Tuesday, November 30, 2010
[perhaps a drop exaggerated]
The New York Times today denounced anonymous Internet writers.
I can only see "Amen!" to that. Clearly we would find much less nasty, hateful nonsense on the Internet and more thoughtful dialogue if anonymity were prohibited. As the Times Op-ed piece points out "most trolls wouldn’t have the gall to say to another person’s face half the things they anonymously post on the Internet".
Now, I know that there are those who will claim "I cannot reveal my identity on the Internet because if I did I would not be able to write honest, important things without quickly being assassinated." Right. Authors are assassinated every day on the streets of New York. In reality, these people are just obnoxious cowards who are probably afraid to reveal what failures they actually are.
"Morality, Plato argues, comes from full disclosure; without accountability for our actions we would all behave unjustly." This is so true it hardly needs to be stated and I think it explains why nearly all Internet atheists refuse to identify themselves. They don't want to be held accountable for the garbage they write.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 4:42 AM
Thursday, November 25, 2010
[the first page of a lifelong journey]
The essense of Judaism is the Talmud. The basis of all Jewish law is the Talmud and these laws govern every aspect of a Jew's life. An Orthodox Jew's greatest aspiration is to be an expert in the Talmud and most adult Orthodox Jews study the Talmud daily. An Orthodox Jewish woman's highest aspiration is to marry a Talmudic scholar and to encourage her husband's study.
Studying the Talmud can however be daunting to modern students.
First of all, I believe that the Talmud is not a complete book. What happened is that the rabbinical law was originally passed down orally from generation to generation. Jews would spend every spare moment reviewing and repeating the laws of the Torah as it is stated "thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deut. 6:7).
Eventually, however, a brief summary of the rabbinical law had to be recorded in order to prevent the loss of legal details. This was the Talmud, compiled in what is now Iraq about 500 CE. The Talmud is therefore not an encyclopedia of Jewish law - it is a memory aid for people who are already fluent in Jewish law. Even after mastering the languages (a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic) the modern reader is often lost and hopelessly confused when attempting to study the Talmud. The commentaries of Rashi and Tosofos help to some degree, however they were also written for an audience which already had a high level of Talmudic knowledge.
Thank God, a new edition of the Talmud has now been published which solves this problem - the Schottenstein edition from Artscroll publishers. This edition includes a translation with a commentary embedded in it and lengthy footnotes, which makes the Talmud intelligable to the modern English speaking reader. With 72 volumes, it dwarfs the Encyclopedia Brittanica at 32 volumes.
Nevertheless, the style of the Talmud is unique. The earlier Talmudic sages were experts in finding meaning in tiny nuances of Scripture, an art which was afterwards lost. The later Talmudic sages were experts in finding meaning in tiny nuances of the comments of the earlier sages. Today we no longer have the insight and expertise to understand the criteria used by the Talmudic sages for their analysis and therefore we must simply accept their conclusions as facts, even if the reasoning behind their conclusions may be obscure. The validity of the Talmud rests upon the assumption that earlier generations, being closer to the revelation at Mount Sinai, were on a proportionally higher level of spirituality and scholarship.
For the sincere Orthodox Jew, the Talmud is his lifelong love, his mobile holy sanctuary, his refuge from all sadness and persecution, his source of all inspiration. Other religions have their huge cathedrals, mosques or temples. For the Jew, exiled and persecuted, with everything physical taken from him, the Talmud is his monument to spirituality.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:23 AM
Thursday, November 18, 2010
[from the Washington Haggadah, written in Bonn, Germany 1478]
"Who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation on earth" (Sam. II 7:23)
From a careful and unbiased study of Jewish history, it is clear that the Jewish people were, indeed, raised to an extraordinary spiritual level 3300 years ago at Mt. Sinai.
It is no exaggeration to say that the survival of the Jewish people as one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world is an open miracle. Where are the ancient Moabites, Hittites and Philistines today? How many thousands of years ago did they disappear, absorbed by other, more dominant cultures, changing completely their language and religion time and again according to political and social pressures? This is natural and normal and a constant process in world history, as one culture is absorbed or destroyed by another. Why have the Jews been so strangely, uniquely immune to this, at least up until the last century?
Note the physical situation of the Jewish people. They are not a huge nation living in total isolation like, for example, the Chinese or the Hindus. They began as a small nation in the eastern Mediterranean, easy prey for neighboring empires. Two thousand four hundred years ago they were conquered and dispersed. Almost invariably they were forced to live as a minority among other nations; constantly in contact with and completely at the mercy of the dominant majority. To remain distinctive and preserve such a radically different life-style, inviting almost constant ostracism, financial sacrifice as well as outright massacre for so many centuries is incomprehensible, psychologically as well as historically. Why did few choose to assimilate, right down to modern times? To be sentimental about ones ancestral traditions is understandable. For an entire nation to calmly face martyrdom for over 2000 years for their traditions is inexplicable.
Important to note as well is the amazing vitality of the Jewish people. One would logically have expected the Jews to be reduced long ago to a few isolated, primitive villages in the mountains of Iraq (if they survived at all). Instead they have created flourishing, vigorous communities throughout Europe and the Middle East. Their piety, kindness and intellectualism have been extraordinary. They published libraries of sacred literature (they had no other type) during centuries of poverty and persecution. When few gentiles were literate, an illiterate Jew was a rarity. Jews generally made up the middle class of craftsmen, physicians, merchants and bankers and therefore were (reluctantly) tolerated by the surrounding gentiles. It is known that in medieval Europe many Christian noblemen demanded Jewish doctors and treasurers in spite of how much they were despised. Even following secularization this vitality has been clearly apparent, at least for several generations until assimilation is total. Witness the fact that approximately 20% of Nobel Prize winners have been Jews, although Jews make up merely .2% of the world population, and in spite of the fact that in the first half of this century the Jewish people were largely devastated by the chaos and genocide of World War I and World War II. In the cases of Jesus, Marx, Freud and Einstein we see how even Jews who were far removed from authentic Judaism achieved tremendous recognition in world history. Witness as well the creation of Israel, which demonstrates how even more or less secularized Jews, after over 2000 years of exile, retained such a strong attachment to the ancient Jewish homeland and language. (Can anyone imagine the ancient Hittites, for example, reestablishing in the 20th century an independent state, complete with their ancient language?)
All the above was nicely summarized by Mark Twain in an essay entitled "Concerning the Jews", published 1898:
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one per cent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded into dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
Consider also the tremendous unity of Judaism throughout the centuries. The Jews were scattered in thousands of independent and, to some extant, isolated communities from Afghanistan to Morocco and from Lithuania to Yemen. It would have been natural for them all to remain unanimous on certain basic principles (e.g. the Scriptures, monotheism, not eating pork, Sabbath observance) while diverging in everything else, adapting and changing the tradition to fit in with their needs and situation. We would expect to find very distinct and independent Yemenite Judaism, Polish Judaism, Persian Judaism, Moroccan Judaism, German Judaism, etc. each with its own ritual and theology. This is taken for granted in other religions (e.g. an Episcopalian Christian has very little in common with an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian). Jews however, until very recently never disagreed on anything significant. Two hundred years ago a Jew from Amsterdam could have married a Jew from Baghdad with no change in theology, no important change in ritual and certainly no feeling of converting to a different sect for either of them. (It should be noted as well that deviant Jewish, or psuedo-Jewish, sects such as the Karaites, Sadducces or Samaritans never, as far as anyone knows, constituted more than a very small minority compared to mainstream, rabbinical Judaism). This extraordinary unity testifies to the incredible loyalty of the Jews to their traditions. [The phylacteries found with the Dead Sea scrolls also give us an idea of the authenticity of Jewish tradition - not only did they conform to the specifications written in the Talmud 500 years later but they even conformed to the opinions of Talmudic commentaries written over 1000 years later in far-away France!]
Consider also the five levels of Jewish sacred literature. The authors of the Mishnah never contradicted the prophets. The authors of the Talmud likewise stood in awe of the authors of the Mishnah. The early Talmudic commentators would never contradict the Talmud. The later commentators with very rare exception never contradict the earlier ones. This phenomenon clearly indicates the gradual decline of the Jewish people from a great original spiritual level.
All this points to the reality of the Mt. Sinai revelation, which lifted the Jews far above the rest of mankind. It also demonstrates the integrity of the Torah tradition - since the Jewish people were raised to such a high level it is clear that until recently none except a few of the most ignorant would have deviated from the genuine tradition.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:15 AM
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
[why do we keep persecuting them?]
Lately, I have received a number of comments from people accusing me of hatred, mass murder, Fascism, etc because of my condemnation of homosexuality. I was even expelled from nursing school thanks to having expressed my opinion about this. I guess homosexuals believe I don't deserve to live.
So, having had a little time to think, I agree. People should be free to do whatever they like, provided that they don't hurt anyone else. Whatever works. Whatever turns you on.
However, to my horror, I now see that many of my new gay and atheist friends are guilty of the SAME EXACT SIN which I committed!!
I'm talking about adults who love children. I mean really love children.
They include about 5% of the population, roughly the same as gays.
And they are hated. Pursued. Imprisoned. Branded for life. Like gays were back in the dark ages before Stonewall. (I walked through the village last week believe it or not, crying bitter tears of repentance.)
When will we have a Childlovers' Stonewall? How long will these precious men suffer horrible persecution because of meaningless superstition and bigotry? Many commit suicide. These men are an innocent, beautiful sexual minority. There is nothing wrong with them and they can't change how God made them.
We have major works of literature portraying childlovers, for example Lolita and also the Dutch movie For a Lost Soldier.
Psychiatrists have proven that pedophilia is not an illness. There is no reason why older men cannot engage in respectful, loving, safe relationships with little boys and girls. Even marriage should not be discouraged. Whatever works.
I hope we will soon see churches and temples for childlovers where adults and their little friends can worship openly together. Childlovers in the military could give out candy and toys to children in other countries and spread more democratic, American love.
To the pedophile haters out there, I can only beg you - don't make the mistake I did of trying to impose your beliefs and fears on others. Let freedom reign! Peace! Rainbows! And if you dare disagree with me I'll hunt you down and make sure you end up homeless, or better, dead because you don't deserve to live you scum.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 1:21 PM
Sunday, November 07, 2010
[optimized to the limits of physics]
The New York Times recently published an article pointing out some new insights which physicists have discovered regarding the perfection and efficiency of living things.
For example, scientists have learned that the fundamental units of vision, the photoreceptor cells that carpet the retinal tissue of the eye and respond to light, are not just good or great or phabulous at their job. They are not merely exceptionally impressive by the standards of biology, with whatever slop and wiggle room the animate category implies. Photoreceptors operate at the outermost boundary allowed by the laws of physics, which means they are as good as they can be, period. Each one is designed to detect and respond to single photons of light — the smallest possible packages in which light comes wrapped.
Scientists have identified and mathematically anatomized an array of cases where optimization has left its fastidious mark, among them the superb efficiency with which bacterial cells will close in on a food source; the precision response in a fruit fly embryo to contouring molecules that help distinguish tail from head; and the way a shark can find its prey by measuring micro-fluxes of electricity in the water a tremulous millionth of a volt strong — which, as Douglas Fields observed in Scientific American, is like detecting an electrical field generated by a standard AA battery “with one pole dipped in the Long Island Sound and the other pole in waters of Jacksonville, Fla.” In each instance, biophysicists have calculated, the system couldn’t get faster, more sensitive or more efficient without first relocating to an alternate universe with alternate physical constants.
Researchers have shown that an E. coli microbe navigating its way through a chemically chaotic environment and over to food relies on an algorithm of compare-contrast-act, the note-trading taking place between surface receptors on the bacterium’s front and aft. “The reliability of its decision-making is so high,” said Dr. Bialek, “that it couldn’t do much better if it counted every single molecule in its environment.”
As science expands our knowledge of creation, we can only stand in overwhelming awe and love for our infinitely wise Creator.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 12:09 PM
Monday, November 01, 2010
[can we trust them?]
The idea behind the Gay Liberation movement, which began about 1960 in New York, is that homosexuals are a race, similar to Negros and therefore to discriminate against them in any way is merely a form of racism - irrational hatred of someone who has different physical characteristics. They argue that just like blacks they were born the way they are and cannot change even if they wanted to and they just want to be respected and accepted like everyone else is.
The fact is that scientifically this is nonsense. There is no homosexual race and homosexuality is caused by cultural influences and childhood experiences as well as by genetics. There have been many societies in which homosexuality was rare or unknown. In addition to that the Torah merely prohibits male to male anal intercourse, which in any case is clearly an unhygienic and unhealthy practice.
Claiming homosexuals to be a race is basically equivalent to claiming that alcoholics are a race. Men having anal intercourse with other men is a vice not a race.
The fact is that since 1960, every type of sexual behavior (except regular, married sex) has become more common in the US - sex before marriage, adultery, masturbation, sex with children, sado-masochism, sex with the same sex, sex for money, sex during or after murder, oral sex, anal sex, etc. This trend is continuing. This has created a wave of abortions, fatherless children, grisly serial killings, pedophilia and disease, but not much else unfortunately.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 3:27 AM