Monday, January 23, 2006

Good Night and Good Luck


Well, we've come to the end of the road together. It has been a cathartic and intellectually stimulating adventure. I hope I've given all of you 1/1000th the food for thought you've given me.

I started this with one principle aim in mind- to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time... er...- to gain clarity as to whether and how judaism and my life dovetail together/apart from here on out.
For those who don’t know, I was a secular atheist who became a BT and got married and started a family in rapid succession. I put aside my tough questions because I was enthralled by the family and community benefits that orthodox judaism present for the modern world. Since that time, I became hooked on Shabbos as “an island in time,” as Rabbi Donin called it in “To Be a Jew.” I even see the hidden benefits in keeping kosher and taharas mishpacha.

But, also I was roped in by the kiruv world, where the ends justify the means, and they want to add as many intelligent, successful Jews to the rosters of the BT yeshivas irrespective of whether the ideas they teach have any objective evidence to support them. The yeshiva world is a castle built on sand. I think orthodoxy works so long as you don’t get too ambitious, promise too much, and build the castle too high. In other words, Orthodoxy is easily crushed under its own weight. Simple, straightforward questions don’t jibe well with it. Because, when a tradition is given over with such gravitas, like the emperor demands deference to his new clothes, only contorted, convoluted answers that obscure the question will do. "Do not trust your instincts, for they are your yetzer hara." "Do no trust your intellect," because a lot of the jewish intellectuals end up with nothing close to the communities we have, and not even jewish grandchildren if you look at the statistics.

So, what’s a Jew like me to do? Who knows, I might keep you posted. But I want this blog to stay up as long as Google can afford to keep the lights on. Hopefully, they won’t go the way of Kozmo.com and have to sell my blog to the bankruptcy trustee for pennies on the dollar...

I want to thank all of you (not to be too grandiose- I only have around 6,000 hits, half of which are probably me) who have contributed. But seriously, I gained some valuable insights from the very smart, good natured Jews of the Jblogospere, especially, Mississippi Fred, Holy Hyrax, Chardal, Happy With His Lot, Responding to J Blogs, Mis-nagid, JakBlack, RebelJew, UnorthodoxJew, Kelsey, SL Aronowitz, Ben Avuyah, Ezzie, Jewish Atheist. There are others I’m sure.
Mostly, the "true believers" stayed away. Perhaps they thought my kashas were "klutz kashas," or perhaps they just didn't want to add any credence to any post questioning the mesora. That's too bad. I think Orthodox Jews got painted into a corner by indifference of that very nature. A lot of the real frummies questioned my lack of "respect" for chazal or the mesora. Of course, some played the "am ha'aretz card." But they were usually trumped in short order by one of the skeptical Rabbis or yeshiva grads who lurked most of the time here. I think the die-hards got it partly wrong. I do have respect for what we have, I just don't think it is divine. I see no evidence and have no need to make a leap of faith. Oh, and I am not in a foxhole.

And I must thank Godol Hador, although he never posted a single time here, he really started the skeptical blogging phenomenon for me. I’ve worked through and vented (which is valuable too) on his blog too many times to recount.

So here is my hope for the many hours of blogdom recorded here. This blog should remain as a buoy in a sea of sheker. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it has all the questions. Take them to your kiruv clown, or to the rabbis that demand so much of you. Hopefully, that should be enough to let any BT know he wasn’t the only one to feel he was sold a bill of goods. Once that’s off his chest, hopefully he can get on with living, and perhaps live with some of the valuable ideals of our tradition as his guide.

Also, I hope as the kiruv campaigns get underway, with their focus groups, slick movies, their logically deficient “proofs,” and utter distortions of science, that hopefully someone circumspect will acknowledge that it’s wrong to lie to potential BT just to get them to keep shabbos. Let the good stuff speak for itself. Let people go at their own pace and if they like it, great. If not, leave them with something to think about, and they can always come back to it again at a later time, with a clean slate.

A buoy, not a beacon, assures my salvation,
and guides my way more than sunlight.
If I’m to stay afloat and safely reach shore,
I can cling to the buoy all night.

77 Comments:

Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

I wonder what percentage of BT's are comprised of relpased BTs and FFBs.

Happy trails, brother.

1/23/2006 3:26 AM  
Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

Please feel free to return to the blogging world any time. You'll be missed.

1/23/2006 7:25 AM  
Blogger Jak Black said...

BTA,

I hope you find what you're looking for. I know that we've tussled in the comments (here and elsewhere, heh), but I know you're an intelligent, thoughtful person, and I certainly consider you a friend.

For what it's worth, I think you sometimes confuse the BT world with Orthodox Judaism, and that's a shame, because as I've said, the two sometimes have nothing to do with one another. You already seem to realize that there's a lot of good in Judaism, and that's more than a healthy start.

Good luck in whatever you choose to do.

1/23/2006 7:48 AM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

You have a rare gift of being able to keep things in perspective, and not to be so afraid of "hypocracy", that you cannot progress. I do not know if we are in for a GodolHador-like techiyas hameisim, but I, for one, have learned quite a bit from you. I would hope that all BT's could find their stride, as you seem to have. I hope you continue to comment.

Kol Tuv

1/23/2006 7:55 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

We'll miss you!

1/23/2006 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Joshua said...

Your blog was wonderful, and I'm sorry to see you retiring.

Thanks for speaking the truth, and doing it so well.

1/23/2006 10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Why are you discontinuing this blog?

1/23/2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger chardal said...

You should have only light and true peace of mind.

You are a thoughtful, inteligent, and more important, you have derech eretz and tact.

I hope to still see you around in the blogosphere.

1/23/2006 11:15 AM  
Blogger dbs said...

I’ve only begun reading your blog recently, but have very much enjoyed your posts. It’s too bad that you’re hanging up your ‘post’ button – there aren’t many voices out there who appreciate (and respect) all of the nuances of the OJ world , reject it, and continue to blog about it. I guess those do get tired of having to argue whether OJ allows you to think (or not think) this or that – it ends up being so besides the point. Ultimately they go and blog about something that is more relevant to them…. Thanks.

1/23/2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Thanks guys. DBS- you can always take the helm.

1/23/2006 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

BTA

You have made me sad. Your blog was touching on questions (especially lately) that I have always asked. In fact, you touch on the issues that other blogs tend to only rarely discuss. You are an excellent writer and will sorely be missed in the blog realm. Just remember, the buoy does indeed float, but it goes nowhere. Your friends are going to be the ones that help you ashore.

1/23/2006 2:03 PM  
Blogger David Kelsey said...

Good luck. Let us know how things are going.

1/23/2006 2:28 PM  
Blogger Me & My Yetzer said...

To quote Douglas Adams:

"So long, and thanks for all the fish..."

1/23/2006 3:40 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I'm really sad to see this blog go. I'm hoping this is not the end of BTA, and you really opened up my eyes and mind to so much that I had glossed over.

The people above stole most of the compliments I would say, so I'll just say: "Be yourself, because the people who care don't matter, and the people who matter don't care."

We'll miss you.

1/23/2006 5:29 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

Hey!
I just tagged you for that stupid 4 things meme (whatever a meme is)

Glad to see another blogger who remembers they work for a living.

Good luck and all the best.

1/23/2006 7:51 PM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Well, BTA, you've left me with one less thing to read during my lunch break.

I have greatly enjoyed your blog and reading all your thoughts, it was a real treat.

Good luck with whatever you apply your efforts to next !

1/23/2006 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog has been one of my regular reads. I hope this is just a vacation and that after a while you'll start posting again. You were michazek the blogosphere.

1/23/2006 11:29 PM  
Anonymous Mark Frankel said...

BTA - Hatzlacha to you in your quest for truth and happiness.

1/23/2006 11:31 PM  
Anonymous onionsoupmix said...

I just found you. Don't go. Why does this always happen to me.

1/24/2006 10:06 PM  
Anonymous David Linn said...

I hardly knew you! Good Luck.

1/25/2006 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

I think the problem here is that we have an intelligent, well educated and literate person who learned about Judaism on an almost childish level, someone who never developed the respect for Chazal, who never saw the beauty and wisdom of chazal's approach, a person who found obvious contradictions in texts in Tanach, and decided to stop right there with a "kasha", unwilling to accept that perhaps he was not reading the text with adequate background. It's easy to do, and it was done here on this blog.

1/29/2006 7:30 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Is this Benjamin the college dean? I think you made the same point in the Ezra debate.

I appreciate the kind words, but frankly, do you not see that your own statement can be recited to you about how you don't appreciate the beauty of the mufti's approach with your childish approach to the koran?

Another question, do you really think that Baruch Halpern, Richard Friedman and David HaLivni suffer from "not reading the text with adequate background?" Those guys know more about biblical construction and history than most any talmud chacham in lakewood.

My take on this point of yours (and I've heard it many times) is that the talmidei chachamim get very close to the mindset of chazzal and their true intent, and in that regard perhaps can appreciate the beauty and wisdom of their collective philosophy. Perhaps you fall into this group as well.

However, when we're dealing with truth, or ultimate reality, I don't think most talmidei chachamim are qualified to say how the torah came into being, because they are so very handicapped by their dogmatic, if valuable, approach.

All the kashas aren't so easily dismissed and I think the starting point for you would be to admit there are a lot of unanswerable questions. I've heard a couple of the most respected english speaking rabbis in jerusaolem admit as much, and yet their faith is still strong.

1/29/2006 10:38 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

jerusalem.

1/29/2006 10:38 PM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

Of course many questions are difficult and there are many things we can't explain for certain. That is a given. One hears that all the time from the most knowledgable teachers. The gemara itself often leaves questions unanswered.

1/30/2006 2:50 AM  
Anonymous Shmarya said...

Too soon to go, my friend. There is much left undone …

1/30/2006 3:07 AM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

I just want to add that I agree with much of BTA's critique of the kiruv movement. Perhaps it was easier for me to immediately spy our and reject the dross and wade into the good stuff when I went through my own BT experience many moons ago.

Ben

1/30/2006 5:47 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Benjamin said...
"Of course many questions are difficult and there are many things we can't explain for certain. That is a given. One hears that all the time from the most knowledgable teachers. The gemara itself often leaves questions unanswered."

But my questions just happened to stem from a childish background. I think you assume too little of my background because I do not have the deference to the rabbis that you crave.

Is there wisdom in the talmud? Of course. But does it represent divinity? My answer would be, "of course not."

If insist that, unless one studies enough talmud to become thoroughly versed in chazal's viewpoint, that person does not understand judaism, you have effectively declared that no orthodox woman truly understands judaism!

To put the point even more sharply, by insisting on talmud knowledge and viewpoint as the paradigm for relating to divinity, you are saying the rabbis banned women from true knowledge of divinity.

Now, I know that isn't what you intend to say, but it is the logical outcome of your argument.

And while the rabbis had an explanation for how women were innately aware of this or that, we know this is pure apologetics. There are plenty of rabbis who have emailed me and posted onthis site that, after years in yeshiva and kollel, all the sophistry fell by the wayside and they realized the emperor was naked.

Thus, if you insist on the beauty and majesty of the talmud, fine, you are not alone. You are joinged by many conservative and even christian scholars of the talmud.

But there is no evidence that an in depth understanding of talmud alone automatically leads one to have a refined character, a sharp intellect, or a broad knowledge of the ways of the world.

And there is nothing remotely hinting to the divine in the talmud.

1/30/2006 5:51 AM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

I agree. I know people who know how to learn that are absolute human disasters. You have put words into my mouth that I did not utter, nor are they thoughts that I think. You have your own battles to fight against what appears to have been poor teachers to whom you have been unfortunately exposed. Go forth and battle.

1/30/2006 11:35 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

BTA, I agree with much of what you have said. I also agree with you that the Talmud is not divine. Have you checked out any of the Karaite web-sites?
Even though I am not interested in becoming a Karaite (3 of my great-great-grandfathers were rabbis in Iraq), still they have some good ideas.

1/31/2006 12:07 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Thanks, Dave. I looked at those sites early in my BT days, but just figured they're nuts, even more than OJ's!

Plus, they have about 1,000 members, so not too many of the social benefits of OJ, which to me are the nice part of OJ, theological lackings aside. I mentioned the karaites in this post in the comments:
http://offthederech.blogspot.com/2006/01/debunking-kuzari.html

The karaites are nice for pointing out that the reform were not the first to question an otherwise monolithic tradition that "everyone" observed up until the age of enlightenment.
That argument is very persuassive to secular BT prospects who figure that it makes sense the only reason jews aren't "jewish" anymore is due to the draws of assimilation.

However, not true. The karaites have some good proofs that tefillin were hardly worn by the early jews and only got to their modern status around 400-1000 C.E.

The karaites also don't believe in the oral law, so they get to avoid all the silly 39 melachos prohibitions, and other gezerias. They don't prohibit milk and meat either. I assume they wouldn't drive on shabbos, but electricity is just fine with them, and of course that makes the most sense as well.

Unfortunately, they believe in other crazy things like literal torah and divine authorship. So, they don't do it for me either.

This site has some excellent arguments as to why electricity, milk and meat, and the traditional calendar were wrongly altered by the rabbis. He also debunks tefillin.

The site has some articles by a rather nutty but logical karaite:

http://www.karaite-korner.org

1/31/2006 12:18 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Dave, I forgot to ask. Where are you holding religiously at this point? I take it you're FFB? Still observant?

1/31/2006 12:33 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

BTA, thanks I did read the Karaite website you mention.

I also do not accept literal Torah and divine authorship. That''s why I feel that I can be never be Orthodox. I would like to be Orthodox, but I cannot for the reasons just stated. I believe in G-d, and I subscribe to Jewish family values but unfortunately that''s not enough for the Orthodox.
I understand the figure for the Karaites is 30,000 worldwide.
Have you noticed that the Karaites are very emphatic on anti-missionary activity? Their reprint of Hizzuk Emunah (www.faithstrengthened.org) is excellent. It's too bad they and the Orthodox can't cooperate on anti-missionary activity.

1/31/2006 12:39 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

BTA, I describe myself as Conservative, for want of a better word, since I am actually to the right of the Conservative on social values, but I still can't believe in divine authorship of the Torah, or of the Talmud. So that disqualifies me from being Orthodox.

1/31/2006 12:43 AM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

I just returned from a trip to Israel. IN the Israel museum there is an exhibit of items found at Qumran. These items are at least 2000 years old. The exhibit includes tefillin, with exactly the same parshiot as modern tefillin, made in the same way, only much tinier, so tiny in fact that no one can figure out how these people could make them...tefillin were also found at Masada. The ancient tefillin are found in both Rabainu Tam and Rashi configurations....

1/31/2006 4:38 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

" just returned from a trip to Israel. IN the Israel museum there is an exhibit of items found at Qumran. "

I've been there as well. But the qumran tefillin had the eseres dibros in them, which you fail to mention.

Also, there were very few found- much fewer than scrolls. with all the men there, if it were a true obligation, there would have been much more. I'm sure there were some people wearing tefillin way back when, but I just don't think it was considered the mitzva it is nowadays- literally and figuratively "binding" on all men.

It may have been a status symbol. I have always suspected that rabbinic OJ was really just "ordinary" people coopting the priestly status for the masses. The emphasis on learning for everyone now when only the elite did in the old days is a further extension of this tradition. Tefillin as well, since in mishnaic times, only the elite pharisees wore tefillin as far as I know.

2/01/2006 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

Hey BTA.

You're supposed to be happily retired and sipping a Corona in Fiji.

2/01/2006 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

The guide at the Israel Museum made no mention whatsoever of the Ten Commandments being on the ancient tefillin. In fact, she was quite clear that the tefillin were exactly like our tefillin today, with exactly the same parshiot as today. The parshiot were on exhibit. They did not contain the Ten Commandments. And, as I mentioned before, they found both Rashi and Rabeinu Tam tefillin. She mentioned that there were times in Jewish history when men wore the tefillin all day, which, she thought, may have explained their tiny size. I have no idea where you got your information about the Ten Commandments being in the tefillin, but it is wrong.

2/01/2006 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

The guide at the Israel Museum made no mention of the Ten Commandments being in the ancient tefillin. Indeed, she emphasized that the parshiot in the tefillin unearthed in Qumran (not a Pharisaic community, but probably a community of Tzadokim or Essenes) were EXACTLY what we have today. They were very tiny, however. She speculated that in those days, it was the practice of some to wear tefillin all day. Tiny ones, she thought, might be more comfortable. I saw the parshiot, which were displayed. They did not contain the Ten Commandments. They have found both Rashi and Rabeinu Tam tefillin from ancient times.

2/01/2006 1:18 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Also, there were very few found- much fewer than scrolls. with all the men there, if it were a true obligation, there would have been much more.

You could have said the same thing about etrogim in Russia 200 years ago.

2/01/2006 4:21 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"You're supposed to be happily retired and sipping a Corona in Fiji."

So, how do you know I'm not? Oh, I know, you figure I'm too frum to cross the international dateline. ;)

2/01/2006 11:56 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"The guide at the Israel Museum made no mention of the Ten Commandments being in the ancient tefillin."

Ben- sorry for the confusion, what I meant was that the examples in the museum when you were there do not represent what I understand are the majority of tefillin found in Qumran. Now, I'm no expert, but I actually met one of the few frum experts in the dead sea scrolls. I met him in Israel, but he's american. Anyway, he told me the tefillin had the ten commandments in them. He wasn't telling me that was the case for all of them. Although, I haven't learned it inside, I've read (perhaps from an S. comment in the other post) that the gemara confirms that non-pharisees had tefillin with the ten commandments in them.

However, your first post referenced Masada, and I wonder if you are conflating the masada tefillin with the Qumran ones, because the masada inhabitants are by all account phariseeic zealots. Also, when I was at Qumran excavation years ago, there was a mikva there, which the guide made of point of saying was done to exact halachic specifications.

Btw, what did you make of the exhibit in the Israel museum re: the ancient hebrew script aka, "temple script" which the museum clearly describes as OLDER than our scrolls' "ashuri" script. The gemara in sanhedrin tries to derive which is older, and ultimately seems to decide ashuri is the oldest, but at the same time they also then consider it a miracle that the center of the "mem" would have been suspended in mid air when Moshe (speaking of the 10 commandments) brought down the luchos, which had been inscribed straight through the stone.

What do you make of that?

If S. is still reading, do you think Rambam in his 13 ikkarim meant the torah we have is in the same script as well? It's a question that's custom made for you, my friend.

2/02/2006 12:07 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"You're supposed to be happily retired and sipping a Corona in Fiji."

Seriously, if I get guys like Benjamin and S. posting, I get drawn back in. They always have something interesting to say.

2/02/2006 12:08 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"You could have said the same thing about etrogim in Russia 200 years ago."

Clearly no esrogim from 100 years ago have been found anywhere, and certainly not 2000 years old.

Or, maybe I didn't catch your drift. I'd say Russia wasn't the eretz kodesh circa the 2nd temple!

2/02/2006 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Sheepshead bay Brooklyn said...

As a confused young secular jew walking along the boundaries of uncertainty and searching judaism i owe you gratitude for the insight that you provided.

If my questions about religion are not silenced by my desire for calming emotions such as those experienced when i celebrated Shabbos, then i believe i have stayed true to my search.

2/02/2006 1:00 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Clearly no esrogim from 100 years ago have been found anywhere, and certainly not 2000 years old.

>Or, maybe I didn't catch your drift. I'd say Russia wasn't the eretz kodesh circa the 2nd temple!

You didn't catch my drift. Esrogim were scarce, often one per town. They were scarce because there was a heavy tax on importing them. But don't confuse its scarcity to either unimportance or laxity. Economic circumstances dictated a different model then the one today, where even 5 year olds have sets of the four species.

>Btw, what did you make of the exhibit in the Israel museum re: the ancient hebrew script aka, "temple script" which the museum clearly describes as OLDER than our scrolls' "ashuri" script.

Well, Hebrew paleography is a keen interest of mine. :)

You're speaking about, I guess, the Leviticus Scroll specifically.

>The gemara in sanhedrin tries to derive which is older, and ultimately seems to decide ashuri is the oldest, but at the same time they also then consider it a miracle that the center of the "mem" would have been suspended in mid air when Moshe (speaking of the 10 commandments) brought down the luchos, which had been inscribed straight through the stone.

>What do you make of that?

It decided neither. There is a machloket, and two reasonable early positions were taken. One is that Ketav Ivri (aka paleo-Hebrew/ Phoenician) is older and the other is that Ketav Ashuri ("Assyrian," eg Aramaic) is older. We now know that Ivri script is older, since the Aramaic script is a descendent of the Phoenician. But neither position was unreasonable in Talmudic times, and the Talmud doesn't decide. In fact, in Talmud Yerushalmi (and this is important, so take note) the parallel Gemara about the luchot says that in them the 'ayin and tet stood suspended. (see).

>If S. is still reading, do you think Rambam in his 13 ikkarim meant the torah we have is in the same script as well? It's a question that's custom made for you, my friend.

No, I don't think he meant that. He also, evidently, didn't mean the same consonantal text, as the Rambam was aware of the development of the massoretic tradition and aware of variants readings. Either the Rambam meant "in general," as R. Weinberg of Ner Israel took it, or he meant it in an even more limited sense, as a "true belief" for the masses. But he certainly wasn't giving a pesak on the machloket in the Gemara. I can't be certain, but is quite possible that it was already known for certain that the Phoenician script was older by the Rambam's time. Ramban seems to have know it. See here.

2/02/2006 8:51 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Or, maybe I didn't catch your drift. I'd say Russia wasn't the eretz kodesh circa the 2nd temple!

I didn't even explain this. What I meant was to draw a parallel. You can't draw conclusions so simply.

I will first point out that tefillin is made of leather and is therefore perishable except under extraordinary circumstances, such as the extreme dryness of the Judean desert. To my knowledge, no tefillin have even been excavated from any of the major cities of Israel, but surely it is ludicrous to suggest that havens of rabbinic Judaism, such as some of the cities in the Galilee, or in the Jerusalem of the 1st century that no one wore tefillin. The truth is that the vast, vast, vast majority of tefillin sets that have been produced have disintegrated--from dust to dust. It is pure good luck that we've got any at all.

Secondly, it isn't easy to make tefillin. There is no reason to assume that every 13 year old schnook had tefillin 2000 years ago--or every 30 or 40 or 70 year old. Just as esrogim were scarce in Russia 200 years ago, but normative and an ideal, so to tefillin may have been relatively scarce 2000 years ago.

In addition, there is rishonic evidence that tefillin was widely neglected in Spain in medieval times. It doesn't mean that it wasn't a halakhic ideal, any more than it isn't today when most Jews don't own a pair. Couple that with the greater difficulty of producing tefilling 2000 years ago and the fact that the vast majority of tefillin disintegrates, and you've got very little contra-evidence. Bear in mind also that tefillin were noteworthy enough that the English term for it comes from a work originally written in the 1st century in Greek: the New Testament.

2/02/2006 8:57 AM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

Regarding the script: There is no doubt that the script we use today is a successor to the original Hebrew script. The passages you refer to in Sanhedrin are not meant to be taken literally, though I realize some people do. I did not confuse Qumran and Masada. Tefillin were found at both sites. I have never heard of tefillin with the Ten Commandments, except from you. I doubt that your source was accurate.

If you don't mind me saying, BTA, I think one of your problems here is that you read clearly poetic, allegorical, metaphorical and otherwise symbolic texts as if they they are meant to be understood literally. I know there are a lot of people who do just that, even people who have been in yeshiva for years. That doesn't make it right for them or for you.

2/02/2006 12:30 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

> The passages you refer to in Sanhedrin are not meant to be taken literally, though I realize some people do.

It's possible the bit about the miracle of the letters remaining suspended wasn't to be taken literally, but certainly the opinion that the Ketav Ashuri is older was an opinion meant literally.

2/02/2006 1:23 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Benjamin said:

"If you don't mind me saying, BTA, I think one of your problems here is that you read clearly poetic, allegorical, metaphorical and otherwise symbolic texts as if they they are meant to be understood literally."

Benjamin,

You have made abundantly clear (in each and every one of your posts as a matter of fact) that you are operating on a higher plane than pshat.


"I know there are a lot of people who do just that, even people who have been in yeshiva for years."

You mean, like Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar?!

"tat doesn't make it right for them or for you."

Just so we're clear here, what is your position on whether the following items in the torah are to be taken as literal or not:

1. God spoke to Moshe from a burning bush.
2. Two of all the land animals in the world were aboard Noah's ark;
3. The red sea in fact was parted for the length of time stated in the Torah.

I think you get me drift. We can go back and forth about pshat and drash, but I will always maintain that, as sophisticated your explanations may be for this or that, they will remain... sophistic.

I respect your viewpoint, because it is perhaps the only way one can maintain a sense of sanity in OJ if one is intelligent and rational. However, I simply don't buy it.

2/02/2006 2:45 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Btw, Ben, I thought you might like this post (from 1993 no less!) on this very topic. Just a simple search of "sanhedrin ashuri" on google turned up tons of posts, but this one even relates to the script on items at the Israel Museum.

Best regards. BTA

2/02/2006 2:47 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

and yes, I understand you meant more than pshat/drash dichotomy, but also whether to take midrashim such as the one re: luchos avonim literally (maklokess rishonim) etc.

Still, I am not an elua v'elu kinda guy- *something* had to be true! Did god speak from a burning bush or not? It's a burning question, I know.

2/02/2006 2:53 PM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

Look, I was not present, obviously, when any miracles recounted in Tanach did or did not occur. I accept the literature as part of our tradition and take it very seriously. I am of the personal belief that the natural world was quite different 3,000 years ago. No one can explain, for instance, how Herod was able to hew and manipulate such large and perfect stones, or how the Pyramids were built, even how the Jews in Qumran could produce such tiny tefillin with such tiny lettering. I don't think we can extrapolate from what we know today to fully explain events that occurred thousands of years ago. I do believe we had prophets who purified themselves to such an extent that they were able to tune in to God's emanations and communicated them to the Jews. I regard the prophetic writings in Tanach as holy vessels of truth. Whether or not I believe in the literal truth of each English language translation of every miracle described in Tanach is not really relevant to my life as a Jew. I do believe that there is truth to be found in every letter of tanach, but that the truth may not be apparent on the surface. The Ramban states clearly that the story of Gan Eden at the beginning of Bereishit is a metaphorical. Which is not to say that these events did not occur on some level. So: did God speak to Moshe out of a burning bush? I would say yes, but I would qualify it by saying that neither you nor I can fully comprehend what this means. We certainly have only the weakest idea about the nature of God, (not a man with a beard living on a cloud) and a very weak understanding of prophecy as well. That may leave you unsatisfied, but for me it just points in a spiritual direction for me to follow intellectually, if I wish.

2/02/2006 7:14 PM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

I would like to add that some of our prophetic literature is poetry, and should be understood as poetry of a higher order, not a literal description of reality.

2/02/2006 7:39 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Benjamin, there was nothing wrong with your post but this stands out:

>for instance, how Herod was able to hew and manipulate such large and perfect stones, or how the Pyramids were built, even how the Jews in Qumran could produce such tiny tefillin with such tiny lettering.

You have got to be kidding.

2/03/2006 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Benjamin said...

Why must I be kidding? I am not sure what you mean. Are you saying that we know how these ancient edifices were built?

2/03/2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

To the disgruntled loser who has been trying to guess who I am. I think you have to look at your own misery with OJ. Why else do my posts aggravate you so? Anyway, your sorry attempt is telling of what you haven't learned in life. Silencing me won't take away your frustration with life. Also I've noted you never made a substantive post. Just another shallow machon shlomo grad.

2/06/2006 12:27 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Notice- Anonymous.

Any further anonymous attempts to annoy, stalk, or harass will be referred directly to the
US Attorney under the newly revised (as of 01/2006)
TITLE 47 > CHAPTER 5 > SUBCHAPTER II > Part I > § 223

http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode47/usc_sec_47_00000223----000-.html

http://news.com.com/Create+an+e-annoyance%2C+go+to+jail/2010-1028_3-6022491.html?tag=nl

http://news.com.com/FAQ+The+new+annoy+law+explained/2100-1028_3-6025396.html?tag=nl

Guess, you'll have no fun now- no kiddie porn or stalking. Loser.

2/06/2006 3:26 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

BTA
The discussion with tefillin with S irked me a little. (but i got over it).
It irked me because S. said these answers previously, and they are very reasonable answers ( i said them my self).
So when you pick up the conversation a few months later with ben, its unfair to make this definitive statement regarding tefillin without mentioning that there is reasonable ideas on the other side.
The style of your comments always seems definitive. Like any argument on the other side is silly.
Well can you say that what S. and I both argued about the lack of found tefillin to be silly.

And S. even in hungary, there was 1 esrog in the shul, and this is 70 years ago.

2/08/2006 11:24 PM  
Blogger smb said...

Bta, wish you good luck.
-

Ps. Please don't let your frustration of others discourage your spiritual growth.

Anyway, I wish you hatzlacha and happiness

shalom

2/09/2006 4:37 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

SMB, thanks, I appreciate the kind words.

Happy. You have to follow the thread. Ben brought the issue back up about tefillin, not I.

He brought it up in the context of ... I don't even remember and don't feel like checking right now.

Anyway, I didn't do a new post. But, just like you are bringing it up again, Ben did and I simply responded. And it was "weeks" not "months" later.

Since I like to hear from you, let me respond subtantively. But first, are we on the same page as to the issue? It seems we all agree that few men actually wore tefillin until after the second temple was destoyed, correct? S. might dispute this and say there inconclusive evidence since tefillin disintegrate. I don't buy that, but I want to at least see what the debate is focused on.

Now, my point is simple, and while not an all-out "proof" of mathematical proportions, is nonetheless very persuasive.

It goes like this:

1. The torah mentions something called "totofos" that chazal later explained were the leather tefillin boxes shel rosh and shel yad. Agree so far?

2. Tefillin do not exist in nearly the amount that we would expect if the "mitzvah" were in fact observed by the majority of chayuv men, based on the absence in genizas, lack of many tefillin at Qumran, while there were tons of leather scrolls found and a few tefillin seemed to survive no problem intact.

3. Of the few tefillin found, there were certainly big differences in the scrolls, particularly the 10 commandments were found in some tefillin, perhaps the majority of those found, although I have no idea.

4. The lack of tefillin when there should be many more demonstrates, albeit not conclusively, that, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, the majority of jewish men supposedly obligated in the "mitzvah" to wear leather boxes did not practice thusly.

5. There are many who say tefillin were simply too expensive for commoners, which also makes sense.

6. Based on the above, it is highly dubious that chazal were correct in stating that tefillin were really to be worn, especially if that mitzvah included all men for example.

I would allow for the possibility that tefillin were worn by the elite from early on and that practice sort of made its way into mainstream observance, much as learning was once for the elite only and now is for the masses.

I actually have a very interesting question for S., which I have been meaning to ask him and which relates to this:

Who was the Torah written for? In other words, in the shema it tells someone (masculine) to say these words... and gives various promises of grain and cattle.

When totofos are brought up, who is the "your" in bind them on your arms and between your eyes?

It seems that in those situations, only men are being addressed, and since few men could read, perhaps only noblemen. Unless of course where it says holidays and kosher animals, etc it is speaking to a general audience.

In other words, perhaps rabbinic OJ is really an egalitarian version of what the class of nobility practiced in pre-second temple days?

I'm certain some professional deconstructionist has already written a thesis on this, but I find their books so dreadfully boring to read. S. is much more interesting and to the point.

2/09/2006 5:41 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

That's a good question. First of all, literacy was probably more widespread then we'd imagine. Thinking of it like the model of the Middle Ages in Feudal Europe is wrong. Literacy then was controlled by the Catholic Church, and that isn't a model which applies in the ancient Near East.

One thing is certain: literacy became more widespread in cultures which used an alphabet. In ancient Egypt where hieroglyphics were used, literacy was a craft that was unavailable to most. In Akkad and Babylon when cuneiform was used, literacy was similarly restricted. The invention of alphabets meant that less than 40 symbols needed to be memorized instead of 500 or more.

There is some evidence that literacy wasn't that uncommon in the ancient Near East with the discovery of a great many ostraca (ostraca are writing on broken pieces of pottery, which were the 'scrap paper' of the ancient Near East). Clearly a great deal of these ostraca weren't written by specialists, which can be seen both by the style of the characters and the material itself, since leather or more permanent objects were used for writing important things.

There are a number of studies which analyze the prevalence of literacy in the ANE, including analyses of the Biblical evidences.

In short, we're probably not talking about 80%, 90% literacy (among men) but neither are we talking about >1%. Writing didn't belong only to specialists, that much is apparent.

As for who the Torah is addressing, the problem in answering that is how we are viewing the Torah. If you're viewing it as essentially a post-Exilic document then the answer is different than if it was in written form earlier, certainly if it had been in writing for 800 years already! So I don't know how you want me to answer the question.

Taken at face value, the Torah clearly addresses more than only an elite. The Torah is concerned with the entire nation, and does make clear when it is addressing a minority (as in the priestly laws).

It could well be that in point of practice the societal elites were in more of a position to be educated, but from the Torah itself it isn't apparent that this was intended. It's interesting that you speculate that the rabbis may have been a populist movement, snatching the 'religion' from the elites, as it were, and bringing it to the masses. That sounds somewhat plausible.

The problem really is the paucity of evidence for nearly everything prior to the 1st century, because that is when rabbis began 'talking,' for all intents and purposes.

As far as tefillin, I just don't understand what you mean by this:

>S. might dispute this and say there inconclusive evidence since tefillin disintegrate. I don't buy that

How can you not "buy it"? It's true. There's no debating the fact that tefillin disintegrate. We also don't have a whole lot of tefillin from 10th century Baghdad, but no one is going to tell me that means that tefillin weren't worn there and then.

Don't forget, we didn't have the Dead Sea Scrolls either--until we did. It's nothing but a fortunate accident that ancient Jews placed their leather stuff in the Judean Desert, and its further good fortune that we found some of their stuff.

2/09/2006 6:04 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

bta
your approach could have some basis.
look at chassidim and streimels.
it wasnt everyone who wore one. but people want to emulate their leaders, so they did too.
Re tefillin, you dont mention the other point s and i made which is that tefillin are darn expensive, all the more so in those times. why do you think the gemera spend so much time talking about 2 people holding a tallis or tefillin found in the street. Its because people were so poor.

I just think just like esrog in the past generation, tefillin were rare because of the expense, but were shared to facilitate the mitzvah.
as far as what went into tefillin, i think the gemera addresses the discrepenacies. So youre right, that there was disagreement. Chazal ruled the day.

2/09/2006 10:35 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

S. said:

"It's interesting that you speculate that the rabbis may have been a populist movement, snatching the 'religion' from the elites, as it were, and bringing it to the masses. That sounds somewhat plausible."

It occurred to me as a newly-minted BT that the way rabbis came to have so much prestige and to some extent power in judaism seemed anomalous. In the beginning it seemed to be a proof of sorts of the integrity of the torah that the rabbis ended up with so much power.

One would have thought that if the book were man-made, it would be the Kohanim and to a lesser extent the leviim that should have all the power since they wrote themselves into the book as such almost ruling class elites.

And, here, all they get is an aliyah and a few other perks.

Then, I realized that the more likely explanation for how things came to be was that the rabbis simply usurped the role of ruling class elites once the temple and the concommitant status it formerly conferred on kohanim and leviim had disappeared.

However, while it's a straightforward theory, it is speculation as you say. It just seems to fit well with human nature.

2/09/2006 11:47 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I now appreciate your last paragraph, and quote, far more. Thank you.

2/12/2006 5:18 AM  
Blogger Editor said...

BTA: You have made several references nwo to ancient tefilling bearing the Ten Commandments on the parchments inside. I have never heard of this before. Can you provide one credible source for this claim? I would expect that if such tefillin have been found, there would be references in respected scholarly journals or even in popular magazines. Do you have any sources you can point to for this claim?

2/14/2006 8:46 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Editor said...
"BTA: You have made several references nwo to ancient tefilling bearing the Ten Commandments on the parchments inside. I have never heard of this before. Can you provide one credible source for this claim?"

Editor- sure. I do believe I cited frum archeaologist/ Dead Sea scroll expert Professor J. Baumgarten, who peronally told me about this, but it is actually well-known, so I'm surprised you couldn't find anything about it.

All you have to do for this (or anything it seems) is a Google search. My search of "tefillin with ten commandments" gave me many responses, several of which seem to meet your request.

For example, The Jewish Agency for Israel's Department for Zionist Education's website has this reference:

"In addition: in the Qumran caves, a pair of tefillin (phylacteries) were found, which contained the Ten Commandments, in unlike what is accepted today, which is to write on the parchment in the tefillin only the four paragraphs from the Torah which contain the commandment that that Hashem’s words should be “for a sign on your hands” (Shemot 13:1-10; 11-16; Devarim 6:4-9; 11:13-21 [the last two are found also in the Shema!])."
http://www.jafi.org.il/education/torani/nehardeah/yitro.html

Here is a rather scholarly piece that documents the 10 commandments in tefillin.

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Shavuot/TO_Shavuot_Community/Isaacs_Readings_402/Isaacs_Commandments_1053/TenCommandments_Shavuot.htm

Here is the operative quote:

"Furthermore, the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 include at least three small scrolls, which contain the Ten Commandments, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6 and 11) and other selected passages from Deuteronomy and Exodus. Esther Eshel, in an exhaustive study of one of those fragments, believes that they were collections of prayers recited at Qumran.

A more explicit reference is found in Mishnah Tamid 5:1, which states that the priests in the Temple used to recite every morning "the Ten Commandments, Shema (Deuteronomy 6), V'haya im shamoa (Deuteronomy 11)… Emet V'yatziv (the blessing after the Shema), the Avodah blessing (found today in the Amidah, the central prayer recited at all services), and the Priestly Blessing."

Similarly, in Sifrei Devarim the Sages discussed the possibility of including the Ten Commandments in the tefillin [phylacteries]. Furthermore, seven tefillin fragments discovered at Qumran actually include the Ten Commandments.

In addition, the Church Father Jerome, who lived in the Land of Israel (342-420 C.E.) relates that the Ten Commandments were still included in the tefillin in his day. In his commentary to Ezekiel 24:17, he says that:

"The Hebrews say that the Sages of Babylon who observe the precepts surround their heads until today with the Ten Commandments written on parchment, and these are what they were commanded to hang before their eyes on their foreheads…"



Hope this helps.

2/14/2006 2:19 PM  
Blogger Harry Maryles said...

I just saw your blog for the first time. I'm extremely impressed with your intellectual honesty. Don't think you are alone in having questions. I have them too, far more than I have answers to. On of the problems with the Frum world is its inablity to deal with people who have issues of faith and doubt. You demonstrate well the need for blogs like this one and GH's. It allows one to vent their deepest thoughts without the needless recriminations from peers that might accompany it in the real world. Now that I've stumbled onto your blog, I think it is fair to say that your absence will be our loss.

Be well

2/15/2006 6:04 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

Harry
Exactly. It just happened to me. I raised a question, and was screamed and ridiculed by a group of people who literally couldnt understand why i asked what i did. (releated to a chazon ish on killing by beis din. They all were bigshots, how they would be ready to stone people in this day. i told them they are full of it.)
They pulled the 13 articles of faith and in a angry tone asked me if i believe them. If i take one iota of the torah and not believe it, i am an apikores. Obviously I couldnt get into questions like wether noach is a moshol or not.

so i just said what they wanted to hear.
BTA, ironic?

2/17/2006 12:18 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Happy,

I think that is the new trend- foreclose all debate. Even on blogs. Take the Slifkin books. In my mind those books were apologetics!

But nowadays, with so many people observant, and with so few challenges from persecution, it is ideas that frummies fear the most. Any chink in the armour could result in massive attacks.

I think there is probably an anthropological explanation for this. When people are comfy and not just trying to survive, they splinter into groups and try to seperate out who's with them or against them. if one is just a bit off, he's put under higher suspicion.

2/17/2006 1:07 AM  
Blogger Jew Speak said...

You may like this Jewish site:

Check out www.SimpleToRemember.com

Take care.

2/18/2006 5:09 PM  
Blogger Tzimtzum said...

I am sorry to see this blog wind down. I have been lurking for some time, and of course have waited too late to post. Oh well. I have struggled with my Judaism for my whole life, and this blog was always a place of wisdom and, believe it or not, solace. I was BT back in the 80s. But there was little institutional support and lots of trouble at home (still a minor then). The only people I could turn to for answers were old men who only knew OJ and were so colored by the Shoah. How could they answer questions about sex or secularism in America in the 1980s! Their simple dogma was charming, but utterly unfulfilling. So I drifted back into what I knew—the struggle to figure out what my Jewish life should look like. So now I am having the same issues. Chabad and OJ Kiruv both are a great help—places to go and instant community to touch base with, which as BTA has always readily said is the best thing about OJ. I know I can never be an OJ as once I wanted to be—too much water under the bridge, too much thinking and reading far field, too many off the derech choices which are here to stay. I don’t think I mind that all that much, but at the same time, I wish there was more.

I think that we often overlook how much contemporary OJ was shaped by living amongst Christians. Had we drifted off to India instead of Babylon or Europe so many of these tiny legalistic points might have been less an issue--who knows. But our collective Jewish psyche has certainly been shaped by an outside majority who used our essential texts to alien ends and left us scrambling to boundary mark and redefine for cultural survival. The same can be said of living amidst Islam, although we know that those meetings created a more open and less fearful Judaism. So much of OJ is just a reaction to outside forces. Don’t get me wrong, Maybe there is good in that. I know this though, I lay tefillin, but less because it is halachah and therefore devine, than because it is something that Jews do, and have done for quite some time. That sometimes seems good enough for me.

Thanks for all your good words, and the indulgence of this late chiming in.

2/19/2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

Hatzlacha and shalom

2/22/2006 5:17 AM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

BTA
just came across offthederech.com
Did you review this book on this blog?

2/24/2006 11:15 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

No, never read the book. Someone else reviewed it and it sounded kind of boring.

I'm sure you can find it reviewed somewhere. There's also a book just about some hasidim that are secretly OTD, but I haven't read that either...

2/24/2006 6:41 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Just to update, yes I did read "Off the Derech." It isn't worthy of a review because it is so simplistic and presumptuous.

The young lady who wrote it starts with the assumption that all the principles of Judaism are true and then embarks on some amateur psychoanalysis to understand what teachers and rabbis "can do."

Well, one thing they *can't do* is make Orthodoxy Judaism true, so that is a dilly of a pickle.

8/23/2006 11:08 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Nu, BTA, how are ya? :)

10/11/2006 3:19 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

bta
you should post a comedy routine on youtube!

11/06/2006 4:15 PM  

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