Wednesday, April 25, 2007

“Know [there is a] God”

boy is this garbled.

Many Kiruv groups and individuals give proof-texts for a commandment to [in R. Noach Weinberg’s words from his “Lakewood Sessions”…I mean tapes]

“Know there is 'a' God”

…using them as a springboard to argue that “Judaism is an intellectual religion”, that - unlike “The Others”….Judaism is about “reasoned facts and arguments, not blind faith” (and other Hellenistic dualisms; see Faur’s ‘law review’ piece, Kolbrener review essay, etc).

IMHO, the proof-texts actually prove, over and again, that we already believe in a category of the Divine (for which 'classical religious' proofs have been - offered and refuted), in the most thorough and precise use of the term;

"Central to every religion is a teaching about what is divine—about what is regarded as utterly independent and on which all else depends. No matter what or whom any religion considers to be divine, that is what it recognizes or defines as the unconditional reality. The divine, in other words, is whatever people consider to be uncaused and unpreventable—as "just there."

The crucial point for our discussion is that this definition of religion makes clear that ideas of divinity are not confined to traditions most people recognize as "religious." Some people trust various parts of this world as divine. For example, some ascribe unconditional or uncaused status to matter, or to mathematical, logical or biological laws, or to the universe as a whole...Whatever is regarded as ultimate, independent reality thereby has the status of divinity, no matter how it is conceived and regardless of whether it is worshipped. Worship is not essential to religion; there have been beliefs in gods that did not include worship and there still are versions of Hinduism and Buddhism that include no worship...No matter how thoroughly some people avoid all organized religious traditions, worship, doctrines, and practices, and no matter how sincere they are about being atheists, they still have a religious belief insofar as they regard anything as being utterly independent or uncaused while all else depends on it.

I also think that the fulfillment of the Mitzvah is more likely to hold specifically YKVK and no one/thing else as The Divine - based on the specific relationship deriving from participation in the people Israel, their history and their God (all accessed through Covenant), as yours. Maybe this would be a clear historical and precise *opposite* of the ambiguous claim that Rambam’s codification is fulfilled by cognizing rather-ambiguous arguments for ‘The Divine’ (recently posted about by R. Gil and browbeaten by R. Eliezer Berkovits in "God, Man and History")?

I think the acknowledgment of a priori belief in the category of the Divine that HKBH surpasses, is quite different from claiming, “HKBH is a Deity whom we submit to a gauntlet of metaphysical proofs”. You don’t prove your experience to others w/o resorting to non-particulars of your experience, thus making it no longer yours (but the problem is that the Jewish experience is "Ours" - not based solely individual experiences or proofs). If any specifically-Jewish proofs are involved, they are what we prove from, not to YKVK, as our covenanted Divine (ex., He spoke to us, told us, showed us, He did such-and-such for, etc, that He - and no other elohim - YKVK, is God) - because to argue to HKBH (as with other arguments for what one holds to be Divine), is to risk presupposing another faculty, or the emergent evidence from several cognitive processes/faculties - as the foundation of all foundations (Berkovits chapters 5 & 7). And we can only tell others what He Spoke/Told/Showed/Did for us. R. Jose Faur noted;

"In the introduction to his work Or Adon-y, Crescas pointed out that the fulfillment of a commandment [as a commandment] presupposes the belief in God who had issued the commandment. Hence it is absurd to maintain that there is a commandment to believe in God, since such a commandment must presuppose the belief in a God.
This criticism overlooks the foregoing distinction between intuitive and rational knowledge of God. Maimonides distinguished between the first kind of knowledge, that is intuitive, at the subspeech level, and cannot be considered a commandment, and the second kind of knowledge, that must be expressed within the realm of reason and therefore may be the object of a commandment. the first kind of knowledge is, in Maimonides' words, "the foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom", and thus cannot be a commandment.

Many arguments presuppose (and their ‘kashered’ versions seemingly do so unknowingly), the defining feature of that which is sought to be proven - and as a result, in a sense proclaim the “God game” has just started at what is actually halftime (i.e., much of the groundwork has already been laid, the game already played, by the time they start to even ‘keep score’). Many of them also presupposed a 'detachment' from the 'object' being measured, weighed and judged...but He Spoke to us at Sinai! He led us out of Egypt! It seems to be a patent adoption of Greek modes of thought solely for Kiruv-izing the Greek-minded "Not yet 'Frum'" Jews (on the part of people who define themselves by the Greek-named ideology of "Ortho-dox"...). This sounds to be an adoption of a sort of non-relationship the nations, born as collectives at Bavel, have with HKBH by default - and even depicted in the 'distant sky god' polytheisms and ensuing theologies and extended-family scientific cousin Ologies - (Derech Hashem). Individuals were not born at Bavel, and there may lay their intuitive knowledge of the Divine (personal, r. Berkovits' "no science[nor empirical evidence] of the personal", experiential, etc) - but not in the manner the collective-individual Israel experienced. [addition 4/08: Maybe, as I have said elsewhere, we are obligated to make evidence for ourselves - by way of our observance, introspection and experiences - regarding the Divine; "Perhaps certain 'necessary' beliefs are emergent beliefs (but only 'emerging' from within the Divine system, the specific Jewish logic ,temporally-bound only by merit of occurring in history), that sustain, specifically for us, those very Truths which are always true. For example, that Sinai was an Encounter with HKBH and from that moment onwards we received Torah, revelation as text, by way of Moses, etc. There are Truths which all indeed have agreed upon {which makes this not merely individual, but also collective} (and be agreed upon to be considered part of the System) - but each era needing its way of making them thoroughly clear to each "us" in each unique era, as ours - and perhaps that is where 'necessary' truths - and the heated arguments and 'proofs' for them - come about. Our reception of Torah each era, each person". this appears ever more necessary, because mere emotional 'convictions' can come and go (R. Kook on the importance of balance in emotion and reason, etc), especially under the torrential onslaught of modern media, etc.]

Recent discussion of the “God gene” and the neurological basis for Divine beliefs (however interpreted), may lend credence to the particulars of this critique [links later].

“know this day…that YKVK is [the] God” (Deut 4:39)

The people are told to grasp that YKVK - HooHa Elokim – is the Divine; the ability to do so presupposes their a priori belief in the category of the Divine; knowledge must begin somewhere, with something or someone. But Israels collective knowing (special to them and no others, as collectives), began with The Encounter (and Deut. 29:3 “YKVK did not give you a heart to understand, or eyes to see, or ears to hear, until this day”?) – not in some individually-grasped argument or metaphysical speculations – in an encounter, a relationship (especially from verse 32; though we do have the tradition that they grasped *the same collective experience* in individually-unique ways). All further proof-texts from Nakh would seem to be in the aftershock of the Encounter of Maamar Sinai (see Berkovits pp. 48-50). There is no further national Encounter (as such?), in Tanach(?); everything afterwards occurs through individual Prophets and Sages, who rely on the evidence of the encounter and the witness (validated by the Stipulated standards) from previous generations who keep alive the memory (Berkovits ch.5) of the Encounter.

Know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing soul”
(I Chron. 28:9)
Know whom you know to be HKBH through the mesorah of one (David haMelekh), who is already in a relationship with Him, to whom the nature of service is clear.

Let him that [already] glories [in something] glory in this; that he understands and knows Me...says YKVK”. (Jer. 9:23)
This is known from HKBH Himself through a Navi! Upon hearing this, the Jews didn’t proclaim “helloyeswhat?…sorry…whom says what?”, because everyone knew full-well who He is to them from previous Neviim and the Torah they propounded. Naviut was a means of insight that already had a place in a Torah system already accepted by the people, in The Encounter.

Jose Faur notes in [] that such a grasp of the Divine is intuitive and that Rambam in Mishneh Torah does indeed obligate us in that which is in a sense intuitive and already a reasonably valid and cognitively-universal belief (truth value of claims as such aside).

But why obligate in something that appears to be both intuitive (philosophically speaking), and neurological in origin (cognitively-speaking; again links to come)? Assenting to individually-grasped proofs for the Divine, even for The Encounter, can’t be fulfillments of this collectively-binding mandate (?).

Belief in the category of the Divine is ubiquitous and beyond the purview of proof (serving as the basis for tradition-bound logics, moralities, etc), and is likely neurological; belief in YKVK is the Jewish experience and vice versa [also w/ Rambam’s contention about who is Israel, those who claim beliefs determine status, etc], and not something that is strengthened by appeals to that which isn’t particularly Jewish - Jewish being cognizable by The Encounter.

Stipulating that it is ‘commanded’ puts it in the category of being covenanted to one Divinity as THE Divine; as with other things that may come naturally for all people, all people are not obligated in knowing in the way Israel is - as they are specially obligated in a personal relationship to, say, God OUR father - and not simply ‘father’. Each Jew as a Jew is obligated in what comes naturally for all as individuals; particular collectives come and go - but individuals as such always remain. Personal narratives about “divine experiences” abound, even, if one follows Clouser's definition, in the sciences. And may even be considered empirically explicable (or not), or rationally acceptable as claims (‘properly basic beliefs’, etc). Plenty of religions have begun based on the presumed credibility of the claims of such individual experiences (truth-value claims aside). But only one narrative survives that is a national experience - and I said ‘surviving’ to allow for a moment of conjecture; in this solitary surviving narrative we are actually challenged to find an additional surviving national account. Brains are universal, such experiences and "God/Divine genes" are likewise so and as natural as other processes, and can't be rallied one against another due to the universal foundations of all grand scale theorizings -explicitly-religious or nay.

How many of the verses brought in defense of the claim that there is an obligation in knowing the Divine to be YKVK were spoken over specifically to the nation (or to be spoken over to the nation Israel), or presupposed the national revelation to make sense as proof-texts? HKBH does have interaction with individuals not of the nation Israel in Tanach (regarding those who merit his ‘contact’ in our generation or it's relation to sheva mitzvot, I have no idea). Adam is the father of all mankind, but precisely as individuals - because nations began at Migdal Bavel. The nations as such, according to Rav Kook, do not have Neshamah - but individuals of the nations do (in accord with Derech Hashem, not the Tanya), and there is account for their observance of their laws.

other stuff;

Davidson, Herbert. “Study of philosophy as a Religious Obligation”; Religion in a Religious Age p.53-68

Jose Faur pieces -perhaps with his claim that YH 1:1, etc is Jewish-specific as also Elohim-type grasp of the Divine as such; we are the model people, and therefore all other individuals also have an intuitive grasp. Otherwise, how could there be converts (almost exclusively individual…), at all, how could there be any sort of communication between peoples, how could there be any comparison to make, etc; Markham and difficulties of ‘translation’, etc. (that others like Christians/Muslims/Sikhs doctrinally discuss personal relationships with Divine as personal Deity - is because of our encounter as the Jewish people - which they read/heard about).

Yesodei HaTorah opening, what is stated regarding “foundation of all foundations”; Faur takes it as an intuitive knowledge that is only had by Israel; does this militate against an “Elokim” reading? Also first chapter of Avodat Kochavim. Eugene Korn piece on Rambam, 'world to come", etc (also search RAMBI for discussion of Y.H.)

Not merely that “belief in God can be considered properly basic”, i.e. rational to posit without recourse to proofs, arguments or evidences. This may actually be said to specifically and weakly.

Say it once more with feeling;

belief in the Divine is the only thing that is ever 'properly basic', and it therefore may be impossible to ever justify it by recourse to proofs, arguments or evidences - without ultimately being self-referential. If one accepts Clouser's definition of the Divine (though he learns it from Dooyeweerd, and both show the ubiquity and antiquity of it), if one can prove ones maxims [axioms?], they aren’t maxims [axioms?]

. Clouser/Dooyeweerd, religious presuppositions, etc.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rabbi Immanuel Jacobovits on The Yeshivah Derech and Gedolim

From Rabbi Immanuel Jacobovits, one of the only Chief Rabbis of the British Commonwealth to be considered respectable in Yeshivishe circles. obviously with my emphasis...but maybe take them as a way to abbreviate reading the whole thing.

“The form of Orthodoxy born in the West is in eclipse [late 1980's] and virtually extinct, and the form of Orthodoxy generated in the East is now flourishing, witnessing a rebirth and proliferation that has perhaps no parallel in the modern Jewish experience, and possibly not even in the middle ages [it seems he believes this particular phenomenon is explicable from another unparalleled occurrence in history]. The reason for this strangely paradoxical development, which apparently defies all logic, can only be found, I believe, in our betrayal by Western civilization, culminating in the events of the Holocaust. The Holocaust destroyed a principal foundation of Hirsch’s religious philosophy, namely the affirmation of galut culture, based on the appreciation of Western values and the assumption that progress of human civilization was irreversible. Living as he did in the days of rising humanism, and at the dawn of emancipation that brought the promise of equality and of participation in Western civilization in its wake, he constructed out of this experience an interpretation of Judaism and its values founded on these assumptions. These assumptions were incinerated in the ovens of Auschwitz, and they were reversed with the rise of the State of Israel [which - granted halachic/hashkafic problems for us - was for the West, perhaps unconsciously, both a denial by Creation of their merely ‘historical’ coopting of Tanakh, of claims of Christian (quasi-universalist){link} supercessionalism, etc, AND a denial of their Modernist denial of these origins in Tanakh, Biblical conceptions of government, etc], created as it was in response to events which were the very negation of human progress, rather than its product [is he stating that general human society, non-jewish world, didn’t lead inherently to the gates of Auschwitz?...]. Once this foundation was removed, the whole edifice of Torah im Derekh Eretz was demolished, and the resulting vacuum was filled by ideologies less dependent on value systems which had failed the Jewish people.

The triumph of Eastern yeshivot and Chasidism over Western Torah im Derech Eretz has had a major impact on the orientation of contemporary Orthodoxy in other spheres as well…not only from secular values which had betrayed us or disenchanted us, but from the universal dimension of Judaism generally. This again had been a fundamental pillar of Hirsch’s religious outlook. He firmly believed in Judaism’s universalism, the responsibility of the Jewish people and the Jewish community to the outside world. Instead, through the ascendancy of the Eastern brand of Orthodoxy, we became introverted and inward-looking, with a disdain for the world outside…The shift towards Eastern-type Orthodoxy has also intensified religious commitment and religious learning…But in turn this swing has accentuated the alienation of the non-committed, those we could not carry with us [even pre-War, this was a very large portion of Klal Israel, now it’s the vast majority of Klal Israel…]. This thrust towards greater intensification by some is obviously largely responsible for the movement of many others in the opposite direction [ it's hasn't been primarily ‘the goyim’ drawing our children away, not merely lackluster jews with strong "yetzer hara's", not now-dead (or at the very least irrelevant) Reform movements...not Bundists or Yiddishists, or socialist ideologies? mean it might been us?...], and this growing division is a sad fact of Jewish life today.

On the one hand, these are features that have contributed to a phenomenal worldwide upsurge of Orthodox intensity both in quantity and in quality on quite a spectacular scale in the past few decades. On the other hand, these very pressures of internal intensification and insulation also create a tendency towards conformity at the expense of originality, and this is the obverse or negative side of the picture I described before [as you will see, lack of creativity is no small thing in his perspective].

Absence of Creativity

I once heard the illustrious Rabbi Menachem Kasher of Torah Shelemah fame explain how it is that today we no longer find Gedolim, spiritual giants of the stature that used to adorn the Jewish religious landscape over the ages. He answered that the reason for this inability to produce Gedolim of that caliber, of that impact on future generations of Jewish life, was because today by and large we mass-produce our Talmudic scholars. Virtually all of them today, whether going to elementary yeshivot or very advanced kollelim, are instructed in the same derech halimud, learn the same massechtot, are trained in the same thinking-processes, molded to conform to more or less identical patterns, in institutions which are meant to adjust the individual to the intellectual thrust of the wider community of b’nei Torah to which he belongs. Geonim like the Chafetz Chaim, or the Chazon Ish, or the Brisker Rav, or Rabbi Aharon Kotler, he explained, were not and could not have been products of such mass-production. They were ‘custom-made’ as he put it, individually fashioned, privately trained, learning with their fathers or with rebbes. The mark of a true Gadol, a real Torah giant, lies in his originality, in innovation, in creativeness, in pioneering something that did not exist before [note end of last paragraph! The current circumstances of his day have only intensified since the essay was published let alone written; this uniformity and industrialization of Torah is in opposition to the actual indications of greatness in Torah!].

Today, such adventures of the mind into uncharted spheres of thought are frowned upon. In fact, any deviation from the accepted patterns of teaching, of learning and of thinking [though 'accepted' may not even mean historical, ancient or even ultimately effective],
even within the norms of halachah, is regarded as heresy [is this to say that anything which stands aside from the monolith, or outside the shadow it casts, is heresy? The many, many pronouncements of charedi leaders would seem to mean little else regarding non Charedi Jewry]. Perhaps there are valid reasons for this. The devastation of Orthodoxy in the Holocaust demanded of the survivors, the survivor generation, to concentrate their energies on rebuilding the past, on preserving the remnant, [though they may have succeeded in building Torah institutions, “the past” has not been rebuilt - but “rebuilding the past” remains as a future aspiration for those who were neither survivors, nor of their generation - nor children of either…] rather than on charting the future or exploring that which is new. This feature is one of the significant results of the conditions under which Orthodoxy re-emerged miraculously from the ruins of its virtual destruction in the war years.

By the same token, our generation today is singularly uncreative in the wider sphere, not just in the production of individuals who pioneer new approaches, new methods and insights, but also in terms of creating new responses to existing challenges, new philosophies and new movements [not just failing to “create” within the Dalet Amot of Torah…horrific unto itself, considering creativity is the mark of Torah greatness!!!...what standards of greatness have been exchange for them?...but also of failing in relevance to creation itself, reality?... It’s maybe more clear as he continues].

In the past, as a rule, cataclysmic events or encounters with new conditions of life used to spark major new Jewish movements within Orthodoxy…In each of those encounters with new conditions…something out of the anguish of suffering or challenge gave birth to new forces, forged major movements that enriched the traditional Jewish experience within our religious heritage.

Nothing like this has occurred in our time, although we have passed through the most cataclysmic of all events and the most drastic changes in the whole of our galut existence - first the Holocaust and then, a few years later, the rise of the State of Israel. There has been no religious response which is in any way comparable to the radical innovations of earlier ages under the pressure of contemporary events or dissident schisms.

R. Dr. Immanuel Jacobovits, “Modern Trends in Orthodoxy”, in Encounter; Essays on Torah and Modern life. Feldheim, 1989 pp.225-29

[Oddly enough, I can't find that this volume, which is a companion volume to “Challenge; Torah Views on Science and Its Problems”, was ever republished. By its very title, it implies some sort of engagement with modern concerns - which may be why only “Challenge” has been republished].

He later ends on a positive not though, suggesting that as previous generations and the “transitional stage” of survivor consciousness pass on, new responses will occur and the actually addressing modernity will commence. I don’t know. I think so many of the fears, apprehensions and response mechanisms of certain of the survivors (whom we must remind ourselves were among other “Torah Survivors” who did not respond these ways), have been throughly entrenched in their disciples (remember - neither survivors nor children of survivors...), in Judaism itself through the vary accomodation to 'scientific management' and monolith-izing, industrialisation of religious life (technopoly, etc). Building up a human world on certain selected Torah norms standards, but so manufactured as to only answer back it's human origins - instead of living in HKBHs world, building a Judaism to hide with 'our' Torah away from His world (me elsewhere on this condition).

I think this factor is just as strong with the "I-grew-up-Modern" ‘converts’ to Charedi Judaism, or BTs who are even more removed from the “Old World” (even further from any claim of survivor-status or lineage...) a world ever subject to revision to ensure it’s distance in time and place and cosmos from ‘here & now’..., recounting the destruction of 'it' (how much of it even existed as we recite it?), and the sensucht to “rebuilt” what was in many ways an earlier stage of Galut (?) - when we have never even really left the 1st Century crisis mode. I think here, R. Jacobovits has described one of several additional States of Emergency that have been humanly-legislated “over all Israel”[Yuter link], based on the precedent one that is two millennia old. Not so unlike the united states since 1933…[link]

Those of the Eastern-source Orthodox camp might respond that this incongruity with previous eras of revivification is a positive thing; a clear indication of 'now' being nothing but the end of days, indicated by the "indeed unprecedented…but not un-prophesized”…nature of the Holocaust/Israel/Yeshivish-Chassidishe rebirth. For them, it must be merely accepted that the seemingly-uncreative, counter-innovative nature of much of Orthodoxy of our day, the “archiving”, the entrenchment and monocultural Kiruv responses to assimilation, the conscious lack of Gedolim of the caliber of previous generations, all can be taken as “clear” proof that HKBH has sanctioned these specific (“survivalist”) rabbonim (who are either from previous generations or genetically-ideologically-related to those times and places; even then, only amendable aspects of these rabbonim/times/places are to be recalled, archived, taught, etc - even though all survivors are complex). These responses and these alone (or at least what we allow of them) are the ways, means and ends of religious life sanctioned by HKBH in what is clearly Hevlei Moshiach. I can hear them saying to me now ", you would think to do something else, at a time like this?...".

A time and condition of travail that their approach may seemingly have contributed to?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Konstantin Konstantinov
["warning";There is music, so turn it down if you like]

Over 900 lbs. Though it looks like bad form...I kind of have the feeling that is 'hunched back' appearance is mostly muscle.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lo Tosaif Ala'av, v' Lo tigra'ah Meemenu...

[with obvious caveats, I present R. David Weiss Halivni, w/my annotations & emphasis]

"...those who tolerate changes in religious law [to the "Left" of ones ideology as well as the "Right"?...] evoke the concept of 'continuous revelation' [which is a popular conservative phrase; might certain popular conceptions of Daat Torah also fall under this title?] to endow them with religious power similar to that of the ancient Sages, who, in their opinion, also changed laws. Not willing to deny revelation completely - foor that would undermind the basis of religion altogether - those who tolerate change claim that each generation determines the content of revelation, which may at times require a canceling of some old laws [though mostly about Conservative ideology, R. Yuter does present examples where perceives haredi Orthodox as in essence ignoring laws]. That right is given to them because they are also beneficiaries of revelation. Revelation is continuous. The content of revelation, throughout the ages, need not be uniform; indeed it may be contradictory [if some conceptions of Daat Torah as somehow continuations of Nevuah would include retroactive application of the concept of Daat Torah, there has indeed been a supeceding of the Daat Torah of R. Hirsch, R David Tzvi Hoffmann, etc, many of whoms concepts are now not acceptable].

...Classic rabbinic literature knows not of continuous revelation. Its occasional reference to heavenly interventions...are not decisive in halakhic matters [if revelations claimed from heaven were given a vote but not veto, even less so now]. The normative position of this literature is that various forces, historical...religious...were aligned - in a way that will never repeat itself - to bring about a constellation where God encoutered human beings and revealed himself to them [to all Israel; this was an inheritence to all Israel]. The Torah is the legacy of that encounter, and whatever is required for spiritual instruction and well-being is contained therein, either through oral revelations or through exegesis [which, by Rambam's Introduction, was agreed on finally with Raavina, Rav Ashi and the Mishneh Torah]. That legacy is complete. It needs no further intervention...if we do not accept continuous revelation, and do not see the later decisions of endowed with revelatory power, then such decisions have primarily pragmatic value - they foster unified behavior among various constituents [what could better define the completely-explicable sociological norms of the haredi, the 'modern', the "yeshivishe oylam"?...]. By themselves, these decisions add no new divine dimension to the views they expound [does not classic Chassidut discuss itself as a 'new' revelation, as well as certain perspectives in Kabbalah?]. Deciding in favor of one view over another does not affect the revelatory composition, whose source and validation lie solely in the Sinaitic revelation of the Torah (written and oral), and in the interpretation of this revelation. No human act can aspire to that status." (Revelation Restored, .pp 88-89)

Albert Baumgarten of Bar-Ilan University on R. Halivni.

Friday, April 13, 2007

R. Alan Yuter

In cahoots with an earlier post, which I will now consider an introduction, I want to chew on some bits of his more polemic (in the most neutral sense of the word), material (most University libraries will have all this);

"Law, Politics, and Piety in Contemporary Orthodox Debate, in ed., Rela Mintz Geffen & Marsha Bryan Edelman, Freedom and Responsibility: Exploring the Challenges of Jewish Continuity (Hoboken: KTAV, 1998) 161-196. [same as “Positivist Rhetoric”?]

"Positivist Rhetoric and its Functions Haredi Orthodoxy," Jewish Political Studies
8:1 & 2 (Spring 1996).

"Legal Positivism and Contemporary Legal Discourse," The Jewish Law Annual 6 (1987), republished in ed., Martin P. Golding, Jewish Law and Legal Theory, (New York: NYU Press, 1993).

"Hora'at Sha'ah: The Emergency Principle in Jewish Law and a Contemporary Application,: Jewish Political Studies Review 13:3-4 (Fall 2001), 3-39. [online]

This piece was part of him earning a seat of authority w/USCJ;
"Mehitsa, Midrash, and Modernity," Judaism 28:2 (1979).

His two most accessible pieces, though containing the least argument;
"Modern Orthodoxy," Midstream, 43:7 (October 1997), 21-24.
"So What is 'Centrist' Orthodoxy?" Midstream (June/July 1989) 35, 36-38.

He also has many posts on the UTJ blog;

I have also had some conversation, classes and email exchange with him that I also want to put out there. As he was kind enough to send me his CV, I will hopefully have more treatment over time.

Ibn Ezra, R.Tov Elem and "Who Wrote The Bible?"

This regarding the contention that the (well-known-in-the-blogosphere) hints of post-Mosaic prophetic pieces to the text constitute adding or taking from Torah [my emphasis];

"One can ask, doesn’t the Torah write of itself “Do not add to it” (Devarim 13:1)? The answer is that which R’ Abraham (Ibn Ezra) himself wrote in his commentary to Va-etchanan (Devarim 5:5) that the words are like bodies and their meanings like souls; therefore, there are many sections of the Torah which are repeated two or three times, where each adds something that the others don’t, yet are not considered ‘additions’ to the Torah. Furthermore, in his first comment in Lech-Lecha (Bereishis 12:4) he states that ‘do not add to it’ was only said with regard to the commandments, meaning, that when the Torah warned us not to add, it only warned not to add to the number of mitzvoth or to their fundamentals, but not about adding words. Thus, if a prophet added a word or words to explain something about which he had a tradition, this is not considered an ‘addition’".

From ADDerabbi here . Also end notes to the chapter "Chate'u Yisrael" from David Weiss Halivni's "Peshat and Derash", and section on the 8th Ikkur from Shapiro's "Limits of Orthodoxy Theology". Also in his review of Shapiro's book, R. Y. Blau makes some valuable comments on Ibn Ezra and R. Tove Elem;

I would also add that all of the verses mentioned by Ibn Ezra are relatively peripheral to the biblical story, such as an aside alluding to where Og’s crib can be found. By incorporating such limitations on post-Mosiac verses, it would seem possible to allow for a few isolated verses as coming from a later prophet while still asserting that for all intents and purposes,the Torah of ours can be traced back to Moshe. It may be that we should reject Ibn Ezra’s view as a maverick position outside the consensus. Even if we do accept it as a legitimate possibility, the fact that we cannot give a concrete number of verses that can be attributed to a later author without sliding into heresy in no way invalidates the idea that a boundary exists. All concepts include gray areas but those questionable areas do not undermine the concepts. (p.184)

Interestingly, he does not mention the statement that these post-Mosaic contributions come "to explain something" about which there was a tradition. Maybe it didn't even need to be mentioned. Is there the possibility of later additions being made to clarify context and meaning, based in Nevuah - but not on a specific narrative mesorah?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Electric Temple Candelabras

"I hold it to be clear and simple that, if electrical lighting had been extant in Temple times, most certainly it would have been employed in the Temple candelabrum. for it is inconceivable that we should illuminate our private homes with that great, wonderful electric light, which is verily after a heavenly model - and yet illuminate God's holy palace with olive-oil, which even the poorest of the poor despise in our time. It is therefore obvious that we shall illuminate the future Temple, may it be built speedily in our days, with electrical lights. Amen"

(R. Yosef Messas; Ner Mitzvah, 1939. Trans. Zvi Zohar: Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times, p.76)

I like the seemingly "modernist-romantic" sentiment towards electrical light, which is referred to as a "heavenly model". It also says something about the actual level of modern technology, which comes with modernism of the great amount of the population that is reflected in a Sephardi pasak from 1930's North Africa...a time, place and people Ashkenazim often romanticize as "simple"[-minded...], and 'uncorrupted' by modernism and technology.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Respite From Requiems For a Future

My rampant "doom and gloom" pessimism must give way to productivity! Or at the very least fostering some skill in preparation for the "doom and gloom" scenarios (all in fun);

Long "Lost", Nice Piece on Biblical Criticism

This interesting piece by someone who really asks questions of those who offer answers (personally, and interestingly, David Weiss Halivni and Tamar Ross). One interesting bit is in her assessment of David Weiss Halivni and his resolutions regarding Biblical Criticism and Torah min Ha Shamayim (ital. mine);

"Halivni’s only serious departure from traditional doctrine is clearly in his denial of the aspect of Torah min haShamayim, as defined by Maimonides, that our Torah is exactly the same as the one which Moshe received on Mount Sinai." (p.23)

This has actually been addressed at length by Marc Shapiro in his essay and book on Rambam's 13 Principles. There and elsewhere, it is noted that Rambam himself in Hilkhot Sefer Torah was clearly aware of variant texts in his day;

Since I have seen great confusion in all the scrolls [of the Law] in these matters, and also the Masoretes who wrote [special works] to make known [which sections are] "open" and "closed" contradict each other, according to the books on which they based themselves, I took it upon myself to set down here all the sections of the Law, and the forms of the Songs [i.e. Ex.15, Deut.32], so as to correct the scrolls accordingly. (Hilkhot Sefer Torah 8:4. Trans. Menachem Cohen here).

It was therefore likely that he did not intend that those who reverenced these texts were deniers of Torah. Interestingly, the Aleppo Codex, which a great many scholars both religious and secular agree is the text the Rambam refers to as most authoritive...

The copy on which we based ourselves in these matters is the one known in Egypt, which contains the whole Bible, which was formerly in Jerusalem [serving to correct copies according to it]. Everybody accepted it as authoriative, for Ben Asher corrected it many times. And I used it as the basis for the copy of the Torah Scroll which I wrote according to the Halakha.

...varies from [most...] authorative printed/copied texts of the Torah by some 9 occurences...which could make all of us deniers. Yes, even the Temanim, whose Sifre Torah also vary from the A.C. by 4-5 variations both textual and in spacing and word division (See B. Barry Levy, Fixing God's Torah, p. 162, n.116) .

Or it could be that the sanctity of Torah is not bound to the contentious (at least historically) claim of a singular, exactingly uncorrupted text in our time. It would seem to be that there have been (this being just one example of many Text issues), far too many on the side of the Masorah and on the side of the Gemara regarding what the text should 'say' (Leiman, Sid Z. "Masorah and Halakhah; A Study in Conflict", in Tehilla leMosheh ; Eisenbrauns, 1997), for us to abide - with functioning certainty - on one single, exacting textual form that all the sources and opinion-holders we have held dear, would unanimously be found to agree on. Again, this is only one of the Textual issues (Levy gives more).

In more ways than halakhically, Torah that we learn and live has not been "in Heaven" for a long time. It has indeed been in our very human (just had to get that link in there one more time) hands [I believe] since Sinai, and [I believe] Halivni is pointing at something possibly containing a grain of truth in the era of corruption preceding Ezra ha Sopher. Just to clarify, I am not merely reiterating what many kiruv organizations will say - that our text may not be completely letter perfect but it's got everyone else beat; it's not easy to say, looking at what we have (sources above and below), that we've had an exacting text for a long time...and I'm not sure that is such an issue if there isn't a faith investment in non-"legal" variant spellings (Leiman as noted above gives examples of the few legal ones). [also see newish post on R. Tov Elem]

Further reading; Marc Shapiro's Limits of Orthodox Theology (w/ reviews), and B. Barry Levy's Fixing God's Torah w/ sources noted by them.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

More Shameless Inter-Tribal Comparisons

Two plus Two or Why Indians Flunk

[xchange context from modern "Indian Country" school to Roman-Era Palestine, switch tribe to one of Shvatim, etc...]

All right class, lets see what two plus two is. Yes Doris?

I have a question. Two plus Two what?

Two plus two anything.

I don't understand.

Ok, Doris, I'll explain it to you. You have two apples and you get two more. How many do you have?

Where would I get two more?

From a tree.

Why would I pick two apples if I already have two?

Never mind, you have two apples and someone give[s] you two more.

Why would someone give me two more, if she could give them to someone who's hungry?

Doris, it's just an example.

An example of what?

Let's try again - you have two apples and you find two more. Now how many do you have?

Who lost them?


Well, if I ate one, and gave away the other three, I'd have none left, but I could always get some more if I got hungry from that tree you were talking about before.

Doris, this is your last chance - you have two, uh, buffalo, and you get two more. Now how many do you have?

It depends. How many are cows and how many are bulls, and are any of the cows pregnant?

It's hopeless! You Indians have absolutely no grasp of abstractions!


Slapin, B., & Seale, D.,eds. Through Indian Eyes; The Native Experience in Books for Children. Berkeley, CA: Oyate, 2003

Friday, April 06, 2007

Picture This

If you don't know, the Federal Government is working on giving financial subsidies and "coupons" to families and households for "upgrades" in communication technologies (PCs, Macs, TVs, Radios, etc), to digital. These technologies, in good part due their increasing ubiquity, will, of course, ensure the universal monitoring capabilities of those who "give" them to you. that's what they're for, and that's what televisions, etc, have always been about; ensuring access on the part of advertising, paying ideologies, propoganda, etc., to you and yours.

SO?...low-tech, low hack really...will hopefully be the garage hobby of The Independent (or Otherwise Dependent). Networks of public 'landlines' such as payphones (for ex), should be phreaked Old School style to ensure there will always be these technologies (provided of course the Wire network is considered useful for Them). TVs that are currently digital compatible - but not necessarily so thoroughly mainlined with the impending new systems to be monitorable from "outside" - should be opengame from "hobby electronics", rendering them signal-reading, but not sending. Just a weird, paranoid thought.

Rambling State of the Author Address

The counsel from the "Frumkeit" Matrix subliminally seems to engineer that someone with kashiyot is so utterly embroiled in "grasping the reality of Torah life"...i.e. The Mundane, being stressed about tuitions, (B"H)childrens needs, community responsibilities (granted that "engross yourself in a community" is a oft heard, and essentially fine counsel), Talmud Torah, etc, ensures that one will generally not have leftover time or energy to address particular kashiot one has in faith, ideology, etc.

This should be an acknowledged consequence when the yiddishism "one doesn't die from a question" is bandstanded; the social engineering, however unconscious, is to make for too much life...too many little lives and wives...hanging on there not being a space/place/time for kashiot!!! The system thusly engineered would have you policing yourself such that "you should be proud" you don't have time/energy to "waste" on "klatz kashias"....though, as defenses/justifications of Orthodoxies of all kinds so often do...they are undermined by the Tradition (in this case Divinely-Sourced Tradition), they seek to justify/defend. One "modern man's" klotz kashia was often a Rishon/Acharon's Dvar Torah. But present sociological context of the Religiousness, so often given the Veto (which should remain with the actual Halakha), not the vote they deserve - prevents what may be a tshuvah for a kashia from even being considered "considerable".

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