Friday, June 30, 2006

Kabbalah from whom? Sinai via teachers or individually from heaven (birds,trees, inanimate objects and the dead)?

I am reading Lawrence Fine’s Physician of The Soul, Healer of the Cosmos available at

It is a fascinating and easy to read study of the Arizal, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-72), the great Kabbalist of Tzfat and the main source for contemporary Kabbalah. Reading the book one gets a good feel for the sources of Kabbalah and for me, it confirmed my strong suspicions about its sources.

We have been fed a canard in the Yeshiva world that Kabbalah is an old tradition, a Mesora, going back to Sinai and anyone that doubts it is suspect. I was brought up in that type of an environment, and coming from a very Chassidish background, always felt guilty about my skepticism. During my early teenage years I discovered Rambam and started reading him without understanding much. In Yeshiva I was told that I was going on the wrong path, and told to read Nefesh Hachaim and Tanya, which of course led me back to Ramban, Recanati, Zohar, Maharal and forward to Sifrei Chassidus. I tried hard to understand and believe the stuff I was reading but I knew deep down it was wrong. I have great respect for Ramban and his rational way of thinking in general, so I always felt that I was a bad boy, hoping one day that I will become smarter. I was baffled by the Gaon of Vilna (1720-97), the great genius of the 18th century, who seemed to accept Kabbalah as a tradition. With time, as I was trying to understand more, I read Gershon Scholem and many of his colleagues and pupils, Y.Tishbi, Moshe Idel, and Professor Dan et al and came to realize that I was wasting my time and if I wanted to understand Judaism and what it stands for, I had to turn back to Rambam. There I found the Mesora that leads back to Sinai and explains, from a religious perspective, the existential issues we are confronted with daily. So for the last fifteen years or so, with the help of great Chaverim, Rambam has become my focus both Machshavah and Halacha - and what a great trip it is!

Now back to Fine. The book lays out in the first chapters the background of Tzfat into which Arizal landed. I want to focus however on one section that is an unbelievable revelation. First a quote from Recanati, Parshas Naso, where he describes the sources of Kabbalah.

For he [Elijah} revealed himself to Rabbi David, head of the rabbinical court [av bet din] and taught him the mysteries of the Kabbalah. He transmitted it, for his part, to his son, the Rabad [i.e. R. Abraham ben David – the Ba’al Hahasagot on Rambam] and he [Elijah] also revealed himself to him, and he transmitted to his son, Isaac the Blind, blind from birth, and to him too he revealed himself. The latter in turn transmitted these teachings to two disciples of his, R. Ezra [of Gerona] author of a commentary on the Song of Songs (see Chavel Kitvei Haramban part 2, Pirush Shir Hashirim Hameyuchas Laramban where he identifies R.Azriel as the author based on a different Recanati – more about this Pirush in a coming post), and R. Azriel [of Gerona] after which it was transmitted to the Ramban.”

Quite an interesting quote. Anyone that is familiar with Rambam and the Hasagot HaRa’avad knows that he mentions several times that Ruach Hakodesh visited his Bet Midrash. (E.g. Hil. Lulav 8:5). The rational explanation is that he wanted to emphasize the Chiddush in his idea and attributed it to inspiration. That in itself is not that outlandish and necessarily mystical or revelatory (Nevuah). I say that because it is a Halachik imperative that revelation has no influence in Halacha after Moshe.

There is no question that tradition allowed for a certain amount of mysticism, (more Platonic then mystical really) and there were legitimate schools that were inclined in that direction going back to Talmudic times. I believe however that they were very contained and did not deviate from the basic axioms about God laid out by the Rabbis. Rambam addresses some of these quotes from Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer and other Midrashim. I understand therefore these great Rishonim as claiming new insights in ancient texts and ideas and attributing them to Elijah or inspiration. They however inadvertently opened a Pandora’s Box. Here is a quote from R. Chaim Vital (1543-1620) the great pupil of Arizal and the major source for Arizal thought, in his Sha’ar Ruach Hakodesh p.19:

“Concerning his attainments, it is impossible for one to relate them [even] in general terms, much less in detail. However these are the wondrous and true things I witnessed with my own eyes: He knew how to make a future soul appear before him, as well as the soul of a living or deceased person, from among the early as well as later sages.”

This should be read in contrast with Rambam Hil. Avodah Zara 11:13: -
כללו של דבר: כל העושה מעשה כדי שיבוא המת ויודיעו--לוקה, שנאמר "לא יימצא בך . . . ודורש אל המתים" (דברים יח,י-יא)

That in itself is bad enough when used to learn the future. How much worse when used to teach supposedly God’s words. He continues:

He could inquire of them whatever he wished concerning knowledge of the future and secret mysteries of Torah. The prophet Elijah may his memory be a blessing, would also appear to him and teach him. He would also recognize the letters on the forehead and [was adept at] the science of physiognomy, as well as at [recognizing] the lights that are upon the skin and body of an individual. [He was also skilled at recognizing] the lights in the hair, the chirping of birds, and the language of trees and plants. [He understood] the speech even of inanimate things… [He knew] the language of the burning candle and the flaming coal. [!] He was able to see the angels who announce all the proclamations [from on high], as is well known, and to converse with them.”

What to me is the most intriguing is that RCV admits that the “secrets of the Torah” transmitted by his teacher the Arizal were a result of Revelation and inspiration, and had no direct connection to Sinai and Mesora. The magical tone to all this is to me very scary. Professor Fine quotes other pupils of Arizal who said similar things about how Arizal acquired his knowledge. I can live with inspiration but what about birds, trees, inanimate things and the dead past and future?!?

At best I can try to argue that Arizal used this inspiration (weird as it is) to explain old texts. That being the case why should that be considered more traditional then Rambam’s rational explanations of similar texts. To my mind the burden of proof that the Kabbalah is Mesora rests on the Mekubal im. Until they can show us that it is, I consider Kabbalah potentially dangerous theologically.

I will show in future posts how insidiously this superstition has penetrated our praxis. It would be a great service to Judaism if a Talmid Chacham would have the courage to uncover these infestations and expunge them allowing us to return to the pure worship of our pre Kabbalah forebears.

I would like to make one point though. We find that these concepts have survived a long time within Judaism and although the theology is erroneous, the followers have stayed within the fold generation after generation. Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz addressed this many times and argued that a Jew that is theologically misguided, as long as he keeps to Halacha meticulously, he will be accepted within the Jewish people. It is only if he deviates that he slowly falls by the wayside. I believe that he is right although this wrong headedness definitely pushes off the time of “Umale'ah Ha'aretz Dea'ah et Hashem”.

(This is interesting in light of the discussions about “Orthopraxy” that pop up every so often on the JBlogs).

Let us hope we see the light of truth soon. Good Shabbos.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Is Emunah Peshutah blind faith?

I always get irritated when people refer to ignorance as Emunah Peshutah. Nebech an idolater is still an idolater and a person that believes in a comprehensible God is wrong and does not believe in the God of Israel.

Rambam in Moreh 1:35 states;

That God is incorporeal, that He cannot be compared with His creatures, that He is not subject to external influence; these are things which must be explained to every one according to his capacity, and they must be taught by way of tradition to children and women, to the stupid and ignorant, as they are taught that God is One, that He is eternal, and that He alone is to be worshipped. Without incorporeality there is no unity, for a corporeal thing is in the first case not simple, but composed of matter and form which are two separate things by definition, and secondly, as it has extension it is also divisible. When persons have received this doctrine, and have been trained in this belief, and are in consequence at a loss to reconcile it with the writings of the Prophets, the meaning of the latter must be made dear and explained to them by pointing out the homonymity and the figurative application of certain terms discussed in this part of the work. Their belief in the unity of God and in the words of the Prophets will then be a true and perfect belief.”

In other words if a child is taught that God is transcendental and as he grows up he is confronted with the text which seems to contradict that, he is forced to think about this. His Rebbis should grasp the opportunity and explain to him the real way we understand God. We can only understand the physical but we know and can infer that there is a God Creator whose essence is not understood or known. Rambam continues:

Those who are not sufficiently intelligent to comprehend the true interpretation of these passages in the Bible, or to understand that the same term admits of two different interpretations, may simply be told that the scriptural passage is clearly understood by the wise, but that they should content themselves with knowing that God is incorporeal, that He is never subject to external influence, as passivity implies a change, while God is entirely free from all change, that He cannot be compared to anything besides Himself, that no definition includes Him together with any other being, that the words of the Prophets are true, and that difficulties met with may be explained on this principle. This may suffice for that class of persons, and it is not proper to leave them in the belief that God is corporeal, or that He has any of the properties of material objects, just as there is no need to leave them in the belief that God does not exist, that there are more Gods than one, or that any other being may be worshipped.”

Emunah Peshuta is not to believe in a God of our imagination, never mind how comforting such a God may be. It is accepting on faith, what smarter people have concluded about God, until developing one’s own insights and confirming the correctness of those conclusions. Emunah Peshuta is not a goal but rather a stepping-stone on the way to greater understanding. It can lead to Yedias Hashem if the person fulfills his religious obligation of trying to acquire that knowledge.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Professor Stephen Hawking and Rambam - two men of faith.

Although Godol has questioned the proof from contingency for the existence of God, I think his arguments are quite weak. He is confusing the existence of an Entity and what that Entity’s attributes are. There has to be a non-contingent Entity, what triggered that entity to bring about the subsequent contingent entities is still a question that needs an answer. That is what I will attempt to discuss in my upcoming posts and present one of Judaism’s understandings on that issue. (The reason I refer us to GH, is because he is struggling honestly with the existential issues and is able to so clearly and succinctly present the problems many of us confront when we start reflecting.)

There is a fascinating lecture by Professor Stephen Hawking that I highly recommend for every person that wants to be up to date on the latest theories in Physics and Cosmogony. You can find it here: . Professor Hawking (SH) introduces the lecture as follows:

All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology. Yet it is now taken for granted. We are not yet certain whether the universe will have an end.”

He then goes on to discuss what started the ball rolling. The Big Bang happened at some point and scientists are trying to explain what caused the event to occur and the universe was created. There are two possibilities:

1) An outside Entity triggered willfully the start of the event of Creation. (Outside Entity (OE) for short)
2) There is a natural explanation of how this started on its own. (Spontaneous Generation (SG) for short)

For a scientist option SG is preferable because once you introduce an outside Entity, it presents a problem to scientific research. A proof is no longer a total certainty once outside will is introduced into the equation. It is a legitimate concern that will be dealt with in later posts. However the problem that confronts us is that according to the Big Bang theory, before the event, the laws of Physics as we know them did not exist. As Professor Hawking explains:

At this time, the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe, would have been on top of itself. The density would have been infinite. It would have been what is called, a singularity. At a singularity, all the laws of physics would have broken down. This means that the state of the universe, after the Big Bang, will not depend on anything that may have happened before, because the deterministic laws that govern the universe will break down in the Big Bang. The universe will evolve from the Big Bang, completely independently of what it was like before. Even the amount of matter in the universe, can be different to what it was before the Big Bang, as the Law of Conservation of Matter, will break down at the Big Bang.”

To explain Creation without resorting to outside will, SH proposes to recruit Quantum physics and comes up with a theory he calls “no boundary condition”. I have not completely grasped it but it suggests that by introducing "Imaginary Time" into the equation, a quantum physics concept, what we consider a singularity without laws of Physics, would from another perspective follow the laws of Physics. This would allow for spontaneous Creation without outside influence. Be it as it may it still is an unproven theory as SH says:

The no boundary condition, is the statement that the laws of physics hold everywhere. Clearly, this is something that one would like to believe, but it is a hypothesis. One has to test it, by comparing the state of the universe that it would predict, with observations of what the universe is actually like. If the observations disagreed with the predictions of the no boundary hypothesis, we would have to conclude the hypothesis was false. There would have to be something outside the universe, to wind up the clockwork, and set the universe going. Of course, even if the observations do agree with the predictions, that does not prove that the no boundary proposal is correct. But one's confidence in it would be increased, particularly because there doesn't seem to be any other natural proposal, for the quantum state of the universe.”

In other words so far there is no hard proof for an explanation of how spontaneous generation of the Universe could have occurred. As SH summarizes the lecture:

The conclusion of this lecture is that the universe has not existed forever. Rather, the universe, and time itself, had a beginning in the Big Bang, about 15 billion years ago. The beginning of real time, would have been a singularity, at which the laws of physics would have broken down. Nevertheless, the laws of physics would have determined the way the universe began, if the universe satisfied the no boundary condition. This says that in the imaginary time direction, space-time is finite in extent, but does not have any boundary or edge. The predictions of the no boundary proposal seem to agree with observation. The no boundary hypothesis also predicts that the universe will eventually collapse again. However, the contracting phase, will not have the opposite arrow of time, to the expanding phase. So we will keep on getting older, and we won't return to our youth. Because time is not going to go backwards, I think I better stop now.”

What is so fascinating is that this discussion so eerily resembles Rambam’s discussion with Aristotles in Moreh chapters 2:13 through 25. Aristotles argued that although there has to be a non-contingent Entity, it had no choice in Creation. The laws of physics have never changed and they are the trigger for contingent entities coming into existence. Aristotle believed that the Universe is eternal, and was not created in time, while the current Big Bang theory does believe in a beginning in time. He therefore did not need to accept the possibility that the laws of physics were ever non-existent. Rambam however believed the universe was created in time. Aristotle’s arguments were that the laws of physics do not allow for non-existence. Rambam argued, that is correct once Creation was in place, but if one believes in Creation in time, before Creation different or no laws would have existed. Rambam accepted the two possibilities we proposed earlier for what triggered Creation; Outside Entity or Spontaneous Generation. He also admitted the remote possibility that the SG theory could be proven and we would then have to deal with it from a religious point of view (Moreh 2:25 although if read carefully could be understood a little differently). He however considered that possibility highly unlikely near impossible.

In Moreh 2:17 Rambam lays out the two positions:

The Aristotelians oppose us, and base their objections on the properties which the things in the Universe possess when in actual existence and fully developed. We admit the existence of these properties, but hold that they are by no means the same as those which the things possessed in the moment of their production; and we hold that these properties themselves have come into existence from absolute non-existence. Their arguments are therefore no objection whatever to our theory: they have demonstrative force only against those who hold that the nature of things as at present in existence proves the Creation. But this is not my opinion.”

And now Rambam states what I think is one of the most important statements that are the foundation of his theology:

Aristotle, or rather his followers, may perhaps ask us how we know that the Universe has been created: and that other forces than those it has at present were acting in its Creation, since we hold that the properties of the Universe, as it exists at present, prove nothing as regards its creation ? We reply, there is no necessity for this according to our plan; for we do not desire to prove the Creation, but only its possibility: and this possibility is not refuted by arguments based on the nature of the present Universe, which we do not dispute. When we have established the admissibility of our theory, we shall then show its superiority.”

In other words, we are dealing with the unknown, which probably will remain unknown to man forever. Man can only deal with the physical and the ultimate question of what triggered physicality to come into existence can have only two answers: OE or SG. As long as neither contradicts facts, both are valid. Which is more likely now becomes a matter of deciding which is superior, fitting in with other issues and facts better than the other argument. I will tackle that in upcoming posts.

As an aside, it is interesting to note the underlying tone of SH and Rambam. SH is confident that science will find a way to explain what I call the pre-Breishis with a scientific theory, while Rambam, the religious thinker, is confident that no such answer will ever come about. Both are men of faith! (A concession to GH ? :-) )

Thank you all for the good wishes for my son Aryeh's wedding. I decided to come back with a Big Bang!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Hakirah Vol 3 is now back from the printers and available for distribution.

Hakirah Volume 3 has just been delivered from the printer and is ready for distribution. Make sure you have subscribed at . It is a well worthwhile issue with great articles.
My own preferences are the following;

A Y2K Solution to the Chronology Problem - I believe that the article gives the definite solution to the missing 166 years. It explains what compelled Chazal to tamper with the dates twice and how they also made sure that Halachik issues such as Shemita and Yovel was not affected. It also explains some difficult Gemarot that now suddenly are as clear as day.

Dr. Sprecher's Metzizah Be-Peh - that article was released on line earlier this month and has already started to make an impact in the community.

Rabbi Professor Avraham Lifshitz article on the Ohr Hachaim's attacks on Ibn Ezra's interpretation in Chumash shows how Ibn Ezra had strong support in sources for his position.

Rabbi Benny Buchman's article on the Eiruv of the Rambam fleshes out very succinctly how different Rambam understands Eiruv as compared to the other Rishonim. It is surprising how different their basic concept was, the reasons for the Takannah and the ramifications leMa'aseh.

Heshey Zelcer shows that wherever Rabbis had difficulty canonizing a sefer in Tanach they increased noticeably the derashot for that Sefer.

Rabbi Brody's research has uncovered a completely new meaning to the acronym A'H (Alav Hashalom).

I have not had a chance to read the other articles yet (yes editors do not necessarily read all articles before publication - there just is not enough time) but I did get a synopsis from my colleagues and they are very exciting and novel.

And of course how could I forget my own article. It is a continuation of my reading of nevuah in Rambam.

I had to get this in before my trip. This is it though.

Have a Good Shabbos.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mazal Tov - to my son Aryeh.

In Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer chapter 17 – Shlomo Hamelech, realizing that it is important to promote Gemilas Chasadim, built two gates in the Beis Hamikdash, one for mourners and one for Chasanim – grooms. When someone entered through the gate of Chasanim everyone went over and wished him a mazal tov and those who entered through the other gate, people went over and presented their condolences.

In that spirit, I wish to announce that we, my wife Ruchi, my son Alex, my grandson Gavriel and I, will be going this Sunday to my son Aryeh’s wedding which will take place in Israel. He made Aliyah about 17 years ago and lives in the outskirts of Jerusalem. Please join me in wishing him and his future wife, Orly, a long and joyful life together.
Orly is of Yemmenite descent. You can therefore understand the timeliness of my previous post.

יא קוֹל שָׂשׂוֹן וְקוֹל שִׂמְחָה, קוֹל חָתָן וְקוֹל כַּלָּה, קוֹל אֹמְרִים הוֹדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת כִּי-טוֹב יְהוָה כִּי-לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ, מְבִאִים תּוֹדָה בֵּית יְהוָה:

Unless I suffer from insomnia or get so inspired by Avirah de’eretz Israel that I cannot control myself, I will not be posting anymore until my return on June 25.

או"ר- An acronym with a story.

I was looking at the various Rambam’s dealing with Minim and Apikursim when I came upon the Rambam in Hil Edus 11:11 and in comment 11 in Harav Kafih’s edition the following cryptic comment by Rav Kafih paraphrased:

It happened, our parents told us, that many did not eat from the shechita of – acronym “aleph, vav, resh” according to Rambam’s words (in Pirush Hamishna on Chulin 1:2). And “AVR” was a witness on a get that was executed on Chol Hamoed and the Rabbis allowed the woman to stay with her husband who was a Cohen. (If the get were good, the husband, a Cohen, could not take her back. She is a divorcee) Now this really becomes even more intriguing: RK continues: I wrote all this because my stomach was bothering me, so I let slip truths, that maybe keeping them buried in the depth of my heart would have been preferable.

I had no idea what AVR stands for so I wrote to Mechon-mamre asking:

> In Hil Edut 11:11 comment 11 in Harav Kafih's Rambam he refers to
> Someone with the acronym "Aleph, vav, resh" do you know who he is referring to?

To which they answered:

Sorry, but I could not find anything in my resources that makes sense in this context of either או"ר without the hey or האו"ר with it.

One of my Kvius I learn Hilchos Krias Shema with my father, La’arichas Yomim, and we were doing the Tur and Beis Yosef on repeating Hashem Elokeichem Emes, which is a quite fascinating issue per se. Tur brings it and quotes the Remah (R. Meir Halevi Abulafia) who says that it is not proper to repeat it and leaves it at that. Beis Yosef then goes into a lengthy discussion why it should be done, discusses Kel Melech Ne’eman, amen after habocher and it becomes clear that it is not such a simple minhag. (Orach Chaim 61). I remembered that I had seen a Teshuvah on the issue in the last volume of the Kesavim of Harav Kafih. The Teshuvah is by Rav Moshe Tzarum who was the last Rav of Sana’a died in EY in 1954. RMT lays out wuth great bekius and insight the problems with the beis Yosef and paskens like the Tur and Remah that the Chazan should not repeat it and strongly recommends the minhag should be stopped. Introducing the Teshuvah, Harav Kafih uses the same acronym, so I contacted Mechon-Mamre again:

> Fascinating. I was reading in Chelek 3 of Rav Kafih's Ketavim a
> Teshuvah on Hashem Elokeichem Emet by R.Moshe Tzarum. In the introduction Rav
> Kafih refers to this same acronym "Aleph Vav Resh yud ben Aleph, vav, resh".

(RK describes how the Teshuvah found its way to him and this AVR was somehow involved in the process.)

And got this answer:

After taking with my friend, the only "Rav Moshe Tzarum" I knew of, it turns out that he is the grandson of the author of that work, not the author. And he says that this 'w"r means 'oto rasha` (or 'oto for short in Yemenite speech, as either a reference to 'oto rasha` OR 'oto maqom), which was applied to several persons including Yesh"u, the pagan god of the Christians, as well as a well-known major qabbalistic rabbinical figure in San`a who was a "moser" to the Muslims (to take Jewish orphans of non-qabbalists to raise as Muslims), which took him outside the domain of "yisrael". I would rather not mention his name (but I am sure you know it, if you need to know it).

I am not sure whom he is referring to, and apparently it is a sensitive matter, but it is well known that in the late 1800’s early 1900 a great controversy broke out in Sana’a between those who followed Kabbalah and the rationalists. Apparently it got pretty nasty. Rav Kafih’s grandfather was one of the leaders of the rationalists and wrote a sefer showing the Zohar and Kabbalah as wrong and possibly kefirah. {It can be found here: and click on the Milchamot Hashem download. ( BTW it is a very interesting site just to learn about Yemenite Jewry and their view of Rambam).}. Whatever nasty action the other side did must have affected him and was still paining him years later when he worked on his monumental edition of the Yad.

To read about the controversy see Enc. Judaica under Yemen and the section about Kabbalah.

Azaryah de Rossi - Print or Copy.

Professor Reuven Bonfil, a leading historian of Italian Jewry, published in 1991 a collection of the writings of Azaryah de Rossi or as he is known in Jewish sources, Azaryah min Ha’adumim (translation of Rossi). AdR famous as the first Jewish modern scholar was born in Mantoba, Italy (1511-1578) and was the author of “Meor Einayim”. This Sefer was attacked by contemporaries and supposedly banned by R. Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch. Professor Bonfil has a fascinating chapter on the opposition to the sefer and it reminds us of the contemporary bans, where aged Gedolim are manipulated by ba’alei machlokes and self-righteous sorts.

I am not about to present a biography but just was intrigued about a minor point. Although printed books of Jewish subjects were available at the time, it was still the practice for individuals to copy Seforim by hand. It was an exercise in calligraphy especially for the young, but even more important, it helped people memorize and familiarize themselves thoroughly with a Sefer. I wonder if such a practice would be reintroduced in our Yeshivos, whether we would get more knowledgeable grown ups.

If interested in the Meor Einayim it was translated into English by Joanna Weinberg titled Azariah de'Rossi - the Light of the Eyes and is available here:

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Shikse and a Goy - a chillul Hashem.

[ח] מותר לעבוד בעבד כנעני בפרך. ואף על פי שהדין כך, מידת חסידות ודרכי החכמה שיהיה אדם רחמן ורודף צדק, ולא יכביד עולו על עבדו ולא יצר לו, ויאכילהו וישקהו מכל מאכלו ומכל משקהו. חכמים הראשונים היו נותנין לעבד מכל תבשיל ותבשיל שהיו אוכלין, ומקדימין מזון הבהמות והעבדים על סעודת עצמן. הרי הוא אומר "כעיני עבדים, אל יד אדוניהם--כעיני שפחה, אל יד גברתה" (תהילים קכג,ב). וכן לא יבזהו, לא ביד ולא בדברים: לעבדות מסרן הכתוב, לא לבושה. ולא ירבה עליו צעקה וכעס, אלא ידבר עימו בנחת, וישמע טענותיו. וכן מפורש בדרכי איוב הטובים שהשתבח בהן "אם אמאס--משפט עבדי, ואמתי: בריבם, עימדי. . . . הלוא בבטן, עושני עשהו; ויכוננו, ברחם אחד" (איוב לא,יג-טו).
יג ואין האכזרייות והעזות מצויה אלא בגויים הערלים. אבל זרעו של אברהם אבינו, והם ישראל שהשפיע להם הקדוש ברוך הוא טובת התורה וציוום בחוקים ומשפטים צדיקים--רחמנים הם על הכול. וכן במידותיו של הקדוש ברוך הוא שציוונו להידמות בהם, הוא אומר "ורחמיו, על כל מעשיו" (תהילים קמה,ט). וכל המרחם--מרחמין עליו, שנאמר "ונתן לך רחמים וריחמך והרבך" (דברים יג,יח).

(Rambam in Hilchos Avadim 9:12-13.)

Paraphrasing: Although the Torah permits to work a slave hard, it is not proper nor is it wise to do so. A wise man is merciful and just, does not overwork his slave nor does he make him suffer. He feeds him first from every food he eats and does the same with his animals. He should also not shame him, in deeds or in words; they are servants only not to be shamed. He should not yell at him nor get too angry but treat him with respect and pay attention to his complaints. Cruelty is not a trait of the children of Avraham, but they, the Jewish people who have received the Torah and Mitzvos are merciful – they have pity on all creatures. God is such too and we have to emulate Him.

As I said I have paraphrased and I am sure the good reader will pick up all the nuances here.

When I hear people referring to their housekeepers or the ones attending on older people as “Die Shikse” or “Der Goy” "der Urel"" Die Goyte""Der Shaigetz", I cringe. Talk to some of these people employed by frum Jews, and you will hear the horror stories about how they are mistreated. They are worked to the bone, taken advantage of because they are illegal, underpaid and overworked. The Chilul Hashem that results is unforgivable. Those doing this abomination are the same who are worried about the bugs in the water and vegetables, the ones who look askance at anybody that deviates from their supposed Mesora. We are only one generation away from the horrors perpetrated to our people by the Germans and we have already become like our tormentors.

But you know Rambam was a rationalist. What did he know? He considers all men equally able to get close to God! No wonder he wants us to treat them as equals! But we do not hold like the Rambam! Anybody that is not just like us, medakdek in every Chumra, is not really human. They are less than animals! Never mind goyim, anybody that deviates and thinks differently is a Shaigetz, a Kofer and Rambam himself says we can kill them.

What has become of us?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Rambam and Newton - Two kindred spirits without a doubt.

My friend Rabbi Benny Buchman directed me to this speech made by John Maynard Keynes in honor of Sir Isaac Newton.

Here are some excerpts:

“He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.”

He then describes his mental processes. JMK claims that Newton arrived at his great ideas by intuition and only afterwards figured out the proofs.

Certainly there can be no doubt that the peculiar geometrical form in which the exposition of the Principia is dressed up bears no resemblance at all to the mental processes by which Newton actually arrived at his conclusions. His experiments were always, I suspect, a means, not of discovery, but always of verifying what he knew already

Compare this with the following quote of Rambam in Moreh 2:38 where he explains prophecy and revelation:

“Some persons are so strong and sound in their imagination and intuitive faculty that, when they assume a thing to be in existence, the reality either entirely or partly confirms their assumption. Although the causes of this assumption are numerous, and include many preceding, succeeding, and present circumstances, by means of the intuitive faculty the intellect can pass over all these causes, and draw inferences from them very quickly, almost instantaneously

Newton's interest in understanding the why and who of our existence led him to conclude:

Very early in life Newton abandoned orthodox belief in the Trinity. At this time the Socinians (An adherent of a 16th-century Italian sect holding unitarian views, including denial of the divinity of Jesus. Wikipedia) were an important Arian sect amongst intellectual circles. It may be that Newton fell under Socinian influences, but I think not. He was rather a Judaic monotheist of the school of Maimonides. He arrived at this conclusion, not on so-to-speak rational or skeptical grounds, but entirely on the interpretation of ancient authority. He was persuaded that the revealed documents give no support to the Trinitarian doctrines which were due to late falsifications. The revealed God was one God.”

Here is another paper that deals with Newton’s interest in Maimonidean thought and Judaism in general.

Quite an amazing thing - the greatest Jewish philosopher and the greatest scientist of all times were kindred spirits!

Rambam and Sir Isaac Newton - Kindred Souls?

I just finished watching a fascinating Nova segment on DVD, about Sir Isaac Newton that was brought to my attention by my son Alex. Based on the recent deciphering of his private notes and writings a fascinating man is emerging. What is amazing is the fact that although being the greatest scientist ever, having taken us into the modern world almost single handedly, he understood that science and religion were one and worked hand in hand. He secretly believed the Trinity was wrong and that only a Unique God existed. Jesus could not have been more than a man and the whole theology of Christianity as taught by the different churches are wrong. It confirms Rambam’s understanding that through science only can one really get to know about God and His Uniqueness.

What was also fascinating was his interest in alchemy. It is now believed that he was trying to find the occult force that was possibly behind gravity. He could calculate its effects but had no idea what it was composed of. He thought of it as some kind of occult possibly spiritual force. He still believed that these spritual forces were part of nature and science. No wonder astrology and magic were still considered a possibility.

I always was astounded by the Gra who was such a rationalist in his Halachik and textual analysis yet believed that magic was real as he comments in Yoreh Deah attacking Rambam as misguided by the philosophers in denying it. Gra (1720 – 1797) who was almost a contemporary of Newton (1642-1727) probably still believed that magic was a science just like Newton still suspected.

Rambam understood (see Moreh 2:5) Hashamayim Mesaperim Kevod El as literal because Aristoteleian physics understood the stars to be sentient, their will to emulate their perfect Creator being the impetus that made them move in a circular mode. Newton having discovered gravity clearly proved Rambam wrong in this particular case. However he also proved a contemporary of his, Baruch Spinoza ( 1632- 1677) wrong by showing that knowing the physical world leads to God rather than away from Him.

Newton was totally involved in his studies, at least during the earlier and most productive part of his life, shunning all wordly pleasures. He was the paradigm of "Ein divrei Torah miskayemim elo bemi shmeimis atzmo oleiho" - if you follow Rambam in the idea that science and metaphysics are part of Torah.
והעניינות הנקראין פרדס, בכלל התלמוד. (Hil. Talmud Torah 1:14)
That might have helped in his making better choices when subjective judgment was required.

Re the Halacha that a non-Jew may not learn Torah, though I am usually loath to accept things as they seem at first blush without a thorough analysis of the subject, I know I will get comments questioning my post on that basis, so I had a fast look at it. Chasam Sofer (as quoted in Frankel's Rambam Mekoros Vetziyunim) holds that it does not apply to a non-Jew who commits not to worship idols. They may be taught too not only sciences but Torah in general. From what I saw, Newton definitely falls into that category.

Monday, June 12, 2006

From Mitzvah to Superstition - Eating Fish on Shabbos.

Menachem Mendel last week posted about Professor Daniel Sperber and his opus Minhagei Israel brought to mind another book written by Professor Moshe Halamish of Bar Ilan “Hakabalah Bitefila, Bahalacha Ubeminhag.” It was published in 2000 but I only read about a year ago. It is a revelation to see how Kabalistic thinking found its way and heavily influenced our daily praxis. It would require a great scholar to expunge those changes and bring our praxis back to its older pristine form. Already in medieval times the Talmidim of the Rashba introduced Kabbalah ideas into Halacha but after the Beis Yosef, the Remak (R. Moshe Cordevero) and the Ari (R.Ytzchak Luria) the process accelerated.

Professor Halamish deals extensively with the concepts, the personalities involved especially R. Yosef Karo’s attitude towards the Zohar’s rulings; follows the Gemara when they disagree but follows the Zohar where there is no conflict. Halamish points out that even in the latter case RYK was not consistent and quite arbitrary using his judgment where to introduce the Zoharic ideas.

Where I had the most difficulties is when I realized how much of an influence the Hemdas Yomim has on our daily praxis. Just a fast look in the index one can see that it is one of the most oft quoted sources. That is a very suspect book claimed by some to have been authored by the Shabbtai Tzvi prophet Natan of Gaza. How many of our practices are influenced by this Messianic disaster?

A fascinating chapter deals with eating fish on Shabbos. Tracing it from the Gemara Shabbos 118b through the Possekim, the famous Tur question to his father the Rosh whether he can make do with “Kassa D’eharsannah “(probably a dried cod called Bacalhau that is readily available cheaply in the Iberian Peninsula) because of his extreme poverty, and to the Shulchan Aruch who does not make it any mention of it. The reason given for eating fish on Shabbos is that it is part of the Mitzvah of Oneg Shabbos and therefore it is a matter of taste. One cannot legislate taste.

But then the story takes on a weird twist. Fish becomes important because supposedly Tzadikkim end up in fish after a transmigration of their souls (amazingly Aruch Hashulchan uses this reasoning quoting the Kitzur Hashelah) and by eating the soul containing fish, the Mitzvah elevates the soul of that Tzaddik. And of course Hemdas Yomim adds his two senses to the mix.

Here are the five reasons that develop over time:
The original rational one: Tastes good.
A symbolic one:
The fish’s eyes are always open a symbol of God’s providence that is constant.
Three superstitious ones:
By eating the fish in a meal that is a Mitzvah the soul that transmigrated in it is saved.
A kabalistic concept of elevating sparks. (?)
Another Kabalistic concept of Sefirotic connection. (?)

It may be a good idea to stop eating fish on Shabbos altogether. Too much voodoo!

There is much more in the book just on the fish topic alone. It is an all encompassing study well worth reading. It also makes you wonder how much external influences have entered our daily life. Maybe it is time to revert to pure Rambam legislation where all this superstition has not yet had an impact.

Other books on related topics:

Professor Ta Shema "Haniglah Shebanistar".
Professor Yakov Katz : Halacha Vekabalah"

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A methodology for proving the unknowable.

  • Jewish Thinker made this comment:

    Isaac Franck's statement is simply a variant of one of Aquinas'. This is not the proof of God, it is the proof of a concept that existed and was not created. There is nothing about this that suggests omnipotence, or uniqueness, or even sentience for that matter

    And I answered: Correct.

    That was exactly my point. We can only prove the existence of an entity that is not contingent and that we call God. What God is, does and so on is not provable by this method.

    Before I proceed I want to explore the types of proofs we can expect on the different topics under discussion. When making an assertion, it is incumbent on us to follow it up by verifying its validity. In the case of the existence of God we were able to infer from our own physical existence that there is overwhelming evidence for the existence of an entity that preceded that existence, not necessarily in time but in hierarchy, and we named it God. Although we were discussing pre physical existence, which is something we cannot comprehend at all, we were still able to infer that something non-physical had to “exist”. When we try to know anything about that entity we are entering into the unknowable. So how do we deal with it?

    Rambam addresses it in a whole chapter, in Moreh 2:23. When trying to verify an assertion about a non-physical unknowable entity, all we can do is propose opposing arguments but ultimately a subjective judgment has to be made. How can we rely on such a judgment?

    But the comparison cannot be trustworthy unless the two theories are considered with the same interest, and if you are predisposed in favor of one of them, be it on account of your training or because of some advantage, you are too blind to see the truth. For that which can be demonstrated you cannot reject, however much you maybe inclined against it; but in questions like those under consideration you are apt to dispute [in consequence of your inclination). You will, however, be able to decide the question, as far as necessary, if you free yourself from passions, ignore customs, and follow only your reason.”

    In other words the human condition stands in the way. Our own personal preferences make a fair judgment impossible. One has to develop himself so that there is no personal impact. The following conditions must be met:
  • First you must know your mental capacities and your natural talents: you will find this out when you study all mathematical sciences, and are well acquainted with Logic.
  • Secondly, you must have a thorough knowledge of Natural Science, that you may be able to understand the nature of the objections.
  • Thirdly, you must be morally good. For if a person is voluptuous or passionate, and, loosening the reins, allows his anger to pass the just limits, it makes no difference whether he is so from nature or from habit, he will blunder and stumble in his way, he will seek the theory which is in accordance with his inclinations.

    These are ideal conditions that very few people can honestly attain. So what are the choices? One can completely turn away and decide not to think about issues that are unsolvable. It is a fair choice and as long as one lives a productive, moral and good life he is a fine person. But not everybody can be satisfied with this restraint. That person, that seeker, must therefore turn to people he believes have met the requirements for unbiased judgments and not accept them at face value but as Rambam suggests in Moreh 1:50:

    "For belief is only possible after the apprehension of a thing; it consists in
    the conviction that the thing apprehended has its existence beyond the mind
    [in reality] exactly as it is conceived in the mind. If in addition to this we
    are convinced that the thing cannot be different in any way from what we believe
    it to be, and that no reasonable argument can be found for the rejection of the
    belief or for the admission of any deviation from it, then the belief is true."

    I turn again to Isaac Franck who very succinctly explains this Rambam:

    "In other words, among the mental activities of human beings is the activity we
    call Belief. Through this activity we apprehend certain data. We are convinced
    that corresponding to our “belief-state” there is a “belief-object” which has
    its existence in reality exactly as apprehended by us. In addition to this knowledge through Belief there is knowledge through Reason. It is incumbent upon us to examine all our beliefs thoroughly in the light of Reason, and if we find them to be in conflict with reason, i.e. to be absurd, we must discard them…

    … If in the course of our thoroughgoing examinations we
    can find no reasonable arguments for rejecting our belief, if we find that
    science and logic break down and cease to be relevant to the belief under
    consideration, only then may we hold to our belief with a clear conscience, even though we cannot supply any logical proof of its truth. If Maimonides had
    written in Latin he is likely to have said something like “credo et intelligo” –
    “I believe and understand”. Reason and Faith are on equal footing as sources and methods of knowledge… We may never be able to prove these revealed truths logically but if we cannot find any logical reason for rejecting them they are valid.
    [1] "

    As I start discussing what we can know about God we have to keep in mind this important understanding of what proofs can be expected. We are going to be dealing with issues that, although deductible from our physical reality, are essentially unknowable and empirically unprovable. They are ideas that we deal with a posteriori, we dissect and analyze beliefs we received from people that acquired them through a process that we call revelation. We will have to use the second method to verify their truth. Ultimately it is Faith, but Faith that is governed by Reason. “Believing is Knowing”.

    A few words about Isaac Franck, as I quote him so often. I discovered him by serendipity when a paper I was reading referred to him. He was a Russian Jew (1909-1985) who came to this country as a teenager and entered a life of serving various Jewish Communities. He studied Philosophy at Columbia, Harvard, and University of Michigan. He was the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington and at the same time taught Philosophy and Social Psychology at American University. He subsequently taught full time Philosophy at Howard University, Baltimore Hebrew College, Catholic University of America where he taught a course in Spinoza’s Ethics and finally Philosophy and Philosophical Poetry at Georgetown University. He published several papers on Rambam Philosophical works, Spinoza and Jewish Ethics. A collection of his papers is available on line here -'s%20Harvest:%20The%20Philosophical%20Papers%20of%20Isaac%20Franck

    [1] In Isaac Franck Maimonides Philosophy Today originally published in Judaism: a Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought vol. 4, Spring 1955 pp. 99-109.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Foundation III - an interim summary.

The last two posts dealt with the issue that I understand as the basic foundation of Judaism. Let me now try to put it all into a clearer perspective.

Judaism is built on one, and only one basic conviction – Metzius Hashem – the existence of a transcendent, unique and ultimately unknowable God. That is the most important thing that we are required to know, learn, appreciate and assimilate through our own minds and prove it to ourselves to the best of our ability. It is the sine qua non of all monotheistic religions.
We have discussed the proof that I believe is the one that stands up to the test of time and is the most rational, the one I call by contingency. I will not repeat it as I have posted the very concise Isaac Franck statement several times. As we are proving the existence of a transcendental God, we cannot expect a 100% empirical proof but rather like all sciences, we first propose a theory that makes most sense and then proceed to look for empirical proof. We as a people are still in the process of enlisting humankind to partake in the endeavor.

ט וְהָיָה יְהוָה לְמֶלֶךְ, עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה יְהוָה אֶחָד--וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד.
9 And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the LORD be One, and His name one.
(Zechariah 14)

Once we have established the existence of God, an intelligent person has a need to try to know the Entity that is the basis of our existence. If we want to find an answer to the existential questions of purpose, the why and how of our being, we want to go to the source.

א שִׁמְעוּ אֵלַי רֹדְפֵי צֶדֶק, מְבַקְשֵׁי יְהוָה; הַבִּיטוּ אֶל-צוּר חֻצַּבְתֶּם, וְאֶל-מַקֶּבֶת בּוֹר נֻקַּרְתֶּם.
1 Hearken to Me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD; look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged
(Yeshayahu 51:1)

Thus the search of God by man which is the basis of all religion.

Rambam makes quite clear that the existence of God has a special place in thought. The only concept he refers to as the Foundation of all Foundations is the existence of God.

א יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון

In his listing of the Ikarim in the introduction to Perek Chelek Rambam presents the first five, which deal with God’s existence, uniqueness, transcendence, that He is the First Cause and that He is the only God to worship as facts. That is not a belief but reality that is a known fact.

This knowledge has been with humankind on and off for the longest time and finally established itself for the long term with Avraham, long before Sinai and the Torah. A macro glance at Sefer Breishis makes it clear that it is the message it is trying to send. It starts with Creation which is the idea of First Cause, follows in a summary of man’s periodical awareness of God and how, most of the time, man forgot about Him. Finally with the arrival of Avraham monotheism started to take root among a group of people and stayed.

It became clear that a theological/philosophical concept that requires intellectual commitment cannot survive when it is only in the mind. That is the meaning of the story of Egypt where, when confronted with hardship monotheism could not survive and was almost lost. It became clear that a system of behavior had to be established that would force people to think about God and constantly remind them to search for Him.

Moshe established that system through revelation. Revelation is not a miraculous thing, according to Rambam who disagrees with Kuzari and others, but a trait that all humans can acquire after proper preparation. It is a blend of rational speculation and study of the Universe, intuition and imagination. This can be learned. Great scientific discoveries, leaps in understanding of the universe and its components, were the result of exceptional men making use of this ability, whether consciously or not.

When imagination is part of the mix, subjectivity has a role and is not adequate for creating a fair and rational system of laws and beliefs. We also need a system that is immutable so that it remains constant for a very long time – eternity. Moshe developed that ability and we believe that he is the only person that ever did or will ever in the future have such an ability.

When it comes to prophecy Rambam uses the term “Le'yedah” both in the Yad and in the introduction to Chelek as translated by Rav Kafieh. That is something that has to be learned.

א מיסודי הדת, לידע שהאל מנבא את בני האדם;

When he deals with the prophecy of Moshe he uses “Na’amin”, believe. That is already a matter of acceptance. At Sinai, the greatest accomplishment was that the people were convinced that Moshe is the only prophet that legislates without subjectivity. Only someone who was present and experienced it could know exactly how he or she was convinced. In any case they committed not only for themselves but also for their descendants.

Clearly there are different levels of belief. The existence of God is based on proof. Prophecy is something to be learned and experienced. Everyone can but not every one will. Moshe’s unique prophecy, which is the basis of Torah min Hashamayim, is something we accept.

I have presented an outline of a system which can be visualized as a pyramid with the ultimate goal at the top point and all the tools needed to get to it below, flaring out into a broad base. The goal is to know God as much as one can; the system is the Torah and its commandments. When one looks at the Sefer Hamitzvos and how it is structured, the first commandment is to know God followed by a series of intellectual requirements and only then by active Mitzvos. (My friend Rabbi Buchman is writing a book on the subject. It has been his idea for the longest time.)

Is the Torah way the only one that works? The answer is that individuals can arrive at the same place on their own. Some have without the Torah. The Torah way is the only one that is a system that focuses a large population on this goal of understanding God.

My next posts will deal with the ultimate purpose of knowing God and some of the tools the Torah has given us – Ta’amei Hamitzvos and Veholachto Bidrochov. They will address some of the workings of the system and how they are accomplishing what they were set out to do.

NB: I want to make it clear I am trying to learn and clarify things for myself. I don't have all the answers nor the only ones. I have learned a lot from the comments here and during my visits at other sites. To me these issues are at the center of my thoughts and keep me up at night. I believe that they are the core of Judaism and an obligation for all who can, to pursue them and try to get a grip on them.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Foundation II - a debate.

My earlier post which was inspired by a debate with JS has elicited the following exchange. I thought it worthwhile to post it as it touches on important issues that are always at the forefront of thinking people’s mind. I have edited a little for clarity and readability.

JS wrote:

You write-"JS claims that Torah min Hashamayim (TMS) is a necessary belief without which God’s existence is not provable. Thus if someone questions TMS, God’s existence falls to the wayside. My position however is quite different. I argue that we have to prove each issue separately and individually. First we have to prove that there is such an entity that we call God without describing Him or appending any attributes to Him."

That is not exactly what I said.I wrote that talking about God does not lead anywhere. God cannot be defined in any way. (Yes, according to the Rambam!) So how can you talk about 'something' that you do not (know) anything about it?Is this God male or female or both? (Yes, I too read the Moreh...) Is He transcendental or is He also part of the Universe, like in Kabbalah & Chasidism?What kind of God are you talking about? Or better still, what at all are you taking about?!

JS continues:

You wrote me: we can learn from His actions.

But the actions are violent, galaxies smashing into each other & in the living world, as I wrote you 'nature is red in tooth & claw'.Ah, there is beauty in all this-so you wrote (in different words).Well, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. A tiger is beautiful but very vicious. There were beautiful blond German women in concentration camps who delighted in torturing little Jewish children...

But, you say, the world could not have just popped out of nothing!Something must have caused it! & this 'something' we call God & is uncaused.This is the First Cause argument.But many have demolished it. Just because everything we experience in the 'set' (universe) has a cause does not necessarily mean that the set has a cause. Let me give you a simple example that comes to my mind: Let us imagine five people made Aliyah (I am at present in Israel) a) because he is a Zionist b) is an archeologist & came to dig c) is an Eskimo who can't stand the cold in Alaska & was 'megayer' In order to get some sun in the Holy Land d) is a Chareidi who had a lifelong dream of stoning police cars in Geulah or Bnei-Brak e) is a writer who came to write a book about the 4 above.Now you can say, there is specific cause for each one of the above making Aliyah but you can't find a cause for the group (=set=Universe) as whole.That is just an example for a set being without a cause!

It's very late here, so finally I want to point out that your long quote of the Rambam saying what Avraham was saying or thinking, is the Rambam speaking, NOT AVROHOM!It reminds me of the Greek historians who made up speeches that they thought it was proper for their heroes. Josephus did the same thing.To recap: absolutely nothing can be said about something which is unknowable.Let us assume that something caused it all & it is some kind of mathematical law or whatever, does that make you happy, if not personal, what good is it to you?That why I say: YOU HAVE TO START WITH TORAH MI HA'SHAMYIM.& PROVE IT!!!With regards to all the quotes from the Rambam etc. I can only quote:-ערביך ערבא צריך - סוכות כו

To which I responded:

>that is just an example for a set being without a cause!

I do not get the analogy. Each member of the set had a cause which in turn had a cause that caused it e.g. the cold in Alaska made him convert; the cold was caused by the sun being far from that location, and so on ad infinitum. The set has no cause but each individual has a cause until we reach the First Cause. (Read Chad Gadya)

>Is He wholly transcendental

Of course.

> But the actions are violent, galaxies smashing into each other & in the living world, as I wrote you 'nature is red in tooth & claw'.

They are but you are putting your value judgment to them without deeper research. Possibly it is viewed from a macro perspective as constructive. The female tarantula that gobbles up the male sees it as part of the reproductive cycle which is constructive and is probably seen the same way (it were sentient) by the male victim.

TMS may be or not be a fact. It is a value judgment that the Torah was revelatory to Moshe only. Some Maimonidean medieval scholars held that it was a belief required so that the masses kept the Torah. I do not necessarily agree with that and have my own take, but it clearly is not a foundation of Religion but rather a foundation of the law. (Note Rambam starts here with Yesod Hayesodos, while when he talks about revelation he starts Mi'yesodei Hadas le'idah...clearly there are different types of foundations)

>To recap: absolutely nothing can be said about something which is unknowable.

That is correct but much can be said about the results of His actions

To which JS responded:

>"I don't get the analogy. Each member of the set had a cause which in turn had a cause that caused it e.g. the cold in Alaska made him convert; the cold was caused by the sun being far from that location, and so on ad infinitum. The set has no cause but each individual has a cause until we reach the First Cause. (Read Chad Gadya)"

The analogy is simple. I am talking from a logical point of view.Here you have a reason- cause for each member of the set making Aliyah. I am talking ONLY ABOUT THE CAUSE FOR MAKING ALIYAH & not for the cause of his birth & his parents' birth ad infinitum going back to the first atom.Again, I am ONLY talking about the cause for making Aliyah of this group.Logically, each member of the set has a cause why he made Aliyah, but you cannot ask why did the group as a whole make Aliyah. Because you have to break up the group into its individual parts.Similarly, in the Universe, you can ask what is the cause of the sun, or the moon, or the Milky Way galaxy or about any INDIVIDUAL part of the universe. There is a cause, as far as we know, for each one. From this DOESN'T NECESSARLY follow that the WHOLE UNIVERSE has a cause, just as cannot ask what is the cause the whole group made Aliyah.We do not know of any other universes that are caused to be able to say: look, all the other universes are caused, so ours must be too.

In a further comment JS continued:

>"TMS may be or not be a fact. It is a value judgment that the Torah was revelatory to Moshe only"

Well, was it a fact or not?
THIS IS THE ISSUE & you are EVADING it! As you are evading my questions on how satisfying you find an impersonal God. If He does not relate to you, why should you care about Him?You avoid specific questions asked by me & that makes the all discussion go around in circles.

DG: We were overlapping so I was responding to JS earlier comment but I believe addressed both:

>We do not know of any other universes that are caused to be able to say: look, all the other universes are caused, so ours must be too.

True, but at some point it all started with one single universe which started with a single mass especially if you espouse the Big Bang theory, so ultimately there was a First Cause for that single and only matter and event.

I understand that we can argue for an eternal (static) state as is but it would be counterintuitive based on our perception that everything is a result of infinite sequences of events. I also understand that we do not have absolute empirical proof for the argument of causation and it is possible that we never will although as science advances it is probable that we will. I guess it is part of unknowability and transcendence that we talk about. Just the idea of an entity for whom the word “existence” is equivocal as is the word “entity”, must ultimately be unknowable.

That is why ultimately the only thing we humans can do is try to understand how this entity we can know, namely the universe or universes, which we assume was caused by this *** (God) that we cannot know, functions. As rational beings we will append moral judgments to it (the universe) but what we do know is that it has existed for a very long time without self-destructing. It is expected to do so for eternity. Therefore morally it is ultimately good. (Assuming existence is good and non-existence or destruction is bad). As part of that infinite chain of events we as rational and sentient beings have a choice to partake and be constructive, playing a minute part in that enormous enterprise. Rambam ends the Moreh with that idea calling it Chesed Mishpat Utzedakah as per Yirmyahu.

My addition now: that is my understanding of a personal God and the meaning thereof. It is legislated as Veholachto Bidrochov – emulating God is a Mitzvah. It also has a parallel Mitzvah and concept which is Avodas Hashem. They are similar though having different connotations – for another post and discussion.

It (understanding the universe) does not necessarily translate into a religious/observance necessity, that is why Torah is a choice and why non-religious people (of any culture) who look at things from a philosophical/ scientific point of view, are closer to god according to Rambam than religious (observant and Jewish is the better description) Halachik experts who have no insight about the why and how. However we as Jews have accepted the Torah way at Sinai, (acceptance was really the whole point of it, not the supposed miraculous events), it should work to foster thinking within a large population (although sometimes one wonders).

For the system to work a framework needs to be established so that the masses, children, adults, men and women all follow a set of rules and goals that will allow each, to his ability, to partake in this enterprise of contributing creatively and constructively creating a collective of committed individuals. Hence TMS and all the other beliefs that we work with.

As I said we were overlapping so I continued:

>Well, was it a fact or not?THIS IS THE ISSUE & you are EVADING it! As you are evading my questions on how satisfying you find an impersonal God. If He does not relate to you, why should you care about Him?You avoid specific questions asked by me & that makes the all discussion go around in circlesI think that I did not evade the question.

I think that my last comment should cover most of the things you discuss head on. Re TMS and Sinai the way I understand it, it is depicted as a physical happening "Kolot Uberakim etc..." Rambam indicates that every one of them is a metaphor and he focuses totally on the intellectual and the bond between the people, God and Moshe. RMS (Ohr Sameach) in his Meshech Chochma sees the "Kafah aleihem har kegigis" midrash as a metaphor for conviction. There was an experience, an intellectual one that convinced the people to commit to Torah forever. My view on Moshe's prophecy and its uniqueness you can see here .

If you assume that the order Rambam gives to Ikarim is by significance and importance TMS is further down then those that deal with God and His existence. It is a dogma that is expedient and necessary rather than one that has to be proven.

Edit: I want to add a few things. Re Moshe’s prophecy and TMS – I believe that a person through proper meditation and self-improvement can be inspired and acquire prophecy, a state that makes him say and do things that are supra rational. It is combining rationality with instinctive insights and imagination the latter being the sum total of a person's past experiences. That is regular prophecy.

To legislate imagination has to be eliminated. Moshe had the highest level of such an experience, without imagination coming into play, when he legislated. He was also unique both in the past and future - no one reached that level nor ever will. That made Torah divinely inspired and immutable.

Re God being personal: Of course it is a mind set. It is we who see Him as personal and therefore what that means depends on one’s values. However for the thinking person emulating Him is the only path to personalizing God.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Foundation by Rambam -

I have been having an ongoing debate with Jewish Skeptic about my understanding of the proof for God’s existence. JS claims that Torah min Hashamayim (TMS) is a necessary belief without which God’s existence is not provable. Thus if someone questions TMS, God’s existence falls to the wayside. My position however is quite different. I argue that we have to prove each issue separately and individually. First we have to prove that there is such an entity that we call God without describing Him or appending any attributes to Him. That is done in a simple argument which I have posted several times but will do so again here in this particular context. Isaac Franck expressed it very succinctly:

Without knowing the nature or essence of G-d, we know that G-d exists because we know from our experience that things, contingent things exist. If anything exists, and obviously finite, contingent things, such as you and I, do exist, then it cannot be the case that everything that exists is contingent. To be contingent means that the existence of the contingent thing is contingent upon, depends upon, some other thing or being. But not everything can be dependent on something else, i.e., not everything can have been caused by, or brought into being by, something else. At least one entity must be in existence by itself, independent of anything else, must have come into being (if it did not exist eternally) by itself, must be its own cause, i.e. must exist necessarily not contingently, and its non - existence is inconceivable. This necessarily existent being is what we call God...”

Rambam makes that point very clearly in Mishne Torah where he presents Avodah Zara in a historical context where first man knew that there is only a Unique God – implying that it is an obvious conclusion that did not require an evolved human being. Because man could not relate to such an unknowable God, he slowly started to worship what he perceived as God’s agents, the stars and other heavenly bodies, as intermediaries at first and subsequently as gods in their own right. With time the Unique God was forgotten until Avrohom, on his own, concluded again that there is a Unique God using the argument I describe above. In Hilchot Avodah Zara 1:3 Rambam says as follows:
כיון שנגמל איתן זה, התחיל לשוטט בדעתו והוא קטן, ולחשוב ביום ובלילה, והיה תמיה: היאך אפשר שיהיה הגלגל הזה נוהג תמיד, ולא יהיה לו מנהיג; ומי יסבב אותו, לפי שאי אפשר שיסבב את עצמו. ולא היה לו לא מלמד ולא מודיע דבר, אלא מושקע באור כשדים בין עובדי עבודה זרה הטיפשים.
י ואביו ואימו וכל העם עובדים עבודה זרה, והוא היה עובד עימהן. וליבו משוטט ומבין, עד שהשיג דרך האמת, והבין קו הצדק, מדעתו הנכונה; וידע שיש שם אלוה אחד, והוא מנהיג הגלגל, והוא ברא הכול, ואין בכל הנמצא אלוה חוץ ממנו.
יא וידע שכל העם טועים, ודבר שגרם להם לטעות, זה שעובדים את הכוכבים ואת הצורות, עד שאבד האמת מדעתם; ובן ארבעים שנה, הכיר אברהם את בוראו.

Rambam emphasizes that Avrohom arrived at this conclusion without any revelatory support, purely on his own through logical deduction. This God has no attributes yet nor is He described in any way. All we know is that there is such an entity referred to by the philosophers as First Cause. Rambam maintains this throughout his writings explaining the first two commandments, Anochi and Lo Y’heyeh Lecha as non-revelatory but arrived at by the people through their own logical deduction (of course with some coaching by Moshe). (See my earlier post on the subject here - )

It is only after this idea has been assimilated properly that the other questions can be addressed. Providence, revelation, freedom of choice, man’s relationship to God and all the other existential questions must now be addressed individually. The process is arduous because the God we know exists, is elusive (by definition) and can only be perceived through the result of His actions. Of course those results or effects must be analyzed and seen if they are sensible or not, is this God a good God or not and so on. All we have in this quest are our senses and intelligence. It takes generations building upon the knowledge of past generations, perseverance and discipline of not only the individual but also the public and a lot of time and hard work. The Torah is the guidebook that proposes a way of life that promises to, when observed and understood correctly, to help man to develop in such a way that humankind will eventually know as much as humans can about God. We hopefully will then get a good understanding of our existential puzzle. We Jews have accepted the Torah as our guide at Sinai and we view it as the only guidebook for humankind. There may be individuals, and there were some in history, who can go on a parallel path successfully but we do not know of another successful system for a whole population. The issue of revelation which includes TMS as well as the other theological issues can only be discussed in this context. I propose to address many of these issues in future posts. Some of these I believe I have a good handle on, others I am still a work in progress. Even the ones I think that I have understood I find that every time I revisit or try to write about, I discover new insights.

It is important to keep each issue separate because there is only one goal – Yedias Hashem – and everything else is a tool to help us get there. The goal of Yedias Hashem is predicated on the conviction brought about by deductive logic that God exists. Rambam starts the Yad:
יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון

That statement is the key to all religion (not only Judaism) - The foundation of all foundations and the supporting pillar of all knowledge is to KNOW that there is a First Cause.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Hakirah Volume 3 - Pre-Publication Notice . Metzitzah Be- Peh article available on line now.

It is my pleasure to announce that Hakirah Volume 3 is at the printers and will be available for distribution June 24.

This issue contains very exciting articles on a variety of subjects and by prominent authors. Several articles address issues that affect our community and are very pertinent to the current debate. The article by Dr. Sprecher addressing the issue of Metzitzah Be-Peh is available now in full on line at and I urge you all to read it. It is an eye opener and I believe will bring a new dimension to the debate.

I also urge you to subscribe and reserve your printed issue as this volume has taken our small enterprise to a whole new level of scholarship. The Y2K article is proposing a solution to the 166 missing years that will completely revolutionize our understanding of that whole issues. The articles on the Eruv issue brings a new perspective to the whole controversy. With a total of 10 articles this is the most ambitious volume we have published so far.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New Kid on the Blog

I just noticed that Gil Kobrin snuck in quietly with a new blog The Modern Mesorah

Welcome him as he seems to be a rational and committed Jew. Nowadays that is a rarity.