Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Orthopraxy revisited - a fisking of GH

This is really a waste of time. My excuse is I’ve had a cold all week and don’t feel like doing much, being cited out of context without a chance to respond (the comment section of a blog doesn’t allow for much) as GH did to me here admittedly annoys me, and the agenda of nonsense out there has long been due for a good fisking, so here goes. We shall return to our regularly scheduled program hopefully after I get this out of my system. By way of introduction, in the wilds of the j-blogosphere one is apt to encounter a creature called Skeptic, but he often disguises himself. Some clues that give him away: 1) vague philosophizing without any specific references to chazal or rishonim that would support any of the arguments and can be tested; 2) disavowal of what words say and mean in deference to ‘common sense’; 3) lots of red herrings to draw you off course; 4) secular philosophers held on par with rishonim; 5) speculative statements presented as fact instead of opinion; 6) references to unnamed “Rabbis” who agree with them; 7) off topic chareidi bashing; 8) either the mocking tone or the tone of high-scholarship designed to denigrate simple folks who can just read a blatt gemara. Now, to our case study:

1)>>> Firstly the ikkarim are not an issue.<<<

Firstly, the issue is not a debate of all 13 ikkarim, but a debate of one idea: whether one must believe in G-d to receive schar olam haba (this was started on Harry M’s blog
here, but GH conveniently stripped the debate out of context). See #5 below which addresses the specific issue at hand.

2) >>>They are not brought down in Shulchan Aruch<<<

Lots of stuff is not in shulchan aruch, but is part of Jewish law and belief. The belief in Messiah is not in shulchan aruch either, yet one who denies the Moshiach is a min (Chasam Sofer Y'D 356). Secondly, the effects of denying this belief are indeed brought in Shulchan Aruch. A mumar or min is pasul l’eidus, his schechita is pasul, there is a law of moridin v’lo ma’alin, and other examples. There must be a normative halachic definition of what a mumar/min means - if not, how would these dinim have any practical import? The normative ramifications are EFFECTS of Chazal declaring certain beliefs outside the pale, but the root cause is the invalidation of beliefs, a -DOXY statement.

3) >>>plus a well known Rav told me that as long as you don’t go around absolutely denying any of them, but maybe are doubtful or agnostic, that’s fine, since everyone has doubts anyway.<<<

Appeal to authority of someone no one knows is not a justification (maybe it's a Reform Rabbi? Who knows. Just because you put Rav before your name does not a talmid chacham make.)

4) >>>No doubt some people will make the argument that since the majority of Klal Yisrael accepted the ikkarim as binding, so they are. This is only an argument for them to be socially binding, not Halachikally binding.<<<

That would make no sense because how could we determine with respect to normative halacha (shechita, eidus, kibbud av, etc.) who is a min or apikores without a halachic definition? The Chasam Sofer cited above openly disagrees with this statement.

5) >>>The most rational position is agnosticism, or weak atheism, neither of which DENY G-d’s existence.<<<

From wikipedia: “Weak atheism (also called negative atheism) is the lack of belief in the
existence of deities” From – “Weak atheism, also sometimes referred to as implicit atheism, is simply another name for the broadest and most general conception of atheism: the absence of belief in any gods.” So its not denying the possibility of G-d,. just denying the reality of his existence. Another red herring, because denial of G-d’s real existence and his control of the world also fits the definition of min. The Skeptics distinction in this context makes no difference. In point of fact, the Chazon Ish writes (Y”D 62) that even a non Jew who denies G-d’s existence is a min because without belief in G-d acceptance of the 7 mitzvos is impossible – I don’t think I am stretching a point to say kal v’chomer for acceptance of 613 mitzvos. An agnostic is not sure, meaning he can never fulfill the mitzvah of Anochi Hashem Elokecha - not a good thing, but better than a min.

6)>>>all those ‘ein lo chelek leolam habah’ statements are polemical. Chazal cannot ‘pasken’ that someone loses their chelek in olam habah!<<<

Yet, indeed they do, in the first Mishna in cheilek as well as elsewhere, codified by the Rambam in ch 3 of hil tshuvah. The appeal to common sense is used to trump what your eyes read on the page, the “cannot” is presented as fact when it is an opinion that is belied by a simple reading of the words. Finally, this is yet another red herring. Even granting that Chazal were being polemical, so what? They were polemically opposing beliefs which we should therefore reject on that basis alone.

7)>>>Secondly, that is probably talking about someone who is advocating the non observance of Halachah<<<

Simply not what the words of the halacha say, but the Skeptic rarely is encumbered by the text. He has never seen it.

8)>>>The Rambam holds God is incomprehensible. Which part of INCOMPREHENSIBLE don’t you understand??!! So how can the Rambam posit knowledge of God as the ultimate goal?<<<

A simple mistake in logic here. I don’t know the solution to Fermat’s Last theorem, but I do know it exists. To ‘know’ G-d exists is this definition of Anochi. The Chovos HaLevavos writes that philosophical rational proof of G-d is the definition of the mitzva of Anochi. The Rambam uses the term ‘know’ and cites rational proof for G-d’s oneness in ch 1 of yesodei haTorah, and in chapter 2 advises contemplation of the natural world as a way to reach G-d. The sefer haChinuch also sees rational investigation of G-d as a hiddur mitzvah.

9) >>>This is highly debated amongst the scholars. Go read some Seeskin, Faur, Fox etc and get a clue.<<<

I could care less what any of them say against Rishonim, but notice that this is just a list of names but not real citations of arguments or quotes. Another tactic of the skeptic is to "snow" you with supposed evidence which you have no way to verify because no real citations are there. If you must resort to scholarship, try David Hartman, “Maimonides and the Philosophic Quest” who discusses how rational belief is the telos of religios existance according to the Rambam and the practical mitzvos just lead one to the correct ideology and are not ends in themselves. Quite the opposite of –praxy. The most obvious proof is the Rambam’s opinion that a non-jew who complies with the moral code of 7 mitzvos for rational/ethical reasons but not because G-d commanded is not rewarded with olam haba or called one of the chassidei umos (hil melachim ch 8). Kal v’chomer the same applies to a Jew. That Rambam alone should close this issue.

10)>>> Someone who keeps the Mitzvot for rational reasons is probably BETTER than someone who keeps them thinking they are mystical magic tricks which will score points in Olam Habah.<<<

Actually, the Netziv writes on the mitzva of kibbud av v’eim the exact opposite – even rational mitzvot muse be kept simply because they are G-d’s word. Note again the Rambam re: non Jews and olam haba cited above: morality without belief in G-d as giver of mitzvos is insufficient.

11) >>>Halachikally meticulous ultra Orthodox Jews who nevertheless have poor general ethics and morals.<<<

The gratuitous jab at Orthodoxy adds no weight to the argument, it just demonstrates the agenda of the writer. But you were warned.

So there you have it. This exercise will not be repeated in the future. If in doubt, just ask for exact citations of sources for a start - the Skeptic rarely has any beyond vaguely referring to "schools of rishonim" and unnamed "Rabbis" or generalities with no supporting evidence. Beware statements of opinion disguised as fact, especially when they undermine the plain reading of a text. The discussion eventually degenerates into belittling Orthodox belief or practice, so there is not much else to say. See last Rashi in Shabbos 116a, v’dai l’chakima b’remiza to end this absurd waste of time.

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