Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Here Gosse Nothing...

One particularly obnoxious objection against resolving the age of the universe is the attempt to "pasul" it as a Christian idea since this was the approach that the Christian Philip Henry Gosse put for in his work Omphalos.

This is 1000% disingenuous.

Omphalos was, for better or for worse, DOA. It had little or no influence. My experience may be anecdotal but as someone who had an interest in Christian apologetics let me state clearly that I not once did I run into this line of reasoning being utilized by Christians to reconcile the Biblical account of creation with science.

In addition to the obvious ad hominem overtones, it is a fallacy of post hoc ergo proper hoc. While one might argue that one should not (or that traditionalist who take this approach teach that one should not) adopt non-Jewish religious teachings, there is clearly no prohibition against believing something because non-Jews believe it as well. With that in mind there is there is very little reason to believe that Omphalos played a role in this approach being introduced into the Jewish community.

It is not uncommon for two independent, or even competing, people to introduce theories which are, or are nearly, identical. I will spare you the cliche, but when confronted with a problem and given the same body of evidence it is not a novel thing for people to reach the same conclusion independently.

While Judaism does not accept the sola scriptura stance of traditional protestant Christianity, we have noted that it normally requires that a verses plain meaning be retained. Confronted with the same problem, namely the scientific evidence for a much much older universe, there are only so many possible solutions. From liberal allegorization to radical scepticism of science, one can find manifestations of each approach among either Jews or Christians but by far the "Gosse Theory" is the one I have found least likely to be expressed by Christians. I could almost exclude the instances I have encountered of Christians taking this approach to Gosse himself. An independent origin for this approach at reconciliation is as plausible, if not more, than that of borrowing.

This is reflected in my own experience. I had written on the "Gosse Theory", privately at least, before ever having heard the term. While I probably had heard generic assertions that God could create an old looking world, I had never seen this developed into a theory. It was a mere afterthought of those Christians who took a much more dismissive view of scientific opinion. I certainly never saw it argued that apparent age is a logical necessity from the text nor that it meant that one need not dismiss the Science behind evolution or the Big Bang.

In short it is ridiculous to object to an argument which seeks to establish the truth of Torah because it is accepted by Christians as well, especially when there is no evidence to support that the argument was actually adopted from Christians.

Parshas Noach: Evidence for a Global Flood?

When I was younger, much much younger, I had a plan. I and a couple of my friends where going to be missionaries. Well not just missionaries, we were going to “plant churches” all across the world, particularly in places such as along south Asia, roughly along the sailing route between California and the Middle East. And we were going to do it on a life size replica of Noah’s Ark, which would also serve as confirming evidence that a pair of each species could actually fit into the dimensions given by the Bible. And did I mention the part about underwater archeology in the Red Sea?

After being introduced to Judaism I found out that Razal had a much keener grasp of the obvious than I did at eleven (not that it doesn’t hold true now as well) noting that while the Biblical flood was an open miracle the ability for the Ark to fit all species was a more inconspicuous one.

While my dreams reflected an over active imagination and a degree of immaturity excusable for a child, the truth is that I’m not sure how rare the underlying fallacy of my reasoning is even among adults. My fundamental error was to approach a miracle as a natural phenomenon, or more specifically to try to apply naturalistic standards to a supernatural event. Without making a judgment on the possibility of miracles one can still say recognize that it is circular reasoning to falsify a miracle, or all miracles, because the do not conform to the laws of nature.

With the account of the Mabul, the flood of Noah, I see this reflected on either side of the spectrum. On the one hand in my life I have chanced upon unknown numbers media pieces on “evidence” of Noah’s flood whether it is Christian apologetic material or pop television specials which provide a fuzzy and inaccurate blend of traditional and academic. In addition to the aforementioned problem these specials seem to be significantly chronologically challenged, though their primary audience is probably not so concerned with such details.

On the other hand we have those who, in the face of a lack of evidence for such a global flood, conclude that this account [also] must be considered allegorical. While my overriding discomfort of removing a passage from its simple meaning without textual basis has already been noted and supported, R. Harry Maryles of Haemtza once noted that his mentor HaRav Aaron Soloveitchik zt’l considered the allegorization of the Mabul to be kefirah (or was it only almost kefirah?). While I can only speculate, I would speculate that it was not that the Mabul was so significant but more that to allegorize such a major Biblical account without any textual or traditional basis would undermine the entire pshat of the Chumash. Perhaps it is not so much that allegorization to the exclusion of the pshat is a slippery slope, but rather more of a sudden drop off after B’reshis -- where at least the ambiguity of the meaning of “day” prior to the creation of the sun etc. provided basis for a second look.

When I was younger, yes about the same age I was earlier in the piece, the river bed down stream was about four or five times the size of the river itself for a certain stretch. Sticking up from the gravel where a number of dead trees. Their blackened trunks lacked any real branches to speak of. Initially I had always assumed that they had burnt in the fires of 1987, just prior to my moving there. Only later did I find out that they had been killed by flood (again, had my grasp of the obvious been keener I would have realized that for trees to burn at the very bottom of the valley would require that the fire travel farther down the mountain than the remaining trees would suggest that it had).

According to chapter 8 verse 11, Noah new that the waters had receded when the dove returned with an olive leaf in its beak. This olive tree was underwater for a much longer period of time than those trees in the valley had been, and it was submerged! Yet Noah’s dove was able to bring back an olive leaf, an image which today is associated with peace. But unlike the flooding of the river back home which was a natural occurrence there is not pretence of nature with respect to the Mabul. To infer effects of the Mabul from the effects of a natural flood is fundamentally a poor analogy. While a miracle would affect the natural, since that is the stage upon which it takes place, the effect can only be recognized by observation not inference. I can assure you that people throughout the ages have seen the effects of natural floods but I doubt that any of them experienced a crisis of faith because the read that the dove found an olive branch on a tree that spent months underwater.

Very briefly, some wish to argue in favor of a limited/local flood. To support this they reference the midrash which says that Eretz Yisroel wasn’t included in the Mabul. Of course the most obvious question is since when to we treat the midrash as “historical” and uproot the Pshat? Second of all, this is basically equivocation. The midrash speaks of a “limited” Mabul insofar as it was limited to places other than Eretz Yisroel but it is still a global flood. The Midrash doesn’t negate that where it not for Noah and the Ark the flood would have left man and animal kind extinct.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Because to dan l'kaf chov is a lack of "Derech Eretz"

This is adapted from a comment made on the post at the Divrei Chaim Blog hachanos for mitzvos - how NOT to buy an esrog or build a sukkah.

I too would like to see an increased appreciation for derech eretz as it applies in our general culture. There are, however a couple of points which I think need to be recognized.

In the 1950's there was an occurrence of mass hysteria known as The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic. People, it would seem, started "looking at their window" rather than "through them" and noticed the typical cracks caused by small rocks and the like, and attributed them to nefarious causes. The human mind can be very selective in what it notices, and susceptible to suggestion as well. A caricature of Frum Yidden having poor manners is going to make it much more likely that confirming examples will be noticed, whether out of antagonism or a sense that it reflects poorly on the observer as well. I would argue that had the situation been reversed it is not anywhere near as likely that it would have been noticed as reflecting well on the son. This isn't a criticism, it is just natural.

Secondly, I have worked in customer service, both Jewish and general, and I can tell you that even in the general culture, among affluent educated people, it is often that common courtesy is observed in the breach. I can also tell you that while I have not had a lot of interaction with the larger "Frum" world my experience has been that they may often not be as "sociable", but among my Jewish customers they have not generally been the one's who have caused a scene. Yes, this is very anecdotal but it is my experience.

Finally derech eretz is subjective. I have a non-Jewish coworker of European birth who finds our affinity about such customs as saying please and thank you as being phony and insincere. When you are purchasing from someone you are doing them a favor. Of course in such a case as this they are also doing you a favor by providing something you need. I see nothing wrong if in a particular culture please and thank you are reserved for less casual interactions. In the end the merchant set up shop to make money.

But I still tell my coworker to use please and thank you to those in his charge because when and where it is customary to do so it is rude not to regardless.

Thanks, :)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Parshas B’reishis: In the Beginning, Brias HaOlam according to the Torah and the contemporary scientific understanding

The most obvious challenge, though perhaps not the most difficult one, which modern science presents to Torah Judaism is the radically divergent picture modern science paints of the origin of the universe and the species from that which we are told in the opening verses of the Torah. It is well known, of course, that Midrashic sources offer various teachings that are much more compatible with the contemporary scientific view but we are nevertheless still left with the pshat of B’reshis. Although true in their own right, midrashim are generally recognized as not being literal while as we have discussed in the post "What Problem?" the natural and traditional position is that any allegorical meaning compliments the literal, not replace it.

For most, whose allegiance to both science and the Bible tend to be a bit peripheral, the resolution can be a bit fuzzy but is often based on understanding the term day (יוֹם) as a long period. This has certain appeal insofar as יוֹם is used in the Bible symbolically to refer to longer periods of time. Likewise it doesn't take modern science to question the meaning of the term "day" before the sun was created. This approach is difficult however since the terms עֶרֶב and בקֶר (evening and morning) seem to suggest that the Torah means "day" in the conventional sense. Likewise Chagiga 12a lists the length of day and night as among that which was created on the first day, a clear indication that Chazal also understood day in the conventional sense. See here for more traditional sources which take a similar approach: I would suggest that their is a better approach which not only accounts for the difference between the age of the universe in the different views, but other areas of dispute as well.

In the Garden of Eden

When one thinks about it the very story of the Garden of Eden is an almost Gettier-esqu thought experiment. Taking the story in the most straightforward and literal way, if one where to suddenly find oneself being present moments after the creation of Adam, or viewing a photograph of that moment, one would certainly be justified in believing that the subject you were viewing, and the entire scene, was older than even the entire six day history of the universe. Such a narrative does not presume that Adam was a zygote, trees as saplings, or the landscape free from the effects of erosion. When we speak of the age of the universe in scientific terms we are not speaking about the measurement of time passed, but the effects of time passed. It is not possible to envision a scenario in which the Garden of Eden did not appear older than the actual six day history of the world! It is not simply a matter of that it would be possible for an omnipotent Creator to make a world that seems older, it is that it is not possible that a universe which functions similar to ours would not appear older where an omnipotent Creator to create such a garden from nothing. And it is in exactly this manner that Chazal tell us that the world was created,“R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: All creatures of the creation were brought into being with their full stature, their full capacities, and their full beauty” (Rosh HaShanah 11a) about which you may recall that the Rambam said, “Note this likewise, for it includes a principle fully established” (Guide 2:30, page 216).

Isn't that deceptive?

It is no more deceptive than creating a world which looks like it happened through blind chance over millions of years and then telling mankind it was created in six days a couple centuries previously and giving no indication that the story was simply an allegory. In fact, insofar as such "pre-history" is a logical necessity in the narrative I would argue it is a lot less deceptive.

Such an objection may have some strength from a materialistic perspective but it has almost no weight theologically once we have accepted that there is a Creator. The fact is that God has, clearly, concealed Himself. We cannot directly observe His existence or presence. Universe, עולם, comes from the same root as "to conceal." Such concealment is a prerequisite for free will, which is a fundamental component for Gods plan for the world. As we will elaborate upon later, this pre-history furthers this goal of providing man with free-will.

It does not seem necessary to conceptualize this “pre-historic” time as “imaginary”. Is it any less real than yesterday is today? When we look at physical objects we measure, to whatever degree of accuracy possible, the effect of time. We can generally make, at least rough, estimates about people’s age or the countless other objects based on “appearance”. We measure based on physical features not with a stopwatch. When we gaze at the stars we are making observations just as much as if we where looking across the room, except what we observe took place long before Creation. According to the notion that the past maintains an existence even in the presence, there is no difficulty in assuming that the “pre-history” was then created “yesh m’ayin” just as the rest of creation.

I wasn't born yesterday!

It has been objected, I believe I saw one blog attribute it to Amisov, that one could likewise argue that we were really created yesterday and that all of our memories and experiences where programmed in (this reminds me of one of the last movies I saw in a theater).

This, frankly, totally misses the point and significance of this argument. This argument shows, conclusively, that evidence of a prior age in the physical universe or organic life does not constitute a refutation of the Genesis account. It does not presume to demonstrate that it is true, the justification for accepting the Genesis account may be related but it is a different discussion. It must be conceded that there exists a discrepancy but when there is strong reason to accept the Genesis account it represents no great hurdle in doing so, and while the discrepancy may assume larger proportions if such evidence is not as strong it nevertheless remains circular reasoning to falsify an account because of factors which can be inferred from that account.

So much history, so little time!

Others object that while we can correctly infer prior age it is a stretch to say this accounts for the great length of time we see in the scientific evidence. The reasoning here is faulty. The account implies prior age but not how much. It is every bit as much an argument from silence to argue a minimal amount of prior age based on the text as it is to attribute untold eons of prior age based solely on the text. The account only gives us a general indication of the prior age, and that only inferred by necessity. To determine how "old" the universe appeared we have no other means at our disposal than science, it is every bit as much arbitrary to assume a short period as it is to assume a long one.

Why would God create the world so old?

It is worthwhile to bear in mind Guiding Principle #8 that our inability to understand the motive for doing something doesn't mean it wasn't done. This pre-history functions as the prologue to the story of the natural world (the very nice analogy of a prologue came from my 10 year old daughter Rochel). If the stage is set at the Garden of Eden then it was the pre-history which set the stage. It is from that "history" that we derive scientific concept (be they biological, geological, or what have you) which help us with contemporary scientific issues. For the scientist this prologue is a vital tool in understanding the story today. Indeed it is not uncommon to hear theists who object to a literal approach to Genesis argue that modern technologies and advances are due to the science made possible by this prologue.

Likewise for the accomplished Talmid Chacham such information about natural process could give rise to new ways of communicating Torah ideas through allegory and analogy, much as Rabbi Akiva’s inference about his own ability to learn Torah by observing a rock which had been pierced by water even though such a process would seemingly have taken much longer than the time since Creation.

Perhaps most importantly is that it provides a framework to understand the world without resort to the supernatural which is fundamental to the balance necessary to allow for true free will. Throughout history, even today, man has always tended to infer that creation has a creator, but another option must be available. Particularly in our era when man has a much greater understanding of the complexities of nature it not having a naturalist explanation for the origins of the universe would too greatly compel man to accept the notion of a creator. That is not to say a purely materialistic explanation is really a valid option, but it must be palatable enough for those who wish to deny God refuge. Indeed I do not believe that these naturalistic explanations counter the argument from design but rather provide a naturalistic process which essentially describes the steps without fundamentally addressing how the cumulative result could plausibly occur unaided. This is something which I should develop further in its own post.

Let Science be Science

The beauty of this approach, it seems to me, is largely overlooked. It really provides a GREAT opportunity for free inquiry. The natural history can speak for itself and is useful in it's context. It is, almost, a case of Elu v'Elu (remember after all that one of the cases about which this term was used is whether the universe was created in Nissan or Tishei).

So if we accept, at least for the sake of argument, that we have sound reason to believe in the Torah then we must recognize that apparent age is a necessary inference from the text. We do not have basis, however, to speculate from the text whether it is a great or small amount of time. We must remember that the default position is that a verse does not depart from it's simple meaning (pshat) and that since the Rambam holds the common ancestry of man in the person of Adam (see Guiding Principle #4) that he would apparently expect demonstrative proof to allow for a complete allegorization of the passage. We should also remember that according to Rav Sa'adia Gaon we only allegorize away the pshat when there is NO other alternative. We should also bear in mind it is one thing to say the narrative is a mashal, it is quite another to provide a coherent and compelling nimshal. We have neither need nor evidence to accept an allegorical interpretation over the simple meaning of the text.

For those of you who recognize this as the Gosse Theory I will, bli neder, post about that more soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Guiding" Principles: The Guide for the Perplexed and today's Age of the Universe question

While I have done more than a bit of touring the J-Blogosphere, those which I visit quickly became basically canonized and remains very similar today as it was when I began. Recently, however, I have ventured off my beaten path more than usual in an attempt to, Post meaningful comments to other blogs and put your URL in the appropriate place." In doing so I had a bit of a back and forth with the blogger "Orthoprax" who was commenting at "LubabNoMore"'s blog. He commented that the Rambam took a "very non-literal [approach] to scripture." In response I cited the comment of the Rambam which I discussed in What Problem? which I argued constitutes a major restriction on replacing pshat with allegory and that the science which the Rambam based his decision to allegorize B'reshis was now irrelevant. To this he responded:

"And? The implication is that if Maimonides lived today and knew today's science, he would likely be even more allegorical in his approach."

I don't think it is of much value to speculate on what the Rambam would believe but, in a way, I suspect he is correct. The question can, however, serve as an introduction into my position on the Age of the Universe issues. While I'm not really into guessing what the Rambam would say, I think it is worthwhile to look at what he did say and I believe we will find a number of ideas that lend themselves to my approach.

1. Be Cautious about what you deem "Impossible"

Impossible is a very big word. The fact that you find a certain scenario or resolution improbable doesn't mean it isn't so. The Rambam warns that if one, "reject[s] things as impossible which have never been proved to be impossible, or which are in fact possible, though their possibility be very remote, then you will be like Elisha Aher; you will not only fail to become perfect, but will become exceedingly imperfect" (Guide 1:32, Freidlander page 42, emphasis mine). To conflate improbable with impossible can, or does, lead to incorrect conclusions and even heresy ח"ו .

2. Allegory doesn't solve all problems

Allegoization is, or can be, a tool. That doesn't mean it is the best one for the job or that it will always work: “A mere argument in favour of a certain theory is not sufficient reason for rejecting the literal meaning of a biblical text, and explaining it figuratively, when the opposite theory can be supported by an equally good argument” (Guide 2:25, page 199). As we have noted in What Problem? that allegory is generally not meant to supersede the pshat, and the Rambam tells us here that to do so is essentially a last resort.

Furthermore, the Rambam recognizes that one cannot allegorize away every conflict, "If, on the other hand, Aristotle had a proof for his theory, the whole teaching of Scripture would be rejected, and we would be forced to other opinions"( ibid, page 200).

3. Fundamental Principles may only be set aside by demonstrative proof

Fundamental Principles, not to be confused with Principles of Faith (the denial of which is heresy) shouldn't be allegorized away unless one has demonstrative proof (i.e. a deductive argument with premises which are certainly true) requires that they be:

I mention this lest you be deceived; for a person might some day, by some objection which he raises, shake your belief in the theory of Creation, and then mislead you; you would then adopt the theory [of the Eternity of the Universe], which is contrary to the fundamental principles of our religion, and lead to "speaking words that turn away from God." you must rather have suspicion against your own reason, and accept the theory taught by two prophets who have laid the foundation for the existing order in the religious and social relations of mankind. Only demonstrative proof should be able to make you abandon the theory of the creation; but such a proof does not exist in Nature. (ibid 2:23, page 195)
I believe that this was the quote I had in mind when I wrote, "I have seen passages in the Guide that seem to go even further in restricting allegorizing." Here the Rambam goes even further. Previously it would seem that he would allow allegorizing even if another option was available as long as it did not seem as strong. When it comes to a "fundamental principle", however, the Rambam seems to agree with the general approach of Rav Sa'adia Gaon that only when there is no other reconciliation possible is allegorization (to the exclusion of the p'shat) acceptable.
In this regard I think the Rambam's words apply more broadly, that "such a proof does not exist." With demonstrative proofs being for all practical purposes philosophically impossible at this point is no trump card which can lead to uprooting the pshat in favor of allegory when it comes to fundamental principals at least.
4. It is a fundamental principle that mankind descended from one individual, Adam

Again, bear in mind the Rambam's distinction between a fundamental principle and a principle of faith, but we read, "It is one of the fundamental principles of the Law that the Universe has been created ex nihilo, and that of the human race, one individual being, Adam, was created." (Ibid 3:50, page 381) The common ancestry of mankind from Adam is a fundamental principle that should only be allegorized away because of a demonstrative proof, but not when there is an alternative even if it seems improbable.
5. Beings were formed "fully developed" at Creation
The Rambam, citing no less of an authority on Jewish belief than the Talmud writes:

Note also the saying of our Sages:When the Universe was created, all things were created with size, intellect, and beauty fully developed, i.e. everything was created perfect in magnitude and form, and endowed with the most suitable properties; thew word zibyonam (their beauty) used here has the same meaning as zebi,'glory'" (Ezek. xx. 6). Note this likewise, for it includes a principle fully established. (ibid 3:30)
Now I cannot say for certain that this "principle" fully established is a "fundamental principle" but it would seem that this is an important idea in Jewish thought and the thought of the Rambam in particular.
6. One cannot ignore the miraculous when contemplating the acts of an omnipotent Creator

The Rambam writes, "Accepting the Creation, we find that miracles are possible, that Revelation is possible, and that every difficulty in this question is remove." (2:25, page 199-200). It seems almost too obvious to mention, but it seems to me that all to often the materialistic presumptions of science (i.e nature) get artificially superimposed on the inherently supernatural act of creation.
Likewise we are told that the laws of nature were not fixed until the end of the six days of creation, "All our Sages agree that this took place on the sixth day, and that nothing new was created after the close of the six days. None of the things mentioned above is therefore impossible because the laws of Nature were then not yet permanently fixed." (ibid 2:30, page 216). While I'm not sure this is necessary for my approach, per se, I think it is an idea worth keeping in mind in relation to this topic.
7. Be modest when approaching Scripture
The Rambam encouraged a cautious, conservative approach to Scripture: "You appear to have studied the matter superficially, and nevertheless you imagine that you can understand a book which has been the guide of past and present generations, when you for a moment withdraw from your lust and appetites, and glance over its content as if you were reading a historical work or some poetical composition." (1:2, page 15)
Similarly he warns, "when he is in doubt about anything, or unable to find a proof for the object of his inquiry, he must not at once abandon, reject, or deny it; he must modestly keep back, and from regard to the honour of his Creator, hesitate[from uttering an opinion] and pause." (1:32, page 43)
8. It is not productive to speculate why God would choose a certain option

The inability to determine motive in no way indicates that something didn't occur. This is so with humans and it is certainly so with God whose "ways are not our ways."

We might be asked, Why has God inspired a certain person and not another? why has He revealed the Law to one particular nation, and at one particular time? why has He commanded this, and forbidden that? why has He shown through a prophet certain miracles? what is the object of these laws? and why has He not made the commandments and the prohibitions part of our nature, if it was His object that we should live in accordance with them? We answer to all this questions: He willed it so; or, His wisdom decided so. Just as He created the world according to His will, at a certain time, in a certain form, and upon a peculiar time, so we do not know why His will or wisdom determined any of the things mentioned in the preceding question. (2:25, page 200)

9. It is contrary to Torah to concede the possibility of the Universe existing without God even if one does accept that God does actually exist

"If one would imagine that He does not exist, no other being could possibly exist." (Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 1:2, Moznaim Translation)

Alright, that wasn't from the Guide, but it illustrates the Rambam's view nonetheless.

10. The Opinion of Chazal should be given due respect

Earlier we cited, "All our Sages agree that this took place on the sixth day, and that nothing new was created after the close of the six days. None of the things mentioned above is therefore impossible because the laws of Nature were then not yet permanently fixed." (ibid 2:30, page 216). The Rambam here emphasises the consensus of Chazal and gives it a great deal of weight.

So, while one may not find each of these ideas equally acceptable (though I believe they are generally sound) I believe they give us some important insight into the Rambam's thinking as it might pertain to our topic. And I believe following these ideas through to their logical conclusion would give much more support to the approach I favor, and hope to present soon, than to a blanket assertion of the Creation account as being an allegory.


I have long noticed that there are those who participate in inner-Orthodox discussion who seem downright flippant about the notion of heresy. Define them as you will but it is clear that there are things which are beyond the pale. While some of this can be attributed to orthopraxy, I do not think that is the entirety of the issue.

I do not now recall the exact topic, nor the exact blog, but I remember that while discussing a position which was theologically problematic (or at least challenged) but was in conformance to (or along the lines of) the scientific/academic view, a commenter quipped, "Just tell yourself, 'If its true, then it cannot be heresy.'" This is a very misguided approach, and is another example of being neither emunah peshuta nor rationalism.

The question of whether something is true is related to, but separate from, whether something is heretical. Heresy is a belief which is mutually exclusive with the affirmation of a particular religious faith. Whether or not it is true is irrelevant to the question whether a belief is consistent with a particular religion. Establishing the truth of a "heretical" falsifies the religion for which a belief is heretical.

The Rambam wrote, "If, on the other hand, Aristotle had a proof for his theory, the whole teaching of Scripture would be rejected, and we would be forced to other opinions" page 200. It may be debatable whether a certain position is heresy or not, but the fact that something is true isn't the determinant. And "אם יעלה על הדעת", one where to imagine, that something the Judaism was heresy were true, that would falsify Judaism. The two positions are mutually exclusive.

Conversely, if we have good reason to believe Judaism is true then if it is established that something which seems true is in fact heretical, then perhaps we should be a bit more skeptical than we might initially be inclined to be. If it is heretical then reconciliation is not possible and we must weigh the apparent "truth" against the weight of our reason for accepting Torah. If I did not believe that in each case the scale tips in favor of Torah, I wouldn't be "here".

Monday, October 6, 2008

Big Tent or a Clean House?

I like people, and I like to get along. All in all I am more comfortable with an Orthodoxy where those who don't agree 100% are comfortable. I'm not into breaking bruised reeds or extinguishing flickering flax. I am nevertheless highly uncomfortable with the notion of "orthoprax" individuals who reject Orthodoxy beliefs yet conceal this fact and participate in Orthodox life as though they were too.

I realize that the virtual world of Jewish blogs is going to magnify the extent of this phenomenon since it is a neighborhood ideal for them to meet like minded people and they where among the first inhabitants. Would I really be happier if these people hoped in their cars and drove to McDonalds next Shabbos? No, of course not. I am nevertheless very ambivalent about their presence.

A commenter at R. Gil's recently wrote,

People do go off the derech after they learn the DH. They just become orthoprax, rather than orthodox. I'm one of them. Maybe there are many more here. I have a family I love, including a wife who knows absolutely nothing about biblical scholarship. I have friends I cherish, I enjoy the intellectual fun of learning. I am part of a supporting and caring community, which is miles ahead of atheists who have no community at all. Should I throw all of that away just because they are not based on truth? Is observance of the Sabbath and kosher eating (at home) such a price to pay for happiness? Should I cause anguish to my parents who would not understand this, just to be intelectually honest? I dont think so.
This individual entirely misses the point, it is not a matter of "intellectual honesty", it is a matter of personal honesty. It is a matter of integrity. When I had just engaged my wife I began to seriously doubt that there was reason to believe that the New Testament was inspired. As we sat in the parking lot before entering the store to buy her engagement ring I revealed these doubts to her...because I owed it to her. She married me anyways, neither of us realizing where my line of reasoning would wind up. When I concluded that not only did I not believe in the New Testament but I felt that there was reason to believe that Oso HaIsh was not the Messiah I resigned my membership and left my congregation.

As it stands, you remain like a Sabbatean, outwardly observant but in truth rejecting Judaism. You take advantage of the benifits to being part of the community, but privately corrode away at the beliefs which formed that community. And now with the veil of the Internet you do so actively and derisively. I think your presence is hurtful, but I don't want you to leave either.