Sunday, September 16, 2007


I haven't been remotely observant for a long time. I realized as I was driving to the bank during Rosh HaShona how great it is to not have hang-ups about going about my life as I like. Judaism is so low on the totem pole, folks, it simply isn't worth the guilt and the hang-ups that are the fabric of it all.

Even when I intellectually knew Orthodoxy wasn't for me and was turning the lights on and using the computer on Shabbos, there was an initial stage of guilt. I'm here to say that 90% of people's observance isn't fear of god, it's fear of their neighbors. I know so many outwardly observant people that "transgress" when in private. What a sick culture Orthodox Judaism has created! It all boils down to Freudian analysis. OJ causes a lot of people to repress a lot of normal urges. It also demands repression of one's own intellect, one's own doubts.

Not a single Rabbi starts off admitting the Torah might be false, might be manmade, might be full of lies and errors. In fact, they start off assuming the truth of that which is impossible to prove true! No wonder they do so many things in secret... even they don't buy it.

Social pressure. Well, I could care less about that. Consider what the Rubashkins do in private. Or the Kolko's or the Mondrowitz's. Or the Aaron Feldman's, Elyashev's and on and on.

In public, they are pious, in private they are demons. There is absolutely no reason to give this religion even lip-service anymore.

Y'all are on your own. My advice, whether to Ex-Gadol Hador and the rest: Ditch OJ now, there is so much more to life than the time you waste obsessing about judaism.

Best to you all.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

So if All Comes Down to the Golden Rule!

I made it to the bigtime today when Godol Hador created a post out of a comment (and then proceeded to hammer away at it like an innocent little white harp seal).

But I agree with my comment, wouldn't you know? The amazing thing, is you really don't have to go to yeshiva to be a righteous person after all (or do you, see below)Here's what I said:

Dawkins actually has a few thoughts on this in the end of his Virus of Faith video. In short, we are all so fortunate to be alive. Clearly anyone who is blogging isn't terminally ill, or brain dead or some other horrible circumstance, e.g., dead.

We are alive! Consider how many unsuccessful combinations of genes never made it and never will make it to life. Think how many animals live a life span thousands of times shorter than ours. Think of how lucky we are to experience the feelings of love, beauty, music, poetry (and for those who like it, religious inspiration).

If you won the lottery today, you would feel incredibly happy because you would feel lucky and taken care of for life. Well, I bet most of you have homes and computers and cars, health insurance, ample food and fresh water, families that love you, etc. How lucky you all are!

A tremendous portion of the world suffers on the edge of poverty, famine, sickness. They watch their children die, succumbing to parasites or common illnesses. They are truly unlucky. No matter what god they believe in or pray to, their lives will be "nasty brutish and short".

You don't need religion to be inspired, take it from me, take it from Dawkins. You are not one of the 10,000 people in china put to death each year for unknown "crimes." You are not suffering from cholera or starvation.

You can celebrate your life. And yes, you can follow the G-O-L-D-E-N R-U-L-E.

If you were one of those less fortunate souls, you'd want someone super wealthy (any one of us by comparison) to help you.

Follow the Golden Rule, people. Don't do to anyone what you would not want done to you. It's really that simple.

Toss the Shulchan Aruch in the garbage. Hang up your tefillin for good.

Go for walks with your kids or elderly relatives. Spend quality time because, yes, we only go around this crazy marble just once and when you come to the end of your life, you'll no doubt wish you'd spent more time with your kids, not wishing you could have made it to just one more mussar shiur or minyan.


Now, XGH had this to say:
All very nice and inspiring. But does it work? No it does not! Sure, if you're a healthy, happy 21st century Western person it sounds fine. But healthy, happy 21st century Westerners are the most privileged group of people ever to live on this earth. What if you are in a concentration camp? Or starving in Africa? Or any one of a gazillion other not so nice situations? Then what?

Someone else pointed out Hillel's statement of the Golden Rule was the essence of the Torah. I agree, in theory, but of course this was perverted by the Rabbis over the years.

I also went a bit further:

Take the most "righteous" mitzvahs in Judaism (or any religion) and you will find they always boil down to the Golden Rule.

It's really that simple.

However, I do have a confession to make. When I used to be religious, a non-religious person whose logic and opinions I respected posed the Golden Rule to me.

My counter to him was that the mitzvas train a person to have the discipline to actually act on the Golden Rule. IOW, it takes a measure of work on oneself to do the right thing in a lot of circumstances.

So, through a dialectic process, I came back to the Golden Rule, acknowledging that there was some "work" involved (being observant for a few years raised my awareness and developed the discipline to do the right thing). However, that "work" can be found in any respectable religion and in my opinion, but for the few true tzaddikim, all of the non-Golden Rule mitzvas in the Torah lead one down a road that is ultimately less moral.

A road of bigotry, mindless anachronistic rituals, emphasis on form over substance and all the other well-trodden arguements against orthodox judaism.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What Are You Looking For?

I started this blog a year and a half ago spent a good bit of time trying to find answers to some basic questions. Sometimes my basic frustration with the answers led me off on tangents such as railing against some of the truly nonsensical aspects of religious belief and frmkeit in particular.

However, I can not escape the fact that I'm happy in life in many ways because of where my adventure in frumkeit led me. My wife and I were talking earlier and she said it best: "If you find the right spouse becoming frum will make your life great, if not it will ruin your life." Meaning, you'll either have a loveless marriage or divorce, or spend years trying to find someone the "right way."

Since I don't believe in religious "truths," that makes me one for whom happiness and fulfillment are the paramount aims of life. If doing makebelieve religion got me there, so be it. I wonder, what makes you tick and what are you looking for?

And, aside from what got me here, I wonder where it will lead from here as well. Again, I've come full circle. I'm curious what sort of adventures you have been on in the last couple of years and where some of you ended up.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Halacha of Adultery: Proof that Yahweh was Immoral Had He Existed (which of course he did not)

A married man can have sex with a woman (so long as she's not married/property of another man and so long as he doesn't rape her) but he cannot eat chicken with milk or turn on a light switch on Shabbos? Or wear shatnez?

Now, if this isn't a litmus test for how morality has shifted (Shifting Moral Zeitgeist) for the better since the writing of the Torah, what is? (feel free to submit as many absurdities as you like).

Meanwhile, a woman who is married is prohibited from adultery and is killed for it. Whereas, if a man rapes an unmarried girl, his penalty is to marry her! Moreover, the torah spells out the elaborate (and Wizard of Oz-like) Sotah ritual in great dirt-eating detail, while no such test of a man's character exists.
To add insult to injury, chazzal decided to use the Sotah ritual to further knock women down. It is the sole "source" for a woman's "obligation" to cover her hair (usually with a sheitel/wig which looks like a dead cat). This absurdity is one that orthodox women live with to this day, public submission that ensures that at least a part of the Sotah humiliation will live on.
The above fact are well-known aspects of halacha, however unspoken. They are PROOF- yes
P-R-O-O-F to those that believe in Yahweh, that was totally immoral by today's standards.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

So You "Learn" Because the Talmud is the "Mind of God...?"

How many of you have heard from overeager BT's or even Rabbis that they knew all this rabbinic judaism was "true" because learning gemara revealed the "Mind of God?"

You won't hear that phrase in the litvish circles, but they would no doubt say something along those lines about the gemara- that studying it gives one insight into what God "thinks" or perhaps strengthens their emunah because everything "fits together so well."

Strange, the gemara doesn't really fit together so well, now does it? And as for this mind of god business, well, just read and random page and I dare you to believe god had anything to do with it.

If Orthodox Jews are so convinced there must be a creator because of the complexity of the world, and how well the world "fits together," I have a suggestion: instead of wasting all day reading the gemara, learn "Molecular Biology of the Cell" by Alberts, et al., or a similar text, to study the majesty of "god's work."

The more you learn, the more you will be duly impressed, but your emunah, where will it go? I'd bet my bottom shekel that, once you'd studied, with a chavrusa even better, you'd come to the same conclusion as 99.9% of biologists- that all this amazingly intricate function of the cell and its organelles, DNA, RNA, etc., all came about through a long, progressive course through minute changes over the eons. You'd have a very difficult time with Noah's Ark, or any of Genesis.

But that's OK! Just because orthodox judaism isn't so accurate, and Molecular Biology of the Cell is a far better representation of the true "mind of God"- unfeeling, uncaring, unthinking evolutionary progress over millions of years resulting in fantastic complexity- none of this means you can't glean some of the wisdom of the religion and toss out the rest that is pure nonsense.

PS- I am aware of the frum doctors who know these subjects well yet still believe, but I think that is more a function of their willingness to completely partition their rational professional pursuits from their religious ones. Ironically, the folks that trot out "Intelligent Design" are almost never people that have studied biology to any great extent. The great exception is Collins, but he's no creationist, and rather claims that God 'designed' evolution. A sorry copout indeed.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Can the Skeptical Blogs Make Marriage Matches?

I've gotten word of an idea whose time is long overdue- a Formerly Frum/Ex-BT/Or Simply Skeptical Shadchan blog- for setting up men and women with similar worldviews, don't buy frumkeit hook, line and sinker, but see the benefits in a tradition-based marriage.

UPDATE: The TopShadchan Blog Has Gone Public- Send All Inquiries Directly to Them. There is a groundswell of interest about this and I hope to hear about happy marriages down the line- but unlike your BT days, don't rush into anything. ;)

No Need to Go "All the Way" Frum
I have often said that the biggest benefit that most BT's are seeking is finding a strong, meaningful marriage. We live in a hectic, frenetic world, and Judaism and some of its more profound traditions can certainly enable a marriage to get over the rough spots in life. We don't hear about "shalom bayis" in the secular world too often, even the skeptics must admit that.

But there are SO MANY men and women who, despite the apparent benefits, just can't bring themselves to live a lie. And yes, we skeptics feel that living as if the orthodox version of things is all true is not being true to ourselves in varying degrees.

Where are the Ladies?

First of all, I am happily married with kids, as I have said before on this blog. I'm not doing this for myself but rather out of a sense of frustration at seeing the smart, thinking men and women that have written to me asking me "what's the solution if none of this religion is true?" I can't tell you how to live your life, but I can say that if you got married and were half as happy as I am, you'd be very fortunate.

There are a lot of women lurking in the shadows of skeptical blogs but they hesitate to post very often. I figure this is because of the lack of knowledge (after all, they have little exposure to talmud and halachic debate thanks to OJ's doctrine). But we all are enlightened and know that women are just as smart as men and must see the questions and flaws in being a "true believer."

A lot of women have less of a problem with yiddishkeit than men because it isn't foisted on them the way it is on men- the tziztis, the tefillin, 3x/day davening, learning (imbibing) the gemara with all of its strange philosophy and proto-scientific expressions.

The Solution

"Jews Marrying Jews- even the Skeptical ones." That's the tagline for now. I suggest that if you are interested, whether male or female, any age or location, that you 10 post a comment in support of this idea, 2) send this page to anyone who might be interested (they have to be skeptical because the match just won't really work so well- no "hook, line, and sinker" types please) and 3) you should email me the following and I'll see that it gets to The Skepto-Shadchan (TM). ;) He is not me, by the way.

In the email please include the following:

1. Gender
2. age
3. single/divorced
4. kids?
5. want kids?
6. keep kosher to any degree?
7. keep shabbos to any degree?
8. how long involved in some sort of observance?
9. how long have you been doubting "the mesora?"
10.Think the written Torah is most likely written by God?
11. Think/believe that Sinai really happened?
12. How badly do you want to get married (to the right person of course) in the next year?
13. Did you ever attend seminary/yeshiva? if so, for how long and which one?

Those answers would really speed up the process.

I promise to forward all legitimate emails to the Shadchan. This is clearly not a dating service or for hooking up like jdate. So, please respect the intentions of people involved and don't waste anyone's time. No one is asking you to marry a person you don't want to, but just that you be sure you are serious about marriage before contacting us. Any age is fine.

I can already hear the testimonials: "I was skeptical about a skeptical shadchan blog, but..."

My email is

Bilbulastia has a post on the Skepto-shadchan as well.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Dawkins' "Shifting Moral Zeitgeist"

I can't stop thinking about this theory of Dawkins'- the [youtube] Shifting Moral Zeitgeist (SMZ).

In sum, Dawkins points out that even the most enlightened men of their past generations 40 or 100 years ago say things we would say are immoral, while the evilest people of our times would seem more tame by comparison with the same time frames.

Abe Lincoln, HG Wells, TH Huxley all enlightened for their times would seem horribly immoral for our own times, irrespective of one's religious views (unless one is a muslim, puritan, jewish, fundamentalist of the most extreme proportions).

Likewise a Donald Rumsfeld would seem like a pussycat compared to Bomber Harris of England in WWII during the blitzkreigs on Dresden.

You can take anyone, say Thomas Jefferson and point out he was a slave owner, for example. We all collectively shrug our shoulders and acknowledge that we can't hold people from so long ago accountible for our morals today.

Dawkins' point is transformative- it is like a time machine that by its presence in a room explains why a person in colonial garb is standing next to you.

We can come up with all kinds of theories as to why this phenomenon is, whether it is a good thing and so on, but do we agree Dawkins is in fact correct? If he is, he has identified why "Conservatives" are less "moral" by today's standards than "Liberals/Progressives."

That is, Conservatives wish to hold onto the values and viewpoints of the past. Liberals, at a minimum want to "live and let live" but often prefer to push the envelope in terms of what is accepted. These are generalities, broad-brush statements, but they tend to show how conflicts arise. They also explain why the press and universities are for the most part more socially/morally "liberal."

The press is by and large comprised of reporters and editors who have exposure to universities, and universities, at least nowadays work hard at presenting diverse viewpoints. Of course, the press and universities weren't always this way! It took social change from within and without to shape the collective "morality" of these two institutions.

A few examples of how this whole SMZ plays out:

Race and the Rights of Women and Children, and of people in general.
If conservatives have essentially longed to hold on to what they have, and have consistently done so, then they have fought hard for slavery, and to keep women from voting, and to maintain segregation, and to limit civil and criminal rights for the general public.

So, were/are they immoral to do so? That is an irrelevant question. The important question, from where I'm sitting is, who is most likely to shape morality of the future and is this a "good thing?"

I think we can see from Dawkins' examples that we can all agree racist attitudes that blacks are inferior genetically to whites or that women are less intelligent than men are immoral nowadays. We feel good that we've come so far, that women can vote and blacks are considered equal citizens in our democracy (something even Abe Lincoln was startlingly against at one point).

We might even think to ourselves, what can we do next? Gays' rights and acceptance seem to be the next step. If we were to fast-forward 100 years, or perhaps just 25 years, would our societies' current attitudes toward homosexuals seem awful or immoral? Are we better now than we were decades ago? It would seem, with all the gay-oriented TV shows and movies and the like that a lot of progress has been made in that regard.

But one liberal's "progress" is likely to be Exhibit A of the decline of western civilization to a conservative commentator.

Yeridas HaDoros?
According to Orthodox Judaism, there is a phenomenon that earlier generations were on a "higher spiritual level" than ours and call this "yeridas hadoros" - declining of the generations. I think we can only imagine what it would be like to be in the company of a man from 3000 years ago. The image, especially if the person is an ancient Jew, is one of perhaps someone pure and simple, but with totally distorted and deficient views on human interrelations, science and social justice. For him, multiple wives are fine, even necessary. Same for slaves. Same for selling or beating ("abusing" nowadays) his wives, children and animals. Same for genocide on the biblical scale and corporeal punishment and torture.

Can we really say such people were on a "higher plane?" "Of course not!" you would reflexively say. But they clearly were for their time.

In reality, we judge morality from our own vantagepoint, even the religious among us do. Reading the Talmud on a daily basis, perhaps even for the whole day every day, is in many ways a time transport back to medieval times and mindset. I think that is what irked me the most about it. Sitting in daf yomi and just getting a fast forward of how backward the sages were compared to our times was very grating for me.

Apologists try to harness whatever moral progress has been made and apply it to the Torah or the Talmud. However, the authors of the torah and gemara would be appalled by our modern day sensibilities, that much we can all agree on.

Picking and Choosing- Even Chazzal and the Gedolim Do it
Perhaps the most profound lesson to learn from the Shifting Moral Zeitgeist theory is that it shows a road map of picking and choosing, even by the most religious people (other than wahabbist moslems who seem impervious to progress of any kind).

For example, even the most religious man in Lakewood or Israel wouldn't dream of having two wives. It would be unseemly and overtly sexual. And yes, the reason for the extra wives in the old days absolutely was sexual one. The men who had enough money or property and possessions could have more than one wife and this suited him to not just have other women available during the times his wife was nidah or too pregnant/infirm/etc, to serve his needs.

Hence, when we hear about King Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines (not the 1000 wives of the artscroll version, btw) we are talking about a man whose wives were much more sexual objects for him than anything else. The Shifting Moral Zeitgeist meant that even in medieval times, the Jews had to abandon polygamy. And nowadays, even the richest or most powerful or most learned Jew wouldn't think of having a second wife and would feel queasy just thinking about owning slaves. He likely wouldn't want to see even Saddam Hussein have hot lead poured down his throat rather than hanged.

This is why the real blowhards like Dennis Prager and Medved and all the christian evangelical nuts are so infuriating when they selectively quote the bible, or want the 10 commandments in a courthouse. Don't they see how many other parts of the torah they are overlooking because such parts are so immoral in comparison with the zeitgeist of today?