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26.1.13

Maimonides and Physics



I have wondered about the approach of the Rambam towards learning what he calls Physics and Metaphysics. [He says what the ancient Greeks called Physics and Metaphysics is what in Torah is called the "Work of the Divine Chariot" and the "Work of Creation." מעשה מרכבה ומעשה בראשית.]

My question is why does he put this into the category of service of G-d?

Now in the Jewish people there has been a traditional approach to what could be called "the service of God." This is is usually considered to be learning Torah and doing mitzvot and good deeds.
The approach of the Rambam never made a dent in Jewish theology.

I have never heard of any explanation either of why or how this could be considered the highest service of God -- even greater than learning Torah.
Though I have seen in other books [Maalat Hamidot מעלות המידות, Chovot Levavot etc.]
from medieval Jewish thought that adopt this approach to some degree, but never with the wallop that the Rambam gives it.


I would like to suggest here the reason for the Rambam. It is due to his Aristotelian philosophy.

It goes like this: everything has  four causes. The final cause is it purpose. Every individual object in the world has purpose. And the world itself has purpose. When one serves God by revealing the light and reason and logic in everything in the world, this accumulates in the higher purpose of the whole creation.

Personally, I have adopted the approach of my parents and Maimonides as the proper approach.
This is not Reform or Conservative or Orthodox. Just like you can not fit Maimonides himself into any of these modern categories so my path also.
 The failure of Reform was to teach moral relativism and to equate Left wing politics with Torah.
They are not teaching the approach of Maimonides, but neither are the Orthodox.

The idea of Aristotle. He goes along with that everything has purpose, and  every purpose in itself has a purpose. You can see there the implication that each of the four Aristotelian causes has in itself four Aristotelian causes.






Reform Judaism is not a cult. In fact it has some things right that Orthodox Judaism does not have.
(1) Monotheism. Orthodox Judaism has become a religion of pantheism which is opposed to the world view of the Torah and the Talmud and the Ari. That would be in addition to the pantheon of little gods they have.
(2) They are not opposed to the State of Israel and in fact do what they can to support it.. I have never heard of a Reform or Conservative person that was opposed to the State of Israel. I do  not look kindly on many Orthodox  who support the effort of the Muslims to wipe Israel off the map and drive the Jews into the ocean.
These are two important issues. When the  Ultra Orthodox  not just in word, but in deed try to bankrupt the State of Israel.
When  the  Ultra Orthodox support Islamic causes, they don't seem to realize that they are supporting people that have every intension of murdering Jews  like they have always done and seem to be intent on doing for the perceivable future.[What I mean is  the  Ultra Orthodox think they are just opposing the political contract of the State of Israel. They want to be under gentile rule. But they don't realize that gentile rule in Israel was never benign.]



(3) Reform lacks the astounding amount of child sexual abuse that goes on in the Orthodox world


The problem however is that for some reason Reform do not learn the much Mishna or Talmud. And even the Conservative do not make it a priority.
And the very idea of keeping the commandments is not on the radar scope of the Reform. Well at least the right wing of the Conservatives do better in terms of keeping mitzvas.

The major problem with Reform it they lack the numinous  aspect of Torah.




I think the Conservative movement is on the right track in terms of emphasizing the Talmud but also recognizing that reason and logic and science also are authorities in there areas.
At this point I would have to say that since the Orthodox seems to have problems with facts and reality that it has morphed into a cult. Orthodox have had plenty of time to get their act together, and just seem intent on getting more and more fanatic.



22.1.13

 It was the path of the Rambam and which had been pioneered by Saadia Gaon to make learning Physics and Metaphysics a type of service of God.

  The effect of this opinion of Maimonides and Saadia Gaon had no effect on the Jewish Orthodox world, but had an enormous effect on the world of Reform and Conservative Judaism.


  The world of Orthodox Judaism was shifted into railroad tracks that were not constructed by Gaonim nor the Rambam. Rather by people that choose to ignore the Rambam because they were convinced that they knew better how to be religious. That is religious delusional fanatics.

I know the Rambam (Maimonides) wanted to make what he calls Physics and Metaphysics as a higher type of service of God.

So far I have not seen this done, or even taken seriously. When people in the Jewish world want to serve God nowadays, they go to learn Talmud. It is rare or never that they go to university to learn Physics.  It, in fact, would be considered the height of folly to be involved in Physics for the sake of God. But not to me. I have tried to follow this advice of the Rambam ever since I heard of it, because it is not just the opinion of the Rambam that I am depending on for this, but also the opinion of my parents.
The way I see this is that the natural sciences are the wisdom of God contained in his Creation.

And I should mention that the two places I studied Physics at were amazing--Hebrew University at first and then Polytechnic Institute of NYU. Professor Elitzur, Sorin Solomon (who gave me the classic text Gravity), at HU and Prof Van Wagenen (who put up with my constant questions) and Prof Arnold at Polytechnic: Thank you. Plus the students at Hebrew U that helped me catch up, Michal bat Beila, and Noel at Polytechnic and all the others. There was a whole group that helped me, but I forgot most of their names. Without their help, I would have been lost. Without Michal's help, nothing would have begun. She showed me the way to derive the derivative of x^2. That one 15 minute session opened the door of Mathematics to me.

When I was young  the idea of being self taught was also emphasized in our home. So if you are like me and not able to be part of a Physics program at a university and have to do the work at home I recommend just saying the words and going on and then reviewing the whole book as a whole--of what ever text you have available.


17.1.13

Kabalists in Israel

Kabalists in Israel. One way to tell if someone is fraud is by listening to them when they mention a subject you know something about. [They claim to knowledge in Talmud, but when they open their mouths the effect is spoiled] This test works for  other subjects as well. It was mentioned to me about a religious book called Genesis and the Big Bang. But it works for kabalah as well.
But the whole scene of kabalists in Israel is confusing. Perhaps it might be better to mention one at a time. I have forgotten so many it might be hard for me.
Perhaps a few names at first just to help me so some recall.
There was that fraud who prayed at the western wall every day for the sunrise minyan. He had the major characteristic of most kabalists in Israel that whatever personal likes and dislikes they have, they attribute it to Ruach Hakodesh (the divine spirit רוח הקודש).
There was that fellow in the old city who  had some connection with Rav Ashlag. But since he is not part of the Kabalah Center, people go to him for a Sabbath meal, and get a little spiritual inspiration. He is believe it or not a OK fellow. I would not exactly call him a kabalist along the lines of Bava Sali but he is a kosher person.

Then there are the  kabalists that learn Shalom Sharabi. They like to think that they are the real thing, but they too are just deluding themselves. And have all the normal character traits of frauds. And actuality believe anything they think is automatically the Divine Spirit. But in terms of knowledge of kabalah it seems to me that they are actually doing well. They take the Ari and the Reshash and do a rather rigorous examination of both. I have even heard from one friend in the old city that this Reb Yaakov actually knows an thing or two.
But none of these people are "up there."
  They are just looking in from the outside, and as usual filled with delusions of grandeur which seems to be part and parcel of anyone who touches the Zohar.
  Then there are all the kabalists that actual have some kind of spirits divine or otherwise.

  I have to say that they people are not really kabalists per say. They don't know much of the Ari or the Reshash. But they have something. It is what should be called trans-personal. It is not the divine spirit. but it is something. but they confuse it with the divine spirit. This is a trait of the religious world that they assume any spiritual manifestation buy a Jewish persona has to be from the Divine realm.

Then there are all the descendants of Bava Sali.

Bava Sali had great character but a lot of the miracles were a result of his character, not some kind of knowledge. But the flaw was that his knowledge was not perfect. He made mistakes about people and even the failed miracles are not advertised. There were times he said such and such a thing will happen that simply never came about.


Descendants of Bava Sali tend to have something of his spirit. I could mention a few. Rav Shimon Buso in Netivot, Reb David Abuchatzeira in Naharia, Moshe Buso in Jerusalem [somewhere in the vicinity of Rechov Shmuel HaNavi]. The daughter of Bava Sali, Avigail Buso. She definite has something like the Divine Spirit.






16.1.13



The book of Spinoza, the Ethics, was a companion of mine for all my years in high school. But eventually I started seeing some problems in his logic. There are good reasons I switched to Leibniz and Kant.
But as Jewish books go as far as ethics is concerned, the Ethics of Spinoza is powerful. 

The Ethics ("Musar") books of the Middle Ages e.g., The Duties of the Heart, are better than the Ethics. They avoid some of the problems you find in Spinoza. They are a little more modest about what we can know.




I forgot it, but I did have some way of defending Spinoza. I think it was something like this: What is an accident? Some characteristic of a substance. The difference between them is the substance is permanent and the accident can go away. A leaf can be green in spring and red in fall. But substances also change. In fact there is little that is permanent. What is it that these substances are accidents of?
It is this permanent substance that survives  all changes that Spinoza calls substance.
 This argument is what I used to try to defend Spinoza. Not that I am particularly happy with them but that at least we can understand what Spinoza was trying to get at.

Now if you want to give a critique on Spinoza, it would go like this. Even with this justification, that is still not a axiom. Typically an axiom in Geometry or Physics starts  with something self evident and almost trivial. For example if a=b, then b=a. You don't start with something highly counter intuitive and then try to make it into an axiom like "Nothing can affect a substance." [Even though philosophers do this all the time since Hume, it still just talking cleverly and making something dumb sound smart. ] For reasons like this. and several others(that Leibniz pointed out) I decided that Plato, Aristotle, Maimonides, and Kant were closer to the truth.

\


Spinoza puts a condition of substance which almost forces his conclusion of Pantheism. 

 People claim for the Rambam the title of the greatest Jewish philosopher. Maybe he was, but the Guide for the Perplexed is the most perplexing book I have ever read.
They used to print it with the commentary of Joseph Albo. If you can get through it congratulations! I found it frustrating. And the medieval alchemy really bothered me.
But if you want to get to what Maimonides was saying without having to go through hell and back to find out, then the best book I ever saw is David Hartman's. And the Rav Kook Institute also had a very good edition of the Guide with a short but very good commentary.  Also Rav Kapach from Yemen had an edition based on the original manuscripts of the Guide with his own very deep commentary. If you have time I would recommend learning these and also Plato and Aristotle in order to have an idea of the issues that the Rambam was addressing in the Guide.


14.1.13

I have been challenged to write an essay about moral objectivity.. I have not read the essay on the Standford or Internet encyclopedia of philosophy.. [Whatever is there I am sure I could never write anything better than that.] But in the meantime, I just want to organize a few thoughts about this subject.
  First, Professor Michael Humemer does not use the idea of the fallacy of subjectivity in his essay because he knows that an outside statement about morality can be coherent as long as the statement itself is left outside the set of all moral facts.[As Moshe Israel Rosten noticed] 
  To defend Moral Objectivity I could in theory use  Professor John Searle's argument. [ Here is the web adress: http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~jsearle/] But his argument works really only against the idea that all knowledge is subjective. But some people don't say that. They say just moral facts are subjective. This is harder to defeat. (Moshe Israel Rosten pointed this out to me. This is because the moral relativist might accept there is objective truth but just not in the area of morality. For that you need the essay of Michael Huemer in Colorado http://www.owl232.net/objectiv.htm)

But I should mention that my interest in objective morality actually goes deeper than a challenge on the Internet. When I was learning Torah I certainly thought I had found one self consistent objective logical and reasonable system of morality and a unified coherent world view. That illusion has been smashed. In its place I have a philosophical system based on Kant and Plato that the Torah can be justified with.  But what I presently believe in does not really come anywhere near the grandeur of Torah and Talmud. So what I try to do is to fit the Torah into my present world view. But the whole process is like  the practice medicine used to be about a hundred years ago. It is a hodge podge of different things that seem to work with no unifying principle
At any rate Michael Huemer does a neat thing. It claims that also the claim of all moral values are subjective is alos incoherent in this way:


Since rational judgment presupposes some ground apart from the judgment on which for it to be based, the denial of objectivity implies the intrinsic impossibility of rational moral judgment, since said denial means that moral values cannot have any independent existence apart from the mind

11.1.13

"There is a systematic plan to establish an Islamist beach head in the United States with the eventual goal of watching the United States crumble from within and establishing Islamic rule in this country,"


Steve Emerson's 70-minute film, Jihad in America: The Grand Deception, was released on DVD last October. Emerson, who directs The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), says the documentary traces the roots of Islamism inside the United States and reveals the chilling reality about the goal of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Our job is to change the Constitution of America," Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances for the Islamic Society of North America, says in the film. "There is a systematic plan to establish an Islamist beach head in the United States with the eventual goal of watching the United States crumble from within and establishing Islamic rule in this country," Doug Farah, a national security consultant and analyst, adds.
http://www.onenewsnow.com/media/2013/01/10/jihad-in-america-the-chilling-reality

My own comment on this is that America will not be able to fight an enemy as long as it does not acknowledge the fact that it is an enemy. America and the whole western world and Russia also ought to learn the difference between a friend and an enemy before it is too late. Even Russia needs to learn this.
This is not the same type of conflict as the cold war. That was a conflict between two powers each trying to prove to the other that they could make a decent and just society. This is not what Muslims are trying to do. They are trying by the power of money and oil to infiltrate and destroy Russia and the USA.
It does not help to go back in history to find people like Ibn Rushd, or al Farabi. The question is what is Islam today. The greatest threat to the survival of the human race in two million years. and a threat to the very existence of Planet Earth.
Muslims armed with atom bombs are just as much a threat to us all as Muslims armed with a 747 jet airliner. Even more so.

9.1.13

Kabalah? Is it for you?

I would like to defend the theses that it is better to leave the Zohar alone. But I would like to also say this with the understanding that often there are very good insights into the Torah which you can find in the Zohar and the Ari (Isaac Luria האריז''ל).
To I make my these clearer I want to say that what gentiles consider Kabbalah and what the Zohar and the Arizal [Isaac Luria] are about are two very different things. The Zohar is not about magic. It is a neo platonic explanation of the Old Testament.

And it is an explanation that is necessary  for many reasons. One is that the alternative--Maimonides [the Rambam] with his reasons for the mitzvot  based on Aristotle are not very convincing. Clearly some type of Neo -Platonic approach is necessary. [See other medieval kabbalists especially Avraham Abulafia and the Ramban (Nachmanides).] (I mean the Rambam might be right but in any case he is hard to accept and grasp.)

Yet I still have to say that my general impression of people that learn Zohar is that they start thinking they are the Messiah, and get other delusions rather quickly.

That is just one criticism of it. I have another one also. It is this. That the aspect of Torah which is Numinous and holy is not touched by the Zohar or the Ari. This is an inner holiness of Torah which has nothing to do with the things talked about in the Zohar at all.

I should say that I spent time learning Kabbalah, and I am familiar with many of the so called "kabalists" in Israel, so I am not completely ignorant about this subject. I learned the Eitz Chaim of  the Ari [Isaac Luria] several  times, and went through the other writings of the Ari at length. I read several works of the Remak (Moshe Cordovero) including the Pardes and the Reshash and prayed with the Sidur HaReshash for many years. I went through  several authors of Medieval kabbalah like Avraham Abulafia and others. A lot of this was very inspiring for me.  But still it has the tendency is to instill delusions into people.
I know the fraudulent kabbalist of the Kotel.  And I knew others that had actual insights. One fellow had virtual film going through his head showing him the life of people that came to him. [He was put into Cherem (excommunication) by Rav Ovadia Yosef]  I was close with many of the disciples and descendants of Bava Sali.

Also one odd thing was that people that learned Kabbalah also thought they knew how to learn Gemara (The Babylonian Talmud), even though they could never tell you a simple explanation in any Gemara  They seemed to believe their expertise in Kabbalah gave them expertise in everything.

So though Kabalah is a legitimate sub-section of Torah learning, still there is the problem of cults.
And the Sitra Achra that got mixed up with it also.

The main principle in terms of Kabalah is this: Sephardim are OK, Ashkenazim are not.
The Ramchal also is fine [as far as I can tell], even though Rav Hutner (Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin) is reported to have said that some aspects of his teachings come from the Shatz.] 

  So I say in general simply to learn in a kosher Lithuanian type of yeshiva.
And avoid kabbalists. [But it is still OK to go to descendants of Bava Sali for blessings and advice-not because of Kabbalah, but rather from the standpoint of being descendants of a tzadik which gives  certain kind of merit.]


4.1.13

I think it is common practice for nations to try to limit the ability of their enemies to launch attacks from nearby bases. From what I understand this was part the reason the the USSR absorbed different territories after WWII and the reason they demanded that American remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey and the reason that Israel took the Golan Heights.

In spite of my ignorance about American history I recently read a very nice book on the subject and it was amazing in given the basic overview with detail but not too much. From what I can tell it was not just the British but also France was taking American boats and men. The thing which triggered the war was that after both England and France had signed agreements to discontinue this practice, they kept on doing it.

Besides that England was not fighting Napoleon at the time. They were involved with an economic war with France. And this was part of the reason they impounded American boats they could trade freely with France and England. This bothered both England and France.
In the attack on Canada, America was intending to limit the ability of England to launch naval attacks against America.
I think this is common practice for nations to try to limit the ability of their enemies to launch attacks from nearby bases. From what I understand this was part the reason the the USSR absorbed different territories after WWII and the reason they demanded that American remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey and the reason that Israel took the Golan Heights.I think this was also the reason that America attacked Florida when it was owed by Spain and why it took possession of Alabama --i.e with intent to stop the attack the creek Indians.I will not even go into the reason for taking Texas.

3.1.13

Muslims certainly nowadays tend to be a problem to the degree they believe in their religion.

I never found American history interesting. I look on America as a machine that works where all other machines failed. It is a machine that you feed into it lots of people and out comes a just and decent society. What interests me is: "Why does it work?" For this I go to the thinkers that the USA Constitution is based on. [Plato Aristotle Aquinas , John Locke, Jefferson, Cicero, etc.] This has become much more interesting to me in recent years as I watch the slow disintegration of American society. Just like I want to know what made it work in the first place I want top know what is destroying it.

It is not enough to look at Muslims or the infiltration of the KGB into American universities. Muslims  certainly nowadays tend to be a problem to the degree they believe in their religion. But it was not always that way. There is a consensuses among scholars that the Islamic Golden age was real and not just completely make believe.Though there is a debate about this still the weight of the evidence shows that the original period in Baghdad from about 800 AD until circa 1240 AD was a flourishing period for Jews and Muslims. And even nowadays we find a few great Islamic scholars [e.g. Saleem who shared the Noble prize with Weinberg] . It is hard to say that Islam by definition is automatically the destroying force of Satan. Personally, even though Muslims tried to kill me many times in Jerusalem, still when I lived in Safed in the North of Israel, I found Muslims and especially the Bedouins to be consistently nice and decent people. [Though I have heard that recently they have deteriorated.] Blacks also are like this. There are many outstanding people that are black. It is hard to see them as some kind of generally bad influence. So it is curious what is contributing to the downfall of America?  [The KGB certainly had a great influence on the Social Studies Departments of America universities, but this could not account for the general deterioration of American society. The KGB spend about a 1/3 of its resources in this direction.]

2.1.13

Most people that lived in the USSR that I have encountered always have something nice to say about it. [I have been hanging around one of the former republics of the Soviet Union so when I say this it means that  everyone misses the USSR.] And they always start with: "It was not so bad." And they always include the word "stability." If you compare the USSR with what came before it and what came after it, it is hard to miss their point. Instead of free market capitalism as you used to have in the U.S.A. you have strong man tactics, or bully capitalism. [The same thing that Marx criticized in the first place]
And before the USSR there were massive pogroms in almost every Russian and Ukraine city. And Russia was fighting a completely ridiculous pointless war in the West and chaos reigned. And people concentrate on what was wrong with the USSR, but forget that the alternative was  already much worse and corrupt. and this fact continues until this very day Jan 2 2013.
I will not even get into the good aspects of Soviet Science and the massive efforts to make housing and transportation and medical care available for everyone at almost zero cost. Sure it would be better if a country had a free market system in which everyone had strong  Biblical values so that there would be an inherent sense of right and wrong. But lacking that, there is no question that the USSR was an improvement on what came before it and what came after it.

And sadly America itself is rapidly coming to the place where people are lacking all basic Biblical values and in fact need something like a strong centralized federal government to keep them even barely decent.in other words I would like Jews to be good Jews and Christians to be good Christians. But lacking that, I think you need something like a strong centralized government to keep people from hurting each other. And in America Christan are no longer good Christians and Jews either ignore the Torah and Talmud or go off into strange nightmarish Chasidic cults.
And the way the USSR dealt with Muslims is great lesson for us all. When some  Soviet citizens were taken prisoner, they send in Unit Alpha of the KGB. They caught one terrorist and sent his body parts to the other  terrorists. . Nor did they have some smart Beverly Hills lawyers arguing about Muslim Human and Civil Rights.