Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Essential Philosopher

I have now been blogging for almost three years. In honor of the anniversary, I am creating a mini-blog summarizing some of my major findings.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Documentary Hypothesis – a Critique

[Julius Wellhausen 1844 - 1918 an architect of modern Biblical Criticism]

The Documentary Hypothesis proposes that the Torah was written by several different authors between about 950 BCE through 450 BCE, at which point it was assembled into the present single document, probably by Ezra. This hypothesis is pretty much universally accepted by secularists.

There are several problems with this theory, in my humble opinion.

The first problem is the Samaritan Pentateuch. The Samaritans have not shared a common tradition with Jews since the division of the United Monarchy following the death of King Solomon. According to Ezra 4, the Samaritans were bitter enemies of the Jews in the time of Ezra. Clearly they would not have accepted a book composed by Ezra.

In addition to that, the Torah does not mention the city of Jerusalem, which was the center of Judaism from the time of King David up until the present.

Based upon this, it would appear that the latest the Torah could have been written would have been the time of Samuel, which was about 400 years after the Exodus.

In addition to this, no copies of the alleged pre-Ezra documents have ever been discovered anywhere, nor are they ever mentioned in any ancient literature. If they had been regarded as sacred for centuries, it is implausable that they quickly and entirely disappeared.

Also, it's logically inconsistent that secular scholars believe that the Torah is basically bogus, yet some apparently accept the Talmudic statement (Bava Basra 109b) that there existed in ancient Israel a priesthood descended from Moses, claiming that these priests wrote the E document. (See Richard E. Friedman in “Who Wrote the Bible” pages 48 and 79)

Advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis point out that different parts of the Torah are written in different styles. There is a simple explanation for this. The Talmud many times mentions God’s two character traits – the trait of mercy and the trait of justice. Mercy is represented by the name YHVH while justice is represented by Elohim (see Midrash Braishis Rabbah 73:3). The Talmud Tractate Megilah 31b states that Deuteronomy was written by Moses – it is a speech given by Moses, rather than having been simply dictated to him by God. Based upon this, we can understand why different portions of the Torah are written in different styles although they actually have a Mosaic authorship. Rather than refuting the single authorship of the Torah, Bible critics have merely rediscovered the midrash.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hanukah – An Eternal Holiday

Today, as we celebrate Hanukah, we should remember how the holiday began. Hanukah, as we say in al hanissim, commemorates the victory of the Jews in the Maccabean Revolt.

Interestingly, the Maccabean Revolt was primarily a civil war. Sadly, the Jewish people have never had a shortage of traitors and opportunists. Modern scholars have concluded that the revolt was basically a conflict between traditional Jews and Hellenizing Jews, with the Greeks merely, unwisely, intervening on the side of the Hellenizers. The first recorded casualty was a Hellenized Jew, killed by Matisyahu, a priest.

The outcome was that loyal Jews are still here today. On the other hand, the Hellenizers, together with their Greek patrons, have long ago been disposed of in the dust bin of history.

I have no doubt that today as well, the disagreements between the traditional, loyal Jews and the secularized “Jewish skeptics” will ultimately have the same result. In the same way that the Hellenized Jews worshipped the Greek pantheon and sacrificed swine, the secularized Jews believe in evolution. Both are equally pathetic. The Hellenizers had the Greek empire on their side. Modern secularizers have scientists and professors on their side. However in the end the righteous will prevail while the wicked will be destroyed.

Let’s all enjoy a truly happy Hanukah, light our menorahs and celebrate the miracle of the Torah’s survival in spite of all enemies, both internal and external.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Always let your conscience be your guide"

[from "Give a Little Whistle" sung by Jiminy Cricket]

I have noticed that many atheists claim that they are good people even though they don't believe in God or the Torah, because they follow their conscience and their conscience tells them to behave properly.

My question is: Where does the "conscience" come from? Is it something instinctive? If so, then why are primitive societies so violent? It would appear that the only true instincts which people have are to survive and to reproduce by any means available.

My guess is the following. I believe that what we call "conscience" is in fact a residue of religious morality.

For example, let's say a person is raised in a very religious Jewish home and then later in life he decides to become an atheist. As a child he was trained to respect his elders, to share with friends, to be generous and patient, etc. Even after he has a abandoned Judaism, he may continue to feel guilt if he transgresses these values. In other words, he has not entirely abandoning his earlier beliefs; he may choose to retain certain ones which he feels are not too burdensome. In a similar way, he may continue to light a menorah on Hanukah and go to a synagogue on Yom Kippur. His children likewise will be taught by him that it is "bad" to lie and steal and that it's "good" to help others and they too will have a "conscience" although probably it will be weaker than what their parents had. Gradually, these concepts will fade and disappear, just as the Jewish rituals disappear after a few generations.

I think that when a secular person asks himself “Is this the right thing to do? Is it ethical? Is it moral?” he is basically asking “Based on the residual religious beliefs which I still, perhaps subconsciously, retain, am I allowed to do this or not?” For secular people, morality is therefore often a complicated and controversial subject.

This helps us to understand places like for example Sweden, which seem to be very secular yet have a fairly low crime rate. The grandparents of today's Swedes were devout Lutherans and those values have not yet disappeared completely. Neither have Lutheran religious practices - Christmas, baptism, church weddings and so on are observed by almost all Swedes as far as I know. On the other hand, in countries where religion has been forcibly uprooted, like for example Russia, we find a society which includes so many people with no conscience that it almost cannot function. Likewise the United States, after a couple of generations of secularism, is becoming a "Generation Me" with a growing number of psychopaths.

A true and complete atheist should consider humans to be merely meat machines and he should never feel guilt. This explains, for example, the increasing popularity of stranger homocides and serial killing in the United States.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Thank God for our Rabbis and Rebbetzins

[Rabbi and Rebbetzin Holtzberg, may God avenge their deaths]

I was thinking recently about the huge debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who devote their lives to studying and teaching Torah on a full time, professional basis. These include the scholars who study full time in advanced Talmudic seminaries, the men and women who teach in Jewish religious schools as well as the pulpit rabbinate.

These people preserve the authentic enthusiasm and idealism for Judaism which we should all aspire too. They sacrifice financial security and material comforts for the sake of idealism. In some cases, they even make the ultimate sacrifice. For them Judaism is not a culture, like Irish culture or Italian culture, with a special cuisine, language and celebrations, having sentimental value but nothing more than that. It's also not a race; bear in mind that the concept of race is today considered to be bogus by most scientists. Rather Judaism is simply the will of God as revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai.

I can recall so many cases where I received so much kindness spiritually and physically from rabbis who have helped me throughout the years. When I was a teenager in Bnei Brak, Israel Rabbi Yaakov Kanievesky spent many hours answering my questions about Judaism. A neighbor of his, Rabbi Eliyahu Weintraub generously paid my rent for the first year following my marriage to my first wife in 1981. He also spent many hours personally counseling me free of charge. Rabbi Elazar Shach also gave me personal advice. He also provided financial support, without my requesting it, on one occasion.

The primary benefit of the rabbis and rebbeztins, however, is that they present a goal for everyone else to strive for. Through their pure devotion, they are the role models for us all. Everyone should seek to associate with them and be inspired by them.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Famous Atheist

Reinhard Heydrich – Gestapo chief, friend of Hitler, organizer of the Holocaust, Nazi par excellence, yet also a warm family man and sensitive violinist who felt no guilt. A psychopath. And an atheist.

Was he merely a weird aberration? Or was he in some aspects a symbol of modernity – a pioneer of the narcissism of Generation Me?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Psychopath and the Atheist

[a little light reading]

I just read this on a fascinating website:

Sociopaths lie, cheat, steal and even kill then they move on to the next victim.

If you only know one thing about psychology, you should know about sociopaths. Being aware of sociopaths could help you avoid emotional trauma, ruined finances, even an untimely death.

Sociopathy, also called psychopathy, is a personality disorder characterized by deceit on a scale most of us cannot imagine. These men and women are not crazy; they know exactly what they are doing. Here is how
Robert D. Hare, Ph.D., begins his book about psychopaths, Without Conscience:

"Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret."

Why is it so critical for you to know about sociopaths? Because millions of sociopaths are living among us. Yes, many of them are criminals, locked up in jail. But far more are on the street, hurting people without breaking laws, operating in the gray areas between legal and illegal, or simply eluding the authorities. They can appear to be normal, but they pose a tremendous threat to us all.

Sociopaths exhibit a range of behaviors. In fact, Dr. Hare diagnoses them according to their score on a scale. So just as you could describe someone's intelligence as ranging from smart to genius, you could describe a sociopath as somewhere between sleazy and serial killer. If you see sleazy, he or she may be on the low end of the scale, but they're still bad news.

This web site is dedicated to informing you about sociopaths so you can protect yourself. Learn to spot the behaviors that might indicate someone is a sociopath. Once they are adults, sociopathic men and women do not change. They cannot be rehabilitated. The sooner you can get away from them, the better off you'll be.

It suddenly struck me – what is the difference between a typical atheist and a psychopath/sociopath? Apparently, absolutely nothing

Monday, December 01, 2008

Am I a Traitor?

During my years of blogging, I have been asked several times: How can I criticize Orthodox Jews who have become atheists? After all, didn’t I reject my own atheistic upbringing and become an Orthodox Jew? So therefore, since I am also a traitor to my people, how can I criticize others?

That is an interesting point, and I would like to illustrate this with a similar example.

During the Second World War, there were some Germans who protested against the Nazi government. One of the most famous was Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old student who was arrested on February 18, 1943 for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at the University of Munich. Four days later she was executed by guillotine for treason.

On the other hand, take for example William Joyce. He was an American who supported Germany during the Second World War and made hundreds of pro-Nazi radio broadcasts from Berlin. He was arrested by the British after the war and hanged for treason at age 40 on January 3, 1946.

Joyce and Scholl – both traitors, both executed. Were they both the same? Or was one good and one evil? I guess it depends on your point of view. If you are a Nazi, of course Scholl was evil and Joyce was good. If you are anti-Nazi, the opposite is true.

In regards to myself compared to someone like let’s say “Yeshivish Atheist”, I think the same could be said. We are both traitors. If you are pro-Jewish, I am good and he is evil. If you are pro-atheist then I am evil and he is good.

However in any case, could Scholl for example have fairly criticized Joyce for his treason? I don't see why not. I don't think she viewed herself as a traitor.