Translate

16.4.14

It seems to me that the best approach to Torah is to go to public school and to learn Torah after school.

It might seem to some people that it is better to ask that everyone should learn Torah alone all day. Other people might ask that no one should learn Torah.
Now on one hand I tend to think that the first approach is valuable for many people but it does not seem to me to be for everyone..

The basic opinion of only Torah all day finds its basic expression in the Nefesh Hachaim of Chaim from Voloshin the major disciple of the Geon from Villna. But to a large degree it is implicit in older books of Musar and in the Talmud itself. In fact in the Tenach (the Hebrew Bible) we do find the idea that serving God is the only thing that has value. And in fact in a normal Lithuanian yeshiva we do find a basic kind of serving God. Though this is hard to put into words. You really have to have been there to have experienced what it is. The only way i can explain it is in the way that Gershom Sholem explains the evolution of ecstatic experience in the age of the prophets until the age of the kabalists. He sees the very experience itself as evolving and changing . While in the time of prophets we do not really know what they did to receive prophecy but we know they were not doing unifications. This changed  by the time of Avraham Abulafia and Issac Luria, -the ecstatic experience because dependent on unifications.

The experience in  a Lithuanian  yeshiva is the direction that this experience has evolved to.

Unifications no longer bring the ecstatic experience, but rather a wide range of illusions.

The Shechina has set herself on Lithuanian Yeshivas.

However as I mentioned before this is not for everyone.
And to some degree we can see that many yeshivas themselves today have lost the touch of the divine.

While total immersion in Torah all day might good for some people but i have some questions if the Torah itself asks this from people. If we take a look for example  at the first and foremost of all books of Musar --the Chovot Levavot [Duties of the Heart] we find that he claims [Shar Prishut] that one is obligated to learn an honest profession that does not include depending on being supported for learning Torah.


But in truth the idea of learning Torah as a profession i did not hear about when i was in NY yeshivas. There never was a question in anyones mind that one should learn Torah all the time but that it is not to be a paid profession. The idea in NY was that if one was sufficiently devoted to learning Torah that God would provide some means of support. in some kosher  way--not in the form of a pay check for sitting  learning.
 Everyone knew the simple basic Halacha that one is not allowed to make the Torah into a device to make money. secular and religious Jews alike. Lakewood Yeshiva has attempted to scam people into thinking that learning Torah is a kosher paid profession. This is  a scam and it is sad that some people have fallen for it. In Israel also  the ultra religious have trying to scam the Israeli public about this issue.
There is a difficult fine line here--the line that one should learn Torah but that this should not be  a paid profession.


 Perhaps it should be noted the approach of Rebbi Nachman in this regard. To him Torah is everywhere.  It is the root of all creation. The Ten statements of creation the root of creation and inside of them are the ten commandments which are to essence of the Torah.
Torah is everywhere and in all actions and in all people. But in forbidden actions the glory of God is not revealed. So how do forbidden actions have any existence? They is by the first of the ten statements of creation the hidden statement. This is the highest of all the statements. That means that when one has fallen into the kelipot-- areas of darkness where there is no glory of God and from there one realizes how far he is as fallen and begins to seek god from there, that is when he has the highest flight into the highest mountain.
The point being that one needs to learn Torah in order to find God. But when one does learn Torah and keeps his commandments  then he can serve God through anything.













15.4.14

One of the reasons that Israel is criticized for protecting itself is the issue of a preemptive strike. Even though when it is the clear and stated intent of an adversary to carry out his threat, still this is frowned upon in international law. [people utilize this fact to criticize Israel and make its attempts at self defense seem illegitimate.

It does not help either that there is still antisemitism-- which means that a lot of people simply could not care less if Israel was destroyed,- and they can hid their lack of feeling about this in the moral high ground of the problematic natural of a preemptive strike.

So I would say that antisemitism is the source of the problem Israel faces on the international stage. And from where does antisemitism come from? Well clearly Martin Luther is a significant factor in this. Almost all Protestant denominations until  this very day every Sunday preach sermons that just repeat the basic positions of Martin Luther in different words. Martin Luther is still of great influence in the West--in some good ways and some very bad ways.

I would like to suggest another source of antisemitism--it is the verse as the face is reflected in water so is the heart of man to his fellow man.  Chauvinism. This is what we see  in some Jewish people. It is not everywhere but its presence is undeniable. This Chauvinism I think can be considered as at least one major cause of antisemitism. 
A basic area of difference between Rebbi Nachman and Reb Chaim from Voloshin is the question: "Where is the Torah?"

To Reb Chaim it is basically in the written and oral law: Gemara Rashi Tosphot.
To Rav Nachman the Torah is everywhere: in all things and all actions and in all people.

This is a cast difference in world view and it creates difference in people that follow one world view or the other.
In any case both are talking about numinous vale not moral value. and both agree that one can have Torah but have no moral values since Torah values and moral values a are independent variables. Certainly this seems to be quiet different from the Rambam and the Talmud itself.

The Rambam has the Torah being teleological and also deonological which should not surprise us. Most human action aims at doing what is right and also at reaches the best goals.

 And these goals of the Torah to the Rambam are moral goals.

My learning partner thinks that "There is no good but Torah" and that is contained in the Gemara, Rashi, and Tosphot. In other words though he is a follower of rav nachman in his basic world view he is going in this question with Reb Chaim. And in fact it was entirely due to his influence that I started learning Gemara again.
I had had some rough experiences with people that pretend to represent the holy Talmud and by that to garnish money off of working people. and this turned me off to the Talmud itself. I admit i was wrong for this. Every system can be abused.















14.4.14




Different areas of debate came up recently concerning Rebbi Nachman of Breslov.
One thing is the area of interest that Rebbi Nachman's advice seems to be universal. On this last Shabat a fellow from Nigeria came to pray at the ziun [grave] of Rebbi Nachman in Uman. I think his name was Otudeko or something like that. After he prayed there for a while some Hasidim struck up a conversation with him but I was involved in my own things at the time. Then I caught a few words with him before he returned to Kiev.
It turns out this fellow has a lot of faith. He is the a scion of one of African's richest family.
One interesting part of his story was that his son played football for the Ukrainian national team in Kiev and some time ago hurt his knee--very badly. The operation in Kiev would have cost a fortune and when he inquired about doing an operation in Germany, it turned out the price was two fortunes. So he said to his wife, "We need to pray." So they simply prayed to G-d and they did the operation in Kiev and the son is now better and back to playing football.

At any rate, he got the idea at some point about private conversation with God and decided to come to pray to God by the ziun of Rebbi Nachman.

So I think we can see the ideas and advice of Rebbi Nachman do have universal appeal and relevance.
[This is in opposition to people that think he is just relevant to Hasidim or just to Jewish people..]

Another area of debate is exactly what is the path of Rebbi Nachman? My learning partner in Talmud thinks that it is Prayer and learning Torah. Many people on the other hand think it is prayer. Torah they think is not a essentially important part of his path. I do admit the weight of the evidence seems to go with the people that think prayer alone is the main theme of and path of Rebbi Nachman. My own approach to Rebbi Nachman was based on the Rav Shick approach which in fact is Prayer and Torah. But this is at odds with most of Breslov.

Maybe it would be helpful for people if they understood a little of why this is an important issue. When I got involved in learning Torah at the age of 17 I was in a Lithuanian yeshiva in New York. In That yeshiva I found a small book called Binyan Olam which mentioned the famous Gemara in the Jerusalem Talmud: "All the mitzvot together do not equal the value of one single word of learning Torah." That one small statement lit a fire under me and from then on I was hooked on learning Torah [That is Gemara, rashi, Tosphot].  When about 5 years later I started learning the teachings of Rebbi Nachman, it was my impression that he was emphasizing prayer more than Torah. And in fact I almost stopped learning completely. This seems to be a consequence of getting involved in Breslov and I am not sure if it is a trend that could be changed.

But I think that it should be changed because I think the whole issue of not really relevant at all.  I think rebbi nachman needs to be taken in context of the general world view of Torah and that world view definitely emphasizes learning Torah. I think it is a mistake to take r nachman on his own without the larger context.







The thing I should mention about nonintuitive immediate knowledge and how it helps to justify Torah is this. One basic area of debate between the rationalists and the empiricists is this: we can know things  based on empirical evidence, because we can check our conclusions with what happens in the real world. But when it come to a things that we perceive by reason alone things,  how do we know that what we think has anything to do with reality? [This is a bit of a simplification-- we do find the intuitionists think that even empirical evidence we know only by reason].
It is this question that immediate non- intuitive knowledge comes to answer.
It does more that just answer Kant's question, "How is synthetic a priori possible?" It answers how is a priori possible.

Once you get to synthetic a priori we can see that there are areas of value that we know beyond just the principle of non contradiction. and we can test these areas by falsification. In other words even morality which we can't derive from an "is", we can falsify . This is what Socrates spent all of his time doing. And this is in large part what the Talmud is doing. Except the Talmud accepts  sources of information that were unknown to Socrates.







11.4.14


There are several areas in which I disagree with Orthodox Judaism as a whole and there are areas which I agree.
One very major area that I disagree is the way they justify Torah and the Talmud. You can see some of the arguments in books by Rav Avigdor Miller. These arguments in favor of Torah and Talmud are obviously false. On the other hand I do have a way of arguing negatively for Torah and Talmud.
That is I can’t justify what I will call now just "Torah" [but meaning Torah along with it commentary the Talmud] in a positive way but I can deal effectively with most of the criticism. This I do mainly based on my readings in philosophy of Kant, Fries (Jakob) [non intuitive immediate knowledge--which is meant to work mainly for a priori knowledge.], and the Intuitionists like G Moore and Michael Huemer. But also I admit I read a lot of the web site of Steve Dutch and that helped me clarify my options in this area
So in short I do justify Torah but not in the way of the Orthodox.


There are individual areas of halachah I also disagree but these are based on my reading of the Talmud and the later authorities like the Rif, Rambam, Tur, and Shulchan Aruch with its commentaries the Shach and the Taz.--but I am aware there are people in Israel and in the USA that in general Talmud learning tower high above me for example the people learning in Ponovitch, Brisk, and in the USA the general roshei yeshiva of the Mir, Chaim Berlin, and Torah Vedaat. These five yeshivas are the top in the Torah World and most of the people in them learn in general on a higher level than me though they might be uninformed about certain areas in halacha which they might not have covered but that I did cover.

Specific areas of disagreement are the time of Rosh Chodesh, electricity, some aspects of Nida, and the status of statehood of Israel and serving in the IDF. But in general I accept the general framework of Halacha and how a legitimate halacha opinion is found and defended by means of the Talmud and poskim that I mentioned above. In other words I claim that a halacha that can't be defended by the Talmud is not a legitimate halacha.


In terms of Books in Torah thought that I think are the most impressive I would have to put the Lekutai Moharan of Rebbi Nachman on top of the list and second prize I would award to the Madragat Haadam of Joseph Yozel Horvitz commonly known as the "Alter of Navardok".
The thing about Nachman’s book that it is hard to understand without some background in the writing of Isaac Luria. But at least there is a good translation by the Na Nach Hasidim. As for the Madgarat Haadam there is not even any English translation.

I think both of these books can provide a system of checks and balances in Torah thought. For each one on its own can be misused. But both together I think provide a very good approach to Torah.


Some of the most important ideas in these books a re ideas that have universal validity and are in no way specific for Jewish people. One is trust in God with no effort. This is probably the most important idea of the Madragat HaAdam. The other is talking with God in a forest or some place far away from other people. This is the most important idea of Rav Nachman. In fact he thought this is so important that it can override all other considerations. I kid you not. He thought this is something people ought to spend all day on every day. That pack a box lunch and got out to some forest and spend you entire days talking with God.

The Lekutai Moharan is philosophically a highly sophisticated book though clothed in mystical clothing.
When it comes to empirical facts it is weak I admit. [But weakness in empirical facts does not stop people from reading David Hume. They find him him some useful idea and take the rest with a grain of salt.]

The Orthodox do have one advantage over me--they seem more Jewish.This seems to me to be the result of a kind of nationalism (or rather chauvinism)  in which seeming Jewish seems to be the most important thing. And the Orthodox certainly seem very Jewish. They wear lots of black clothing. They speak Yiddish. They hate everything that smacks of  culture or gentile thought. There is obviously nothing remotely good or Jewish about any of this. But if what you value the most is to seem Jewish, then by all means go ahead and join them.
If you want to actually be Jewish that is a whole other story. And it starts with learning Torah and the Babylonian Talmud and living the values contained therein. The best place I think to start with this would be to join any normal straight Lithuanian  yeshiva and learn what the Talmud is about from people that actually have some expertise in it.
___________________________________________________


The thing i should mention about nonintuitive immediate knowledge and how it helps to justify Torah is this. One basic area of debate between the rationalists and the empiricists is this we can know things  based on empirical evidence. because we can check our conclusions with what happens in the real world. But when it come to a things that we perceive by reason alone things  how do we know that what we think has anything to do with reality? [This is a bit of a simplification-- we do find the intuitionists think that even empirical evidence we know only by reason].
It is this question that immediate non- intuitive knowledge comes to answer.
It does more that just answer Kant's question how is synthetic a priori possible. It answers how is a priori possible.

Once you get to synthetic a priori we can see that there are areas of value that we know beyond just the principle of non contradiction. and we can test these areas by falsification. In other words even morality which we cant derive from an "is", we can falsify . This is what Socrates spent all of his time doing. and this is in large part what the Talmud is doing. Except the Talmud accepts  sources of information that were unknown to Socrates.























9.4.14

There were several principles associated with Naravadok yeshivas which I am thinking are relevant and helpful for all people living on planet earth today.


Most people I suppose do not know about Naravok. This is something that I think is worthwhile talking about here for the reason that there were several principles associated with Naravadok yeshivas which I am thinking are relevant and helpful for all people living on planet earth today.
If would like to be forgiven if this is not in essay form but just some random observations.
One thing I should mention is that Naravok was not a separate movement as much as a part of the Musar movement. But it had a special kind of take on Musar. [For some back ground Musar was the movement stated by Israel Salanter to encourage all people to learn the basic corpus of ethical books of Torah thought written during the Middle ages and the Early Renaissance.] Eventually this movement got absorbed into the yeshiva Movement thought that was a different direction that the original intention of Israel Salanter.

So without further ado I would like to introduce the major and most motivating idea of Navardok-- trust in God. That is trust without effort--as opposed to trust with effort.
That was based to some degree of a statement of Israeli Salanter and the Geon from Vilnius  that real trust in God means to trust with no effort.

Another significant part of Navardok was the idea that making yeshivas places for people to learn Talmud with Rashi and Tosphot is at least nowadays an overriding principle.--That is that he might have been aware that working for a living is a mitzvah but in his time before World War One he thought that  the options before people where such that one could go to a yeshiva and learned Torah in the normal way; or  be pulled into  other things that did not reflect moral living. In other words, Joseph Horvitz was not considering the possibility of people going to university and becoming physicists or engineers.  Rather the option outside of yeshiva was more along the lines of becoming a tailor in the local shtele of going to university and becoming a communist.

And today let us face it the situation is not all that different.


And today even if one would want to major in some serious subject consistent with Fear of God there is still the fact that one does find a lot of nonsense in universities. I mean who came up with the bright idea to introduce black studies into Cal Tech? "Well, they are learning atomic physics, so why should they not also  learn Black slang?"
"What did you major in at Cal Tech?"
"Black studies "
"And what was your minor?"
'Graffiti' "
"Oh that is interesting. What did you do for a term project?



Joseph Horvitz to make his yeshiva went from door to door asking for students to join his yeshiva. That is how the whole thing got started.

And again I should make clear that Musar yeshivas and Navardok specifically emphasized two things working on ones character traits and also on learning Torah.




Now on a separate subject -- I think many people have noticed a connection between Rebbi Nachman and Navardok. This is a hard thing to define because on the surface they seem to talk about and emphasize different things but I think that many people feel there is a connection between them.

I would like to suggest an integrated approach that combines the best of both approaches with a special emphasis on hiking in the woods and forests while talking with God in the way of Rebbi Nachman and when one is not doing that to sit in a Navardok yeshiva and learn Gemara Rashi and Tosphot.

For people that are limited in time and have to go to school my suggestion is  to introduce into schools two pretty important books of philosophical and  ethical thought--the book of Joseph Horvitz --the Madrgat Haadam and the Lekutai Moharan of Rebbi Nachman. I see both as containing important principles for the proper conduct of human life.  I think if you compare them with other books that are being taught in schools you will find that these are definitely superior.--the drawback of course is that they are both rather religious and this might put off some people. Perhaps I could suggest learning them after school.
They contain these basic principles: Trust in God with no efforts, talking to God in a forest or someplace where you are not seen or heard by others, learning the Hebrew Bible, and a program designed to correct ones character flaws--learning Musar.



I should also mention that even though the idea of yeshiva was emphasized by Navardok still today many yeshivas teach things that are not traditional Torah. [In fact you could almost define a cult as something that uses traditional symbols while teaching alternative doctrines of any given religion.] So Traditional Torah I should mention is well defined--it is the Old Testament and the Talmud and the basic world view contained in these books--i.e Monotheism.


This is opposed to Pagan cults. Pagan cults are a system of rites. 
 Pagan cults are  systems of rites that involves a manipulation of substances — — that are believed to have some kind of inherent power, again, because of their connection to whatever the primordial world stuff may be in that tradition. So  there's always an element of magic in a pagan cult. It's seeking through these rituals and manipulations of certain substances to, again, let loose certain powers, set into motion certain forces, 

One final and very important point, in the polytheistic worldview, just as there are good gods who might protect human beings there are also evil gods who seek to destroy both humans and other gods. Death and disease are consigned to the realm of these evil demons or these impure evil spirits, but they are siblings with the good gods. Human beings are basically powerless, in the continual cosmic struggle between the good gods and the evil demons, unless they can utilize magic, divination, tap into the powers of the metadivine realm, circumvent the gods who might be making their lives rather miserable. But what's important is that  in the pagan view, evil is an antonomous demonic realm. It is as primary and real as the realm of the holy or good gods. Evil is a metaphysical reality. It is built into the structure of the universe. That's the way the universe was made. The primordial stuff that spawned all that is, spawned it good and bad and exactly as it is, and it's there and it's real.


So  the fundamental idea of Torah  is a radically new idea of a God who is himself the source of all being — not subject to a metadivine realm. There's no transcendent cosmic order or power. 


So what then are the implications of monotheism?
 So in the  Torah - Hebrew Bible, for the first time in history we meet an unlimited God who is timeless and ageless and nonphysical and eternal.

That means that this God transcends nature. Nature certainly becomes the stage of God's expression of his will. He expresses his will and purpose through forces of nature in the Bible. But nature isn't God himself. He's not identified with it. He's wholly other. He isn't kin to humans in any way either. So there is no blurring, no soft boundary between humans and the divine.

So there's no process by which humans become gods and certainly no process of the reverse as well.
 God can't be manipulated or coerced by charms or words or rituals. They have no power and cannot be used in that way, and so magic is sin. Magic is sin or rebellion against God because it's predicated on a whole mistaken notion of God having limited power.