Tuesday, July 25, 2006

God and Science in the New York Times

There is an interesting article in the New York Times today reviewing several books dealing with Science and Religion http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/25/science/25books.html?_r=1&oref=slogin# Hereis an excerpt that is pertinent to many of my posts:

Of course, just as the professors of faith cannot prove (except to themselves) that God exists, the advocates for atheism acknowledge that they cannot prove (not yet, anyway ) that God does not exist. Instead, Drs. Dawkins and Dennett sound two major themes: a) the theory of evolution is correct, and creationism and its cousin, intelligent design, are wrong; and b) a field of research called evolutionary psychology can explain why religious belief seems to be universal among Homo sapiens.

But these sermons, which the authors preach with what can fairly be described as religious fervor, are unsatisfying.

Of course there is no credible scientific challenge to Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. So what? The theory of evolution says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of God. People might argue about what sort of supreme being would work her will through such a seemingly haphazard arrangement, but that is not the same as denying that she exists in the first place.

There is much more in the article.

89 comments:

  1. Atheists have a philosophical stance you can't simply declare yourself Atheist.That is just dogmatism.David if you wish to be a atheist, you are obliged to give some evidence for your position. After all, there are plenty of rational and fiercely intelligent thinkers,who don't agree with you. ;)

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  2. Amshi, Are you saying I am an atheist? :-)

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  3. Amshi they say "Tzu zein an apikores darf man zein a lamdan andersh is men a stam makshen...."

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  4. > People might argue about what sort of supreme being would work her will through such a seemingly haphazard arrangement

    This is a decent question, but then so are the questions of why God would create the Universe in the first place, why there is so much evil in the world, why it took 15 billion years to get to human life, why dinosaurs existed, etc etc etc etc. If you take all these questions and put them together, it's tempting to discard the idea of God. But then you are left wondering why we have (or seem to have) free will, an identity and how does anything at all exist in the first place. Either way its ultimately incomprehensible. Personally I used to find these discussions interesting, now I just find them seriously depressing, especially from a rational POV. I am beginning to see the attraction of Kaballah (seriously). Rationality, especially from our 21st century scientifically skeptical POV, is a dead end as far as religion goes. Maybe it worked in the 12th century but not now. You have to go somewhat kabalistic it seems to me.

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  5. I find the idea of random chance creating order must less plausable than some "outside source" manipulating our "closed system."

    I never quite understood how Entropy and Evolution fit together in the minds of the athiests.

    Science brought me to believing in G-d, and it was then finding a system that explained the "science" of the spiritual world that led me to Kabbalah, and ultimatly, Torah Judaism.

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  6. Do you understand the Second Law?

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  7. That would be implying that the universe is an open system...

    Stars and planets evolve just as much as life on earth does.

    But entropy does not only apply to energy, it also applies to chaos theory, and quatum mechanics.

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  8. Let me better explain myself.. As a closed system, the rules of entropy fail on the macro universal scale. When it comes to cosmology many argue that entropy as a rule is not true.

    Now that entirely possible, however it seems more likely that the universe is actually an open system with an "unkown" source of energy.

    If you are then going to just argue that the universe is infinite then that opens up a whole slew of questions about the origin of the universe.

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  9. Let me try again. What about "Entropy and Evolution" do you find to be in conflict?

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  10. Evolution says that given a closed system, random behaviours will eventually lead to a situation which is best adapted to survive and grow over time.

    Entropy says that given a closed sytem, equalization will accure to create a stable balance until no "free energy" is left.

    For creatures to grow, you need free energy. Over millions of years, a closed system should result in a "heat death" where energy is equally distributed, not result in a collection of unique entities of varying concentrations of energy all feeding off eachother.

    To me, this leads me to the conclusion that we do not live in a closed system.

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  11. >Either way its ultimately incomprehensible. Personally I used to find these discussions interesting, now I just find them seriously depressing, especially from a rational POV

    Unless you accept that it is a question that no one can answer empirically. We have a world in front of us and we need to interpret it. If you accept that there is a First Cause, and I have a hard time understanding how else one understands how we got here, trying to understand Him is going to lead us closer to the existential answer. The Torah proposes that following a system which keeps the question in the forefront at all times 24 hours a day and building on information developed by past generations, eventually man can aspire to find the answer - olam Haba - which is now not in the future.

    Kabbalah to my mind is a cop out for the depressed skeptic.

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  12. David, have you studied Kabbalah before you start dismissing it?

    Kabbalah is So intrinsic to our practice of Halacha, I don't know how you can say its a cop out.

    Off the top of my head, the few halachas I can think about... Kabbalat Shabbat, Havdalah, Holding a kiddush cup after benching, Tieing your left Shoe first but putting on your right shoe first, Left handedness being a Mum, Davening in Hebrew, Saying brachas on cycles... this list is getting too long.

    Kabbalah is anything but emotional, but it is also not rational, because the world we live in is not wholey rational.

    There is a reason that there exists the phrase, "Every rule has its exception" Even basic scientific principles "work always... except"

    In logic, something can not be true and not true at the same time, however in the Torah world, thats often the case.

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  13. Irviner, I know more about Kabbalah and the supposed halachot that are based on it. I am however not interested having a discussion on line about it. If you are interested you can email me and i will try to explain to you more about it.

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  14. Irviner Chasid, no one ever claimed the Earth was a closed system. As such, the second law cannot in any way prohibit evolution. So what is the problem?

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  15. >Kabbalah to my mind is a cop out for the depressed skeptic

    GH LOL I just read what I wrote. I did not mean you. But I did! :-)

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  16. Kabbalah to my mind is a cop out for the depressed skeptic


    exhibit a :
    Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–July 25, 1572)

    Hernando del Pulgar,estimated that the Inquisition had burned at the stake 2,000 people and reconciled another 15,000 by 1490

    exhibit b:
    Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov(1698 – 1760)

    Chmielicki's Cossacks massacred tens of thousands of Jews during 1648-1649

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  17. some guy-
    evolution is thermodynamically impossible.
    As Morris claimed that bec. "evolution and entropy are opposing and mutually exclusive concepts,... evolution must be impossible" and that "the most devastating and conclusive argument against evolution is the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the entropy principle)... which describes a situation of universally deteriorating order." and "some have tried to imagine exceptions to the Second Law at some time or times in the past, which allowed evolution to proceed in spite of entropy, but such ideas are nothing but wishful thinking." John Morris: "the universal Second Law of Thermodynamics shows that things become more disordered through time, not more complex, as evolution insists."

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  18. Kabbalah to my mind is a cop out for the depressed skeptic.

    feh.

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  19. Amshinover and Irviner Chasid,

    As far as I know, the 2nd law of thermodynamics does not rule out the possibility that localized decreases in entropy will occur even within a closed system, as long as there is a net increase in entropy within the closed system as a whole.

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  20. AMSHINOVER, are you aware that Morris was a grade A fruitcake? But besides that, it seems to me that you also do not know the first thing about the Second Law. Grab a Thermodynamics text and read. Please.

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  21. 2nd law is the principle which places constraints upon the direction of heat transfer and the attainable efficiencies of heat engines. therefor it goes beyond the limitations of the first law of thermodynamics.

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  22. what that says to darwin is in any cyclic process the entropy will either increase or remain the same and so evolution is improbable

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  23. amshinover said:

    "evolution is thermodynamically impossible."
    7/25/2006 4:33 PM

    "... and so evolution is improbable."
    7/25/2006 11:40 PM

    Which one is it? In the line of argumentation that you're suggesting, the difference between the two statements is huge.

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  24. what that says to darwin is in any cyclic process the entropy will either increase or remain the same and so evolution is improbable

    No, what that says is that in an adiabatic closed system, entropy cannot decrease. The Earth as a whole is not an adiabatic closed system, nor is any individual ecosystem an adiabatic closed system. Therefore what the Second Law says to Darwin is absolutely nothing at all.

    People who mistakenly believe that evolution is contravened by the Second Law might want to consider whether, on their view, it is possible than any organism should grow in complexity over time. Does the development of a human being from zygote to infant to juvenile to adolescent to adult represent an increase in complexity? Isn't this prohibited by the Second Law, on your understanding?

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  25. They 2nd law stops working when you have an infinite system, or an open system.
    Evolution does not happen only in the macrosense, but also the microsense. Miroevolution happens all the time. The two principles are obviously true. HOwever, the universe then either become infinite( with a starting point), or an open system. Explaining the universe as infinite is much harder to explain than saying that the universe is an open system. So I will take ocam's razor on this one.

    Lastly, I did not say that I don't understand how athiests understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and evolution. I asked about Entropy. Entorpy exists and is discussed in more places than just thermodynamics.

    For example.. take a jar of green and red balls, put all the green balls on top the red balls on the bottom. Now shake it up. Now keep shaking untill the the jar is split 50/50 again.

    You also have entropy in areas of communications and information systems. (The telephone game)

    Evolution clearly happens, the question is if it goes against the laws of entropy, or if its just completed with effort. Again, it seems much more plausible that effort is involved than the idea that it breaks other known laws.

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  26. Lastly, a zygot to an old man will not happen if no effort is given into the taking care of that process. If no food enters the system, or if food enters the system and there is no "mobility" the process will quickly fall to the laws of entropy.

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  27. David, I can't seem to find your email link...

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  28. Jewishskeptic7/26/2006 2:21 PM

    I am sorry,but I must say it.
    Anyone who claims to believe in the various kabbalistic numerologies-gematriot gedolot & ketanot,notarikons ,in the writings of the Ari,et al ,something went awry with his brain! I don't care if he has 10 ph.d.s after his name.
    Anyone who believes in the miraculous powers of the kabbalists-whether the 'babbot,or R.Ifargan,the "Roentgen'(who claims to see any disease a persnon has ,just like an Xray...),should have his head examined.
    I think it was Eliyahu Delmadigo who wrote in his 'Bchinat Hadat,that the kabbalists are incapable of chasing away a fly!
    I can vouch for that.I visited,out of curiosity, a known kabbalist in Tsefat,& his place is just as mosquito infested as is the rest of the city!
    But there is no end to people's gullibilty & stupidity.
    As it has been said,"a sucker is born every five min."

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  29. Why do you think kabbalah is about magic tricks?

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  30. Let me rephrase that. Modern drugs are often made by using the building blocks of biology. Its a very complex process that I know nothing about. However, even if I did know about it, I doubt I could go to my local grocery store, and find foods with all the molucules used in drugs, put the food in a blender, drink it, and fix my ailments.

    Similarly, I doubt that any human can take the knowledge of Kabbalah and construct things with them, and even if they could, I doubt any serious Jew would try to supercede his will over the will of the universe to do so. Even with modern science, we can not construct things that are greater than a localized result, and as we know from the "butterfly affect" when it comes to reality, there is no such thing as a truly localized result.

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  31. david.guttman@verizon.net

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  32. I will just again urge everyone to pick up a Thermodynamics textbook, and understand the formal definition of entropy before making declarations on what entropy does or doesn't permit. If one is interested in Shannon-Hartley entropy, then by all means, they should pick up an Information Theory textbook (Cover and Thomas is the standard), and understand the mathematics there. Please.

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  33. Jewishskeptic7/26/2006 3:37 PM

    >"and as we know from the "butterfly affect" when it comes to reality, there is no such thing as a truly localized result."

    That's what really gets me. people get hooked on irrational beliefs or behaviour because of emotional,psychological reasons,or because they can't find themselves,or can't live with themselves,& they get attracted to some imaginary philosophy or religion that someone in his sick & unstable mind invented.
    It makes the person feel great.
    He "saw the light",he found the "truth". He attained a higher "sriritual" stage than the others.It makes him feel special!

    To buttress his illusions-in our case the *the mumbo jumbo of kabbalah*-he throws in all kind of high sounding words like 'Quantum Mechanics' 'the butterfly effect''uncertainty principle'& other scientific terms,thinking that it adds a shade of respectability to their nonesense.
    The 'New Age' uses this gimick.
    Thousands of useless books have been written by them. The supporters of the kabbalah just copied them.

    BUT NONESENSE REMAINS NONESENSE!

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  34. Thats interesting, because I laugh at new age stuff. Infact, I hate how new age people and the Kabbalah center have completely distorted so many philosophies as to create people like you who insist everything is "mumbo jumbo"

    However, I ask you to trace the origins of the theological ideas of the Ramban, and see what rational principles make him believe in spirits and souls.

    Do you believe quatum mechanics and chaos theory and historical relitvism, and literary and Artistic critical devices to be mumbo jumbo also?

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  35. >and see what rational principles make him believe in spirits and souls.

    See here http://hakirah.org/Vol%202%20Buchman.pdf

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  36. Lastly, a zygot to an old man will not happen if no effort is given into the taking care of that process. If no food enters the system, or if food enters the system and there is no "mobility" the process will quickly fall to the laws of entropy.

    OK, now... if the system is an adiabatic closed system, then the second law applies. If it is not, then the second law does not apply. There is no evolutionary system (or living system) I have ever heard of which could be considered an adiabatic closed system, and thus the second law does not apply to these systems. So why are you concerned about the second law in the context evolution (or biological growth)?

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  37. >e here http://hakirah.org/Vol%202%20Buchman.pdf

    Interesting, that article didn't talk about which rational principles makes on believe in spirits and souls, however it did bring up many interesting tidbits.

    What I find interesting, is that I was once taught taht RambaM was a kabbalist, and the showed sources that proved that, although he believed that kabbalah that many in his day heard about was nonsense. Just like when people hear about Kabbalah, they think about the Maddona Kabbalah center, which everyone agrees is nonsense, but Rambam was a firm believer that G-d created the world, the way the Kabbalistis say it happened.

    Also, I reject this notion of Either/Or.

    Rambam is important and Ramban is important. (also, I'm not so sure about that claim hat Ramban says each day was 24 hours in exclusisity to it being more than 24 hours.)

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  38. SomeGuy,

    My issue is not with biological evolution purely. As I said, stars and planets "evolve" as well, going from mere dust and nothingness into giant centers of gravity into burning lights into black holes.

    My issue is with arguing that the universe is an infinite, rather than open system.

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  39. I guess what it comes down to, is that some people seem to think that if you are understanding the way things happen, then that must mean that you are going to use that understanding to change things, and you should be able to do so.


    Which makes me wonder why people believe in meteorology, and don't go around calling that a bunch of hooey? What I mean by this is, that if someone said they could control the weather you would call them nuts.. but you wouldn't say meterology is nuts. Or if someone said he could create a dinosaur you would call him nuts, but that doesn't mean that a dinosaur couldn't be created...

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  40. Jewishskeptic7/26/2006 5:03 PM

    >"However, I ask you to trace the origins of the theological ideas of the Ramban, and see what rational principles make him believe in spirits and souls."

    About spirits I suggest you read the
    radak on Sami,28:24. It's a very long Radak.Just to quote a few phrases from it:
    וראינו מחלוקת בין הגאונים בדבר הזה וכולם נשתוו כי מעשה האוב הבל ותוהו ודברי כזב והתול...........
    זהו פירוש רב שמואל בן חפני הגאון ז"ל ואמר אף על פי שמשמעות דברי חז"ל בגמרא כי אמת היה שהחיתה האשה את שמואל לא יקובלו הדברים במקום שיש מכחישים להם מן השכל.

    Soul is not a Biblical concept!
    'neshamah does not mean soul.
    The correct translation of Gen2:7 is:
    "And He breathed into his nostrils THE BREATH of life"
    The concept of neshamah-soul was taken over from the Greeks & persians.

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  41. >Soul is not a Biblical concept!
    'neshamah does not mean soul.
    The correct translation of Gen2:7 is:
    "And He breathed into his nostrils THE BREATH of life"
    The concept of neshamah-soul was taken over from the Greeks & persians.

    Ok, so when the Ibn Ezra and the Rambam talk about the neshamas, ruach and nefesh, they are talking about three different types of winds that blow through our body?

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  42. Should I take it to mean that the word Neshamah means "Eletrical impulse from the brain to the rest of the body that exists only in beings that were created inside another being"?

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  43. Jewishskeptic7/26/2006 5:50 PM

    >"Ok, so when the Ibn Ezra and the Rambam talk about the neshamas, ruach and nefesh, they are talking about three different types of winds that blow through our body"

    What I wrote was that 'neshamah'in biblcal Heb.doesn't mean soul.
    Every Shabbat you say 'nishmat kol chai'.It doesn't mean the 'soul'of every living thing but the 'breath'of etc.
    Look in an Eng.tran.of the siddur.

    The rabbis you mentioned lived a couple of thousand of years after the Torah was written.So I don't understand your problem.
    After all the Rambam took most of his philosophy from the Greeks.
    the Ibn Ezra Ramban took a lot from the neo-Platonists,like plutonius & others.
    What's so hard to understand?

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  44. You quoted me, but your not really responding to me.

    People were dismissing kabalah as nonsene, and I asked then, what "rational" source does rambam have for his souls and spirits. I wasn't asking about the word Neshama.

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  45. Oi! I see the problem, I wrote Ramban instead of Rambam...

    I need to proofread before I hit the submit button.

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  46. Jewishskeptic,

    Why the hostility?

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  47. Jewishskeptic7/26/2006 6:21 PM

    >"What I find interesting, is that I was once taught taht RambaM was a kabbalist, and the showed sources that proved that, although he believed that kabbalah that many in his day heard about was nonsense"

    That's one big lie!!!

    WHAT SOURCES?!!!
    The kabbalists forged a letter supposedly written by the Rambam that he did tsuvah & accepted the Kabballah.
    this forgery is well known by historians.
    For heavans'sake who was your obscurantist,ignorant teacher who taught you that,without even mentioning to you that it is disputed by all historians?!!!

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  48. Jewishskeptic7/26/2006 6:43 PM

    "Why the hostility?"

    Without really meaning to be.
    Still,I feel strongly about the issues.
    And also,sitting here in my home in Israel,at 1:30 am,with F16 jets flying over every 5min, ,almost shattering my windows,doesn't add to my tranquility.

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  49. JS, I feel with you.

    Irviner, JS is correct. According to Rambam , Ramban was a heretic and so it was vice versa. Ramban respected Rambam very much but still was very upset and frustrated as you can see in the Sha'ar Hagemul at the end of Torat Ha'adam. He went so far to distort Rambam trying to mitigate what he considered heresy.

    Rambam and Ibn Ezra believe there is only one soul with different functions. Rambam says so clearly in the beginning of Shemona Perakim and Ibn Ezra is clear about it in his Yesod Morah. See my comment in Halachikman's post.

    What they call soul we call human consciousness and intellect. It is the combination of feeligs, urges and thougt. Their understanding of Olam Haba and survival of the soul is totally non mystical but rational. It is quite complicated and if you keep on reading I will be talking about it.

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  50. Hmm, the paragraph or two that I read did not in any way say that Rambam did teshuva and accepted Kabbalah. I've never seen anything like that.

    What I saw was a paragraph that said, the reason why one can not learn Kabbalah untill they are 40 is because the Christains have perverted it, and if one learns it now, it may lead them to thinking that our mysticism teaches about a trinity. It was a xerox of text, so I can't claim the source.

    What is so complicated about saying that "the world to come" is achieving the state of Buddah? :P I've seen that explained many times, without them actually using the word Budddah or Nirvana, but its basically the same thing.

    Or the other "non-mystical" is like Kant, who says that with enough conflit eventually you will come to a world of peace.

    Though I'm curious how the non-mystical ressurection of the dead works.

    Personally, I find it silly to only listen to one or two Rishonim when there are a myriad of other ways of seeing things, and declaring that only one way is correct. (its why I try to stay clear about making abolute statements about what Kabbalah says)

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  51. Ramban respected Rambam very much but still was very upset and frustrated as you can see in the Sha'ar Hagemul at the end of Torat Ha'adam.

    Well you can't really blame him. The Rambam came up with what he admitted was a completely innovative approach to techiyat haMeitim. The Rambam felt that not only was this approach not necessary but accepted the Greek claim that physical existence is secondary and that the climax of human existence is non-physical.

    I can't really say I blame them. I am not at all against innovations in thought (I am obviously fond of kabbalah) but I feel that this particular innovation is totally off the mark and even harmful - it accepts too many of the claims of philosophy (most of which are no longer in vogue) and for what? Iggeret techiyat haMeitim was not the Rambam's greatest moment.

    All in all, Rav Soloveitchic puts it best near the end of halachic man where he asserted that the Rambam's approach is not compatible with most peoples religious sensibilities - which is why of course the majority of gedolim of the past 800 years refused to reject mysticism and developed Jewish though within its framework.

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  52. >of halachic man where he asserted that the Rambam's approach is not compatible with most peoples religious sensibilities

    I have read Halachik man several times (in Hebrew) and do not find that quote. In fact at the end he explains beautifully Rambam's Hish'arut Hanefesh. Be it as it may, I find Rambam's approach exhilarating. Whenever I read him I see his excitement and avodat hashem, cleaving to HKBH and I feel transported.

    OTH I get depressed when i read the mystical stuff. I cannot for the life of me connect it with reality as much as I try.

    Keshem shepartzufeihem shonot kein De'oteihem.

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  53. Sorry, it is in "Halakhic Mind", pp. 92-93:

    "The reluctance on the part of the Jewish homo religiousus to accept Maimonidian rationalistic ideas is not ascribable to any agnostic tendencies, but to the incontrovertible fact that such explanations neither edify nor inspire the religious consciousness. They are essentially, if not entirely, valueless for the religious interests we have most at heart"

    Don't get me wrong. I fully accept that there are people for which the Rambam's system works. I am just being more assertive than usual due to what I see as a direct assault of mystical thought of any kind and its place in Judaism.

    I almost always refrain from attacking systems but when the following is written about 800 years and more of sublime Jewish thought:

    "people get hooked on irrational beliefs or behaviour because of emotional, psychological reasons,or because they can't find themselves,or can't live with themselves,& they get attracted to some imaginary philosophy or religion that someone in his sick & unstable mind invented."

    Then my only recourse is to attack back. The Rambam's system is no less an "invention" than any esoteric system. And the idea that someone can so flippantly call everyone from the Ramban to the Ramchal, the Baal Tanya to the Gra "sick & unstable" boggles my mind. Go ahead and disagree, but if you are looking for a fight, don't be surprised if the Rambam's shita gets a good one on the chin.

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  54. Re your quote, Chaim B. quoted it btoo on one of his posts. RYBS is referring specifically to Rambam's Ta'amei hamitzvot and as we know that is one of the most controversial of his thoughts. i personally disagree with the Rav and find rambam's ideas extremely strong though one needs to really think about them. They fit nicely with of his halachik works. I just did Hilchot Shabbat and you get a real understanding frtom the moreh. Rav Kaffah does a good job though sometimes a little superficial. We also did Eruvin and if you read R. Buchman's article in latest Hakirah on the subject it will be edifying.

    I don't think JS was attacking them personally though it sure sounded so. He was talking about their ideas. To me Gra is still the greatest mistery. On one hand he was so brilliant on the other he seems to have been mistaken. I am convinced had he lived in today's world he would have turned kabbalah on its head and adopted a rational approach. I am still going after Rav kook. I have tried to get Orot Hakodesh without success. I will try Biggeleisen in the near future.

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  55. I have tried to get Orot Hakodesh without success

    You can probably get it through virtual geula


    or maybe they can ship it from here

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  56. Jewishskeptic7/27/2006 9:10 AM

    >"And the idea that someone can so flippantly call everyone from the Ramban to the Ramchal, the Baal Tanya to the Gra "sick & unstable" boggles my mind"
    Well,Chardal,ther were many great men,great in one field & of unstable mind in others. Take Newton writing obscure commentaries on the N.T.

    Avraham Abulafia,the bizzare character & advetures,with his erotic dreams wasn't such 'kedosh elyon'.Nor was Moshe di Leon,the spendthift who tried to make a buck
    by peddling a book claiming to be written by Rashbi,as testified by his own wife & daughter!
    The Ramchal had a great poetic soul(read Bialiks 'habachur mipaduva').
    He is considered the father of Modern Heb.Lit. And yes,at the same time he was of unstable mind with his messianic claims,writing a second Zohar(Zohar Tinyana).
    What the Gra said about the Rambam,that he was led astray by the accursed philosopy,could be applied to him & just change the word phil. to kabbalah.
    I could go on & on. Actually,I had written a much lengthier email but it was swallowed up by haloscan.How annyoing! In order to avoid this I am ending here.

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  57. I could go on & on

    I am sure you could - but judging mystics by rationalist standards does not generally go over well. Just face the fact that pure rationalism is a relic of the past, both Judaism and philosophy have moved past it. The existence of a mystical vision whether by the Ramchal, Gra, Ariz"l, or Rav Yosef Karo is only the function of the insane mind from the perspective of your own worldview. It is disingenuous at best (and bizui talmidei chachamim at worst) to pass such judgments on gedolei olam to whose ankles you will probably never rise. No one is forcing you to accept their systems of thought - if the Rambam makes you happy - zei gezunt. But don't you dare make claims about their sanity or moral character - that is beyond the bounds. And in fact, the list goes on and on. The number of gedolim in every generation who accepted the claims of kabbalah is enormous. Sure, you can find an individual here or there who rejected it, but they were few and far between (and almost never the greatest minds of their generation). To claim such motives as you did to our great thinkers is an aveira of the first order and basically is equivalent to saying that the last 800 years of Jewish thought were a mistake. Sorry – disagree you may, disparage and mock – never.

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  58. JS, your comments remind me of people who consider Mentally handicapped people non humans. Or people with severe physcical disorders non-human.

    What you define as rational, I do not define as rational. To me, being rational means you understand the limits of human invented logic and don't place 100% Faith into it.

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  59. >being rational means you understand the limits of human invented logic
    Isn't that exactly what Kabbalah does not do?

    >and don't place 100% Faith into it.
    that is why I have a 100% faith it is nonsense.

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  60. kabbalah rejects the idea of the Rambam that all of mans speculative faculties should only be triggered by his intellect.

    It allows the speculative faculties of refined individuals to function autonomously and the products of such speculations are filtered by the intellect. The intellect is never discarded but it stops being the sole approach to knowledge.

    I fully understand why some people are uncomfortable with this approach. I have no problem with people choosing to have a different approach to the religious experience. I have a HUGE problem with people who claim that gedolei Israel were basically insane. Everyone is free to disagree, and I am no one to tell someone not to follow the Rambam in fire and water. But no one on this blog is qualified to pass judgment on the gedolei olam who FULLY ACCEPTED kabbalah.

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  61. >sn't that exactly what Kabbalah does not do?

    >and don't place 100% Faith into it.
    that is why I have a 100% faith it is nonsense.

    Not at all. The Very first rule of Kabbalah is that you need to understand the limits of your understanding.

    Its very Zen in that way.

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  62. As Chardal said, I am not suggesting that Kabballah is the only way to understand something, and that anything written by a person who claims to be knoweldgable in Kabblah means its 100% truth.

    What I am saying is that there is more than just Rambam's approach to the world.

    Some people root for the yankees, some for the redsox, they are both valid baseball teams.

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  63. > I have a HUGE problem with people who claim that gedolei Israel were basically insane

    I agree wit that but I don't see any reason not to say Lefi Anyut Da'ati they were wrong. Everyone may agree or disagree.

    I do not accept that there is a legitimate way of dealing with metaphysics outside the intellect. I think it borders on many issurim and I disagree with you, Chardal, that the gedolei olam thought so. They believed that it was all kabbalah either from Rebbis or Ruach Hakodesh.

    The ones who accepted it was neither tried to rephrase it and interpret it rationally.- namely R.Meir Simcha and the little I have read Rav kook. (on the latter I may be disappointed.)

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  64. I agree wit that but I don't see any reason not to say Lefi Anyut Da'ati they were wrong. Everyone may agree or disagree.

    My bone is not with you on this thread but with JS who basically called the greatest minds of the previous 800 years "sick & unstable". That is chutzpa of the highest caliber.

    I do not accept that there is a legitimate way of dealing with metaphysics outside the intellect.

    Fine, but that is an arbitrary epistemological and ontological assertion. No one is forcing you to learn kabbalah. Just be respectful to other people who do learn it and get inspired by it.

    They believed that it was all
    kabbalah either from Rebbis or Ruach Hakodesh.


    Everyone from the alter Rebbe to the Gra was aware that the Ariz"l was an innovation. What you call ruach haKodesh, they call the imaginative faculties of a holy person producing ideas which are acceptable to the rational faculties (yet not necessarily muchrach to the rational faculties).

    No one thought that these ideas were ancient and no one thought that they were the function of reason. And since these are the very people most qualifies to decide issur and heter, I do not take your warnings about this bordering on issur to heart. It is only potentially assur according to the standards of the rambam which most of these thinkers rejected.

    on the latter I may be disappointed

    You should not be disappointed when a great man says things you don't agree with. That is arrogant. What is acceptable to you is not an objective standard. Try to understand great men on their own terms and try to get a solid grasp on their ideas - don't just try to see how they can fit in with your world view.

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  65. Chrdal, I only meant disappoint me and my expectations.

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  66. Jewishskeptic7/27/2006 3:42 PM

    >" It is disingenuous at best (and bizui talmidei chachamim at worst) to pass such judgments on gedolei olam to whose ankles you will probably never rise."

    In an earlier comment you asked me "why the hostility".
    I could ask you the same question.
    There is holy anger running thru your comment.You are too sanctimonious.
    Yes,I know I will never rise to their ankles.Kotnam gadol mimotnai! My "disparagement" of them is based on their own writings.Abulafia put down in writing his weird & erotic dreams. READ A THESHUVAH BY THE RASHBA WHERE HE DESCRIBES ABULAFIA AS A NOCHEL-SCROUNDEL & CHARLATAN!
    I know you will say the Rashba was allowed to say it,but not you...
    And about Moshe di Lion,about him being a spendthrift & his peddling the Zohar for gain & the testimony of his wife & daughter is all taken from sefer hayuchasin,by R.moshe Zacuta,of the golei sepharad,a very respected & accepted sefer by trad.J.
    What I said about the Ramchal you can find in all history books dealing with that period & in many seforim.
    To take an extreme example,if you were discussing Jesus with a believer in him.Would would you just say "I disagree with him,but I respect him".Wouldn't you quote all the dis paraging things said about him from the Talmud onwards.
    The same if you were discussing Spinoza or Solomon Maimon.
    You remind me of the chasid who is prepared 'likroa kedag'anyone who says the slightest thing against his rebbe!

    Btw,the most scathing & bitter attack on Kabbalah & hasidism,that I ever read was written by a very orthodox Heb.writer by the name of Ephraim Dainard.The book is called 'alatah'(darkness).The book is out of print,but I got special permission to take it out from the G,Sholem collection at Heb.U. On the front page is a handwritten note about the book by Sholem himself.

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  67. Jewishskeptic,

    I am angry because you called gedolei olam "sick & unstable". I don't think it requires explanation why I would find that objectionable. If I said that about someone you respected, you would also find it objectionable.

    Re Rav Abulafia, his books are controversial even in kabbalistic circles. It is a red herring. And you know full well that esoteric though never shied away from the erotic as being a valid subject matter.

    Re Rav Moses de Leon. I have no problem with him attributing his book to Rashbi any more than I have a problem with the attribution of sefer yetzira to Avraham avinu. Attribution of authorship is part of the esoteric genre and needs to be understood within its context. We know full well that most of the ideas in the Zohar were circulating much earlier than that in the Jewish world and that de Leon was a member of kabbalistic circles in spain. Notice that Rav Yaakov Emden, the first to point out the late authorship of the Zohar was very vehement against anyone who disparages its holiness.

    RE the Ramchal, I have read all of his letter we have available as well as his poems and plays. He was an incredible personality who probably had messianic ambitions. I have NO PROBLEM with anything that he did or wrote. He was a person of great righteousness whose innovations in esoteric thought are remarkable and stay with us to this very day. He reached a level of tefisa that you or I can only dream of.

    The rest of your comment is irrelevant (as well as your sick comparison between Jewish esoteric thought and Christianity). You have to ask yourself what makes something part of Torah. We are primarily a nation of oral Torah. What makes something a part of the corpus of Torah if not its acceptance by the Jewish people for generation after generation? No one is forcing you to accept these ideas just as no one is forcing me to accept rationalism. What is REQUIRED of any believing Jew is to show respect for those who have achieved greatness in Torah WHATEVER their personal hashkafa is.

    You do not show that respect which is why I call you to task.

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  68. Jewishskeptic7/27/2006 5:57 PM

    Well,Chardal,I am very familiar with your attitude & holy fanaticism.So let's leave it at that.

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  69. Well,Chardal,I am very familiar with your attitude & holy fanaticism

    I am not even sure what this means. How is asking someone to disagree in a respectful fashion "holy fanaticism"? What is fanatic about asking that you refer to the Gra and Ariz"l with a minimum level of respect even if you disagree with them? It is not fanaticism, it is basic derech eretz.

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  70. YOu know, its funny that you said that you think Kabbalah goes on the edge of whats not allowed, because I think the same thing about people who says "My brain only and nothing else"

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  71. JS, I am curious, do you think sex is a sin? Your comment about the erotic dreams makes it seem like perhaps you might.

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  72. Jewishskeptic7/28/2006 9:26 AM

    >"What is fanatic about asking that you refer to the Gra and Ariz"l with a minimum level of respect even if you disagree with them? It is not fanaticism, it is basic derech eretz."

    Chardal,arguing with you is like arguing with a Jehova Witness or Mormon.Nay,worse!
    Your arguments are emotionally charged & not rational.
    I showed you that all 'disparaging" remarks you said I made are taken from bona fide traditional sources.Have 'taines'to the Rashba,not me.He is the one who called Rav Abulafia a charlatan...
    About my use of the phrase 'sick & unstable mind',I take back the word 'sick',which sounds too offensive,but stick to 'unstable mind'.Actually they are synonimous...
    I gave you an example of Newton,maybe the greatest scientist of all times,& at the same time was of unstable mind in other areas, immersing himself in obscure commentaries on the Book of Revelation,which I hope you'll agree with me is meshugas & narishkeiten.Yet that doesn't detract from his greatness as a scientist.I can't even say that much for the kabbalists.
    When one reads in the autobiographic notes of R.Ch.Vital,how he consulted a witch,& she told him with what he should occupy himself,by reading thru oil(shemen).A good role model to all those here in Israel(& I personally know many,& religious)to have their futures told & advice given,thru tea leafs & coffee readings,tarrot card,Babbot,kevarim of 'Tsaddikim,etc etc etc.
    Do I consider them of unstable mind? YES I DO! & I consider R.C.Vital of unstable mind & a charlatan,as can be seen from his own writings & from his son Shemuel(or maybe his grandson)& from other writers of that era.
    Let's not forget that all the famous kabbalah of the Ari that we is only thru him.CAN YOU TRUST SUCH A PERSON? ON WHAT BASIS?!
    I woudn't buy a second hand car from him... & he was no Newton...
    The above said applies to many of the other kabbalists,whom you call "gedolei olam",& thru your holy anger you are prepared 'laharog ulehashmind'anyone who shows the least disrepect to them.

    B'kitsur,let me say this.I don't have the irrational fear & respect to the gedoilim 'sh'kotnam aveh mimotnai',that you have.
    Let me give you a final example.
    To the Lubavitchers the late Rebbe was(& is!) a Tsaddik gomur-to say the least... Oy v'avoy to anyone who dared to say anything against him.& yet historians who took the trouble to investigate found that he had no degrees from univ.as was claimed & that his stay in Paris was not as kosher as one would expect of a future rebbe & other thigs.Did those historians show disrepect?
    (
    btw,my children are 9th generation of the Alter Rebbe.They are mentioned in sefer Hatsetsa'im...)

    I am not a believing Jew.My Jewishness consists of:
    1)Ethnicity.Both my parents were Jewish.

    2)Studying the J.sources & literature (I learned for many yrs at an elite Chareidi yeshivah.

    3)Culture
    So my approach to Tsaddikim & gedolei olam &kedoshei elyon is not the same as yours!

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  73. >Have 'taines'to the Rashba,not me.He is the one who called Rav Abulafia a charlatan...

    You really need to explain this better.

    You take single sources, and use them to make claims against other single sources.

    You are basically compiling a list of he said/he said. And choosing the one you like over the one you don't like.

    How is this more rational than a person doing the opposite?

    One doesn't need accademic proof that they have a body, similarly, one who has experienced things that can not be explained by rational thought, does not need proof that such an experience happened.

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  74. You are bringing little examples here and there to basically denigrate people. What you are doing is basically be the same as me taking the baalei plugta of the Rambam and quoting them to you as 'proof' of how 'sick & unstable' he was. The same can be said of any machloket through history.

    As I said, Rav Abulafia is controversial even in kabbalistic circles, so I have no idea why you are bringing him up at all, it would be like me bringing up the Ralbag's milchemot Hashem as an example or critique of rationalism in general – every movement has its fringe elements (and Rav Abulafia is not even the fringe of the kabbalistic system). So does rationalism.

    And now you bring up Rav Chaim Vital. Basically, let me make it clear to you - what you are doing is projecting your own bias onto a different historical context and mileu. You simply don't have the tools to judge what was a normal mental state during 16th and 17th century tzfat. You live in a world (and even the modern chareidi world is like this) where spiritual visions and such are a sign of insanity - well - it was not always the case, and probably, according to your standards, most of the prophets of the bible would be classified as 'sick and unstable' personalities, C"V.

    The religious experience as defined by the mystic is wholly unacceptable to the rationalist but BOTH systems are the results of sane minds.

    As I said, it is not a matter of picking and choosing individuals, it is a matter of the totality of the past 800 years of Jewish thought - and you labeling all those who held of it 'sick & unstable'

    I am not even gonna get into your view of the Rebbe Zt"l and your acceptance of Deutch's history as gospel but I have never had the need to see the gedolim of the past as perfect being who never faced a challenge in their lives.

    I really don't care if you are a 'believing jew' or not. I am not asking you to believe or disbelieve ANYTHING. I am asking you to have respect for the great figures of Jewish history at best or at worst, to have the derech eretz to communicate your disagreement in a decent fashion.

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  75. Jewishskeptic7/28/2006 12:02 PM

    >"JS, I am curious, do you think sex is a sin? Your comment about the erotic dreams makes it seem like perhaps you might."

    I ,personally am your average guy.,raised a decent family of 3 children.
    I don't consider sex a sin.
    In Judaism it gets complicated.
    In the bible you have Judah going to a prostitute,without any disapproval.Then you have Samson, & Ruth sneaking & coming on to Boaz.
    You have the beautiful classic of Shir Hashirim.
    On the other hand,the woman & her sexual enticement were portrayed very derogatively,reaching almost pornographic imagery in the book of Ezekiel.
    It was not considerd a sin in Talmudic times.After all its the first mitsvah in the Torah-peru u'revu. You find Amoraim who wanted to get married for just 1 day in order to have sex!
    Also polygamy was quite widespread.

    You can see a change in attitude towards sex from the Middle ages on.
    It was of course sanctioned, even ordained ,between man & wife.As mentioned its the 1st mitsvah & for the continuation of the race.
    Still,it was considerd mainly for procreation.
    The Rambam,with all the halachot how one should satisfy one's wife (onah),had on the other hand,a disdainful attitude towads sex.
    He considerd it a 'cherpah'that man be subjected to the most 'ever pachut'of the woman.
    Showing the animalistic & bestial nature of man.
    The Ramban,in his comm. writes that the sexual act itself between man & wife is kedushah.

    In the Kabbalah (& that's what interests you),you see a marked disapproval & here you can ask whether it was considered a sin.
    It was certainly considerd a sin outside of marriage.
    While on one hand you have the very strong sexual images of the Zohar & other Kabbalistic works describing the makeup of the 'Godhead';you also find the shunning of sex & considering it POLLUTING.
    Do I have to remind you what the Zohar & all the other kabbalistic works say about the "dreadful" sin of masturbation(hotsa'at shichvat zera l'vatalah),that even tshuvah doesn't help!
    This dread,& shunnig of sex(except for procreation-& even then you do it in haste,to get it over with as soon as possible, k'mi she kfa'o shed...)
    All this can be found in the very popular works like Sefer Hachasidim,the Shelah & many similar kabbalistic & moralistic(based on kabbalah)works from Medieval times untill recently.

    But your question,Irvinor,was instigated by my ref.to the erotic dreams of R.Abulfia.
    Well,we are not talking about any Tom, Dick & Harry who brags about his wet dreams...
    We are talking about one of the greatest kabbalists,the revered 'Harav hamekubal ha'elohi kedosh elyon'writing down his erotic dreams...
    You don't see anything wrong with that?
    Btw.this bizzare character was quite an adventurer,having this crazy idea of going to the Pope & converting him.He was lucky to get out by the skin of his teeth.
    I better stop here.As it is I am afraid that Chardal will send me staight to hell for all my blasphemy...

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  76. k'mi she kfa'o shed

    I believe that this is from the Gemara:

    http://kodesh.snunit.k12.il/b/l/l3302_020b.htm

    Rav Abulfia was a unique figure in Jewish history. He was one of the few people with messianic ambitions who was NOT a populist but rather hoped for a top down approach to redemption - one which starts with the tzaddikim.

    Bringing him up is a red herring. JS, you might not be sensitive to the halachas of kavod haTorah, but if you want to have a meaningful discussion with someone who is, then I suggest you tone down your rehtoric. If you are not, then we are all just wasting our time.

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  77. Jewishskeptic7/28/2006 12:37 PM

    >"You really need to explain this better.

    You take single sources, and use them to make claims against other single sources"

    Well,Irvinor,THERE IS such a tshevah.
    Don't expect of me to waste my time to find it for you .
    It's in the שו"ת הרשב"א
    יגעת מצאת!

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  78. Js, you are being nuts.

    You try to argue that Kabbalah is anti sex, while bringing down the Rambam as an example of someone who thought it was not good, while the Ramban say it was pure kedusha...

    My point was that its the "rationalists" who tend to say you can't talk to women, while its the kabbalists who say there is something to learn. I've never heard of rav Abulfia so I don't if I would consider him the greatest, however I don't find it to anythign wrong with using erotic imagery to explain things. Unless you think people can't control themselves. As you said, thats exactly what Shir a shirim does.

    However, the part where you are nuts, is not that. THe nutty part is that you choose to take two equally unproovable concepts and say that one is sane and the other is "unstable", and your barameter that tells you which one is sane and which one isn't, are the words of the people who argue one side over the other, whom themselves bring no proof.

    Your just being completely illogical for one suggesting they are a "rationalist"

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  79. Jewishskeptic7/28/2006 5:49 PM

    >"Js, you are being nuts.

    You try to argue that Kabbalah is anti sex, while bringing down the Rambam as an example of someone who thought it was not good, while the Ramban say it was pure kedusha"

    I don't intend to engage in a mud slinging contest with you.

    You asked me if I think sex is sin.
    After telling you I don't,I tried to give a very broad outlook,in a few sentences, of what I think is the attitude in J.about it.
    I started with the bible,then mentioned the Talmud,then to medieval times & wrote what I think the Rambam's view is & then the Ramban's view.
    So what's nutty about it?
    Then I said what I think the attitude of kabbalah is & mentioned the Zohar .Now that's true,I havn't read the whole Zohar,but what I did,I read in the original,not in Eng.tran.
    And I did read most of the sefer Hachasidim,Shelah,Reshit Chochmah & many similar which you probably never heard of them.

    You write you have never heard of Rav Abulafia. Well than,you are an AM HA'ARETS in Jewish history & Kabbalah.I get the strong impression that you don't know enough Hebrew,certainly not enough to read the above works.
    You remind me of young people I met,mostly anglo-saxons & chozrei bitshuvah,who can't read a posuk in Chumash with Rashi,without using an Eng.tran.& yet they insist on discussing Kabbalah...
    When I asked them about it they answered that their rav told them that now thats the way to be 'mekarev'the geulah.And about knowledge of J.well,they say,since no one really knows all of shas & poskim,why start with it in the first place... Tanach,J.history,Hebrew etc that's for the chilonim.The main thing today is Kabbalah!
    In an earlier comment you wrote that you had "the benefit of reading the Tanach from cover to cover".But did you read it in Hebrew? With mefarshing in Hebrew?
    I doubt it very much!
    Instead of humilty you do have a lot of chutspa.
    About the rest of your comment about sanity,I did not use the word.
    However,people who come to Jerusalem with visions of God appearing to them ,of being messiahs,etc(called the Jerusalem syndrom),I have no empirical proof that they are unstable-they certainly consider themselves sane.. One just knows what is sane & what is not .In most cases there is no empirical proof.
    The asylums are full with people who are convinced they are Napoleon,or the Moshiach of the Jews ,or the gilgul of the Lubavicher rebbe etc.& according to you who can say that they are!

    דרך אויל ישר בעיניו Prov.12:15

    גם אויל מחריש חכם יחשב Prov,17:28

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  80. JS,

    I think you don't realize how you come off. You are very insulting to Irvinger and you definitly owe him an appology.

    Is that the way to talk to a fellow Jew????

    Do you have any arguments towards him except for flaming him for never having heard of R. Abulafia??? How in the world would he unless he read Scholem or one of his students? You know full well that his works are not well known in the religious world! And R. Abulafia had very little infulence on the development of Jewish though when compared to other greats. Your response smacks of arrogance.

    You think you are such a talmid chacham? Give me a break! The fact is that you DID misrepresent the esoteric approach to sex. In truth it is not at all monolithic. If anything could be says it is that most thinkers of the middle ages whether esoteric or rationalist had a utilitarian approach to sex. If you look at the history of kabbalistic writing, you will see a far more diverse array of opinion. Especially in some of the early chassidim. The Ramchal as well did not have such a negative approach towards it. There is nothing that constrains R. Abulafia from from having a more liberal approach to it.

    As far as the rest of your post. NO ONE IS ASKING YOU to believe in anything, JUST SHOW SOME RESPECT. Everything you write can be applied to any one of the neviim. I have little doubt that if you were living in the time of Yeshayahu or Yirmiyahu, you would have called them sick and unstable as well.

    So please, show some respect and don't be so insulting to fellow Jews.

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  81. >"So please, show some respect and don't be so insulting to fellow Jews"

    Calling me a nut I suppose is very respectful.
    I resent your self righteous hypocricy.Your type is very familiar to me .
    This is my last comment ever to you & Irviner.

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  82. Jewishskeptic7/29/2006 5:25 AM

    The above comment is from me.

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  83. david guttmann7/29/2006 9:49 PM

    I would appreciate it if you could keep ad hominem attacks out of comments. Divrei Chachamim benachat nishma'im. I am guilty too sometimes so I appologise.

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  84. Calling me a nut I suppose is very respectful.
    I resent your self righteous hypocricy.Your type is very familiar to me .
    This is my last comment ever to you & Irviner.


    I have never called you nuts nor would I.

    I have no idea where I have been the slightest bit hypocritical.

    All I have done was plead with you to keep the discussion respecful. I do not know why you have a hard time understanding this.

    Take care,

    Chardal

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  85. I would love to be able to read and understand hebrew. I was not gifted with such a brain sadly. I can barely pass an english test, languages are not my strong suit. However, a lack of knowledge in one area does not equate a lack of knowledge in another. If after learning hebrew from 1st grade to 12th grade, and then after spending a year in Israel and learning with a man who couldn't speak english hasn't taught me hebrew yet, then there isn't much I could do.

    The best I can do is read the translations of the people who are trusted by those who do read hebrew, and ignore the translations of those who are not trusted. I could either spend all my time in Jastrow, or I can spend my time comparing Artscroll to soncino, Artscroll and soncino is much quicker.

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  86. I just realized I gave a false impression of my reality. I can read hebrew and I can translate quite a bit. The siddur for example, I know the meaning of almost every word, however, it often takes me seemingly full seconds to recall what the meaning of that word is, and sometimes I remember wrongly, while other times I remember correctly.

    Personally, I just care about the information, I don't care if it was ramban who said it or ibn ezra, or rashi or rambam. I know there is what to learn from knowing the differ

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  87. t sources, however I feel that is mostly academic.

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