Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Take Chances with Eternity?

[“Fire is one-sixtieth part of Gehinnom” Talmud Berakoth 57b]

I think it’s obvious that it is worthwhile to be an observant Jew even if one is not certain that Judaism is true – provided one condition is met: one is convinced that Judaism is more likely to be true than any other religion.

The reason is as follows. Let’s say someone would give you a hamburger but then explain to you that there is a 1% chance that there is fatal dose of cyanide in the sandwich. Would you eat it? I definitely wouldn’t. Therefore how can someone eat pork if there is even a 1% chance of burning in hell if he eats it?

The only logical reason I can imagine for ignoring Judaism would be a situation where someone believes that another religion makes more sense, and therefore he is embracing that instead, however actually no other religion comes close to having the logical basis Judaism does.

Alternatively, one could argue that although there is some chance that Judaism is true, however the cost of being a Jew is too great to make being observant worthwhile. This is surely untrue, since actually Judaism does so much to enhance the lives of those who observe it.

What amazes me are the skeptics who seem to view religious discussions as some sort of court case where they are the accused and I, the Jew, am the prosecutor. I must “convict” them. I must bring evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that Orthodox Judaism is true before they can be “condemned” to a life of observance. So long as they can raise some doubt, they are free. This is just delusional nonsense. The truth is precisely the opposite. They must bring evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that Orthodox Judaism is false before they can be “freed” from a life of observance.

[Incidentally, I have heard of “Pascal’s Wager” , however I believe that my argument avoids all the major objections to it.]


Baal Habos said...

JS, ok. try this on for size. This is a true story that I read about. You are uncertain about Judaism. It's Shabbos and you're outside. A little old lady is exhausted and asks you for help with her packages. There is no-one else around. God is watching. Do you help her?

It's not always so clear cut that being Orthodox is a safe bet. I'm sure there are many examples. What is your take on aguna? Do you chain a woman if you have doubts? Or is the whole OJ really immoral. Do you spend your charity money on yeshivas? or do you donate it all to some social charity to truly relieve pain and suffering. Remember God is watching.

jewish philosopher said...

Tough question, Bos. In other words, does the revealed Word of God have more importance than whatever the average contemporary American would think is the right thing? Heck, you've got me.

zdub said...

burning in hell? Where did you get that concept from? Sounds pretty Christian to me...

jewish philosopher said...

I cited the Talmud passage in Brochos 57b - gehinnom is 60 times hotter than earthly fire. I think Christians copied this.

badrabbi said...

"Let's say someone would give you a hamburger but then explain to you that there is a 1% chance that there is fatal dose of cyanide in the sandwich. Would you eat it?"

This is an interesting question, one which has been analyzed at length. The root of the issue is one of risk. In JP's example, there is a 1% chance that eating this hamburger will kill the eater. The question is should this hamburger be eaten? As usual, JP jumps to a conclusion and hastily says NO. But let's look at the issue a bit more:

Let's for the sake of argument say that this hamburger was presented to an inmate in a third world country, who has not been given anything to eat for a week. She is on the brink of starvation, with no other prospect of food except for this hamburger. It is a choice: Either eat the hamburger and risk the 1% chance of death, or refrain from eating the hamburger, and have an overwhelming chance of death. Here, the choice is clear: She AUGHT to eat the hamburger.

The point I am making is that every decision is made with the notion of its risks and benefits in mind. Every time I cross the street, I am mindful that there is a risk of being run over by a car. Yet, I cross streets every day because I am mindful of the risks and benefits of it.

Every time I eat a hamburger in a restaurant, I am also mindful of the chance of E. Coli poisoning. This chance, though is on the order of 1 in several million, and thus I eat hamburgers quite frequently.

Now, I am making a decision as to whether to eat a cheeseburger, being mindful of ‘burning in the fires of hell'. What is the chance of this? If the chance is 50%, or even 1%, well then I will not do this. On the other hand, if the chance is in the order of one in a billion, then I would make it a deluxe cheeseburger with some milk to wash it down!

The point, as usual, is that JP did not present the facts fully. Instead, a false dilemma is presented. As agnostics and atheists, we are not asking to be prosecuted or be condemned, or any nonsense of the sort. But we are asking respectfully: Dear sir, what is the chance that we will burn in fires of hell should we be eating a cheeseburger ? What is your evidence for your presentation of said statistic?

badrabbi said...

LOL, thanks to JP's supply of the citation of Berakhot 57b, I have found some miracle cures for some diseases. Here is what the Talmud (JP and orthodox Jews affectionately calls it 'Oral Torah' - ie., Moses taught this stuff at Mount Sinai!)teaches us:

"Six things heal a man of his sickness with a complete cure, namely, cabbage, beet, a decoction of dried poley, the maw [of an animal], the womb, and the large lobe of the liver. Some add small fishes, which [not only have this advantage] but also make fruitful and invigorate a man's whole body."

zdub said...

I cited the Talmud passage in Brochos 57b - gehinnom is 60 times hotter than earthly fire. I think Christians copied this.

First of all, unless you can point to an earlier source than this, it is just as likely that the gemara you quoted had a Christian or pagan origin. The concept of gehinnom simply was a late, rabbinic development and even then was only thought of as a temporary punishment of 11 months.

Second of all, please don't tell me that you take that whole long section of aggadita literally?

yitz said...

There is a cold gehinom also ..
and JP never said gehinom is more than 11 months...(the maximum is actually twelve months for reshaim--we don't presume that anyone is a rasha, and so we stop saying kadish after 11 months.)

As to the out that one can say, "basically I'll do whatever I want and then suffer through the 12 months, and then I will still get to Gan Eden .." The Notzer Hesed deals with this person.

jewish philosopher said...

"what is the chance that we will burn in fires of hell should we be eating a cheeseburger?"

It is certain without doubt, as Maimonides wrote "11. I believe with perfect faith that G-d rewards those who keep His commandments, and punishes those who transgress Him."

However even according to the mistaken belief of the skeptics, that punishment is not certain, such behavior is clearly irrational.

"I have found some miracle cures for some diseases."

How do you think today's medical textbooks will sound in 1,500 years?

david said...

JP, in the link you added to show the Jewish faith to be the most logical you claim that there were only 4 men who penned anything eplaining Jesus miracles. If this were true you would have a point in claiming that this could be a conspiracy. However there is much writing out side of secular sources, including the TulmadThey donot always speak well of him but they do back up much of what is said in the Gospels

Rich said...

Of course, you are saying this only to non-religious Jews since there is no reason at all for non-Jews to take on the requirements of being Jewish. Furtermore, yo make the assumption that you can only lead a fulfilling life by being Orthodox is preposterous. Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not require everyone to convert. So is everyone who is not "lucky" enough to be born Jewish just damned?

Also, if Judaism is so great and is the answer to everything, why did G-d only give it to a select group of people?

Finally, why start the world with any other option, He should have just made Adam a Jew and the worlkd would have known no other way?

jewish philosopher said...

Judaism is available to anyone who wants to accept it. And, speaking from personal experience, being a Jew is better than being a gentile.

Gentiles are required to keep only seven commandments, which would include no idolatry, stealing, abortion, adultery or homosexuality among other things.

Rich said...

Sure Judaism is "available", but there is no real reason why someone who is not Jewish HAS to accept it.

You still didn't focus on my issue of the fact that if Judaism is the only answer, why G-d wouldn't just make us all Jews. It seems clear to me that it is not the only answer. Would G-d really make the whole earth and then only have a tiny fraction of a percent of the people fully focus their lives on Him?

You know my personal issues relating to this as I have a problem with the fact that I am forced to be Jewish because my parents were. Just as the son is not punished for the actions of their father, i do not believe the son should be obligated by the acceptance of the laws by their father.

badrabbi said...

"How do you think today's medical textbooks will sound in 1,500 years?"

JP and Orthodox Jews call the Talmud "The oral Torah" a “divine revelation from Sinai”. I once asked JP about the importance of Torah vs. Talmud and he replied that the Talmud is MORE important!

Now, JP compares the Talmud, a text that he claims more important than the Torah, to a 1500 year old textbook, asking my indulgence. “What do you expect from a 1500 year old text?” he seems to ask.

Dear JP, if the Talmud is a divine text, then it should be timeless as its content is holy. You can not compare it to a textbook as holy books should not become defunct.

So which is it, sir? Do you give the Talmud holy status or do you say it is a 1500 defunct book? If the former, how do you account for these 'miracle cures' being so obscenely simplistic?

I submit that since the Talmud seems to be brimming with old wise tales, since it is chuck full of remedies that do not work, since the science contained within it is consistent with the simplistic science of 2 millennia ago, the TALMUD IS NOT A HOLY BOOK. That is the point. And the ‘miracle cures’ I quoted from the Berakhot 57b are yet another nail in the coffin of the divinity of the Talmud.

jewish philosopher said...

Rich, the Jewish people accepted upon themselves to obey God (Exodus 19:8). Apparently, this meant that the Jews are God’s slaves (Leviticus 25:55). It is understood that the children of a slave woman are also the property of her owner. Therefore, the children of a Jewish mother are also Jews. I believe this is the legal basis for the hereditary nature of Judaism.

Every person is born into a certain set of circumstances and he must try to make the best of them whether he believes they are fair or not. And the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Bad, the science in the Talmud is based on the science of the their times, just like the science in modern day rabbinical works is based on the science of our times. Does that come as a great surprise?

badrabbi said...

It does not come as a great surprise that "just like the science in modern day rabbinical work is based on the science of our times".

It does, however, come as a surprise that while you admit this, you nevertheless, in the same breath, say that this 'rabbinical work' is divine! You ask me to worship and follow this work as a holy text. In the same sentence you admit that the Talmud is a 1500 year old rabbinical work containing defunct science and yet state that the Talmud is more holy than the Torah!

Often I wonder whether I am having trouble communicating my thoughts to you, JP. I re-read my writings, and they seem to me to be very clear. Yet you seem to ignore the plain meaning of my words and cling to your thoughts, perseverating. What I am wondering is whether the failing is mine or yours.

Avrum68 said...

"Often I wonder whether I am having trouble communicating my thoughts to you, JP"

I have to admit, you come across quite clear. And I don't understand why, if "the science in the Talmud is based on the science of the their times" is a fact, why can't Orthodox halacha evolve/change as well. I do believe the Conservative Movement is bang-on with respect to their appreciation of revelation at Sinai, and their understanding that the Oral Law is MAN MADE and has little to do with revelation.

jewish philosopher said...

I think this article sheds some light on medicine in the Talmud. It mentions "Rav Avraham ben HaRambam (Ma'amar Al Ha'agadot s.v. Da Ki Ata) says that Chazal gave these instructions based on the medical knowledge of their time, and they have no Torah basis."

Avrum, don't you think Moses explained how to keep Shabbos or what tefillin are? That's the Oral Law.

badrabbi said...


Welcome back! Hope married life is a happy one. Thanks for your comment.

Avrum68 said...

"Avrum, don't you think Moses explained how to keep Shabbos or what tefillin are? That's the Oral Law."

The tiny, tiny bit of knowledge I have about Mishnah and Gemmara suggests that rabbis debated what the Written text suggests, and by majority opinion, decided on rituals, prayers, dress, etc. To deny that socio-economic-cultural affected their choices is to be in complete denial. For example, let's look at this Mishnah:

"He who talks too much with women brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Torah and will in the end inherit Gehenna."

You're going to tell me that the gist of this teaching isn't misogynistic in nature, and reflects a time when such attitudes were held in high regard? My rabbi says "no". And though I love learning with him, I think he'd do well to supplement his Mishnah with some good ol' 1st year Social Work gender studies lit.

jewish philosopher said...

A great deal of the Oral Law in unanimous. For example, no Jew ever ate meat cooked in milk, regardless of the relationship between the animals providing the meat and the milk.

Spending too much time with your spouse is not a good idea. Absence makes the heart grow founder and familiarity breeds contempt.

If you want to know how much is too much, consult with a couple’s counselor.

Avrum68 said...

JP...I have to agree with other poster's on your blog...you don't address the specific arguement raised, rather you preach in circles about issues not raised.

"A great deal of the Oral Law in unanimous."

It may be, hell, "a great deal of my friends watch tv", but it has little to do with God's will. Again, I've always felt that the Oral Law was nothing more, though nothing less, than brilliant, spiritually enlightened men trying to understand what God desires from man/woman on a day to day basis. I also believe these men lived in cultures that had all sorts of ideas that are suspect, and these ideas produced Mishna's like the one I quoted.

jewish philosopher said...

If the Oral Law is bogus, how do you explain it's unique structure?

Avrum68 said...

Never said bogus, never. Just not divine.

Though I'm looking forward to reading your post. Be back later...

Cameron said...

An atheist, a Buddhist (non-Zen), an orthodox Jew and a Hindu are sitting around having lunch. Each orders their meals, and when they arrive the following disucssion occurs:

Orthodox Jew to the Atheist:

"Cameron, you shouldn't eat that slow roasted pulled pork sandwich with BBQ sauce, even if there is only a 1% chance that my faith is the one true faith, you put your soul at risk".

The Hindu says:

"Avrum, it is you who should not eat that hamburger, if there is even a 1% chance that my faith is true you put your soul in immortal peril by eating beef."

The Buddhist says:

"All of you have it wrong, if there is even a 1% chance that my faith is true, the eating of animal flesh puts your karma in serious unbalance - better to eat vegetarian!"

The atheist responds:

"Good thing there isn't even a 1% chance your faiths are true" - and calmly finishes his delicious meal.

Avrum68 said...

Cameron...percentages aside, I just got home from singing zimrot with friends...eating good shabbos meals...centered myself. A super relaxing, and refreshing day. If not for Judaism, I probably would've shopped...like all the other folks I saw shuffling from store to store. AND I believe God exists...wow, how lucky am I?

badrabbi said...

Zemirot aren't all they are cracked up to be, and shopping aint so bad!

On the whole though, being Jewish aint so bad either.

jewish philosopher said...

Cameron, if you want to go with percentages, a nice steamed flounder fillet is a lot better for your health. 100% chance.

It aways amazing me when people who don't believe in an afterlife don't try harder to at least extend this one.

Anonymous said...

This is called Pascal's Wager, and if you think it's a good reason to convert, you ought to convert to avoid the worst hell. Isn't that the Muslim hell? How do I know your hell is the worst?

I don't understand how you say being a Jew is better than being a gentile. You claim it's "from personal experience," but to me, your life sounds like hell.

You tout the fact that you have to follow more commandments like it's a plus. Commandments are a pain in the ass. Plus there's all the bigotry Jews have to put up with. Who would willingly take that on? Only a crazy person.

Then there's your version of strict Judaism in particular. You spend all your time studying the Torah, self-segregate, don't get to watch TV. It sounds really boring. You're living in a self-imposed religious hell already.

If gentiles can get into heaven by keeping their seven commandments, why would they want to convert to Judaism and make it harder to get to heaven?

jewish philosopher said...

Is Islam more likely to be true than Judaism?

Jews receive a far greater portion in the next world than gentiles do, in compensation for their greater efforts.