Monday, December 31, 2007

Holiday shopping

OK, news! I plan to force myself to put in, every week an at least 'semi'-scholarly Talmudic piece, just to keep up my learning a bit. The first will be the least scholarly though : (

well, here goes;

[Now, I would write in Hebrew, but then definitely no body would read it but myself, so..].

The Tosafot:
The Mishna states “it is prohibited to have any monetary transactions with someone who subscribes to what we consider to be pagan, from three days before their festivals”.

Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes (1040-1105) suggests the reason for this to be that any successful monetary transaction might inspire verbal (pagan) religious appreciation to their god(s). His premise is that it is written Exodus 23:13 “Take heed to all that I have said to you; and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let such be heard out of your mouth”, and he seems to suppose that perhaps causing others to recite the names of, and worship other gods is also forbidden.

The Tosafot use this as a basis for their ever so famous query; “why is it then, that we see so many Torah observant Jews do business dealings with non-Jews on their holidays in our times (i.e. 12th century France)?”(supposing, obviously, that Christians are full fledged pagans). Is there any Talmudic backing for their actions?

They first point out an inference from Tractate Hullin (13b) discussing the ritual slaughtering of animals performed by non-Jews. The Talmud there has a probing discussion about the inner intent, and the level of religious devotion of the peoples in whose provinces the Jews (who authored the Talmud) resided (mainly between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, (modern day Iraq) which was part of the Persian Sassanid empire then, the state religion being the basically monotheistic Zoroastrian faith. Though there were many full fledged pagan residents as well) and concludes that “most people who adhere to pagan religions lack an emotional/intellectual attachment to it, but do it rather to ‘follow the ancient ways’ (pure paganism was in deep decline in the Mediterranean and Indo-Europe by that time). So too, add the Tosafot the people whom we live amongst are also not fully adherent pagans (Christians).

The Tosafot discard that reasoning though, bringing a disproving text from our own Tractate (7b) stating that “now the law is different; only on the holiday is it prohibited”; it does recognize that the pagans of their time have a different status, and therefore halakhah, but it still explicitly prohibits trade with them on their holidays.

The Tosafot then attempt to conclude that ‘the reason we are lenient today is because of the principle of ‘refraining from actions which may cause enmity’ among our neighbors, the natives of every land, which is actually used by Rabbi Judah the prince (6b) as reason for accepting a gift from a Jew with differing religious views from his own on his holiday. But they admit that this is far from a full proof being that they are greatly limiting themselves on one possible understanding of the text there. There can also be doubts, they add, to the logic of this reasoning being that one would not necessarily be causing enmity by refraining from business dealings for a day.

Therefore they finally conclude using another Talmudic principle “we know that the people we live amongst, in essence, are not pagan” (65a). A reasoning used both by Rabbi Yehuda, and by Raba for their sending gifts on behalf of the Jews to Shapur II (Sassanid Monarch at the time) on a Zoroastrian holiday.

The Tosafot mention that one can also rely on a stipulation of the Jerusalem Talmud (), which clearly states that the Mishna only discusses a person one knows, but one would be permitted to do business with a pagan stranger on their festivals.

The Tosafot then record the opinion of Rabbi Jacob ben Meir ‘Tam’ (1100-1171), that; the Mishna is only discussing something that can be used as a sacrifice, but not general buying and selling. (The editor mentions that in Rabbi Tam’s opinion “buying and selling” in the Mishna (lit. “picking up and giving”) means not to ‘buy and sell’, but to ‘take and give’, i.e. ‘take the money, and give something that can be used as a sacrifice. He also has a fascinatingly novel approach to the text on 6b in accordance with his opinion

They conclude that even in Rabbi Tam’s opinion even if Christians were to be viewed as pagans, there would be no problem, because they don’t use sacrifices.

But the Tosafot do stipulate that in the situation that a (Catholic) Christian were to approach you, asking for a loan for ‘religious purposes’ (Jews were money lenders), giving it would also be permitted, being that anyway it would not be used as a sacrifice, but at that time would have probably have been used for ‘indulgences’.


My interest here though, is to examine the first conclusive resolution of the Tosafot, namely “we know the people we live amongst are not pagan”. Now, I am not interested in the halachic aspect of this discussion (the Maimonides- Tosafot argument), but rather a more philosophical/theological approach (whether the brand of Zoroastrianism popular then could be considered pagan is also quite an important discussion, but due to the reigning relevance of the former for us, will unfortunately have to be left for another time.

The point I wish to discuss is whether or not Christianity is objectively pagan in the Jewish view. Now, one does not have to look far and wide in the New Testament to know that it’s authors and those who subscribe to it were “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great G-d, and [whom they believe to be] our (no one’s) Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), or that they all felt that “without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: G-d was [again, in their humble opinion] manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit” (I Timothy 3:16). And no one needs go any further than Christian (mostly Catholic) shrines to see something which seems unmistakably pagan to any Jew. But, to put it shortly, my personal feeling is that the reason we consider them pagan is not because G-d ‘couldn’t’ or even "wouldn’t" make himself manifest in human flesh (G-d can do anything), it’s that we believe it’s much more logical to say that G-d "didn’t" manifest himself in human form. But again, if he did, and it was proven, we would believe it, and it wouldn’t be going against any previously established Biblical principles about the unity of G-d.

Tosafot seemed to equate Amoraic statements about Zoroastrianism to Christianity; I don’t see that comparison as inconsequential, or out of convenience. There are many comparisons between the religions, but I wish to focus on the idea that Tosafot seem to understand from the Talmud a rule for approaching semi-monotheistic religions (or, more accurately; religions, which the purity of their monotheism may be brought to question) i.e. both religions have what is called in rabbinic literature “a partnership” with the one G-d (good and evil in Zoroastrianism, and the father and the son in Christianity). Many Jewish scholars of the past few centuries suggest that “the nations were never commanded not to have ‘a partnership’ in their monotheism (i.e. as long as they believe in one G-d its ok). We find this benign view about Christian theology in the writings of Rabbi Mosses Isserles (1520-1572) and Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697-1776) to name just two.

Happy holidays!


Thursday, December 27, 2007

לכפות בטוב

Background; Basically this is a response to a comment on my ‘דמים’ post:

To be honest though, this blog was initially intended for me to jot down little thoughts of mine on the Internet, which might otherwise become forgotten to me. But I nonetheless am always exited by new opinions, new thoughts, and new ideas.

Now, I admit; it is true- We, the philosophers, the priests, the monks, the theological students, all people devoted to thought and religion are the parasites of the world. We feed off the production of men, but do not ourselves produce. Yet, in turn, have we not produced what no man outside of us hath produced? Morals? Thought? I am reminded of a statement of David Hume that (to paraphrase) "all other sciences are sciences, and they have real world affects. But the science we are engaged in is an utter waste of time, an utter waste of life, we expound on things that are improvable, make no real difference, and of which many consider to be rubbish and pure fancifulness". But then again, where would the world be without religion, where would the world be without philosophy? I know, John Lennon would tell you “paradise”, but I highly doubt that (I obviously side with theologians). Now, I know you, as well as most Jews, are at least subconsciously affected by writers like Marx and Hegel in your approach toward the Jewish religion and its institutions, but just remember, they themselves are products of historical and sociological forces, which are no longer as apparent. (Truth is though, I can’t call myself a n enemy of Marx, for is one of the great heroes of rationalists of our time, and I do agree with him on most of his economical opinions. I feel that he was capable of such charisma only because

Although it is true what you say, that the working world is not as lowly as I make them out to be, being that they are the ones sponsoring the building of yeshivas, and not yeshiva people. True, it is a real show of these people’s religious and truly altruistic natures (I know I personally rarely ever give ma’aser or even tzedaka unfortunately, so who am I to talk about being lowly!). But it is also just a manifestation of their being addicted to opium. They help build those religious institutions because they themselves need them; they’re addicted to religion! And their religion is one of emotional and cultural and communal need, not one of conviction. I see them as more the ‘Religious-Man’ discussed by Rabbi Joseph b. Soloveichik in Halakhic Man, and not as that more profound Halakhic-Man.

Therefore, I wouldn’t praise religion too much, especially not Judaism, especially not Orthodox Judaism, and especially not the backward lifestyle that I had the misfortune of being exposed to, of the Eastern European Traditionalist Jews, and their descendants in today’s ‘global north’. For I feel we are all, in essence, misunderstanding the main points of the Bible, and especially ‘the five books of mosses’. Unfortunately, religion is not the outcome of only sound minded people’s interpretations of life and of the texts, but it is mostly a sociological evolution, and takes turns, sometimes for the worse, for needs of historical and sociological necessity, again, especially in regards us; the unfortunate religious minority in every country. It’s true, that yeshiva system is waaay out of whack. One of the only truly commendable books I’ve seen in the last few centuries, by an Orthodox Jewish author is Horeb, by Rav Hirsch. There, you don’t find a mindless stress on ritual (אורח חיים), but an equal amount of stress on the moral and ethical teachings of the Bible (חושן משפט ואבן העזר), which so many Jews today seem to neglect, and then get arrested for money laundering, even though they’re the head of a well known Hassidic sect.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Hey, and check out this site by the way; the true health problems with plastic, and some healthy alternatives!
I was just telling my brother that "there is no concrete scientific evidence that plastic may be harmful to one's health- even in the long run". Then I looked it up (what did people do before the Internet again?), well, plastic consumption is very negative, though almost invertible. In one century, it seems we've managed to cover everything in plastic


Man, everything I think of is forgotten by the time I want to post! Well, from what I can scrape back together...

Money. So benign. So necessary. So good. Yet so evil. The more I try to think about this the more mind boggling it is; we don't view paper money (especially the ''dollar'') in the same way we would view things bartered (obviously), or even fine metals and such. The dollar we see so often here in America (or it's electric equivalent) is really a pretty abstract idea. We know that with this paper is the potential for anything physical. But that's it- potential, and not actual physicality and earthiness which subconsciously blinds the explicit evil that could be viewed in items and services. But it is! Is money not the essence of 'גשמיות' itself?And yet, so many of our dear flock, give all their time and attention to this one thing, without a second thought. Perhaps that is why I was in yeshiva for so long? A pure scorn of the low interests of the mindless -and therefore thoughtless- un-spiritual majority.

But again, of course, I have no negativity towards the idea of making an ample living -for one's family! Again, this kind of thing we cannot take for granted. All the yeshiva people and monks and priests don't live like they do for nothing. Money is very dangerous. And it takes intense intent and judgment to know how to approach it in a spiritually healthy way. Especially Jews! (Perhaps we will speak more about that over-ambitious lot another time).

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Past

OK, I wanted to write this a little while ago; but here goes;

[Disclaimer- Those involved in psychology and addiction recovery, as well as Jewish scholars of all time agree that it's a good idea to treat a persons inclination towards evil in 'human' terms.]

There is a little person, around all the time- הוא השטן הוא יצר הרע הוא מלאך המות. Always trying to make us sin. One big way he does that -especially to me- recently, is trying to make one concentrate on one's past, especially the negative aspects thereof. For me; how I wasted my life for four years in Yeshiva. It eats at me all the time. 23-24 starting college?! Maybe try for a Masters. So I'll be eligible for marriage at 30?! But again, first of all, going to yeshiva is a very good thing for many, many reasons (even though they probably learn more in monasteries, madrases and Buddhist temples). Secondly; it's of UTMOST importance to remember that you can't change what happened in the past now, all you can change is what happens in the future.

So there Satan!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bindng Issac, Crossing the Red Sea


Ugh! Tonight is similar to so many nights, I had so many interesting thoughts, but can't get around to recording them. So; here goes, some main points; Genesis 22: G-d tells Avraham to kill his son? Murder? That kind of murder? What was Avraham thinking? -Probably that "G-d told me I'll have many children etc., I'm sure G-d knows what He's doing and will get things together right. Maybe Yitzchak is like "זרע פסול", like Yishmael (sending out to dessert also sort of like killing). What G-d said back to Avraham in response to his acquiescing was basically 'well now I see you fully -trust- me (made a lot more sense while I was walking!)

But that's a similar idea to the yam suf. What? We're all going to die now, just like that? But G-d told us He'll take us to Israel (they were still on the right level, Moshe was with them). Now, it could be they all trusted G-d, but only one person -not Moshe!- decided to walk -not swim- straight into the water because "G-d said we should go, let's go, and nothing can get in our way!" Now, it could be G-d would have made a different miracle if circumstance demanded, but He also wanted to sort of test the people to see what direction they would take -after all, He put them in that situation-. And all G-d wanted to see was people who could transfer the logical into the emotional and physical, and say; "if G-d said to keep going, we"ll keep going and He'll protect us!". To fully trust in G-d.

And so too in our lives; Chanukah is a good time for teshuvah. How do you do teshuvah? Above all else- determination! You have to be determined that this is what you must do no matter what. And if you have that determination, you will trust that G-d could help you change your own reality, and run a counter-culture, and let logical healthy living overcome natural-instinctive living -Amen!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Future Posting

Well, it's me again! And I plan to be posting a little (only because I (unfortunately) have a little free-er computer access now.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

הערות על ספר אמת מארץ תצמח

בעזרת השם this will be the first post I'm writing in quite a while..

ספר אמת מארץ תצמח, the beginning: I don't know why he has to take inferences from Rashis in on the Torah quoting vague "מדרשי פליאה", and take them as the given religious dogma truth על פי התורה. It could be a lot of it is true that these begging of time things shouldn't be so "מוכרע בעיני הכל", but his opinions also aren't.

Monday, January 22, 2007


נסתם חזון מעם ה, ברחמיו יחזירה כבתחילה

Thursday, January 4, 2007

First Orlando post: "הודו"

It seems to be very implied in the פרקי תהילים we say for קבלת שבת and for שחרית that one should actually do what the missionaries do, and preach Monotheism to the nations. Why do they and don't we?