Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Monday, 30 November 2009

Let's Try An Analogy

Further to my recent post on the differences in approaches to debate between Chareidism and Modern Orthodoxy, I came across an analogy that might explain the way each group approaches its rabbinic leadership.  As some of the commenters noted, the concept of yirah is very much overplayed in the Chareidi community.  On the other hand, a lack of yirah for rabbinic authority seems to almost be a chiyuv amonst the Modern Orthodox.  Is there a happy medium?
The analogy is one of golf.  I'll assume that most of my readers (all twelve of you) have heard of Tiger Woods.  Now, stay with me on this one.  Tiger Woods is the "gadol" in question.  Beneath him are many kinds of golfers.  There are other top level professional, mid-level professionals and amateurs at various levels of skill and experience.  But there is only one Tiger Woods.
How does the Modern Orthodox golfer approach Tiger Woods?  If I understand that group and its aversion to unconditional yirah correctly, then the MO golfer sees Tiger Woods as just another golfer.  Yeah, he's got a great set of skills but the MO golfer believes that if he just practises enough, he too can become just as good as Woods.  That's why Woods is so great, after all.  All he does all day is play golf while the MO golfer has an actual day job and can only golf in his free time.  What's more, the MO golfer has played some of the courses that Woods has played in the past and, on very rare occasions, done better on a particular hole than Woods did in his last PGA event there.  So not only is he a golfer like Woods, but on very rare occasions he's just as good if not better than Woods.  So while he can admire Woods' accomplishments, he does have any actual awe for him. 
The Chareidi golfer approaches Woods in a totally different manner.  For him, there is something special about Woods.  It's not because he has been practising and playing golf since he was two years old that makes him so good.  There's something special, something chosen about him.  Yes, he swings the same type of club as Woods but his poor results clearly show there is something different about Woods.  He's simply not in Tiger's league.  Tiger is perfect.  Even if he has a seeminly bad tournament, the Chareidi golfer knows that it really wasn't a bad tourney, it just appears that way to him because he's so far below Woods' level.  Even when Woods shot that ball into the sand trap, it wasn't a bad shot.  Woods meant to do it for some purpose far beyond the Chareidi's intellectual and spiritual grasp.  After all, the Chareidi golfer knows that his ball moves because he hits it with the club but that's not how Tiger plays.  Tiger moves his ball with the shem hameforash or ruach hakodesh and it only appears that the ball moves swings his club.  But he doesn't actually have to physically hit the ball, that's how far above the rest of us he is.
Somewhere in the middle, there is the middle ground.  The Navon golfer knows that Tiger's success is a combination of both gift and skill.  Yes, Tiger has been playing golf since he was weaned but lots of other men and women have been too and they haven't achieved what he has.  He has that little extra bit, that innate talent that combines with his drive and practice to create the Tiger Woods experience.  So I cannot simply say "Yeah, all I needed to do was practice like him and I'd been winning tournaments just like him".  I don't have the gift!  Others might have the gift but not the interest.  They cannot simply sit around and assume that one day they'll just walk onto the green and let fly with the ball.  They haven't practised.  But this combination of gift and skill make him a special person who stands heads and shoulders above the other competitors in his field.
Now take a look at the real rabbinic leaders of our day.  I don't care if it's Rav Eliashiv, shlita, or Rav Aviner, shlita, or Rav Schechter, shilta.  These men are not the talmidei chachamim they are merely because of the time they've spent in the beis medrash.  They are also gifted individuals who have used their intellectual and spiritual strengths to bring their intellectual gains to that next level.  They are worthy of yirah in a sense of admiration, the one reserved for a person who was capable of great things and actually achieved them.  Perhaps it is this for of yirah that MO should try to strive for in its relationship with its leaders, one based on an appreciation of the subject material (Torah) and the dedication of the Rav who has sought to excel in it for the sake of his Maker.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

the bigger piece is how other golfers should be viewed. charedim see phil mickelson and others of his level as not being recognizable , and in fact is off-the-derech--because he bows not down to the derech of tiger woods--uses different , clubs and balls. MO jews see other golfers , gloves, clubs and ,balls as also signs of greatness. to haredim , it's either Tiger or nothing---- as a rebbie once put it torah-pepsicola [ ie only our derech of tora, nothing else].....

Chaim B. said...

As someone who went to YU I find this amusing. In the YU world the totality of discussion about hashkafa amounts to what the Rav did or speculation about what the Rav might have done were he alive. Like chassidim who take the words of their rebbe as paramount, the MO world takes the view of RYBS as gospel irrespective of cases where he is a da'as yachid among many other gedolei torah. Yes, you can criticize the RW world for a certain lack of respect in simply ignoring RYBS's views, but please don't pretend that the MO world embraces the opinions of others so readily. And what about practices in the MO world that were not even countenanced by RYBS but are done anyway (e.g. women's prayer groups)? Do you expect the RW world to debate and respect those practices as if they emenated from a worthy bar plugta when even the poskim of the MO world reject what is going on in the movement's own congregational affiliates?

Garnel Ironheart said...

I think one major difference is that while YU may have obsessed over the Rav like you mention, his influence on a daily basis is far less.
All Lubavitcher Chasidim far and wide live off the Rebbe's words. It doesn't matter if they live in 770 or outer Nepal.
On the other hand, the Rav's influence outside the boundaries of YU drops precipitously the further you go. Most MO homes aren't that influenced by him. Most of what is known about him is based on "I heard that the Rav said".
There's also the matter of his legacy. Both Rav Herschel Schechter and Rabbi Avi Weiss claim to be following in his footsteps but their approaches to tradition are diametrically opposed. I don't see this happening in the Chareidi community.

Jay3fer said...

I think some leadaership are trying hard to create this kind of phenomenon. Not saying it's working, just saying... when my kids were at their dati Tzioni school, they'd literally groan when they heard references to him in the weekly bulletin. It was only when they started in more "mainstream" schools that they were introduced to stories of other gedolim. "Chofetz Chaim - who's that???" (he's not just the guy on the sukkah poster saying "Got esrog?"!)
Definitely agree on the need for a middle ground.

Chaim B. said...

What you wrote simply begs the question: if its not the legacy of RYBS which guides those (outside YU) who claim fidelity to MO, what is? And why should anyone in the RW world take this outside-YU MO position seriously if its direction is not inspired by a gadol batorah?

Garnel Ironheart said...

Chaim, you've hit the problem right on the head! Too many in the MO community identify themselves as MO without having a real clue as to what it means other than they don't have to wear black and white outfits and speak Yeshivish. The idea that there's a guiding philosophy as defined by the preeminent Gadol of the movement isn't part of their worldview. And yes, the RW world is correct in disdaining this type of worldview because it is not directed by a gadol b'Torah or even a specific set of philosophical rules (eg. the Bratslovers only ever had one rebbe but they all continue to follow his ideas).

Off the Derech said...

"The real dividing line in Jewish life today is between those who are happy with the mesora and those unhappy with the mesora. Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim (acceptance of the yoke of G-d’s kingship) demands that we accept the mesora even if we deem ourselves “more enlightened;” otherwise, we – like Nadav and Avihu before us – are worshipping ourselves, and not the Almighty. And isn’t that the ultimate reality of Western man today – self-worship ? If I am unhappy with the Mesora, it is because of something within me that needs rectification. I have to bend to the Torah’s will, and not bend the Torah to suit my will. Those who live with grievances against the Torah must recognize that on some level, as Moshe once said to his flock, “…your complaints are not against us, but against G-d” (Sh’mot 16:8)."

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

While the singular focus on the Rav is clearly a weakness within some realms of MO, there is still a distinction between this focus and let us say a similar focus on the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The golf analogy may illustrate. Garnel mentioned that a charedi type thinker may see Tiger as unique, defining this uniqueness in the fact that he makes the golf ball move through the Shem. The MO thinker, however, would see Tiger's greatness in just the way he hits the ball. The truth is that this unique talent in hitting the ball may also reflect an inherent, Divinely bestowed, ability but there is still a massive difference. The ability to apply the Shem makes "Tiger" qualitatively different; what he does to the ball is in no way similar to what I do to the ball. The ability to hit the ball better though is only a quantitative difference; I can't do it, I don't have the talent but I'm in the ball park.

This is the point. Charedim see theri gedolim as possessing a qualitatively distinct attribute that makes them unique. Others who disagree are simply reduced to not having this Divine characterisitc. Thus non-Chardim gedolim, even if they have greater abilities in learning, can be discounted because they, by definition, lack this qualitatively distinct characteristic. This is also the reason that the awe bestowed on chardim gedolim is so powerful They are qualitatively different.

MO sees their gedolim from a perspective of a quantitative distinction. They are smarter than me -- but we both have minds. There is still a distinction but the distinction can be downplayed. Disagreement with other gedolim, though, can be greater tolerated because the distinction in quanitative terms can be articulated an understand. Its two wise people who disagree -- and I can also have an opinion although I have to recognize my quantitative lacking (which many in the MO also may not recognize).

So the conclusion is that MO may quote from anywhere with a greater spectrum of kavod but without the full intensity of this kavod while Charedim may have further intensity but cannot express this kavod beyond limited parameters. The answer of the Navon must be to maintain the spectrum while also bringing a greater intensity of kavod into Jewish practice for even if the distinction of gadlut is quantitative and not qualitative, this greater level of Kavod is a requirment.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

David said...

I really don't quite get the point of increasing the amount of "yirah" that one feels for any person. Yirah is a substitute for intelligent thought, and nothing else. (Why should I do what he says? Shut up! Where's your yiras shamayim? How do I know he's right? Shut up! Have some yirah for HaRav HaGaon HaMeor HaGadol!) This is a bunch of hooey, and the distaste for the concept of yirah for rabbis is one of the few things that might make MO salvageable as anything other than a cult.

With all due respect to the Rav, screw the Rav-- he was just a man, not a god. Which means he was fallible. Was he less likely than I am to be wrong on a matter of Torah? Sure. Is Tiger Woods more likely to hit a hole-in-one than I am? Sure. Does Tiger hit one with every shot? No. And neither did the Rav. Judge what he said (or did) on its own merits, not on his legend.

Jay3fer said...

David, if anybody has actually spoken to you that way, what can I say but apologize on behalf of the entire klal Yisrael. BUT there are enough references to yirah in tefillah and our mesorah that we can't just overlook the subject, any more than we can overlook tefillah itself. But the concept should never be used as end to a conversation, but rather a beginning: *reishis* (techilas) chochma yiras Adonoi...
Perhaps the very fact that gedolim are fallible leads us to respect them more for their flawed-but-mostly-transcendent lives and example.

Chaim B. said...

Rabbi Ben Hecht,

>>>MO sees their gedolim from a perspective of a quantitative distinction.

Considering that even YU Roshei Yeshiva have written and said that one should defer to the views of gedolim on public policy issues and that the insight of gedolim is far superior to that of even other talmidei chachamim, it sounds to me like you are making a distinction without a difference. I am also not sure what evidence you have to support your position. If the view you describe is held by the uneducated masses within the MO world but has no basis in the thought of RYBS or other MO talmidei chachamim, then it just reinforces the point that there is a disconnect between Torah authority and practice in the MO world. Again, if the MO world does not respect its own torah leadership, is it any wonder that the RW ignores them?

David said...

"But the concept should never be used as end to a conversation, but rather a beginning: *reishis* (techilas) chochma yiras Adonoi..."

This is an interesting point, but it leads to the biggest problem with Orthodoxy-- nobody's talking here about yiras Hashem, but yiras rabbonim. Fearing Hashem is all well and good, but there is an unpardonable tendency to confuse Him with His (self-appointed) representatives. Naturally, this is not confined to Judaism, but the tendency away from that is commendable in MO, and not something that ought to be remedied.

Chaim B. said...

"Es Hashem Elokecha tira" -- "es" l'rabos talmidei chachamim (pesachim 22b).

Garnel Ironheart said...

Also pirkei avos - your fear of your teacher should be like your fear of Heaven.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I am not sure of Chaim B.'s point.

The difference between a quantitative distinction and a qualitative distinction was not advanced to dismiss the significance of yirat chachamim or the importance of listening to gedolim. It, I do admit, does change some aspects of these values but should not dismiss them. There is a difference between a relationship built upon supernatural assumptions and one developed on rational understandings of a distinction, yet rational distinctions are still not a lack of any distinction. An Einstein should be respected within the scientific community because, simply, he was smarter; the fact that this distinction is quantitative does not diminish the fact that it is still a distinction. The only thing is, though, that it is a distinction that I can analyze and in which I can find further meaning. It also puts me somewhat in the ballpark of the decision making because it is not an activity to which I am totally unconneced.

This, in fact, was a point that was significant to the Rav and this is noted in many places. He saw his role as teaching people how to think and make decisions -- and was greatly distressed by what he felt was an overstepping influence of the promotion of da'at Torah. People think. Great minds have to be respected as the ones who have the greatest potential of making the correct decisions -- but teaching everyone to think is of paramount importance. In a world where gedolim are perceived as being qualitatively different, the very process of encouraging this ability to think and make decisions is simply not encouraged as it is not necessary. The way the gedolim make decisions can't be replicated or taught anyway.

I hope this clarifies my point.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

bankman said...

Rabbinic Judaism (thats OJ, btw) requires us to "fear" or "follow" or "listen to" the Rabbis.

what a shocker!!!

If the torah shebich'sav had just a WEE BIT more to say about this, I may follow along just for the heck of it....*lo sasur* and we still need the rabbis to darshin that for us!

sheesh

Shalmo said...

Garnel:

"Also pirkei avos - your fear of your teacher should be like your fear of Heaven."

Doesn't the Torah also say its ok for a teacher or a father to beat his son to death if it was done to teach him Judaism?

David said...

"Also pirkei avos - your fear of your teacher should be like your fear of Heaven."

Yeah, there's no shortage of rabbinic authority for the proposition that rabbinic authority is incredibly important and should be deferred to on all matters. Color me unimpressed.

Chaim B. said...

David, the problem with your argument is that reverance for Rabbinic authority, certainly Talmudic authority, is what seperates Orthodox Judaism from other flavors. I can no more dismiss "yiras talmidei chachamim" from my religious requirements because it is not explicit in a pasuk than I can dismiss any of the 39 melachos of Shabbos, which are also not enumerated in a pasuk. Picking and choosing those Rabbinic ideas which you find appealing from those you don't seems to be no more than a worship of one's own intellectual predispositions.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Don't worry Shalmo, I'm not going to ban you. I'm just going to ignore you. If you think it's because I don't have rebuttals to your ridiculous challenges, go ahead. Fooling yourself seems to be your best talent.

Shalmo said...

You never reply to the challenges buddy, rather you indulge in a large array of ad hominems each time a challenge is presented to you.

I think I have done a fair job showing one can be a committed Jew and believe in Judaism without blind adherance to Torah. Judaism is what the Jewish people adhere to, which goes far beyond some millenium old text. I hope you see that one day.

too bad law school calls and I have so little time to waste here

David said...

Chaim,

"reverance for Rabbinic authority, certainly Talmudic authority, is what seperates Orthodox Judaism from other flavors."

This may be so, but it is not a defense of rabbinic authority. I have merely stated that I believe that it is to the credit of Modern Orthodoxy that it has tempered this attachment to authority with a bit of realism. Slipping back into the rebbe-worship of the right wing would render MO even more distasteful to me (and reduce it to mere Chareidi-Lite).

"Picking and choosing those Rabbinic ideas which you find appealing from those you don't seems to be no more than a worship of one's own intellectual predispositions."

Sorry, but now you've gone overboard. Deciding that I am not going to have blind faith in someone else is a very (very) far cry from worship of my own "intellectual predispositions." It's merely a refusal to worship someone else's. Indeed, one of the more memorable moments in my personal loss of belief in Orthodox Judaism was when a rabbi from Chofetz Chaim said (speaking of two Jewish authorities whose names escape me) "If you argue with X you're a fool, and if you argue with Y you're a heretic." I don't recall (and probably didn't bother to listen to) anything else he said.

I note, however, that your statement about either accepting rabbinic authority or worshipping one's own intellect is a version of a standard argument for Orthodoxy-- the false dichotomy. One so often hears suggestions that one has a choice between Orthodox values and utter degeneracy, or between Orthodox views on tzniut and utter shamelessness. Sorry, but those are the kinds of arguments that can effectively be directed at children and teens; when they're directed at adults, they are, quite frankly, insulting.

Chaim B. said...

I'm afraid the dichotomy is unavoidable. Where your judgment tells you X is true and your Rav tells you X is false, it's either/or, but not both. It is not blind faith but simple prudence which dictates that the better Torah-based decision can be reached by someone whose life is spend immersed in Torah rather than someone only superficially aware of its content. Would you trust a layman to perform brain surgery for you? If not, why would you entrust your spiritual health to a layperson?

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

I'm afraid the dichotomy is false. There is a wide gulf between (on the one hand) the negation of your own moral and intellectual responsibility in favor of a rabbi and (on the other) a "worship" of your own intellectual preferences. It's called "thinking," and I recommend it to you.

If my judgment tells me X is true and the rabbi tells me it's not, whether or not I believe him will depend on the nature of X. If he tells me that a particular food is not kosher, or that something isn't really muktza, I'd probably take his word on it, even if it seemed counterintuitive. If he told me (as, in fact, he has) that the world is only 6,000 years old, I'd dismiss him as an ill-informed, if sincere, clown with only a tenuous grasp on, or interest in, reality.

In the end, however, it's still an exercise of my judgment, and a belief that I, and not my rabbi, bear primary responsibility for my decisions. This does not constitute worshipping my own intellect (although I do happen to be a good deal brighter than my rabbi). It merely constitutes a recognition of where the responsibility for my own decisions lies. Even if I blindly follow my rabbi's every lunatic pronouncement and proudly announce that I am going to "m'vatel my da'as to da'as Toirah," the decision to do so is still inescapably mine. The Nuremberg defense is no more impressive when dragooned into the service of Judaism.

Chaim B. said...

>>>I'd probably take his word on it [muktza], even if it seemed counterintuitive. If he told me (as, in fact, he has) that the world is only 6,000 years old, I'd dismiss him as an ill-informed, if sincere, clown with only a tenuous grasp on, or interest in, reality.

Why the distinction? Because with respect to muktza you are at least honest enough to recognize the limitations of your own knowledge and accept the advice of others, while in other areas you are not. That's not thinking, that's ego.

Your observation that bitul da'as is itself an exercise of choice only undermines your own earlier characterization of bitul as a negation of moral and intelletcual responsibility.

David said...

Chaim,
I think you're getting too good at bitul da'as.
The reason for the distinction you reference is that I recognize not only limitations of my knowledge, but also of other peoples'. That is thinking. If you went to your doctor for a headache, and he told you to recite the Koran, you probably wouldn't follow his advice (corect me if I'm wrong-- you may be even better at this bitul da'as thing than I suspect), and that's not just a function of your ego.

So, bottom line, here Chaim. My rabbi told me that the world is 6,000 years old. Stephen Hawking said it's 4.6 billion years old. My own review of the evidence suggests that my rabbi has no idea what he's talking about and that Hawking's figure makes sense. What position do you recommend that I take on this?

Chaim B. said...

>>>My own review of the evidence

V'hi gufa kashe -- how do you know that your own review of the evidence is not biased by newspapers, books, TV, and other assorted media you consume? Need I point to the dogmatic acceptance of climate change among the media -- until last week when "climategate" erupted. And if you ignore blogs and read only the mainstream press you are liable to miss most of the story. And unless you are a physicist, what makes your review valid? Would you as a layperson think yourself qualified to review two alternate procedures to neurosurgery and opine as to which one is superior?

Thousands of people take pills for a headache and they work. There is only one universe, and unless you have a time machine, your conclusions as to how it started, how long is existed, etc. is simply an interpretation of some sampling of evidence that may be incomplete, may suffer from observer bias, etc. Your review is no more than a layperson's reading of expert opinion, which only begs the question of what makes Hawking superior to your Rabbi -- why do you defer to one expert over the other? The only argument you offer is that you believe it to be so -- you have merely substituted blind trust in science to blind trust in religion.

The academic consensus is that the Bible was not given at Har Sinai in an act of Revelation. It was composed by men over centuries. Orthodox dogma (i.e. the 13 ikkarim) rejects this. If the Stephen Hawking of Bible scholarship tells you that all the evidence points to the Torah being a product of multiple human authors, does that in your mind end your committment to Orthodox Judaism? If yes, then we are on a different page entirely. If not, I don't understand your committment to expert opinion in one case and not the other.

David said...

I don't know, Chaim, but then, I don't really know why I should believe my rabbi, either. If I can't trust myself, then I can't trust my own decision to trust him, either. Further, you haven't really answered my question; should I take his word (against those of pretty much the entire scientific community) that the world is only 6,000 years old? Really, my rabbi knows very little about science.

As to the rest of your point, yes, I'm persuaded by what I've seen that the Sinai revelation did not occur as described. I do not believe that Orthodox Judaism is factually based; I view it as a tradition, and, if I had it to do all over again, would not choose it as a lifestyle.

Chaim B. said...

>>>Really, my rabbi knows very little about science.

But he does (know or should -- if not, get a better Rabbi) a lot about G-d. Assuming that Jewish tradition represents G-d's revealed will to mankind, and your Rabbi is a teacher of that tradition, then I fail to see why a scientist's interpretation of reality would trump G-d's word.

Imagine a detective who is sifting through clues at a crime scene. No matter how compelling a case he builds from the evidence, if a 100% reliable witness steps forward identifies someone else as the culprit, then willy-nilly the detective's interpretation of the evidence must be wrong. There can be no more reliable "witness" to the unfolding of our universe than G-d, and no more reliable interpretation of his message than our tradition.

All this is predicated on the assumption that jewish tradition is G-d's revealed will. Since you don't share that belief, you obviously will reject my analogy and of course side with the scientists, historians, or other experts. The best I can hope for is that you will at least see the logic of it from the perspective of someone who is a believer.

If you don't accept tradition as truth, your argument has nothing to do with the particulars of bitul da'as -- you simply do not buy into the ikkarei emunah. I don't know why you would listen to your Rabbi aboiut anything -- go out and enjoy a Bic Mac at the mall on Shabbos. Why would you even ask about muktza (your example from earlier)?

Chaim B. said...

I think I've responded to your question of why I would favor what I believe to be G-d's truth over other expert opinion. Can you explain why you would care what a rabbissays about muktza (your example earlier) if you truly believe Orthodox Judaism is a lie and there is no reason to respect rabbinic authority? Surely there is no moral crime committed in moving a pen on Shabbos, and there is no hint to such a rule in Tanach. Not only that, but thousands of culturally assimilated Jews and even Jews in other movements who pay lip service to traditional Jewish "values" get along fine without it. Why do you bother?

David said...

Ah, why do I bother? Good question. I joined the community, am married, and committed myself to a lifestyle and, in fact, I do value tradition (not blindly, but I value it). In the end, I was bitterly disappointed to discover that Orthodoxy has far too many people who reject intelligent thought in favor of blind obedience to authority, and too many questions that just didn't get answers beyond unpersuasive assertions of authority.

As to your detective analogy, it's a great one. Of course, it ignores a fundamental problem: what kind of witness is 100% reliable? There isn't one-- they all have to be evaluated for what they say. If their testimony contradicts other evidence, then a jury will have to decide what the facts are. So, if the detective has collected your DNA out of the murder victim, and you produce 20 rabbis who swear that you were with them that night, I'd say that there's plenty left to discuss, wouldn't you? After all, DNA is pretty accurate, and rabbis have been known to lie...

By the way, Garnel doesn't believe that the world is only 6,000 years old (indeed, almost nobody with an education believes that).

Chaim B. said...

>>>then a jury will have to decide what the facts are.

Good analogy, because like a jury, to form an unbiased conclusion you would have to sequester youself -- no TV, radio, newspapers, books. Do you mean to tell me that you think you or I are immune from the secular influence of society? Not possible.

The issue of conflicting evidence only occurs where there is no possibility of reconciliation. There are Rabbis who do think the Biblical account can be squared with an old universe, which is why I prefer for argument's sake to use a more clear cut example: was the Torah composed by humans or given at Sinai by G-d? Historians and academics argue the former position; all Orthodox Rabbis (by definition, otherwise they would not be Orthodox) assume the latter. It's not just 20 Rabbis, or 100, but all -- the belief in a Divine Revelation is central to Orthodox Judaism. You can either accept secular experts as your guide, or accept tradition, but I can see no way to have it both ways.

As I wrote, there is a reliable witness: G-d. Where tradition is unequivocal, e.g. an issue like Divine revelation, no matter what evidence you have, it cannot trump direct knowledge (again, for those who believe that G-d has given us such knowledge) of the facts.

David said...

"Do you mean to tell me that you think you or I are immune from the secular influence of society? Not possible."

Of course not. I'm also not immune from the religious influence of rabbis. Where they conflict, I am left to employ such reason as God has given me in deciding where the truth lies. Just like you.

"It's not just 20 Rabbis, or 100, but all -- the belief in a Divine Revelation is central to Orthodox Judaism. You can either accept secular experts as your guide, or accept tradition, but I can see no way to have it both ways."

Yes, all Orthodox rabbis agree (publicly) with the idea of divine revelation. It's part of their job description. You could probably round up a high percentage of imams who were prepared to swear that the Koran is the final revelation. Go figure.

"As I wrote, there is a reliable witness: G-d. Where tradition is unequivocal, e.g. an issue like Divine revelation, no matter what evidence you have, it cannot trump direct knowledge (again, for those who believe that G-d has given us such knowledge) of the facts."

This is quite emphatic, but it says absolutely nothing and is, in fact, a tautology. Yes, God is a final and unimpeachable witness to the truth of the Torah for all people who accept that God is the final and unimpeachable witness to the Torah.

This is yet another version of the standard "Orthodox Judaism is true" argument, which assumes its own conclusion. Again, it's not an argument that one can take very seriously.

Off the Derech said...

I wonder, where is Garnel in all of this? Isn't he soooooo much better than the Chareidim?

Off the Derech said...

>Your review is no more than a layperson's reading of expert opinion, which only begs the question of what makes Hawking superior to your Rabbi -- why do you defer to one expert over the other? The only argument you offer is that you believe it to be so -- you have merely substituted blind trust in science to blind trust in religion.

This is one of the most ridiculous thing ever said. Rabbis are not only experts in their religion, they're also experts in science!!! (notwithstanding the fact that they haven't even taken first-year college in science or any other subject for that matter). Everything is contained in the Torah! Therefore, by default they know everything! This, in a nutshell, is the blazing ignorance and arrogance of religion that is also very dangerous. And you'd think, since Garnel is oh so progressive, he'd have so much to say to correct the ignorant misconceptions. But no, he cowardly looks the other way, and by his silence, enables the extreme view, although he hardly believes in any sort of religion whatsoever. Appearances, remember? SO, how does he get his kicks and let out his anger at these extremists who he secretly hates? Why, he yells at the Haredim indirectly! by cursing out OTDers. What a piece of donkey dung.

Chaim B. said...

>>>Yes, God is a final and unimpeachable witness to the truth of the Torah for all people who accept that God is the final and unimpeachable witness to the Torah.

I'm not sure what your point is. I already wrote that deference to Rabbinic tradition presupposes belief in G-d and Divine revelation of his will. My point is that given these cardinal beliefs as a starting point, belief in a 6000 year old universe is not absurd. Obviously if you don't believe in G-d, don't believe in a Divine revelation of his will, then there is no reason to trust your Rabbi for anything.

>>>I'm also not immune from the religious influence of rabbis.

Here's where your argument fails. If you don't believe Rabbis are communicating G-d's will, then their opinion is by definition valueless. You have immunized yourself from their influence by rejecting the basis for their authority. Either don't ask them about muktza because it's all a hoax anyway, or give them your trust, but don't sit on the fence. You've philosophy seems incosistant to me.

David said...

"My point is that given these cardinal beliefs as a starting point, belief in a 6000 year old universe is not absurd."

Sure, and given the cardinal belief that I am God as a starting point, then the possibility that you are nothing but a construct of My Imagination is also not absurd. The problem is the belief itself. Any belief which leads you to the conclusion that the universe is only 6,000 years old has some serious flaws in it.

"Obviously if you don't believe in G-d, don't believe in a Divine revelation of his will, then there is no reason to trust your Rabbi for anything."

No, you're falling back on the other standard Orthodox argument, the false dichotomy (either I accept Divine revelation, or I deny everything). First, I never said that I didn't believe in God. Second, I did say that I have respect for (and participate in) Jewish tradition. Thus, my rabbi's opinion on any number of topics (although not all topics) would have some weight.

In a nutshell, Chaim, you have two arguments, which, in one form or another, are the same two arguments that Orthodox people recycle to defend their beliefs: 1) The assumed conclusion (Orthodoxy is true because we know that God is the witness for the Torah, or, more simply put, Orthodoxy is true because Orthodoxy says it's true); and
2) The false dichotomy (either you accept, in a blind and sheep-like fashion, everything we say is true, or you have no use at all for Judaism, the Torah and truth, and your life will be an empty void).

To be honest, Chaim, I can see why you use that kind of (and I use the word guardedly) reasoning. If you did stop to give any serious thought to your beliefs, they might well stop being your beliefs. I suppose that's what happened to me... probably why my rabbi's advice to me included "try not to think about it too much." Seriously, I find it difficult even to respect that kind of a belief system.

Chaim B. said...

You keep setting up straw men and answering silly arguments you are comfortable addressing instead of responding to what I actually said. When you say you "respect tradition", you seem to confuse value with truth. Tradition may have value to you as some sort of cultural idea, but do you think it is true? If you think it is true, then how can you possibly credit what is derived from evidence over direct knowledge of the facts?

Again (third time), I have not set out to prove to you the truth of Jewish tradition, only that it is logically consistant, but you keep coming back to the fact that I haven't given you an objective proof. Can you address what I have writeen instead of setting up your straw man to knock it down yet again?

David said...

"You keep setting up straw men and answering silly arguments you are comfortable addressing instead of responding to what I actually said."

Standard Orthodox Argument #3-- accuse the other person of doing what you're doing (e.g., refuse to respond to his challenges, and then accuse him of not responding to yours). Yasher koach, I think you've covered all basic OJ arguments!

"When you say you 'respect tradition', you seem to confuse value with truth. Tradition may have value to you as some sort of cultural idea, but do you think it is true?"

How am I confusing anything? I "respect tradition," and think it has value. I've also made it pretty clear that I do not believe that the foundational myths of our tradition are historical facts. That said, to the extent that they provide a comprehensive code that requires us to refrain from killing, lying, stealing or committing adultery, while encouraging us to lead lives of moderation, generosity and self-control, those traditions are, in my opinion, valuable. To the extent that those traditions cause us to demean other people, ignore or dismiss scientific advances, elevate other humans to cult-like status, leave women as agunot, or elevate ritual observance over moral behavior, those traditions should be re-examined.

"If you think it is true, then how can you possibly credit what is derived from evidence over direct knowledge of the facts?"

Your question is absurd. How can I "think" something is true, except by thinking? Either there is evidence, or there isn't. If there is evidence for it, I can think it's true based on the evidence. If there is no evidence, I can think it's true based on what I've been told. If there is evidence against it and evidence for it, I need to weigh the evidence and decide what to think. How else would I approach something?

More importantly, in the case at hand, you have no "direct knowledge" of any "facts." You have a belief, and, to shelter your belief, you choose to ignore or dismiss facts and evidence. That's not thinking-- indeed, it's the opposite.

"Again (third time), I have not set out to prove to you the truth of Jewish tradition, only that it is logically consistant (sic)..."

It may (or may not) be internally consistent; that, however, is not enough of a basis for intelligent or rational belief. The syllogism "All Jews are toads; Chaim and David are Jews; therefore, Chaim and David are toads" is logically consistent, but rests on a fairly stupid and obviously false premise. Get it?

Rye said...

40 comments and not one opine on Tiger taking some Handsmaids. I appreciate the polite debate that is being engaged in the comments. I like the "try not to think about it too much." line. I know some might say it is patronizing, but it doesn't make it wrong.

David said...

"I like the 'try not to think about it too much.' line. I know some might say it is patronizing, but it doesn't make it wrong."

Fair enough! But it doesn't really sound like much of a recipe for getting at the truth...