Thursday, May 31, 2012

Archeology and the Bible


Dear Reader,

About a month ago I began a discussion with one of our readers (Elemir) regarding archaeological proofs for the authenticity of the Bible. My protagonist claimed that there were many examples of archeological discoveries that contradict the timeline mentioned in the Torah. I offered refutations to his examples and provided several of my own that, I believe, support the events, people, and sometimes even timelines listed in the Torah. Our debate is ongoing. At the behest of one of my colleagues (Rabbi Lampel), I am beginning a new thread entitled Archeology and the Bible. The original conversation began, oddly enough, in the comment section of our post entitled Yom HaAtzmaut. Rabbi Lampel has compiled a document with all of the relevant comments from that post. The document can be viewed here. Alternatively, you may view the comments in the original post here.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rabbi Kadish – Duped by the Academic Establishment


The latest post on Rationalist Judaism is by Rabbi Dr. Seth Kadish. It discusses the prevalent attitude amongst chareidim that popular science books which contain information contrary to the Torah’s depiction of nature should not be brought into a Jewish home (or used as textbooks in Jewish schools). As Rabbi Kadish points out, the “problematic” ideas relate to examples such as “natural history” - a euphemism for the evolutionary paradigm of life - and “dinosaurs”. (Note: In truth, dinosaurs pose no problem at all to the Torah’s depiction of animal life. Unfortunately the constant dissemination of evolutionary dogma in popular media outlets has resulted in the wholesale acceptance of the academic view regarding the age of these fabulous beasts of antiquity.)  On its face such an attitude seems reasonable, indeed, prudent. After all, why confuse children (or adults) with ostensibly contradictory information? There is plenty of scientific material out there to discuss. Why should popular science books be expected to broach subjects that raise the type of issues such books are not equipped to deal with?

Rabbi Kadish disagrees. Unfortunately, the way he portrays the chareidi attitude (“sanitized science” and “censored Torah”) is highly misleading. He writes as follows: 
…there is also a completely different way to approach the issue… there will always still be some deeper and more nuanced problems, which are far more difficult to deal with, and for which there may not be satisfactory solutions. For these questions the answer is not censorship but honesty… 
This comment is bizarre. In Rabbi Kadish’s story, a chareidi father wants to insure that the “book of “questions and answers” about nature and the world around us, beautifully illustrated with vivid color pictures” is free of evolutionary dogma. Rabbi Kadish’s response to this is that “honesty” dictates that we should not censor such material from the book. Honesty? What’s so honest about including unproven theories regarding processes which have never been seen and which supposedly occurred millions of years ago, in a book which deals with questions and answers about the facts of nature as we currently see them?

Rabbi Kadish goes on to write as follows:   
Neither sanitized science nor censored Torah is the answer. Rather, they are both the very root of the problem. Sanitized science is a sin against God's gift to us of the human mind, and against any true appreciation of the wondrous universe that He made. But censored Torah is even more frightening and dangerous, because when the study of God's Torah is limited to those opinions which are deemed acceptable in a certain community at a certain time, or according to certain rabbis who are deemed gedolim, the result will be not just hyper-inflated contradictions between Torah and science but something far worse: a perversion of the Torah itself and thus of God's will for Israel. 
This paragraph is so egregious in its presentation of the chareidi approach that it is difficult to figure out just where to start. Let’s begin with “sanitized science”. As we’ve noted several times on this blog, there are two distinct branches of science. There is operational/technological science and there is origin-based science. The former is not contested by chareidi Jews. It is not filtered, censored, or “sanitized”. Operational science is a product of empirical observation combined with extensive experimentation under controlled conditions. Its findings are submitted to peer-review for verification and duplication under a variety of conditions. Only then are their conclusions granted acceptance into the general knowledge-base of science. This branch of science does not contradict the depictions of nature in the Torah and in fact is practiced by chareidi doctors, chemists, biologists, engineers and a host of other similar professions.  

On the other hand, origin-based science is not subject to the above-noted scientific methodology. On the contrary, it deals with far-fetched theories about events that were never seen or recorded, cannot be tested, and often-times contradict the evidence! The practitioners of origin-based science attempt to capitalize on the proven successes of operational science by extending its authority to their own theories and for the most part they have been successful. But those familiar with the philosophy of science understand that this “extension of authority” is not scientific in nature. It is a product of the materialist philosophy which characterizes the worldview of the elitist academic establishment. Origin-based science is not science; it is scientism. It’s primary mandate is to explain the existence of all of the phenomena of the universe in exclusively materialistic terms.  As such, it frequently provides explanations that are entirely unsupported by the evidence and on many occasions, actually contradict the evidence!

The following paragraph by the eminent Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin says it beautifully: 
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen. 
Rabbi Kadish’s approach to “dealing with the problems” is a result of his unquestioning faith in the dogma of scientism. Ergo, his misguided attempt at promoting “honesty” in popular science books. Unfortunately, both he and Rabbi Slifkin suffer from the same malady. But this is not the end. There is something even worse. This approach leads Rabbi Kadish to the ultimate affront: the claim that eliminating subjects like “natural history” from science textbooks amounts to “a sin against God's gift to us of the human mind, and against any true appreciation of the wondrous universe that He made”. This accusation is so outrageously false it boggles the mind! The truth is exactly the opposite. The very foundation of the theories of “natural history” is that life developed by unguided material processes. These theories block “any true appreciation of the wondrous universe that He made” by definition! Unfortunately Rabbi Kadish, like Rabbi Slifkin, is blinded by the consensus opinion of the academic community and is therefore compelled to adopt approaches that compromise the truth of our mesora in a misguided attempt to align the Torah with the philosophies of the scientific community.

As far as Rabbi Kadish’s allegation that censoring science books amounts to “censored Torah” and is “dangerous” because it “is limited to those opinions which are deemed acceptable in a certain community at a certain time”,  I beg to differ. I have compiled a list of opinions on ma’aseh bereishis spanning the entire history of the Jewish nation and our mesora is unanimous! A recent, rapid, meta-natural creation was “deemed acceptable” in every community at every time! Only in the past 150 years or so was this opinion questioned and only by a handful of individuals. They comprise a tiny fraction of our gedoley Torah (Rabbi Slifkin lists three or four at most) and as such their opinions in this particular matter are not relevant.

Rabbi Kadish writes:  
Serious questions about Torah and science are nothing new. In every generation mankind tries anew to understand both itself and the universe around it, and this continuing search reveals new truths. At the very same time, men of Torah in every generation—who are themselves also men of truth—honestly strive to understand anew both God's Torah and the world around them using the best tools available to them. This dual engagement not only forces them to meet deep and important challenges head on, but also has the potential to enrich their understanding of mankind, of the universe, and of the Torah itself.  
I agree fully with this statement. To wrap up this post I will mention something I heard from my Rebbi in line with this idea. The Michaber (Orach Chaim Siman 6:1) has a long sif explaining the kavanos behind the beracha of Asher Yatzar. My Rebbi claims that advances in medical science have rendered this sif all but irrelevant. The wonders of the human body as understood by medical science today are so incredibly spectacular that one can no longer content himself with the kavanos of the Michaber. His descriptions are kindergarten talk in comparison to what we can appreciate today of Hashem’s Wisdom and Kindliness.   

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance


In a recent post entitled Do Scientists Pray, Rabbi Slifkin appeals to his readers to pray for the welfare of Moshe Yehuda Yehoshua Michoel ben Chava. (May Hashem grant him a refuah sheleima b’karov). This request struck me as odd.

Back in June of 2011, Rabbi Slifkin bemoaned the state of affairs regarding segulos and in fact this blog concurred with his opinions in this matter. However, he went on to write as follows:
How much more inherently irrational are segulos than, say, tefillas haderech (which I am extremely makpid about)? True, one can draw distinctions, but the efficacy of petitionary prayer may be difficult to justify on a solely rational level.
So, is the Rationalist Blog making an irrational request from its readers?

Furthermore, Rabbi Slifkin fortifies the apparent irrationality of petitionary prayer by appealing to his favorite rationalist, the Rambam. He writes as follows:
In fact, it seems that according to Rambam, while petitionary prayer is of great religious importance, it does not actually serve to attain the object of one's requests. (See Marvin Fox, Interpreting Maimonides, for extensive discussion of this.)
So, if Rabbi Slifkin does not believe that praying for Rabbi Joshua Cohen is efficacious (and thus unjustifiable from a rational point of view), than why bother appealing to his readers to pray on his behalf? And if he does believe it could be efficacious (i.e. justifiable from a rational perspective), then how does he reconcile this belief with his interpretation of Rambam's opinion regarding the inefficacy of prayer?

Ironically Rabbi Slifkin’s appeal to prayer comes directly after he provides his readership with Fox’s paper on Rambam and petitionary prayer.

For our comments on Rabbi Slifkin’s original post, please see our post entitled Fair is Fair.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Yom HaAtzmaut – The Charedi Opposition

Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:
As I mentioned above, though, all this only explains one very minor aspect of those who do not celebrate Yom Ha'Atzmaut. The main reason, especially today, has very little to do with halachic or religious positions, and a lot more to do with sociological factors… the notion of being a fully participating citizen of the State of Israel, and the very idea of incorporating a new entity (The State of Israel) into one's religious worldview, is entirely at odds with the isolationism and traditionalism of charedi society. They'd be uncomfortable with it even if the Ribbono Shel Olam Himself were to say that it's kosher.
In my opinion, this view is absurd. Within the context of the past several posts, I would like to advance a far more plausible explanation for the Charedi opposition to Yom HaAtzmaut.   

On May 14, 1948, the Jewish People's Council declared the establishment of the State of Israel. After a brief description of the Jewish Nation’s historical connection to Eretz Yisrael and the recent en-masse immigration of European Jewry, the Declaration states as follows:
In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.
This sentence speaks volumes about the nature of the State of Israel. Yom HaAtzmaut marks the creation of a secular state presided over by a secular government. The Declaration discusses the cultural, political and national interests of the State but nowhere is God mentioned, much less the Torah. In fact, the Declaration states that the State “will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”.

The Charedi attitude to Yom HaAtzmaut is simple to understand. Yom HaAtzmaut is a secular holiday celebrating secular ideals. Was the founding of the State miraculous? Sure. Are we grateful to the men and women who fought for its establishment? Of course. But for frum Jews to respond to these miracles by standing hand in hand with their estranged brethren while they celebrate the formation of a secularist Sate is entirely inappropriate, regardless of their personal reasons for celebrating.   

Religious Zionists choose to celebrate YH because they attach religious significance to the State of Israel. They understand it as part of the ultimate redemption. But so do the secularists. The final chapter of the Declaration reads as follows:           
WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream - the redemption of Israel.
Unfortunately, the “age-old dream” of the Zionist establishment is diametrically opposed to that of the Charedim, and in fact, to that of the Religious Zionists too. Charedim are surely grateful to Hashem for returning the nation to its ancient land but celebrating YH is no way to thank Him. Charedim are acutely aware of the fact that the Jewish Nation is still in galus regardless of where we reside. Downtown Tel Aviv is no different than downtown Chicago. Unfortunately, it is not yet time to celebrate.      

Yom HaAtzmaut – A Historical Perspective Part 4


In this post we will discuss the creation of the Mizrachi Movement (MM) and it’s reaction to political Zionism.

The MM (also known as Religious Zionism) was founded in 1909 by Rabbi Jacob Reines. Rabbi Reines was the Rav in Lida (Lithuania) and established a Yeshiva there. As we mentioned in the previous post, the majority of Orthodox Jewry shunned Zionism because of its secular mandate and anti-religious attitudes. Although Mizrachi did not agree with the philosophies of the Zionists, they chose cooperation over rejection.  They felt that working together with the Zionist organization gave the Jews a better chance of achieving their common goal of Jewish statehood and physical security. Consequently the Mizrachi was constantly at odds with the Agudah regarding the tactics, policies, and goals of the religious yishuv (settlement) in pre-1948 Palestine.

In addition to the above, there is another ideological issue that plays a crucial role in the division between Mizrachi and the Agudah. Although most of the contemporary European gedoley Yisrael of the 19th century denied any connection between Zionism and messianism , there were a few individuals who promoted it most vociferously. Chief amongst them was R’ Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and R’ Yehuda Alkalai. Both characterized the ongoing European aliyot to Palestine as the onset of the messianic process. The European leaders of Mizrachi stood side by side with mainstream Orthodoxy in repudiating the “Messiah link” but the ideas of Kalischer and Alkalai were widely adopted by the grass-roots Mizrachi and eventually found expression in the views of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Kook.

Rav Kook was the most influential Rabbinical figure of Religious Zionism in pre-1948 Israel. He arrived in Palestine in the early 1900’s to become rabbi of the Jaffa community. In addition to his superb scholarship he possessed a sterling character and a boundless love for his fellow Jews. Rabbi Kook was convinced that the messianic era was at hand and that all the events unfolding in the Zionist movement were to be seen in that light. Despite the secular, and even atheistic ideologies of its leaders, Rabbi Kook was convinced that yimos haMashiach would change all this. This belief characterized the nature of pre-1948 Mizrachi and governed all of Rav Kook’s actions on its behalf.

In the 1970's the Mizrachi Movement experienced a fundamental split among the rank and file. Some inclined themselves more towards Chareidi ideology while others leaned more towards secularism and modernity. Today there are several groups amongst the Religious Zionists but it is likely that Rav Kook would have been critical of the policies and actions of the more modern form of the Movement.

This completes our historical overview of the events and people which led up to the establishment of the State of Israel. In the following post we will explain the Chareidi opposition (or in most cases just plain indifference) to Yom HaAtzmaut.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Yom HaAtzmaut – A Historical Perspective Part 3


This post is a continuation of the previous one and is dedicated to a discussion of Orthodox Jewry’s opposition to Zionism.

When the Jews arrived at Har Sinai, Hashem commanded Moshe to tell them that they would be treasured by Him as a “unique nation above all other nations” on the condition that they would “hearken well to Me and observe My covenant”. Kabalas haTorah is the defining quality of Jewish nationhood. Without it we are no different than any other nation. This principle served as the foundation of Jewish life for over 3000 years. Zionism rejected this principle.

Zionism’s motto was that the Jews were a nation because of “culture, geography, nationalism and persecution”. In the beginning the Zionist organization relied heavily on Jewish Orthodox participation but it didn’t take long for the movement to break away from Orthodoxy. Cultural, Socialist, and Nationalist Zionism was clearly incompatible with the age-old attitude of the nation and was therefore rejected by the vast body of Torah Jewry. Even the Religious Zionists (Mizrachi) did not agree with Zionism’s “new mandate” for the Jewish nation. (As to why they participated in the movement, see the following post)

Connected to this issue was the fact that the Zionist organization was led by assimilationists, agnostics and secularists. It was inconceivable to the average Torah Jew that apikorsim, ochlei treifos and michaliley Shabbos were the ones who would represent the Jewish nation in their quest for yishuv ha'aretz.

Another reason for the Orthodox opposition to Zionism was it’s unspoken, but nevertheless inherent messianic quality. Many (but not all) of the gedoley Yisrael were concerned that Nationalist Zionism would turn out to be another false messiah dressed up in the guise of chibas ha'aretz.                       

In the following post we will discuss the Mizrachi Movement (Religious Zionism), it’s founding leaders, and it’s ultimate expression in the views of Rav Avraham Kook ztz’l.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Yom HaAtzmaut – A Historical Perspective Part 2


Rabbi Slifkin writes:
As I mentioned above, though, all this only explains one very minor aspect of those who do not celebrate Yom Ha'Atzmaut. The main reason, especially today, has very little to do with halachic or religious positions, and a lot more to do with sociological factors. See my monographs on "The Novelty of Orthodoxy" and "The Making of Haredim" to understand why the notion of being a fully participating citizen of the State of Israel, and the very idea of incorporating a new entity (The State of Israel) into one's religious worldview, is entirely at odds with the isolationism and traditionalism of charedi society. They'd be uncomfortable with it even if the Ribbono Shel Olam Himself were to say that it's kosher.
There are several problems with this explanation. But instead of pointing out its flaws, we would like to present our own explanation and leave it to the reader to decide which sounds more compelling.

In order to appreciate the Charedi opposition to Yom HaAtzmaut (YH), it is necessary to understand the historical background and events which culminated with the establishment of  the State of Israel.

Subsequent to the Dreyfus Affair (1894), Theodore Herzl became convinced that the only way to address the “Jewish Problem” in Europe was for the Jews to have their own country. He outlined his idea in a short book called Der Judenstaat (Herzl was Viennese) and distributed it amongst the populace. His ideas were enthusiastically adopted by many Jews who felt intuitively that the only solution for the Jewish Problem was to have their own homeland. Encouraged by the wide support his ideas were receiving, Herzl called for a meeting of Jewish leaders to discuss the “homeland idea”. On August 29, 1897, the first Zionist Congress convened in Switzerland. The Zionist Movement was now a reality. At the outset the Congress defined the primary mandate of Zionism: “to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law”.

In reality Herzl did not care where the “homeland” was established. In fact, just a couple years before his death he attempted to broker a deal with the British government for a Jewish State in Uganda. Herzl was a product of Western European assimilation. He was an elitist who looked down at Jewish customs and traditions, an agnostic who knew absolutely nothing about Judaism. He didn’t even know the aleph beis. In fact, in Der Judenstaat Herzl envisioned German as the official language of the new state! Eastern European Jews, lead by Chaim Weizmann, were more traditional than their Franco/German brethren and refused to settle for any other land. For them, Palestine represented the realization of a deeply-rooted historical longing for “the land” and eventually Herzl had no choice but to defer to them.

Although the first Zionist Congress was attended by several important Rabbinic leaders, the movement itself was vastly secular. Eventually it became entirely secular and fiercely anti-religious.

The opposition to Zionism by Orthodox Jewry was intense. In Part 3 of this series we will outline several issues with the Zionist Movement that generated serious concern amongst Torah-observant Jews. Part 4 will be dedicated to the Mizrachi Movement. Finally, drawing upon the background of the previous posts Part 5 will offer an explanation for the current Charedi opposition to YH.

Stay tuned…