Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More of my Mabul-related jingoism

R. Dovid Gottlieb gave this swell set of questions over in his defense of his "argument from Sinai" (my quoting of him is not an endorsement of everything he has ever said in his lifetime, nor is the fact that I am quoting him an indication of his support for my entire blog; I just really like this framework);

(B) We can question how complete are the records that we possess from the period in which the miracle occurred. I have sent the following questions to professional historians:

I am searching for information concerning the historical records we possess for the period 1300 BCE to 1100 BCE, particularly in Babylonia and China. My questions are these:

1. How complete are the records – what kinds of events do they record? What kinds of events do they omit?

2. Are there substantial periods of time – say, 50 years or more – during that period for which there are no records at all?

3. If the answer to 2 is yes, is the reason that those who wrote the records skipped periods, or is the reason that we are missing records?

4. How reasonable would it be to suppose that an event occurred during that period even if the records we possess do not mention it? Suppose the event in question is a major war, a natural disaster like a massive earthquake or volcanic eruption or tsunami, an astronomical prodigy like an eclipse, a major technological advance like the invention of gunpowder, a major social transformation like changing the form of government or religion – in cases like these, would the absence of the event from the historical records we possess be conclusive proof that the event did not occur?

Of course, this is regarding "the day the sun stood still", not the Mabul. But I think many of the ideas are shared.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Science & Religion" 2006

From the introduction to Holmes Rolston's magnificent "Science and Religion";

"The religion that is married to science today will be a widow tomorrow. The sciences in their multiple theories and forms come and go. Biology in the year 2050 may be as different from the biology of today as the religion of today is from the religion of 1850. But the religion that is divorced from science today will leave no offspring tomorrow. From here onward, no religion can reproduce itself in succeeding generations unless it has faced the operations of nature and the claims about human nature with which science confronts us. The problem is somewhat like the one that confronts a living biological species fitting itself into its niche in the changing environment: There must be a good fit for survival, and yet overspecialization is an almost certain route to extinction. Religion that has too thoroughly accommodated to any science will soon be obsolete. It needs to keep its autonomous integrity and resilience. Yet religion cannot live without fitting into the intellectual world that is its environment. Here too the fittest survive. A felicitous skill for getting good [i.e., functional] conclusions from premises that are partly faulty [and here] is a sign of genius both in science and in religion, and I covet that skill.
Some of my data, observations, and conceptions will prove incorrect and distorted. Given the flux in both science and theology, this work will soon prove dated.
It was not the scientists first but certain reforming theologians who resolved to put every account under a formula of “revisability” (semper reformanda!). Yet scientists and theologians alike try to give as systematic an account as is possible, given the state of the art and their own capacities [book vs. mimetic stuff, systematized theology, polemicism, issues of "Dogma in Judaism"]. I believe that my conclusions will stand in overview, even though the supporting details may shift. There is ample logical and experiential room for religious belief after science. Indeed, science makes religious judgments more urgent than ever. Never in the histories of science and religion have the opportunities been greater for fertile interaction between these fields, with mutual benefits to both."

Much tremendous warning and 'chizzuk', for all sides. A Judaism 'wed' to the analysis of "Slifkinism" is no less at risk than Jewish anti-evolutionists quoting long-outdated sources. There's lots more but for now I would also mention, in the context of his discussion of species and evironments, that science as a method came about only in the Biblical religious environment. Sure, little bits of species/technologies lived briefly in other contexts, and were so specialized to certain class/individual-niches indeed existed elsewhere (printing in China entrenched the regime and 'specialized/Mystified' written knowledge; Gutenberg overturned the western world; computers have in some ways overturned that world and made others, and in others returned it..lets just say kept it spinning), but nothing like scientific way of thinking that came out in the Christian/Biblical West (links later b'n).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rav Kook and the value of "Privileged information"
excuse the formating, pending editing
Previously, I offered up some sources from Rav Kook that seem to suggest that there is potentially benefit to imprecise and incorrect acquired knowledge (i.e, untruth). That there is value in "common knowledge" that may be in error is widely accepted in many circles, though people are often uncomfortable articulating it as having positive value. Too much knowledge can indeed be a dangerous thing, ignorance can save many from making theological errors as a result of believing they have full insight where they do not, etc. Communism has been discussed (was it R. Lamm's "monism for moderns" piece?), as having risen from Jewish mystical Messianism, and in part Rambam's 'celebrated' "true ideas" & "necessary beliefs" (Guide III:28?), where in a sense maxims become stated dogmas, developing interpretations around them, maintained for right-orientation purposes though they may be subtly true than True in their articulation in Canon, etc. The recent piece by Shuchat has some similar examples from Rav Kook around the issue of evolution and in some sense, cognitive dissonance (not his words). Here's a snippet [notes his, emphasis mine];

"The masses were not capable of understanding evolution as a complete
and inclusive idea
and could not [therefore] relate it to their spiritual
world. The problematic aspect, which weighs so heavily on the masses,
isn’t the incompatibility of the biblical verses or of traditional texts with
the idea of evolution
. This type of work [of explaining the verses of
Genesis or Rabbinic texts on creation] is quite easy. [After all] everyone
knows that metaphors and riddles dominate these areas which are cosmic
secrets. . . . But [the problem is] how to relate to the idea of evolution all
of the wealth of spiritual ideas developed by the masses which are
on the idea of
[creation] ex nihilo and which [was taught since it]
the mind from floating into areas too removed from understanding
. . . .
This needs a great deal of the light [of pedagogical explanations]."
Shemonah Kevazim, vol. 1: 42-44

Regarding why little things like a meteor, natural sources of epic destruction and other such localized occurences and particular events aren't mentioned in Torah, I would think them minor in comparison to why "evolution" - an epic process involved in the development of all life on earth - would be skipped over. While it is also true that we may never have an understanding of evolution as complete and conclusive idea - it is necessary for science to advance that we adjure something to stand independently enough that we may 'stand' on it (however lightly), and grow in knowledge thusly. Earlier in the same piece, Shuchat gave another Rav Kook;

"R. Kook’s final argument concerns the idea of evolution of the species. If evolution did, in fact, happen, why didn’t the Torah mention it? R. Kook answers: Just as we say “and then Solomon built [the temple for God,” Kings I 6:1] rather than say that Solomon gave the order to the ministers and the ministers in turn to their subordinates and they to the architects and the architects to the craftsmen and laborers, for this is as obvious as it is secondary. [Feldman, {Ed.}, Rabbi A.Y. Kook, p.7] Obviously it is the one who started the process and gave the order that is the builder {see R. Berkovits' God, Man and History on causation and creation, pp. 69ish-74ish}. So, too, it is possible to understand the creation story as implying that God gave the order and the world evolved through a process of evolution. R. Kook does not assert that this is what happened, as evolution is just a theory; he simply claims that it could have been what happened and this would not contradict the Torah {possibly making room for - if not fostering - human intellectual/scientific engagement with the world - something that itself has clear, direct source in Biblical presuppositions}. We do not have to accept theories as certainties, no matter how widely accepted {"Yet the consensus of many, however great and distinguished, does not prove the truth or falseness of a particular belief"}, for they are like blossoms that fade. Very soon science will be developed further and all of today’s new theories will be derided and scorned and the well-respected wisdom of our day will seem small-minded.[ibid, p.6]""

Pardon the blatant Pluralism

“…L’Gozair Yom Suf, le’gzarim – ki lay olam hasdo”.
(…Who Split the Sea of Reeds into parts, His kindness is eternal)

Pirkei Avot mentions that there were ten miracles performed for the Jewish People, and we learn elsewhere that there were 12 passages through the water for each tribe, divided by transparent walls. Parshat Beshelach ’05 of “Hamaayan” quotes R. Yosef Gruenwald;

“The Magen Avraham (O.C. ch. 68) quotes the Kabbalists who teach that there are twelve “gates” in Heaven, and each tribe’s prayer passes through a different gate [apart from our grasp of the gates as such?]. If each of us knew from which tribe he was descended, he would [halavi!] recite the nussach / version of the prayers that corresponded to his tribe and his gate. Perhaps, suggests R. Gruenwald, this is alluded to by the fact that each tribe has its own path through the sea and out of Egypt.
Nevertheless, R. Gruenwald cautions, we must remember that the walls between the paths were transparent. True, every person must stick to the path in the service of Hashem that is his particular tradition, but he must recognize that his is not the only legitimate path. There are other paths that lead to the same destination”.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Va’yechi Yosef p.277)

I would note that passages as such were established by HKBH – mirroring the gates in Heaven - and the Temple; a plurality in the realm of spiritual completion, in the “Intervening Miracle” realm of Ratzon Hashem and in the temporal, historical sphere. Distinct ways in Torah (not mere trends or eccentricities – comprehensive ways) are not merely “tragic consequences” of Galut. Nor are they all divergences of leniencies, stringencies and tolerances occurring within one monolithic passage – they are a reflection of a plan HKBH has for Redemption. The transparency of the walls ensured then, as now (in our current astounding survival in Exile), that unless one is averting ones eyes from one of HKBH’s miracles…one cannot but see that there are other ways of being Saved aside from that which one is experiencing within the experience of ones own tribe – that such radical emphasis on Difference (spanning the spheres of Creation), is propounded by HKBH in the miracle He performs should maybe indicate something to us.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“For every psychological term in English, there are 4 in Greek & 40 in Sanskrit”
-A.K. Coomaraswamy
“in progress”
I would think we could claim “40 Hebrew terms” as well, but we have a different relationship to Hebrew compared to those of the Indian Subcontinent who spoke/speak out Sanskrit. The much-celebrated Hebrew grammarians in Spain, in defending Hebrew, worked from the assumption that you really had to “mine” Tanach (and its non-textual spoken offspring – itself an issue) for such subtle linguistic dimensions – corollaries of which were abundant in the host culture’s Arabic! (JEWOC, esp. p73-4) There were knowledgeable, religious Jews, educated in written Hebrew and Aramaic, but significantly spoken/written/thought Arabic - who were lost to Islam in good part because of the substance of the claim for “poetic nature” of Arabic, particularly the Koran – in an Islamic culture steeped in aesthetic, technical, philosophical and theological linguistic precision. A living language that could grasp reality and communicate itself thoroughly in the present realities – as opposed to the vastly textual, “closed canon” of Gemara and Tanach and codes.

Instead of conceding that dimensions are inherently lost to any given perspective of Torah held in Exile, where imprecision and teumah abounds (Klal Israel is un-Redeemed, Klal Israel does not merit the Temple or sovereignty, etc), it seems assumed by not a few, that in fact - it is all accessible, all exhaustively (exclusively?), contained, somehow, within the given measuring parameters of their Dalet Amot/Amois of Torah. Hints are made, even in Yeshivishe circles, that certain “enlightened ones” or some kind of hidden Gedolim (their Gedolim) can access everything seemingly lost to the passage of time (which is to say lost by Yad Hashem), from Nevuah to high states of purity and spiritual imperviousness. But when you pressure for examples, concrete, comparably rich examples (our Jewish “40 terms”), it makes me think of Art-Time at the Global Worldview Playgroup – and there’s this Jewish kid with an 8-count box of Crayola’s®, while certain other kids have those 64-count boxes, and the Jewish kid responds to their capacity for (in this example), aesthetic/artistic precision with “well…look what I can do if I put yellow and green together! It almost looks like…um…Shamrock?” Pay attention the next times someone says “The Hebrew term for ___ has many subtleties”; they should be able to say that there so many nuanced TERMS with which to describe reality Jewishly, instead of arguing that the handful of terms that are in present/surviving Hebrew (hereafter PSH; this is to say almost exclusively Tanach – since little else has survived the wolves and torches of Galut - or our reactionary censoring responses to it) are exhaustive in capability. I know people who would respond that the Shoresh in Hebrew etymology has this whole “chemical equation” nature to it – whereby a shoresh can be the conduit to related terms – suggesting that this is of course, particular to Hebrew (and of course, it’s not; Semitic languages, as well as others have this). But that’s a matter of linguistic dimensions to a limited set of Hebrew terms – not to dimensions of terms used to grasp reality external to the terms! Merely because shoreshim can indicate a relationship between terms does not amount to “40 terms for one English term”; again, the Jewish kid with his 8 count box. To show the PSH has tremendous descriptive power - despite the meagerness of the language as we now have it!! - it would seem, from the Charedi perspective that you have to say that PSH, not only what has survived in Hebrew (the Jewish Canon), is “the root of all reality”, or at the very least trump all the other kids in the playgroup by proclaiming PSH to be the root of all languages. There is no other Hebrew that we have access to other than PSH!

Hebrew was the language of a nation (and for a brief moment, an empire). Amazing examples of tribal language and “reality relations” can be found in Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abrams, esp. ch. 5 (there is “Jewish” in the book, but he seems less aware of the Oral context of Written Torah/Legal Codes – something that causes him to mistakenly penalize Judaism as “textual”). Because Aramaic became the language Torah was packed up in and then written down in – and because the Canon of Hebrew Scripture was closed by the last Prophets – Hebrew as it was indeed lived and breathed by us, and its relationship to the reality with which it was so intimately bound is gone - umm...more later.

More Tribal-type rambling
[That much of] the world most “human compatible”-by-relationship to Us, the most immediate world to our Tribe of Judah consciousness (to include dimensions to reality well beyond our immediate point on the globe alone); what we’ve grasped and we can grasp and why (see also my post here; Jewish as a specifically limited engagement of the world – things we don’t eat, behaviors we don’t engage in, ways that we may do so, times we must do so, etc). Like tribal peoples, struggling to maintain boundaries amidst the modern worldviews, ours is a “Truth-Bound Tradition” amidst “Tradition-bound” Truths – and maybe this “tribal” nature of it is part of why the Jewish Tradition, here meaning a Life-way…is not so easy for moderns to cognate unless it’s discussed within the self-perceptions shared by “civilizations”, as “Jewish Civilization”, etc. But it is not Greek to be so “wed to the world” as Tribal people, literally called “pagan”, to be so immersed in ones environs, disengaged from “Higher Truths” (recalling that Greek Civilization was bound up with slavery, City-States, where ‘philosophers’ separated themselves from the mundane matters of life - a WOL which Jews in many ways forbidden to archetype, etc). It’s not Greek/Roman to be so bound to “what Jews do” that you refuse to “share” in the offerings of the Greek World. There, ones survival is bound up with human institutions, human politics and human temples amidst human cities, warring amidst each other - not trans-person contexts, not natural ecosystems (where The Creator makes things 'as they are'). But this is not to say Jewish, or Lakota or Koyukon, is irrational. If one acts [by tradition] irrationally - i.e., outside the ecosystems relationships - in the Boreal forests of the Yukon - one dies (exs). The covenant-making, caution and care with which many tribal people naturally live in their environs echoes this. Jews live in a Jewish world, or are supposed to, wherever they are. Survival in the natural world, as opposed to the city-state, is more an environmental matter. Like Tribal peoples, Jewish is indeed covenanted with a particular land – but it is not bound to a particular land – it is bound to all reality as "a" land - Creation. A place Covenanted with. The designation “Tribal” does not exhaust the Jewish lifeway[, Chana..]. We are the Tribe of the world, the firstborn of all Creation…who else but indigenous peoples have the chutzpah to say like this about the world? The covenant made with the “City-State” exile, shepherd-rancher Avraham was a covenant with an individual who began a tribe. It was not a covenant made with Moshe Rabbenu in great Egypt, not in the times of the Kingdoms of Judea and Samaria – yet the promise that all the tribes of the world would be blessed through us is clearly no normal, Tribal promise (Covenant).

What is not in Covenant with us is a bit less real, and at times, less human to us (perhaps all those nasty things in Gemara and codes about Goyim, some addressed here and here, is the result of mostly being under the Other, and in exile, not being able to apply the covenant-making methodology that applied when we were in our land; we formulate legal relations that exclude, dehumanize, legitimize, etc). Perhaps this is why Bereshit (and Parashat Noach…) is as it is, perhaps why Torah is as it is. It is indeed to reach The World - through us; without us - it is not Torah (it is Vulgate, Septuagint, Samaritan, etc). It is indeed for the world , and is the very source of the world (R. N. Lopes-Cardozo's series on primordial Torah and the opening "symphony" piece) - but it was Given to us.

Monday, February 12, 2007

More [old] material regarding a "Localized" Mabul

This piece by R. Joel Wolowelsky has been out a while and it took a rereading in 'light' of my present outlook to see something chewy, yet chunky in it. I would emphasize the fact that "the World" of which he speaks ("revealed history of the world"), is itself something that is subject to revision every few generations, often dramatically. Torah was "Given in the language of man", etc; in being Spoken to any people at any time, how could it not but speak in a manner that would later seem somewhat "localized" in time and space and general dimension (this would also perhaps militate for a "community of interpretation" that would ensure a continuity of general understanding, i.e. Jews)? If spoken earlier, it would be obfuscating to those who couldn't fathom any of it - due to the difference in kind of perspective it would be giving (on this, see my earlier post on R. Kook and R. Hirsch).

"When we read the biblical Flood story as a contrast to the existing parallel ancient Near-Eastern literature, we hear things somewhat differently than had we read it as part of "the revealed history of the world." We not only see things that we had missed, but begin to notice the relative importance or tangential quality of various details.

For example, we know that when some pagan text says that "every" animal was included in its refugee-boat, we understand that we are not reading a prophetic statement conveying information that could only have been revealed. (The pagans had no way of knowing whether, indeed, every species in the world, including those species from far-away lands unbeknown to them, was saved from a flood.) They were using the word "every" in the same way that we do in the sentence, "He thought no one knew his secret and then discovered that everyone knew it." We understand that this sentence does not really mean to exclude the possibility that someone in room ‑‑let alone the world-- did not know the secret.
If the Torah has a specific educational purpose in retelling the story of the Flood from its ethico-religious perspective, we have little reason to think that its statement that every species was included in the ark was meant to give divine confirmation of that specific detail of the pagan story and to exclude the possibility that some esoteric species from far-away New Zealand (unknown to Noah) had survived the Flood. After all, we do not find it particularly upsetting to be told (Num. 16:32-33) that every member of Korah's family had been killed, only to learn some chapters later (Num. 26:11) that Korah's sons had not been killed."

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