Thursday, September 06, 2007

final thoughts on emunah - misquotes, ducking issues, and definitions of judaism

I want to close out this topic of emunah with some final thoughts. I have no problem with people offering their own views in comments, but I do have a problem with people misquoting what I say and distorting it to satisfy their misguided ends.

A certain commentator here in response to the Ramban argued that “Rabbi… [editing out the name because I cannot verify the quote] himself told me that you only need to not categorically deny any beliefs.” However, as noted, that interpretation does not fit the words of the Ramban being discussed - “yodeh b’libo, y’heyu emes b’einav, ya’amin”. No response was offered to justify what amounts to a completely implausible reading.

That commentator also claimed, “You can certainly be agnostic and be ok, especially nowadays when according to the Chazon Ish everyone is a tonok shenishbah.” The Chazon Ish explained why we do not apply the rule of moridin v’lo ma’alin, but never chas v’shalom justified agnosticism. No further explanation was offered.

This person argued that, “Also, since when is the Ramban the final word on hashkafah??” and was invited to present alternative theological views found in Rishonim, but offered none.

Finally, this person claimed, “You can't mandate belief. That's a psychological fact.” This assertion is contradicted by the Ramban’s count of emunah as a mitzvah d’oraysa, a mandate to have belief, as well as by a host of non-Jewish philosophers and theologians who argued belief can be mandated; among them, ironically was William James, the father of psychology – so much for psychological facts. The only response offered to this was a re-assertion of the same opinionated statement as “fact”.

Not content to simply avoid answering pointed questions on their misplaced critiques, this person has now done a blog posting claiming I said “If you don’t believe in God, there’s no reason he should let you into Heaven” and “Also anyone can make themselves believe anything”. Anyone who has read the previous posts knows I have said nothing to that effect. I guess it is easier to respond to a straw-man position than to actually address what I did write. I commented there asking that person for quotes - still waiting....

I believe Judaism is defined by Chazal and Rishonim, and all matters of halacha, theology, morality must be grounded in those roots. This other person on the other hand writes, “Why? Chazal believed in Shedim and the Rishonim had no clue. Neither group knew modern science or were exposed to anything like the stuff we are exposed to. They are both entirely unqualified to present opinions on modern issues.”

Is whether Judaism tolerates atheism and agnosticism a “modern issue”? Do Chazal offer timeless guidance and insight into theology, morality, hashkafa, or are we to simply ignore their views a tainted and irrelevant to our modern dilemmas? Is Judaism an opinion survey of what makes sense to you or makes you feel good, or is it grounded in a tradition of ontological truths revealed by G-d ?

The purpose of my blog is not kiruv, justifying Judaism based on external criteria; I presuppose my readers share my belief in the authority of Chazal and Rishonim and value their words. For those who don't, I sincerly hope they rediscover those values, but until then I'm afraid the Judaism they discuss and the Judaism I discuss are worlds apart.


  1. Anonymous12:59 PM

    The bottom line is this:

    You posted an irresponsible and simplistic attack on Orthopraxy, and 'views presented by bloggers' (i.e. me), without fully considering the nuances. I reacted strongly, and EvanstonJew more calmly questioned you at which point you retracted/backtracked or perhaps more clearly thought about it and stated your true intentions. You also avoided answering my main pointm which is this:

    What are you going to offer someone who says that they genuinely don't believe in TMS? (I will leave God out of it). Must they by neccessity leave OJ entirely? Or is there some OJ like theology that works? That is the main goal of my blog, and I have never said otherwise. Of course OJ with all beliefs is the classical OJ, I have never argued otherwise. Stop listening to yourself talk and start paying attention to what other people are saying. Also, don't post provocative badly worded posts if you can't take the heat. In your cosy little delusional bubble 'doubt' might seem to be a quaint academic topic. In real life, it isn't.

  2. You guys don't play well together in the sandbox. If we were in kindergarden you might have to be separated.

    I, for one fully appreciate what both of you are trying to accomplish. Correct me if I am mistaken, I take Chaim B to be saying over the mesorah , no sugar coating, no holds barred.If the tradition sticks in anyone's craw, if it traumatizes people in its strangeness and sense of coming from another place and time all the is supposed to be strange and outside our comfort zone.

    In turn XGH's love for and desire to strengthen Orthodoxy is in conflict with an equally fierce committment to his conception of truth and reason. When the two conflict many times he goes with his conception of rationality , sometimes with such a vehmence that he suprises even himself. He cannot understand what value apologetics may have, and he finds the use of denial as a defense mechanism morally degrading.

    My own concerns include a thelogy that would be appealing to all sections of Jewish life including non-frum people, and here the going gets very tough.

    Contemporary theology is not for wusses.

  3. Anonymous1:41 PM

    evanston, well said!

    > If the tradition sticks in anyone's craw, if it traumatizes people in its strangeness and sense of coming from another place and time all the is supposed to be strange and outside our comfort zone.

    And this is precisely why I reacted so strongly. This kind of attitude, frankly, stinks. It's all very well for someone with perfect emunah to say this, but it is completely non empathic, non realistic and just serves to push people away from Judaism. If chaim b could lift himself out of his little 5 towns bubble for just a minute, he might see this. He reminds me of the kanoim, they think they are strengthening Judaism but really they are weakening it, by being inflexible. I probably wouldn't even be a skeptic had the kannoim and Gedolim showed more flexibility initially. But when they kept on insisting that Torah is incompatible with Science, and I knew that Science was true, well, something had to give.

  4. XGH...For the sake of the record I meant the paragraph you just quoted lishvach and you turned it ligenai. I think it hangs as Chaim B. tried to explain on the audience being addressed.

    Many mitzvot in their strangeness are traumatic...think nidah, soteh and many more. I would say that the trauma, the inability to understand is internal to the mitvah itself and not just a limitation on our part. But to elaborate on that is the beginning of a whole new topic and not part of what I wanted to do in my original comment.

  5. >>>In turn XGH's love for and desire to strengthen Orthodoxy

    Surely you jest! You speak of the person who wrote at 11:47 this morning, "These days I'm thinking maybe it's a mitzvah to give people doubts, but I'm open to debates about it."

    EvanstonJew, if someone sincerely and truly believes in Jesus, should our mission be to find a way to reconstruct Jewish theology to accommodate those beliefs just because they are sincerely held?
    Sorry, but outreach is about changing people to see the truth of our beliefs, not changing our beliefs to make people happy.
    So why should I or anyone else who identifies as Orthodox have any respect for someone whose “outreach” consists of falsifying and distorting basic tenets of Judaism to accommodate beliefs foreign to religion, i.e. agnosticism and atheism? And lest our other commentator attempt to redact his statements yet again and claim that as his mission, let me quote him directly:
    "my attempts at belief-less theology are as a reaction to reality" (10:30 this morning)
    "OF COURSE OJ has beliefs. Howveer many people in OJ DON'T HAVE BELIEFS. I am looking for a theological / ideological alternative which works for these people." (10:32 this morning)

  6. BTW, my comment answers this "kashe" as well:

    >>>What are you going to offer someone who says that they genuinely don't believe in TMS?

    I know I don't offer to change Judaism for their comfort any more than I would offer the same to a Jew who espouses Jesus. Someone who would make such an offer is just placing another stumbling-block between such an individual and authentic judaism.

  7. Chaim B....Having had a couple of whirls around the dance floor with XGH I continue to believe he is serious and sincere in his practise & and in his desire for understanding and clarity . He believes, as you obviously do not, that by exposing people to the issues of the day,even if they are heretical and even if there are initial difficulties, over the long run it is the only honest way for Orthodoxy to go. Denial,etc. will eventually backfire.

    I disagree with your remarks about outreach. Some of my reasons I wrote about on my now defunct blog in a post on chizuk vs. kiruv. I point out that you yourself agreed with me earlier that there may be alternative ways of presenting the tradition that do not involve any discussions of ikrim.

    I'll put it too you bluntly...I, personally am not in the kiruv business. I am concerned with the massive intermarriage and assimilation I see all around me. If I want to sweet talk some guy in sending his kid to a talmud torah or some absolutly minimal thing I am not going to tell him every shverikeit and difficulty in the mesorah, and imho neither should you.Sometimes the correct approach is to take people as they are, and not read them the riot act even when your thoughts are backed up by the mesorah.

    With all due respect, since I see you are a serious and ehrlicher person, I cannot help but note that in a strange way you and XGH are mirror images of each other, though your surface styles differ... a sort of zeh lumas zeh.Both of you are rodef ha-emes,each according to their own conception, let the chips fall where they may.

    Not so me...not everything I think do I acknowledge even to myself(we've been over that in discussions of the unconscious);not everything I say to myself do I say to others, and not everything I say in one-on- one conversation do I put up on the internet.There is more to life than raw truth.Context and style are not chitzonius for me...but that is just me.

    And finally I tried earlier today to say something soothing that would lower the hysteria and intensity of the debate, all to no avail.I tried.

  8. I'm afraid we must agree to disagree. But before leaving off, one point perplexes me. I gave the example of a jew who sincerely believes in jesus, and argued that "outreach" cannot consist of changing judaism to accomodate such a person's belief, but must focus on changing the person's belief to judaism. I assume your comment is a response to mine, and therefore was surprised to read,

    >>>I disagree with your remarks about outreach....I point out that you yourself agreed with me earlier that there may be alternative ways of presenting the tradition that do not involve any discussions of ikrim.

    When you write you disagree with me, am I to understand that you would change judaism to accomodate belief in jesus for the sake of tolerance? Perhaps it is the narrowmindedness of my belief in my own position which prevents me from thinking you meant this, but I have a hard time thinking this is what you meant.

  9. We agree on that case...I would not change Judaism's beliefs to accomodate some Jew for Jesus...I don't ever talk to those guys, but if I did I would be harsh and tell him what I think of apostasy. I didn't think we were talking about tolerance uberhaupt but about shaping a message so that it can be heard. My view is that one glove doesn't fit everybody, and as I said the cases that most concern me are how to talk to secular Jews.

    Even here on the internet since we are all so different I don't talk in the same way everywhere. On my blog which was partially aimed at non religious Jews interested in the sociology of Orthodoxy I frequently spoke in a humorous light way.I don't remember receiving angry or hostile criticism about my haskafos. Most frum people seemed to be ok with what I said, more or less.When it comes to philosophy I am very tough and avant garde.In the post modernism run around of the other week I was to the left of XGH, who once you get past the first layer of Hume-Dawkins razzing is quite conservative and old fashioned. In theology I try to stay closer to home. On public policy questions I usually side with charedim against the MO.

    You must realize I am not in general a bombthrower, and try hard not to destroy someone's religious equilibrium.

  10. >>>We agree on that case...I would not change Judaism's beliefs to accomodate some Jew for Jesus...I don't ever talk to those guys, but if I did I would be harsh and tell him what I think of apostasy.

    Well, you may not see it that way, but someone with an agenda of selling judaism without G-d or belief in Divine authority of mitzvos ("an attempt at a belief-less theology") is to my mind selling apostasy. And what makes it worse is that it can be dressed up a lot better than belief in jesus to confuse a lot of people.

  11. I think you are conflating me with the XGH school of yiddishkeit. I have no agenda of selling Judaism lite, I have written no posts or comments promoting beliefless Judaism. I have had much to say about how we are to understand belief as well as to the nature of truth, reality and so on...all philosophical issues and off topic here.(see my first comment to you, and my remarks about the Raavid).) I have said when I encounter Orthopraxy and I will now add even less ,(Reform,etc.) I do not feel I have a responsibility to go out of my way to tell them the errors of their ways. I accept people as they are, and challenge them if at all on intellectual issues.

    If I were to write a manual 'How to be properly Orthodox aal pi mesoras avoseinu' I would of course consider your strictures relevant.

    A final point about apostasy. I can understand when you consider beliefless views heretical. An Orthoprax Jew, and many times even a totally secular Jew is committed to being a Jew, identifies and contributes to Jewish causes and would be beside himself with anguish if he were forced to accept Christianity. Not so Jews for Jesus and other apostates. Putting the two on equal footing is a sign to me that we must also differ on many other issues as well.I await further tuition on those topics.

  12. Anonymous4:22 AM

    PPC Ad
    very useful, thanx a lot for this article -- This was exactly what I was looking for..