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29.7.13

Chaim Soloveitchik and Maimonides.


I want to defend a basic thesis here. I want to take back what I had written on my other blog about the opinion of the Rambam concerning work done not for its own sake on Shabat.
The original idea was that Rav and Shmuel both say piercing a boil is allowed. Rav says it is allowed because it is the opinion of R. Shimon who holds a work done not for its own sake (מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה) is not liable. Since Shmuel says it is allowed and also holds  מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה is liable; therefore he defines  work done not for its own sake (מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה) differently. And since the Rambam decides like Shmuel it follows that he goes with Shmuel's definition.

This sounds good but it is not true. Shmuel simply defines those different types of work differently. He puts them into the category of work not intended.
For example: piercing a boil. Rav clearly holds it is a   work done not for its own sake (מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה). But we see the Rambam explains this as not actually doing work at all. [דבר שאינו מתכווין] He says the only case where there would be work is if it is done in a professional way like doctors. So the Rambam considers this permission to be a case where he is not doing the work at all.דבר שאינו מתכווין[Same with catching a snake--the only work is when it is for a need as the Mishna says openly.]

So what does come out from all this is that the reason piercing a boil is allowed is because it is a work that is not intended דבר שאינו מתכווין and even though Rabbi Yehuda would say in such a case it is liable but the Rambam and Shmuel hold by a work that is not intended דבר שאינו מתכווין that we go by Rabbi Shimon.

This same reasoning applies in Tactate Kritot in the case of stirring coals on Shabat in which case the first Tana says he is liable only once and R. Elazar Ben Tzadok holds he is liable twice. The Talmud says this argument depends on the argument between R Yehuda and R Shimon and that it is a case of work not intended. Tosphot does not see how this can make sense. If it is not pesik reisha [work must occur but his act]
Then even R. Yehuda says it is not liable. If it is pesik reisha [פסיק רישא] then even R Shimon agree it is liable.
Reb Chaim Soloveitchik says, "No." He says it is pesik resiha [פסיק רישא][work that must result automatically] that is not agreeable to him. [[ פסיק רישא דלא ניחא ליה]]In that case R Shimon says it is not liable, and R. Yehuda would say it is. And since the Rambam holds by a work not intended like Shmuel who goes like R. Shimon therefore the Rambam decides like the first Tana!!

What makes my original idea wrong is that no one sees a difference between Rav and Shmuel about the definition of a  work done not for its own sake (מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה). Also the fact is the Rambam defines it clearly and it is just trying to grasp too much to think that he thinks Rav disagrees with his definition. Like the Talmud says; "Try to grab too much you have not grabbed anything." It is simpler to say Rav and Shmuel are disagreeing about individual cases concerning the question into which category do they fit.

After all the above it does make one wonder why this type of rigorous analysis is not applied to the More Nevuchim of the Rambam?

Elsewhere I explained the actual answer of Reb Chaim--how he expands the category of  דבר שאינו מתכווין a act that is not intended.--He has to do that, because otherwise catching the snake seems a lot like a work done not for its own sake (מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה. To to this I borrowed an idea from Tosphot.





19.7.13

I said I would write about trust in God.

It is not an action or a lack of action. It is an attitude. It is a feeling that if I do what God wants me to be doing then he will take care of the rest. But it is not a lack of action. It is a feeling that affects ones actions.

 I discovered the book of Joseph Horowitz  from Navardok. He holds from this type of trust in an undiluted way. And the fact that he does not dilute it is important.

[Now I think for this to be true to its purpose one has to be actively searching for God's will.]

This is one reason I have not written about this for years.
I admit to two things. First I fell from trust.  I decided to leave Israel and go to Los Angeles and work and learn Torah on the side. What happened afterwards reminds me of a story in the Gemara of a friend of Rabbi Yochanan that did the same thing and lost his spiritual level. [The funny thing about this is that apparently working is fully in accord with the Shulchan Aruch.]


At some point I settled on the path of the Rambam/Maimonides in his combining learning Torah with Physics and Metaphysics as he calls them in the Guide for the Perplexed.

Well I was plenty perplexed, and this path of the Rambam made the most sense to me. So I went to New York and majored in Physics at New York University.
This is not a path that is commonly associated with trust in God but hey --it works for me.

 Part of the reason I did not just fall back on the general chareidi [Ultra Orthodox] path is that I think that there is good and bad in the chareidi [Ultra Orthodox] path. It is not something I could put a stamp of approval on.  Without the  "Reason" of the Rambam, it lacks a self correcting mechanism.


18.7.13

Gun Laws.The one thing I think makes America different at this point is the American people--not the government.

http://www.skepticaleye.com/2013/07/sheriff-i-will-not-allow-gun.html
There are issues which I have given up on.
I simply do not expect anyone to know the natural law basis of the Constitution of the USA. [I could quote the ninth amendment but a famous supreme court justice has already called that amendment a blot of ink. What do you suppose he will say about the second amendment?]
But beyond that I doubt if there is any area of government in the USA in which the government does not think is their legitimate turf.
I can today even image judges and lawyers who have never read the Second Treatise on government or any of the philosophers that provide the basis for the USA Constitution.
So it does not surprise me that the USA government thinks it can take away people guns. It already feels it can take away everything else. One anonymous phone call to child services they already take away your children. They already are forced you to but a product you do not want --health insurance. The can force Ministers of the Bible to marry homosexuals which Bible call an abomination. It is hard to see much difference between the USA and any average totalitarian government at this point. The one think I think makes America different at this point is the American people--not the government.


As is known there was a debate if to include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. What people do not know is that Madison felt that the inclusion of the Bill of Rights would give the impression that these were the only rights; i.e. he was more pro natural rights than even Jefferson, not less!





17.7.13

Maimonides
His path could be reasonably called Torah and Aristotle. Maybe Torah and Reason would be better. But I should say how I stumbled onto the path of the Rambam. It is not that I thought the basic groups claiming following this path publicly were so great.
As for the groups of religious Zionists in Israel--well they come close to the ideal of the Rambam but again here I have a complaint.  And besides that they don't have anything even resembling a Talmid Chacham [Torah Scholar]. The Drashot [ideas in Torah] I have heard from them are woefully lacking the most basic understanding of what it means "to be able to learn."
Yose Faur [a self styled follower of the Rambam] is way too much of a fanatic. When he deals with Christian topics he seems to know what he is talking about but when it come to Talmud he is an Am Haaretz. He also sadly enough does not know what it means to learn.



So I admit in what is called the chareidi would there are spiritual paths that seems more attractive than that of the Rambam. I means I have know people that knew how to learn. And when you encounter that type of thing you never ever forget it.




 So what attracts me to the Rambam. It is the presence of reason in his path. To me facts and evidence are holy. Truth is the way things are. And the way things are is the one thing that the Rambam have beyond everyone.



















14.7.13

I have been planning on dealing with the issue of trust in God for a time.  But before I can I would like any one reading this blog to read a few introductory texts. Obviously the most important is the Book the Madgragat Haadam from Joseph Horowitz from Navardok.
But to get an understanding of his approach I think a little background information is also important about the Musar Movement of Reb Israel Salanter. So for background information I think one should also learn the books of his major disciples like Isaac Blazer and Simcha Zizel from Kelm.


Then there are the larger philosophical issues about this in which it is necessary to have some background in philosophy also. The Minimum requirement for that is to have some basic understanding of the three major periods of Human philosophy-ancient Greece, the Middles Ages and German Idealism.

The idea here is that anything dealing with ethical issues in Jewish framework implies a larger context of Jewish Thought.
So before you can work on fixing faulty character traits in yourself which is the main focus of Musar you need to have a wider picture of the justification for the whole process. I mean if there is no justification for ethics in the first place  then why bother with correcting your character? Just do what you want! So the issue of ethical theory does come up even in a limited subject like trust in God.

We fist need to know why are moral rules needed? For example, why do humans need rules about keeping promises, telling the truth and private property? This answer should be fairly obvious. Without such rules people would not be able to live amongst other humans. People could not make plans, could not leave their belongings behind them wherever they went. We would not know who to trust and what to expect from others. Civilized, social life would not be possible.
I in fact have found that among people that have no moral rules, it is impossible to remain.

Musar can't stand on its own. It is a first order theory. It needs a second order theory to support it.
Now normally speaking this would be simple to provide if all we needed was the Guide for the Perplexed of The Rambam and the books of Saadia Geon.

Now these are good books. But there is Kant. Without Kant we can't know the limits of what we can know in metaphysical subjects.In other words German Idealism provides a critique on the whole Musar project that needs to be answered and not ignored.











12.7.13




Now I am embarrassed to admit it, but in high school I did very little math. I was at the time getting very involved in the violin and so spent as little time on math courses as possible. So after many years of work in the violin and  in Talmud, when I stated math again I was starting at an extremely elementary level. I did not know Algebra or even how to divide fractions--zilch. But I found a small introductory book to Elementary Math in used book store and after my morning prayers by the Western Wall, I used the method of the Ari'zal [Isaac Luria] of saying the words forwards and backwards. I would read one page forwards and understand nothing. But then I would say the words on the page  backwards and somehow the idea went into my head.

So I applied to Hebrew University and got a high enough score on the Collage entry Exam [Psychometric test] to be accepted. But then I had to run to the USA  So in New York I started the collage entry idea all over again. I applied to Brooklyn College but they did not have an idea of starting a semester in the middle of a year and I had made up my mind to go  for Rosh HaShannah to Uman, Ukraine]. So I applied instead to New York University. [At the time I did not know this is an Ivy League School.]
At any rate, at that time I majored in Physics. But this involved a certain amount of math also. But in any case I was still doing the reading the words forwards and backwards and everything was going fine. I would read the words forwards and under stand zero. Then I would read the words backwards and it would miraculously enter my head.

The whole thing feel apart when I stated differential equations.{Also Chemistry.} At that point the saying the words backwards just got to be an hindrance and not a help. So  I started in math and physics just saying the words and going on.

I should perhaps admit here that this does not seem to work very well with Tosphot. when it comes to Tosphot it is very helpful to have a smart learning partner

But even with that I admit that the only way I have ever made any progress with Tosphot [of R Akiva Eiger and the Pneii Yehoshua for that matter is by sitting on the same Topshot for weeks at a time.]

But for Tosphot you really need a learning partner because he requires two different types of talent.One is analytic ability. Another is deep thinking.
Without both it is hard to see the depths of Tosphot and his rigorous logic..

I mathematics I for a time used a few methods.  I also discovered an idea  to repeat what you learn in German. I have found this helpful when it comes to higher mathematics. For some reason when I read higher Mathematics in English something just does not click. But when I read the same thing in German or Russian I find it makes sense. For one interesting example I read about tensors for sometime in English nothing made sense. Then one day I opened up the Wiki in German on tensors and right away at the beginning of the page they have this nice little diagram which makes the whole thing makes sense instantly. Like they say in Hebrew "Chaval Al Hazman"--what a waste of time do do anything else!

I don't have a lot of ideas about Physics I admit since most of my efforts on it are spent trying to catch up with missed time. But one thing I should mention while philosophers today take materialism as their staring point and assume the existence of matter, in Physics matter has been disappearing for a long time. The first person to get rid of it to some degree was Gell Man. Quarks are point particles. String theory did in materialism completely. Now all there is is space time. And space time as we know from Kant is on the level of the thing in itself of which we have no ability to conceive of. We can simply put it into the equations but we don't know what it is. [String Theory today is basically expressed the language of Homology and Homotopy. That means it is about holes in spaces and about deforming spaces. And it is not quantum physics. Quantum physics people tried for years to make it fit with gravity with no luck. And I myself worked on a GUT with a Russian Physicist which was more promising than the others. People gave up. String theory is modified Relativity. It is just taking the idea of Kaluza Klein and expanding  them.]










9.7.13







I am still on the subject of conversion to Judaism.

First of all let me just say that in spite of the fact that the Rambam says: Gentile A is bought from a gentile B. Gentile A can jump into the Mikvah and he becomes free; still it might not work for a regular gentile from the street to do the same thing to become Jewish. This idea depends on the understanding of Reb Chaim Soloveitchik in that particular Rambam.

 what we call rabbinic ordination today is a legal fiction. according to Torah law there is no such thing as ordination any more.It has to be rav from rav until Mount Sinai. This the Talmud says explicitly. And there is no disagreement with this in the Talmud or any later authorities. Rabbi like to hide this fact but it is none the less true.

So why do we accept converts today? We depend on Tosphot that we are doing the messenger-ship of the people that did have true ordination thousands of years ago. So far so good. But as for converts today it would seem if we are doing messenger-ship then it has to be done exactly like the rishonim said or it is nullified..






8.7.13

For example: a Devout Muslim accepts Islam because it is the religion he was born into and has seen and heard not particular things about it to disturb his faith. But then he learns that if Islam is true then he ought to go out and murder as many Christians and Jews as possible. This is however less plausible than the original assumption. Therefor logic would dictate that he denies the original assumption. Sadly at that point most Muslims are not thinking in terms of which premise is more plausible based on cold hard logic.

What is moral reasoning?
Almost all people do not choose their own value system but accept it from parents from school, from friends from TV and from books. They in general choose to accept certain values and not to accept other ones.The criteria are, for example :[1] Personal Interest. A person who stands to benefit from affirmative action is more likely to think it is just than a person who does not stand to benefit or even to lose a place in a university on account of it. [2] Group Identification. There are lots more.

Logical moral reasoning: most people do not know what it is.
When you say the word logic most people think you mean something along the lines of: If A is true then B is true; i.e the laws of formal logic
But that is only one part of it.The main part of logic is the issue of plausibility.
If A is true then most people will accept B if they know that, "If A then B."
But what happens if Not B is more plausible than A? The logic would dictate that you turn around and deny your original assumption.
For example: a Devout Muslim accepts Islam because it is the religion he was born into and has seen and heard not particular things about it to disturb his faith. But then he learns that if Islam is true then he ought to go out and murder as many Christians and Jews as possible. This is however less plausible than the original assumption. Therefor logic would dictate that he denies the original assumption. Sadly at that point most Muslims are not thinking in terms of which premise is more plausible based on cold hard logic.


This is just one example. I have no intent here to pick on Muslims. The same would apply to any belief system in which the conclusion is less plausible than the premise.I could go on and on almost to infinity because study of fringe literature and cults and fringe groups is a hobby of mine for many years. It has gotten to the point that a very respectable rabbi of Bresolv on Shabat asked me to examine a book written in Israel  by someone who is supposedly walking in the footsteps of the Baal Shem Tov. Within five minutes I had already picked out three fatal flaws in his arguments.
Many religions try to present themselves as logical. And concerning original assumption they might well be.
But what happens if people think well my rebbi is tzadik.Therefore I ought to do everything he says. [This is itself a reasoning process that is perfectly valid.] But then at some point following the rebbi brings about some results that are not moral or perhaps are actually damaging to the person. The question to ask then is it is more plausible that my rebbi is an infallible tzadik of that this immoral action is somehow moral?









5.7.13

great gifts


 Here is the list:
 [1] Raw beets. Don't worry about diets. Just stuff yourself with raw beets.When you get tired of that try other raw vegetables

 [2] Jogging. President Kennedy discovered this one and I have decided that there is no substitute for it. Even if spend as much time in the gym, --there is something that is irreplaceable about jogging.

 [3] Talking with God alone in a forest or in some other place alone.[


 [4] Musar. Reb Israel Salanter noticed something about several books of ethics written by Jewish ages during the Middle ages that they tend to bring Fear of God into a person. I know that there are lots of  claimants that say they have some substitute that is more effective. These claims often false. The proof is in the pudding. Would you trust a Hasid in a business deal until you have the money in your hand? Of course not. So the idea that any books of chasidut [even the best] can replace Musar is obviously false.
 Later people did claim this but that is not supported by internal evidence.
 [5] The greatest gift I have above all others is this : Don't Lie.
 The power of truth can take you through all problems and pierce tall mountains. If you hold to this one thing nothing can hurt you. People can try to hurt you,You can have setbacks. But the strength of always saying only the exact truth carries one above it all.
 [6] Maimonides. There is something about his path of combining Torah with reason as defined by Aristotle and Plato that is see as a great gift to the world.

 [7] Don't accept substitutes for these gifts. This is my particular contribution to this subject. Some people will tell you: you can get these benefits in other ways but I say don't believe them.
 For example some will say you don't need the path of Maimonides about the importance of Greek Philosophy. But what happens to many people is this: They are taught some kind of simple faith and then they discover the world does not correspond to the simple faith they were taught. So they revert to reason. But with no background in philosophy they think that reason says things that it does not say. For example some people disillusioned with Faith revert to materialism or relativism. Neither of these positions is defensible but since people think these views are scientific they tend to fall back on them.

[8] Shower once. Wash with soap. Rinse. Soap Again. The idea of doing this twice is that there is some layer of grease that does not come off until one has soaped twice

[9] Gravity. My wife discovered this amazing thing in child birth.. If you are a woman, don't lie down for child birth but remain standing as long as possible. Gravity helps immensely to make the process short and easy.

3.7.13

In terms of the feud between Reb Chaim Soloveitchik and the Kesph Mishna

In terms of the feud between Reb Chaim Soloveitchik [in the second halacha in "Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations"] and the Kesph Mishna [R.Joseph Karo].I have to admit that I think the Beit Joseph is right.

I really wanted to write about this yesterday when it was fresh in my mind but I have other things to do beside blogging.
At any rate as fast as I can let me go over the major points.
In Yevamot (Tractate Yevamot) we find that Rav Awiya says a Jew that buys a gentile from another gentile the fellow jumps in the mikvah (body of natural water) and becomes free because the first gentile only had possession of the work of the hands. But if the gentile sold himself, [in a case let's say when he needs to pay off his debts] then he can't do this.
This is how Reb Joseph Karo understands the Rambam. The Rambam says a gentile buys a gentile from a different gentile he can do the jumping into the mikvak trick and he is free. It seems clear that from the way the Rambam puts it, that if he sold himself he can't do this trick.
Later when the Rambam says even acquiring the gentile from another gentile, the Jew  gets possession of the body simply means after the mikvah was done for the sake of slavery.

So far the Rambam looks perfectly clear. The only thing Reb Chaim has against this are several points which are easily answered.

[I really would not say anything but in spite of the  greatness of Reb Chaim opening up the whole idea of learning the Rambam in a deep way I still have found too many flaws] In the thing I wrote about before about work done not for its sake also everything the Reb Chaim said was great except that it contradicted the Rambam about the definition of a work that is not intended.


Reb Chaim is depending on an "even though" (Laws of Slavery chapter 9). Even though the Jews only buys the work of the hands, he still acquires the body. Reb Chaim is wondering what this even though is doing here. I answer: Because you might say the normal way of acquiring a slave is when he sells himself. So here we have something new.
However just to say a word on the side of Reb Chaim; he is understanding that Rav Achai disagrees with Rav Awiya about the case the Jew acquires the gentile from himself that there also the gentile can jump in the mikvah. It is not at all clear that this is what Rav Achei means.





2.7.13

I hope everyone is truly shocked. Yes there is slavery in the Torah. And the Torah does mean what it says. And the commandments are not good advice, they are laws. When the Torah says for example to honor your parents it does not mean to be nice to them. It means something much more radical. Homosexually is also the same. Slavery come to think of it might be a great idea. If there would be slavery in the USA maybe you would not have a Muslim Brotherhood president in the White House.

There is a reason to learn the Rambam with Reb Chaim Soloveitchik.

So far it looks like the score is even between the Beit Joseph and Reb Chaim.
If you look at the Rambam about slavery after you have looked at the Talmud it seems like he is saying that if  Jew buys a gentile from another gentile that if the gentile is smart he will jump into the Mikvah [any natural body of water] and shout out "Leshem Ben Chorin" [For the sake Freedom!!] before the owner has a chance to dip him in he becomes Jewish and is free. [But also he is required to keep all the mitzvot.]
The way it looks to me is that this does not refer to a case in which the gentile sold himself. [In a case where he had a lots of debts and wants to pay them off.]

The reason is that after looking at the Talmud itself this is the opinion of Rav Awyia. However so far we do not know if the Rambam decides like Rav Awyia. But is is significant that the Rambam says he buys him from a gentile. It seems implied that if the gentile sold himself that this would not work.

Reb Chaim disagrees with this.He says in any case the gentile can  jump into the mikvah and becomes free. and he has a good argument for this. And in this we will see if I can get a chance to write about it that he is disagreeing with the Beit Yoseph.


First of all both to Reb Chaim and the Beit Yosph the Rambam is deciding not like Rav Awyia but rather Rav Achai is opponent in the Talmud. and though to Rav Awyia there are two kinds of acquiring Reb Chaim holds that to Rav Achei there is only one--that is a type of acquiring that only gives the owner the right to dip the gentile in the mikvah , and until then no slavery exists.

I hope everyone is truly shocked. Yes there is slavery in the Torah. And the Torah does mean what it says. And the commandments are not good advice, they are laws. When the Torah says for example to honor your parents it does not mean to be nice to them. It means something much more radical. Homosexually is also the same. Slavery come to think of it might be a great idea. If there would be slavery in the USA maybe you would not have a Muslim Brotherhood president in the White House.


1.7.13

The fact that the charedi world has been using the Torah as a tool for making money has to stop.


 This is connected to another phenomenon in the Charedi world. It has the characteristics of the Eastern cults. Every small Charedi groups seems to have it s own Guru that they attribute Divine powers to.

I am willing to admit that every city should have a  a class in the Talmud in the local Beit Midrash. I have been an advocate of Beit Midrash Judaism for a long time. That is every city should have  a place for Jews to get together an learn Torah- but not for money.

I have been doing plenty of thinking about cults and sadly I have way too much experience with them.

But most of the time I look at them from a mystical point of view.  I try to understand if their powers are true at all and if they are they are they from the Side of Good or the Dark Side? Recently I have been looking at this question from the standpoint of Sociology. After all in spite of my distance for the profession I admit that Max Weber and the originators of the profession has good insights.