Tuesday, June 30, 2009
[a typical JP critic?]
In the Talmud, R. Chanina remarked, "I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students" (Taanis 7a)
On this blog, I find that I do learn a great deal from the comments left by readers, although frankly I am often very disappointed - so many of the comments are simply irrational and illogical.
I have started to notice a pattern.
The bulk of the comments seem to fall into several categories:
Wishful thinking. This means forming beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence or rationality. This is really the rock bottom basis of all false religions, including atheism. For example: A transcendent, intelligent and eternal being cannot exist. Therefore Judaism is false.
Argument from authority. For example: Most scientists believe in evolution, so it must be true.
Appeal to the people. This is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or all people believe it; it alleges, "If many believe so, it is so." For example: 99.99% of educated intelligent people of the world are not Orthodox Jews, therefore Orthodox Judaism must be false.
Ad hominem argument. This means assuming an argument is false because there is something wrong with the person making it. For example: You are close minded and fanatic therefore you’re wrong.
Argument from personal incredulity. This means "Without having any rational reason, I don't believe this is possible, so it can't be true." For example: I can't believe that a God exists who is telling me what to do therefore it cannot be true.
Straw man argument. A fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. For example: I will say that Orthodox Jewish communities are more peaceful than secular communities. Someone will argue "Islamic terrorists prove that religion doesn't make people better."
Begging the question. This refers to arguing for a conclusion that has already been assumed in the premise. For example: The Deluge could not have happened, because it involves miracles. Miracles cannot happen because there is no God. We know there is no God because the Bible is wrong. We know the Bible is wrong because it mentions the Deluge and we know the Deluge didn’t happen.
Appeal to Ridicule. This is a fallacy in which ridicule or mockery is substituted for evidence in an "argument." For example "You think God cares if you eat pork! LOL!"
Tautology. This an unnecessary or unessential (and usually unintentional) repetition of meaning, using different and dissimilar words that effectively say the same thing twice. For example: Supernatural events never happen because anything which does happen is by definition natural, although we may not yet understand it.
Burden of Proof. An atheist may argue that the burden of proof rests on the Jew to prove that the Biblical God exists. In other words, until there is convincing evidence presented, there is no reason to believe in the Biblical God. This is true. However by the same token the burden of proof rests on the atheist to demonstrate that evolution exists and could have created us. Until there is convincing evidence presented, there is no reason to believe in evolution.
The truth is that irrational thinking is universal in addiction disorders. It is known as "stinking thinking". Addiction is the only disease which tells the sufferer that they do not have a disease. Any thoughts that promote this lie constitute stinking thinking.
Based upon this experience, my impression is that most people resolve some of the most important questions in their lives by making irrational, emotional decisions rather than by careful research and logical analysis. I guess that’s an important lesson in itself.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 12:10 PM
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
[the Western Wall, Jerusalem]
Personally, I believe very strongly in the importance of physical fitness. I run about twenty miles a week and I lift weights several hours a week. Being active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
Obviously, just like physically we must work to remain fit, we must do so spiritually as well.
The place for spiritual fitness is not the gym, but the synagogue, and the means of achieving fitness is not the weight bench but the prayer book.
Whenever we pray we should meditate deeply on our prayers and concentrate with all our hearts. I find that it's very helpful to think for a moment about what I'm about to say before a blessing. Remember that all of our prayers either directly quote from the Hebrew Bible or paraphrase it. They include the profoundest thoughts. Prayer is called a “service of the heart” (Talmud Taanis 2a). Prayer is the ideal time to reflect on the all good which God does for us and to contemplate all of the miracles and wisdom of His creation. Through this we can come to greater levels of love of God, as Maimonides writes in Hilchos Yesodei haTorah 2:1, the way to love God is to think about His creations.
This also applies to all the blessings which we recite constantly all day, which should serve as constant reminders to reawaken us to love God. It's through this that we can come to true happiness.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 4:08 PM
Monday, June 15, 2009
[one of my favorites]
This is a little bit off the topic of this blog, however since this question arises from time to time I feel that it is worthwhile to deal with it in a separate post.
Orthodox Judaism takes the issue of heresy very seriously. Heresy basically means the denial that any part of the Torah was authored by God. The Torah means the Pentateuch as well as the traditional rabbinical interpretation of the Pentateuch as recorded in the Talmud. Obviously, the idea that there is no God would be included in heresy. (See Talmud Sanhedrin 90a and Maimonides Laws of Repentance, iii. 17.)
As a rule, for someone to qualify as a heretic, one must have studied Torah and then have rejected it. Therefore Maimonides considered the Karaites to be legitimate Jews, in spite of their rejection of the Talmud, because they had lived since birth in this tradition and had been taught nothing else.
The Talmudic attitude regarding heretics is negative in the extreme.
First of all, he must be hated. We pray constantly for his complete destruction. When he dies, his relatives celebrate his death (Yoreh De'ah , 345, 5) . He may not read from the Torah in the synagogue or lead communal prayers. If he pours wine, a Jew may not drink it . I think this helps us to understand why it is imperative to identify such people and purge them from the community.
As far as the afterlife is concerned, the Talmud (Rosh haShanah 17a) makes their fate clear: They will be punished in hell forever. The Talmud explains that the fire of hell is sixty times stronger than ordinary fire (Berakoth 57b). This is referred to in Isaiah 66:24 “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled against Me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” After being totally ostracized by the Jewish community in this world, they will after death face eternal suffering.
In summary, the Jew who has studied the Torah and then rejected it is not merely a Jew who is imperfect or who has sinned or who has a problem. He is an anti-Jew. We must love the Jew: Leviticus 19:18 states “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.” But we must hate the heretic: Psalms 139:21-22 “Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate Thee? And do not I strive with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with utmost hatred; I count them mine enemies.” A Jew will enjoy eternal paradise after death, “All Israel have a portion in the World to Come” Sanhedrin 90a. The heretic, in contrast, will burn in hell forever.
The above is referring to someone who is merely a heretic privately, however obviously someone who is going further and attempting to persuade other Jews to become heretics is committing a far more heinous crime and his punishment will be proportionately greater. This would include the many “Jewish skeptic” bloggers on the Internet today.
It should be noted incidentally that of course a Jewish heretic may repent, just like any sinner, and receive complete atonement. However, this process may be so stressful and painful, if done sincerely, that it will result in the death of the penitent, as we see from the case of R. Eleazar b. Dordia (‘Abodah Zarah 17a).
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:38 AM
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
[Photograph in a letter sent home by a German solider. It was intercepted by the Polish Home Army. The back of the photo is inscribed “Ukraine 1942, Jewish Aktion, Ivanogrod”]
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a miracle means “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs”. In that sense, I believe that the Holocaust was clearly a miracle, although an extremely painful one.
On January 20, 1942 15 leading German government officials, the majority of whom were holders of doctorates, gathered in Berlin to organize the systematic and complete extermination of European Jewry. This was done at the direction of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. During the next three years, until May 7, 1945, approximately five million innocent, unarmed Jews would be murdered, in addition to the one million who had already been killed previously by the German authorities. This seems to have been a unique event. There may be no comparable example of coolly premeditated mass murder.
The strangeness of the Holocaust cannot be overstated.
First of all, Germans were on the average highly educated and civilized. They were very cultured people. They were not superstitious savages. Prior to 1933, there had been no anti-Semitic violence in Germany since 1819. German Jews had been granted legal equality in 1871. Twelve thousand German Jews gave their lives for the Fatherland from 1914 to 1918. Many German Jews had converted to Christianity, intermarried and had family ties with gentiles. Few were conspicuously observant.
Secondly, in 1942, Germany was in the midst of a tremendous battle for survival, fighting on all fronts against the USSR, England and America. It would lose this battle three years later. The idea of committing precious administrators, troops, trains, fuel, weapons, ammunition, etc to the pointless murder of civilians, civilians who could have worked productively, was not only criminal, it was inexplicable.
The Holocaust is so unbelievable that one can begin to understand the logic behind Holocaust Denial.
Yet we know it happened - but why?
I my humble opinion, there is only one plausible explanation.
The Jewish Enlightenment began in Berlin in 1783 with the publication of a translation of the Pentateuch into German by Moses Mendelssohn. From there it spread across Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, causing the most flagrant, voluntary abandonment of Jewish observance in history. Millions of Jews embraced secular Zionism, Communism and Socialism.
As the Torah predicts, devastation followed. Beginning in Berlin, spreading across Europe but primarily eastward, the war against the Jews spread, just as the Jews’ war against God had spread.
One rabbi, who was later murdered, commented “Because people no longer believe in hell, God brought hell to this world.”
Regarding the over one million children who were killed in Holocaust, the rabbis have taught “minors may die by their fathers sin, by Heavenly decree” Sifre, Devarim 24:147. Also, a child may be a reincarnation of a adult who sinned in a previous life.
While it is true that many Jews, especially those in Poland, were still observant, however even in Poland observance seems to have been weak. Poland had a pre-war Jewish population of 3.3 million. Of those, to the best of my knowledge, no more than 100,000 voted for the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel party in the pre-war Polish Parliament. The secularist Zionist and Bund were far more numerous. And in many cases God may punish the righteous because they did not make sufficient efforts to influence the evil.
On the other hand, in the ultra-Orthodox strongholds in the rural regions of Hungary and Romania I believe that a large percentage, especially young adults and rabbis, did escape the Nazis. Their deportation to Poland began in the spring of 1944 and many survived until the war ended. Many Lithuanian rabbinical students also survived. Many of them fled to Shanghai, China or were deported to Siberia by the Soviet government in 1941, where most survived the war. These groups, together with their descendents, make up the bulk of Orthodoxy today.
North African Jewry was far less affected by the Jewish Enlightenment and also far less affected by the Holocaust.
The Jewish communities in America and Israel, although also mostly irreligious, were not affected by the Holocaust, perhaps because God does not wish the Judaism to be entirely extinguished and therefore He has left these countries as safe havens. Additionally, they were new communities, which were not yet deserving of such a terrible fate on a communal level. Let us hope that we all soon repent and avert any future catastrophes, God willing. We must not forget for a moment the enormity of our responsibilities and the horrendous consequences of failure. Ever action is ultimately rewarded or punished, in this world or in the next world. The Holocaust was simply a case where it clearly happened in this world.
Important to note as well, the perpetrators did not escape without punishment. The number of Germans who perished during the war (counting only those who lived within the pre-war borders of Germany) seems to approximately equal the number of Jews killed by the Germans. What goes around comes around.
It is true that I am implying that generally the victims of the Holocaust were sinners who were deserving of their fate however I believe that this is in fact obviously true and we will honor their deaths by learning from this.
In my opinion, the Holocaust is one of the strongest proofs of the truth of Judaism.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 7:38 AM
Friday, June 05, 2009
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
[a page from the Aleppo Codex]
If our Creator would choose to write a book and deliver it to mankind, we would expect it to be a book of exceptional wisdom. The Torah is clearly such a book.
Monotheism greatly simplifies our understanding of the universe and originated in the Torah.
Altruism, the idea of caring for other people without getting anything in return, is something which brings great happiness to the world and originated in the Torah.
The concept of the weekend brings a welcome periodic respite from work and originated in the Torah.
Pleasure is psychologically necessary, however it's easy to slip into dangerous addictions. The Torah teaches us how to live a balanced life.
To help us to observe all the above, Judaism includes a total educational system.
The Torah is also the oldest book written using an alphabet.
Instead of being a meaningless story of violence, like for example the Iliad, the Torah is a book which more than any other has changed the world.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 8:37 AM