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17.9.14

The subject of idolatry and the adjacent subject of one who tries to convince another person to do idolatry.


Normally, you would say these are two completely different subjects right?

But in fact they seem to be related in some kind of mysterious way.
First in Sanhedrin page 61a we find the Talmud saying that there is a contradiction between two mishnas-- one on page 60b and the other on page 67a. The first Mishna says doing idolatry is liable. The other says saying, "Let's go do idolatry is liable." The Talmud says there seems to be a contradiction. Because according to the first Mishna it seems just saying to do idolatry would not be liable. Why would this be a contradiction?
What I mean is this: the Mishna is listing things one is liable for. It goes through a list. One is idolatry and then you get other things in later mishnas that one is liable for, and then it brings the idea of convincing others to do idolatry. Clearly in the view of the Mishna these are two different subjects.



Furthermore the later Mishna is clearly talking about one who tries to convert  another to idolatry "Meisit U Madiach"; so why does it include "I will go and serve."

I.e. it says these are liable: One who says, "I will go and serve," "Let's go and serve," "I will go and bow," Let's go and bow," "I will go and sacrifice," "Lets go and sacrifice." Why does, "I will go and serve" have anything to be liable for?

On the subject of idolatry my learning partner and I discussed the opinion of the Rambam (Maimonides) that many mitzvoth of the Torah are to make a fence around idolatry and to wean people from it. This is in the Guide for the Perplexed.
The Ramban (Nachmanides) disagrees with this idea of the Rambam. And it was in the Ramban that my learning partner first discovered the idea of the rambam --when the ramban brought it in order to disagree.



My learning partner found some excellent lectures on the Guide at this site from the Etzion Yeshiva in Israel
{Here is an interesting link (in Hebrew) that my learning partner sent to me: http://vbm-torah.org. and also http://www.daat.ac.il/index.aspx}

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The last question for today is the difference between when one tries to seduce a single person and trying to seduce two people. With one -person you give him a second chance. You take him to a place where you have hidden two witnesses and ask him to repeat what he said. And you answer, “How can we abandon the God of our fathers and worship other gods?” If he agrees to your objection you let him go. But in the case when he says to two people "let's do idolatry" they take him to court immediately and you don't give him a second chance.

Now what constitutes idolatry? Maimonides says that worship of an intermediary is the real essence of idolatry. But I have been having trouble understanding this idea of the Rambam for some time. Because we do find in the Torah that avimelech was commanded by god to go to Abraham to ask him to pray for him.
So we do fin in ten Torah the idea of an intermediary but we don't find that one can worship an intermediary.
According to this going to Rebbi Nachman for Rosh Hashanah should be completely kosher and even commendable. 






16.9.14

My understanding of Putin is that he embraced the doctrine (of GRU and the KGB) of Russia being under a constant threat from the West. [And what Putin thinks determines everything. Russia is a nation of people not law. So it makes all the difference in the world to understand Putin.]
This amounts to the question of what exactly does it means "national security" for Russia. If you see yourself under a military threat from the USA and NATO, then it makes perfect sense to invade the Ukraine to keep Europe at arms distance, and not let NATO get any closer.

But I think this is a mistaken doctrine. I don't think Russia is under a threat from Europe. Rather I think is is under a threat from a rising Islamic Empire that knows no boundaries. Where is the Islamic State? It is everywhere there is a Muslim;--- and everywhere there is a Muslim every Jew and Christian and Buddhist  and Hindu is under a death sentence.

But the threat of a Islamic empire is not from the IS. It is from the states that want American support and weapons to fight the IS.

So my suggestion is for the civilized nations--the USA, Russia, China and the Europe Union  to join and seal their borders. Stop fighting each other because that just weakens you,

15.9.14

A pressing problem today is the ease of genetically engineering and manipulation of viruses and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. These two thing together make the world we live in a dangerous place. For Muslims there is no such thing as  a deterrent. And deterrent (mutually assured destruction) was the only thing in the past that kept the world safe. How do you deter someone who is set on doing a suicide bombing of innocents?
 Islam provides good justification for murder of innocents --the promise of reward in the next world for anyone dying in jihad against infidels.

While religious fever is a normal human trait, but a religious Jew has other things on his mind than Jihad. A person that is Jewish and gets somewhat fanatic, will spend all day long learning Torah or go to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. A Christian who becomes fanatic will spend his or her time in some soup kitchen. A Muslim who becomes fanatic blows up Jews and Christians. There is no parity here. Islam is a religion of peace only for Muslims that do not believe it.

And today with the ease of manipulation of viruses Jihad against the West becomes more of a practical possibility for Muslims in a fairly easy way.

Reform movement of Judaism.

While I was growing up in Beverly Hills my family went to Temple Israel in Hollywood. [note 1]

That is where I had my bar mitzvah. This was basically a very positive experience. [note 2] But I have two areas of criticism that I would like to address to the Reform movement of Judaism. One area is the area of bein adam lechavero between man and his fellow man. The other is between man and God [bein Adam Lemakom].
It is known that Reform has issues with many mitzvot. I am not sure how to deal with that here. But it does seem to me they went a little bit too much in the direction of making things permitted that the Torah forbids.  While I can imagine they would say that the Orthodox have gone too far in making things forbidden that the Torah allows. But here I want to give a critique of the Reform not the Orthodox.

 But there is another area that I think most Reform shuls synagogues would agree that we should improve on: that is Musar. [Musar meaning classical Musar; the books of Jewish ethics written during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.]

The advantage that Musar has for all Jews including Reform Jews is not just in character improvement but in the area of world view. Without Musar it is very difficult to come up with a consistent world view that corresponds to the world view of the Torah. That is you can read the Star of Redemption of Rosenzweig and the Guide for the Perplexed of Maimonides and still the world view of the Torah can be far off. Because world view is not the same as philosophy. It is the exact opposite of philosophy. It philosophy examines ones beliefs. world view is the glasses one wears to see the world .
 Perhaps Reform were too optimist they they would find and understand the basic approach of the Torah without use of dusty Medieval books.  And to some degree you can understand why. Reform is based in the USA and Americans  are by nature optimistic and the 1950s were unique in the history of the USA as being the ear people thought everything was possible. To eradicate all disease and racism and better the lot of all mankind. And when you had  the great Sartre and Freud to understand the nature of Human life who needed medical moralists? Nowadays all that seem incredibly naive but then it was common place

I know some people want to disenfranchise reform Jews completely but that seems to be based on an an approach that assumes that Orthodox Judaism is perfect. I think if I would have to choose between Reform and Orthodox I would go with Reform  simply because they have a lot of the between man and his fellow man part of the Torah in the right order of priorities.   Still I think they need Musar to improve their approach.


[note 1] This had nothing to do with movies. It was just that my Dad's place of work was at TRW which was in commuting distance while he was working on laser communication for the SDI project or Star Wars as it came to be called.]

[note 2] If I would be in Los Angeles I would never go near the Orthodox there because in the world view of Torah the between man and his fellow man comes before rituals. If I would be too far from Temple Israel on Shabat  then I would just have to buy myself a set of the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch and learn at home. But I would not go to any Orthodox place because the Orthodox in Los Angeles are not Kosher.







14.9.14


The way I see it there is not a lot you can do about Islam. It seems to be kind of Satanic. But apparently it is highly attractive to about half the world's population. I would have thought that Americans would be less sympathetic towards it than they have been until now. But that was a mistake. And in fact I have never  been able to understand American mentality very well--even though I was born  and raised as a proud American.

The reason is this: for some people religious issues are very important. And other people find religion to be utterly boring--but politics or other areas of value awaken their interest. So to a large degree it is clear why I would have found Americans to be incomprehensible since Torah [The Old Testament and the Talmud Bavli] is something I find compelling and fascinating. (I relate highly to this area of value.)

Americans --tend to find religious areas of value to be un-compelling. And that is key to understanding Americans. When they find Muslims fanatically devoted to Islam they translate it into political, or social, or economic, or Nietzschian terms. (This explains why Muslims tell Americans they want "Equality" or other buzz words that Americans can understand.) Americans can't understand how religion can be compelling for others since it is not compelling to them.

That means you can't draw lines in the sand in the Middle East, call them sovereign states, and expect them to last. The wind will blow,- and all the lines you have drawn will disappear. All that will remain is Islam and Israel. And there will be a show down. Only one will remain standing.

The most devoted Christian typically goes to church on Sundays and hear a little about "Love of your Neighbor" and that is about the sum total of their commitment and it is their sum total of their idea of what religion is about. As far as they know Islam is just some alternative version of Christian Sunday school. How wrong they are.

I hope people will understand that I am not condemning the entire area of religious value. What would the world be without a Moses, or Bach, or Socrates (motivated by his devotion to "god". It is ambiguous which god he meant but his devotion was clear. Maybe he meant the God of Plato--the "One".)
 But religion has two areas of value. One is the Sitra (side or realm) of Kedusha (holiness). The other is the Sitra (realm) Achara (other or opposite.) [The Sitra Achara was made famous by Star Wars and became the Dark Side. And I guess that is about as good a translation as any.]

So my suggestion is to learn Torah. This is an idea I got at the Mir yeshiva in NY and  also in the Far Rockaway yeshiva I went to before that. The idea is simple. It is that no matter what a person's problems are, there is one general solution: learn Torah and keep what it says. [Torah in this context means the Old Testament and the Talmud]. Though I admit that there are people that seem to do this and still have difficulties, yet the claim is that this is the most effective way to fight the Dark Side in oneself and in the world in general.

Now for the general public that have not experienced learning Torah in a yeshiva environment I am sure this will be misinterpreted. But to explain it as best as I can here, let me say that the essence of the idea is that the Torah itself contains life and good. We find in the Torah that God tells the Jewish people in the desert, "I have put before you life and good and death and evil, so choose life. --By keeping my commandants." Now there is a deal you can't refuse. Who does not want good and life please raise you hands! No takers? I am  not surprised. Because everyone wants good and life. So we already know how to get them. Keep the commandments of God as he explains them in the Five Books of Moses. What could be simpler?

But you can’t keep the commandants unless you learn about them. So you have to "Learn Torah."  For example when it says in the Torah to honor your parents how do you work that in with keeping Sabbath if your parents don't? So you do have to work out a rigorous approach to keeping the commandments of the Torah.

  But we should be wary of people that claim to be teaching the commandments of the Torah but in fact have made up other commandments and call it Torah. That is not acceptable. If people claim to be teaching the Torah, but then open up some other book to teach, then you know they are frauds. Only the Torah is the Torah. However, we can accept the Talmud as being the most rigorous investigation into how exactly to keep the commandments.

The idea here is that even if you accept the idea that Life and Good are gained by keeping God's commandment still it is not a simple process to understand those commandments. Or how they apply in your life today. For one example idolatry. Some people just open up the old testament and notice a command about not doing idolatry and then make up their own minds what that means. They don't make a rigorous investigation into the verse and see what each one is coming to include and to exclude. The only place i have see a rigorous examination of what idolatry is is in Sanhedrin page 61 where the different verses about "bowing" and "sacrifice" and "How do they serve?" is each examined rigorously. I know many people think of teh Talmud as being a good basis to make fun of Jewish people but in fact i have never heard of anyone else every going into the exact verse and coming to a logical conclusion of what exactly does idolatry include an what does it exclude.














12.9.14

The way today to deal with the threat of Islam is not by guns but it is by learning Torah. That is to learn Gemara, Rashi, and Tosphot, and Musar every day.  That does not mean that that is all one must do every day. Torah is not meant to be used for making a living and I do not approve of using it in that fashion. But I do think that uniformly across the board that people should learn Torah and especially Musar.

Musar has the advantage that it gives one an idea of the world view of Torah in an accurate fashion.


Musar in general refers to books written during the Middle Ages devoted to the moral precepts of the Torah but the main advantage today is the clarity it brings to world view issues.


Now this is not meant to minimize the importance books of Rebbi Nachman. But Rebbi Nachman was assuming people already had an idea of what the Torah is about. He was not trying to teach people the  world view of the Torah but rather to give encouragement to people in the service of God.  But when people learn his books exclusively, they tend to forget the basic world view of the Torah and base their world view on some particular statement of Rebbi Nachman that was not meant to provide a comprehensive picture of the world.

Ideally, I think people should learn a page per day of one of the classical Musar books (e.g Chovot Levavaot) and also one page from one of the books of the disciples of Israel Salanter (e.g Madragat HaAdam by Joseph Horowitz from Navardok, Or Israel by Issac Blazer).







11.9.14

My suggestion for the USA is to stay out of the affairs of the Middle East. Why go to war against the ISIS? Going to war with a nation for something they might do seems little foolish to me.

And a lot of the people in IS are there because they saw the devastation brought on by American intervention in Iraq. That intervention has not made anyone any happier and accomplished less than zero.

I mean if there would be someone making credible threats against the USA, then that would be different, but so far the only credible threat to the USA at this point seems to be the American president. In fact it seems like if he really wants to destroy the ISIS, he should offer them Obamacare.