Thursday, January 19, 2006

Orthodox Judaism- Just Too Hard to Believe?


Following up on my previous post on how the heck I am going to raise my kids, I got mainly posts from sympathetic skeptics, some with kids, some without. I am going to keep doing a lot of thinking about this, of course with my wife.

But I got an interesting post from my friend Chardal, a true believer:

"The enigma of BTA for me is that he pretty much has the moral/ethical code of OJ and therefore rejects major aspects of popular culture yet has theological positions that usually come with a more relaxed attitude towards popular culture. "



To that, I replied:

"The enigma of BTA for me..."

Chardal- would you agree with this statement- "The basic elements of OJ (let's say Rambam's 13 ikkarim) are objectively hard to believe unless one has been raised to believe them or has spent many hours internalizing them."



Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith are Inherently Hard to Believe:

Here is an uncontroversial translation of Rambam's 13 Principles of faith from the trusty OU website. There's a lot of history behind the 13 principles and a lot of debate over what they were/were not designed to do. Let's set all of that aside and not digress about Rambam or the wording of the 13 principles themselves, as we OJ's are so often wont to do.

Rather, let's use these principles as shorthand for what OJ believes and what an OJ is supposed to believe. Maybe after looking at these, we'll conclude that most orthodox Jewish people don't really believe one or all of these principles, and that I am not so enigmatic after all. Perhaps we'll all realize that when we go to shul, the guy to the left or right of us is only partially a believer in these principles.

Defining Terms- "I Believe in Principle X" as Opposed to "I Subscribe to Principle X":

Subscribe: (Definition) "To feel or express hearty approval: e.g., 'I subscribe to your opinion.'"
Believe: (Definition) "To accept as true or real: e.g., 'Do you believe the news stories?'"

Now, I know you philosophers see where I'm going and are going to wikipedia me to death. I know there's no such thing as an OJ catechism. I know there are oodles of books defining the difference between faith and belief, or in judaism between "emunah" as faith or as "trust."

Kiruv pros specialize in fine distinctions of emunah, so let's not join them for the moment.

Rather, let's just say that most OJ folks must find it easy to subscribe to the 13 principles, but not nearly as many believe in them. Why else, are there constantly shabbatons and shiurim dedicated to "chizzuk" (strengthening emuna)? Why are half of Artscroll's and Feldheim's libraries filled with books designed to mechazek one's emuna?

In the liturgy itself, Yigdal is the 13 principles. Those who daven are regularly subscribing to these principles. But, are they merely paying "lip service?"

Yet, how many of you believe in all 13, not just subscribe to them? Here they are- from the OU website.


1. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is the Creator and Ruler of all things. He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.

2. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He alone is our G-d He was, He is, and He will be.

3. I believe with perfect faith that G-d does not have a body. physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing whatsoever that resembles Him at all.

4. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is first and last.

5. I believe with perfect faith that it is only proper to pray to G-d. One may not pray to anyone or anything else.

6. I believe with prefect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.

7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses is absolutely true. He was the chief of all prophets, both before and after Him.

8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.

9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be another given by G-d.

10. I believe with perfect faith that G-d knows all of man's deeds and thoughts. It is thus written (Psalm 33:15), "He has molded every heart together, He understands what each one does."

11. I believe with perfect faith that G-d rewards those who keep His commandments, and punishes those who transgress Him.

12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. How long it takes, I will await His coming every day.

13. I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen.

I personally don't believe any of these and honestly don't see how anyone can believe in #'s 6,7,8,12, and 13, especially after some exposure to studying the subject matter. I could see to subscribing to the rest, if I believed in God.

So, I think FFB's ("Forced From Birth"?) do "believe" on some level, having grown up believing, but I really don't see how an BT's do. I also don't see how thinking adults, whether FFB or not, could actually believe 6-8,12 and 13.

My theory is that the value of living in an OJ lifestyle outweighs questioning and abandoning the lifestyle. Those who have "left the fold" do seem to be a rather unfulfilled lot.

So- do you believe in "The 13?"

59 Comments:

Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

I don't really have a problem with 6 or 7 and 8, depends on who you ask, will tell you that Rambam never believed himself that the Torah of today is exactly as was given. 12&13 (especially 13) I have my doubts. I would say that I have STRONG doubts about 13. So no, I can't say that I believe in anyof those 6-8 12,13 with perfect faith.

Im actually suprised you left out 11. Most people on a daily basis have a problem when they see a good person, that has kept the commandments having to suffer, while nothing happens to those that don't keep it.

Now that I think about, I thought only a beit-din would punish against transgression of commandments. I know there are a few that it describes a punishment from heaven, but most are for the human court to decide. Hmm.

1/19/2006 6:39 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"Im actually suprised you left out 11. Most people on a daily basis have a problem when they see a good person, that has kept the commandments having to suffer, while nothing happens to those that don't keep it."

Good question. But if I believed in god, I'd believe in ultimate justice. I would accept that it all gets sorted out in a way I don't comprehend. Like karma, I suppose.

1/19/2006 6:52 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

All right, honest answer: I think you strengthened my own emunah! :)

As you seem to agree, no problems with 1-5, 9, or 10. I agree with your answer to HH on 11. Number six I'd want a clarification of, but I don't have much of a problem with it; seven even less of a problem; eight even less, as long as you take into account tiny letter differences etc.

Twelve isn't too bad either - I think your trouble with it is the way some people imagine it, which essentially is "magical". That's not how I view it - though I don't really have a view of how it will look. A cousin just showed me a fictional book that bases itself in the times of Mashiach, and he finds its view of what Mashiach is like incredible - but I digress. Thirteen is the trickiest of them all, though as I grew up with the idea, I have less trouble with it.

What does that make me? 94% frum or so? :)

1/19/2006 7:14 PM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

I also think that sooner or later, Chardal and S. are going to come on and kick your butt with this :) Perhaps, for instance #6, its not a question of whether God litterally told them everything, or is more of how they perceived their visions. An example is Ezekial. Was that exactly the way God appeared to him? Maybe, maybe not, but it's definetly how Exekial perceived the image and eventually how he was able put into writing. Which then probably still means his words are true.

1/19/2006 7:16 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

So- do you believe in "The 13?"

Put me down for a yes. But that does not mean I never re-evaluate what they mean. I don't think the Rambam himself subscribed to the most fundamentalist version of the 13 and within each one there is much discussion and play.

Also, implicit in the post is that doubting one of these 13 puts you out of OJ. This is not really true. Doubt can be healthy for one's spirituality. Rav Kook says that only if one takes a dogmatic stance against one of the 13 and starts preaching it as absolute truth is he really considered a heretic. The most honest people will admit that all of these are possible and aren't really irrational, so I guess the answer is as long as one tries to constantly strengthen their faith and service of G-d, even if he thinks critically about matters of faith, he still has a place among the "true believers" - whatever that means (I say this because often in history, people who were considered of weak faith sacrificed greatly for Hashem while others who were considered strong failed in the moment of truth - only Hashem truly knows the heart of man).

BTW - what I meant by the enigma comment is that I can not comprehend how someone would arrive at morality as conceived by OJ without believing in the Torah. This is the big mystery to me.

1/19/2006 8:01 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Chardal, I tried to avoid deconstructing the 13 ikkarim, but rather wanted them to serve as shorthand for what OJ's believe or subscribe to believing.

That said:

"Also, implicit in the post is that doubting one of these 13 puts you out of OJ. This is not really true."

Well, implicit in the phrase "with perfect faith" is that doubting any of these is a no-no, R. Kook notwithstanding.

Also, there are many intelligent believers who say they have "healthy skepticism" about this or that. But, really, how does that fit with "belief" in something.

"Belief" certainly isn't compatible with doubting something most of the time.

I "believe" the Sun will "rise" tomorrow based on a lot of evidence and personal experience. I could be wrong, it could implode a minute from now. Nevertheless, my belief is rational.

If I went through most of the year doubting the Sun would come out the next day, it would affect my conduct and worldview substantially.

Shouldn't belief in these principles (again, these were shorthand for the beliefs themselves) affect one's conduct rather significantly as well?

1/19/2006 9:55 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"I can not comprehend how someone would arrive at morality as conceived by OJ without believing in the Torah. This is the big mystery to me."

You don't think religious people of even the highest attainment in other religions are capable of morality?

1/19/2006 9:56 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

Well, implicit in the phrase "with perfect faith" is that doubting any of these is a no-no, R. Kook notwithstanding.

Ya, but the Rambam didn't write those words. They were written anonymously years later by an anonymously. Of course I believe those 13 middot, that does not mean that I look at people who have doubt about any of them as kofrim. Doubt does not equal heresy. Its not like once you accept tenets of a faith, you stop ever having to think about them or ponder them.

You don't think religious people of even the highest attainment in other religions are capable of morality?

I think people who believe in other religions can achieve a level of morality. But you claim not to believe in any revealed Truth. I do not think that atheism or even agnosticism naturally leads to moral living. It might be that someone who is an atheist behaves morally but I can not see how such behavior flows naturally from his world view.

1/19/2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"It might be that someone who is an atheist behaves morally but I can not see how such behavior flows naturally from his world view. "

What about the tried and true "Golden Rule?" It works well in business, interpersonally, even on societal and geopolitical levels.

And, let's face it, only the smallest percentage of mitvahs pertain to morality. Kosher laws take up what, 2/3 of the Shulcan Aruch?

1/19/2006 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

It is my opinion that religion, has so spread and influenced the world entire (centuries ago), that society from then on is forever influenced by its teaching, even if you're an atheist. The Golden Rule I believe is directly related to teachings found within religion. It has withheld the test of time as being one of the most important influences, the only thing that has changed, is the concept of "God" being removed from it.

1/19/2006 10:29 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

BTA
got your urgent message, was busy trying to catch up on GH website (is it ethical to be fat?)

First of all, I believe that there were alot of debate about distilling judiasm down to 13 beliefs, and to me one reason could be because it boxes you in.

Second, If anyone truly believed all with perfect faith, there would be no sin.

I wish i could believe with perfect faith even most of these.
Youre on the money about subscribing vs believing.

I believe 1-5.

6 & 7 I'm not sure about the "every word" part. This seems to play to the jews at that time to counter the muslims.

Cant believe in 8, because we know for a fact that we dont have the entire torah perfectly. We know the sefardim and askenazim have a slight variations. I think it means more about the mitzvos. I can believe that. Interestingly enough it doesnt say ON HAR SINAI.

I believe 9, 10 and 11.
I certainly subscribe to 12 and 13. I also wish it to be so. Im not how far that goes as far as believing.

It would be nice to have this preserved till 6000. My understanding is everyone holds that moshiach has to come by then. If he doesnt, what will the gedolim say?

1/19/2006 10:31 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

wanted to point out to fix link to unorthodoxjew. Its now unorthodoxjews.blogspot.com (with the s).
He got hacked, so he changed the link, He is on the verge of busting some old child molestation cases in the yeshiva world.
I guess the statistics are still on the yeshiva side, but abuse happens.

1/19/2006 10:35 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

What about the tried and true "Golden Rule?" It works well in business, interpersonally, even on societal and geopolitical levels.

Why should I keep the golden rule if its no to my advantage? There is nothing absolute about it. Nothing firm. Me, (and a lot of other people), would choose hedonism over niceness any day if we didn't believe in G-d. I know this proves nothing, but it is nonetheless true.

I was a pretty rotten person before I became religious. This is a fact. If I didn't believe there was a purpose to life and a purpose to ethical behavior beyond the practical needs of society, then I would return to that life.

And, let's face it, only the smallest percentage of mitvahs pertain to morality. Kosher laws take up what, 2/3 of the Shulcan Aruch?

That really depends on how you look at them. I don't think anyone who, for one example, reads Hirsh's Horeb can go unimpressed about the rich ideas hidden in the mitzvot.

1/19/2006 11:24 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"'What about the tried and true "Golden Rule?" It works well in business, interpersonally, even on societal and geopolitical levels.'

Why should I keep the golden rule if its no to my advantage?"

Well, if you cheat in business, on your wife, if you lie to your family, if you attack others to take what is not rightfully yours, you will have a life that is nasty, brutish and short.

By your own reckoning, 99.9% is less moral than the frum OJ's who form the last .1%. So, you would expect an incrediblly high proportion of immorality compared to chareidi Jews for example.

However, I don't think the statistics in terms of crime, marital infidelity, deceitfulness, etc. are borne out by your theory.

Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean you will become an amoral criminal. Far from it.

"Why should I keep the golden rule if its no to my advantage? There is nothing absolute about it. Nothing firm."

And Halacha is "Firm?" Give me a break. Whereever there is an impulse, you'll find an OJ who "knows how to learn" that just about everything is mutter to do.

1/20/2006 1:05 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Happy:

"Interestingly enough it doesnt say ON HAR SINAI [or l'tzius mitzrayim]."

That *IS* very interesting indeed! Why on earth wasn't that an ikkar emuna, given 3 annual remembrances and a weekly one?

1/20/2006 1:07 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

In searching for other blogs that went through the 13 principles (Gil just had a post on it the other day just citing to various commentaries) I came across a series by Mississippi Fred where he was to go one by one through all 13!

http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2005/09/five-out-of-thirteen-aint-bad.html


I notice he stopped right where I picked up with the post- that is, these get pretty dicey from 6-13 (note the embedded 613).

1/20/2006 1:12 AM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

physical concepts do not apply to Him.

Does anyone see the massive problem with this, or have I lost my mind? This is the end of rleigion, period.

1/20/2006 1:23 AM  
Blogger chardal said...

Well, if you cheat in business, on your wife, if you lie to your family, if you attack others to take what is not rightfully yours, you will have a life that is nasty, brutish and short.

So its practical to be ethical, ok. It leads to a happier life? maybe. But what happens when you start feeling that doing something unethical will make you happier. What if no one is really hurt? What will stop you there. This is much more subjective than the halachic system even at its most pliable level. And even without halacha, the knowledge that there are consequences to evil actions is somewhat of a counterweight to our baser drives even without a defined legal code. Look, I have not always been religious and when I was a teenager, nobody could really convince me using reason to stop being a jerk. If I didn't believe today, I still think no one would be able to do so. You might feel differently, I get a sense from your writing that you have a strong ethical sense and a strong conscience. I just don't think you can make a rational appeal for morality without G-d, its just too pointless.

And Halacha is "Firm?" Give me a break. Whereever there is an impulse, you'll find an OJ who "knows how to learn" that just about everything is mutter to do.

I am not claiming that belief is a guarantee of moral behavior. I am claiming that lack of belief really has nothing to say on morality at all. Its all practicality and personal preference and in the end of little consequence. I think this is less evident. The fact that there are frum Jews who can rationalize unethical behavior doesn't change this fact.

1/20/2006 1:27 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"'physical concepts do not apply to Him.'

Does anyone see the massive problem with this, or have I lost my mind? This is the end of religion, period."

That leads to another question I never got to ask a die-hard frummie: even if you beleive the Torah is historical and God existed and did all those signs and wonders, how do you explain your belief that God is not in fact dead?

You no longer have nevua. You no longer have any open miracles. You have science explaining what was miraculous 1000 years ago on a daily basis.

So all you have is a statement attributed to God that "I will be?!" What if that is another one of the several typos in the Torah?

1/20/2006 1:49 AM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

I am not going to pursue your comment because you're on the edge of a topic I am thinking of posting on ;)

However, my comment was referring to the fact that if physical concepts do not apply, reliigon is horribly anthropomorphic and is heresy according to the RaMBaM. And from his point of view, God is such an ill-defined concept, there is no point in thinking about Him.

1/20/2006 2:13 AM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

reliigon is horribly anthropomorphic and is heresy according to the RaMBaM

Are you referring to statements such as "God saw" or "Gods hand"?, Oh come now. Even the Rambam himself did not see a problem with this as discussed in Moreh Nevuchim. If God gives humans a document, it must be written in a way they can comprehend. Languages do have their limits, especially when trying to describe difficult concepts of God.

1/20/2006 2:55 AM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

HH-

Do me a favor point out the chapter & verse in MN. Not that I dont believe you, but I went to better inform my most recent post.

I see the problem as much deeper, BTW. It is not just a matter of God "speaking" and the like. It is referring to God as happy, sad, jealous, judging, etc. These are physical, human characteristics. It smacks of anthropomorphism to describe a God who has *gasp* the same features we do.

1/20/2006 2:58 AM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

I want* Jeez, I wish I could type.

1/20/2006 2:58 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"And from his point of view, God is such an ill-defined concept, there is no point in thinking about Him."

Right. I recall from the first book of Mishneh Torah, Rambam goes through how God can't be defined, because he's omnipotent, and once you define him, you've already limited him, thus deducting a measurable degree of omnipotence and omniscience.

I'll keep an eye out for your new post.

1/20/2006 3:51 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"It is referring to God as happy, sad, jealous, judging, etc. These are physical, human characteristics. It smacks of anthropomorphism to describe a God who has *gasp* the same features we do."

Right- and how would Rambam explain God saying to Cain "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out from to me from the ground!" when all god would have to say (were he really omniscient) is "I saw you do it!"

Hyrax, the whole "God is relating to us in our terms" argument is apologetical stuff from a Rabbi turned philosopher who was confronted with the contradiction between Jewish theology and Aristotelean psuedo-science and philosophy. The Cain example is much more difficult than say Adam and Eve "hearing" god's "footsteps" in the garden before being caught with their fig leaves down.

The Cain example provides a clear case of supernatural qualities being ascribed to god by god's own words, but not *omniscient* supernatural qualities.

In other words, God is portrayed as a supernatural forensic pathologist, rather than a being that knows and sees all.

1/20/2006 4:02 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

In keeping with the original theme of this blog- exposing the unmitigated bullshit in the kiruv world- here is an aish page apropos of this discussion:

http://www.aish.com/literacy/exploring/Cain_and_Abel_Happiness_and_Other_Insights.asp

Just goes to show you can read a lot into anything. Perhaps for a future post, I'll do an Aish number on a caananite or greek myth.

1/20/2006 4:04 AM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

Hyrax, the whole "God is relating to us in our terms" argument is apologetical stuff from a Rabbi turned philosopher who was confronted with the contradiction between Jewish theology and Aristotelean psuedo-science and philosophy.

Sing it, sister!

1/20/2006 4:25 AM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Cripes... 0/13. Mabye I shouldn't go to shul this shabbos.

My biggest problem is with the preamble... "I beleive with perfect faith"

I don't look at anything this way, all of my beliefs are provisional, if the building zoner in my district stopped by and informed me that my address was actually 1219 Maple St. instead of 1220, but was accidentaly posted that way years ago, I would shrug my shoulders and replace what most would call a unquestionably factual piece of information with a new one.

This is one of the deepest reasons I cannot believe in the God of OJ. It is becuase OJ defines so sharply what god wants from us.

At the center of his contrived faith, this supposed creature, who ostensibly knows the workings of my mind, asks me to do something I can't do.... believe completely in something for which there is no evidence. I don't choose what to believe in, I simply view data, and beliefs are either formed or not formed. To require belief in something I can't believe in, either reveals his lack of omniscience, or he does know some people can't believe in him and he just doesn't care...lack of omnibenevolence.

Poof...there he goes.

I know this is no rigorous proof, but this is how the personal god that was established in my brain with all that yeshiva, was finally done in.

1/20/2006 4:30 AM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

To require belief in something I can't believe in, either reveals his lack of omniscience, or he does know some people can't believe in him and he just doesn't care...lack of omnibenevolence.


Leaving us in a state omnivalence?

1/20/2006 4:41 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"Cripes... 0/13. Mabye I shouldn't go to shul this shabbos."

Or just leave before they sing yigdal. ;)

1/20/2006 5:17 AM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

I think 12 and 13 are the biggest examples of "if you aren't rased that way, then you won't believe it". In fact, many very frum folks was psychotic onb how hard this is to believe and how important that we strive to believe these. Chabad has built an entire culture around training adherents in this psychology.

Does the average frum person really, really think like this? Moshiach will come this minute. I will really see my dead relatives and ancient sages. In my experience, even in Chabad, the average person, teh average moshichist gives lip service to these ikarim. The more "pious" just give louder lip service.

Probably, it is true of the other ikarim as well. How many of them do we really understand.

R2JB and Hyrax, I once did an Aish number on the preamble to the US constitution, proving that US founders were communists. At the time, I meant it as a critque on people who pontificate from translations, but it works just as well this way.
"We the people, in order to perfect ourselves by forming unions ..." it goes on from there. Maybe I will post it sometime.

1/20/2006 6:53 AM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

That should have been "wax psychotic on"

1/20/2006 6:54 AM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

BTA
Right- and how would Rambam explain God saying to Cain "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out from to me from the ground!" when all god would have to say (were he really omniscient) is "I saw you do it!"

He would explain that of course hashem knew, but just like parents know when their children do something wrong, the preferred approach is not to neccesarily directly confront them, but to draw out the understanding of the bad behaviour in the child.

Alternativly
"what have you done" means "I saw you did it"

1/20/2006 7:54 AM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

from aish
"Showing compassion to those who seek to hurt you isn't compassion at all. It's stupidity."

Our western values would say, you need to ignore the hatred, and get them jobs, housing, more of your land, etc. etc. then one day you will turn them around. Not showing compassion is worse, breeds more hatred etc. etc. Sounds very christian.

How does the skeptic see it?

1/20/2006 8:00 AM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>Or just leave before they sing yigdal. ;)

Sadly, this is when I arrive.

1/20/2006 8:44 AM  
Blogger Me & My Yetzer said...

I don't have a problem with them (other than the problem that a long list of Torah scholars have had with them, e.g. Sefer Ikkarim, and the fact that the wording [formulated by others] sometimes is misleading and even apparently contradicts what the Rambam actually wrote)).

I would have a problem if they were worded:

"I know for a fact from personal, firsthand experience..."

Belief, on the other hand, is something we all participate in to varying degrees, and I cannot think of one of the basic principles with has been incontrovertibly disproven.

So, I don't find them too hard to believe.

Why do they and other things need chizuk? Human nature. I believe it's wrong to steal, but put $10,000 in my face that I don't believe I'll get caught stealing and, yes, I might need chizuk to follow through on what I believe to be true.

1/20/2006 10:01 AM  
Blogger jewish philosopher said...

Belief is a character trait. It may be stronger or weaker. There are weaker believers and stronger believers. To become stronger believers people read books strengthening their belief.

1/20/2006 10:52 AM  
Blogger chardal said...

In other words, God is portrayed as a supernatural forensic pathologist, rather than a being that knows and sees all.

Sheesh! You are the most literal reader of the Torah I have ever come across. There is NO PRECEDENT in any Jewish writings for taking anthropomorphisms s literally. All evidence point to the fact that ancient societies in general and Jewish society in particular wrote and read texts as guardians of hidden wisdom. They used specific techniques common to their age to interpret these messages – this is part of what midrash is all about. Did you ever stop and wonder where the word Peshat even comes from? It’s a very odd word to use for “literal meaning.” It comes from the root P-Sh-T which means extend or broaden. The original meaning of the concept of Peshat (until the early middle ages) was contextual understanding.

Let me ask you this, when you read Richard III say "Not is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York", do you conceive of this son of York as being as supernatural being that can change the season or do you see literary tools as work?

Once again, you have to understand how the text was meant to be read before you can read it properly.

1/20/2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Although you certainly have a point, chardal, I think there is a good reason why people often hold the torah to high literal stantards.

It is becuase of the way we traditionaly "learn things out" of the pesukim. A specific verbage or extra letter are all that are needed to learn out one halacha or another, in the eyes of the talmudic scholars.

It can be hard to swallow that the bizarre verbage of the torah is just a beautiful shakesperean compendium, designed with listening pleasure in mind, when garish end of life issue halachah is derived from a verb that is used in past tense or an extra daled in some word.

I know the answer is that our learned rabbi's know when to do what, but that is another matter.

1/20/2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger chardal said...

It is becuase of the way we traditionaly "learn things out" of the pesukim. A specific verbage or extra letter are all that are needed to learn out one halacha or another, in the eyes of the talmudic scholars.

That is proof of what I said. The fact that minute hints in the text lead to different interpretations mean that the literal meaning was not the driving consideration when analyzing the text for chazal. We have to be open to the idea that we have very different literary sensitivities than chazal in particular and the ancients in general.

1/20/2006 12:02 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

To clarify, I am NOT saying that the Torah uses the same literary techniques as Shakespere. I am saying that it uses literary techniques some of which we are more familiar with and some of which we are less so.

1/20/2006 12:07 PM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

And those minute hints in the text from which we learn out the halachah make it difficult to look at a series of words and just call it poetry...

1/20/2006 12:11 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

And those minute hints in the text from which we learn out the halachah make it difficult to look at a series of words and just call it poetry...

I was not saying it is JUST poetry - it's MUCH more. The text can be read on multiple levels. My main point is that the primary level is NOT literal at all and nobody up till the middle ages saw it as such.

1/20/2006 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

The voice of your brother's blood cries out from to me from the ground!" when all god would have to say (were he really omniscient) is "I saw you do it!"

Ya, well, if he said "I saw you do it," we would be right back where we started from. There is no way to explain certain ideas like that withing using the words "saw, happy, mad, come down." The only thing I can think of is good using sign language, but thats still a problem. Does God know everything? Yes, ofcourse. So does that mean I am saying he has a brain? No. This is not apologetics at all.

1/20/2006 12:44 PM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

I was not saying it is JUST poetry - it's MUCH more. The text can be read on multiple levels. My main point is that the primary level is NOT literal at all and nobody up till the middle ages saw it as such.

I'm not sure you can support this statement. How do you know the Ancient Israelites did not take it literally? Especially since they had the benefit of "seeing God." Even if, as HH suggests, that limitations of man required that figurative terms be used, why would they require such figurative terms?

1/20/2006 2:39 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

I'm not sure you can support this statement. How do you know the Ancient Israelites did not take it literally?

We can not know anything about how people read texts 3000 years ago but we do have a very good idea how they were read 2200 years ago. Assuming that the culture of 2200 was more similar to the one of 3000 years ago, then we can start making claims about how the texts were written, especially those texts that were written 2500 years ago. We know that chazal and their contemporaries did not hold literal meaning to be the primary mode of interpertation.

Especially since they had the benefit of "seeing God." Even if, as HH suggests, that limitations of man required that figurative terms be used, why would they require such figurative terms?

The higher the mystical experience, the harder it is to reduce to language. I don't see lanuage being less limited back then than it is today.

1/20/2006 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

why would they require such figurative terms?

The Torah is trying to build some sort of relationship between the Israelites and God. How would YOU have liked these statements to be written? How on earth can a written document convey certain messages without using these terms. Perhaps if it was a vision in someones head, God can inplant certain things that would convey what he wants of that man. But once that message has to be written down, there is no way to write it. Would you feel more comertable if it said: "And the Lord was 'mmmaaahhggah" with the Israelites." Now how stupid does that sound? I feel stupid just writting it. By the way, you forgot one of the most famous lines in the Torah. Now don't rupture a spleen about this one :) : "Noone can see my face and live, but you Moses will see my back" (something like that)

1/20/2006 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

Ofcourse,

mmmaaahhggah=happy , as opposed to

ptthppthaaaah=mad

:)

1/20/2006 4:09 PM  
Blogger Jak Black said...

A lot of people seem to have problems with the last few of the 13. Personally, I found that once I understood the place of Moshiach and the Resurrection in the grand scheme of history, it became a lot more "palatable."

A few years back, a good friend of mine wrote a book on the subject, called "On Eagles' Wings: Moshiach, Redemption and the World To Come." I know it's published by Targum press, and available to order from their website.

1/22/2006 5:17 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

First of all, why has no one commented on the hebrew word and definition on the cheesy computer?!

Jak:
"Personally, I found that once I understood the place of Moshiach and the Resurrection in the grand scheme of history, it became a lot more "palatable.""

Do you mean it seems like the moshiach phenomenon is likely to happen from a historical perspective?

1/22/2006 5:28 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Chardal said:
"We can not know anything about how people read texts 3000 years ago but we do have a very good idea how they were read 2200 years ago."

Let me stop you right there. We know a lot about how "people read texts 3,000 years ago"- 99.99% didn't read them at all!

The scrolls (assuming they existed 3,000 years ago) were few in number and most people were illiterate.

To ascribe some subtle, metaphysical approach to reading of the stories of bereishis is absurd. These were myths circulating orally for a long time before they were written down at all. It didn't begin at the text, it ended there. And, yes, textual analysis became more sophisticated with time.

1/22/2006 5:33 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"Does God know everything? Yes, of course."

Hyrax- that's just one more proof of your projection onto "god" of what you want him to be.

How could you possibly know god "knows everything?"

I pointed to one example in breishis where god seems to learn of something after the fact. But there are tons and tons of examples of god clearly appearing less than omniscient to say the least.

I'd say Noach is probably one of the best examples. God becomes unhappy with his creation as if he had no idea it would turn out this way. He decides to wreck it, much like a child who dislikes his imperfect sandcastle. Then, on a whim, he finds favor in Noach and changes his mind.

Now, if you're OJ, you buy the concept that God dictated this book. Yes, he may have written it in terms "we"** could understand, but he didn't have to write the narrative in a factually false way in order to do so.

** as Chardal points out, "we" would ultimately have multifarious applications over human history from 3,000 years ago to this blog right now. It was God's job as author for such a wide audience to make it relevant to both prehistoric and post-modern audiences if that was his intent.

1/22/2006 5:44 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"Ya, well, if he said "I saw you do it," we would be right back where we started from."

Which begs the question: why exactly is the creator of the universe arguing like a small claims court judge with some primitive guy who just murdered his brother?! It's really absurd.

God is like this terrible parent that would give R. Wolbe,ztl chills. He pits one kid against the other, then lets them go at it unsupervised and without any indication of any chinuch about what is/is not a crime.

He then punishes cain for the crime ex post facto. Very nice. You can't just explain all this kind of stuff away with sophistry.

1/22/2006 5:53 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

And where are you, Mississippi Fred?!

1/22/2006 5:54 AM  
Blogger Jak Black said...

"Do you mean it seems like the moshiach phenomenon is likely to happen from a historical perspective?"

Sort of. It's more in the overall plan for the world. Obviously, you're going to have to suspend your doubts about the sages for a moment, because the ideas come from sources such as the Ramban, Ramchal, etc. But once you're over that, the ideas really make quite a bit of sense. A full treatise of the ideas is obviously beyond the scope of a comment, but if you'd like, maybe I'll post some of the ideas on my blog (whenever I get the chance, heh.)

1/22/2006 6:45 AM  
Blogger chardal said...

Let me stop you right there. We know a lot about how "people read texts 3,000 years ago"- 99.99% didn't read them at all!

Obviously I am talking about those of the elite who were literate.

To ascribe some subtle, metaphysical approach to reading of the stories of bereishis is absurd.

Only if you start out with 2 assumptions:

1) that the text is not Devine
2) that people were dumb for most of history

I do not subscribe to either of these assumptions

It didn't begin at the text, it ended there. And, yes, textual analysis became more sophisticated with time.

You are projecting your conception of world history onto the text and its analysis.

I pointed to one example in breishis where god seems to learn of something after the fact.

You are reading the text like its a children's book. Even secular scholars have more respect for it than you are showing. You have no evidence for ANY interpretation of the text that denies Hashem's omniscience but you project what you conceive of as the simplistic theology of the ancients onto the text.

1/22/2006 2:15 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"You are reading the text like its a children's book. Even secular scholars have more respect for it than you are showing."

I read it like ancient mythology, akin to greek mythology. I accord it the same respect scholars do, but I think you misnterpret what they find complex. I can't speak for them, but I assume they find deconstructing the history, psychology, anthropology and archeology of this vastly influential work to be an incredibly complex and challenging task.

However, I doubt any of the scholars you have in mind consider the mitzvohs to be any wiser than hammurabi's code, or the historiocity of the torah tales to be any more true than any other ancient lore.

You and others always speak about how little "respect" I accord the torah or the sages. I think this is misleading.

Turn to any page of the torah and you will find a myth posing as historical account. I call that a pious fraud.

Of course, "respect" is therefore based on one's perspective. To call god's word a pious fraud is unthinkable to you.

To imagine my viewpoint, just ask yourself how much "respect" and in depth study you accord to christian or moslem or hindu writings- none whatsoever. I have more fondness for judaism, because it empirically has a lot to offer, but that doesn't mean the torah's true, the halachas are brilliant or anything like it.

1/23/2006 12:41 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>However, I doubt any of the scholars you have in mind consider the mitzvohs to be any wiser than hammurabi's code, or the historiocity of the torah tales to be any more true than any other ancient lore.

On the contrary. If you look at the Torah without the attached strings of, say, having made an enormous personal lifestyle change on faith-based claims that other people assured you were best (yes, that's a bit of a dig) then you will likely see that the Torah was at least two signifigant things.

One, it was the first historical work in world history (it deserves this distinction, according to Richard Elliott Friedman as well as many others scholars). Second, the law codes do demonstrate moral progress as compared with contemporary systems of law. When you're debating Orthodox Jews you might want to nitpick or point out the many things that just don't sqaure with present conceptions of morality, but if that isn't your focus then you'll notice that it promotes what were radical innovations like punishing only the guilty, protecting the weaker elements of society, legislating against xonophobia etc.

Although it is probably impossible to separate it from the role it has played in Western civilization, thought and identity and just examine it on its own merits scholars tend to feel it holds up quite well from a number of perspectives, although everyone brings their biases to the table. After all, Bible scholars are basically people who dedicate their life to studying ible, even if they don't think of it as a religious experience for them.

1/23/2006 10:54 AM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

BTA
waz up?
reread your post after spending sometime venting against Lakewood Yid.
I thought some more about this one.

13. I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen.

Do you find it interesting that who ever wrote this ikkar, wrote it without saying when messiah comes, the dead will be brought back.
rather, when God wills it.
If one believes in God, its no brainer to say God can will something. Wether he probably would is a different story.

anyway, nothing revolutionary.
take care.

8/15/2006 11:30 PM  

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