּי--לַעֲבֹד, וּלְמַשָּׂא
so this doesn't work obviously.

The RMB"N himself offers the following explanation: Moshe was commanded to count the Leviim only from age thirty, at which point they were to be pressed into service. At age twenty five though, a Levi was able to come forth and serve of his own volition, but could not have an official post as overseer and so on. The reason being that a decadal birthday is known to a man's family and friends, while other birthdays not so much. The thirtieth birthday was thus a convenient age for counting. The RMB"N notes that in another instance, Chronicles i 23:3, the Leviim were also counted at age thirty.
I think this is the best Terutz so far, but I think it's lacking. First, the phraseology is the same in all the Psukim, indicating that the status and terms of service are the same. Second, in the Psukim where they are counted at thirty, it says: כָּל-בָּא, לַצָּבָא, or כָּל-הַבָּא לִצְבֹא צָבָא, which means that those counted included all that were to serve in the Mishkan. Another problem is obviously that the RMB"Ns differentiation between the two ages has nothing to support it from the text, other than the fact that here the Leviim are counted and here not, which may have many reasons other than his.

The usual real Terutz in such cases doesn't work here, because all of these Psukim are attributed to the same source, which all have the unmistakable imprint of P. So what to do? Did the author forget in chapter eight what he wrote in chapter 4. It's not only the age that's different, it seems that in 8, the author seems oblivious to the fact that the Leviim were just counted extensively for this purpose. Is there an obvious real Terutz I didn't grasp. Or maybe, is one of those Farkvetchte Terutzim the real thing? Did the author actually intend to have his words dissected in a semi-code manner?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Oy Oy Shabbos

Over Shabbos, two things got me thinking.
First, when we say during Hagbah:
וְזֹאת, הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-שָׂם מֹשֶׁה, לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל-פִּי יְהוָה בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה
the first part of the sentence being from Deuteronomy 4:44, and the second from Numbers 9:23, I thought: is this the best we came up with for expressing that the whole Torah was given to Moshe by God? The answer is yes, because for those who know, it doesn't state anywhere in the Chumash that God relayed all of it to Moshe, so yes, this Mishmash Posuk is the best we came up with for stating what the Torah itself is conspicuously missing. Which lead me to think: did I have to get this far to realize this. Why didn't I notice that we say this Mishmash sentence because we've got nothing better, five, ten years ago. I also knew that this is a composite Posuk, but I never thought, why, why nothing better. Unfortunately, the truth is that we usually don't think straight, especially when we're brought up to simply follow what we're taught. This is why I usually don't explain what brought me to my Apikorsus to those not familiar with the issues, and what I tell the same people when they say: do you think you're smarter than RSH"I, RMB"M or whomever. And, Ein Hachi Nami, I'm not. But in order to realize the Chulent your in, you have to look at it from outside. It only takes one peak, but that one peak makes an immeasurable difference.

The second thing was when the Rav spoke for the Aufruf there, and he asked what's the origin of the Brochoh given to the newlyweds "בית נאמן בישראל"? He answered that the source comes from Abigail who beseeched David saying: "Forgive, I pray thee, the trespass of thy handmaid;
כִּי עָשֹׂה-יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי בַּיִת נֶאֱמָן for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house."
Now the meaning of this wish as far as I know is either that the couple should build a faithful house in Israel, meaning faithful to the Jewish faith. Or that one should have a בית נאמן a faithful household, בית taking on the meaning as in ביתו זו אשתו. The real story behind David and Abigail is actually not very veiled in the text of Shmuel, and it tells a story that is the farthest thing from faithfulness. Although he probably is correct, that the phrase originates from there, but this is a good example of projecting contemporary imagery onto very different people from the past.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Truth: The True Evil

Truth truth truth, we look for her, we find her (or think we do), and then regret the day we started looking. What does one get from her? Nothing. No thank you, no reward, no eternal life, and no meaning. Just nihil and void, and of all good devoid. עולם הפוך שמעתי where truth is equated with good and deception with evil. But in reality, there is no good or evil, and if there is, truth should be equated with evil and deception with good. For is there a single man who will honestly proclaim that shedding the belief in a life full of meaning is good?

What happened. Nothing. Just Shavuos came around, my favorite holiday. A time when I could really appreciate Rav Yosef's saying אי לא האי יומא דקא גרים כמה יוסף איכא בשוקא, but instead nothing. Not that I still can't take a RMB"M apart, but now looking at it, what's it all worth. And not just it, life - it's nothing. How can I recapture that feeling? How? How can I delude myself into disregarding the evil and cruel truth? Can I turn the clock back to a blissful time when I knew no better. This search for truth is a sickness, it's a force that sucks the life out physically and spiritually. I envy people who are able to delude themselves in spite of their knowledge, even those like XGH who still cling to some meaning in life. Unfortunately I don't posses the gift of delusion. Deceiving others is the simplest matter, but deluding oneself is an art, a skill I don't have. How I wish I hadn't started on this path, but once I did, I wish I were able to turn back somehow. It is impossible, כל באיה לא ישובון, and there is no way to recapture that most benevolent deception, that belief in meaning and good.

On the other hand, I couldn't live with some belief, no matter how exhilarating, if I doubted it's validity. So the search for truth was inevitable. And even now seeing how unsatisfying it is, it doesn't make it any less true. Facts are cruel, and there is nothing to be done about them. Nevertheless, how I wish to have the ability to side step them, and even ignore them.
אָכוֹל וְשָׁתוֹ, כִּי מָחָר נָמוּת is my motto now for lack of anything better, but seeing that all there is to it is מָחָר נָמוּת and contrasting this with the great edifice of religion, it's very hard to continue this way. Probably, one who was never exposed to the beautiful deception of religion, can live with this motto. But for me, I can't. There is simply no comparison, and no turning the clock back, and no deluding oneself, unfortunately.

So what's to be done. I sit and think, maybe there is meaning to all of this after all. But no, stop kidding around, you know we're just here by default, live and then die. How do you know this, based on what, on the little you have studied? That's not enough to make such conclusions, go study more, find out, maybe you're wrong. וחוזר חלילה and round we go, getting deeper and deeper in this quicksand, in the quagmire known as the quest for truth, and so till death. Except that instead of a life full with this nonsense and then death, one could at least אָכוֹל וְשָׁתוֹ and then die. But no, it seems some are destined to waste their life away, stricken with the sickness , an untreatable one at that, known as the "quest for truth".

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Morality! What's the Hangup?

First I would like to apologize for my absence from the blogsphere the last week plus. I've been extremely busy and haven't had the time to write or even think much. For now I'll just put up some random stuff that's been in my head, and I hope to post something more coherent in the coming days.

As the title of the post suggests, I want to know why people who have otherwise renounced religion and the belief that life has meaning (or at least recognize that there is no convincing reason to think it has one), continue to have this hangup when it comes to morality. The most annoying manifestation of this is arguments against the Torah because of its failing to pass our moral scrutiny. Fallacious arguments rub me the wrong way, and none is more fallacious than this. By whose standards of morality are we judging the Torah? By modern standards, which are subject to change just as those of 1,000 BC and 1,000 AD changed to become what we recognize today as western morals. I assume the reader recognizes that barring divine instruction, morals are inherently subjective. Why then do people, who are relatively thought out and don't argue logically indefensible positions, continue to make this logically unjustifiable argument over and over again. Is the conception of core morality so ingrained in us that even when we try considering its merits in a detached manner, we seem to be unable to do so?

Vus Nuch. I think there is gotta be some kind of satirical representation of the debacle of the "big three." Maybe the "Three Little Pigs" but that's not a good comparison on two counts: 1) Can we really credit Ford with that much forethought? 2) Ford didn't help anyone, and can a corporation ever be compared to a little pig fighting a wolf?
Maybe the "Three Stooges"? Their financial management definitely qualifies. Anyway that's that for now, hope to keep them coming on a more regular basis.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How to Go Off-the-Derech: A Halachic Guide

It seems that there is a lot gray area where many authorities in the J-blogsphere disagree on when and how one can/should go off the Derech. Therefore, as a public service, I have compiled a little guide, a Kitzur of the main opinions regarding the issue.

It seems that XGH holds the most stringent position on the matter, while Daas Hedyot seems to be the most lenient. Somewhere in between these two extremes held by such prominent Halachic figures, we have other luminaries like BHB, Yeshivish Atheist, and others who fall somewhere in between. Although it seems to be pretty clear that XGH is the most stringent, it is not clear what exactly are the requirements one has to meet in order to Halachically go off the Derech. There are some definite rules that we can pinpoint:
1) You can not be Chassiddish, Lubavitch, Yeshivish, Baal Tshuvah, Mizrachi, under twenty, over forty, amongst others.
2) Even if you are lucky not to fall under any of the above categories, you can not be an atheist once you do go off the Derech, have any difficulties in your social life, or have any other "abnormal" situations.
3) You have to have been raised Modern Orthodox, been to Israel, have Zionist sympathies, gone to movies (very important it seems in XGHs estimation), and been able to do anything you could do if you are off the Derech.
4) If by chance you have met all the above requirements, you can still not go off the Derech according to XGH. You are to normal. You must come from an interesting background like Chabad, crazy Yeshivish, or some other fanatic sect.
5) If by some defiance of all natural laws, you are still qualified, there is one more caveat: you really are not allowed to go off the Derech, you can just become Orthoprax. Yes, you heard correctly.

Some have criticized XGHs position based on the impossibility of it ever being borne out in practice. To which there is a very good precedent one can respond, namely עיר הנדחת, and בן סורר ומורה. But some have answered in the spirit of the aforementioned Gemorah: Certainly this Halachah is applicable in practice, and the proof is that "אני ראיתיו וישבתי על קברו" I saw him and used to comment on his blog. והמבין יבין

According to Daas Hedyot, anybody can go off the Derech for any reason at anytime. וכל המרבה הרי זה משובח. Especially if you become Roman Catholic, because what's more logical than switching from one fundamentalist religion based on myths and unsubstantiated fairy tales, to another religion based on myths and unsubstantiated fairy tales. Mamesh, I don't understand why anyone disagrees.

The most curious opinions are the approximate range into which BHB and YA and others fall. They have this curious requirement of having one investigate the alternatives and 'think critically' for oneself.

In summary, the last opinion can be discarded outright because we have no precedent in Halachah for anything even remotely similar to these requirements. "Think critically" who ever heard of such a thing. As to the forst two options, I favor XGHs position since it isn't even followed by its own proponent, something that we have lots of precedent for in Halachah.

Now, obviously this is all הלכה ולא למעשה, and each person should ask their Rav, especially on such an important matter: How to go off the Derech according to Halachah.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Important Finding!

A new manuscript of Koheles has been found! At this stage only a limited number of people are aware of the finding. I was only able to get access to a small fragment, which I present to my readers. I will continue monitoring the situation, and present any new developments as I become aware of them.

At this time, you can not find this version anywhere, not in print nor online. However, we hope that we will be able to spread the availability of this version, and hopefully you will even be able to search for it on Mechon-mamre.

Here is the part available at the moment. Fortunately it's at the beginning, so you can start reading right along:

דברי אחר

.דברי אחר בן אלישע, הייתי פרומאק במאנסי

.הבל הבלים אמר אחר, הבל הבלים הכל הבל

.מה יתרון לחרדי בכל עמלו שיעמול בפרומאקיותו

?דור הולך ודור בא, והפרומאקיות לעולם עומדת

.וזרח הדעת ובא הדעת, והפרומאקיות לאחור תלך

.סביב סביב תסובב, וכשכורת לאחור תפול

.כל החומרות באים מן ההלכות? וההלכות לא נחסרים

כל ההלכות היגעים, לא יוכל רב לדבר ולא ישבע פרומאק מראות ולא תוכל אוזן לשמוע

.מה שהיה הוא לא יהיה, ואין כל ישן בחומראות

יש חומרא שיאמרו ראה זה ישן הוא, לא היה כזה מעולם, כי באמת חדש ומשונה ומשוגע הוא

אין זכרון לראשונים כי אם לשגעונונת, וגם לאחרונים לא יהיה להם זכרון, כי אם לשגעונותיהם

.אני אחר הייתי פרומאק בין פרומאקים

ונתתי את לבי לחקור ולפלפל בהלכה על כל אשר נעשה בפרומאקיות, הוא ענין רע נתן אלהים לחרדים לענות בו

.ראיתי את כל המעשים שנעשו בפרומאקים, והנה הכל הבל וקטנות מוח

.מיושר יתעות, וריח אמת תשתתק

דברתי אני עם לבי לאמר, אני הנה הרביתי ולמדתי בפרומאקיות יותר מהרבה פרומאקים, ולבי ראה הרבה חומרא והלכה

.ואתנה לבי לדעת תורה והלכה, ודעת האמת, ידעתי שגם זה כחלום יעוף

.כי ברב תורה רב כעס, ויוסיף אמת יוסיף מכאוב

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why were/are you Religious?

In the last week I've run into a few discussions as to the basis of our religious beliefs/practices. Over at this thread at Three Jews, Four Opinions I had an exchange with Evanston Jew which turned on the basis for a sustainable Judaism.

I won't focus as much on what brand of Judaism is sustainable in the long run (if any). What I want to explore is the reasons we believed/believe in whatever religious beliefs we have/had. I had a discussion with a former Chossid last week, and we were talking about why we were Frum. In the end it came down to the difference between our upbringing; he was a Chossid, I wasn't. Now let's backtrack, why are/were we Frum, or better yet religious, regardless of particular orientation.

For the purposes of this discussion, I will combine the possible reasons for belief in two categories:

1) Because one believes in the truth claims of, and evidence for one's religion, which logically brings one to follow it since it is the right path based on the truth.

2) Because one feels a spiritual/emotional connection with his religion. It speaks to him, it fulfills some need in his 'soul' if you will.

Within the two categories may lie a wide variety of people, laymen and clergy, the more and less intelligent, the old and the young, newcomers and people born into their faith. Let's explore each category separately. In the first category we have people who believe in the historical claims of their faith, be it God's existence, revelation, an afterlife, divine providence and so forth. Based on these beliefs, they understand that they have an obligation to follow the prescriptions of their faith. Going against their faith would mean defying God, and doing harm to oneself. It must be noted that people in this category need not be mechanical robots. They could have a very thorough understanding of how and why the practices of their religion are meaningful and carry a weight that gives them an actual impact on reality. Nevertheless, the basic foundation of their belief is the factual truth claims of their faith, in which they believe. Why they believe in these claims varies from person to person. Some simply take it as a matter of tradition or authority, others have taken it upon themselves to investigate the matter, and have come to the conclusion that the tenets of their faith are logically deducible. Regardless, the deciding factor in their belief is a conviction in the truthfulness of these claims for whatever reason.

In the second category we have people who feel that the spirit of their faith speaks to them. They get some inner fulfillment from their religious practices or beliefs, or the see their faith as some manifestation of how they see and feel the cosmos. Here we also have a wide variety of people. For example some have a strong desire in helping their fellow man. They see this as the ultimate goal in man's life, and their religion is the channel through which they express this goal. Others may think of God and his connection to man, and employ their faith as an arena where this manifests itself. The common thread is that these people feel that their faith fulfills them in some way, which is independent of the particular truth claims of their given religion. In other words, if they were to become convinced of the falsehood of positions their faith holds as true, and that all the particular facts that it puts forth as proofs of its veracity in fact never happened, they would still be left with the basic reason for continuing with their religion. It would still speak to them on some level.

The differences are not as easy to perceive as it may seem. For example people in the former category can be stereotyped as those that get hung up on insignificant details at the expense of internalizing their faith's main message. The latter group can be generalized as those who are floating in the clouds, without a grasp on reality. But the opposite may in fact be true. Certainly these generalization are often true. Nevertheless, some people may be very pedantic in their faith, thinking that these minor details carry some cosmological significance (Mekubbolim for example). Others may have a very rationalistic approach to their faith, which is solidly built upon the findings of their investigation. And in spite of believing that all the laws and practices of their religion are a product of God's will, they may attach little importance to them, preferring to focus on the fundamentals.

Now which faith is stronger, more sustainable. It would certainly seem that the latter kind of faith, which is based on the heart and is part of the person himself rather than some external reasons, which are always subject to change. But it isn't that simple. For some, the latter path is not an option. There is no inner feeling that is strong enough to nurture a whole religion. There simply isn't anything there. This is the type of faith I had. Truth be told, it was very strong in its time. Why, because I truly believed in the main tenets of the Torah, and as a logical consequence felt obligated to follow the Torah. I did have somewhat of a connection to the religion on an emotional level, but it was very insignificant. Consequently, when my conviction that the Torah's claims about revelation, history, and God were either false or a guess just as good as anyone's, the floor was taken from under my faith. I remember that the only tough time I had on an emotional rather than intellectual level during my transition, was when it hit me that there is no afterlife. I couldn't eat or sleep for three days, but after that I was as fresh as spring flower. But this was the only faith I could have had. And when the foundation went, I was left with nothing but hot air.

This is how I am, and I know that there are others who would say the same for themselves. If someone is to say that it's shallow, I won't argue. I will say though that the other way is too speculative. I don't mean to trade barbs. I mean to point out that it depends on the person. What for me was based on a clear and (what I believed then) an airtight logic, is to you shallow. And what for you is a life based on spirituality and an inner sense of self and the world, is to me baseless speculation and Chalomos.

EJ, on the aforementioned thread seemed surprised at my remark, and wrote:
"No one, not one, ever says what you say "I am or was religious but not spiritual."

Well you have one, and I think that there are more. I won't argue with you if you meant that no one ever says that "I was religious but not at all spiritual" but you seem to be implying that spirituality is an important and even self sustaining factor for everyone. With this I strongly disagree. Some people are decidedly "nonspiritual" in the sense that it plays a very minor if any role in their life. By spiritual, I mean something that can't be grasped either by the senses or the intellect, something in the soul (again, for lack of a better term).

I hope I got the main idea across, it's a hard line to pinpoint. For this post, I ask the readers to comment more than other times, because I think we can clarify the issue with a view from different angles.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interview with a "Heiseh Atheist"

Lately I have been running into more and more a mindless drivel of comments on certain blogs. Basically you have some "bright intellectuals" (Uber-Chachomim), who shall remain unnamed (although my readers should have no difficulty figuring it out), in our midst here in the J-blogsphere who have switched allegiance from one God/Godol/Rebbe system to another. And if you dare question their certainty in any of the tenets of their newly found faith, oh no, you better be ready for a good serving of some verbal abuse. And it's not unfounded you know, because anyone who doesn't agree with them is automatically part of the other side, the dark forces of evil, the obstacles of progress and the second coming of Richard Dawkins.

In the spirit of the latest fad in the J-blogsphere of conducting interviews, the following is an interview with one such devout member of the new faith and crusader against the backwards forces of anti whatever he happens to think on that day after two and a half shots of whiskey, a little porn or the hell knows what:

Me: So what made you change your mind from being a blind follower of Gdolim, who believed in every last word they said, without even contemplating if they said it in the first place - to someone who follows this or that atheist mobilizer without ever stopping to think about what he is saying or if you even understand what he is saying.

OTD Crusader: Because I was looked at with the wrong eye by my Morah in preschool, pointed at with a ruler by the second-grade Rebbi, given a Knass in 10th grade, and not allowed to masturbate as much as I'd like to. All of this led me to realize that the God/Gdolim/Rebbe idolizing is not for me. Also I wasn't supposed to curse people back then no matter how wrong they were. So instead I switched to believing in Dawkins and the atheist revolution. As part of the initiation rites, I must blog and curse as many people who disagree with me about the most inconsequential things. Even people who don't believe in religion, or may even be atheists.

Me: But did you investigate whether your new found belief is universally correct, or if it's possibly mistaken in some part or detail, because those that you chose to follow now are also human and may err in something.

OTD Crusader: @#$% you. How dare you question me. Don't you know that now in the new world order of atheistic democracy, the only free speech allowed is that which is unmistakebly anti religious and pro the new god of earth Dawkins, or Harris, or me. Anything else which is not 100% anti religion is to be condemned and its proponent cursed and shunned as a uncivilized savage. This should be done even if I'm so stupid as to not understand what's being spoken. My marching orders are such: if I don't hear some blasphemy, the speaker must be expounding counter-revolutionary propaganda.

Me: So what will happen to all those say 99.9% of humanity who either aren't atheist or are atheist but aren't as vehemently anti religious as they ought to be. What will happen to those that think for themselves, don't follow the leader, and happen to come to a different conclusion than the party line.

OTD Crusader: Ah, now you ask well. You know that those who don't study history are bound to repeat its mistakes. We crusaders do study history, and we need not go far back to find a solution. In the last century we actually had a very good system of combating counter-revolutionary sentiments. Those who will not follow the leader and convert to the new faith will be dealt with accordingly.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

How to learn Dikduk

I think that this is very funny, and I would imagine some readers would agree. For others, I would need to give a Hakdmah as to why I think it's funny, which I won't do. But if you don't get it, don't feel bad. I hope my mind wasn't twisted enough to understand such things, let alone come up with them.

Last night by the Seuda, some Chassidim were discussing a certain Rebbe, when he ascended the throne, and other such pertinent issues. For some reason it popped into my twisted mind: what would be the proper way of saying someone became a Rebbe in Hebrew? So according to proper Dikduk, using the פיעל of אדמו"ר, we have the following little chart of proper Dikduk:

Future Present Past
First person אני אתאדמר אני מתאדמר אני התאדמרתי
Second person אתה תתאדמר אתה מתאדמר אתה התאדמרת
Third person הוא יתאדמר הוא מתאדמר הוא התאדמר

Imagine if your daughter is coming home from school, and instead of the monotonous הוא הלך and אתה תלך, you hear: אני התאדמרתי and אתה מתאדמר. It would definitely spice up the day a bit.

Hope you guys enjoy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Undoubtedly Beyond Any Reason

"Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" by Rabbi Shmuel Waldman

I am ashamed to admit that I read through most of this book in the past few days. I did so because a certain Rav with whom I have a very good relationship asked me to read through it. Yes, I'm being Kiruved, but being that he is a very reasonable man whose companionship I value, I acquiesced to his request. Admittedly he is naive in having me read this, but that's his business.

In any event, I must warn you before I launch into my Kefirotic tirade. I do so, because the author of the book himself warns against reading the book, or certain parts thereof, unless it's necessary. I'll paraphrase his warning, the gist of which is as follows:

"Since I will be talking about things which Chas V'Sholom can Chas V'Sholom bring one Chas V'Sholom Chas V'Sholom to Chas V'Sholom Chas V'Sholom Chas V'Sholom doubt any part of the Holy Toira Chas V'Sholom Chas V'Sholom, I BS"D hope, and ask that only readers who already Lo Aleibu Chalila are having Chas V'Sholom d..d..oub..ts Chalila V'Chas V'Sholom Lo Aleinu open and read this book. If you've picked up this book, and you Baruch Hashem BS"D have no Sfeikois Cholilaa V'Chas about the holy Toira, I trust you will heed Daas Toira and drop this book, never to think of it again. So only those who Lo Aleinu Nebach Chas V'Sholom have a need to strengthen their Emuna against doubts Chas V'Sholom, are allowed to read this book."

This is the warning, and having paid homage to it (in the spirit of Satmar websites banning the Internet), we proceed to 'critique' this masterpiece. The first three chapters are the main points being made; proofs of God's existence, proofs to the Torah, and proofs that there is punishment and an afterlife. These chapters and an appendix 'disproving' the theory of evolution are the main thrust of the book. Other gems of 'proofs' include 'proving' Moshiach, and the resurrection of the dead. In addition there are chapters about the uniqueness of Klal Yisroel, it's survival in exile, and the 'right' attitude towards the holocaust. I only read through the first two chapters, and an appendix titled "The Downfall of the Theory of Evolution". More than that I couldn't read, I hope the readers will forgive me.

The first thing that struck me was the lack of command of the English language. It's written as if by a seventh grader. Now, I'm no professor of English, but a book of a few hundred pages should live up to some standards. Admittedly, a book shouldn't be judged by its cover or the writer's command of the language, it's content that matters, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth. Alas, on the content front, it was immeasurably worse. I can hear the readers murmuring to themselves, "what was he expecting? It's a Kiruv book for goodness sake". True, and as mentioned I wasn't expecting much, I was reading it as a courtesy to this Rav. But this one was worse than anything else. I've read other Kiruv (or similar) books, some of them at least try to sound a bit knowledgeable of the subject matter they're discussing. Of the two main topics in the book, the theory of evolution, and the Torah's historicity and circumstances of its origin, he knows so little as to not even realize the immensity of ignorance he has to hide.

Now to the subject matter.

The first chapter, titled "Compelling Evidence of a Creator" starts of with the usual examples of the intricately complex and wonderfully interwoven systems found in nature. The orange and the banana, how they turn ripe and acquire a bright color at the same time, thereby attracting animals, as if knowing how to do so. From that he goes onto the Venus fly trap, bats and their system of echolocation, the complexity of the human body and the brain etc. All of this to show that it's statistically impossible for any of these phenomena to arise randomly. I assume all the readers know that, so I won't go into explaining why he was destroying a straw man. Waldman also realizes that for those 'tainted' by the theory of evolution as he puts it, one needs more than just showing the impossibility of generating such complex systems randomly. He writes that he intentionally didn't discuss the theory of evolution in the first chapter and left it in the appendix, so that only those who (Nebach, Chas V'Sholom) are in need for such refutations read them.

So let's get to the appendix titled "The Downfall of the Theory of Evolution" and see if that gets us anywhere. He begins by differentiating between macroevolution and microevolution, how the latter occurs within a species, and the former leads to new species. Microevolution is an observed fact, but it doesn't necessarily lead to macroevolution, bla bla bla. Here we come to this piece of brilliance:
"It's interesting to note that in the 1980's many professional scientists decided to accept the facts as they saw them, and the facts clearly pointed to a God. So they developed the "anthropic principle" which suggests that the universe is "man-centered," created by God, with one of man's functions being the responsibility to recognize the amazing design that God put into the universe."
What!?!? Does he know what the anthropic principle is. Where did here about it? I know that some people use the anthropic principle to argue for intelligent design, but scientists "developing the anthropic principle... which suggests the universe is created by God, with one of man's functions being the responsibility to recognize the amazing design that God... " how ignorant can you be. He doesn't have a library in town? A computer? But no, there is still more. Another quote:
"(theory: the Random House dictionary tells us that this is an explanation that has not yet been proven true)"
Only ignoramuses use this definition of theory pertaining to evolution, any dictionary will use the theory of evolution as an example of a scientific system, proven by observations and experiments.

The two basic problems he has with evolution, are mutations and the fossil record. Mutations, he rightfully notes, are almost always harmful. The problem is that he doesn't understand that given enough time, natural selection will favor those rare beneficial mutations, which can evolve into new species. This he conspicuously fails to mention.
The fossil problem he divides in two. The first one is summed up in the following quote:
"Even in the lowest strata we find fossils of the most complex living forms which according to evolutionists couldn't have developed until a much later date."
This claim as far as I know is not true, Waldman himself only quotes one source, also a sign that he couldn't find much more than that, because he loves to quote these type of things.
If anyone has more information on this, please let me know.

The second part of the fossil argument, is the beloved gap problem. I actually do think that there is a problem here, namely that the gaps seem to be large in many cases. What I mean is that, unlike Waldman who doesn't know what he is talking about when he clamors for his bird with half a wing, something that would never happen for obvious reasons. What I'm talking about is that often there are large gaps between specimen, something that one should find less of if all species fossilize randomly. What Waldman doesn't mention is the rarity of fossilization, and how some species are only known from a few fossils, which mitigates (although I think doesn't eradicate) the gap problem.

The last point he discusses, is the age of the universe. Here we have another display of scholarship:
"It's also interesting to note that it has been shown that the methods that scientists use to date different material such as carbon dating, etc. have many inaccuracies."
I won't even discuss the nonsense this is based on, I think the readers are familiar with it, we all know that each of the dating methods are relatively accurate for their respective purposes. But this guy uses carbon dating inaccuracies to show the problem of dating the world as billions of years old. Does he even know what carbon dating is? Does he know anything about it except how to spell it? I'm afraid not.

I do think that the theory of evolution has its shortcomings. First and foremost, as far as I'm concerned it doesn't explain the origin of life. I know all the supposed tries to do so, but they don't cut it for me. I haven't seen anything close to a satisfying explanation of the rise of self replicating systems, life's building blocks. This though doesn't disprove the theory of evolution, it just shows that the theory is either lacking, or not yet fully understood. If someone is so sure as to the only solution to this problem being God, so be it. I think it may be the only solution for now, but it also may be an answer based on ignorance rather than knowledge, because otherwise evolution has too much behind it.
I also find it difficult at times to wrap my head around the idea that all of this complexity is a result of a blind mechanism. If someone feels that this also is only explainable by intelligent design, maybe. I have a suspicion it's unnecessary.
I think that an honest attempt to identify the shortcomings of the theory of evolution, based on a proper understanding of theory, would go only about as far as this paragraph. But obviously Waldman is writing a Kiruv book, and Chas V'Sholom that such a book be based on an actual understanding of science.

I think the post is already way longer than I originally intended, and I'm only half way through. I still didn't get to the real juicy part, chapter two: "The Divine Origin of the Torah." So stay tuned for that display of analytical thought.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Series: "Uberchumradoxius" its Development and Causes Thereof

Last year (7,654 A.D.) I was at a conference and I became aware of a new area of research. The topic being researched is the phenomenon of a certain subspecies called Uberchumradoxius* which is now extinct, but has been of great interest lately in the scientific community. Two opposing camps with diametrically opposed views as to the development of Uberchumradoxius have risen in the scientific community.
One camp hypothesizes that the subspecies evolved naturally amongst the general population. They theorize that the earliest forms of Uberchumradoxius had just slight deviations from regular specimen. With time these were accentuated by natural selection and continued mutations, which were favored due to the peculiar environment that was the habitat of Uberchumradoxius.
The opposing camp ridicules this theory, pointing out the anti-natural nature of the subspecies, its hazardous tendencies towards itself and its habitat, behaviors that would absolutely preclude the selection of this subspecies even in very controlled environments. If natural selection was running its course, this latter camp claims, the first even slightly deviant specimen with tendencies resembling anything similar to Uberchumradoxius would probably not have survived into adulthood to procreate, and any offspring thereof would have certainly died in infancy. So destructive to its own survival are the behaviors of Uberchumradoxius. This is an accepted fact, and no one in the scientific community doubts the long-term repercussions to itself that the behavior of Uberchumradoxius ultimately poses.
The former camp maintains though, that in the short-term there were benefits to being a Uberchumradoxius as opposed to a normal specimen, given the peculiar environment of Uberchumradoxius. The latter camp disagrees with this vehemently, stating unequivocally that no benefits favored by natural selection can be found in the behaviors of Uberchumradoxius. So how does this camp account for the prolonged existence of Uberchumradoxius? They claim that the only possible cause could be something called "Intelligent Design". What they mean by this peculiar term is that some force with intelligence, favored the development of Uberchumradoxius. This force was able to steer Uberchumradoxius through the otherwise swift end it would have met at the hands of natural selection. The subspecies was able to produce viable offspring with even more accentuated traits that are the hallmark of Uberchumradoxius. As of yet, no satisfactory explanation has been given as to the nature and motives of this force. Speculations range from extraterrestrial experiments, to others who claim some type of long-term benefit for the general species, which learned to avoid tendencies exhibited by Uberchumradoxius because of its relatively quick demise. This camp admits that none of their speculations are sane, but they claim being forced into them by the absolute improbability of natural selection favoring Uberchumradoxius under any circumstances.

That's a synopsis of the scholarship on the topic to date.

Upcoming in the series:
Arguments pro and con presented by both sides, and snippets of conversation I overheard between proponents of the differing views at the conference.

*Origin: German Uber - above, more; Chumra is an obscure word from the now dead Aramaic, here a connotation of extreme; Latin doxius - a derivation from dox - belief, opinion

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kids in Bnei Brak: Serves Bnei Brak right?

Vos Iz Neias has a report here about some local kids who vandalized a Shul and burnt some Sforim on Shabbos. And here is a follow up piece, blaming the extremism of Kannoim who populate Bnei Brak in overabundance (not that they're needed anywhere else they may be). Before seeing the latter piece, the same thing came to mind. Most kids who go off the "straight and narrow" aren't antagonistic enough to burn a Shul. There is a certain amount of reverence that any normal person has, and even kids who find themselves as outcasts within the community, don't go this far.

Unless, they're from Bnei Brak it seems. Possibly the craziest town in Israel (and that's saying something) seems to produce such bitter feelings amongst its Uisvorfs, that they only match the level of craziness in which they grew up. So I guess it serves the Kannoim right, to get a bit of their own medicine.

Nevertheless, a certain portion of youth, no matter where they grow up, go sour. I don't mean to exonerate the Charedi community of its educational shortcomings. To the contrary, the system seems to be crumbling more and more with each passing day under the weight of its own absurdity, and in a place like Bnei Brak, it seems to bring out the worst in people. That being said, no community can ensure that all its children mature into model citizens, and some kids may be just no good. After all, I don't think the Charedi community is much better at educating than society at large, and these things do happen.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Introductory Post

This is something I've been thinking about for a while now, to write or not to write? As a word of caution to anyone reading this, I'm not a good writer. I've written a total of a few dozen pages in my entire life. Nevertheless, I thought I would try this out. I've been commenting on various blogs of this type for over a year now under the name 'Mark' and I thought I would see what it would be to have a place to call home. So I ask the reader to bear with me, and indulge me while I go through the growing pains.

Now to the blog itself. As you can tell from the title and description, I like a little Litzonus, it helps me get through the day, and especially through the craziness that's called Orthodox Judaism. It's simply a survival tool. I hope though, that I'll contribute more than just a few jokes to the conversation. I hope to talk about how I got from A to Z. In other words, from a completely Frum Jew, who was convinced of the fundamental truths of Judaism, the veracity of Tanach, and in the possibility of demonstrating these truths beyond any doubt; to a total Apikores, someone who is certain that the whole enterprise of religion in general, and Judaism in particular is a load of hot air, Sheker V'Chozov. I'll try to steer the conversation clear of personal undertones, using my experiences and observations to illustrate how people think etc.
In addition, I'll be commenting on the happenings within the Orthodox community, 'insights' on the Parsha (analytical, and less serious), and anything else interesting me that's within the sphere of the conversation.

Another feature of this blog will be the "Posuk of the Day". Being that I'm somewhat of a Tanach junkie, I like to use Psukim to express my mood or to bring home a point. I'll use Koheles (my favorite Sefer in Tanach) often, but Psukim from all over Tanach will appear. A disclaimer: although it's titled "Posuk of the Day" it won't be daily, but I'll try to keep it fresh.

Now, 1, 2, 3, dive. Let's see what gives.