Sunday, January 08, 2006

Today's Talmud Chacham Equals Yesterday's Am Ha'aretz

Let me just get another of my Ba'al T'shuva pet peeves off my chest. When a skeptic raises questions to most Rabbis, he is typically dismissed with scorn as an "am ha'aretz (a talmudic term literally meaning "people of the earth" used to describe completely illiterate farmers and the like in Talmudic times).

But times have changed and so, I think the connotation must change as well. Nowadays, your average talmud chacham is a person so devoid of secular learning and so twisted in his conception of reality that he is really a backwards ignoramus. The talmud chacham who also knows something of the real world, must subordinate his secular learning at every step of the way in order to be a "true talmud chacham."

Thus, let's be honest. While the talmedei chachamim of yesteryear were the "ivy leaguers" the doctors, lawyers and mathematicians of their culture, such is no longer the case. Yes the T.C.'s today might have some smarts, but it is utterly irrelevant except in their narrow realm. They are not particularly able to do anything better as a result of their extensive and ultimately wasteful learning.

I hope orthodox jewry comes around and sees that 5% is the most of our people that should be spending all their time learning. In the meantime, all I see are a lot of destitute groveling people becoming much less in life because of their quest for mediocrity and studying the fables, illogic and outright lies of our talmudic ancestors.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

31 Comments:

Blogger Jak Black said...

In your other posts, you claim that Chazal perverted the meaning of Tanach, and were otherwise not very great men. I guess all that secular learning didn't help them much.

I intend to post about this subject - why you're competely wrong - on my blog in the future. Last night I wrote part 2 of the current series, but Blogger ate it; it'll take a day or so to reconstruct. It might take me a while to get to this subject.

1/10/2006 5:29 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"I guess all that secular learning didn't help them much."

What secular learning are you talking about, geometry?

"I intend to post about this subject - why you're competely wrong - on my blog in the future."

Ok, I am looking forward.

"Last night I wrote part 2 of the current series, but Blogger ate it; it'll take a day or so to reconstruct."

That's horrible! I've been there. Did you try the "recover post" script on the upper left above the text screen?

Btw, when you say I'm "completely wrong," I'd like to make sure we're on the same page. Are you saying I'm wrong if chazzal were in fact great men? I'm sure some or many of them were, so that's not my point.

I'm talking about the yeshivishe world where people are divided into talmidei chachamim and am ha'artzim. I find that commonplace attitude to be the height of grandiosity.

There is a grandiose quality to your posts in this regard as well. You associate yourself with the "giants" of years gone by.

I hope to see how your new posts demonstrate once and for all what is substance and what is hubris.

Naturally, I am not very hopeful for your side, since your gedolim are completely limited men, paper tigers. Rav Sternbuch is called a genius in the chareidi world, but he's really not much when you see his rant about slifkin. In fact, he comes off as quite a stupid person. A real backwoodsman or am ha'aretz. And R Elyashev is he a great and dynamic genius as well? And Ovadia Yosef? Perhaps they've memorized a lot of shas. Maybe they're intelligent, but they haven't a clue about reality and so many scientific, philosophical, and logical pursuits have left them in the intellectual trash heaps of Jerusalem.

After all, how can you take these young earth guys so seriously?

1/10/2006 6:24 AM  
Blogger Jak Black said...

-->What secular learning are you talking about, geometry?

You were the one that claimed that gedolim of ages past were doctors, lawyers, etc, not me.

-->There is a grandiose quality to your posts in this regard as well.

I take that as a compliment.

-->Rav Sternbuch is called a genius in the chareidi world, but he's really not much when you see his rant about slifkin.

As I've said before, that's the problem. It's not because you saw his letter about Slifkin, but because the only thing you've seen is his letter about Slifkin. Regardless of how I feel about the Slifkin affair, I have a veritable storehouse of wisdom that I've received from the spiritual giants of ages gone by, as well as living gedolim. For me, the Slifkin affair, as well as many of the other shenanigans that go on today, are merely blips on the screen. When all you have to base the gedolim on is the Slifkin affair, then yeah, I can see the problem.

1/10/2006 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jak,

Always type your posts into a word processor then cut and paste.

1/10/2006 7:14 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

BTA - I actually agree with most of the post (though not the tone, heh :) ) - though I'll note that reading the Novominsker's letter, for example, one gets the sense of a very wise man who made a well thought out decision (even if we disagree).

R' Hutner used to handpick students to stay in learning, and sent the rest to become professionals. I do think that being an "expert" in Torah and other subjects was far easier in generations past, when there was simply less secular knowledge to accumulate and a less distorted Torah mesorah.

I'll note, however, that their extensive learning is not wasteful, and they are true experts in issues such as halacha. Self-honest ones know when to defer questions to people who are experts (such as R' Moshe Feinstein used to) as well.

1/10/2006 12:21 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

JakBlack said:

"-->What secular learning are you talking about, geometry?

You were the one that claimed that gedolim of ages past were doctors, lawyers, etc, not me."

No, silly, that was an analogy. In other words the gedolim of the past were the intellectual creme de la creme of the Jews at that time, and though incredibly arrogant, they had a right to refer to the illiterate peasants as "am ha artzim."

However, nowadays, that's still how they refer to anyone who is unlearned in talmud, while they have no problem being incredibly ignorant in a vast amount of important knowledge.



"When all you have to base the gedolim on is the Slifkin affair, then yeah, I can see the problem."

Well, I have all of the bans they've been into lately, such as Making of a Godol, indian sheital hair, banning internet, banning the book dialoging between a reform and OJ rabbi, and their positively foolish statements about science and the "secular world."

But I appreciate your candor in acknowledging it's hard to respect these guys without studying their halachic works in depth.

But, mind you, I've read many english books for laymen by artscroll and feldheim and the like and frankly, I've never been too impressed.

And I think we all can agree that all but the top 5% of guys learning today are not any more intellectually special than the top 50% of doctors lawyers and scientists. So, I'd likethem to drop the arrogance buzz word, that's all.

1/10/2006 12:38 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Ezzie said:

"R' Hutner used to handpick students to stay in learning, and sent the rest to become professionals."

So he would pick 99% and the 1% would work? ;)

"I'll note, however, that their extensive learning is not wasteful, and they are true experts in issues such as halacha."

I've heard this. But how many of these guys do you really need? What difference has R. Elyashev made other than bans and takanas? Has he revolutionized the area of cholov yisroel? Seriously, can you tell me 5 important halachic innovations he's made in his 90 year career?

"Self-honest ones know when to defer questions to people who are experts (such as R' Moshe Feinstein used to) as well."

So how did we end up with halacha thinking electricity was "fire" or that turning on even a flourescent light or any switch was "building?"

It seems the smart ones, like Shlomo Z. Auerbach lose out the dumber majority. He had a perfectly reasonable responsa that I read and he kow towed to the majority.

Same for the rav who paskened in old new york that you could ride the subway on shabbos so long as you paid in advance. He was forced to recant that scientifically reasonable responsa.

I think they come out ok in most medical halacha, but I'm not so sure about the rest. And just look at metitza ba'al peh- Rabbi Dr. Tendler comes out with a reasonable opinion and the idiotic majority pillory him and basically do anything to cling to the past. They even distort the Casam Sofer's reasonably responsa on the topic saying it was a forgery (their usual technique).

Let's face it, we don't need too many of these guys. We need more doctors and we need the rest of the full time learners to get a job so we "am ha'artzim" aren't the ones holding the bag and paying more of their kids tuition than they are.

1/10/2006 12:48 PM  
Blogger Jak Black said...

"while they have no problem being incredibly ignorant in a vast amount of important knowledge."

Importance is in the eye of the beholder.

"But, mind you, I've read many english books for laymen by artscroll and feldheim and the like and frankly, I've never been too impressed."

Me neither. Feldheim stuff is to Pirkei Avos with the commentary of Rabbeinu Yonah as Tupac is to Beethoven.

1/10/2006 2:04 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

BTA
Looks like you didnt get much out of the "geshamaka sugyos" except some heartburn.

1/10/2006 2:26 PM  
Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

>While the talmedei chachamim of yesteryear were the "ivy leaguers"

What an excellent point! How times have changed. How the mighty have fallen. - JF

1/10/2006 2:33 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Happy-lol. That was my death throes of trying to learn again without cognitive dissonance.

1/10/2006 3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we should learn both secular studies and Jewish studies.

1/10/2006 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

continued comment. Our Torah is Not something man made up. Both the written and oral one are from Hashem and are Not just stories and laws. He gave it to us to make our life meaningful and fulfilling. Yes there are other things that make us think we're fulfilled but our soul is Not fulfilled without the Torah. Just like our bodies need food, our soul needs food too. And that's the mitzvos. Plus, we can't take anything with us after we pass away. Only the mitzvos that we do stays with us. And if we collect a lot in this world, we will be rich in the next world.

shalom

1/10/2006 8:46 PM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

The whole issue boiled down to the hashkafa that chazal have a better version of science than we do, even though it matches discredited ideas of medieval times, because they got it from on high, even though it is proven and observably wrong.

Be done with this apocryphal concept, and we would not have lost BTA, and half the other disaffected (former) frummies out there.

1/11/2006 11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the problem with this blog is that the writer throws a lot of generalities around without ever giving examples. If the chachomim of today are truly ignorant, how about some examples to back up your claim> Otherwise you are just name-calling.

1/11/2006 10:09 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

"R' Hutner used to handpick students to stay in learning, and sent the rest to become professionals."

So he would pick 99% and the 1% would work? ;)


Actually, he picked 6-7. The rest primarily work, but learn as well. My FIL was told to go teach (gasp!) in a co-ed school to help it. He's quite knowledgeable in Torah as well, to say the least.

1/12/2006 5:06 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"the problem with this blog is that the writer throws a lot of generalities around without ever giving examples."

Anon, case of projection perhaps? Anyway, it's pretty obvious what I'm talking about, and if it isn't to you, I'm not in the least surprised.

1/12/2006 5:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone can call another person names. Sorry BTA, that's all you've done. If you can't back it up with some evidence, some facts, then you are not very credible. Anyone can hide behind anonymity and cast aspersions. It means nothing unless you can support your words. So far, you have not.

1/12/2006 7:56 AM  
Blogger Datingmaster, Jerusalem said...

hi I know what you are dealing with
come and visit me

1/12/2006 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTA--You write how most Gedolim are very limited men? Paper Tigers, because they lack background in Secular Studies? You said Rav Sternbuch doesn't come across very bright
Because himself and other Gedolim "haven't a clue about reality and so many scientific, philosophical, and logical pursuits have left them in the intellectual trash heaps of Jerusalem."
JUst trying to understand your point of view? WHy not find a Rabbi with a degree in Science who knows both well? I dont know many off the top of my head but there have to be a few out there

1/13/2006 8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have also met over the years, rabbonim with very advanced secular knowledge in a variety of areas: Aryeh Kaplan z'l. Nachman Bulman z'l. Ralph Pelcowitz, Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (now head of OU) and many others. BTA: you just didn't meet enough people, and perhaps you travelled in limited circles, so you don't have a full perspective on the Orthodox world.

1/13/2006 9:36 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Anonymous, you are missing the point. I didn't say that there are no talmudei chachamim with advanced secular knowledge, I said that the vast majority have none. But the thrust of this very short post is that these t.c.'s will so often resort to calling someone such as myself an "am ha'aretz" as an escape from rational debate. They prefer to engage in apologetics "the posuk doesn't mean what its plain meaning says" and "when the rabbi's said [offensive/scientifically incorrect/theologically self-contradictory statement "X"] they didn't mean what their words say, you have to learn for years to know what they meant by [obviously wrong statement "X"]."

If you want to follow the leader, be my guest. But here's what your leaders likely believe:

1. There really were an Adam and
Eve,
2. God really created the world
in 7 days;
3. The universe "could be" under
6,000 years old (even that is a
very stupid belief),
4. That torah and tanach are
historically accurate,
5. That the sages knew all secular knowledge,
6. That the Zohar was really written by S. Bar Yochai,
7. That there is a heaven, despite no reference to it in torah/tanach,
8. that there will be a moschiach
9. that Noah, Bilaam, and talking snake are true,
10. that there is evidence of the exodus besides the torah story,
11. that Moses really existed,
12. that god wrote the torah, not men.

So, I'm sorry I think all of the above are absolutely foolish. I think you would agree with most or all of the above and I pity you for it. Hopefully, the subconscious impulse that draws you to this blog will one day win out and the world will gain another rational person rather than another cult member trained to follow leaders with highy conspicuous agendas and beliefs.

1/13/2006 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Talmid Pesee said...

Thanks for your succinct "articles of lack of faith". I always thought they should be 13 in number (zeh leumas zeh...). truth is your prior contention that the Torah knowledge of TCs is utterly useless bespeaks your 13th dogma: the nonexistence of spirituality and impercievable causuality. Being completely outside of the self-contained and utterly foolish system I don't know if you'll care but please ponder the following..
TBC

1/13/2006 12:33 PM  
Anonymous Talmid Pesee said...

There is a brokha to recite over a Chochom maychachmei Umos HaOlam (wise gentile) as well as one over a TC (a Jew wise in Torah). IYO would one recite a brakha over Karl Marx, Albert Einstein or Sigmund Freud i.e. Jews wise in secular and practically applicable wisdom, innovators all, but utterly ignorant of the Torah?

1/13/2006 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK BTA, you've shown your cards. Deep down, though, something is bugging you, isn't it? This blog says it all. Deep down, you can't escape from the fact that the Torah is calling to you, though you have had minimal exposure, and your jewish "spark", the "pintele yid", is alive and well inside you.

1/13/2006 1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I note that BTA still has not supported even ONE of his statements. He just expects everyone to agree with his generalizations and if you don't then you are wrong. How dull.

1/13/2006 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, BTA is the one calling other people names, not the other way around. Pathetic.

1/13/2006 1:37 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

BTA, I very much agree with your post of Jan.13/06 11:56 a.m.
I am someone who would have liked to become Orthodox- I am a typical middle-of-the-road Sephardic guy, 3 great-great-grandfathers who were rabbis, but I can't because of the Orthodox "all or nothing approach" to Judaism.

1/13/2006 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Shlomo C said...

My Sweetest brother,

Nebich your suffering so much, your crying all the time. Gevalt are you mamish taking your rage out by wounding yourself so painfully. The tikun you will need will have to reach you on a deepest depths level. Please, gevalt, have rachmonus on yourself and stop the bleeding! You're nebich being meorer dinim on the holiest the poorest the sweetest cutest brothers in the world. remember I started in Lakewood too!

1/13/2006 3:47 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Ok, I have a new rule. No more anonymous posting. I assume the same moron is anonymous, but I can't be sure. I also wonder if he wrote Greensleeves, which is way better than his comments.

1/13/2006 3:53 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Ok, guys, can we get on track here? The point of the post is simple. Anonymous doesn't seem to get it, but others do.

What bothers me as I said in post is TC's calling people with intelligence am ha'artzim when confronted with solid points that undermine their whole theology.

I plan to do a Solomon Series, because the more I think about it, the more Solomon undermines just about everything the rabbis have said "real" judaism is. Stay tuned.

And, anon, why are you hanging around a skeptic's blog so much?

As for my issues, I set them out in my first posts in November- go to the archives if you care. In a nutshell, I like certain basics of OJ observance, such as shabbos and kosher, but I don't believe in the theology and I'm an atheist who put aside atheism for a few years but couldn't stay that way.

I'd like to raise my kids to be happy and healthy individuals and that's why I started blogging. I'd like the best of both worlds- truth and traditional jewish family/community values. Unfortunately, these are not really compatible.

I don't think reform/conserve are for me, because they have the bad stuff and none of the good community stuff.

That's my honest answer, anon. So, what's yours? Why do you hang around this blog? It's anonymous, so if you admit serious doubts, don't worry- no one will know.

Dave- thanks for your post. THere are a lot of folks like us out there. I just wish there were a happy medium. If anyone's got a good suggestion besides OJ dogmas, I'm open to it.

1/13/2006 4:08 PM  

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