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28.3.13

Three pillars of English character: (1) moderation, (2) individuality and (3) love of hard labor.

One  subject that I want to deal with:  Freedom and Passover and the development of the idea of Freedom as we know it in America and the Western World which invention of the John Locke and the English. I would like to go into the good and bad aspects of the character of the English that gave rise to the English Empire and also has given way to the decay and downfall of England.

The main way I want to deal with this subject is to concentrate on the three pillars of English character: (1) moderation, (2) individuality and (3) love of hard labor.

What a priori value does freedom have?
Why should it have any value? It arose from the conflict between the church and the monarchs in Medieaval Europe. But if you would know the absolutely true objective law of morality, what possible value could freedom have? And let us say that it is a value because of what we don't know about people and their character and their individual situation. Then in theory the more you understand about yourself and others, the less you would value freedom. (I am saying that Reason does perceive freedom as value because morality is an ought --not a must. The laws of morality area based on free will.

The English character which gave rise to the Empire of England (and its extension, the American Empire) do seem to be  much based on the Old Testament. It values and principles and laws. Can anyone imagine England developing the way it did without its Christian orientation?  This is certainly ridiculous.  And the further England and the USA go away from this basic orientation and world view, the further they sink into the mud.
I am not saying they were doing everything right when they were more religious. But I can say it was a lot better when people were going to church on Sundays; -and it was better for Jews then too.
I claim everything right about the USA comes directly from the ideas of Torah (and John Locke and he claimed openly that his ideas were straight from the Bible--especially limited government). [Not in his Two Treaties but in other writings.]



It is a true observation that it was the Calvinist work ethic that created the capitalist west. Without a love of labor and hatred of false gain could capitalism succeed.



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But it is just that some aspects of the USSR  are impressive enough to me to seek out what aspects of that system contributed to the good that it did .
[The USSR was based on Marx and the philosophical aspects of Marx were are from Hegel, and the social aspects from Rousseau and the theory of value of labor from a rejected theory of Adam Smith.]



Maybe Americans are not that impressed with mathematics  and think that the engineering achievements of the USA out-shadow anything the USSR did. But the amazing Soviet mathematicians were so great in my eyes that it causes me to think that the Soviets must have been doing something right. [Plus I still see some residue effects of the USSR-- people obey the law!
But also I see that capitalism could never succeed in the Russian Empire. Capitalism without restraint is not viable. And the problem in Russia is there is not abhorrence of theft. and you can't abhor theft and ill gotten gain without some basic approach based on the Bible. This is the reason that Muslims are de-evolving into apes. Even though they have had some good religious principles in the past, but without a basic Biblical approach there is not much you can expect from people.

The problem with any Biblical approach however is not just that of interpretation but also cults that base themselves on the Bible.








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The last issue I want to deal with is the defend learning the Mishna with the commentary of the Rambam.

Mainly I will try to say that with the commentary of the Rambam you avoid some of the anti science tendencies you find in the more commonly learned  Bartenura [Rav Ovadia from Bartenura]. Also I find the Rambam is short and to the point, and it is possible to make a lot more progress with him than with most other commentaries that tend to be too long.

I already spent too much time writing this short essay and I can tell already I will not be able to get to these subjects today in any detail.






25.3.13

What makes something a cult?






 To my way of thinking the approach   of talking always with God like one talks with a friend makes the Monotheism of the Torah more felt and more intense. But I am sometimes alarmed when I hear people making a little bit more of a tzadik than I think is warranted by proper Torah thought.





24.3.13

Part of the problem I see in American education is that the issues that went into making of America are not addressed. Certainly freedom is mentioned  and yet the European conflicts between Church, Monarchs , Parliament and the people are almost ignored.
This creates a problem for Jewish people that learn in American public school. The issues of limitation of authority is certainly not addressed in the Talmud itself, and we don't get any idea of what and how are the limits of authority.


My question is from a Torah standpoint what is the limit of rabbinical authority and is there in theory any thing that could stand before rabbinic authority like the was in European --the Kahal-- the tax paying home owners?


21.3.13

Does conversion to Torah require an act of the court (beit din)?

Does conversion to Torah require an act of beit din (מעשה בית דין)? [That means a court that has ordination  in an unbroken chain from Sinai. And this the Gemara says no longer exists. The last people to get true ordination lived right after the time of the Mishna. And it was in the beginning of the period of the Talmud that it puttered out.] The ordination we have today is a fraud.]
I have assumed for years that according to the Gemara in Avoda Zara (עבודה זרה) that conversion does not need a beit din. This was in spite of the fact that I knew the Tosphot there assumes that Gemara is going along with the Gemara in Sanhedrin. [The Gemara in Sanhedrin says conversion is a "din"--which means it needs the authentic ordination.] But my learning partner mentioned to me today an interesting fact --that you do not see an major rishon ראשון (medieaval authority) who disagrees with this. Whether the Rif or the Rambam or Tosphot-- everyone is assuming you need an act of beit din.
The only thing different nowadays is that you can never tell if someone is sincere until after the conversion.

And it is also interesting to notice that in Breslov there was an old tradition to convert anyone who wanted to be converted immediately--or thus I have heard in the name of Michael Dorfman.
So to make a long story short, in spite of the fact that the Gemara in tractate  Avoda Zara seems to make conversion a very simple process [i.e. jumping into a natural body of water for the sake of becoming Jewish], still from Tosphot and the general medieaval authorities it does look like you need some kind of beit din.
Now Tosphot does say that even though there is no such a thing of ordination anymore, still someone can convert because there are things a beit din of three regular guys--(with no semicha) -can do. And Tosphot wants to extend the list to conversion. Well fine. So be it. If that is what Tosphot says, who am I to disagree? And one thing I have learned in life: Tosphot is always right.
At any rate, it is clear that the convert does not need to accept all the mitzvot with rigor, but the basic outline of mitzvot. That is open in Shulchan Aruch itself. ["They make known to him the outline of the mitzvot and don't make it hard."] But still basic mitzvot are needed--like shabat, kashrut, etc.
There is not argument about this. But since conversion is big business, most people in this business hide all these facts so they can continue the scam. But  three people as a beit din of regular guys we have seen that we need. I thought to get out of this problem. Most rishonim want three people --they don't however have to have ordination  because  ordination today anyway has no legal status.

In conclusion to me it looks like the dipping does need to be in front of three ordinary Jews. There is an opinion in the Rif that even in front of one Jew is good enough.

My learning partner noticed in the Rambam that the the Torah was given to all Israel and to whom ever wants to accept it. That means anyone who wants to keep Torah can do so. That is the basic idea. The trouble begins with the fact that some people supposedly convert to torah but don't really want to keep the laws of the Torah.




20.3.13

 The issue of cults..I am still trying to figure out how is it possible for a person to take a set of religious doctrines and use them to create a personal following around himself. And furthermore I am wondering how naive people can protect themselves from this type of thing.. This does not seem to depend on doctrine at all. It seems almost any set of doctrines from principles that I would consider to be kosher to even highly un-kosher doctrines can be used by people to make a following around themselves.
I mean who does not want dozens of fawning followers willing to do your every bidding?

I think the first hint that something is wrong is when the leader of your group is obviously a person that is highly comfortable around others. The more people friendly someone is, the less nobility of character they have.

12.3.13

Yesterday I wrote a blog about fear of God
I still think that Isaac Blazer [a disciple of Israel Salanter] was right- that everything (--i.e. the  happiness and success) depends on fear of God.
The major problem with fear of God is that any human good will be exploited by charlatans.
Just like you find charlatans in every field of knowledge, so you find this in Torah and the world of people that are concerned with keeping the commandments. These charlatans make it hard to decipher what path is really effective in bringing one to fear of God. In this context, "charlatan" means someone who dress like a Torah scholar without actually having finished the Talmud at least once with all of the Tosphot. The dress is not innocent. They are definitely trying to use clothing to convince people they are holy. 


But to put the Torah on a firm philosophical foundation the top is Maimonides.

[Just for quick information, for Maimonides, the path to fear of God lies through the Talmud. After a basis in Talmud, then comes the actual steps that bring to it.

Physics according to  Maimonides brings to fear of God, and Metaphysics brings to love of God.]

The problem with this is obviously that no one has actual carved out a path to God through Physics. This is different than the Talmud in which there is a level of holiness one gets just by opening it up and learning. [This is my approach to the issue of holiness. It is a circle of value. 

You will notice that I don't think that learning Torah, or enlightenment is the goal and highest aspiration of man, but rather fear of God.
For details see the writings of Isaac Blazer and the general Musar movement.

In any case, however the Musar movement got off track, still we should ourselves get the basic Musar books of the Middle Ages and the later Musar of the disciples of Israel Salanter and try to keep every word.