Thursday, March 31, 2005

Machshavah Cholent

It seems to me, based on my limited reading in such subjects, that machshavah, pnimiyus, jewish philosophy, hashkafah, kabalah etc, are all basically a similar phenomenon. Attempts by man to go beyond the mundane and create some kind of super-natural system of thought, either as a means to get closer to G-d, to understand G-d, or maybe just because its interesting.

Examples I can think of include the works of the Maharal, Rav Kook, Nefesh Hachayim, R YB Soloveitchik, AJ Heschel, all of Chasiddus etc. There doesn't seem to be much of this pre 12th? century though. Chazal did this a bit, but usually it was real short, just a pasuk and a quick 'homily'. Did no one before the Rishonim ever engage in this ?

Maybe some or all of this is somewhat divinely inspired, but its still a human creation. That doesn’t mean it doesn't have value, I just don't believe any of it came down from Sinai that’s all. When Rav Moshe Shapiro gives an awesome machshavah shiur for example, I am sure its valuable, but at the end of the day, its his invention, its not Torah Min HaShamayim. Take what appeals to you and leave the rest. (Maybe thats obvious ?)

The base side of this same tendency is all the stupid gilgulim / shaydim / kabalistic trickery / dibukim / superstition / mekubalim nonsense, which is also expressly forbidden by the Torah in my opinion, and has no value at all. Its amazing that the UO world is still so steeped in this. Are they still using pigeons in Eretz Yisrael to cure hepatitis ? Wasn't the whole point of Judaism to steer us away from all these kinds of things ?

The problem in the UO world is that they seem to be unable to distinguish between the good stuff and the bad stuff. The whole lot of it gets mushed together into one huge UO ideological cholent, and if you don't believe in any part of it, you are a kofer, or worse, a modernishe (chas vesholom).

Well, my advice is don't eat too much of that cholent, it's after effects can be quite, shall we say, unpleasant.

My views on science

Some people have accused me of having emunah peshutah in science. 'Not all science is proven' they say. 'Scientific theories change all the time', they say. 'You have more faith in Science than in Torah' they say. 'You are a fool for believing Science' they say.

I say, you haven't been paying attention.

Lets roughly categorize all of science into 3 groups of theories.

1. Proven
The first group we shall call "proven". This is simply a convenient name, so don't go getting all philosophical on me about how nothing can ever really be proven blah blah blah. I don't want to hear it. This group of theories are those that are accepted as true by the majority of the scientific community. The fact that some quack scientists or Kiruv Clowns might dispute these theories is irrelevant. Some simple examples (or rather ramifications) of 'proven' theories:
  • The world and the universe are many billions of years old
  • There were many thousands of intelligent human beings roaming the earth, in the US, Australia, Asia etc, 10,000 years ago
  • There was no global flood within the last million years.

Of course we can debate which theories belong in this group. However my measure is what the significant majority of scientifics think, not what you, I or the Gedolim think. If you think scientific opinion is all hooey, this blog is not for you.

2. Debatable
The second group we shall call "debatable". This group of theories is the subject of some debate within the scientific community itself, or alternatively, the scientific community itself accepts that these are not yet proven. Some examples of 'debatable' theories:

  • Some aspects of evolutionary theory (which aspects are debatable is itself debatable)
  • Possible lifespans of ancient humans

3. Theoretical
The third group we shall call "theoretical". These theories have been proposed, but there is no way of knowing (yet) if there is any validity to them or not. The mainstream scientific community accepts this. Some example of "theoretical" theories:

  • Multiverse theory
  • Some aspects of string theory (which aspects are theoretical is debatable)

My arguments regarding Torah have all been from the 'proven' group. This groups is to all intensive purposes established fact. Its not a question of faith, but of fact. If you disagree and have a well reasoned argument, I would be interested in hearing it. If you are simply a fundamentalist who rejects science out of hand, this blog is not for you, please leave.

I have never to my knowledge argued strongly against Torah in defence of a 'Theoretical' theory. If I have, I was mistaken. Sometimes I might debate the "debatable" theories, but not very often. This blog is about religion, not science, and I don't have much interest in debating scientific theories per se.

Scientific theories change all the time. However the fundamentals usually don't. They get refined, bits get added, bits get taken away but I think we can be secure in saying the world is round, gravity will always be, the world is very old, and things like that. To say that all science is hooey because it changes is the same as saying all halachah is hooey because it changes.

Another common fallacy is to take a genuine scientific debate and use it to void all opinions. A classic example is the debate over the age of the universe. Some scientists say 10 billion, some say 20 billion. Aha ! Say the fundamentalists. You see the scientists can't agree. One side could even be wrong by 10 billion years ! So maybe they are both wrong, and the world is only 6000 years old ! If you think this is a logical argument then again, this blog is not for you, please leave.

I hope I have made my views clear. Please do not clutter up the comments with silly statements about science. Thanks.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Tired-Taiku Theory

We munched on Myth-Moshol. We noshed on Nes-Nisayon. We wallowed in Weird-Wacky. Now its time to talk about Tired-Taiku.

Tired-Taiku (TT) is really more of an approach than a definitive answer. Teiku is actually roshei tevos for "Tishby Yetaretz Kushyas Ushailos" (Elijah will answer all questions). I have heard various discussions about what that means exactly, but in a contemporary setting, when someone says "Taiku is the answer", they generally mean one of the following:
  1. We have some reasonable answers, but no way of knowing which is correct, so lets just leave it.
  2. Any hope of finding any answer seems remote, so lets just leave it.
  3. I don't know enough about this topic, so lets just leave it.
  4. The obvious answer is clear, but we really don't like it, so lets just leave it.
  5. I can't be bothered to discuss this anymore, so lets just leave it.
  6. I don't want to to discuss this at all, so lets just leave it.
  7. This is not worth discussing, so lets just leave it.
  8. For some unrelated reason, I don't wish to answer right now, so lets just leave it.

For example, your average yeshivah bochur, after only a few moments on a science vs torah discussion will lose patience and say "Why do you bother with all this stuff anyway ! Just go learn a daf Gemoroh and forget about it, It has no practical halachic ramifications anyway. Lets just say taiku !". (True Story). Probably a 5 or 7 above.

When Rav Mattisyahu Solomon says "Taiku is an answer", he probably means to say that "I don't really know enough about it, the science seems pretty strong but I cannot possibly take Torah non literally, so lets not go there" i.e. Number 2 above. He may also mean 3 above, or maybe 6.

So is Tired-Taiku the correct answer to questions of Science & Torah ?

Taiku V8 !

Thursday, March 24, 2005

More on Nes-Nisayon

Some people like to suggest nes-nisayon theory for the creation of the earth. In other words, even though everything appears to be 15 billion years old, it is in fact only 6000 years old, but was created fully formed. As to why G-d would pull such a stunt, the answer is that it makes logical sense that the world would be created fully formed. There is even a makor for this in the gemarah which tooks about adam being created as a 20 year old. Many people have a problem with this approach, because they don't like to think of G-d playing tricks and creating fakery, such as fake dinosuar bones, fossils and cave paintings.

Nes-nisayon gets even more shverre when you get to the mabul. The scientific evidence for there being no possibility whatsoever of a global flood, and no local flood covering more than a relatively small area, and for the fact that there has been continous human habitation of many varied areas of the earth going back 10 or 20 thousand years (if not more), and that biologically we cannot possibly be all descended from one person 5000 years ago, is solid. Not to mention the impossibility of all animals fitting in a small boat, and then being dispersed across the globe.

Therefore, to propose nes-nisayon as the answer to the mabul, requires us to say that not only was the flood in itself a completely miraculous event, but also that after the flood had finished, G-d miraculously wiped away all evidence. But even more than that, after the evidence was wiped away, G-d changed signs of human habitation, geology, biology and a host of other things to make it appear beyond a shadow of doubt that no such flood ever occurred.

Now, I can understand why G-d might want to create a completed world, there is a certain logic to that. But why would G-d remove all evidence showing that a flood had occurred ? And not only that, but go so far as to also plant fake evidence to show beyond a shadow of doubt that no flood ever did occur ? This has no relevance to any 'completed world' theory, and would have to involve an incredible amount of 'fakery' to create such an unbelievable nisayon.

The nes part I can understand. We have always thought of the mabul as a nes.

But this would truly be a strange nisayon.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The Clever-Clever Theory

There is another theory as to the conflict of Science and Torah. It says that there is some really clever answer, but I, or we, or maybe humans in general, are just not clever enough to figure it out. I call this the Clever-Clever Theory.

Clearly, humans don't know everything. Well, the Rebbetzin Hador does, but that’s a different topic of discussion. A few hundred years ago, or even more recently, many humans could not conceive of a theory of relativity. In fact most people still can't. Likewise in the religious sphere, we don't know everything. For example, the problem of evil, or understanding G-d, or G-ds omniscience vs free will, are all out of bounds of human intellectual ability, (at least according to our tradition).

Even in everday life, there are some things we just cannot figure out. Like why did I dream I was being chased by a deranged chimpanzee the other night ? Strange.

So, some people claim, given our inability to understand certain things, isn't it possible that there is some amazing answer to the conflict of Science vs Torah, we just either haven't found it yet, or maybe its beyond our ability ever to grasp ? Maybe an answer that only G-d could give ?

Well, maybe. However I don't think its likely. The Torah clearly implies that the universe is 6000 years old (taken literally). Science clearly implies the universe is 15 billion years old, give or take. 6000 vs 15 billion is a fairly easy concept to grasp. Although time is relative, in the context of the earth itself, it was either 6000 or 15 billion. It can't logically be both.

The Rambam says that the class of things which are logically impossible (e.g. 1+1=3, or G-d commiting suicide), are impossible for G-d too. Other Rishonim argue and criticize the Rambam for 'limiting' G-ds powers so to speak. They say its foolish to assert that there is something G-d can't do. I guess according to those Rishonim, it would be possible for G-d to have some answer as to how it could be both 6000 and also 15 billion. However I still don't think its likely.

But, just like Nes-Nisayon, this one is impossible to disprove.

Monday, March 7, 2005

Weird-Wacky Theory

Apart from Nes-Nisayon, Myth-Moshol and Emunah-Peshutah, you also find various weird and wacky theories or answers as to the conflict of Science and Torah. They are not worth a full blog each, so here is a compendium.

Science is physical truth, Torah is spiritual (or moral) truth
Personally, I think this is baloney. Breishis either happened like it says or it didn't. If it didn't, then just admit its a myth-moshol and stop trying to be so clever.

Torah is truth, Science is Poetry
The geniuses at Yated came up with this one. Amazing. Amazingly dumb that is. An instant classic.

We are not worthy
We don't know everything about science. We also have only the barest understanding of Torah and Chazal. So don't ask any questions. Basically emunah peshutah with a bit of mussar thrown in for good measure.

There is no conflict but I can't explain why
Torah and science both come from G-d. So there can be no conflict ! Sorry, end of discussion. Basically emunah peshutah with a bit of a pro science attitude thrown in for good measure.

Science & Medrash Geek Theory
Lots of afficianados here. From Gerald Schroder to R Dovid Brown. Its the magical mystery tour of arcane science, arcane midrashim and bad logic. With some clever physics, or possibly some bogus physics (who can tell), and with some clever midrashim, or possibly some bogus midrashim (who can tell), every word in Breishis fits perfectly with science. Parshas Breishis that is. The Science geeks get off the ride at that point. But there's no stopping the medrash geeks. They're going all the way.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

The Emunah-Peshutah Theory

We navigated Nes-Nisayon. We mulled over Myth-Moshol. Now its time to ponder Emunah-Peshutah Theory (EPT).

This one's quite simple to understand really.
  • Age of the Universe: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah.
  • Evolution: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah.
  • The You Know What: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah.
  • Statements of Chazal contradicting science: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah
  • Actions of our leaders: There is no good answer. Just have emunah peshutah.

Like Nes-Nisayon Theory, this theory is quite convenient, as it answers pretty much every question very neatly.

Clearly Myth-Moshol has been banned in the Fundamentalist world. However, do they advocate Nes-Nisayon or Emunah-Peshutah Theory ? I was pretty convinced they were going with NNT, but now it seems it might be EPT.

Perhaps there is a split between the US and the EY Fundamentalists. The US guys, who are a little more cognizant of science, prefer EPT. The EY guys who are less familiar, are happier with NNT.

Faith & Reason Part 1

Finally, someone with some sechel talks about Faith and Reason. Pity I don't understand a word of it. (From Hirhurim Comments)

I am glad to see a collection of different positions to shed light on the Greek-based dichotomizing of Judaism known as "fact vs. faith", where Yahadut is posited as "scientific" and "rational" (neither of which are hebrew terms), as opposed to being Divine in origin and outside imposed temporal dichotomies. Many who try to use the "faith v. fact" dichotomy (Kiruv often), adopt whole-heartedly materialist definitions for both terms, implying that the two exhaust all possible modes of knowing, under the pretentions of "fighting the enemy on their battlefield".

It is far too easy in such a intellectual skirmish to fall victim to the Cliffordian maxim of an unconditional demand for empirical evidence (terms needing tradition-bound definition), for ANY and all beliefs at all times, despite the obvious impossibility of such a life. It's likewise too easy to be pressured into an ultimately Fideistic trap of "I simply believe", despite reason and reality.

EVERY doxastic system to be systematic must posit a fundamental Given which is reasoned FROM not reasoned TO; this holds for "secular" systems as well as (explicitly) religious systems. Roy Clouser gets into this in his "Myth of Religious Neutrality" and a little bit in his "Knowing With The Heart" (KWTH is more xtian polemic and argues on other peripheral issues). Kelly James Clark (xtian) argues against the fallacious nature of the Evidentialist "fact v. faith" approach and the Cliffordian Standard in his "Return To Reason". R. Eliezer Berkovits is a Jewish source who'd written very briefly around similar themes in parts of his "God, Man and History". (N Paulovic)

I think I was doxastic once, but then I took some tylenol and felt much better.

At times like these I really wish I had listened to what my philosophy teacher told me.
Why, what did he tell you ?
I don't know, I didn't listen.

Seriously though, I think I get what he is saying. That all systems rely on some givens, which cannot be proven, and that either extreme of ultimate rationalism or simple faith is bad.

Bored with Breishis ? Nonplussed with Noach ? Leery of Lech lechah ? Vacillating about Vayerah ? Had enough of Hayei Soroh ?

Lets jump straight to Yisro, because that’s what its all about.

There is no scientific evidence which can prove that matan torah didn't happen. Lucky break there ! Archeological evidence deems it unlikely that millions of people fled Egypt and camped in the desert for 40 years with no evidence. However we all know they ate mon, so there were no empty plastic bottles or McDonalds boxes for the archeologists to find.

Seriously though, the numbers by matan torah could be exaggerated, in those days certain numbers were 'idealized' e.g. the number 6. In our days it’s 42. So its quite possible that many thousands of people left Mitzrayim, had a revelation at Sinai, and there would be no scientific or archeological evidence to disprove this.

As to what the revelation actually consisted of, now that's a whole different question.

Cultural Misunderstandings

If R Solomon really did say pygmy, we should not criticize. Clearly, different cultures use words differently. In order to avoide future scandals, and people making fun of things, I have compiled a useful dictionary. Simply translate all speeches from the right wing using this dictionary, and you will feel much better:

Right wing to English Dictionary

Daas Torah: Political power
Gedolim: Political leaders
Godol Hador: The leader of the party
Kofrim: The opposition party
Kefirah: The ideology of the opposition party
Pygmy: Honorable gentleman of the opposition

With this dictionary, R Solomon's speech was quite acceptable. He was merely stating that he does not agree with the politics of the honorable members of the opposition party. Nothing worse than anything you will hear in the Senate or the House of Commons.

And positively pareve in comparison to the Knessett !

Its official: We are no longer kofrim

Reb Mattisyahu Solomon has officially declared that people who try and reconcile Torah and Science are no longer to be called kofrim.

No. From now on, they shall be called pygmies instead.

There is nothing to be made fun of here. He said it, I reported it. End of story.

However, in other news, Atheists are now to be called cannibals, Modern Orthodox shall be named bushpeople, and Heretical Hasidim shall be called small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.


It seems likely that the word was midgets, not pygmies. Also, this was only one small part of the Siyum Hashas, so nothing to get to worked up about.

Avraham Avinu and Emunah Peshutta

Ford, a highly intelligent being from another planet (well he is a yekke), makes an interesting point. He says that Avraham Avinu (founder of the Jewish religion) was not content with the simple emunah peshuttah (in idols) of his day. He constantly asked questions, until he came to a new and better understanding.

Douglas Rushkoff in his book 'Nothing Sacred' makes a similar point. He says that Judasim was founded on iconoclastic behavior (i.e. Avraham), therefore we must all be iconoclasts, to be true to Judaism.

It sounds like a good argument, though it can be taken too far. For example Rushkoff takes it to mean that we have to completely re-invent Judaism and form a new religion, because after all, thats exactly what Avraham Avinu did.

Not sure that I want to go there, however the point about Avraham and emunah peshuttah is worth thinking about (but not too deeply, just in case). Shouldn't we investigate, like Avraham, or is it too dangerous ?

Is there a correlation between those who investigate, and those who went off the derech ? In other words, did everyone who investigated end up going off the derech, and those who are still here didn't really investigate much ?

We have heard a lot from those who investigated and left. Can we now hear from someone who investigated and stayed ? Anyone ? Anyone ? Bueler ?

Anyone ?

New: FDA approved Emunahpeshuttia !


  • Struggling with doubts and questions
  • Unable to face life
  • Not sure what its all about
  • Overly concerned with questions on Science and Torah, Faith and Reason or the you know what
Take 3 doses a day , for the rest of your life. In case of nagging doubts, you may take additional doses. Do not exceed 6 doses in 24 hours, or brain death may occur. May be taken together with Viagara and Daastora.

Side effects:
Patients may experience nausea, lack of critical thinking skills and disinterest in solving life's problems.

Emunahpeshuttiah may be taken by any adult or child over the age of 6. Emunahpeshuttiah is generally not required for small children or infants. Not suitable for patients with a history of ModernOrthodoxitus, Atheisiphalis or HasidicHereticus.

Don't Think It, Just Believe It !

Well, it was inevitable. Once the dust cleared, and the enemy had a chance to regroup, we are now getting the counter attacks. No, I'm not talking about the terrorists in Basra, I'm talking about the fundamentalists in Bnei Brak.

Reports say that Rav Mattisyahu Solomon at the Agudah convention talked about developing an emunah peshutah based on the concept of teiku. Or to put it english for those of you whose hebrew / aramaic is poor:

We don't have any answers, so don't ask us any questions !

Gil cites plenty of support in the Rishonim for simple faith. Well, its one thing to have faith in something without being able to prove it, for example the existence of G-d. However its another thing entirely to be faced with difficult questions, and instead of searching for answers, we just fall back onto simple faith.

Actually its worse than that. Not only do they not provide any answers, but they ban people who attempt to provide answers. Is this an admission that there are no good answers at all ?
I find it hard to believe that we are endowed with such amazing brains (well some of us at least), and yet we are not supposed to use them, at least not along certain avenues. Is the brain just another nisayon, a physical aspect of our existence to be shunned ?
  • Lets not think, because that might cause us emunah problems.
  • Lets not investigate, because we might not like what we find.
  • Lets not analyze, because the analysis might not agree with us.
I have no doubt this attitude goes back to the Rishonim, some of them were fundamentalists too you know. It’s a shame that this is what it all ultimately boils down to.

I think I liked it better when they were pushing the Gosse theory. At least they gave the illusion of actually having an answer. I almost believed it some days. I mean, it is possible isn't it ! Now they admit that there are no answers.

I had a debate with a talmid of Rav Moshe Shapiro. He claimed that Rav Moshe, who knows all secular wisdon, has been struggling with these issues his whole life, and is therefore an authority on the matter. Well, in that case I asked, how come Rav Moshe doesn't write a good book on the subject ?

I guess the answer is that "I don't have any answers, just believe in Daas Torah and take two does of Emunah Peshuttah a day for the rest of your life" wouldn't make a very good book. Thats why he hasn't published yet.

Though I think that perhaps Artscroll could publish it. With a nice picture of Rav Moshe on the cover (similing sweetly of course), 20 pages of "Donated In Memory" stuff at the front, a 15 page introduction by R Zlotowitz and you could make it look like it has something to say. Especially if they add a nice leather binding and make it coffee table size.

Update: Thanks to Gil for pointing out this article.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Emunah Peshutah vs Chakirah Amukah

Rabbi Adlerstein on Cross Currents says:

Secondly, our fallback position in so many areas has to be emunah peshutah. None of us is smart enough, or well read enough, to answer all the questions.

This is quite true. This is why I get on a plane. I have no idea how the darn thing stays up in the air, nor do I have the time to find out. I have emunah peshutah in the legions of engineers who designed and tested it.

Likewise, if the Torah vs Science question has been dealt with properly, with expert inquiry into all areas, I would have emunah peshutah in this too.

Can someone therefore please point me in the direction of a sefer which seriously explores all these issues, and comes up with some credible peshat ?

The only Sefer I found so far (with haskamas of course, and also which hasn't been banned) is R Dovid Browns 'Mysteries of Creation'. I give R Dovid credit for dealing with the tough issues, even the ones no one talks about (Hint: My 2 year old's blanky deals with it). Unfortunately some people dismis his sefer as having no basis in reality, science, mesorah or indeed common sense.

Secondly, there seems to be a correlation in the confidence and ability of leaders to address difficult questions, and the reliance on emunah peshutah.

For example, in medieval times, the Rishonim were a pretty cool bunch of guys. They took on the difficult issues and tried to address them. I guess they were confident (rightly or wrongly) that they had some good answers. Nowadays, we don't get good answers, or even good attempts at explanations, but rather rhetoric, bans and appeals to emunah peshutah.

I guess the confidence level nowadays in actually being able to answer any of these questions properly is quite low.