Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Principle of the Faith

Every year about this time it happens.  No, not an attack of killer bees during an otherwise pleasant Sukkos meal, or the Toronto Maple Leafs stumbling out the gate on the way to a losing season yet again.  No, I'm taking about the two most controversial stories in the Torah - Bereshis and Noach.
Most of the controversy occurs for 3 simple reasons:
1) A group of people who label their understanding of the first two parshioyos of the Torah as the only authentic understanding insist we must understand the narratives literally.  The world is 5771 years old.  Period.  The universe was created over 144 hours.  Period.
2) A group of people who insist that the universe consists of only those things we can sense and measure.  These people point out that it is scientifically proven that the universe is some 13.5 billion years old and that a literal reading of Bereshis and Noach is untenable.
3) Both groups refuse to consider a middle ground in which an interpretive understanding of the beginning of the Torah is acceptable.  (1) dismiss that approach as apikorsus.  (2) dismiss it as apologetics.  This leaves both groups happy on their side of the fence.  For (1) the idea that God planted fake dinosaur bones in the ground as a test of faith is perfectly logical.  For (2) that same idea is proof that genuine religious belief is illogical and therefore best avoided.
And those of us in the middle sigh... again.
Here's what is most frustrating about this annual debate: it's not about anything fundamentally important to Judaism overall.  Out of the entire first section of Bereshis, there are a few limited dogmas that matter to the believing Jew - God created the universe and everything in it by Himself.  He continues to be active in the development of that universe and cares about how humanity turns out.  Done.  A literal vs non-literal understanding of Creation or the Mabul is not fundamentally defining to Judaism.  For those who insist it is, a situation is created in which one is asked to either shut one's brain off in order to be observant or to leave the faith which is not something geniune Torah Judaism demands.  This turns out to the be the lynchpin in the argument.  Without a mandatory literal interpretation of Creation and the Mabul, (2) lose the basis of their objection to religion as well which leaves (3) as the only logical choice.
I was happy to find out over Simchas Torah that Rav Avraham Yitchak Kook, ztk"l, in Igros HaRe'iyah also notes something quite similar.  He first states the obvious (something noted by Ramban and other Rishonim): the account of Creation contains great mystical secrets.  This is why it's listed alongside the maaseh merkavah in the gemara in Chagigah as one of those parts of Scripture that is best left to deep experts to understand.  Come on, read the first chapter of Yechezkel and tell me you can visualize precisely what he's describing.  You can't, and Rav Kook reminds that to use that same caution when reading the first chapters of Bereshis.
He also makes a devastating point against the literalists as well based on that same understanding.  If the gemara in Chagigah is correct, then a literalist approach is completely wrong because it eliminated the possibility of the deeply mystical.  (1) cannot have it both ways.
It is therefore incumbent for Torah Jews to remember that the point of the Torah is to establish God's ownership of the universe, His choice of the Jewish people as His standard bearers and to give us a physical way to fufill His will in this world, the halacha.  As the Rav once noted, discussions on the historical veracity of the literal understanding of Bereshis were meaningless to him.  God created the world, gave us the Torah and here we are.  How do we go from here in a way that keeps us in sync with Him is the question we should be asking ourselves at all times, not whether or not dinosaur bones are genuine.


SJ said...

Garnel, some wise guy was used the meebo widget on my blog. Tell me there isn't something fishy about him. XD

[21:50] Yehuda: What would iran have to do with it?
[21:50] Yehuda: The cultural center is being biult by sunnis
[21:50] SJ321: answer: $$$
[21:50] Yehuda: and Iran is shia
[21:51] SJ321: dude, when it comes to bein antiamerican they all work together.
[21:51] Yehuda: if that were true then Iran would not be targetting the taliban
[21:51] Yehuda: and regardless what do muslims have to gain by biulding this?
[21:52] SJ321: i don't know where u get your news from
[21:52] SJ321:
[21:52] SJ321:
[21:52] SJ321:
[21:52] Yehuda: look I want to stay on topic
[21:53] Yehuda: I can post articles against that
[21:53] SJ321: it is on topic. 3 different articles of iran supporting the taliban.
[21:54] Yehuda:
[21:54] Yehuda: "Iran helped overthrough the Taliban"

SJ said...

[21:55] SJ321: that's irrelevant. when it comes to antiamerican stuff, they work together, as the other articles i brought up indicate.
[21:55] Yehuda: now let's take your POV. why would muslims possibly spend millions of dollars sticking it to americans?
[21:55] Yehuda: is it really that hard to believe the center is what it says it is?
[21:55] SJ321: because they build on stuff that they conquer.
[21:55] Yehuda: but nobody has conquered the US
[21:55] SJ321: yes because the imam does not rule out taking money from radical sources.
[21:56] Yehuda: muslims are and remain a minority
[21:56] SJ321: dude, ground zero.
[21:56] Yehuda: the majority of Jews support the project
[21:57] Yehuda: the majority of muslims are dirt poor
[21:57] Yehuda: if they have money to spend they could spend on themselves
[21:57] Yehuda: the point is its really farfetched to think they would spend so much money just to "stick it to americans"
[21:58] SJ321: it's about following their religion. and to the arab dictators it is pocket change.
[21:58] Yehuda: furthermore american muslims are different than the saudi guys who piloted the planes
[21:58] SJ321: oh u think there is no wahabist muslims in the usa? XD
[21:58] Yehuda: there probably are
[21:59] Yehuda: but then is every jew an undercover haredi?
[21:59] SJ321: apples and oranges.
[21:59] SJ321: let's not bring jews into this discussion. it's irrelevant.

SJ said...

[22:00] Yehuda: on the contrary its very relevant, considering the similarities to how we too at one point were suspected of being undercover communists, fascists, and christ-killers
[22:01] Yehuda: I cannot paintbrush all muslims for the same reasons
[22:01] SJ321: it is not relevant. there aren't any jews threatening the usa.
[22:01] SJ321: paintbrushing muslims is also irrelevant since the fact is the imam does not say that he's not going to take money from radical sources.
[22:01] SJ321: so it is not an issue of paintbrushing muslims.
[22:02] SJ321: let the imam say to the mainstream media straight up he's not going to take $$$ from iran and saudi arabia.
[22:02] Yehuda: and so what if he did?
[22:02] Yehuda: it still remains an issue of private property
[22:03] Yehuda: and btw
[22:03] Yehuda: the Saudis already have invested 1 trillion dollars in the US economy
[22:03] Yehuda: a Saudi prince is a major funder of fox news
[22:03] Yehuda: now should all of them be suspect?
[22:04] SJ321: the government has the right to take a property for the public interest it's called eminent domain.
[22:04] SJ321: the public interest is noone wants a mosque at ground zero.
[22:04] SJ321: and if he takes money from iran and saudi arabia you can't take seriously his claims that there won't be any radicalism there.
[22:05] Yehuda: its not a mosque, and its not at ground zero. and you cannot say nobody wants it there when even 9/11 families have supported it
[22:05] SJ321: it can hold a thousand congregants. XD
[22:05] SJ321: looks like a mosque if u ask me. XD
[22:06] Yehuda: its a cultural center. In fact the imam working with rabbi of the shalom center purposely modelled it on a jewish cultural center
[22:06] SJ321: 1,000 worshippers = mosque.
[22:06] Yehuda: incidently we often complain about moderate muslims not speaking up, well here is their chance to speak up. Why take that away from them?
[22:07] SJ321: i haven't heard the imam condemn hamas and hizbolla.
[22:07] Yehuda: it functions mainly as a cultural center not a mosque
[22:07] Yehuda: why does he have to?
[22:07] SJ321: in order for us to believe that he's moderate.
[22:07] Yehuda: should all jews have to condemn israeli warcrimes?
[22:08] SJ321: ok, you are either a far out leftie or a musllim pretending to be a jew. XD
[22:08] Yehuda: um ok
[22:08] Yehuda: lol

SJ said...

[22:08] SJ321: because u have 0 survival instinct.
[22:08] Yehuda: I don't support everything Israel does
[22:08] SJ321: riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
[22:09] Yehuda: I'm an orthodox jew but yes I tilt to the left
[22:09] Yehuda: lol
[22:09] SJ321: if u are a jew, what are the first 5 books of the torah in hebrew? XD
[22:10] Yehuda: you got to be kidding?
[22:10] Yehuda: you realize even if I wasn't
[22:10] SJ321: lol u fail. XD
[22:10] Yehuda: I could just copy and paste it from online
[22:10] SJ321: every orthodox jew would know this. XD
[22:10] SJ321: i can ask u more advanced stuff also. XD
[22:10] SJ321: u fail. XD
[22:10] Yehuda: such as?
[22:11] Yehuda: um ok
[22:11] Yehuda: go ahead ask me something then
[22:11] SJ321: i did. XD u fail. XD
[22:12] Yehuda: genesis, exodus, leveticus, numbers, deutoronomy
[22:13] Yehuda: Bereishith, Shemoth, Vayiqra, Bamidbar, Devarim
[22:14] SJ321: hmm. u ashkenaz or sephardic?
[22:15] Yehuda: sephardic
[22:15] SJ321: ok.
[22:15] Yehuda: why did you become a christian?
[22:15] SJ321: because the stuff i read answered my questions.
[22:16] Yehuda: Jesus at best was a lunatic rabbi who thought the world was gonna end in his lifetime
[22:16] Yehuda: what questions did you have?
[22:16] Yehuda: and how can you say Judaism did not answer them?
[22:16] SJ321: like, whether the whole thing was full of it or not.
[22:16] SJ321: i was formerly an atheist.
[22:17] Yehuda: so why become a christian?
[22:17] Yehuda: the opposite of judaism
[22:17] SJ321: because it answered my ?s.
[22:17] Yehuda: ok what were your questions?
[22:17] SJ321: now we are going in circles. XD whether or not the bible can be believed.
[22:18] Yehuda: so that was the only question you had?
[22:18] SJ321: i didn't convert. i just started believing in it.
[22:18] SJ321: well, it's a big overlapping question that covers everything it claims. XD
[22:18] Yehuda: well religion is a matter of faith
[22:19] Yehuda: archaeology is showing the Exodus and Joshua narratives are bogus, but faith says otherwise
[22:19] Yehuda: I personally am satiated with my take on the bible
[22:19] SJ321: on contrair, archaeology supports the exodus and joshua narratives.
[22:20] SJ321: for example, slave lists from ancient egypt have semetic names on them.
[22:20] Yehuda: I do not believe the majority of archaeologists will see it that way
[22:20] Yehuda: but babylon and Egypt were at war
[22:20] Yehuda: so if the plagues happened the egyptian army would be devasted
[22:21] Yehuda: and the Torah says they were not able to recover for 40 years
[22:21] SJ321: there is evidence of people leaving egypt for canaan.
[22:21] Yehuda: if such was the case a massive invasion from Babylon would have followed. It never did
[22:21] SJ321: i'll admit archaeology is not an open and shut case but there's enough to form a correlation.
[22:22] SJ321: ok now here's this ?. if u are sephardic, how do sephardim differ from ashkenazim on the issue of wearing a yamica?
[22:22] Yehuda: must we do this?
[22:22] SJ321: last ?. answer this and i'll believe u. XD
[22:24] Yehuda: Well its an interesting thing about how it has changed. Samaritan Jews once wore distinctive blue head coverings to separate them from Jews who wore white ones, but today they more commonly wear fezes with turbans similar to that of Sephardi Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Today, Samaritans don't normally wear head coverings except during prayer, Sabbath, and religious festivals.
[22:24] SJ321: ok u aren't sephardic u just wikipediaed everything. XD
[22:25] Yehuda: I was lazy
[22:26] Yehuda: truth be told it really depends on where they come from
[22:26] Yehuda: most wear fezes I think

SJ said...

I can't find any reference of Babylon and Egypt being at war in the time of the Exodus.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I'm sorry but what does your meebo problem have to do with this post?

SJ said...

Nothing. XD I was just curious as to your opinion on it. I asked him how sephardic jews differ from ashkenaz jews on wearing a yamica, he didn't come up with the answer I was looking for.

Nosson Gestetner said...

Couldn't find your email address to let you know gTorah has been fixed, we're back online.

OTD said...

I highly doubt he's Jewish, SJ. Prolly Muslim

SJ said...

OTD I'm glad it's not just me. XD

My blog is a dhimmi free zone. XD

Garnel Ironheart said...

Anyway SJ, at the time of the Exodus, Babylon was not yet a world power. The Assyrians were far stronger and controlled much of Sumeria. In addition, archeology records that the Egyptains maintained a line of bases along the Mediterranean coast all the way up to 'Aza to prevent the Philistines from attacking. Pharoah's army may have been seriously damaged at the Reed Sea but those forts and the forces within weren't touched. Most likely Egypt remained powerful enough to fend off any invasion but without the manpower to also mount an invasion for the next few decades.

SJ said...

Yeah I never heard Babylon bein at war with Egypt at the time of the Exodus before; even from the off the derech and atheist crowd.

After the Exodus is another story.

ksil said...

garnel, how do you deal with the fact that for hundreds if not thousands of years both berashis and noach were accepted as literal truths handed to us nomads by GOD HIMSELF - and now that science proves it to be impossible - we say - oh thats not what it meant! God was just testing us, kidding around, as they say.

Further, what happens when other stories from the bible are proven to be impossible? the exodus, for example - which arguably is the cornerstone of judaism....zecher leyetzias mitzrayim....

slippery slope

Larry Tanner said...

"Both groups refuse to consider a middle ground in which an interpretive understanding of the beginning of the Torah is acceptable."

Middle ground. Hmm. And this differs how from "make shit up that I like"?

SJ said...

Larry, do you even understand the Cosmological Argument any better now?

Garnel Ironheart said...


> garnel, how do you deal with the fact that for hundreds if not thousands of years both berashis and noach were accepted as literal truths handed to us nomads by GOD HIMSELF

Because at the time there was no scientific or archeological knowledge to contradict a literal understand so why shouldn't that have been the default position? You seem to have missed my point that maintaining the literal position after science and archeology developed is not a principle of the faith. We can now say "Oh, so the text is not meant to be taken literally" without going against basic Jewish principles.

> Further, what happens when other stories from the bible are proven to be impossible?

People have been saying that for a couple of centuries now. Hasn't happened yet and as more and more of the past is uncovered, there is more and more evidence to support the text, not contradict it. You can sit there and say "Well I refuse to believe because one day they just might find evidence against the Bible" but I think that's a position with no evidence to support it.


Thanks for proving my point about how a rational understanding of religion is such a threat to anti-religionists.

ksil said...

"Oh, so the text is not meant to be taken literally"

This is hard to imagine. The creator of the world, the universe gave us a book in the dessert - and duped us! He said things in there - some of it is true, some of it is not (allegory) and we are supposed to figure out what is what,,,based on the progress of science.

I mean, it just makes no sense! Using god-given reason and logic (or as you would call it - rationality)

its just absurd!

Unknown said...

A rationalist would understand that there are limits to his understanding.

A Jew would understand that HaShem reveals to us those aspects of His management of the world that we need to know in order to perfect ourselves.

Larry Tanner said...

I'm happy to oblige but your rationalizing doesn't measure up to rational.

You conclude by saying (1) Assume that "God" is king of the universe and we are his special boys; (2) ignore history, facts, and evidence; (3) When in doubt, see #1.

One doesn't need to be anti-religion to realize that you're simply engaging in "spiritual" masturbation.

SJ said...

Larry, you are refusing to accept science's limits, science cannot go into how the universe ultimately began. (i.e. where did all the energy from the big bang come from?)

I speak as someone who respects science and believes the big bang and evolution happened just as scientists say it did, I would also opine that science's limitations leave plenty of room for religion.

To put it simply Larry, you are throwing a tantrum.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> You conclude by saying (1) Assume that "God" is king of the universe and we are his special boys;

Do you have proof to the contrary?

(2) ignore history, facts, and evidence;

What history should I ignore?

(3) When in doubt, see #1.

Yes, God is #1.

Larry Tanner said...

"Do you have proof to the contrary?"

Sure. I have empirical data that reasonably allows me to assert that (a) our universe arose through physical means, and (b) life on earth--including humans--emerged theough natural processes.

I don't have specific proof that your brand of deity doesn't exist, in the same way that none of us has proof that Jesus son of god didn't rise from the dead, that Mohammed didn't ride a winged horse/donkey, and that the early kings of England weren't descended from the Norse deities.

I hope you're not staking a whole lot on that "prove the negative" gambit.

"What history should I ignore?"

I don't know. Ignorance is what you yourself applaud: "As the Rav once noted, discussions on the historical veracity of the literal understanding of Bereshis were meaningless to him."

"Yes, God is #1."

Depends on your perspective. If you like jealous, petty, homicidal misogynists, then I can't imagine a superior character in all fiction.

But these are well-worn arguments and hardly interesting anymore. I commented only to note that your so-called and self-congratualtory "middle ground" may be a nowhere land in the final analysis. It's no virtue to reconcile dogmatic myth and reality.

Just imagine if we tried to solve criminal cases using the middle way: one side says the defendant is guilty, the other side says there's no evidence, and the middle way says the evidence isn't that important anyway because we know the defendant's guilty.

Larry Tanner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

lol Larry where you go wrong, is that even though the universe arose through physical means, science can't answer whether or not it was guided.

Why are you picking on Garnel and not getting into a debate with me? XD Are you scared?

Larry Tanner said...


If you want to have a debate with me, fine. I posted a comment on your blog. It's in the religion and meaning thread. Just a tip for you: if we're going to debate, you'll need to get a point and then articulate it.

But now I'm addressing the one who wrote the original post here. I think it's not only poorly reasoned but advocating ideas that are dangerous in practice, even in the pretend world of philosophical theology.

I'm well aware that Garnel can take care of himself. I expect he'll disagree with my point of view and explain exactly where I err, and then I'll do the same. It's the way of the blogosphere.

I'm not looking for a fight so much as an explanation. I assert that there's good reason to think that Garnel's middle way is circular, self-perpetuating, intellectually immature and evasive, and of no moral value for daily living. I'm curious about why Garnel seems to think this middle way is the cat's pajamas.

E-Man said...

Larry- I still don't understand how matter can appear out of no where. I watched the youtube video you sent me to about the physicist from ASU that writes for (or now wrote for) scientific american, but he in no way explained how matter can apear out of nowhere he just says it can.

Also, the whole thing that Stephen Hawkin said about G-D not needing to exist. Well, that is because he holds onto the idea that it is possible matter appeared out of nowhere. Well, that is a possibility, but it in no way gives us an understanding of what actually happened.

The end of the day even when we are dealing with science, people believe waht they want. The big bang, although accepted by many, is still argued on. Same with many of these types of theories. To say there is definitive proof against G-D, or even to say there is proof G-D is superfluous to the creation of the universe is a bit of a stretch. Evolution and how it occurred is also argued on. The general idea is almost universally accepted, but the explanations of how it occurs/occurred vary.

The Rambam states that one must understand the Torah in light of science (he used the words philosophy, but anyone who understands medieval philosophy will understand that science today is what philosophy was back then to a certain extent). Until there is proof that parts of the Torah are definitively false there is no reason for someone who believes in G-D, for whatever reason, to assume the bible is false.

SJ said...
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