Sunday, November 22, 2009

Faith with astrixes

I just ran across a comment I posted at and realized that 1) I liked it and 2) it reflected some idea's which I hadn't elaborated on here but thought/assumed I had:

[The] comment has a certain persuasive appeal on it's face, but is severely undermined by logical errors.

First and foremost is the problem that the late formulation of the 13 Ikkarim in no way negates the fact that the halchic status of a heretic had already existed for a considerable length of time. Accordingly his inference that we should not be/feel compelled to affirm and particular set of beliefs from the late dating of the 13 Ikkarim is a total non-sequitur.

His statement, "I promise you that almost all the observant people you know would have difficulty if they were asked to verbalize their precise true beliefs and have them compared to the "icarim"." clearly falls into the category of an ad populum fallacy. The success or failure of people to accept something does not negate it's truth, nor does people's lack of faith negate the obligation to have faith.

The truth is that, "rationally" speaking the question isn't whether one should affirm ikkarim when one finds them, well, less than compelling. The much more significant question is why on earth would someone affirm a world view which asserts numerous points which they disagree with even if they are inclined to agree with a skeleton of "fundamental" views? The question isn't whether the ikkarim are sufficient or necessary for being Jewish, it is whether it makes any sense to affirm Judaism when one disagrees with it on any issue up to [and maybe including] the ikkarim?

It is especially perplexing when there is an alternative religion, Conservative Judaism, where such a theology is normative and one's observance is considered acceptable. Don't get wrong, I guess I'm kind of a big tent guy, but that is a matter of wanting to see people closer to the truth rather than farther. From a logical standpoint I just fail to see the appeal for people to affirm a belief system when it requires so many astrixes.

I believe [the] comment raises some significant questions on how to proceed in actualizing a modern day "Rationalist" Movement envisioned. The fact is that many of those most excited by the prospect, and active in the dialectic, are those who have a tenuous relationship to fundamental principles of Yiddishkeit. I'm not talking about those who question the Rambam's enumeration, but those who have effectively dismissed the notion of heresy. This was an issue for the Rambam's version of Rationalism as well, with people who considered themselves his successors denying that which he affirmed (such as creation Yesh M'Ayin), and attributing such beliefs to him.

Such people help with momentum but compromise the theological integrity of a neo-Rationalist movement. And while it may not be exactly a logically inevitable, it is realistically inevitable that the halachic integrity will be compromised. While one might argued that committed orthodox rationalists will conform to kabbalisticly influenced halachos in anticipation of the day when a kosher Sanhedrin returns things to their "proper" order, this strikes me as highly unlikely and unattainable once we introduce a significant number of members who do not really anticipate the coming of Moshiach or are otherwise not ideologically committed. (I do not mean to limit halachic compromise to kabbalisticly influenced psak, but it would be the first.)

I guess what I'm saying is, be careful what you wish for Rationalists.

"Teshuvas HaMinim is intended to answer the claim that Christianity, in all of its various manifestations, is a continuation and fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”)."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Retroactive Retraction

Before my audience begins to think I'm just being argumentative for arguments sake I would like to take this opportunity to, for the time being at least (but probably indefinitely), retract the use of the term "retroactive existence". I think I understand R. Micha's criticism and accept it. "Retroactive existence" is a meaningless distinction from "past". While I still think that apparent age is an inherent aspect of the peshat (yes, that's a different discussion) and to dismiss the peshat because of it is circular, "retroactive age" implies more than I intended and I do not believe that it is accurate, nor do I think that it follows from apparent age (this R. Micha might disagree with me on based on his presentation and criticism of the apparent age approach). Rather than emphasizing that such "apparent age" can have meaning and relevance, the term converts "apparent age" into "age," obscuring the disconnect implied by the supernatural creation of the apparent age approach.

R. Micha, while this might not be as extensive of a concession as you might have hoped for, its the best I can do at the moment. :)

Kuzari and the Age of the Universe

Recently it was argued, off the cuff, that the Kuzari should be understood as referring to when Adam HaRishon received a soul and therefore does not speak to a literal understanding of the six days of creation. While this argument seems to have been an educated guess based on its authors understanding of similar texts, I would suggest that this hypothesis does not seem to hold up:

44. Al Khazari: It is strange that you should possess authentic chronology of the creation of the world.

45. The Rabbi: Surely we reckon according to it, and there is no difference between the Jews of Khazar and Ethiopia in this respect.

46. Al Khazari: What date do you consider it at present?

47. The Rabbi: Four thousand and nine hundred years. The details can be demonstrated from the lives of Adam, Seth and Enōsh to Noah; then Shem and Eber to Abraham; then Isaac and Jacob to Moses. All of them represented the essence and purity of Adam on account of their intimacy with God. Each of them had children only to be compared to them outwardly, but not really like them, and, therefore, without direct union with the divine influence. The chronology was established through the medium of those sainted persons who were only single individuals, and not a crowd, until Jacob begat the Twelve Tribes, who were all under this divine influence. Thus the divine element reached a multitude of persons who carried the records further. The chronology of those who lived before these has been handed down to us by Moses (Kuzari 1:44-47, 1905 translation by Hartwig Hirschfeld)

The discussion is about the "creation of the world" which would imply the six days of creation preceding and inclusive of the creation (or giving of a soul to) Adam HaRishon. I think this is further emphasized by "the Rabbi"'s response in 1:61 that reliable information that the world was older than 4900 years would challenge his faith, which at very least would be inconsistent with a view that tool wielding hominids roamed the world prior to one of them being given a neshamah.

Does this settle the matter, of course not. But I do think that the Kuzari can be included among those who see no reason for “אֵין מִקְרָא יוֹצֵא מִידֵי פְּשׁוּטוֹ” to inherently exclude the beginning of Bereishis.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Meiri, Chidush HaOlam, and Allegorizing B'reshis

Previously I mentioned the position of the Meiri with respect to the issue of allegorizing B'reishis:

The Meiri has three classifications of Scripture with respect to allegorical interpretation, those which must be interpreted only allegorically, those which can have an additional allegorical meaning, and those which may not be interpreted allegorically at all. The Meiri includes the creation of the world in the latter category which is forbidden to interpret allegorically.(Beis HaBechira 3:11, cited in Interpretation and Allegory, page 205)

The Challenge of Creation notes that rather than the term we (or least I) might expect, ma'aseh b'reishis, the Meiri in his commentary to Avos (which I failed to specify in my citation) uses the term chidush haOlam and argues:
Meiri's mention of chiddush ha-olam should probably be understood as referring to the fact that the creation of the universe ex nihilo rather than to the specifics of how it was created. (page 115).
In difference to the tentative, reserved tone of this argument I will offer a tentative, reserved counter-argument, with my reader's knowing full well my ability to miss the obvious. From a philosophical perspective, I'm sure the practical concern with which the Meiri had in mind was Aristotle's (and/or Plato's) theory of the eternity of the universe. It seems to me, however, that this is not directly relevant for two reasons.

First of all, the primary text which is relevant to chidush haOlam is clearly the opening passage of B'reishis (Genesis). The Meiri isn't speaking about rejecting ideas, he's speaking about how to approach the text. It seems to me that it is simply not possible to proscribe non-literal interpretation ofchidush haOlam while interpreting the text non-literally. In other words, if his concern was simply that one retains the moral of the story (creation ex nihilo) then it would be sufficient to warn against rejecting the story's message without proscribing non-literal interpretation. Indeed this was the approach of the Rambam before him. Rather, in these instances he is concerned with the moral and the story (even if his concern for the later is on behalf of the former). The story in this case is the opening chapters of Genesis. I'll leave it up to the readers to decide whether I have made an excellent point in the most inelegant way imaginable or am using unintelligible writing to conceal a lack of a coherent argument.

Secondly I do not think the Meiri is simply taking a position because of apologetic concerns. While he may be concerned about the theory of the eternity of the universe, kadmanus I believe the term is in Ashkenaz transliteration, I don't think we can accuse him of taking the position that this cannot be understood non-literally because he disagrees with it. Rather, I think unless we have evidence otherwise I think we should presume that he does not think that these things can be taken non-literally therefore he rejects the theory of the eternity of the universe.

With all of that said, whether it is of primary or incidental concern, I think that based on the limited, but seemingly explicit, teachings of the Meiri I've seen he should be included among those who reject non-literal interpretations of the beginning of Genesis to the exclusion of it's peshat.

As a postscript, I would note that the above quote from Challenge of Creation is presented as derived from the fact that while creation can be understood as a miracle, there is evidence which suggest a different series of events transpired. While the flow of the passage makes it sound as if he is arguing that the scientific evidence should influence how we understand the Meiri, Rabbi SIifkin does not strike me as someone overly prone to ascribing modern concerns to medieval authorities. As such I think that this implication was not intended and that rather than trying to explain how to understand the Meiri he is expressing how he feels we should relate to his opinion. As such he is parenthetically alluding to difficulties he feels we are presented with which the Meiri was not that would cause us to take a different approach. As such I suspect that it is better not to make to much over this phrase but rather deal with the strengths of his arguments when he actually is making them in their fullest. Since has been known to, on occasion, visit here, perhaps he would like to clarify the flow of the aforementioned line of reasoning himself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

R. Gil recently commented:

OTOH I know an OJ Rabbi who just says "Nu, so Chazal were wrong on that point, its not the end of the world".

That's the kind of response that makes me regret that there is no RW Conservative movement for people like that to go to so we don't have Orthodox rabbis who say things like that. Maybe that's a plus of the Maharat phenomenon. There will be a new movement and Modern Orthodoxy can have the courage to be not only Modern but also Orthodox.

I'm not sure if I agree but I know how he feels.

New Criticism of Sheitel's from India


Rock discovered the hottest hair on the market is found in India, where human hair is the number two export behind software. "This is some of the worst poverty in the world," he says. "I don't think [people] know they're walking around with $1,000 on their head."

While in India, Rock witnessed a tonsuring ceremony at the Venkateswara Temple. Every year, more than 10 million people cut their hair off as an offering to the Hindu gods. "In India, hair is considered a vanity, and removing hair is considered an act of self-sacrifice," he says.

"These people have no idea where their hair is going or how much it's worth. The money made at this temple is second only to the Vatican. The hair collected here is auctioned off to exporters who distribute it around the planet."

This is in no way intended to comment upon the permissibility of Indian Hair Sheitel's

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Response to R. Micha's Questions on Retroactive Existence

R. Micha has left me a number of question to my previous post which I think deserve to be addressed, and I am exercising my discretion as the ba'al hablog to answer in the form of a post:

Explain the difference between "retroactive existence" and the normal sort.

Good question, my point is that while you have [subsequently] used the term "fake history" to describe apparent age, for us there is no nafka mina. I might compare it to the old question, "if a tree falls in the forest." Without direct experiential observation such reality isn't actualized. Nevertheless whether you take the "traditional" approach that this was experienced in time, or the approach which I have dubbed "retroactive existence", I think that their is a purpose for the period in question, but I don't think that the purpose is served any better by the former approach than the later (and in some ways I think the later is better but that is another discussion). I guess my point is that there isn't a significant difference, for the most part, between apparent age and "past".

The first formulation is simply misleading in that it implies that Hashem has a "when".

I'm still trying to absorb this objection. How would you apply this though to the machlokes about whether the world was created in Nissan or in Tishrei, or more specifically the notion of "elu v'elu" regarding the machlokes? (Recognizing that their are different approaches to "elu v'elu", but your thoughts in relation to your objection).

That said, you would be hard pressed to find a rishon who believed in a young universe.

In addition to statements of Chazal (Chagigah 12a) indicating that B'reshis one teaches us that the length of the day and night was created on the first day of creation and that “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) which imply a more simple approach to B'reishis we have:
“The result of the application of such a method of interpretation would be that there would not be an item left of the entire story of the creation [of the world] that would not be divested of its literal meaning, which is the creation and origination of things.” ( Rav Sa'adia Gaon, Emunos v'Deos , Yale Translation page 425).
“The second category consists of [those texts] which should be according to their ‘apparent’ meaning…[This category also includes]the story of the Creation, and other miracles” (Meiri, Beis haBechira, Avos 3:11, cited here Bold mine)
Additionally other relevant sources, some more than others, can be found at You are more capable than I at recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of these sources cited (and how faithfully they are presented) or those cited by myself. Apparently, however Rav Sa'adia Gaon, the Kuzari, and Rav Avraham ben HaRambam give numerical figures consistent with the traditional dating. Again, you are in a better position to judge these sources than me.

When the mishnah tells us that the pereq has no peshat.

I would be very interested in your source. This seems like a very odd subject matter for the Mishnah, no? Furthermore we have already noted that Rav Sa'adia Gaon felt the need to preserve the pshat of this perek. Likewise, when the Rambam cautions that a possible non-literal reason is not sufficient reason to reject the peshat, it is with regard to inyanim relevant to this perek!

Nevertheless, I must concede that a Mishnah which makes the statement you claim it does would significantly alter the playing field, so I look forward to you elaborating on your source.

Relevant Posts:

What Problem?

Guiding Principals

Critique of Rabbi Jeremy Weider's "When the Torah doesn't mean what It Says"

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

Parshas Noach: Evidence for a Global Flood?

Here Gosse Nothing

Genetics and Apparent Age