Thursday, November 23, 2006

In Baltimore as it Is in Heaven
I'm moved by the actions of the souls among the Umot haOlam who've given [of] their lives for others - but not by their motivation! Which is to say the figure of Jesus. If J.C. was not whom the Christian Scriptures said he was, the savior of the world, etc., what's to be said of the more-saintly of the actions of his followers - are they therefore even further wasted gestures? Many of them actually saved lives, gave of their lives, at times tragically gave up their lives in helping others...which is to say actually helped people. In this it would seem they surpassed their motivation, and I would offer perhaps 'transfigured' the shackles of error into something with a touch of truth. Next Wednesday will be the 26th anniversary of the passing of Dorothy Day (here's a piece from First Things on the announcement of her possible canonization).
"Our problems stem from our
acceptance of this filthy,
rotten system"-Dorothy Day

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Daat Torah

Discussion abounds around "Daas Torah" and this might become my two cents worth. I really just wanted to be able to post some links. Here are links where it's actually acknowledged that there is actual dispute on the part of great minds;

- Jewish Law has several pieces. "Daas Torah" by Alfred Cohen, mostly historical with his own attempts at grasping what is even meant by the term. Here's a response by Yitzchak Kasdan, founder of the Jewish Law website.

-Of course theres the Orthodox Forum volume around rabbinic authority, "Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy".

-A sort- of critique of the views I in part share with others (in the above volume and articles) can be found in "The Charedim; A Defense" by Aharon Rose in the journal Azure. In defining the parameters that define Charedim, I think he addresses only parts of some of the issues and by design leaves out others (it has been remarked that defenses of orthodoxies are often undermined by the traditions they seek to defend). Those Charedi rabbinic authorities that are given the situation of defining Charedim (by Charedim themselves), are considered by many Charedim themselves as defining Yahadut as well! For them, the ideals and presuppositions embraced as ideal by Charedim are considered not merely ideals and presuppositions among many kosher possibilities - they're considered the ideals and norms of all who would claim themselves to be the most "orthodox" of observant Jews. This is no small irony, as "Orthodox" is a Greek term - and as most know, was a derogatory term used on the part of opponents of Torah-Observant ways of life.

More random links;

Da-at Torah - The Unqualified Authority Claimed for Halachists by Jacob Katz.

Emunat Hakhamim by Simha Friedman

An entire issue of Tradition (27:4) was devoted to the general topic of Rabbinic authority.

Hasgacha Pratit links

A lot that I've written on before is somewhat linked to the arguments about Hasgacha Pratit that have been current. R. Slifkin recently wrote on it in "Challenge of Creation"; I mostly agree with him on it, as well as his history of the spread of the "popular" conceptions of Hashgacha Pratit that have reigned since the ideas of Chassidut (see also next post about how popular conceptions in Daas Torah also spread from Chassidim to 'misnagdim' in the early 20th Cent).

R. Slifkin recently posted R. David Berger's seminal essay on the views of the Ramban on the issue. Definitely worth reading. Rambam and Ramban, in general, are honestly not that far apart in a central dimension of HP - but both are quite far from the popular perspectives held by many. HKBH's Providence, by both Ramban and Rambam, is gained or lost in accord with an individuals adherence to His norms. How they define HP, what "adherence" really means - that differs between them. Of course, many people will say no one (i.e., me), can know either thinkers thoughts enough to make such generalisations. Thats why I supply links to bigger thinkers that people may then argue with.

R. Gil at Hirhurim has posted several great pieces on the issues, including a sermon by R . Berger here, also this general piece on how he would respond to the issues and more recently his thoughts on R. Moshe Eisemann's "Ramban as a Guide to Today's Perplexed". David Guttman at "Believing is Knowing" has had much to say.

And here's an oft quote piece from Rav J.B. Soloveitchik around the Rambam (Halakhic Man, p. 128):

"The fundamental of providence is here transformed into a concrete commandment, an obligation incumbent upon man. Man is obliged to broaden the scope and strengthen the intensity of the individual providence that watches over him [which is to say that Providence is something we affect by our actions!]. Everything is dependent on him; it is all in his hands. When a person creates himself, ceases to be a mere species man, and becomes a man of God, then he has fulfilled that commandment which is implicit in the principle of providence."

I'll be adding more links, but I wanted this out there.

"Privileged" Perspective and the Mabul

[NOTE: 2/07 post; more from R. Kook]

[still a MAJOR work in progress]
I want to look at what HKBH Told Noach would happen, how it happened, and what he perceived of the experience and what is possibly Noach's "account" of the event. Rav Hirsch says something interesting regarding Adam - a Navi - naming in Bereshit 2:19 (all emphasis and italics mine):

"The position in the verse of the term 'nefesh hai' shows that it is to be taken as being in apposition to 'ha-adam': Man gives things names, not as God, Who sees things objectively as they are, but as nefesh hai, subjectively, from his own point of view as a nefesh an individual, hai, who receives the acceptable or rejectable impression of the things about him [did HKBH allow that First Man's perspective would be the means of language description? in this narrative?; see below regarding how this is narrative is potentially Adam's Nevuah prior to Moshe Rabbenu's]. It is according to the impression they make on him, that he gives them names. In these names he expresses the impression which his imagination forms of things, and thereby he indicates their 'sham' (hence the word 'shaim'), place in his world [which I emphasise, since his world is bracketed by his knowledge, formed by his perception], ranks them in the appropriate kind, species etc. of things. All knowledge of things is such a name-giving. But this knowledge is only subjective, is only 'ashair ikra lo ha adam nefesh hai', how a man calls things for himself, 'lo', what they are to him. What things really are, the true nature of things in themselves, no human eye sees [this I think is important regarding the narrative of Noach; Noach as possible source for the sections of the narrative that are not "Vayomair Hashem"...see below]. But although the 'nefesh hai' does refer back to the whole limited extent of human knowledge, nevertheless scepticism is opposed by the assurance which the addition of 'hoo shmo' gives, that, even if that which we know from the impression things make on us is not the whole truth of the real nature of things, still it does contain the truth. God, Who created Man and things...also guarantees men that the amount of knowledge of the nature of things which is granted him [Noach was only told so much, and from the 'other' direction, perceived so much?], is no deception. That this fraction of the truth is also true [for those for whom it mattered - Noach, his family, those who would hear the story from him - his portion was truth on several levels], and is as much of the truth of the real true nature of things that he requires in his association with things for the accomplishment of his mission on earth [see R. Kook below, also here], and that he may safely have confidence in it."

There is suggestion from within our mesorah (also recent addenda) that the Avot authored sefarim that were known by Moshe Rabbenu and in some manner were 'edited' into what became the Torah (there's also a Midrash regarding oral 'knowledge' of the people that similarly became integrated into Torah; see Spero piece). I tentatively suggest this is the case with the narrative of Noach based on the Daat Mikra introduction by [], who gives the sections [] as being derived from Noach. Assuming for a moment that The portion regarding Noach and his context [give Y. Kil's suggestion] is a "work of Noach" until the time it is Incorporated into "Torah from Sinai" - what was it's status over that time? Is this status lost or sublimated? Noteworthy would be R. Hirsch's final words; "as much of the truth of the real true nature of things that he requires in his association with things for the accomplishment of his mission on earth"; these words are mirror strongly by R. Kook below and recently R. Shlomo Fisher;

For prophecy presents itself to the prophet in accordance with his own conception of the world.

Perhaps Noach narrated portions being what Noach perceived by God's Hand, most immediately for his eras comprehension and as Nevuah for all time - which was potentially only what was necessary, only what needed to be known or grasped for the purposes of transmitting Nevuah. Here I give R. Slifkins translation of the R. Kook I noted before;

"...The Torah certainly obscures the [meaning of the act of (n.s.)] creation and speaks in allegories and parables, for indeed everyone knows that the stories of Genesis are part of the hidden Torah, and if all these narratives were taken literally, what secrets would there be?...What is most important about the act of creation is what we learn in regard to the knowledge of God and the truly moral life. The Holy One, who precisely measures out even the revelation of the prophets, has determined that only through the images of the stories of Genesis would mankind, with great effort, be capable of drawing out all that is beneficial and exalted in the great matters inherent in the act of creation [here may also be a hint towards the fact that so much of the foundations of science and human engagement in the world stem from essentially Biblical presuppositions, most in the sciences from Torah]...The crux of the matter is that the time of appearance and the effects of every idea and thought is predetermined. Nothing is haphazard. For example, we can understand that if the fact of the globes movement was made known to the masses a few thousand years ago, man would have feared to stand on his feet lest he fall from the force of the earth's movement, all the more so would he have feared building tall buildings [Rav Kook gives a valid insight embedded in their invalid logic]. A general faint-heartedness and incalculably thwarted development would have resulted....only after mankind matured through experience was it proper to allow men to recognize the earths movement, so that from it only good would come to man." (Igros HaRe'iyah, letter 91)

Rav Kook would seem to suggest that even the ensuing ignorance has its place (not false knowledge - incomplete data); faulty notions and impressions would have been held by many people in the void created by a partial grasp of things. Elsewhere in personal correspondence, Rav Kook also noted a similar cognitive value in a "right to know/need to know" framework. I'm not necessarily saying this regarding Noach - but I do wonder what place Noach had between Adam's epistemology in "naming", and that of a Prophet - where HKBH "precisely measures out even the revelations of the prophets". From both sides of human experience, there is "bracketing"; the natural time and space-bound limits on human cognitive discernment - and that which even the prophets are Told!

Similar to general unawareness of orbital physics, perhaps a grasp of what was going on with the rest of the planet during the Mabul was similarly superfluous information, and not considered of moral worth or prophetic worth to be saved for posterity. Perhaps the Torah speaks only regarding those peoples in the region and those in the "known world" because they were the only ones relevant to know about! Civilization outside these parameters is very debatable, and the late Holocene, roughly contemporaneous with the Mabul (100 years of fudge space), was witness to mass destruction of civilizations in the Middle East, Central Asia, the SubIndian continent, Southern Europe, etc (here, here, referenced works therein and elsewhere, also "absence of evidence" suggestion here) - essentially all of the world as depicted in the "linguistic atlas" of peoples after Bavel... (a bizarre, but possibly-fun set of essay here regarding 'world-soul', collective identity, etc, that may be fruitful for conceiving the era; also Holmes Rolston's Gifford Lectures published as Genes, Genesis and God , a definite highly-recommended book along with his "science and religion; a critical survey", which apparently is out in a new edition). Though the waters of the Mabul didn't necessarily affect these regions, some of the mechanics I suggest for the Mabul itself are considered a likely source for this 'universal' destruction. Or this greater destruction could have been the context for the regional conflagration that was the specific regional occurrence called "The Mabul". There were those destroyed and those perhaps rendered irrelevant (either by the Mabul itself, contemporaneous with it or prior to it), and by irrelevant, I would follow with a Rav Kook where he suggests (in a portion I left off), that not everything that actually happened over the period in Parashat Bereshit was relevant, i.e. was left out. Is it really a stretch to say other parashot in Bereshit are likewise not necessarily to be taken as exhaustive on the surface reading?

There are of course implications hinging on what God Said would happen and how Noach experienced them. There is, for example, something called the Mabul and the waters of the Mabul. "The" water was on the "earth" for a stated time; which water? There were several sources of water mentioned. Perhaps the full duration of the Mabul included a portion that was a specific water, where Noach 'slid' down the trough of lower Iraq in the Gulf itself - and indeed experienced that water (of "the deep"? - as the sea is rendered elsewhere? [find]), along with the rest of the event called the Mabul, for the requisite year long period. the shoreline was much further inland at the time (Ur was coastal), and the curvature of the earth as well as atmospheric conditions in the aftermath of the mabul could account for no land being visible to the only people who spiritually mattered -those on the Tevah (remembering also the switching between "erets" and "adamah" that occurs in the text, possibly w/ a change in meaning of each term bound by context). We wouldn't have to argue for some way that the Mabul waters covered the entire region for many months (which I am not sure is evidenced in the geological record). Returning to Rav Hirsch's commentary;

"Thus belief in God Who created men and things forms an essential foundation also to our theoretical knowledge. Without this belief, theoretical scientific knowledge can not escape hopeless skepticism, has no guarantee that they are not deducing a dream from a dream, and proving a dream by a dream".

Goes well w/ Rav Kook above, also see Ian Markham's "Truth and the Reality of God", epistemic nihilism in absence of 'assumption' of the 'Divine' - though HKBH is the true fulfillment of the Divine category.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Numbering Israel

some parts of this are obvious, some not - I have been of the mind that they need to be presented together so that dimensions might be discerned to both. It was tough in many ways to write, and will be guaranteed "rough sledding".

In yeshiva at Aish, it was given over more than once that the number of Jews lost to intermarriage, apathy and assimilation since the Holocaust surpasses the number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. At times, this and similar pronouncements in other spheres seem to have been used to justify “any and all means” which might conceivably stem the tide of assimilation, ignorance and intermarriage; “this is war – a war of love at that – where ‘all is fair in love and war’…and ‘now’ is not the time for critical self-examination”. This is ‘worthy’ of another post, to put it lightly (comparisons might be made between such kiruv 'uses' of tradition and apprehension about self-criticism, and certain political 'uses' of tradition as discussed in "Ploughshares Into Swords: Contemporary Religious Zionists and Moral Constraints" By Rabbi Yitzchak Blau Tradition Vol.34 No. 4 Winter 2000 and the letters later written). I’m more interested in the spiritual/philosophical consequences of the statement more than the practical use to which it may be put.
Provided this is a true statement, the consequences are enormous. The great number of religious Jews certainly don’t speak about the current situation as if it were true, nor for that matter are there any university degree programs devoted to [“Post-War experience” as] Holocaust Studies; I had to put in lots of brackets, italicization and quotation marks to keep it sufficiently PoMo….Clearly the emphasis in the statement is on “lost” and “Jews”, where the definitions derive from religious pre-suppositions. Like most people, Jews are physical and spiritual beings (unlike most people in the particular relationship of the soul to the body - but that’s another post probably never to be written), with Aish implying that the loss during the Holocaust and the era of loss since should be viewed as matters of spiritual as well as physical-genetic loss – trumping the view of them as mere “body counts” or cultural/existential loss, as materialists would likely propound. Similarly, when committed Jews talk about the quantitative, empirical differences between the suffering of Other vs. Us, when we throw out “our” statistic slogan, “Six Million” - we often find ourselves at least thinking “Six Million…souls” – a more-than-quantitative loss, not merely Jewish bodies or genes alone.
Our tradition evidences an assumption that, as far as the inner experience of suffering is concerned, the pain and loss of extreme physical affliction is below spiritual affliction - because both are encompassed within all of Creation and are common in kind and at core, trumping differences of degree - an assumption that is not universal among other philosophies. This particular “muddling of degree/kind differences” is lived out by those who, attuned to the primacy of spirit, have chosen physical death by torture and execution to spiritual ‘death’ by transgression, idolatry, etc.
Within the context of “holocausts”, we treat survivors of holocausts who lose faith or have serious crisis of faith qualitatively different from how we treat similar suffering on the part of those not in the given holocaust. In regards to victims of the Holocaust, the ultimate fate of Jewish victims - as well as all who died “as Jews” over history* - is treated as though they died as a conscious Sanctification of the Divine Name, and their place in Heaven is a great one.
Even if this Aish statement is correct, we do not treat the ultimate fate of victims in this horrific soul-loss and rampant assimilation anything like how we treat survivors of the Holocaust (this would apply even Aish because I think they miss the point due to the usefulness of the statement), I muddle victims with survivors here not out of any disrespect, but because - assuming Aish is correct - we are still in the throws of this Holocaust, which is to say that not all who are to pass on have passed on yet - nor are all those thought lost necessarily lost; there must always be hope – with honesty (Again, I’m not making a direct comparison of degree between the “Holocausts”, I’m making a comparison of kind – and I think the difference of kind is a mix of the spiritual and genetic shared by both).
Among these “presently spiritually surviving” people number many “survivors by rote”. That’s not something I’m criticizing, I would just note that there are among us, exception-al souls - the “formerly lost not lost” – BTs and others, as well as converts who have actually cast their lot with the Jewish people amidst a spiritual (and genetic), Holocaust…this might be an interesting context for another post I did.
An aside; by “spiritual” holocaust, I clearly don’t mean something so easily-remedied that it can be fixed with legions of comfy-sweater-and-sandal-wearing, guitar-strumming bearded rabbis (or yeshivishe-garbed Kiruv Special Ops units), armed to the teeth with buckets of a rich, schmaltzy cream of zmirot and cholent served with double-barrelled Carlebachian singy-songy, backed up by dancing and huggy-huggy disposition. Liars and devils have - and always will - make use of just these techniques to ensnare us – poison and falsehood can be administered with a smile and a song just as well as medicine can (though it’s hard to take medicine while smiling and singing). The ‘spiritual’ I have in mind is of much more scope and dimension, beyond the surface, psychological level so easily approached.
Provided the “Aish statement” is true, we treat as qualitatively different, loss that occurred in one context from loss that is occurring in another – even though both are more qualitively similar (of shared spiritual/genetic nature), than not, and where the latter is more extensive by comparison and is ongoing. We are not merely observing this loss - we are experiencing it and regretably prolonging it in some ways.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Transference of competence"

Came upon a nice interview with Alister McGrath, biologist, deacon in the Church of England, Oxford University professor (principle of Wycliffe Hall) and 'distance debator' of Richard Dawkins (whom apparently declines his overtures to a public debate). Here's a piece (emphasis mine);

"What do you think of Dawkins’ understanding of religion and theological matters?

Dawkins seems to assume that his audience is completely ignorant of religion and, therefore, will accept his inadequate characterizations of religion as being accurate. And I think his entire method is based on the assumption of the transference of competence.
In other words, because this man is a very competent evolutionary biologist, that same competency is evident in, for example, his views on religion. And really, one of the things I find so distressing and so puzzling in reading him was that his actual knowledge of religion is very slight. He knows he doesn’t like it, but he seems to have a very shallow understanding, for example, of what religious people mean by the word “faith.”

So why has the media not called out Dawkins on his religious ignorance?

The reason that Richard Dawkins has become so influential is that his rather strident, rather aggressive views resonate with what quite a lot of people hope is indeed the case. And so, if you like, Dawkins has become a figure who is better known for his rhetoric than his reasoning.
On those relatively few occasions when he does try to engage Christian theology, he does show himself to be embarrassingly ignorant of what Christian theology is saying."

And here's a little snippet from Michael Ruse's review of McGrath's "Dawkin's God";

"...I have long been irked by Dawkins — as well as philosopher Daniel Dennett, evolutionary biologist William Provine and company — for not knowing the first thing about Christian theology and for not making any effort to know about it. But, as Dawkins rightly said when ignorant philosopher Mary Midgley criticized the selfish-gene theory, she laid herself open to attack by those who knew what the theory was really about. Same for Dawkins and company — they leave themselves open to attack from those who actually know something of theology."

It's really nice to hear someone of Michael Ruse's calibre saying this about his scientific peers, whom he would regard as fellow atheist-leaning agnostics. But his words strike so much more deep for the fact that many of them actually bother to engage in debates and author book which allege to be 50% about "religion", without bothering to know something about christianity in particular. Precisely like debate someones beliefs without knowing them - nor what constitutes belief! Again, Dawkins ignorance is evidenced in this debate with Michael Poole.

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