Monday, September 7, 2009

יסוד דת

OK, um, ..there are a few things which I wanted to have been written on here by now and which are not...due to no other reason than sloth! ..that and a keyboard which is constantly switching the caps lock on and off...and skipping random typed letters...

Anyway, I would like to comment on one of Chana's posts (September 3rd). I know I nominated her to go to Israel but that does not in any way mean I agree with her opinions all the time. In a recent post she came to the conclusion that the most logical stance is that of the Agnostics, and that while she does agree with them, she'll stay an Orthodox Jew because it "seems" right:
"I cannot prove my religion; I do not think I will ever be able to. Indeed, the greatest question is what to do when the vast majority of what I read or learn about simply seems to disprove what I have been taught. But you see, above all logic there is emotion, and my emotion and intuition point to the fact that there is a God, He exists, and He listens to me."

I consider this reversion back to emotion and intuition to be perhaps characteristic of the female sex, and something that the Spanish Rationalist Rabbis would revile from due to it’s independence from pure logic. She said herself that the Torah demands truth ("the stamp of G-d is truth"), and this is a "dishonest" way of viewing religion.
Let me start with a chart of the main issues debated upon (in this situation):

1) "Adeism" v.s. Deism

2) Atheism v.s. Theism

3) Religions v.s. Judaism

In other words the first issue that must be dealt with is whether primordial matter was brought into existence by some being, or whether it existed for infinity.

The second is if this being interacts with human beings and conveys to them information on how to properly live.

When I was fourteen I formulated theories about both of these issues, and, while I may by now see them as a little juvenile, I still do see them as making sense. Firstly, I thought it’s more likely that primordial matter was put into being by something immortal than it itself having been around forever. Secondly, I considered it unlikely the creator would go through the trouble of creating us if it wasn’t going to interact with us in any way…kind of a long story about that actually..

In regards to the third question though, which is the focus of my attention here, I think it’s clear that for centuries the foolishness of the Christians has negatively influenced well-meaning Jews (whether they know it or not). One aspect in which this is very evident is the subject of “faith” (and what comes into the realm of faith). A few centuries ago in the Christian world if someone suggested the world went around the sun they would burn them on the cross for “blasphemy”. Now, this is not the place to carry out a long exposition on the subject, but suffice it to say “faith” without doubt is a Christian invention. The main concern of the Torah is not “faith” but living a G-dly life according to the commandments, since, in the realm of faith, nothing can be verified and the Torah has never been concerned with its verification. The Jews themselves have never been concerned about this verification; for example the first people to look for Mt. Sinai were the Christians in the third century. Not even the Jewish but the Gentile Christians! How could it be in all their history no Jew cared to see the mountain of G-d? Rather it seems the Jews were never overly bothered by the verification of these events since they knew that the events themselves could simply not be physically verified.
Whether the Torah was written by (Moses in accordance with he words of) G-d, by Moses or by a group of Israelite priests during the First Temple period or later cannot be "proven" in any way shape or form. People can have convincing propositions about one theory or the other, but nothing can be scientifically (i.e. empirically) proven, and without that all you can rely on is how likely each side of argument might seem to you. On the other hand we are encouraged to be intellectually honest. So we are, in essence, all "agnostics", since we admit that we cannot verify things in a real sense. We are allowed to be agnostics, but we must decide which proposition sounds more correct to us. More "likely". My own judgement and evaluation of the arguments has always told me that it is more correct to assume that the creator did, in fact, have some sort of communication with Moses, as is described in the Torah. I admit that I cannot know the reality of what occurred; I wasn't there, no one from among us was, but this seems to be the most likely scenario and therefore ample reason to abide by the "teachings" of "the book of teaching" (ספר התורה).

This is an article from the Anglo-Israeli Conservative or "Masorati" Rabbi, Simchah Roth, and I've always felt it nips this whole misunderstanding in the bud. All the articles are worthwhile for anyone to read through.



Chana said...

Firstly, your understanding of my point is flawed. I did not say that I am an agnostic. I said that the most logical position is to be an agnostic. It is the most logical because it is absolutely true- we do not know if there is or is not a God with our rational minds and physical senses.

As for the rest of what you write, it seems like you have totally ignored the Rashi to Pirkei Avos that says "Even if they say right is left and left is right we are to follow them" regarding Chazal. How much the more so God! I can believe that something logically/ rationally is one way and choose to follow a different path.

This is aside from the fact that I find your slur on all females and your assumption that they all retreat to female emotion, as I supposedly do, to be distasteful.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Firstly, sorry about all the typos and such in the post beforehand, I usually strive that such imperfect things should leave my hands…but I do have keyboard issues…

I’m also actually surprised you responded (since I rarely ever see your responses on other blogs). I wrote it a little more confrontationally to heighten my chances!

“I said that the most logical position is to be an agnostic. it is the most logical because it is absolutely true- we do not know if there is or is not a god with our rational minds and physical senses.:- Yes, that is what I understood. Yet in regards to that actual school of thought known as ‘agnosticism’ the idea that “we don’t if there’s a g-d or not” is not their only opinion. In actuality, they are separated from all religious activities, so in that sense they are ‘sure’ about something, and they have picked their side.

I want to reiterate this (from the way it’s written in the post), since this is probably one of the most important matters that can be discussed, but I have five thousand different ways of reiterating it and I don’t know which ones to choose.

Right now, this is what I’m thinking: agnosticism came out of the Christian world. The original agnostics said “well, all that comprises of religion is Good-Samaritan acts and faith. I’ll do Good Samaritan acts anyway, and how can I have faith if I have my doubts about things, and there really is no way to verify them?”

For the Jew on the other hand there is more of a difference since our religion is a) defined by more than Good-Samaritan acts, which any person should be doing anyway, and b) there is none of this stress on ‘faith’ (and, of course, our ‘faith’ is not quite as hard to swallow as their version is).

In the Jewish view, I feel, being agnostic in the same way the Christian would be is foolish, not logical. How can you say “well, I have my doubts, so I won’t keep religion” if it’s impossible ‘not’ to have doubts? Yet, if you don’t keep religion, it means you see the atheistic school of thought as being more logical. Well that itself is ‘faith’, not ‘doubt’. A true agnostic also doubts whether the atheistic school is correct; then perhaps the religious school is correct, and after your unethical life you’ll go straight to hell. Therefore, for the Jew, in regards to action, a side ‘must’ be picked (it must be decided which is more logical). So that’s where things were even without the agnostic school of doubt. Anyway neither the theists nor the atheists ever suggested that they had any surefire evidence.

And once it’s down to that, it’s a little difficult to truthfully say, objectively, that the ‘adestic’ or ‘atheistic’ arguments are stronger than that of the theists. say that all matter is immortal, say that the deity is not concerned with the universe, ..without surefire proof….I would say it’s, at the least, not ‘necessarily’ more logical than the theistic argument… …so when it comes right down to pick a side in regards to whether to fulfill the laws of the torah or not, I personally think the pot is on our side…(believe it or not, this is the view Amnon Yitchak espouses!).

Hm. …I think I say things much better verbally, since this too doesn’t seem right at all…

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

“ it seems like you have totally ignored the rashi to pirkei avos that says "even if they say right is left and left is right we are to follow them" regarding chazal. how much the more so God!”- *ahem*, “avot”. and rashi didn’t make that up, it’s in the Sifre, chapter 124, in comment to Deu. 17:11. Nonetheless, the veracity of what it says in any of these books is based on the premise that the Torah was given by G-d, yet that very premise that’s under discussion here.

“I can believe that something logically/ rationally is one way and choose to follow a different path”- That has never been the premise of the school of thought of the sefaradi rationalists. They would agree that you should “follow logic, even if it takes you to China”, worshiping a malevolent looking Buddha statue. Logic is the one and only tool that g-d gave us to work with. Without our logic we might as well all be Christians (they’re not big believers in logic either).

“This is aside from the fact that I find your slur on all females and your assumption that they all retreat to female emotion, as I supposedly do, to be distasteful.”- The truth is I think up all my posts way before I get to write them, so my writing is usually a shadow of my original idea, ..and missing some essential parts. ..the whole ‘female weakness’ thing was supposed to be based on quotes from Nietzsche, but I decided against that, and the ‘weak female’ part stayed. Also, as I said, I tried to sound more pompous than I am in order to encourage a response…!

Sorry for being a little lengthy. ..and sloppy..Maybe I’ll write it over again sometime!

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

I just remembered one of the (aforementioned) “five thousand” possible responses. This one in regards to my ‘slur’ against women:

It is clear that one of the main parts of our body where G-dly service is to take place is our minds. "דע את אלו"הי אביך", "בכל לבבך". You’ve been reading Rav Miller recently; he often pointed out that “levavecha” in this case means the mind. ..the ’brain’ if you will…

Yet our ‘avodat hashem’ finds unruly neighbors in our brains; our hormones. In the males it finds testosterone and in the female it finds estrogen. These chemicals unquestionably affect the ‘avodat hashem’ in our brains.

For this reason it is obvious that the way males and females think about and practice religion is unquestionably affected by our sexes. It is unquestionable that the religion of females is more emotional than that of males. Is that a good thing? I think at times it might prove a hindrance and not a help. The same could be true for male religion, but emotion s what I was discussing there…