Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Answer to a Question Asked by Many - If not Outloud

"...But what of...the Indic religions and the various kinds of Buddhism? Again, I do not believe that a definitive solution is possible, but a partial solution may be considered. It is important to introduce a distinction between theology and religious practice. In the ancient religions grouped under the name of Hinduism, there are many gods and local shrines, but the theological principles that guide belief and provide a uniformity of moral standards assume that all the deities revered in India or elsewhere are forms of, expressions of, or names for, one ultimate reality or God. Saivites propose Siva as the best name (among many names) for this ultimacy; Vaisnavites prefer Visnu or Krishna; atman is an Upanisadic word for the same principle—and brahman is perhaps the most common way among non-Muslim, non-Christian Indians of naming ultimacy. As for Buddhism, the difficulty is not that there is a plethora of gods, though Siddartha Gautama and other buddhas, bodhisattvas, and “incarnate” lamas are often treated as godlike. The difficulty, from the perspective of the Noahide laws, is that it is unclear whether Buddhism is theistic at all [MUST SEE piece by Nathan Katz, "What Jews Can Learn from Buddhism", Tikkun 12:3 Mar.-Apr. 1997:67-70, explains in part how Buddhism may be more problematic than Hinduism!]. Buddhist thinkers tend to argue that metaphysical beliefs are among the causes of human suffering. (There are parables attributed to the Buddha in which the metaphysician or theologian is likened to one who has been shot by an arrow and is worried about who made the arrow, how it was constructed, and how it flew to its mark, instead of trying to remove it and doctor the wound.) Still, it is not necessarily atheistic to conclude that, because holding metaphysical beliefs leads to pain, it is best to concentrate our attention on proper human behavior. In any case, however controversial the question of whether Buddhism is theistic, it is certainly not polytheistic.
By the standards of Jewish law as applied to Jews, Hinduism and Buddhism do not count as monotheistic traditions. However, the essential point of the Noahide laws is that the standards of Jewish law do not apply to non-Jews. Radically pure monotheism is expected by Judaism only from Jews. The Noahide laws do not preclude gentile religions from developing softer, more complex, and compromised forms of monotheism. Under the Noahide laws, it is possible to assume that Hinduism and Buddhism are sufficiently monotheistic in principle for moral Hindus and Buddhists to enter the gentiles’ gate into heaven. Jewish law regards the compromises made or tolerated by the world’s major religions as ways of rendering essentially monotheistic theologies easier in practice for large populations of adherents. The fierceness of Islamic opposition to such compromises has no counterpart in Judaism. In Islam, it is seriously blasphemous for anyone of whatever faith to combine belief in the one God with popular ideas about other heavenly powers or with subtle theological doctrines such as the Trinity. Islam cannot tolerate such compromises because the truth that they violate is applicable universally and not simply to Muslims. The problem is that Islam is radically monotheistic (like Judaism) yet is also (unlike Judaism, which is the religion of one people) universalistic as well."
R. Adin Steinsaltz [or here]

Obviously not a ruling, and not meant to be such - but a powerful statement from a profound scholar nonetheless. The later writings by Dr. Nathan Katz are also worth parousing. David Blumenthal wrote an engaging piece on the dimensional theologies of G-d in their particular coordination in Zohar.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Guest Poster's Contribution...
From my young niece...

Frida: Knock, knock.

ME [my brother]: Who's there?

F: Mashed potato.

M: Mashed potato who?


Monday, April 14, 2008

Something I Keep Forgetting to Remember...
I had directly heard several years ago a statement from a very established 'normal' Charedi Kiruv rabbi who himself had heard, regard a great rosh yeshivah from America [R. Aharon Feldman] about R. Slifkin's books - a rosh yeshivah who either made use of, or suggested their use in kiruv. One Shabbat, while salving my anxiety regarding how receptive some segments of the Orthodox world were to R. Slifkin's books, he told me the following story;

Upon hearing of conflicts in Israel regarding the 'kashrut' of R. Slifkin's ideas, this Rosh Yeshivah [R. Aharon Feldman] - whom had read his books and consulted them and use them regarding talmidim with "issues" - flew to israel specifically to explain to one of the Gedolim there that the books were not kefirah.

This same rosh yeshivah [R. Aharon Feldman], several years later, condemned certain of R. Slifkin's works, in writing, as kefirah.

Not long after, the same Kiruv rabbi - in my presence - suggested to another guest that dinosaur bones and the seeming age of the universe are there to test our emunah.

It would seem to follow that if our emunah is not challenged by the geological time scale or fossils...we don't have proper emunah.

It gets better. This same Rosh Yeshivah has, apparently after the ban, suggested material from one the 'banned' books to a rabbi at his yeshivah whom I'd also been in contact with. I clarified with that rabbi at the time that I was hearing him right - that this rosh yeshivah had suggested material from one of R. Slifkin's books. Aware of the bans, etc, he stated to me flatly that it was so.

So...regarding the "central" figure, I am clear on certain things; I disagree with R. Slifkin on his Charedi-kiruv in mindset, indicated by what I believe to be his expurgated treatment of the history of science (which really warrants its own post I"H). I may be wrong on these, things, but I can be clear on them to myself. And the rabbi who had consulted with the Rosh Yeshivah and recieved counsel from him to use certain of Slifkin's [banned] material - I know this rabbi to be exceptional and open to Slifkin, etc. These two, I feel confident regarding.

But the Rosh Yeshivah - I am radically unclear. I would like to think that the public, written condemnation that the Rosh Yeshivah engaged in was a political gesture. Not long after the ban was issued, very thorough and impressive critical treatments of it were made public, at least one made public only after counsel with the Rosh Yeshivah, R. Aharon Feldman himself... it would seem that the Rosh Yeshivah "said what had to be said" to maintain certain status quo, etc., - but with the knowledge that others "within the Charedi fold" would write criticisms that would be available to those who might be damaged by the Rosh Yeshivah's statements.

But that doesn't follow from the statements made by the Kiruv rabbi - who would know, or seem to know, if something like the machinizations I offer above were the realia. Now and again, I am deeply, deeply troubled by this, and it is prime example among many of why I can't associate myself ideologically with the Charedi world. At least among the Modern Orthodox - where no such claims to virtual "neo-Navi" status is attributed to Rabbinic Infrastructure - religious and intellectual 'infractions' can indeed be ascribed to the failings of human nature. But how can the Charedim - without adopting non-Charedi perspective - respond to these kind of kashiot about their infrastructure?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More of My Mabul Gingoism?..

I thought it's been kind of quiet lately. Figured some Israeli Mabul-related Metal might help.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sinai, Religious Experience and the Value of Evidence

An older post about arguments for the divine. There I link to related pieces on the personal value of proofs from experience, sensory perception, etc, and suggest the 'local' value of much proving and the 'boundedness' of many attempts to justify deep pre-theoretical beliefs (I also exempt science from much of this criticism due to the general admittance that they have narrow, material parameters for proving "scientifically", and their obligations to making claims only regarding that to which the methods apply to). I would also like to do a post later on the idea that the lapse of Nevuah has had effect even outside Judaism - where the depths of human rational exploration were affected by a deep 'disruption' of the universe. Somewhere else I suggested that as a result, there has grown over the generations some very deep skepticism about very fundamental matters in philosophy - where many 'justify' from in lieu of religion.

I think some recent[] philosophical discussion of the value of religious experience as knowledge, neuro-science[], and Clouser/Dooyeweerdian philosophy[] would go well together, where philosophy acknowledges its ultimate 'religiousness', and therefore similar "reducibility" to neuro-science "critique" (actually I would argue, evidence of mans innate Divine Spark), and similarities to certain religious experiences (and also critique some overzealous religious rationalisms).

The [rather specific] Argument from [the base of Mount] Sinai [etc]

[This is still raw, to be edited]

I was just reading one of Aish's presentations of what seems to be a streamlined presentation of the renowned Kuzari Principle, and more than evidencing the Divine nature of Torah, it evidenced the value of hazarah, reading the sources and reading variant presentations of the Principle... When rabbis Zeldman and Coopersmith give posukim to back up the statement that the whole of the nation Israel heard something at Sinai, he brings Devarim - the narrative that is Moshe Rabbenu speaking - telling Israel that they heard something - he does not offer the posukim where HKBH Speaks to Israel (And they would be...Exodus 20:1-17?...). Why? Too much debate?

They then present the "bold prediction" (this is their loshon, I'm not claiming it's not bold or a prediction);

'You might inquire about times long past, from the day that God created man on earth, and from one end of heaven to the other: Has there ever been anything like this great thing or has anything like it been heard? Has a people ever heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fires as you have heard and survived?' (Deut. 4:32-33)

I don't think there is enough verse-context given to show the actual parameters of the claim "who heard the Voice of Hashem". Indeed, no other nation has made that claim - the verse actually says "Elokim"...But there have been other claims for mass revelations from other powers and by other means than hearing - and the internet skeptics are glad to bring examples, some more challenging than others, to that affect. This may seem trivial, but it is important, - since they claim, in the piece, "the author of the Torah predicts that there will never be another claim of national revelation throughout history!" - and this is exactly the kind of loshon that skeptics jump on. Other national 'revelations' have been claimed - but what is meant by 'revelation'?. It's not clear from their presentation if they mean by 'revelation' exactly what is stated by the posukim. This matters because specific parameters are given in the verse regarding the 'revelation', and Who gives it. Have others made the claim that Elokim spoke to them? The verse does not say 'YKVH', our God, the God of Israel. We reasonably infer this, but it is not the actual loshon of the challenge, and as it is from Torah, shouldn't we assume the specific name is used for a specific reason? The loshon of elohim is not exclusively used regarding HKBH, and is discussed [] as implying God's general authority, as he relates to the Klal of creation. This would seem to be a coorelary to the term 'Higher Power'. Again, there have been examples of collective 'revelations' from deities - but how many have been claimed as coming from THE Higher Power - that upon which all else depends for existence (even the Gods)?

The greater context of this verse is several challenges, and I think they render it more specific and subtle a claim. After verses 32-33, it continues;

Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

If these verses are to be a 'proof' I think the proof is localized to the experiences of the Jewish people, a challenge phrased specifically to that generation to be taught to later generations. I don't know that it is really intended to be used as a philosophical proof removed not only from the textual context, but removed from the specifically "Israel as one person" context. there are proofs and evidences that are strong for individuals (KJ Clark, etc), but weak when asked to apply to the (diversely experiencing) minds of many. I think it is a 'weak' argument in the philosophical sense of not making a strong, general claim - but it is a strong argument for and a specific individual - as its "challenge" loshon is applied to one person - here, the person Israel, who would over time, be in the situation of doubting. Elsewhere in Tanach, verses state that others knew of what Israel went through, and it's not denied. Here I think a tradition is being fixed as truth-bound. The evidence of the experience is being emphasized to those who buoy the Tradition through time; the People Israel are the context of Truths not bound to 'tradition' (in a soft use of MacIntyre's language in "Whose Justice, Which Rationality?", as presented in Ian Markham's Ontological Argument). They are a Truth-bound Tradition in a world of tradition-bound 'truths'. But such certainties as theirs are dangerous when held beyond parameters (divine parameters). The other nations are not in the same Covenant with HKBH as Israel (Derech Hashem, etc), do not have Torah, etc. When 'absolute'-oriented worldviews are held by Klal, epic consequences transpire (the epic scopes of communism, Messianism, etc). There are consequences to Monotheism - and there's reason behind arguments that are 'for' us and not for others, covenants that we are under and not others, laws we are bound to and not others. more to come?

There is a great point made by r. Sacks (also here, specific to myth), on this additional context of the challenge, of the anomalous nature of Deity violating the mythic maxim "as above, so below" -"the supreme Power intervening on behalf of the supremely powerless, not (as in every other culture) to endorse the status quo but to overturn it." - plucking a 'divinely-ordained' servile people out of the 'divinely-ordained' social order - completely anomalous as a claim for the ancient world. It also seems to be denying that his authority is "mythically-bound" - he is 'bound' by his own Will! (he is also Willed that he be bound by covenanting with this former slave people!) - He takes them out not in accord with their 'expected' divinely-ordained time scale, but by His own decision - as if He's trying to shake the slavery-inculcated 'mythic mindset' from Israel by shattering the usual expections - even about Him. It continues;

35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.

That YKVK is the Elohim - the Highest Power. It wasn't simply some deity speaking to a nation or doing miracles - it was THE God.

There may be other claims, but given the parameters above, they would be few. The reason for the experiences, about which the claim is made, ups the ante even more; does any other claim make this point - that the deity speaking to them is The Deity - the source of all everything?

I hope to I"H post some of my thoughts on the general criticisms of national revelations as made by the professor from the University in England, as they are applied to the Kuzari Principle, and the Torah's claims.

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