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30.4.14

cultism practices were common in Jewish Orthodoxy.

There is a human tendency to want to get out of the rat race,- and yet to be doing something that has value in a cosmic way. This has led to the founding of  ashrams, monasteries, etc. In essence this is not a bad idea if the places are in fact devoted towards a spiritual kind of development.  I but I have heard that many of the places founded on high principles become cults. This was well known in the USA in the 1960 with many well known gurus having a some degree of scandal about their activities.
.  And certainly if and when there were  scandals these were certainly unknown. This means most people went into these places [and other contributed to them] with a degree of ignorance. The result of some people finding these places to be sometimes very bad, and sometimes just less than what they had thought, led many to start blogs criticizing the Torah way of life; all based on scanty information. At least in the world of Hinduism and and ashrams the public was highly aware of the good and the bad.

Some people at that point became interested in the general phenomenon of cults and tried to see if and how much of cultism practices were common in Jewish Orthodoxy.
Obviously the desire to leave the rat race is not a bad thing. But it has led to bad things.





Sadly there has been more noise that clarity about these issues.

I do not claim to be very smart or spiritual. But I do claim that by following the Torah path for a small number of years one can come come to Enlightenment [though people in the Torah world will not call it by that name] . I think it is also safe to say that going to the land of Israel can be a great contribution to one spiritual growth.
But that these things do not seem to be immune to the types of abuse and problems one would normally have in any ashram of other spiritually minded environment.















Breslov has taken over the non dualism approach of Hinduism and Buddhism

[1] Buddhism and Hinduism make a lot of assumptions about duality and non duality and about self. What it is and if it exists at all. And if they say it does not exist they are not very clear about what it is exactly that they are saying does not exist. In spite of great philosophical sophistication and depth, both leave me with a sense that they have some good points but those points are mixed with numerous dogmatic assumptions that seem unwarranted.




[2] The Lithuanian world seems to pride itself on its lack of interest in spirituality.To them it is learn Torah and keep mitzvot and that is that. That seems like a fairly good approach in that opening the doors of spirituality seems in fact to welcome a host of phenomenon like illusions and mental illness etc. that seem to be part and parcel of the world of Hasidim.


[3] Breslov has taken over the non dualism approach of Hinduism and Buddhism and accepted it as Halacha Le'Moshe MiSinai. [A law to Moses from mount Sinai] This is in spite of the fact that it is not  traditional Jewish doctrine.

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If you look at the personality cults that have sprouted up around him and around charismatic leaders  claiming to going in the Breslov path, then there is not much to see.








29.4.14

There  are some amazing aspects to the basic Musar path of Torah. Musar here means medieval books of Ethics like the Duties of The Heart and the rest of the basic cannon But we know that Musar was expanded after the Middle Ages and came to include about 30 books considered to be basic. [And many of the later works began to include kabalistic themes like the Mesilat Yesharim at least as an undercurrent.
Nefesh Hachaim certainly uses the Zohar as a source of evidence for his thesis that learning Torah is the most important thing one can do.




Other people [mainly baali teshuva in Israel] went to Breslov directly and that became their basic source of value and frame of reference. So when they later hear themes of the basic Musar books of people like Saadia Geon or the Rambam they think it is heresy.

There are however extra curricular sources which have important contributions to make concerning what human beings are about.


The question is how to find a unifying thread,  A way to judge if a world view is sound--or if any aspects of it might be sound.This is not to say that once one has this thread his human problems will be solved. World view is only one important tool to come to where we need to go. It does not solve any human problems but it can be of some help not to fall into things that claim to be a solutions and yet are simply traps.


I have such thread that I use. Philosophy. But since the beginning of twentieth century philosophy the idea of philosophy being able to provide a way to judge other world views has become ridiculous.All twentieth century philosophy that is linguistic postmodern analytic philosophy- is in the famous words of John Serle "obviously false".
So people can be excused if they think my using philosophy to judge the validity of any given world view is unsound.

So what I have to add is that I mean I use the  common sense, Maimonides, Plato, and Aristotle.

I have had to use my own sense along with philosophical studies outside of mainstream academia in order to develop my own philosophical point of view.




















28.4.14


There are certain professions which attract personalities that have no conscience, snakes in suits. These are areas in which a glib tongue will get someone very far. And you can’t depend on peer review in these areas because all the rest of the people at the top of the profession also got there by the power of their glib tongue and lack of fear for consequences of their actions in this world or the next.


These are not people that are sitting in jail. They are so smooth that they can maneuver themselves out  situations that would land lesser people in jail.

Religious people are exceptionally susceptible to these type of people, because religious people believe in a kind of Divine justice in  which if someone is doing well in this world there must be a reason for it. And if someone is suffering then they must deserve it.

And I do not refer here to the heads of cults. I mean even well respected member of any religious denomination.

In the Jewish world there used to be a mechanism in place that would prevent this kind of abuse. It was the Kahal-- the tax paying working Jews that were in charge of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. They would make sure before they hired someone to serve as a religious leader, that that person really knew the Talmud well.  




Rather it is the type of people they hurt which I find more interesting. These are usually people with a high degree of interest in spiritual affairs and are seeking to become morally better people. It is this class of highly moral and sensitive spiritually minded people that snakes  hurt the most in their deepest subconscious levels.

The people that I tend to blame for this mess are those that without a sense of responsibility try to get people to join the cult of  charismatic Snakes in suits. But other people that that join and then lose their sense of responsibility and try to get others to join are more at fault.









22.4.14

How to learn the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] of Joseph Karo.

I think today I should concentrate on how to learn the Shulchan Aruch.

The fact of the matter is I have assumed that everyone in the world understands this intuitively. But recently I have noticed that this assumption is unwarranted.

So without further ado let me explain it.

The actual way to understand any single halacha in the Shulchan Aruch is by starting from the Talmud.
Sometimes this is very simple. A very good example is  we all know that one is not allowed to eat milk and meat together. But what about a cow's milk producer--the gland that makes milk? This is an argument in the Gemara and  is contained in a few short, simple paragraphs. So once you have read those simple paragraphs, you can trace the halacha down through the Tur, Beit Yoseph, Bach, and the Shulchan Aruch with the Shach and Taz.  [You could do the Rambam and Rif and Rosh also but nothing would change substantially in your understanding.] This is an unusually simple example.

Later I got involved in learning with Naphtali Yegear. That already involved very deep analysis of the Gemara and Tosphot with the Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Shav Shemtta. That was a level of depth I simply was unprepared for. So on my own, as I was doing Ketobot I continued doing the path of Halacha type of learning that starts from the Gemara and weaves down until the  Shulchan Aruch with all its commentaries like the Shach and the Taz. But Halacha type of learning is not the same as in depth learning of Gemara.

This Halacha  type of learning is not really how to learn Gemara. Learning Gemara proper, means to stay on one Tosphot for weeks and maybe months until its depths start to reveal themselves to you. Yet I want to emphasize here that this Halacha type of learning the Gemara is the only legitimate way to learn Halacha. The only reason we do things like reading the Shulchan Aruch straight is to get a general idea. But we must not fool ourselves to think that since we have read a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch that now we understand that Halacha -even with all the commentaries. This is simply not the case. There is no halacha anywhere that one can understand unless he has made that progression from the actual Talmud until the text of the Shulchan Aruch through the poskim in-between.

[But if you do not have a good learning partner I admit it might be best to do the Halacha type of approach to the Talmud. The in depth approach might simply be too hard for people to do on their own and most people are not even aware of its existence. they think learning the Talmud in depth actually means doing it with poskim [Rif, Rambam, Rosh, Tur, Shulchan Aruch]. This is obviously false But it still might be the only thing available to most people. And I might as well admit it the in depth approach was something I could never really get a good handle on. Though I sat through the classes of Reb Shmuel Berenbaum .









21.4.14

Once Muslims get their hands on Atom Bombs, the term "suicide bomber" will take on a whole new meaning.]


The world is definitely headed towards global conflict but it is not between the Ukraine and Russia. It is between Christendom and Islam. And therefore from my Jewish point of view I would like to see Christendom united and strengthened. [OK I admit if everyone would-sit and learn Gemara that would be a better option. But being that that is unlikely at least we can all agree that mankind ought to make progress towards a more ethical moral human decent world rather that towards barbarianism and jihad. Progress towards the later at this point would mean the extinction of the human race. Once Muslims get their hands on Atom Bombs the term suicide bomber will take on a whole new meaning.]



16.4.14

total immersion in Torah



The basic opinion of only Torah all day finds its basic expression in the Nefesh Hachaim of Chaim from Voloshin the major disciple of the Geon from Villna. But to a large degree it is implicit in older books of Musar and in the Talmud itself. In fact in the Tenach (the Hebrew Bible) we do find the idea that serving God is the only thing that has value. 

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


But in truth the idea of learning Torah as a profession I did not hear about when I was in NY . There never was a question in anyone's mind that one should learn Torah all the time but that it is not to be a paid profession. The idea in N.Y. was that if one was sufficiently devoted to learning Torah, that God would provide some means of support,- in some kosher  way--not in the form of a pay check for sitting  learning.
  Everyone knew the simple basic Halacha that one is not allowed to make the Torah into a device to make money. Secular and religious Jews alike.
There is a difficult fine line here--the line that one should learn Torah but that this should not be a paid profession.
 Torah is everywhere.  It is the root of all creation. The Ten Statements of Creation the root of creation and inside of them are the Ten Commandments which are to essence of the Torah.
Torah is everywhere and in all actions and in all people. But in forbidden actions the glory of God is not revealed. So how do forbidden actions have any existence? They is by the first of the ten statements of Creation, the hidden statement. This is the highest of all the statements. That means that when one has fallen into the kelipot-- areas of darkness where there is no glory of God and from there one realizes how far he is as fallen and begins to seek God from there, that is when he has the highest flight into the highest levels.
The point being that one needs to learn Torah in order to find God. But when one does learn Torah and keeps his commandments then he can serve God through anything.















11.4.14


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


There are individual areas of halachah I also disagree but these are based on my reading of the Talmud and the later authorities like the Rif, Rambam, Tur, and Shulchan Aruch with its commentaries the Shach and the Taz.--




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


In terms of Books in Torah thought that I think are the most impressive I would have to put the  the Madragat Haadam of Joseph Yozel Horvitz commonly known as the "Alter of Navardok".
As for the Madgarat Haadam there is not even any English translation.

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


Some of the most important ideas in these books a re ideas that have universal validity and are in no way specific for Jewish people. One is trust in God with no effort. This is probably the most important idea of the Madragat HaAdam. The other is talking with God in a forest or some place far away from other people. 



The Orthodox do have one advantage over me--they seem more Jewish.This seems to me to be the result of a kind of nationalism (or rather chauvinism)  in which seeming Jewish seems to be the most important thing. And the Orthodox certainly seem very Jewish. They wear lots of black clothing. They speak Yiddish. They hate everything that smacks of  culture or gentile thought. There is obviously nothing remotely good or Jewish about any of this. But if what you value the most is to seem Jewish, then by all means go ahead and join them.




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

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























9.4.14



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




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

For people that are limited in time and have to go to school my suggestion is  to introduce into schools two pretty important books of philosophical and  ethical thought--the book of Joseph Horvitz --the Madrgat Haadam I see both as containing important principles for the proper conduct of human life.  

They contain these basic principles: Trust in God with no efforts, talking to God in a forest or someplace where you are not seen or heard by others, learning the Torah, and a program designed to correct ones character flaws--learning Musar.





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

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


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


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

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

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























7.4.14


I knew this fellow fairly well and we had a few discussions about difficult subjects in the writings of Isaac Luria an he knew the material very well. Much better than almost any so called kabalaists in Israel.

A few years ago i lost contact with him while on my adventures to the USA and Uman and to other parts of Israel outside of Jerusalem.

when i knew him he was on the up and up. He was married [a prerequisite for respect in the world of the charedim] and well respected in the community.
The yesterday I met him again and he had been in prison.. His wife was on the path to becoming pretty much not religious and so there a divorce and she was instructed as common in the chareidi world to make the worst possible accusations and lies against her husband so that she would gain the advantage in the monetary arrangements. [Charedim do not advice all young wives to make these claims--only baali teshuva wives. But for people born a part of their community they go out of their way to make peace.]

The thing here is that after he told me some of the things that happened to him and his family i kind of sympathize with the wife. They were living in some yishuv outside of Jerusalem and had bought a large plastic swimming pool for their 5 year and 4 old daughters.one weekend they went away and the chareidi neighbors slashed it .

6.4.14


I was having the traditional cholent on Shabat.  I said over my little idea about Rav Huna who had thousands of students and the fact that he was not paid anything for learning or teaching Torah. In fact Abyee had a scheme to have his students advice him to divorce his wife and then the guarantor of her dowry/Ketuba [Rav Huna's father] would have to pay, and then he could remarry her and then have money for breakfast. The Ketuba all in all was about two hundred dollars. So Rav Huna must have been in desperate straits. And still he did not ask or receive any money by learning Torah. I have said this over a few times already but I was surprised by the reaction of the fellow I knew from Jerusalem.

I said that the present day gezera of having to serve in the IDF is a result of the sin of using the Torah to make money.