Friday, October 9, 2009

What's Bothering Modern Orthoprax?

This is the post I want to discuss

Now, what is bothering XGH? He wants to know what can be known for certain morally.

Now, there is a question: what if in the Torah, the most influential book of all time, it has said, "Go ahead and kill anyone you want, G-d doesn't care. In fact, he likes it."

Now indulge me further. Pretend G-d exists. Could you have a world with the same physical laws, but have that deity create an alternate morality? Like one where murder is okay? Is the concept of murder being good or bad meaningless?

Well, no. I think we can all agree that societies with murder are less stable, and prosper less, than societies without murder. Hunter-gatherers are very likely to die at the hands of another human, while we, living with modern humanistic/Judaic values, are probably going to die of something boring, like a heart attack. Or cancer.

I think it can be argued that based on the fundamental laws of nature, and the way human societies organize themselves, that murder is objectively bad. It is a fact that a society without murder will advance farther than one with, to the point that the society without murder will probably murder the barbarians, or crush their culture and replace it with their civilized system of ethics.

Right ought to make might.

Now, from a religious point of view, the same G-d who made the fundamental rules by which the universe work, upon which, layer by layer, recognizable human existence comes into being, also told us murder was wrong.

What does this mean? It means that G-d saved us alot of time and effort, and did us a favor by telling us the policy that will benefit us: don't murder.

And if you don't believe in G-d, you believe in those fundamental rules, and you know that societies that do not have better do better without murder.

And so: murder being wrong follows naturally from the fundamental nature of the way the universe is set up. Whether that is by chance or by divine providence is irrelevant. However, I think that for murder to be good, the world would need to be different. Gravity fall off at the cube of the distance, or something like that. It would be unrecognizably different rules for interaction. We can't imagine such a situation, it would be so qualitatively different.

Remember: societies are stronger than individuals. Individuals that take advantage of a societies benefits without playing by their rules tend to get executed.

Does might make right? Or can there be a "right" that causes a person or group to be weaker than a group that does "wrong"?

Monday, September 28, 2009


I had alot of anger towards heretics.

I felt like there was too much intellectual conceit.

Well, now I just don't care anymore about what they think.

I'll do my thing, they'll do there's.

But I remain curious about the emotional pain someone who leave Judaism feels.

Existentially, it must be very intense and very unique.

And so I continue to read kofer blogs.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

You know

If you are a doubter, a skeptic, or just plain curious, I would really like a chance to answer you.

I love debate.

Friday, June 26, 2009

When the Stars Go Blue

Where do you go when you're lonely?
Where do you go when you're blue?
Where do you go when the stars go blue?

I'm sitting here in the Pacific timezone, and the jBlogosphere has gone quiet. This is because, let us face it, they are all New Yorkers, if not New York City-ers, and I live in a desert of Judaism and Torah.

But it is so different. The time right now is 7:56. Shabbas comes at 8:16. I'll probably get off at 8:05. But the deathly stillness of the jBlogosphere is haunting. Is this the austere beauty Shabbas has for someone who simply watches others do it?

Soon I will "sleep with my fathers" and join them in yom menucha of Shabbas. Yom ze mechubad, m'kol yomim. I read on Da'as Hedyot that one of the only things a kofer (Shana?) missed (she stated this repeatedly) was Shabbas. Shabbas, we are familiar with the Gemara that says Shabbas is like a sign. A person who keeps Shabbas is like someone who puts a sign on their store "Reopening Soon". Giving up shabbas is like taking the sign down, and indicating that the dilapidated store will not be returned to its former glory.

It's so quiet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Free Will

It is this God that we are
to love
with a complete
and all encompassing love. This love is so great
that other loves
such as the love of self,
one’s wife,
sons and daughters,
and the love of money
will be as naught
in comparison to one's love for
And this is what is meant by the verse
“And you will love the Lord your God with all your heart
all your soul
and all your possessions (meodecha)” (Dt. 6:5).
The language of all (meod) is used to say
that all that is dear
to your will
be totally cancelled
in relationship to your love of God.
“All your heart” was interpreted by the Rabbis
by both of your inclinations (Yezer) - the good and the bad.
That is to say, you should not say
that since the evil inclination
tempts you to go against the will of the Blessed,
how did He really create it? For
in truth
it is not the intent of the evil inclination
to tempt a person
so that he will not yearn towards God
and not listen to Him.
But rather
the Blessed Creator
decreed upon the evil inclination that it is his task to tempt you
to transgress the will of the Blessed One
so that you will serve God through free will
and not as one
who has no choice.
This is the essence of the purpose of the creation of mankind
and this attribute (of free will)
makes the human greater
than an angel

as it is stated inparagraph I.1 [And so it is expounded in the Zohar].

- Aruch HaShulchan, I.6

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


What are the ikkarim?

1. G-d's power cannot be meaningfully measured by the metrics of this universe, as G-d and the nature of G-d's power is and are outside of the universe, transcending any limits we might place upon them by way of description, but let us simply say that nothing is beyond It.
2. G-d created the universe so that humans should excercie their free will to do mitzvot and be holy.
3. Nevua existed, and is how G-d communicated to us.
4. Rabbis had the authority to create new Rabbinic mitzvot.
5. Rabbis have the ability to create whatever takkanot they deem necceesary.
6. Every Jew has a mandate to learn the laws, use their mind to seek the truth, and act accordingly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Response to XGH

Beha'alotcha inconsistancies

The Lonely Manna of Faith

So XGH has some BC posts up at his kofer-lite blog. (Sorry XGH, but you aren't a real kofer if you actually do the mitzvot. A least, not in my book. Rambam might tell me to throw you in a pit and let you die though.)

BC - I'll say it again - offers the most parsimonious explanation of the Bible. Sadly, this explanation is not that Moshe got the text of the Bible 100% dictation from Horeb.

It looks like different narratives were stitched together.

Now, the primary question is, why should I care?

The answer is, if you ask Rav Schachter what Moshe got on Sinai, he would say

1. Some explanations as to the peshat meaning of some verses ("Beautiful fruit"="Etrog", Moshe had divorced his Cushite wife, etc)
2. Some stuff not in the Torah at all (Make Teffilin black squares... etc.)
3. The rules for pulling rules out of the Torah, and the mandate to do so
4. The Torah itself, 100%

Now, this all fits nicely together. The problem is, we can only apply our rules (We end up with 13 in Rabbi Yishmael's time) to Divinely inspired text, right?

Well, maybe we can apply the logical rules to faithful human representations of the past to try and find what was left unsaid.

So, my conclusion is this:

A. G-d gave Moshe 1 and 2, and for 40 years they worked out a set of normative laws.
B. The humans wrote down what had happened
C. Ezra ended up collating everything
D. As everyone was trying to faithfully represent the past, at every step of the way it was both appropriate and expected to use logical tools to derive laws.

Does the Torah itself say that it was given in its entirety "Al pi ado-shem, b'yad Moshe"? No. We tacked that on so that simple folk would follow the commandments. As Ibn Ezra says, the wise will understand.

[Edit] After some thought, G-d doesn't need to give Moshe explanations to written things. He just needs to tell Moshe stuff. Then Moshe n' Pals write it down, lest they forget, and some stuff gets written about in great detail, but some stuff not so much, and they keep that stuff as part of the Oral Tradition until we are forced to write it down later.

Why have an Oral Tradition at all? I suspect it was some flexibility built in the system. Precisely so that we don't have to worry about disagreeing with Rishonim... if we hadn't written their shailot u'teshuvot and hashkafa, we wouldn't need to worry about the shitot of anyone who wasn't alive.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Amos 8:11

"Behold, days are coming," declares the Lord GOD, "When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD."

Let me drash this verse out for you. This is a curse.

How can it be a curse? Surely it a good thing when people want to learn Torah!

But there will be a famine of Torah. And so people will imbibe other teachings, of other nations.

That is why we say, "Yeish Chokhma B'Goyim" - they have science that we can accept.

We must guard ourselves against their "torah", their religious/philosophical teachings

And if we tell our selves "Ain Chokhma B'Goyim" - When we see airplanes and medicine and cellphones, we will know that it is a lie.

And so we will go after their "Torah", and leave our own.

That is why we should not lie, and why we should admit "Yeish Chokhma B'Goyim".

Wisdom in the Nations

Chazal tell us: מדרש רבה איכה פרשה ב פסקה יג
אם יאמר לך אדם יש חכמה בגוים תאמן הדא הוא דכתיב
(עובדיה א') והאבדתי חכמים מאדום ותבונה מהר עשו. יש
תורה בגוים אל תאמן דכתיב (איכה ב:ט) מלכה ושריה בגוים
אין תורה.
If a person should tell you, “There is wisdom amongst the nations,” believe it! This is what is meant when in Ovadiah it states: And I will make vanish wisdom from Edom and understanding from Mount Se’ir [implying there is wisdom and understanding to destroy]. But should he tell you, “There is Torah amongst the nations,” do not believe it! As [in Eichah] it states: Her king and her ministers amongst the nations, there is no Torah.

The Chazon Ish

ספר אמונה ובטחון פרק א :ס"ח
דברי הימים וקורות עולם הם מאלפים הרבה את החכם בדרכו
ועל תולדות העבר ייסד אדני חכמתו.
The knowledge of history and world events to a great
extent train the wise man in his progress and it is on the
happenings of the past that he will establish the pillars of
his wisdom.

From, "Are Our Children Too Worldly?:

"When students are made to feel that asking rational questions about the reasons for Torah and mitzvos is somehow wrong; that trying to understand the ratzon Hashem, (the will of G-d) the taamei hamitzvos, is at best unimportant and irrelevant, then for many naturally and properly inquisitive minds, minds that have become used to reason, the world of Torah, if not Torah itself, becomes confining and suspect."
From "Hakirah", Vol. 4 2007, by Aharon Hersh Fried

Because kofer blogs just quote people they agree with to vapidly assert themselves and their intellectual not-aloneness to lend themselves credance, and I am at once mocking them and also very much in their same boat.

The Yaavetz and Rav Hirsch

ואצלי דקדק באומרו: ודע מה ולא אמר ודע להשיב. כי אין ראוי
להתוכח עמו. ולזה אמר ודע מה שתשיב את האפיקורוס לא שתשיב
אם לא שתצטרך להשיב לקדש את ה' ברבים, אלא שתדע אתה
לעצמך שיהיה לבך חזק באמונתך ותשקוד על דלתי התורה יום יום.
I have noted that the Mishnah states: “Know what (you
would answer a heretic,)” rather than “know [so that you]
will answer (a heretic,)” for it is not proper to engage in
debate with him. That is why it states “Know what you
would answer a heretic,” i.e., not that you should
answer—unless you need to publicly glorify Hashem’s
name. Rather, you should know for yourself, so that your
faith is strong in your heart, and you continue to strive
daily at the gateway of Torah.
Rav Hirsch:
Finally, it would be most perverse and criminal of us to
seek to instill into our children a contempt, based on
ignorance and untruth, for everything that is not
specifically Jewish, for all other human arts and sciences, in
the belief that by inculcating our children with such a
negative attitude we could safeguard them from contacts
with the scholarly and scientific endeavors of the rest of
mankind. It is true, of course, that the results of secular
research and study will not always coincide with the truths
of Judaism, for the simple reason that they do not proceed
from the axiomatic premises of Jewish truth. But the
reality is that our children will move in circles influenced
and shaped by these results. Your children will come
within the radius of this secular human wisdom, whether it
be in the lecture halls of academia or in the pages of
literature. And if they discover that our own Sages, whose
teachings embody the truth, have taught us שנתן מחכמתו
לבשר ודם , that it is G-d Who has given of His own
wisdom to mortals, they will come to overrate secular
studies in the same measure in which they have been
taught to despise them.
You will then see that your simple-minded calculations
were just as criminal as they were perverse. Criminal,
because they enlisted the help of untruth supposedly in
order to protect the truth, and because you have thus
departed from the path upon which your own Sages have
preceded you and beckoned you to follow them. Perverse,
because by so doing you have achieved precisely the
opposite of what you wanted to accomplish. For now your
child, suspecting you of either deceit or lamentable
ignorance, will transfer the blame and the disgrace that
should rightly be placed only upon you and your conduct
to all the Jewish wisdom and knowledge, all the Jewish
education and training which he received under your
guidance. Your child will consequently begin to doubt all
of Judaism which (so, at least, it must seem to him from
your behavior) can exist only in the night and darkness of
ignorance and which must close its eyes and the minds of
its adherents to the light of all knowledge if it is not to
See, I am not advocating a retreat from the ideological principles Judaism holds dear. I advocate a robust Judaism able to tackle the challenges it faces in our time, just as it always has had defenders of the faith who stopped the breaches in faith and observance by having its leaders go and prove themselves the equals of the heads of the Academies of Athens, or of other sects of Judaism, of Christianity and Islam, and modern Atheism.

We do not need to hide behind fences, and indeed, we cannot.

Hiding the Truth

The following is a quote from Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky

I’m often asked here in Monsey and especially
regarding girls, “How much should we or can we shut
them off to protect them from the culture at large?” I
always tell them, “You can’t! Unless, that is, you live in
Squaretown.” Now especially; I understand they have their
own hospital and their own cemetery, one can be born
there, live ones life there, and be buried there. To those
who can do that, ‘Tavo aleihem brachah’ (may they be
blessed). Most of us, however, do not live in Squaretown
and cannot live in Squaretown. So what will you do? Not
tell a young boy about evolution and then wait until at age
16 or 17 he reads in the New York Times, which he ‘knows’
prints only ‘verified facts,’ that the bones of a person 2 or
3 million years old were found!?? And the Times will print
this without any mention of detracting opinions or
controversy. What will this young man do? He’ll be
completely lost! This would not happen if he had been
taught at an earlier time in school by his rabbei’im and
teachers that there are people who believe such and such,
what their mistaken beliefs are based on, where their error
is, what it is we believe about such events, and how we
believers deal with these issues.
You know, when I was a boy growing up, I had a friend.
He was always a little more than I was, and did more than
I did. He was a year older: I was 10 and he was 11. He
wore long payos, I didn’t. He wore a gartel, and I didn’t. Last
summer when I was in Eretz Yisrael, I met him again. He
was living in K’far Saba and I paid him a visit. While
talking to him I found out that things had changed and
that, unfortunately, he was now turning on the lights on
Shabbos. He turned to me and he asked, ‘Yankel, what’s
happened to us? “Ich bin doch altz geven frummer” (Wasn’t I
always frumer than you??!!), to which I replied [and here Reb
Yaakov smiled and there was a glint in his eyes], “Ye, ye du
bist takke allz geven frummer, ich bin obber alz geven kluger.”
“Yes, yes you were always frummer but I was always kluger
Ah, I did not know that great Rabbis were aware of what was going on far beneath them!

What is the good Rabbi's meaning here? That it is not right for us to ignore our ideological foes. Because doing so leaves our flank unguarded so that our yungerkiet (I'm just making words up here, honest, I don't know a word of Yiddish) will (Chas v'shalom!) get intellectually blind-sided.

And you know, reading the kofer blogs, talking to the real-life koferim around me (Yes, I do not live in New Skver) there is some element of them being unprepared for the truth, and having their life turn fliped turned upside down.

Of course, now is as good a time as ever to talk about evolution.

Is evolution the best scientific theory right now? Absolutely.

Does it conflict with my religious views? Not if "Maaseh Bereshit" and "Maaseh Merkavah" are both mystical texts beyond our comprehension that we would be fools to take literally.

More importantly, as a scientific theory, evolution lets us predict things, like whether squirrel fossils will be found in Cretaceous rock layers. (Answer: no squirrel fossils in Cretaceous rock laters, so evolution stays safe.)

Higher Biblical Criticism and Faith

Biblical criticism came out a couple hundred years ago.

For those of you who don't really know what it is, Biblical Criticism has one major point, and that is this:

The most parsimonious explanation of the authorship of the Bible is that of multiple authors

"Parsimonious" as in "simplest and most elegant". As in best. As in Occam's Razor.

If it sounds like I'm trying to minimize Biblical Criticism, I'm not. This is serious. If the simplest explanation of the Bible is that the text is not 100% "Al pi ado-shem b'yad Moshe", well, Houston, we might have a problem.

For example, the Noah's flood story is paralleled in the Epic of Gilgamesh. (Go Enkidu!)

Now, if there were a world-wide, or at least really big flood, then that in of itself wouldn't be problematic. We'd expect cultures to have some narrative of this giant cataclysm.

What ought to bother us theists is that the details of the Sumerian myth are word-for-word in our bible. Like the "smell" of the sacrifices that pleased the gods/G-d depending on the story.

Yea. Small detail, in both stories. Looks like a copy paste job to me.

Which isn't TOO surprising when we consider that Abraham was, of course, from Mesopotamia, and his oral tradition (Stories, not the order of parshiot in teffilin) would naturally include this.

So, what's more disturbing - that there isn't any sign of a biblical flood, or that it was imported from Sumerian myth?

Honestly, I'm going to have to go with the first option. I trust the world around me. I don't expect the world to lie. If the Bible claimed to be a perfect record of events, and we had no evidence of some events, that would cast doubt on the validity of the claim, correct?

I would rather have a Bible with some Sumerian myth mixed in.

And that's what I have.

Profiles in Koferut: Sara

So Da'as Hedyot has this thing called "Better Know a Kofer" where he tries to debunk the myth that OTD types/heretics are weirdos who go on to live unhappy and unfulfilled lives.

Not a bad idea. I'm all for it. Respect is a two-way street, and since I want irreligious Jews to respect me, I'd better respect them.

The first interview is with this girl named Sara.

Sara grew up yeshivish. She had parents who were strict about halacha. But they had some tendencies that weren't quite geshmak, like showing affection in front of the kids.

I would now point out that, from the classical point of view, or rather, the Artscroll point of view, that explains everything.

But since I treat people like real people, we are going to need to dig farther to understand why Sara left.

We find that she first came to question the entire system of halacha.

Now, it seems to me that in some circles, halacha is presented as THE unchanging decree we recieved and passed on, generation to generation, from Mt. Sinai, orally.

That's lying.

And when they find out that they have been lied too, of course they will leave.

Psychologically speaking (although I am not a psychologist, nor am I a dentist) she was submitting to an external authority. This is called "the method of authority". Or, "Do this because I know better". And when you honestly believe G-d told you to wait 6 hours between milk and meat, despite any personal hardships or personal objections to such a law, you obey.

In classic Jewish terminology, this is "yirat shamayim", without any "ahavat shamayim".

An interesting thing emerges when you read Halachik Man, by Rav Soloveitchik. The halacha - the ideal construct - is internal. He is not submitting to some higher power that has decreed unknowable laws - the laws are in his bones. Internalized. By following halacha, the Rav is being true to himself.

Sara then goes on to defend herself, tellingly, saying
"do we really, really think that two or three or seven hundred years ago people counted 18 minutes before sundown, and 45 or 52 or 72 or 90 minutes after? Do we really think that people counted six hours after eating meat or poultry? That's just implausible."
No, Sara, we don't think the Rabbis of old had clocks. We know that some things are different now, better even.

Well, she became a Christian, because they have Jesus, who died for our sins. In the sense that the Christians are obsolved from most of the mitzvot due to the eternal azazel Jesus, yemach shemo, represents for all time for all humanity.

Fun fact: "Yeshu" is an acronym for "Yemach SHemO"

This looks like a classic case of "Lo b'emet hem ovdim avoda zara, aileh l'hatir lahem arayot."

She left because she couldn't take the laws, intellectually.

Eh. We have another casualty. In another day and age, she would have done what Jews do because she was a Jew. She would not have had the space to intellectually question her upbringing.

Category: Meshumad l'khol ha-Torah kula - an apostate with regard to the whole Torah. She has lost her "Kedushat Yisroel". Her children are not Jewish.

The Price of Admission

So, my uninformed view on Orthopraxy got me thinking about orthopraxis.

That is, what is the role of "doing the right thing" within a community?

And it's kindof like the cost of a ticket into a community.

"Nu, where are you staying for Shabbas?"

Man, these people care. They are all dedicated to a higher cause. The covenental community is one that seeks to ameliorate ontological loneliness, united towards the same cause.


Do you need to be Jewish to be able to reap the benefits of our cultural heritage? Like, just how far, without any faith or obedience to our laws, could a person go?

Obviously, we live in a world with Judeo-Christian values, so most of the "good stuff", like "No murder" is already in the public sphere.

But take the Talmud. If it's just the scribblings of ancient Rabbis, how much can you appreciate it?

I'm not going to suggest faith and mitzvot are required to appreciate our cultural heritage. But they do seem to make it much easier. When the laws that governed the Rabbis are your laws, when the G-d they worship and died for is your G-d, when the morals of the stories aren't just nice abstractions but concrete values you are supposed to integrate into your everyday life - well, that sure makes it alot easier to be a Jew.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Profiles in Koferut: The Orthoprax

Orthopraxis is an interesting phenomena. With the exception of teffilah, there is great debate as whether any kavannah is necessary to fulfill the mitzvot.

If kavannah is not necessary, the Orthoprax - those who do all the mitzvot but don't believe in anything - are actually very good Jews.

Modern Orthoprax is an excellent example of this. The question us believers must ask is, why?

Why would someone live a lie?

The classic example of this is Reconstructionism. They view Judaism as a civilization. That is to say, we bake challah for the same reason Mexicans bake tortillas - it's just what our ethnic group does.

They are remarkably in line with Tevye, who yells, "Tradition!". Tradition is, exclusively, why we should do things.

The upshot of all this is that, nominally, these people are dedicated to the continuation of the Jewish civilization. On the downside, they advocate crazy things like having a Jewish Constitution.

Well, that's just the Reconstructionists.

But Judaism, as a repository of human knowledge that has been developed for over 3,000 years, isn't worthless to these people. Like a book might have a good idea, written by one person over the course of a few years. If a civilization devoted its best minds to writing a book for hundreds of years, then obviously that book (and by "that book" I mean the Talmud. You can include the Bible under that category, but I certainly won't.) has some value.

What's unclear to these people is what has value and what doesn't. Even stuff that conflicts with modern sensibilities, under this approach, isn't automatically obsolete.

It's an interesting idea. Except the hierophany at Sinai is so central to Jewish faith. I'd love to have one less assumption we had to brainwash people into believing, but that isn't going to change. When laws ask you to not have sex with your wife for half a month, every month, they better be more than just some nice tradition.

Specifically, it needs to be believed that the Rabbinical ordinances and innovations have the same normative weight as the ones that G-d told to us.

That's quite the handful.

And yet... anything that keeps Jews doing mitzvot and connected to the Torah, ANYTHING - is a good thing.


It doesn't seem right to have that last post be the first thing people see. All of todays posts lead up to one another, mostly because I spent all Shabbas ruminating, and had to let it all out.

I'm going to try commenting on other blogs to get readers. To all of you: try to read Day 1 in chronological order.

I've already run up against an existential problem - most kofer bloggers are no longer in that magical state of philosophical change.

It's when people's core assumptions start being challenged and thrown around that interest me.

I consider myself an open-minded religious fundamentalist.

And so if you should see someone debating the ikkarim of faith... let me know. Although I don't know if you can contact me. Ah the dangers of preserving anonymity.

Intellectual Superiority

I wish to note that I am not concerned in this essay with the vulgar and illiterate atheism professed and propagated in the most ugly fashion by a natural-political community which denies the unique transcendental worth of the human personality
- The Lonely Man of Faith, Rav Soloveitchik, Page 86-87

So, you started to doubt G-d, and now you are smugly watching your former co-religionists abide by a silly set of rules because they can't see the truth. Because by some dint of personality and circumstance and intelligence you escaped the horrible brainwashing, baby-mutilating cult you were born into.

Well, to us, it doesn't quite look that way. We see you as missing out on the spiritual experience. You deny the ontological loneliness. You do not partake of the communion of attempting to relate to the Infinite. You are missing out.

We don't stay in for the Shabbat dinners or the structure for our lives. Those are nice perks. We stay because there is emet here.

Now, this is as good a time as ever to say it, but there is no proof of G-d. I actually have a proof that there is not proof of G-d.

If there were a proof of G-d, then people would read it and go "Oh."

And we would all be theists.

But that is not the case. There is neither a proof of G-d nor a proof that G-d does not exist.

Like a bride in the embrace of her beloved, we do not need proof of our Beloved's existence.

Furthermore, at least according to Rambam, G-d doesn't exist.

G-d doesn't exist? What's that, you might say?

G-d doesn't exist in the same way that we do. That's the conclusion of Rambam's negative theology. There is no comparison. The true knowledge of the nature of the Unified G-d is beyond human understanding. G-d is strongly related to the thing-in-itself of Kantian thought.

We can never know the thing-in-itself, we can only perceive it, necessarily imperfectly. Our perception reveals an aspect, but the true nature of the thing-in-itself is beyond us. That's true for a chair, and that's true for G-d.


The Rogatchover Gaon once said that he could condense Judiasm into 10 ideas, or, if he were smarter, into one.

I agree. I don't know what 10 assumptions I would pick, but it seems like a good idea.

Having fewer assumptions means you are both more likely to be internally consistent, but also consistent with the outside world.

In the world of kofer-bloggers, we see another benefit of having a small set of ikkarim - the stuff that keeps people up at night, and puts them on the road towards leaving the Jewish community, sometimes isn't the big stuff.

Take daas Torah. Daas Torah would not make it on my list of the ikkarim. Daas Torah is also completely rediculous, in my exceedingly pompous opinion. Remember, we need a short list.

Putting stupid stuff on the "believe this or you aren't one of us" list only invites more healthy, reasonable people to rebel. Furthermore, the longer the list is, the more trouble you'd get into.

Here's what I would for sure have on my list

1. G-d is the creator
2. G-d revealed Himself at Sinai
3. Humans have free will

We might need more, but using those three will probably suffice until a Karaite starts blogging. Then I'll need to add

4. Accepting the authority of the Rabbis

Which is pretty much the foundation of Rabbinic Judaism.

I don't feel the need to elaborate on things in the Torah, like "Y'all... all y'all... are commanded to do these mitzvot."

Because the Torah itself does a fairly good job of explaining itself.

So my concluding question to all you out there is reminiscent of the Kuzari: Did we just make up the whole Exodus/Sinai thing?

Or did something get revealed at Sinai that we built on, and by nature of its Godliness could not be diluted by later human addition?

Is One Allowed To Question G-d?

I can prove from last week's parsha, Beha'alotcha, that one is, indeed, allowed to question G-d.

As we see in Bamidbar/Numbers 11:21-22, Moshe question's G-d's ability to provide enough meat to feed the Children of Israel.

This is all rather reminiscent of Melachim/Kings II, Chapter 7, wherein Elisha's prophecy concerning the abundance of food is questioned by "the man on whose arm the king leaned".

The man is trampled the next day by the hungry mob.

In Sanhedrin Heilek, this is held up as an example of G-d acting middah k'neged middah - measure for measure - punishing and rewarding people for their actions according to their actions, sometimes what we might call "ironic".

Rashi asks (regarding Moshe's comments) "Which was the more severe sin, this, or 'Listen now, rebels' (Which is the prelude to the rock-hitting incident of Bamidbar/Numbers 20:10) ?"

He then quotes Rabbi Akiva on the issue as saying that the difference between this and the rock-hitting incident is its private nature. Moshe did not publically express his doubt in the Omnipotence of G-d, so he was not punished.

This gels nicely with the Elisha story as well.

What we have learned: It is okay to, yourself, doubt Jewish dogma.

Now, for the better I might argue, we live in a day and age in which people are not smote for their sins. This is to allow humans true free will, as Rabbi Berkovitz might tell you. Indeed, the doctrine of hester panim is widely accepted in Orthodox circles to various extents.


Let us start by defining the different types of heresy:

The Min: The Min twists accepted doctrine into something foreign. "Ziftechem Toratchem, v'lo alitchem b'yadchem klum!" - They have falsified their Torah, but gained nothing. Christians would be counted as Minim. A plurality of powers, assigning G-d a corporeal form, etc are all examples of miniut. There aren't very many Min-kofer-bloggers, even though there are some mean kofer-bloggers.

The Kofer - The Kofer denies some important doctrine, such as the existance of G-d. Or the binding nature of the mitzvot. Or that G-d can revive the dead.

The Apikorus - Classically, an Epicurian, but not the ethical-hedonistic values of the Epicure. Rather, the Apikorus denies the immortality, or the existance of, the soul.

The Meshumad - The category that looks at one's actions. Thus, this is one with actual Halachic ramifications. There are several degrees of meshumad, each more severe than the last.

1.One who habitually, due to their desires, violates a comandment
2. One who, out of rebellios spite, violates a commandment
3. One who brazenly, publically, and willfully violates Shabbat
4. One who turns to avodah zarah (Worship of Foreign Gods)
5. The meshumad with regard to the entire Torah. One who drops the whole Judaism shtik. As Rav Lichtenstien quotes the Rambam on this last category:
One who turns to Gentile ways when they are pressed and adheres to them, and says, "What profits it me to adhere to Jews who are lowly and oppressed; it is better for me to adhere to those whose might is superior."
As we can see, there is apostasy of thought and apostasy of action. Usually one leads to another.

The Name

My sense for why there are no anti-kofer bloggers is best expressed by the Friedrich Nietzsche quote:

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.
Or, in my own language, "He who fights monsters should take care that he not become one."

I believe that religious Jews are, for the most part, unwilling to confront heresy for fear of becoming a heretic themselves.

I am not.

I should further elaborate on my chosen name: the "monsters" are not the kofers. The monsters are their ideas.

Kerygma and Telos

When reviewing the J-Blog o-sphere, certain categories exist.

Most pointedly, there are kofer blogs. To quote FrumPunk:

"Grew up orthodox and questioning your beliefs? You’re in excellent company my friend. Your first objective is to add all the doubter blogs to your blogroll. Then reiterate the points they’ve all made in your own words and with your own life experiences. Bonus points if you can come up with an original catchy nickname, as all the good ones have probably been taken. And of course, a chocolate chip cookie if you’re (ex) Chassidish."
Now religious Jews usually have two options regarding such blogs. We can either ignore them, or read them and silently object.

Being the intellectually curious/intellectually honest type that I am, I would read the blogs, and silently object when they cross certain gedarim (Boundaries)

But those are matters of dogma. Fundamentally, there are certain assumptions about the world that me and the kofer-bloggers differ on.

But what does bother me, that I can do something about, is the sense of intellectual superiority that oozes from some of their postings and musings. That somehow they have "seen the light" and know or taste or feel something I cannot. That I and my co-religionists are blinkered to the world around us.

Furthermore, many of these people are confusing ikkarim with modern innovations. When they find their natural inclination disagreeing with a minor point of Judaism, not knowing that many committed Jews do not at all believe or think that, they throw the baby out with the bathwater.

To meet them on the field of polite intellectual debate is my goal.