Monday, November 07, 2005

Can one tell a lie to non-religious Jews to get them to keep Shabbos?

So begins a website authored by Caltech Prof. Barry Simon, a mathematician of the highest attainment. Dr. Simon, a ba'al tshuva orthodox Jew, wrote the above line in a website devoted to debunking the so-called Bible Codes. (For all of you who haven't heard of the Codes, you are either being makarived after spending the last 10 years in cave with Bin Laden, or you might actually have kiruv rabbis that aren't using parlor tricks on you (as yet). If you haven't heard of the Codes, they are purportedly codes contained in the Torah which give rise to interesting unintended outcomes but are alleged to prove divine authorship of the Torah and thus inspire belief. Aish is a big proponent of the Codes in their Discovery seminars, despite the Codes having been debunked and discredited by numerous well-known mathematicians, including Dr. Simon.

Now, here's my question. This post incidentally is inspired by a debate going on at Godol Hador's site:

What keeps more open-minded Rabbis, such as Rabbi Yitchok Adlerstein frum? Isn't it interesting that when there's a popular "misconception" about Judaism afoot, Rabbi Adlerstein isn't too far from the fray to give a pithy quote or two? To put a fine point on my question- why would Rabbi Adlerstein spend so much effort debunking the Kabbalah Centre (he's been interviewed in print several times and appeared in a 20/20 special) or the Torah codes (he's written about the codes several times and appeared in a Discovery channel tv show about the codes), when Kabbala and Torah themselves are perhaps even easier to debunk?

Rabbi Adlerstein likes to taunt reform "rabbis" (note, I think they are frauds for calling themselves rabbis, but that's besides the point) by saying "at least my grandkids will be jewish." Kelemen seems to put a lot of emphasis on how reform and conservative kids intemarry a lot. Fine, but if that is their best argument, it would seem them should skip the scholarly realm.

Perhaps the question should the question be "Can one tell a lie to non-religious Jews to get them to become frum and have frum grandchildren?"

The fact is, the Zohar (kabbala's key document) has been debunked as a fraud even in orthodox circles.

Why doesn't Rabbi Adlerstein therefore take the simple route in debunking Madonna et al. and simply say, "hey lady, you're an ignoramus- don't you know the zohar was written in Spain and is a fraud?" Did Hashem habla espanol? Why then is the Zohar replete with Spanish phrases?

Then, we have the Documentary Hypothesis. This was popularized by Prof. Richard Friedman's book "Who wrote the bible?" Now, why doesn't R. Adlerstein (or Dr. Simon) simply say, "hey aish and other bible coders, you can't have a divine code, if the book was written by prehistoric tibesmen!" There are also reasons based on orthodox scholarship combined with textual analysis that would prove the torah we have today is not the same one purportedly given to Moshe, which would cast doubt on codes as well. See Menachem Cohen's article (HT-Mis-nagid):

I think you get the drift. There are a bunch of kiruv rabbis out there who garb themselves in psuedo-intellectualism. In a way, perhaps they are more dangerous than the Avigdor Miller types with their emunah pshutah. At least Rav Miller was talking straight. (irony intended).

Or perhaps, they can just come out and say they're conservadox. That they like the quiet time of shabbos or feeling like dutiful good boys for keeping the traditions. But, no psuedo-science or psuedo-scholarship, please! Otherwise, lay off Madonna and the Bible Codes- they're no less valid than the Zohar or the claim of the Torah's divine authorship (not to mention the Oral law). In the 20/20 show, R. Adlerstein crowed that Madonna and Britney Spears could have no idea what "real kabbala" is. Oh puh-leeze! R. Adlerstein knows the Zohar's a fraud, but just can't resist that "intellectually honest" farce. Is this "real kabbala Rabbi Adlerstein?":

If so, why aren't you making aliyah? If not, why aren't you decrying it as utter nonsense?

Of course, the above questions are rhetorical. We know what R. Adlerstein's and Dr. Simon's answer is to the question posed by the title of this post: "Of course you can lie!"

If Rabbi Adlerstein or Dr. Simon wish to explain how teaching the authenticity of the Zohar is not a lie, or how teaching the Torah is divinely written is not a lie, I'd love to hear how so. They can post here or...

Just email me at:

Potential Ba'al Tshuva's Required Reading List

One thing that happens quite often with BT's is they know they have questions and yet want the benefits of OJ enough to overlook the questions for now. Kiruv clowns know this and, as discussed below, tell them the na'seh v'nishma story to inspire them to put aside their doubts for now.

Some kiruv organizations, Aish in particular, try to actively engage the BT in a discourse. They use certain arguments and literature to spin the BT's head around enough to distract him and make him feel that answers are out there.

Well, I think it's time for a compendium of references to counter-arguments to the classic aish-style arguments. At least then, you can judge for yourselves. Also, if you are not a scientist, you may feel overwhelmed by scientific debate. You may feel that you have no basis to judge.

Well, this is important. It is not tangential as your kiruv rabbi is telling you. Take a day and print out the articles from the web that I am about to show you. Read them thoroughly if you have been swayed by Kelemen's Permission series or Gerald Schroeder's stuff or Rabbi David Gottlieb's unpublished works which are posted on the web (he can't seem to even get a publisher).

Once you've read through the articles I've taken the time to sort out for you, and you feel reasonably confident, take them to the kiruv rabbi who's "working on you." Ask him to answer. He may say "oh I don't know about that, but it's not important enough to me, since I'm thoroughly convinced of the truth of "torah" (whatever that means) through my extensive yeshiva learning."

When you get that line, ask these questions if you like:
1. Why didn't you learn anything about the answers to the standard questions about orthodox judaism in yeshiva? Is this just a leap of faith after all?
2. Why didn't you learn about it before meeting with people like me for a living?
3. Are you a fundamentalist? That is, do you believe the earth really is under 6,000 years old? Did Noah really build an ark and bring two of every animal on his boat? Were adam and eve the first people? Ask whether the Sun goes around the Earth. (Chabad rabbis still believe this, by the way).

Don't be ashamed that your questions come from someone who has articulated them better than you in the internet articles which I will show you. Don't let the rabbi dodge answering your questions. If he does, then he's just a used car salesmen.

And trust me, you'll be saving yourself a lot of internal conflict later on. "Look before you leap," as the saying goes. There are many benefits to becoming religious, it's true. But ask yourself how you can possibly attain most of those benefits without living a lie.

Now, here goes:

1. Bible Codes:

2. Kelemen's books Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive (should be titled Permission to Deceive)

3. Schroeder's "Genesis and the Big Bang"

Note: Schroeder's credibility comes in part because he has a PhD from MIT. However, his backgound is vastly exaggerated by his desperate followers. In fact, he is not a physicist, but rather a geologist and he was never a "professor" at MIT. That's a lie. He was at most a teacher's assistant while pursuing his PhD. In other words, he has no credentials in physics as a theoretician or an "expert" in Einstein's theory of relativity. He just knows enough to be dangerous or is an outright fraud. "Charlatan" fits the bill even better.

4. David Gottlieb's Living up to the "truth":

Gottlieb is another ba'al tshuva Rabbi, but with a twist. He has a PhD in philosophy. He claims to have been a professor of mathematical logic. However, I sincerely doubt this. I don't think he was ever a full professor at Johns Hopkins. He is didactic and pedantic. He uses logical terminology to seem logical. However, back him into a corner, and he resorts to the same tired "proofs" of orthodox judaism. He'll argue the world is under 6,000 years old and that god either made it look old to fool us, or that the Flood changed nature, thus negating Carbon-14 dating! Yes, real old-time Avigdor Miller stuff (that they incidentally got from Christians fundamentalists in the first place).

This should give you a good place to start. By far, the most difficult kiruv rabbis to deal with are the nice, gushy ones who don't argue whatsoever. They'll make you feel more guilty than your jewish momma! Fortunately, the kiruv business is such a tough, competitive one these days, that more and more kiruv rabbis are out for blood and numbers count. Better to be armed with some discerning questions than to ship off to baal tshuva obedience school, er... yeshiva unarmed.

Of course, don't forget to visit godol hador's blog, too.