On the issue of idolatry in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, on page 60

To explain what I mean, let me give a little introduction.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, on page 60, we find a teaching [called a "braita"] which tells us how do we know one is liable if he serves idolatry not according to its usual way. It says: We learn it from "He who sacrifices to the gods will be destroyed ." [Exodus 22] (i.e. If sacrifice is the usual way, then why mention it? It is already included in "How do they serve?" So it must be coming to tell us also not in its usual way is liable.)
Rava asks, why can't we learn instead from "least  he will bow?"((Deuteronomy 17))
Rav Acha asks on Rava if we would learn from bowing then what would "How do the nations serve their gods"(Deuteronomy 22)  come to tell us?

Why does Rav Acha not ask this same question on the original braita? That is the question both topshot and the Baal HaMeor ask.

Before I go further let me offer a little explanation. The point of the Gemara here is that we have two verses telling us the same thing. They intersect the same set.
The answer of the Meor HaGadol is yes they do intersect the same set but you might have thought they don't. You might have learning from "least he sacrifice" to make forbidden also things that are not the way of that idol, and yet still in the way of honor like kissing an idol that one usually hugs.

That is the verse "How do they serve" come in fact come to exclude something you might have thought even though in fact "sacrifice" does not forbid things of honor that are not the way of that idol.

Tosphot develops a different line of logic. He starts out showing that "How do they serve" comes to tell us at least things that are forbidden. His point is that even though the Gemara does finds something to it comes to permit still it is implicit that it forbids some things. So since the fact of the matter is that "He who sacrfices to the gods will be destroyed" (Exodus 22)  and "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 22) in fact intersect the exact same set of permitted things,  we have to understand the original question of the Gemara as being all inclusive what at all does "How do they serve?" come to tell us--that is even forbidden things. Because Tosphot is saying that we would learn everything from "bowing" even service according to its way-- even not in the way of honor.


But I might add a little background information for people that have only a little bit of experience with learning Gemara.

[1] Service to an idol is forbidden in two ways. One way is service that is usually done to that idol, like throwing stones at an idol that that is its way of worship. That is even though throwing stones at something is usually considered as disrespect, still if it is the way of that idol  then one is liable.

Another way something can be forbidden is if it is one of four types of serve pouring wine, burning incense, sacrificing an animal or bowing.

[2] People can be objects of idolatry. This fact is not relevant to the above essay but still important to keep in mind.
But the Talmud itself does not go into much detail about what can be an object of idolatry. It was written in Babylon where the distinction between Jews going to their Temple and praying was clearly different from worshipers of idols going to their places of worship. Only much later did people like Saadia Geon and Maimonides have to deal with the issue of what can be an object of idolatry. But the fact that this is not talked about much in the Talmud means the issue remains blurry.

I want to show here a little of the depths of Tosphot. There is one line in Topshot that says something that seems to not fit the rest of what he is saying. I have already pointed this out that this kind of thing is found in almost every Tosphot in Shas. At first glance it seems like a mistake. Then after you think about it you start to see the point. And much later you realize that he was saying something essential to his argument. Before Tosphot states his answer he says "and without 'How do they serve?' we would not know service according to its way not in a way of honor would be forbidden." True, but it seems to be the opposite of what he is trying to say. What could his point be? And it can't be part of his answer which says just the opposite. I want here to say that Topshot is reinforcing his question-in this way: We know that, "How do they serve?" has no intersection with bowing or with sacrifice, so what could the question of Rav Acha be? Of course we need "How do they serve?" We would not forbid throwing stones at Markulis (an idol that one serves by throwing stones) without "How do they serve?" So we have to say there is some intersection with bowing that we would not have with sacrifice. Tosphot is trying to get to his point that bowing would forbid quadrant IV (Its way and not a way of honor). But here his point is that without saying that "bowing" forbids something in quadrant IV, we would not ask "What does 'how do they serve' permit?" We would not ask such a question unless it did not forbid something. So Tosphot is asking two questions. Why does Rav Acha not ask on "sacrifice" also? If you learn from "sacrifice" then what does "How do they serve" permit? So the Gemara has to mean that it has gone through the options of what "How do they serve?" might forbid and found nothing. How is that possible? It must be because "bowing" forbids everything that "how do they serve" forbids. And if "bowing" would not forbid something in quadrant IV then the question would not even start because we would need "How do they serve?" for that quadrant. A simpler way of putting this is this: Tosphot considers the question of the Gemara in two ways. He asks himself: "What does it mean to ask what do we need 'how do they serve?'? Does it mean, what does it forbid? But that can't be because we know it forbids something that neither "bowing" nor "sacrifice" forbid --i.e. all of quadrant IV. Then maybe it means, what does it permit? But that also can't be because then why ask it only on "bowing" and not on sacrifice also? (Because both "sacrifice" and "bowing" and "How do they serve?" all allow quadrant III.) Tosphot concludes that therefore we have to say that "bowing" and "How do they serve?" that both forbid quadrant IV and that is the reason the Gemara asks only on "bowing." The Meor Hagadol asks the same question but as I mentioned he answers it differently. He says we use "How to they serve?" (Deuteronomy 22) to tell us things in quadrant II are permitted that we might have thought are forbidden e.g. kissing an idol that one usually hugs. That is a good usage. But we can't do the same thing with "bowing" because "bowing" in fact forbids that very thing. Appendix 1) I wanted to add one small detail that I hope was clear. It is that if we learn from "bowing" then all quadrant II would be forbidden--i.e. service not like the normal way and yet in the way of honor. But in fact we do not learn from "bowing" anything except to tell us that it is a forbidden kind of worship towards any idol. The verse that we do learn from is "least he go and sacrifice" and that tells us all types of service that were done in the Temple are forbidden-not just any kind of honor.] 2) I also wanted to add a point that I skipped in the above essay because I thought it would detract from the continuity. It is the reason why Topshot is considering the question of the Gemara in two opposite ways. I.e. what does, "How do they serve come to exclude?" clearly the Gemara clearly tries to find what does, "How do they serve?" come to permit. So why does Topshot treat it as, "What does it come to forbid?" The reason is contained in the very cryptic phrases of Tosphot. He exclude the possibilities of coming to permit because what ever bowing permits sacrifice will permit more. So Tosphot is showing why he has to go to the opposite direction. 3)Tosphot thinks that there is no way that "sacrifice" can possibly be expanded to all of quadrant II (not the way of that idol but honorable service). And therefore there is no reason we would need how to they serve to eliminate it. That is the essential reason he disagrees with the Meor Hagadol. And in that he seems to have a good point. And Tosphot does not need a extra verse to tell us that all kinds of serve done with honor are forbidden because the gemara understands that that is the essential meaning of bowing.[Actually this last point I am a little fuzzy on. Why would Tosphot not need a verse to expand bowing to all the things he wants to expand it to?!!!] 4) One thing I did not mention is that according to way of thinking of the Meor HaGadol when there might have been a prohibition for all of quadrant IV and "how do they serve?" tells us that there is in fact no liability there then how to we know which direction is determinate? But why? Maybe we should go with the idea that that area is forbidden and use "how do they serve" for something else?!  


Talmud Sanhedrin page 61a.

We have a outside teaching--(a braita) that says we know you can't serve idols in a way that is not usual from the verse "He who sacrifices to the gods will be destroyed."[Exodus 22] Rava asks: "Why not learn this from "He will  bow?"[Deuteronomy 17]
Rav Acha asks on this question of Rava thus: If we would learn from "bowing" then what would "How do they serve?" ([Deuteronomy 12) come to tell us?
Tosphot asks on this question of Rav Acha why did he not ask it on the the original Braita where we learn from "sacrifice?"

allow HaMeor

The Gemara in Sanhedrin page 61a and the second Topshot that starts, "How do they serve?"


Idolatry should not be worshiped in one of two ways. One is its normal service and the other is not its normal service. The not normal service in order to be liable needs to be either sacrifice, burning, pouring, or bowing. If one just hugs it, then he is not liable (if that is not the usual way of worship).

But the idea of the normal way of worship is a bit frightening. What if someone says, "Give me charity, and I promise you a good year?" Is that idolatry if someone gives him money? It certainly seems so. After all it seems the basic implication is that the person involved is claiming Divine powers. And that seems to be all one needs in order to be considered an idol.


Not all religions are created equal. The troubling issue with Islam is that when given a chance to vote they vote for fanatic Islam. This was unexpected. George Bush II thought he would take a dictator out of the picture in Iraq, and everything would be hunky dory. The reason he thought this was because much of politics during the twentieth century revolved around the question of Communism verse Capitalism. These were the only two options.  People in the USA thought that when the USSR fell, people world wide and especially in the Middle East would automatically gravitate towards capitalism and democracy. No one thought people in the Middle East would use democracy process to vote for terroristic Islam.


It is hard for me to imagine how to defend Torah without philosophy.

That is I think that knowledge has to come from either material evidence or reason or something else. And I can’t see how material evidence supports the Torah. Nor can I see much in the way of reason except for the basic principles of faith. In fact I have to go towards non intuitive immediate knowledge.

Now I think that Orthodox Judaism today is based on the school of thought of the Ramban (Moshe ben Nachman) -- that is the fusion of Kabalah with Talmud.
[That is to say that Orthodox Judaism is not based on Maimonides in terms of world view but rather  Nachmanides]. And since that is the case many Orthodox Jews do not feel the need to defend themselves against questions based on reason. Because in the first place they are not thinking of anything outside of Torah as having any validity. Now I can't argue against that but personally I think the Rambam Maimonides was right.

The learning of philosophy  does  little to advance peoples' fear of God. Plus philosophy seems to have sunk into an abyss in the last hundred years. Analytic philosophy is based on a mistake. While the critique of Wittgenstein on Frege's expanded idea of the a priori was true, analytic philosophy assumed this proved Kant's idea of the a priori was also not true.  [Kelly Ross: For most of L/AP, the counterexamples to the principle of sense determining reference were used to deny that there were intentional senses -- often then used as evidence that meaning is extensional, i.e. consisting of the individuals to which the terms referred. Katz, however, properly argues that they only refute Frege's theory of senses, specifically the part of the theory that holds that sense determines reference. There are intentional senses; but sense does not determine reference. It's simple. But, unfortunately, it provides no traction for the project of the tradition to reject metaphysics. Thus, Katz introduces an "autonomous" theory of sense, that issues and truths involving sense are independent of issues and truths involving reference. This enables him to shed one mistake after another that was put forward by Wittgenstein or Quine.][Frege wanted to improve on Kant's notion of analytic truth by making it more "fruitful." Thus, the analytic meaning of any concept consists of definitions and all the implications derivable from those by the laws of logic. But As Katz says, If the content of concepts is determined on the basis of laws of logic, then there can be no concepts.This blows away Frege's theory, but the point, naturally, was used by Wittgenstein to deny intentional senses altogether (in favor of his "usage," behaviorist, theory of meaning). Katz simply points out that it recoils only on Frege's, not on Kant's, conception of analyticity.] So all twentieth century analytic philosophy is based on a simple mistake.

Also I should mention  that even though I think the Rambam the truth and the light, I still see the other Rishonim (medieval authorities) as having valid points and critiques. 


Dr. Kelly Ross on the State of Israel.

Dr. Kelly Ross on the State of Israel.

[This is a short version of his essay. In it he takes his basic viewpoint based on Kant and Fries and applies it to the situation in Israel. You can see right away his basic  approach is based on Kant's idea of individual moral autonomy.]

"Two questions are relevant: (1) Does Israel have a right to exist? and (2) Is Israel a just state? For the first question, we must also ask what it means. If Israel does not have a "right" to exist, does this mean that Jews don't have a right to live there and should be expelled or "driven into the sea"? The answers to all these questions, of course, depend on one's principles. In liberal and individualist terms, no state has a "right to exist." States exist, as Locke believed and Jefferson said, "to secure these rights," i.e. individual rights of life, liberty, and property. In those terms, Israeli Jews have every right to be where they are, in safety and security. Whether Israel then has the right to exist as such then depends on whether, in liberal terms, it is a just state. Unfortunately, the answer is that it isn't. Israeli Arabs may be freer, safer, wealthier, and more secure than the citizens of any Arab country, but they are not citizens in the same way, with the same duties and privileges, as Israeli Jews. Israel is not a liberal state, where all citizens have the same individual and interchangeable rights and responsibilities; it is an ethnic state, founded and devoted to the Jewish People, whose rights and obligations, as a group, are different from non-Jewish Israelis.

If Israel is not a just state, one might ask, does this mean that the Arab cause should simply be supported? Not if the Arab cause would fail to produce a state any more just than Israel. Israeli Arabs do not have much political power, but they have some. In Arab states, which are generally monarchies, dictatorships, or one party states, minorities (except in Lebanon), not to mention the mass of citizens, have little or no political power. If Israel were overthrown by force, it is hard to imagine, even if there was not a general massacre or expulsion, that a government could conceivably be established that would have the kind of freedom and political rights that would be necessary for a peaceful and equitable solution and for the communities to live together. What doesn't exist in any Arab state is not something that would be likely in a new Arab Palestine; and the way that Yasser Arafat ran the Palestinian Authority, with corruption, assassinations, etc., is not the kind of thing to suggest anything different. Arab countries simply do not have the kind of political tradition or cultural background that is necessary for democratic and liberal government. That a vicious, cynical, murderous tyrant like Saddam Hussein should be as popular as he was, and should have remained in power in Iraq so long as he did, is testament to the pathetic level of Arab moral maturity and political sophistication. We see this again, after the death of Yasser Arafat, when the radical Islamist and terrorist Hamas party won the general elections in the Palestinian Territories.

The Zionists, in short, bought themselves a world of trouble, and trouble for the rest of the world as well. Zionist ideology of collective national rights and aspirations was nothing special in 1900. It was never commensurable with the liberal principles of the Enlightenment, but now it pales in comparison to the overtly apocalyptic, totalitarian, and terrorist ideology of contemporary Militant Islâm -- in reaction, not just to Israel, but to the liberal, tolerant, commercial principles of Western states whose laws make no religious, ethnic, or national distinctions themselves. The anti-Israeli cause is now an anti-Western, anti-capitalist cause. Israel can identify itself with the West to benefit from this conflict, even if it is not the best representative of those Western values.

Much of the appeal of Zionism to Jews, then, was simply out of a sense of not being at the mercy of others. If you can protect yourself, you don't need to rely on the good will of people who, even if they actually are of good will, may change their minds or be replaced by lunatics. If nothing else, Israel changed the age-old impression of Jews as passive, frightened, weak, helpless, and, as any Nietzschean could tell you, contemptible. Instead, everyone knows what the Jewish army, the Jewish air force, and Jewish secret agents can do; and the hatred of the enemies of Israel has now for long been mixed with fear. Rather than a race of short, dark, stooped, and timid peddlers or bookworms, the modern Israeli emerges tall, golden, fit, confident, and forceful.

While it has always been possible to make reasonable arguments that are anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic, at this point things are well beyond that. The Islamic world is awash with a tide of naked Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism that draws on every source available, freely recycling Tsarist, Nazi, and Soviet propaganda, even while trying to label Israelis as the true Nazis. Lofty moral critiques of settlement policies rub shoulders with portrayals of Jews as pigs. Westerns may not see much of this, which mainly exists in Arabic and the other languages of Islam and is carefully ignored, if not denied, by apologists speaking to European or American audiences. Fortunately, it is available to the curious and the concerned through tireless translation projects. Yet some of the worst stuff turns up in textbooks used in American, and not always Muslim, schools.

Which brings me back to necessity. Zionists may not have believed that there was ever anything but anti-Jewish hostility on the part of the Arabs, and the development of events has provided little evidence that such a judgment would have been wrong.

... Indeed, not long ago Palestinians seemed to have a clearer sense that they were being used by Arab governments. Even as many of those governments have now been overthrown, they may think that Islam promises a unified force behind them; but the appeal in all this is still to a pure ethic of violence, in which no sensible Israeli is ever likely to find a hint of good will, let alone an inducement to compromise their security. 

Recollecting arguments that I used to have, mainly in the late 60's and early 70's, with Israelis and American Jews, about Israel, one thing now strikes me as noteworthy and revealing. Although essentially taking a throughly pro-Palestianian position and denying the legitimacy of Israel, what I faced were always earnest arguments and never any kind of hostility, threat, insult, or abuse. I don't think I was ever even accused of anti-Semitism. This was driven home to me when I later ran afoul of Assyrian nationalists, whose initial response to questions about the historicity of their connection to ancient Assyria (which was annihilated in 609 BC) typically seemed to be threats and abuse, with strangely inappropriate doses of anti-Semitism thrown in. The behavior of the Assyrians seemed all too much like the attitude of Muslims who think that "insults" to Islam must be immediately met with deadly force. In general, I have never known Jews to be like that.

As Israel drifts towards a more conservative and more observant vision, the Temple Mount becomes more than just symbolic; but as contemporary Islâm becomes more militant, the same effect also occurs. Sharon's visit, therefore, was incendiary. Israeli forces had withdrawn from most cities in the West Bank and Gaza, but negotiations were reaching an impass on a final settlement. Arafat was still asking for a "right of return" for Palestinians. This was probably more than any Israeli government could grant. So violent struggle again became the Palestinian approach, with the growing use of suicide bombers, even including young women. This continued for several years, despite devastating military action by Israel, with episodes of reoccupying Palestinian cities and refugee camps, often leaving them in ruins, either as retaliation or in the attempt to hunt down the bomb makers. Accusations of massacres have not been confirmed by neutral observers, but looting and vandalism by Israeli troops seems to have occurred. Considering the terror and horror of the suicide attacks, one can hardly blame them, but it is certainly not making things any better. The more suffering and humiliation that the Israelis inflict, it may be that the more determined and hostile that the Palestinians become.

 Although Israel has had generally peaceful and normal relations with Egypt and Jordan, the sympathies of the Arab public at large are entirely for the Palestinians, and increasingly for Islamic militants. In a way, only the non-democratic nature of these countries may have stood in the way of the general renewal of war. It was always possible that radicals could overthrow moderate governments, as almost seemed to occur when Anwar Sadat was assassinated. By 2012, of course, the Mubarak regime in Egypt has been overthrown and the (strictly speaking illegal) Muslim Brotherhood elected in both parliament and presidency. The military has displayed some reluctance to give this government real power, but the trend is clearly headed towards the worst result of Islamic radicalism, belligerence, and terrorism. The Christian Copts come under frequent physical and judicial attacks. Although Israel continues to be upbraided by the Left, including some radical Jews, for not making peace with the Palestinians, accommodation is now what is furthest from the minds of Hamas and its radical allies. 

What the prudent course is for the Israelis is not obvious. If the Palestinians in general are really irredeemably hostile and unreconcilable to Israel, then a hermetic division of the country and a sealing off of Israel, as it was from 1948 to 1967, may be the only way to prevent terrorism. But this would also mean returning Israel to something like an island existence, from the countries with whom it could have safe intercourse. That is not a life and world that anyone would like to have. This would also give the Arab world the impression of a people at bay. A dangerous people, to be sure, since it is an open secret that Israel has nuclear weapons, but the way things are going, there are many Arabs, and certainly many Palestinians, who would settle for a great deal of mutual destruction if only Israel itself could be wiped out. This is the very stuff of the apocalypse.

Since I wrote the last paragraph in 2002, Israel has gone a long way towards just such a hermetic division. A wall is being constructed dividing Israel from Palestinian territory. This already seems to be largely effective in ending the infiltration of suicide bombers into Israel. However, it also encompasses more than pre-1967 Israel, including some West Bank settlements and strategic positions. This was vigorously protested by the Palestinian Authority and ruled illegal by the International Court in the Hague. On the other hand, Ariel Sharon removed Israeli settlements from Gaza, despite fierce resistance and protest from Israeli settlers. The wall implies that many West Bank settlements will be removed like the ones in Gaza. On Jerusalem, however, there seems to be no compromise contemplated. The wall will exclude some but include other majority Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, including the Old City.

The somber lesson of it all, however, is that collective rights easily produce large scale conflicts that often can be resolved only by force. With individual rights, conflicts are much smaller and can be addressed by the laws of property and contract. Where force is used in the large conflicts, it means war. Where force is used in the small conflicts, it is simply called "crime" -- or "self-defense," depending on the circumstances. The irony of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the Palestinians, who would benefit the most from principles of individual rights, especially property rights, are politically in the camp of those who are the most hostile, not just to individual rights, but to the civilization and countries that are the originators and principal exemplars of such rights. After the modest hopes of the "Arab Spring" in 2011, it looks like the success of the radicals is making all of this much worse, not better. What Talleyrand said of one of Napoleon's judicial murders, we might now say of Palestinian and Islamic terrorism: "It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake.""


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.

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 find in the Torah the idea of an intermediary but we don't find that one can worship an intermediary.


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. It is a religion of war for the Muslims that do believe in it and for their victims.

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.

My recommendation would be to send in a few Jesuits. In fact that might be the only practical advice I could give. I was thinking if perhaps to send in a few Mirrer Yeshiva students but that seems less practical. Thought it might be desirable. After all the best option would be to teach them Torah. But Jesuits have had traditionally more success in that direction.

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.


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  in NY and  also in Far Rockaway . 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.
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 the 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.


How to combat Islam:--Learn Torah

The way today to deal with the threat of Evil in its forms 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.

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).


Two day ago I wrote on my blog here a question on the Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin page 61a.

At the time I had not looked up the Maharam from Lublin. [which is printed together with the Maharsha].
While I was waiting for my learning partner today I glanced at the Maharam and saw he asks exactly my question. Sorry about that.

On one hand as far as the Internet goes it is nice I can show that my thinking is accurate. But if this was a chidush [idea] in my notebooks, this would be an embarrassment that I did not even look up the Marharam.

Of course it is interesting also that no one else noticed this. It seems that such a simple fact that my question had already been asked by the Maharam might have been noticed by someone. This probably shows that people that there are not very many people that learn Talmud that looks at my blog. Maybe they are too busy learning. Good for them.


One thing you do see with idolatry --that it depends on intention. It says in the Mishna [Sanhedrin 60b], "These people are liable for idolatry: one who sacrifices or serves it according to its usual way, or one who accepts it as his god and says to it 'You are my god.' This is simple if intention is not involved. (I mean to say that case one is different from case two.) But to answer a contradiction with a later Mishna, Rav Hamenuna says [on the next page--Sanhedrin 61a] it means even the first cases a have intention-but the intention is not until they are served.
Logistically this makes sense but it certainly is not the simple way of looking at the Mishna. that means this principle of intention is so important that the Gemara is willing to interpret the mishna in an very un-obvious way to make it work out right.--also because of the later Mishna.
This is like in Shabat where we require thought work ["melechet machshevet"] to be liable.

But at this point we have to ask, What kind of intention makes one liable? Clearly it can't be to consider the idol to be a creator. No ancient gods were creators. They all found some preexisting substance to form the world from. Rather they had spiritual powers. And this seems to be the most simple basic intention one needs to be liable for idolatry. To bring some kind of sacrifice, or to burn incense or to pour a libation or to bow or to serve according to his way to a person that one thinks has spiritual powers in order to gain some benefit or in order to get closer to God [as per the Rambam on Perek Chelek].
I would venture a guess that the Geon from Villna might have thought that the chasidm of his time had crossed the line from monotheism towards polytheism.

 So  however I can see many people  that get involved in Breslov seems to make a tzadik the center of their attention and this troubles me because of the idolatry problem

On the issue of idolatry I have a great idea. It it concerns the Talmud [or as I prefer Gemara] in Sanhedrin 61a.Just for background let me say that you cant do idolatry either according to the usual way of worship of the idol or by one of four other ways: sacrifice, burning, pouring, bowing. Rav Acha juxtaposes a statement of Rava  and Rabbi Elazar in order to ask a question. And I would like to suggest a question on his answer that I think it is an amazingly obvious question that I think that someone else must have asked it before me.

The idea of Rava is to learn worship not according to the way of that idol from "he will bow" instead of "he will sacrifice" and that would tell us all kinds of service of honor would be forbidden--even not service according to the way of that idol.

Then Rav Acha asks on Rava from the statement of Rabbi Elazer who says: How do we know one can't sacrifice to Mercury? From the verse, "So that they shall no longer bring their sacrifices to the goats."

The question of Rav Acha is this: If we already know from "bowing" all kinds of service of honor, then why do we also need this other way of Rabbi Elezar to tell us less than what we already know?

The Gemara answers: The statement of Rabbi Elezar refers to when one sacrifices in order to make G-d mad, not to serve idols. Now I think we can all agree that this answer sounds strained. If we look at the verse we can see that the idea is God says "I am making this law that they bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle  in order that they should no longer bring their sacrifices to the goats (idols)." Surely they were not bring their sacrifices to the goats (idols) in order to make God mad, but rather to worship idolatry. And since God is making this parallelism, it would have to mean: They should no longer bring their sacrifices to goats (idols)  in order to make me mad and rather bring their sacrifices to me to make me mad. [Of course, you could say it really is anti parallel--and God means rather: They should bring their sacrifices to me to make the goats (idols) mad.] It does not matter anyway because all I am doing is showing how the answer of the Gemara is anything but obvious in order to build up my question that they Gemara could have proposed an alternative answer.

So my question is this. Why did not the Gemara say simply that Rabbi Elazar refers to Mercury and other idol that are worshiped in ways of dishonor, and Rava was referring to idols that are worshiped in a way of honor?

That is the same way the Gemara divides worship not according to it way into four parts -worship of dishonor and idols of dishonor and worship of honor and idols of honor so do the same here.

One answer here is you need only Markulis [Mercury] and you know idolatry of honor by a  a fortiori. But that can't work because we don't make prohibitions based on a fortiori.


As far as I know in Iran there is a "Hate America Day." The Great Satan they call it. And they are actively developing nuclear weapons to destroy the Great Satan. Then the ISIS (Sunni) comes along and now Iran (Shiite)  is asking American aid to help defeat the ISIS. Does this make sense to anyone?

Why would the USA help Iran? It is not like they are some kind of democratic ally. And it has been the policy of the USA to help democracies ever since Wilson. And to me this looks to be a good idea. Helping people whose every prayer is for the destruction of the USA makes little sense to me.

 The  Wilson  doctrine of self determination was seen right away as being incoherent by a close advisor [self determination for whom? cities? Counties? Nations? Communities> Religions in one nations? different nations in one community? . Wilson afterwards regretted the idea and said he did not expect there to be a new nation every single day that was claiming the right to self determination.] still the basic idea of  helping democracies makes a lot of sense to me. Not helping all kinds of self determination. But the kind that supports democratic values.


Evil in its forms

My feeling about the evil inclination is that it has several different aspects to it. One is physical desire. Nowadays it is not a popular concept, but  during the Middle Ages this was considered the major aspect of the evil inclination. See the Chovot Levavot {The Musar book called Duties of the Heart} for example. The other is a kind of evil inclination that  Israel Salanter talked about, the spiritual evil inclination. That is a inclination that comes to a person that is directed towards evil even when physical desires oppose it. The "Imp of the Perverse," as Edward Allen Poe called it.

 But I would like to suggest a third and forth evil inclination. One is bad worldviews. The other is bad attitudes.

Bad worldviews are easy to identify. For example a person can have very good characteristics. He can be kind, and clean, and considerate, and perfectly psychologically healthy, but believe that to get entrance into Gan Eden he must behead as many Christian or Jewish infidels as possible. That is, he is Muslim.

But some world view issues are more difficult to identify. Even things written in books of  ethics and morality like Musar books might not be applicable across the board.  Also there is the problem of conflicting values in Torah itself. I might mention the conflict between working and learning Torah for one thing. Or honoring ones parents as opposed to other activities that might or might not be required by Torah.

Other problem include the fact that learning Torah in fact does not give immunity from the evil inclination. .
 Now one way to solve conflicting values in Torah would seem to be to go to the Rambam. He divides mitzvot of the Torah according to their purpose. Many mitzvot are to prevent idolatry. Many others are for peace of the country. Some are for other purposes. And we know that the reason for mitzvot according to the Rambam does determine to some degree how they are applied. [as we see with the rich widow that the Rambam decides like R. Yehuda against R. Shimon but gives a reason for it that the reason of the Torah still applies to her.]That is in the view of the Rambam the Torah has certain commandments that it is the purpose of the Torah to bring one to. Telos-- "purpose" Ethics. So a command not to serve other gods would be purpose of many other mitzvot. For example not to wear  tattoo, or not to make an idol even if one does not worship it. etc. The purpose of many mitzvot is peace of the state. So in application the mitzvot that are to bring to that would have to be applied only in a way that in fact brings to peace of the State.

So I suggest to learn Musar. That is the classical books of Musar that R. Israel Salanter founded his movement upon. This is for the purpose of  gaining a Torah world view. Plus there are several books by the close disciples of R. Salanter. The main benefit of these books I believe is in fact in the area of world view. --not so much what people think it is supposed to do--correcting ones character.[It does not matter if you are religious or not or even if your are Jewish or not--these are important books for world view issues.]


Appendix: Musar means classical Musar e.g. Chovot Levavot, Orchot Tzadikim and the books of Moshe Chaim Lutzato and the student of  Gaon from Villna-- Reb Chaim from Voloshin.
 You can find things that you disagree with but it gives a basic framework for a Torah World view.


Breslov has a wide appeal to people because people are looking for a real tzadik. and this list of people includes me.The problem seems to be what is called in Breslov "mefursamim of sheker" (leaders that are considered to be tzadikm but are not).

The main thing that I think people find in Breslov is emotional appeal [power].  That is it is not just they are looking for a tzadik but they find some kind of inspiration.. I mean if you are like me you want a unified clear idea of Torah. Now you could just as well go to the Rambam's Guide for the Perplexed for this reason. But the Guide has a bit too much medieval science in it to be compelling.

I might mention that leaders of Breslov tend to be unfamiliar with traditional Jewish writing. [Like The Guide for the Perplexed of Maimonides or the Emunot VeDeot of Saadia Geon.]

You have the opinion of Rava in the Talmud that one is liable for idolatry only when he accepts the idol  as his god. Abyee disagrees with this but the law is like Rava [as is always the case except in 6 specific cases where the Talmud says the law is like Abyee.][Sanhedrin 61b]

I had thought that perhaps the idea of "accepting as ones god," means to be initiated into the cult of that particular god. But my learning partner pointed out that this is unlikely. It would mean that doing downright straight forward idolatry would be not guilty as long as one has not become a devote. That is, one could walk into  the temple of Zeus, and bring a sacrifice with intension to gain some benefit [like rain (as was the original idea of Zeus before the Greeks elevated his status)], and still not be liable as long as one has not been initiated into the cult. This seems very unlikely.

So far as concerning idolatry I am still in the beginning stages of collecting information. But so far it looks to me that to be liable there is no need for a physical object. E.G. lets us say that some archangel comes down to earth  perhaps even the particular angel that the ancients associated with the name Zeus and this angel appears to a person and the person bows down to it. Would this be liable?

At this point it seems to me the most basic idea of idolatry is the worship of any being besides the First Cause in order to get closer to the First Cause or to gain some benefit. But this benefit has to be not in a natural way. There has to be some idea of this alternative being has some power over some aspect of the world or human life that is beyond normal physical reality.


In terms of the Talmud in Sanhedrin page 61a I want here to state what I think is a major question.

It is the question of Rav Acha from Diphti on Rava. His question is if Rava would be right then what does how do they serve come to tell us. Now at first it looked to me like he could even skip this part of his argument and go right to his question--the contradiction between Rabbi Elazar and Rava. But this I realized afterwards was wrong. He needed to lead up to his question because he wanted to make sure that bowing would be placed in the area of service not according to the way of that idol. And then he could ask the question from the statement of Rabbi Elazar.

But then my learning partner asked, "Why does he not ask straight from Rabbi Elazar onto the original Braita?" 
Now at first I thought that that was the question of Tosphot but it turned out that that is not true. Tosphot asks something that superficially looks like the question of my learning partner but is not in fact the same. Topshot ask if the question from "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 12) is valid for "bowing" (Deuteronomy 17) why is it not also a question on "sacrifice" (Exodus 22)? And that is relevant only to that stage of the argument. The question from my learning partner is totally different. It is not Rabbi Elazar starting with a completely different set of assumptions from the Braita? So why not ask straight out from the beginning: "Do we learn serve not according to the normal way from "he who sacrifices to false gods will be destroyed"(Exodus 22) or do we learn from "So they shall no longer sacrifice to the goats."(Leviticus)

Just for reference for those who do not have the Talmud Sanhedrin in front of them here is the basic idea:

Braita: serve to an idols according to the non-normal way of that idol is forbidden because of  "he who sacrifices to idols will be destroyed"

Rava: why not learn from "he will go and bow"?
Rav Acaha: If Rava would be right that we could ask from bowing then what would we do with he how do they serve? It has to be for dishonorable service. But then what would we do with Rabbi Elazar who says, "We know one can't sacrifice to Mercury because of the verse 'so they shall no longer sacrifice to goats.'"