Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Unintelligent Editing-The best proof that Yahweh didn't write the Torah

Unintelligent Editing- Or “Why Didn’t God Mention Moose or Mexico...?”

Have you ever noticed that Yahweh (or sometimes Elohim, depending on the tribe of the author of a particular posuk) spends loads of precious parchment hammering out the details of mitzvahs that were never performed, or that would hardly ever be performed for the vast majority of Jewish history? Strange.

Stranger yet, he completely neglects to mention somewhat important religious topics such as life after death, “heaven”, the “soul”, and my personal favorite- the Oral Law. I mean, if you were going to be fair and give a little due process to all the Jews out there, wouldn’t you think it fair to explicitly spell out the 39 melachos rather than just leave them carefully hidden, waiting for an astute rabbi to come along and “reveal” that the close proximity of the mishkan (tabernacle) parsha was close to the shabbos one? Especially so if the same god sanctions death penalty for infractions involving these sacrosanct melachos). And for God’s sake, don’t wipe up that spill or water a flower on Shabbos!!

Likewise, if God intended to kill women in childbirth for not tithing from challah, kindling shabbos lights, or keeping all sorts of nitpicky laws about niddah (despite the fact that the torah only exhorts men to stay away from women “in their time” i.e., menstuation.) Why not warn them in advance? See, Mishna, Shabbos, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six. Ever notice how god is supposed to be killing mothers-to-be for violating d’rabbunan’s (rabbinical decrees)? How strange. Then again, not so strange perhaps for a god who would kill just about every living thing in the world in the Flood myth, er... parsha because they were “robbers” and the like.

Also, have you ever wondered (in my best Al Franken imitation) why the torah only mentions animals that were native to Mesopotamia? And ditto for geographical locations? I mean, Yahweh/Elohim surely knew all about moose, caribou, giraffes as well as Australia, Antarctica, and North/South America, no? Since he planned Avroham’s children to become “as numerous as the fish in the sea,” it would follow they’d head to new digs elsewhere in the world and would crave understanding. For that matter, Yaweh could have just saved Columbus the uncertainty and just told people to set sail for this vast continent, one with a LOT more milk and honey than mesopotamia. It’s almost as if God were short-sighted, even provincial when he wrote the torah, eh?

Another take: Isn’t it interesting that whenever god actually spells some politically incorrect mitzva or deed out, the rabbis explain it away as virtually irrelevant!? For example, the ben sorer umoreh (the wicked son who is killed by the beis din for gluttony and alcoholism). The rabbis say it never happened! What a waste of good scroll, when people are clearly thirsting for lots of rules, statutes, ordinances, regulations, dictates, and admonitions about “loshon hora,” the 39 melachos, chometz on pesach [passover], and so on. Same for the woman of beautiful form. We get similar apologetics.

Of course, this entire essay is rhetorical. Of course “god” had nothing to do with writing this collection of inconsistent myths! It was written by ancient folks. Only primitive men could have created a god who, as Richard Dawkins so aptly put it, is “the most vindictive figure in all of fiction.”

Yet, even well-educated folks, far smarter than I, still believe these myths to this very day. Some of them even believe in “Intelligent Design.” Then again, Pythagoras was smarter than them all and believed in dozens of gods...

However, among the many rational bases for disbelieving the divinity of the torah/oral law, I think the Torah’s “Unintelligent Editing” is the greatest proof of the manmade, primitive origins of the bible and this (and subsequent) religions based on this book.

People, it’s time to call a spade a spade, and the torah is a book of myths no different that The Odyssey.


Blogger Fievel Chuchem said...

Anybody who wants to believe the opposite of all you say will find a way to do so. Rabbinical commentaries are not blind to the issues you mentioned, and Believers will see your points as presenting them with a choice between two things that are potentially true, or two things where one is probably true and the other at least potentially true. Faith almost always will airbrush out the gap.

And even though there are a few things about observance that are most certainly false, though not mentioned in your post (I'm referring especially to certain Talmudic rulings regarding medical "facts" that turned out in fact not to be facts), yet Believers perceive the price for taking your path as being steeper than the conflict that results from confronting these facts.

Retaining a Believer's path results in the same euphoric release from conflict that your path does when one can become adept with the "airbrush", Classic "cake and eating it, too". That's why few people take your path. I suspect they more often take it for reasons I'm considering it, and that's in part because I've learned my faith in rabbinic leadership is misplaced and it's caused me to doubt the veracity of rabbinic leadership down the line. With Rabbinic Judaism, such doubts can be fatal to faith unless we jettison Rambam's ikkarim. It's a battle I'm fighting within myself now. In my case, it's also partially to do with other reasons governing spousal relationships, too, and without those I may never have had a need to rock the boat.

I have observed that that though Faith is imperfect, the more "imperfect" the "truth" that requires it, the better the quality of Faith. When we are rewarded as much for quality of faith as we are for the quality of our truth, we take the easy way out - Faith (Das Torah, for example). Faith and Truth survive in inverse quantities.

Conversely, imperfect faith is rarely rewarded by more perfect truths because they are very hard to find. Faith is always a necessity, and in a world where truth is rarely if ever perfect, truth is always suspected as damaged goods.

Therefore it's not illogical that religion values Faith more than Truth because it does Faith better. But because it does, your path is all the more difficult for Believers. If truth is your flag, you'll believe that Religion deals Believers a trick philosophical deck, BTA, but Believers aren't wrong to question whether all the alternatives (humanism, constitutional democracy, communism, marxism, etc.) are better, because they confront the same problem with "truth" and its definition. It's always a search for something "truer" until death, knowing it can never be perfectly achieved.

So the Believer asks, why waste so much energy? What does this search do for us? How are we and society improved by it? With a limited life, isn't it better to invest in one imperfect truth than a string of imperfect ones? Isn't religion as much about cutting losses as abandoning religion is?

The only real alternative I think, for believers in G-d, is a sort of Theism, especially monotheism. But without an idea of providence, that idea has no power to inspire a "moral life". But you don't seem to have this problem and I'd like to know why. If as Kant said with his "imperative" you made a choice that you'd be pleased to see the whole world make (else, why post again to give deniers "chizzuk"), how is your world ordered now?

You've weighed the benefits of each path and made a decision that I'd like to know more about. What is of most interest to me is not the logical reasons for your decision, those you've made clear especially to one who's read your whole blog. Rather, would you be able to give more detail about the consequences to you as a person over the past year and now. Has there been a "free fall" of the sort you referred to regarding your family or friends? How have your spouse and children tolerated your decision, and do you still maintain any of your previous "BT" ways (kashrut, taharat hamishpacha, shabbat, etc.), even though you no longer identify them with a "tzav"? When you violate any of them, how does it make you feel? If you feel anything, why? Also, did you just fall back to your pre-BT moral positions and views, or did you form new more liberal or conservative views (or both) to compensate in some way with your decision? I'm curious to see whether the drive that brought you to religion is driving you toward something else, or whether you grew out of it. I'm curious to know whether you ever confront meaning and mortality in life, and whether you revert to using tools that religion uses.

Lastly, it seems to me that high tailing it from religion might just be trading one conflict with another if you still are encumbered with the belief that "meaning" is necessary to life. Kant tried to get at this with the categorical imperative, but for both Kant and me, we concluded (actually, jury's out with me) that abandoning religion completely wasn't consistent with that imperative. But you decided differently, it seems.

These questions might seem challenging for the sake of entrapping you. They are not meant to be this, but rather to seek a way to free myself to be comfortable with a decision to stay with religion, or not. At this point I am conflicted. You could just say that "I do what I want, and get away with what I get away with, and that's the only difference - I feel no need for meaning, nor do I think it's necessary to always be consistent - I just do what's good for me at the time, including finding meaning where I choose to and when I choose to, and when this coincides with what's good for others, that's great. I'll consider this my "heaven"". That would explain everything, but I sense it's too simplistic to be true based on your writings. You don't seem hedonistic or hopeless at all, but rather seem to be a thinking, sensitive and concerned person, and that's why I took the time to write all this.

Here's my request: these are issues a lot of people are dealing with and may soon confront, possibly me as well. It'd be useful to allow us to see a bit beyond the horizon. I haven't seen anything like this in a blog, and I didn't expect you to return after your last post in January - so if I may, please allow me to request a review of life from the "sitra achra" (the Other Side :-)). Would you be able to write more about this rather than all the reasons behind your decision?

After all, what happens if we get to where you are and we're told we need a visa? :-)

11/01/2006 4:28 AM  
Blogger DK said...

Welcome back, BTA. I need to talk to you. Please email me privately. You know how to find me.

11/01/2006 11:28 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>People, it’s time to call a spade a spade, and the torah is a book of myths no different that The Odyssey.

Welcome back!

No different? Come on.

Does the Odyssey say

-But have no hate for an Edomite, because he is your brother, or for an Egyptian, for you were living in his land.

-Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan

-When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien.

-If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.



PS I'd remove moderation if I were you. It makes free flowing discourse in close to real time impossible and opens you up to charges of censorship. :)

11/01/2006 12:09 PM  
Blogger seaslipper said...

Good questions. Some attempts at a response: If one regards the Oral Torah as being written subsequent to the revelation at Sinai, then God failed/declined to explain the details of the 39 melachos when the people needed them. If we say that the Oral Torah (read, much of what's in the Talmud) was given at Sinai as well, then the people were given the details and the implications of the commandments you mention. The standard view of the Talmud, or its view of itself, is that it is the redaction of the Oral tradition plus later enactments. But most of it was given way back when the written was given.

The local references of geography and fauna would be because the Chumash is very down to earth. It's basic meaning and style was meant for its immediate audience even though its legal and philsophical implications applied to all times. The implication here is that Torah observance should be down to earth as well. Thus the whole charedi approach of yanking your life out of its roots is wrong.

As for the rabbis minimizing troubling issues, the presence of the issues/mitzvahs in the first place is troubling. And the rabbis of the Talmud are responding to that. I'm glad to see them bothered by ben soreh umoreh. I'm not sure contemporary rabbis would be bothered by it. At least, the early guys had some compassion. The question I have is why God puts stuff like that in there. He certainly throws both tender ideas and rough ones into his theological mix. I don't have an easy answer for that. Soloveitchik talks about it a fair amount. Could involve expression of the tzimtzum aspect of bezelem elokim by having us transcend our own minds and hearts (in very specifically prescribed ways). Could be a test not to become harsh people. Many fail that test.

11/01/2006 12:17 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/01/2006 12:22 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Good post.

(I'm disappointed that you moderate comments, though. What's up with that?)

11/01/2006 12:37 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

So many good comments, I'll be brief in responding for the moment.

Mississipi Fred:
"Does the Odyssey say ..."

No, there are some gems. Probably the most poignant is shooing away the mother bird. How compassionate! But then the rabbis said that's only for wild bird, so you can put hens in little boxes for their entire lives on an egg farm with no remorse...

Also, the Odyssey doesn't have all the eye for an eye and genocide and valuing human beings in shekels set out as laws, so I suppose it's a wash. The Quran has some niceties amongst the violent decrees too.

Your blog is amazing btw.

11/01/2006 12:53 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Seaslipper, those are the standard responses, it's true. However, this post was a quickie, shoot from the hip one. However, I think that the cumulative effect of having to parry all of these thrusts in itself makes an argument for just how contorted orthodoxy turned out to be.

11/01/2006 12:55 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Your blog is amazing btw.

Thanks. Why don't you comment? I need people to comment!

11/01/2006 1:05 PM  
Blogger BTA said...


What a comment- one for the ages, thank you for speaking so openly. You are right on top of the fence it seems.

For myself, and certainly some of the other BT's I know, the main issue sprung up with our young children. It was one thing to suffer through shul just to hang around and schmooze at the kiddush.

But it was quite something else that we had to turn our brains off and look the other way, or worse yet, lie directly to our children. As BT's it was very foreign to see the brainwashing necessary for little kids. "Hashem made this flower, don't pick it." "Say XYZ bracha." "Noach built the Ark just like Hashem told him to..."

To me, that is lying to your kids. One day they'll grow up and unless you REALLY believe it, they'll assume you lied to them or at a minimum worked very hard at reinforcing a lot of tenuous beliefs just so they'd "stay frum."

Worse yet, as a BT I always heard from the Akiva Tatz and Kelemen types that god doesn't reveal himself overtly because he gave us free will to choose properly, etc.

I took this to be a philosophical ideal, but the point's appeal disappears with "chinuch" (parenting.)

That is, my little kids needed indoctrination from the get go. The day schools want tzitzis and kippas on the boys from age 3, also upshearin, brachos, constant barrage of parsha stories.

The sole aim of all of this is to take away the very free will god purportedly wanted jews to have. Imagine what it would be like for these kids at 13 years old to wise up and not believe, but still be forced to be in shul daveing the same old gibberish, and being labeled "at risk" just because they wisely rebelled against their religion.

I know FFB kids of BT's who have been down this road. One is a brilliant guy who has no trust in anyone includig himself.

Growing up requires a sense of security and ultimate trust in one's parents that they wouldn't lie to you just to keep up with the Jonesteins.

I opted for truth, not in the sense of ultimate truth, which is unknowable perhaps, but minimal truth where at least I know I am not making assertions as true which I know to be false or so dubious as to be prima facie false.

Most of OJ's tenets fall into one of those two categories. So much of the rest of it is in doubt as well.

I will respond to some of your other questios later.

11/01/2006 1:08 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"Thanks. Why don't you comment? I need people to comment!"

Well, stop intimidating everyone with your intelligence and thoroughness! ;)

I'll comment. Just getting back into the swing of things.

11/01/2006 1:11 PM  
Blogger Mis-nagid said...

He lives!

11/01/2006 3:22 PM  
Blogger Holy Hyrax said...

Holy Crap

I never removed you from the bookmarks, and only now did I just click it to see if there was a slim chance you started blogging. Welcome home.

11/01/2006 11:51 PM  
Blogger David Guttmann said...

Shalom Aleichem, I got on the blogosphere around when you got off. I just read this post and the previous one and it looks like I will have to do some catching up on the older posts that look quite interesting.

The problems you list are man made. The religion and Torah that underlies it are quite impressive if properly understood and in context. I don't have all the answers but enough so that I trust that all the others can be answered rationally and satisfactorily.

You were sold a bill of goods by well meaning and misguided individuals. Some of the big names in the Kiruv movement are quite disappointing when you read their writings.

Joining a religion for its social benefits, which is usually the greatest attraction, is dangerous especially one that is so complicated and overbearing. Rambam in his letter to Ovadiah the proselyte commends him for joining a downtrodden and persecuted people because of his love of truth and his search for it. Kiruv based on that principle may not attract the numbers but will the quality. I commend you on your skepticism. You seem to have joined a community of searchers for the truth though right now you may feel more like having escaped muddied waters.

11/02/2006 1:49 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

This was posted on Failed Messiah by XXX-BT, who couldn't post on my blog at the time. Read it and get angry...

Welcome back,

I followed you blog but I never posted. At that time I was at the peak of my observance but now I left Orthodoxy completely. But not because of theological reasons (though, the old Godol Hador had some influence) but because of more mundane things.

My wife decided that she wants to wear pants and to let her hair shown, so my keruv guy called her and he was very mean to her. My wife has balls (probably more than me) and she answered him back.

Then he called me and demanded that I would divorce her. I had no plans of divorcing her and getting visitation rights to my son .

So we just cut off any contact with them and tried to have normal life. (again)

Two observations; It is a baloney that keeping Nidha laws will result in better sex life. We have much better sex now when we do not keep it.

The only thing I am missing is Shabbath, it was so great when I had 25 hours when we were isolated from the outside world. It was only my wife, my son, and me.

But all in all, for me, living a normal happy life is worth everything.

Posted by: xxx BT | November 01, 2006 at 11:14 PM

11/02/2006 1:52 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

I wanted to respond to the taharas mishpaca concept.

I had a debate with a smart but green, newly minted BT about the foolishness of OJ. He pointed to the "unexpected wisdom" of the nidda laws as evidence of intelligent divine authorship of the torah.


At the time the torah was written, men of any status had MULTIPLE WIVES you moron! LOL. That means when wife A was niddah, rabbi could be sleeping with wife B, and wife wife C gave birth, he could sleep with wife D. And so on.

Look at King Shlomo- 700 wives (all goyim) and 300 concubines. I doubt these women ever had a need for niddah.

11/02/2006 1:55 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"Holy Crap"

I thought I smelled hyrax dung in here!

Post something, let us know where you're holding.

Did our spicy friend move to israel?

11/02/2006 2:14 AM  
Blogger BTA said...


thanks for your post. You said:

"You were sold a bill of goods by well meaning and misguided individuals."

I hate to say it but they take a similar semi-scholarly approach as you do.

You are fond of the brilliant Rambam's writings and quote Moreh Nevuchim. However, Rambam wouldn't even be frum nowadays if you asked me. Undoubtably he was a big genius. However, he was preoccupied with utter nonsense. If he could be duped by the facile but erroneous writings of Aristotole about the "spheres" and "prime movers" and so on, why couldn't he also be duped into believing the torah was the word of god?

It's very easy to tie oneself up in intellectual knots trying to stay faithful while remaining rational. St. Thomas Aquinas was very logical, so was Luther. The Vatican is full of scholars. Yet, it is all nonsense, just like the talmud- specious, manmade nonsense.

It's not about one's "approach" unless scientology, etc. is about approach.

If you want to be rational, please present evidence, not intellectual masturbation. There is simply no evidence of divine intervention, or of god. Any claims can easily be explained away scientifically, probabalistically or statistically.

If god existed and wanted to get people faithful, he'd be a little better at the marketing of his chosen faith, so that literally the 99.999% of the world that isn't orthodox (or noachide) would wake up and worship him.

Also, I think the best kasha of all for rationalist believers such as yourself is the following:

Briefly explain what evidenec you have for believing God is still alive and/or involved in the world?

11/02/2006 2:24 AM  
Blogger rebelmo said...

Great to see you back and thanks for the update.

There are many of us lurkers who envy you in your stand. While the XGH/GH and others have provided a strong barrage of artillery againt OJ- I think the social pressure issue and how one maintains social/family relationships after coming clean, needs to be adressed by some1.

11/02/2006 4:42 AM  
Blogger David Guttmann said...

>There is simply no evidence of divine intervention,


>or of god.


That is what I mean. You place everything in the same package. It is not. Rambam did not.

>If he could be duped by the facile but erroneous writings of Aristotole about the "spheres" and "prime movers" and so on,

He was not. See my post on intellectual honesty.

>why couldn't he also be duped into believing the torah was the word of god?

It depends what "the word of God" means. It depends what revelation means.

I am not at all trying to change your mind. I just think I see a searching person and I suggest you reevaluate what you have been taught.

11/02/2006 5:54 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"I think the social pressure issue and how one maintains social/family relationships after coming clean, needs to be adressed by some1."

Rebmo, that's what got me started with blogging to begin with.

We need a critical mass of people who like the OJ social benefits and are willing to let it be knwn they don't partake of the Jim Jones Kool aid anymore. Not even at the kiddush!

This would seem easy to find in NYC, but is difficult in less dense places. It's interesting what happens in low-density OJ towns. The people are less "frum" but they put rabbis and ultra religious on a pedestal nonetheless. It's as if they get their religion through a shliach.

However, informed former OJ's would be much more interesting and would know how to do a "real" shabbos without wasting time in shul.

I am seriously considering starting a "minyan" where all people do is come and schmooze like a kiddush. And avoid the basic melachos to keep the spirit.

Then, perhaps a more knowledgeable person can start a moral topic based on the parsha or some idea in the talmud and get everyone- men and women if appropriate- talking about it.

I think it would be fun and I think what we're talking about when we talk about social benefits, is achdus- a group of Jews acting as one. But the point is that this should be regardless of religiosity,etc.

I'm brainstorming here but it could possibly work. Especially, if it was a bunch of "cooler" couples leaving town for a "shabbaton."

They have shabbosos without talking in shul. I think they should have one without davening! I actually got the idea at a chassana I went to. Large community turnout. They're all so religious. Yet, they were familiar. I felt like I was at a family event, even though we weren't related.

There was no davening, no silly drashas. I thought "it would be fun to have this every shabbos" or at least once a month.

Anyone else have a bright idea?

11/02/2006 5:54 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>At the time the torah was written, men of any status had MULTIPLE WIVES

Of *any* status? Not very historical-critical.

11/02/2006 8:48 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

that's not my department. but the point remains: niddah rules and regs, if they were followed at all in biblical times, had a completely different impact on our polygamous predecessors than our own generation.

Yet, people make claims that these laws are evidence of divine wisdom, because the mikvah night comes close to ovulation, hence best time to conceive and other specious claims.

11/02/2006 9:18 AM  
Blogger Enigma4U said...

Great post! Good to have you back, BTA.

11/02/2006 10:28 AM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

BTA, very very nice.

>We need a critical mass of people who like the OJ social benefits and are willing to let it be knwn they don't partake of the Jim Jones Kool aid anymore. Not even at the kiddush.

It would be very nice.

I don't know your history. But I think coming out is easier said for a BT who is simply returning to former practices as opposed to one who was always Frum and has family entanglements, social standing, etc.

11/02/2006 10:48 AM  
Blogger chardal said...

>Did our spicy friend move to israel?

:) House being built. B"H, it will be ready summer '07

As for the rest of the post. Come on, you can do better than that! The fact that the oral law is not written down ... come on.

As for the 'editing.' I suggest you look at those scholars who don't accept this theory of the origins of the Torah. Heller, HaLevi, Jacob, Cassuto.

In fact, since most of the laws in the Torah fit in with the near eastern laws of the mosaic era (with some very foundational and critical theological differences in their approach to law), then I actually feel that the burdon of proof is on those who would cut of the Torah into multiple documents without providing one shred of physical evidence for such a theory.

If you want to say that the interperative arts (which is what DH is mostly about) are decicive on such matters, then one man's interpertation is as viable as the next.

11/02/2006 11:13 AM  
Blogger Mis-nagid said...

"If [the Rambam] could be duped by the facile but erroneous writings of Aristotole about the "spheres" and "prime movers" and so on, why couldn't he also be duped into believing the torah was the word of god?"

You sooo don't understand or appreciate the Rambam. Duped? Is everyone in history who believed things that aren't true a dupe? Was there anyone in the Rambam's world that knew better? Did better with what he or she had?

"Yet, it is all nonsense, just like the talmud- specious, manmade nonsense."

You don't understand the Talmud either. You're still viewing it with Orthodox eyes and the lens of knowing that a lot of what they believed isn't factually true. But, like the Rambam, so what? Stop looking at it like a frummie.

11/02/2006 11:46 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

misnagid. you sooo don't understand my point, which is that appeal to authority of geniuses such as rambam/chazzal doesn't bear on the 'truth' of the torah. in other words they were also wrong about aristotole who set all of science back 1000 years with his compelling but false conjectures.

please don't use this as a platform for your love of rambam since its totally off topic.

11/02/2006 12:17 PM  
Blogger Mis-nagid said...

"you sooo don't understand my point"

A point you didn't actually say?

"appeal to authority of geniuses such as rambam/chazzal doesn't bear on the 'truth' of the torah"

How should I have gotten that point form the words "it is all nonsense, just like the talmud- specious, manmade nonsense?" I can only respond to what you wrote, not what's in your head.

"please don't use this as a platform for your love of rambam"

If you don't have a healthy respect for the Rambam there's something wrong with your platform.

11/02/2006 12:31 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

As the old warden said, what we got here is failure to communicate.

BTA, the problem here is that you were sold a bill of goods--but the consequences of that should not be to conclude that Jewish history is a big fraud. We had serious, sober, responsible people who did and said and thought great things. That they weren't supermen is not cause for dismissing them. George Washington wasn't perfect either, but he was still a great man.

Do you really think you come from 4000 years of fraud, while the rest of the world was dealing with reality?

I was going to post this next bit at Cross Currents, where there is currently a thread about critical thinking and mekubalim. There I pointed out that the present culture doesn't encourage critical thinking, so why expect that many people wouldn't be duped?

Anyway, here is what I was going to write:

A quick example. I attended a shiur once where the topic was the sanctity of the Kotel. It involved identifying the Kotel, what it actually was, and its relation to Har Ha-bayit. Shittos were cited, and equal weight was given to the view that it was built by Shlomo! It apparently didn't occur to the maggid shiur that we know what the Kotel is: the retaining wall for the Temple Mount platform, and it is Herodian. Yet that wasn't something to be noted by the maggid shiur, nor did any of the people there point it out (granting however that just as *I* knew it and didn't point it out, so might have any number of other people there, including the maggid shiur).

Where is the critical thinking? Where is the questioning?

But the point is that even though this is a reality in the Orthodox culture today, it is not the inevitable result of Judaism or Jewish history. We've got a lot of great thinking and critical investigation to be proud of.

And I hate to be mildy insulting, but your earlier comment about the multiple wives sort of demonstrates that you're not being much of a critical thinker yourself. Do you really believe that in antiquity--in any antiquity--it was any but the slimmest minority of men who had more than one wife? What of the fact that in Talmudic times polygamy was apparently rare, which we know from internal evidence? When they spoke of what they believed the benefits of THM were they themselves didn't have two women on the side.

11/02/2006 12:51 PM  
Blogger seaslipper said...

True, I delivered the standard answers, but does that invalidate them? If I answer the question of why the sun rises with details about the spinning of the globe, the answer wouldn't be wrong. Sometimes an answer becomes standard because it is right.

I do agree with you that those standard answers involve a fair amount of twisting and turning. I do feel often that much of my acceptance of the Torah involves ubiquitious twisting and turning. This does give me doubts. I go through this process every day. It's not healthy and it's quite exhausting. It's not always the fault of Chazal. Sometimes they make the job easier, as with ben soreh umoreh and an eye for an eye. Sometimes they make it harder as with the haggadah and the three causes of death during childbirth that you mentioned.

But I consider each piece of Yehadus along with the big picture and there's so much there that I can't dismiss. Much of it is historical: Jewish survival, influence on world religions, current political and intellectual influence, etc. Also, the depictions of the creation of the world and its purpose are appealing to me. These give me a tolerance for the difficult stuff.

A person can certainly lose faith if focusing just on certain pieces and getting all worked up about them.

11/02/2006 3:02 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

Sholom Aleichem!

Glad youre back.
We started around the same time.

I wonder if Ive changed.
Anyway, so are you saying youre telling your kids things are otherwise than yeshiva or did you pull them from yeshiva?

Ive posted about a recent conversation with my 11 yr old.
Ive decided that I want to show my son he shouldnt accept everything he hears. That everything he hears is understood on many levels.

In addition, when someone skims over the murder of children, he should stop and wonder and have the sense to ask why.

11/02/2006 11:00 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Misnagid you said:

"If you don't have a healthy respect for the Rambam there's something wrong with your platform."

I think I gave adequate deference in the following lines:

"You are fond of the brilliant Rambam's writings and quote Moreh Nevuchim. However, Rambam wouldn't even be frum nowadays if you asked me. Undoubtably he was a big genius. However, he was preoccupied with utter nonsense. If he could be duped by the facile but erroneous writings of Aristotole about the "spheres" and "prime movers" and so on, why couldn't he also be duped into believing the torah was the word of god?"

If the point wasn't clear enough, fine, but Rambam's genius was duly noted.

Perhaps "duped" was the wrong word choice, since Aristotole wasn't conning him.

But in essence he spent a lifetime working on solving problems and synthesizing sources that are now considered primitive. Likewise, the Torah is a very primitive book and should be acknowledged as such.

If you want to play the post-modernist interpreter of the talmud and torah, fine, but you are putting meaning into it that it's authors never intended.

You don't believe it's "divinely inspired" or authored, do you??!

11/02/2006 11:09 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"A person can certainly lose faith if focusing just on certain pieces and getting all worked up about them."

Seaslipper. I hear your perspective. You are clearly a sensitive, perceptive, and intelligent fellow.

However, I just don't think we can communicate here about this.

I don't see it as "certain pieces." When I have a conversation with a believer about these sorts of things, one thing I often say is that I can confidently turn to any page in the torah and find a lie. I then go and open any page of the Torah. Try it. Open up a random page and try to believe it. Artscroll is there to lend a helping hand, but in your heart of hearts do you really believe what you're reading is true?

In reality every page is full of lies in the sense that there are all sorts of proto-scientific mistakes (e.g., the upper and lower waters) and prehistoric histories (this one begat that one and they all lived 900 years, etc.) all over each page. I don't believe any of it happened, and I have no reason to. There is no evidence for Avraham or Adam and Eve or Noach or the rest. Zero. Zilch.

I am not feeling "burned" and that's why I see it that way. What a copout to even suggest that! (ahem, Mississippi Fred...)

Rather, lifting the veil or veneer of OJ was enough for me to truly wonder how I could let it go so far. It's sort of like the "pintele yid" paradigm in reverse. Once you let a little skepticism in, the enlightenment process happens naturally.

I know there are "explanations"- tons of them for the torah's anachronisms and dubious histories. But they are all rolled up into a gordion knot of self-contradictions. The rest of you are free to spend the only lifetime you have trying to untangle that knot. It's your life.

I, however, will gladly spend that time in ways I feel are wiser. And being true to yourself is a great feeling, believe me.

11/03/2006 12:17 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Mississippi Fred,

There are a few telling remarks in your last post. I'll paste them first and then make my point:

"[do not] conclude that Jewish history is a big fraud. We had serious, sober, responsible people who did and said and thought great things. That they weren't supermen is not cause for dismissing them. George Washington wasn't perfect either, but he was still a great man."

OK, where does Yahweh fit in here? You are only mentioning manmade religion. Do you agree it is all manmade, including the Torah? If so, we can pick it up from there. Of course these men did great things. I've said elsewhere that OJ is a case of religious evolution. And the rabbis enabled those favorable mutations of the faith. However, that does not make their pronouncements true or binding, just interesting.

You also said:
"When they spoke of what they believed the benefits of THM were they themselves didn't have two women on the side."

Yes, but my point was questioning the wisdom of the claimed originator of THM rules- Yahweh. Assuming arguendo he wrote the torah, he certainly permitted multiple marriage and hardly expressed any problem with it, but for the admonition not to own "too many wives or horses."

So, it's clear Yahweh wasn't thinking in terms of monagamy when he purportedly wrote the torah.

I think my point is a very fair one. And it also brings to light something else- that the rabbis were more moral than Yahweh himself! They added to and deleted from the torah in many places so as to make the book written by our primitive ancestors/Yahweh more palatable and fair.

11/03/2006 12:27 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

One more point, Mississippi F., is that when I said of "any status" I meant that to mean of any higher status, as in "anyone with any brains would understand..."

The Avos are a pretty good place to look for contradictions of the "hidden wisdom" of the THM rules- Avraham- polygamous.

Yaakov had the two sisters Leah and Rebecca and two more wives on the side to sleep with- Bilah and Zilpa.

King David? King Shlomo? THM rules immaterial.

And so on.

You know better than I all the examples.

11/03/2006 12:50 AM  
Blogger Fievel Chuchem said...

"I will respond to some of your other questios later. "

As the Good Book says, "If not now, when?"

11/03/2006 2:19 AM  
Blogger onionsoupmix said...

this was my favorite part of the whole debate : If you want to be rational, please present evidence, not intellectual masturbation.

So true. We can all go in circles and probably will for a long time.

11/03/2006 2:42 AM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...


you missed my questions. children in yeshivas and you contradict (in various degrees) their education (ie true to yourself), or have you taken it all the way (no yeshivas, no shul etc.)

11/03/2006 7:38 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Did anyone see the Dawkins "Virus of Faith" video? He interviews a creepy televangelist who goes nuts and throws Dawkins off his property.

Turns out the mega-church evagelist just got outed by a male prostitute!

Dawkins must be loving the irony.


11/03/2006 10:09 AM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

i had posted some of the dawkins interviews as well.
he interviews this rosh yeshiva in england. now i can imagine when i was a bochur i would of thought the rosh yeshiva got the better of dawkins.
watching now, i cant help but feel the rosh yeshiva was a deer caught in the headlights.

funny how that works.

11/03/2006 10:31 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Feivel and Happy, I wasn't ignoring you, just wanted to give a more in-depth reponse. Let me just say the following for now and answer both of you:

Happy: my kids are very young, so I don't deem religious school to be a threat. I would like them to have some kind of day school experience, even reform or conservative, it doesn't matter, as long as the teachers are excellent and motivated and the environment is healthy.

I like the fact that jewish schools focus on middos as well as education. I surely won't have my kids in a school where they have to daven and put on tefillin and all that as they get older. It's a waste of time and would be contrary to my beliefs, or the absence thereof.

I never go to shul, not even on yom kippur/ rosh hashona, succos, etc.
I simply became allergic to shul and can't take hearing any more drashas, or tehillim about the cedars of lebanon, or bull sacrifices.

I'll do another comment separately with Fievel's excellent questions.

11/03/2006 10:56 AM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

so youre saying your wife is out of the closet as well?

11/03/2006 12:51 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Feivel asked:

Q: Would you be able to give more detail about the consequences to you as a person over the past year and now?

A: Yes. I went through a very difficult bunch of months right around the time I stopped blogging last January. 2 very close family members became very sick. It was all-consuming. During that time, I found even the things I liked about OJ- the people, Shabbos, etc. to be encumbrances that made it very difficult to be supportive in the way I needed to be. Driving to the hospital on shabbos was not an intellectual problem for me. Driving for any reason wasn't. However, the neighbors' stares and even just the sense that I was causing some strange feeling for their kids who thought I was "frum". I just wanted to be free to do what I wanted to do. I also started eating non-kosher food during those months, because I didn't need any extra things to worry about when I was going to the hospital virtually every single day of the week, for hours on end.

We still had shabbos at home, and when the phone wasn't ringing (and I always answered if the caller ID merited it) I really enjoyed a peaceful Friday night more than anything. It wasn't too common for months.

So, that's what precipitated my temporary "freefall." HOwever, I didn't believe kashrus was truly binding or any halacha for that matter. I had just gotten into certain habits.

Q: Has there been a "free fall" of the sort you referred to regarding your family or friends? How have your spouse and children tolerated your decision?

Well, I'm a BT. As another commenter mentioned above, it's much easier for a BT than an FFB to stop observing this or that because in so doing, he's likely becoming closer to his relatives, not the opposite. That certainly was the case. Now I can go to any retaurant. And I must say, OJ, like being in prison for years, makes me realize what it feels like to be truly free. This also addresses another question you have below. You asked if I've just reverted to my former self.
The answer is no. Thanks to OJ, I became a different person. I detoxed from a purely secular consumer viewpiont. I became a "family values" man. Those things haven't changed.

I've said this many times on this site and elsewhere about my OJ experience:

Becoming a BT is like putting a cast on a broken leg, if the leg can be a metaphor for one's values system. Now that my values have been mended, to leave the cast on would actually be detrimental to my progress as a human being. Just as a cast left on too long causes atrophy and gangrene and amputation, I see self-destruction in many BT marriages, where the emphasis becomes "staying frum at all costs."

I don't know if we'll do the "kosher at home" compromise, but I think it's a brilliant solution, though much maligned in the frum world. My wife, like most BT wives, is pretty at peace with believing in god and keeping kosher, etc. She's relaxed about a lot and doesn't feel threatened by my ways any more. She's heard my views ad nauseum and they've taken hold for her to some extent. She'd be happy to stay kosher and that's fine with me. However, she'll come to non-kosher restaurants with me and get a salad. If I can get her to the fish level, that would be great, but she is the greatest wife in the world and I make compromises for her as well.

My kids are too young to object and that's exactly why I wanted to clarify my path asap. However, I like how keeping kosher in/out could keep them away from the people you see at a McDonalds. There's no reason to interact with the fast food crowd. They are a whole level below the kosher restaurant environment. Kosher restaurants may end up being the only option once the kids are older, but I'll have to figure that one out.

Q: Do you still maintain any of your previous "BT" ways (kashrut, taharat hamishpacha, shabbat, etc.), even though you no longer identify them with a "tzav"?

See above. TMP is a personal topic, but with 3 kids in 4 years of marriage, I think my wife only had the need for the mikva five or less times! I'm all for the mikva, but not asking the rabbi to examine undies. That's ridiculous and one of the true low points of the religion.

Q:When you violate any of them, how does it make you feel?

A: I feel a twinge of guilt, just the slightest. Sometimes. Other times, I am almost euphoric at eating great sushi after 5 years of risky sushi. I like the ambience of different restaurants. Best of all, I like that eating out is not divisive with my non-frum family.

Q: If you feel anything, why?

A: Being frum and having rules and regs can be comforting in that it gives one a pre-planned itinerary for each day and for all of life. It also made me feel "good" for upholding a lonstanding tradition. I feel some guilt that people sacrificed so much to keep this religion going and I am blithely discarding it. On the other hand, they made their choice, I am making mine. Why on earth would anyone want their kids to die rather than convert, for example? I wouldn't hesitate to do whatever it took to save my kids.

Q: Also, did you just fall back to your pre-BT moral positions and views, or did you form new more liberal or conservative views (or both) to compensate in some way with your decision?

A: GREAT QUESTIONS!! I really did go from previously more left to very right wing (voted for Bush) to left wing again. (Go ahead and say it- flip flop). I am appalled by the unanimous support of Bush by almost all frummies because he's "good for israel." However, I do have an affinity for Israel that I never had before. I feel I have much more insight into the mideast. For example, at the outset of the claims by bush, et al. that they wanted to build "democracy" in Iraq, I knew from Israel that such would never succeed. Arabs in their current incarnation will never want or have a democracy like America. Bush/Haliburton just want a perpetual war there so as to keep breaking down and rebuilding the infrastructure for fun and profit. Meanwhile, it was very bad for ISrael, since it took away any fetters on Iran's violent ambitions. I think without saddam, Iran is going full force with hezbolla and other anti-israel efforts, including nukes. The US is powerless to stop them. So, I'm more realistic politically.

Q: I'm curious to see whether the drive that brought you to religion is driving you toward something else, or whether you grew out of it.

A: you mean another religion? no way! I'd love to be able to meditate and to come to peace with the reality of death in a more straightforward way. But I am an atheist.

Q: I'm curious to know whether you ever confront meaning and mortality in life, and whether you revert to using tools that religion uses.

A: see above. I think I am a family values epicurean. :) I want to enjoy life, be merry, live with integrity, be a great dad, husband, etc. I also have a very "spiritual" feeling about music which I express by playing music.

11/03/2006 12:52 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"so youre saying your wife is out of the closet as well?"

she doesn't get bombarded with the same nosy people asking "where do you daven" and the like all the time, and people trying to convince her to learn, blah blah.

She's open with her family and friends that she has her doubts. But don't get me wrong, if I were to be frum, she'd like it. She likes the security, certainty, tradition and order and puts less priority on truth in a religious context than I do. OTOH she's not the indoctrinating type, either, telling kids to say brachas and that hashem did this or that today.

11/03/2006 12:55 PM  
Blogger seaslipper said...

I was just thinking the same thing that we could go round and round with the discussion I am attempting. I didn't realize that you had completely lost your feel for OJ. I lose it at times so I can completely understand. I thought that you were struggling with it. My angle is a bit different as you can see. I can believe in it - though not without huge and ubiquitious difficulties - but I am ferociously critical of the BT schools - as you are - and the Charedi world. I don't love the Modern O world either, but I don't despise it. To me OJ is believable but very difficult, especially these days for questioning types, but the OJ world makes it nearly impossible by being so pigheaded, pushy, anti-intellectual, and dishonest about it all. If they served as actual eduators, and treated their students with sense and respect and worked with their lives and sensibilities instead of steamrolling, more people would find a home in OJ. I believe that Soloveitchik was very hip to this and did his best.

I know what you mean about problems on every page. I really do. As I said, I spend a great deal of time twisting around to make sense of it all. To be OJ, one has to find his own way to deal with the Oral Torah and the irrational and harsh stuff. Problem is most rabbis dictate how you should approach it and this is a grave mistake. Basically they just insult you and tell you that you are not equipped to decide for yourself. But of course you will, if you are a human being. So that approach doesn't work for long. Also, it's a big turn off, creates a hostile relationship with Torah. Once that happens, all is lost. Also, it isn't necessary.

11/03/2006 3:38 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

I just wanted to flesh out this point I made above, since it's important:

Re: do I feel bad not being frum:

I feel some guilt that people sacrificed so much to keep this religion going and I am blithely discarding it. On the other hand, they made their choice [based on little or no evidence], I am making mine [based on tons of evidence to the contrary].

11/03/2006 5:41 PM  
Blogger Fievel Chuchem said...

Thanks for your detailed reply.

I sense from your comments that the whole process of un-BT'ing was for you primarily one of personal conscience. It's unusual, though (at least I think so) for someone who is Jewish, either pre-BT or post-BT or un-BT'd, or FFB, to relate to their Jewishness or Judaism merely as a matter of personal choice and conscience, and I think this is the reason that the process of leaving the "itinerary" is so painful and disorienting. Some people think that the decision requires courage. Other's think it's stupidity or selfishness.

The fine line between courage and stupidity is understanding the consequences for one's self, and for others, of actions that on the surface appear heroic. The proof is not in the action, per se, but in the knowledge behind it. No doubt, you seem to have understood very clearly the consquences of your move. Further, the ability for you to make your move was eased by a return to a pre-existing normalcy regarding your pre-BT family. And, the ages of your children gives you flexibility, and you clearly have a wife who loves you a great deal. Kohellet said that the "only reward a man receives for his vain existence is to spend his days with the wife he loves". In this respect, you are a truly gifted man. I'd tell you to thank G-d for that, but I fear the suggestion would be disregarded. :-)

Your religion, or the heritage of your people per se, doesn't seem to be much of an issue. You felt bad about it, abandoning it, but it suffices for you that they made their choices (poor ones based on no evidence) and you made your choices (good ones based on evidence), so you're whole with the decision. Besides, you've got that great wife. :-)

Assuming I've got that all correct, here are a few more questions:

Would you have made this choice if you knew it would lead to divorce and the loss of your ability to be intertwined with the lives of your young children? The reason I asked about Taharat Hamishpacha is not to pry, but rather to delve into the consequences of a decision like yours, and the conscience of the person who made it, while living with somebody who's still committed to halacha.

You were speaking about your situation, which as was mentioned, was eased by your specific circumstances. The stickier situation is the reverse, when it's the wife who goes "off the derech", since the religious man is faced with the most severe of religious consequences for continuing to live, and have relations with, a woman who refuses to follow these laws. In fact, divorce is the only halachicly appropriate alternative, and that is a sacrifice that many have made. It's heartbreaking to even write this, to even think about it, that there are relationships between loving couples, parents who are ripped away from their children, over matters of conscience like this. But the choice of a religious man to do so is not less a matter of conscience than your decision was to leave Judaism. The most you can say is that it was a decision that is not based on evidence, but rather on faith.

As tragic as this decision is, I don't know whether to describe it as cowardice or heroism, the same way I'm not sure how to classify what you have done.

I'm curious to know that if the reverse were the case, that your wife was you and you were your wife, and you made the choice to leave the derech, as much as you love your spouse would you have forced him to make the choice, G-d or you? Is there a limit, do you think, to how far you should allow your conscience to command priority over those who are around you?

The same question I think radiates outward. Would you make the choice if you knew it would separate you from your extended family, if it happened to be a religious one? Again, you note this was easier for you because you were returning to your roots, so to speak. But most people who are not BT's are confronting this as well. Would your conscience take precedence here, too?

And as the question radiates outward, and it weakens, there is one final question; If you were to speculate that all Jews would make your choice, both BT and FFB, and thus Judaism for all its faults (and benefits) would disappear, and probably the identity as Jews as well, would you have made the choice? This is Kant's categorical imperative, to act in a way that should all behave similarly, you'd be satisfied with the results. Would your freedom of conscience have extended this far? Do you think the world would be better without Judaism, or without religion generally?

And, none of these questions might ever matter if there were a new type of Jewish identity that you'd like to contribute to, or that you envision. It seems to me that such "repairs" have been made at least once, and probably more times in the past. Do you currently see an existing form of Judaism that is consistent with your beliefs? Or, do you think that "Jewishness" or "Judaism" per se is anachronistic and either destined to be abandoned, or recommended for abandonment?

11/04/2006 1:19 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

"risky sushi"?????
what do you mean... are you suggesting that sushi i buy is unhealthy? or it doesnt taste the same as that prepared in non kosher resteraunts?

i happen to buy sushi grade tuna at my supermarket. i think its pretty good.

or do you mean eel, shrimp or crab is less risky than salmon, tuna or yellowtail?
(sushi is a love of mine, as you can tell).

I also await the response to feivel. amazing comments.

11/04/2006 11:32 PM  
Blogger ed said...

>There is no evidence for Avraham or Adam and Eve....

Uuh, there's a place in Chevron called 'Me-arat Hamachpela'. Did you dig it up and come out emptyhanded?

11/05/2006 1:34 AM  
Blogger Fievel Chuchem said...

I have given thought to my questions, though you haven't answered yet. I'd like to provide further context to my question.

Where I live, in Israel, there is a huge population of grandchildren and great grandchildren of Bundists and the like who jettisoned their Jewish religion and chose a mixture of humanism and communist/socialist ideology as a substitute for their religion. They kept their nationalist sensibilities, though, and were still in their minds "Jewish". Similarly, beginning about 150 years ago, a strong tradition of "Yiddishists" was built up in Europe, which was the incubator for these movements that came to Israel. Yet almost every institution that they established as a manifestation of their new Jewishness at some point jettisoned the Jewishness and kept the secularness. Their path to a new Jewishness wasn't sustainable, and it appears that a Jewishness without religion is doomed to flounder. The choices of their ancestors affect me, and I want to understand it. I want to understand the breakdown between responsibility to one's self, vs. responsibility to family and community.

Even in Israel, which is a nominally Jewish state, for various reasons that don't entirely have to do with their athiesm (meaning, they weren't given a good alternative) as well as having to do with the choices of their ancestors, "Jewishness" is meaningless beyond a cultural affinity, and even this is losing ground in every generation.

This is not entirely the fault of the secularists. The religion of Judaism as it is today is not a reasonable alternative to many thinking people. It has also become malformed, here and elsewhere I claim, due to the behavior of religious Jews who believe as though their sidecurls have earned them G-d's favor even as they behave like dolts and boors. Even if these are a minority, the majority are co-conspiritors because of their timidity and lack of certainty about their ways (the more is better insecurity), and they don't bring the dolts and boors to pay consequences. So in the end, the dolts and boors rule and the middle ground has been ceded. Thus, the greater failure of the religious community is one of leadership. Without real leadership, the only tool the religious community has is to circle the wagons and indoctrinate, and the result of this is that the religious community has lost the ability to engage the secular world on terms that show conviction to a rigorous exploration of the challenges that face people of our generation.

Yet the inability of their leadership to respond reasonably to challenges such as unfettered access to information (internet), the challenges of scientific discovery, weak response to amoral (not immoral) approaches to right and wrong that have taken hold of the socieities they are in, relegation of "chumra" rather than "meaning" or "heartfelt feeling" to the prime spot on the communal mores shelf and thus the nominalization of deed and the devaluation of hitbodedut, and on and on. The rediculously childish approach to Daas Torah as well has the reverse effect as intended. Rather than increasing the respect for rabbinic leadership, it only underscores their lack of leadership when they timidly avoid addressing any of the above, or worse, play to the crowd and increase their personal influence. They act as though they have all the time in the world, as though those of us who seek and question are "sacrificeable". It all smacks of narcissim and self-interest, and grim "who shall live and who shall die" value judgments that they have no right to engage in. They are giving the appearance that religion is about being "the coercive dominant male monkey" rather than humble servants of G-d and His good. So, our institution of religion (I would argue not religion per se) has failed us and is failing us. It serves more to distance a seeker of truth than it does to draw him in for a closer look that can sustain itself through a lifetime of exploration.

My own sense is that the current religious path will keep Judaism going for maybe another generation or two, and in any case it will implode upon itself if Mashiach doesn't come and institute "Ezra" type modifications. I suspect that this will occur from within the FFB communities, who are becoming so rediculously parasitic with regard to the outside world, and with regard to ideas so incestuous within its interior world, that it will fall like a house of cards. My fear is that as a nation we are doomed, since the faith of the middle ground (engaged in the questions of life, re-evaluation of the questions of life, re-institutionalization of the answers) is not succeeding in gaining followers against the choices that lay at the extremes.

And therefore, I ask the questions I ask of you, sort of as a curious anthropologist, partially as co-religionist. For me the greatest challenge to my faith as a Rabbinic Jew is coming to recognize the infeasibility of Rabbinic Judaism when 1) the rabbinate is a group of self-interested and self-referencing parrots rather than the grasping, thinking, engaged leaders that we had in Ezra, the Amoraim and Rishonim, for example and 2) that in an age when the supposedly observant, without a peep from the leadership, identify dead men as Messiah with impunity, where religious men stone cars on shabbat and write "death to zionists" on their buildings, when they can demonstrate violently for the sake of preventing the desecration of graves but cannot demonstrate at all to prevent the desecration of life, then the entire foundation for Rabbinic Judaism in our generation has become siphilitic and weak, and our tradition is hanging from the clouds.

Because I am not an athiest as you are, I see this as a failure of men, not of G-d. My fallback position is to be a monotheist, not an athiest. Of importance to me is what G-d wants, and the survival of my People, to whom I believe He assigned me with purpose. The alternative of finding the "accurate" form of Judaism, the "word of G-d", is more impossible now than even it was at the time of Ezra, when of necessity Rabbinic Judaism gained ascension due to conflicting documents or unwritten traditions from before. The choice of Bundist/Humanist or Socialist or Tikkun Olam outlooks also have proven to be unworkable in the long run at providing long-lasting institutions that we can use as the context for our Jewish identity. And all this to me seems to be the result of two corollaries to one theory.

The theory is, "Thou Shalt Not Lie". The corrolaries are a) In a society that cannot agree on what "truth" is, it is impossible to work as a society to attain it and the result is that the institutions of society become fragmented into the smallest of workable societies, the family, within which "truth" is defined. b) In a society that pretends to truth but lives a lie, the same result occurs.

We have an obligation, you and me I claim, to actively renegotiate the truth. I feel actively abandoning our derech is not negotiation. It's voting with your feet, and that's not conducive to buildign a new consensus. I do not feel we are free to abandon communal truth to "individual truth" because I feel that puts our community in danger, and I feel therefore that we ought not do this. The opposite as well is unwise. I feel that conservative thinking is being exposed as a lie, something that conservatives refuse to admit, and that some of what they see as true also must be renegotiated a la Ezra in order for us to be able to defend common ground as a community.

In theory it shouldn't be necessary to abandon observance altogether, but in fact Jewish society has grown so extreme in its narrow definition of "truth" that there is very little "sanctioned" middle ground anymore. "They ain't making any more of it", to use the real estate aphorism.

It's sad, I think. I'm not sure what I am going to do. I can't change our leadership. I don't wish invest effort pointlessly. At the same time, I fear for my People. For one, living in Israel, my choices are broader than yours. Here there is a middle ground (though here it is diminishing as well) in the mere fact that I live in a Jewish state, though its nature as "Jewish" is still being battled over. I'm not sure what to do, but I think that if there is any value to Jewish society at all, to the Jewish People, that we are obligated to find some sort of place where we can be philosophically that does not further undermine the societal infrastructure that has allowed us to survive as a People for thousands of years.

11/05/2006 4:07 AM  
Blogger BTA said...


I cannot respond at length to you at the moment. I want to thank you for your heartfelt expressions. I hope many people are getting to read them because, one can tell a lot about your intellectual honesty and passion for true yiddishkeit in your posts.

In a nutshell, the logical extension of my approach is that it doesn't really matter if Jews intermarry and assimilate. I am not comfortable with that personally, but I can offer no bedrock principles why we must live orthodox lifestyles that are untenable and unbelievable just to keep sustaining a tribe based on these principles.

I am not a "melting pot" kind of guy. I'd like the chinese to remain chinese, the africans to remain africans, and the eskimos to remain eskimos. And the same goes for Jews. I think concentratinos of cultures has given humanity so much more than melting pot MTV culture has given the world. From a music vantage point, or a culinary one, or a literary one, all these distinct cultures are what make humankind human.

I as the product of a jewish, albeit secular family, felt more "at home" among my fellow Jews. That was part of becoming a BT. Living in Israel would reeinforce that more, I think.

However, I spent time there with my family and while I loved touring there, I hated the country. I left thinking it would implode. I couldn't stand all those dumb chareidim who at times made me feel like an antisemite, thinking they were dirty, backwards, and primitive. I didn't like feeling that way, believe me, but that's how the "frummest, most authentic" Jews made me feel.

What's the upshot of all of this? I think we feel where we come from is important to preserve. If our kids marry gentiles (as Moshe, Avroham, David, Shlomo, et al did) we will adjust.

Will I want to have my kids affirmatively adopting yet another religion, such as christianity? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Do I want them to havea stupid christmas tree? Of course not.

I'd like them to be moral, personally fulfilled atheists.

This whole idea that one gets his/her morality from religion is ludacris. I didn't become more moral as a BT and I'm not less moral now. However, I'm certainly far more moral than 95% of the chareidim tax cheats, liars, hypocrits, and morons in my community. The BT's are the best that OJ has to offer, since they're at least idealistic. But, alas they indoctrinate their kids to think Rav Eliashev is god and then their kids become FFBs just as bad as the rest.

Think about it- would you think adultery, incest, murder, or stealing were just fine if you were an atheist? Of course not. The torah simply prohibited things that were instinctively abhorrent. They lived in the time of child sacrifices and the like. I'm sure the people sacrificing kids were afraid of their whole civilization being wiped out in war, famine, earthquakes, etc. I don't think we need to worry that the new breed of atheists is bound to reinstitute child sacrifices anytime soon.

I ask all who read this: Query whether any of your morality appeared as a result of reading the dusty old pages of the torah.

11/05/2006 1:59 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"Uuh, there's a place in Chevron called 'Me-arat Hamachpela'. Did you dig it up and come out emptyhanded?"

That's pretty stupid. Have you dug it up and proven anything? It's a cave, so what? Even if you found some old bones, what would you do with that to "prove" the adam and eve account.

Your comment proves just how much religious folks are willing to swallow, without evidence, while believing they actually HAVE evidence.


11/05/2006 2:01 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

I can't leave this mistype of mine hanging:

"However, I'm certainly far more moral than 95% of the chareidim tax cheats, liars, hypocrits, and morons in my community. "

I meant to say "I'm certainly far more moral than 95% of the chareidim in my community, since many of them are tax cheats, liars, hypocrits, and morons."

I'm big on being a person of integrity. I am honest and don't cheat. I learned this from my parents, who were not one iota religious.

I am confident I can impart similar values in my children. A good reform or conservative upbringing, couldn't hurt in addition.

11/05/2006 2:06 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

please explain the sushi comment.

11/05/2006 4:33 PM  
Blogger Fievel Chuchem said...

I think that maybe a reasonable solution is that the new Ezra says, "it's all d'rabbanon, folks". Meaning, yes, some of it b'safek could have been given by G-d at Sinai (I do believe that there was such a thing, though it's impossible to prove) to Moshe, who in turn gave it to us. But b'phoal, due to safek al safek, everything has the status of d'rabbanon.

Therefore, there are no fences, no chumras, etc. because we don't put fences around fences. Also, we have greater latitude to be lenient with d'rabbanon.

When Mashiach comes, he can straighten out. But I can't imagine anything more honest than "I don't know" coming from our rabbinic leadership, and I can't imagine a better alternative to some form of halacha and rabbinic leadership for keeping us together as a religion in a way that allows us to survive.

What this does mean is that EVEN if we decide that homosexuality is "wrong", for example, that we all go along with the decision. I use this as an example, because it's not important anymore that we pretend that "G-d said it". We just can't know. Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. What's more important is that there be a People left to greet Mashiach, and I sense at this point that the house of cards built on precedents, which were in turn built on incorrect presumptions about what was fact and possibly incorrect presumptions about what G-d wants or not, is about to crumble not from its internal contradictions, but from its increasing disparity with reality as we can demonstrate it to be.

I say this with sadness for two reasons. First, I know it's not going to happen and that disaster is inevitable. Second because even what I suggest is in a sense "a disaster". Not everybody is an Ezra after all, and I don't really think we have any Ezra's today. Further, I absolutely do not think that those who are most open to my suggestion, Reconstrutionists for example, have anywhere near the scholarly quality or respect for the task that it would take to pull this off properly.

I feel like the indian in Little Big Man, last scene. "Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't".

So sad.

11/06/2006 4:48 AM  
Blogger Fievel Chuchem said...

I want to answer your question, which I didn't answer in my last post. I realized when I came to Israel that my morality and idealism was more a function of my having been American, whereas when I was in America, I sensed it was more because I was a Jew.

I saw how Jews behave in a Jewish state, and had cause to reconsider.

I hate it when life throws these kinds of curve balls at us.

11/06/2006 4:52 AM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

>>> Meaning, yes, some of it b'safek could have been given by G-d at Sinai (I do believe that there was such a thing, though it's impossible to prove) to Moshe, who in turn gave it to us. But b'phoal, due to safek al safek, everything has the status of d'rabbanon. Therefore, there are no fences, no chumras, etc. because we don't put fences around fences. Also, we have greater latitude to be lenient with d'rabbanon.

Faivel C.

This whole comment is laced with Rabbinic thinking. You sound comfortable with what you've accepted into your life and don't wan't to add anything new. But if you suspect that Torah is true, then follow God's word and be a Karaite (or Samaritan). Why accept anything that is rabbinic?

Also what do you mean by "I know it's not going to happen and that disaster is inevitable"

11/06/2006 4:38 PM  
Blogger Fievel Chuchem said...

I wrote a lot. I don't think you read it all. Anyway, I am not a scholar at all. I don't really deserve for any of my thoughts to be called "rabbinic thinking". Where there's credit there's blame :-)

First off, "rabbinic thinking" is not in and of itself useless or bad for somebody who is seeking to maintain a commonality of cultural heritage for future generations of Jews. Until the rational age of the last 100 years especially, it served us fine and aspects of it still do serve us very well. I'd like to hear if you have an alternative, but I proposed one that I can imagine is feasible. I don't think it will ever happen though.

Next, regarding the "Truth" of the torah, reread what I wrote. My suspicion is that the Torah as we know it is not exactly the same Torah that was given to Moshe at Sinai. Some of it is, probably, but it's likely been modified, nuanced, redirected, reworded, etc. Of course, I don't know this. It's my suspicion based on the inconsistencies that are becoming to great to ignore.

My suspicions are heightened by the complete refusal of our rabbinic leadership to confront the inconsistencies in a way that "squares the circle" and puts my anxieties and doubts about their leadership to rest. This isn't to say they have no satisfying answers, because for some things they do. But how can anybody say that "the gemarah says it, and even if the opposite is proven in real life, I ignore real life and follow the gemara" be trusted?

I do believe, as a matter of faith, that there was once such a Torah, but that it is hopelessly lost for all practical purposes due to writing and rewriting. I can imagine some scribe saying, "hey, what's this nonsense about a flood only in the area of the fertile crescent? Everybody knows the Epic of Gilgamesh said it covered the whole world! Let's change that so that we can remain credible". See what I mean? Couldn't that be possible? It's probably probable.

It's untenable to a person who believes in G-d, who believes that G-d gave a Torah, who believes in personal and national providence of the Jews, to accept that G-d would give them documents that were lies. This forces me to conclude that if G-d exists, and if He doesn't lie, and if there was a giving at Sinai, than the document we have is not that document.

I wouldn't put "lies" past rabbis though, because I see how they can be. How many rabbis eschew Jews for Jesus, but are silent about Lubavitch? How many condemn those who are violent or are tax cheats, as loudly as they condemn homosexuality? How fast are they to attend demonstrations to demand respect for the living, as they are for those to protect graves?

Since I've come to Israel, my eyes have been opened to how rabbis can use halacha to ignore what they want, and justify what they want. Many of them are an embarassment to me, and others make me sick. Literally.

Why should I believe that rabbis were different then? That thought never occured to me before I saw how rabbis behave here. I'm convinced that Israel is a secular state mostly because of the way some Hareidim present Judaism, and the way other Hareidim watch it silently and excoriate the rest of us for not being like them.

Because I tend not to believe the Written Text to be one and the same as what was given to Moshe, it'd be pointless to be a Karaite or a Samaritan, who believe those texts are authentic. My only fall back position is to be a monotheist. But if I wish to tie myself to the Jewish people, I need to respect in some way the development over thousands of years of a Jewish way of morals, ethics, etc. I don't need the Torah we have today to be the one Moshe received to have that, though I want it very much to be so. In fact if it's not, I have a great deal more leeway to make Judaism responsive to the questions it now refuses to answer.

And that comes to your question. Accepting "rabbinic" leadership does NOT mean that I accept Rabbinic Judaism as it is in all respects today. I might as a matter of custom, for example, not eat a chicken/cheeseburger. But should I eat a chicken/cheeseburger, which is a rabbinic prohibition designed as a fence to prevent confusion regarding a d'oraita prohibition, I wouldn't have a problem. The second week of waiting during the nidda period would be abolished. I could have two wives (oy). Heck, if I need to, I probably wouldn't have to feel guilt if I masturbate (though some say it's putur for singles, I've been told). The whole contour of Sabbath prohibitions would have to be completely rethought. And what about praying three times a day, and what about the content of those prayers? Probably, I could completely rethink that, as well, and whether or not minyanim had to be all men, or whether minyanim were even necessary at all.

On the other hand, some brachot over food are rabbinic. But do I think we'd simply abandon them because they are rabbinic? No. I think they serve a useful purpose. They are not lies. THey improve us personally, and give us the message that it is good to be grateful to G-d. There's nothing wrong with that, and those are rabbinic thoughts I can live with.

But do I really have to tolerate instructions about which hand I use to wipe? I mean, c'mon. There's a limit, whereby I think we can retrieve the essence of what's good and useful, in order to secure what's necessary for keeping us identifiable to each other as Jews, while retaining the sweetness of Pirkei Avot, the wisdom of Kohellet, the insight of Rabbi Hillel and the warmth of Rabbi Akiva.

Regarding your last comment, I feel disaster is on the way because I don't feel that there will be a change like what I described, or any other change. The current system can withstand the external pressures confronting it much longer. Eventually, it will rot from the inside out, because the questions we are asking will reach from within, there will be a rebellion against the over-strict socieities that have been built, and there will be massive defections BECAUSE THE LEADERSHIP WON'T ANSWER QUESTIONS, AND INSIST THE PROBLEM IS WITH THE PEOPLE ASKING THE QUESTIONS.

11/06/2006 6:49 PM  
Blogger Ha-historion said...

If you enjoy discussions on Jewish history check out my blog http://jewishistory.weblog.com/

11/07/2006 6:47 PM  
Blogger ffb4ever said...

Dear bta, amv"sh,

From every one of your posts, I hear your neshama crying out in pain. Your claims are full of your misunderstandings of Torah. Is there seriously no credible Rabbi that you can speak to about all this? I've been daavening in BT Yeshivos all my life - Sh'or Yoshuv, OS Monsey; speak to Rabbi Shorr - he's 100% straight, no bull. good Shabbos!

11/17/2006 12:22 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"From every one of your posts, I hear your neshama crying out in pain."

If you can hear my neshama, you've got excellent hearing, since there is no such thing, my medieval friend.

These aren't tough questions that just the right rabbi can answer. I don't "misunderstand" Torah, I just don't accept the "bull." Any "100% straight" rabbi would admit that there is no evidence for god, especially not yahweh and that there are a TON of good arguments for human authorship or the torah.

Let me put it to you this way. You say I have misunderstandings. Have you ever tried to read the works of Baruch Halpern, Richard friedman and the other scholarly folks who don't believe in the divinity of torah? I doubt it. Such things are banned in your world. The world of divrei torah on shatnez, and "oral" laws that are written down in thousands of pages of nonsense. You have been living in a dream world.

Therefore, glad to see you were reading my blog. it is clearly not intended as a scholarly work or as a proof, but rather just to empower people such as yourself to question and reject most of judaism, because it has many harmful implications (such as grown men believing in "souls" in this day and age.)

Deep down, you know orthodox judaism makes little sense. Don't worry, your whole life won't collapse if you admit it.

11/19/2006 4:30 AM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

youre the dawkins of the off the derech world!

11/19/2006 8:42 PM  
Blogger Exiled Yerushalmi said...

someone asked before if there was evidence for god in our world today. perhaps one could suggest the existence of the state of israel as such. albeit its rather imprefect condition, the fact remains that the people did return from that exile which the foolish men wrote about over two thousand years ago. yes this isn't, 1+1=2 or any "proof" so to speak, but the phenomenom is quite amazing and for i one even in with my own buying into documentary hypothesis have a tough time discarding kibbutz golyot. i mean like as much as one can find flaws in israeli society, its quite baffling that u have jews coming from ethiopia, india, yemen, iraq, france etc basically returned or returning from literally all four corners (ok not literally four corners) of the globe to the land. is that merely part of this sterile unguided human existence?

11/22/2006 9:49 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

BTA - I read this post when you wrote it. It's a very fascinating post, and I honestly just didn't know where to start in terms of commenting. But it was a good post, whether I agree with parts or not.

11/27/2006 11:18 PM  
Blogger nschuster said...

Hello, its me, your favorite confused, crationist science teacher who is desecrating HaShem's name and halting scientific progress while busting his, uh, nether regions trying to get his students to pass a Science Regents.

#1 You said that the Torah only list animals that are native to Mesopotamia? Breishis talks about the Teninim Gedolim which Rashi Says refers to the Livyoson, a giant fish that inhabits the bottom of the ocean, certainly not native to Mesopotamia. In Shemos, the Torah lists among the materials used in making the Mishkon the skin of the Tochosh. I'v seen that transilated into English as Seals. I don't think seals are native to Mesopotamia. I seem to recall learning a Midrash that says that the Tochosh was created at that time specifically for use in the Mishkon. It became extixnt immedialty after. It couldn't have been native to Mesopotamia. The Targum tranlates Tochosh as SosGvana. The best translation I can produce is "six colors". It may have been a strange, raimbow striped animal. I don't know of any such animals that are native to Mesopotamia. When the Torah mentions an animal. it is talking about a family or Genus not an individual species. Many animals found in the New World belong to the same family or genus as those recorded in the Torah, so they are included.

To the person who had the bad experience with his kiruv mentor, and as a result no longer observes Taharas Hamishpocha and says his sex life is better. I feel that your mentor was wrong to tell you what he did. I think I would ahve doen things differently. I'm not sure why he did that. However, you say that your sex life is better now. What about ten years from now. You might decide Chas VeSholom, Cahs Vechalila that you are bored and satiated, and decide to trade your wife in for a newer model. Or she might do the same for you. Please belive me when I say that I don't wish that on you, I hope you stat together for 120 years. But the scenario I mentioned does happen, witness the trophy wife phenomenon. I know that frum people get divorced also, but maybe we should look at the statistics. Just something to think about

1/30/2007 12:33 PM  

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