learning Torah is the highest mitzvah

 In the older type of Torah system it was considered that learning Torah is the highest mitzvah and that as much time one needed to spend on a vocation was acceptable but not desirable.

Now the Rambam is probably the best support of Torah of all. He is highly rigorous but leans towards Aristotle.
So between the Rambam the Ramchal  there is fairly strong basis for Torah.
So the lack of a basis is not what is bothering me.  Torah has great intellectual and moral validity, but it does require some effort to discover what it is and how to live in accordance with it.


what idolatry involves.

I think that people are not very well aware of what idolatry involves. And recently I have thought that it might be a good idea to look at Tractate Idolatry [Avodah Zarah] in the Talmud to get a better idea of what it involves.
In spite of the fact that it does tend to be a confusing issue at least I think we can see some of the things that are either sufficient or necessary conditions for some act to be considered idolatry.
First any one of the four major types of service that people do towards an idol is idolatry. They are offering incense, bowing, slaughtering an animal as a sacrifice, or offering blood. Sometimes you hear religious people accusing some other religious group of doing idolatry, but that is a complaint that does need to be defended.

But there is more to it than that. The basic definition is accepting some other being as ones god besides God--[the first cause]. [This might not be a necessary condition. Doing one of the four services before an idol is alone enough to convict a person of idolatry. Accepting some other being besides God [the First Cause] as ones personal god would have to be considered a sufficient condition, not a necessary condition.]

One issue that makes the whole subject more complicated is that if one serves an idol with the type of service that's specified for that idol that is also idolatry.
I should mention that the Malbim discusses the fact that Nebuchadnezzar wanted to bow down to Daniel as an idol and the discussion that Jeremiah had with Yochanan ben Kareach in this regard.

It so happened that Jews in Egypt were telling Jeremiah that from the time that they had stopped offering incense to the Queen of Heaven that they began to have troubles. Jeremiah said to them that their troubles stemmed from doing idolatry, not from ceasing to do idolatry. Further he said if they do not stop they will be destroyed. [In the Tenach the issue that seems to bother God the most is idolatry. This certainly has to be the top on the list of the big No No's. Though it is true that in general keeping all of the mitzvot is also high on the list but this has to take the cake. You do not see racism on the list of No No's at all. Nor Homophobia. Rather you could say that homosexuality is rather frowned upon as being sodomy. Islam-phobia would probably be considered  a mitzvah.]

The thing that they were telling Jeremiah was [according to the Malbim] that they did not accept the queen of Heaven as their god, and that they were good orthodox Jews and believed all the thirteen principles of the rambam. They were just offering incense as a segulah [lucky charm].

Now I have discussed idolatry many times on my different blogs. And I have decided that it is time for me to do some serious work in Tractate Idolatry [Avodah Zarah] in order to get some kind of clarity about these issues. Idolatry is one of those terms that it is easy to throw around and accuse people you don't like of doing. It used to be a term that was an extreme insult. Nowadays racist has taken its place. But even so it is an important subject to understand.
Some people it seems are not even aware that they might be doing idolatry. On occasion you see this complaint leveled by Christians against some kind of practice like working too hard or making an idol out of some movie star.  But worshiping a movie star is not one of the four [avodot] types of serve one renders to an idol. They do seem blissfully unaware that serving a human being as god might very well come under the basic definition of idolatry. (Aquinas was aware of this issue and being the great thinker that he was did try to resolve it honestly. Protestants however seem unaware of the issue at all.) But of course this could apply across the board. Sometimes you do see people that seem to get close to crossing the line separating simple admiration and desire to emulate towards idolatry. 

 For further research I hope to do the two major areas in Avodah Zara which deal with these issues. The beginning of chapter three and four. It is surprising that this issue has not received more attention.
When people act and treat their rabbi as a god is that idolatry? I would think so. So even if I think that going to Uman is important, but I think people need to be very careful not to cross the line between being with a tzadik on Rosh Hashana which is good and doing things that might be considered as crossing a fine line.

So in conclusion I think it is safe to say that the four services do not depend on thought or attitude. Once one has done them he is guilty of idolatry. He can't say he did not accept the idol as a god. It is only in the sufficient condition of accepting a different god as one's god is where thought is relevant. So now we can see that offering incense to the queen of heaven was considered as idolatry even if they did not accept her as their god.


Children and teenagers in the USA are given radical left wing socialist induction lessons from kindergarten until the end of high school.

 Children and teenagers in the USA are given radical left wing socialist induction lessons from kindergarten until the end of high school.

This is the basic approach of all public schools in the USA. Yet at home children are given a set of Judeo- Christian values. But these Judeo-Christian values are not compatible with the wave of indoctrination they get in public school. And even if children would like to defend the values they get at home the fact is that Judeo- Christian values are hard to defend. Even Aquinas left a basic question he was unable to resolve and other questions that he could not resolve very well.

The difficulty this presents is that after 12 years of indoctrination you can’t expect people to vote in any way other than the way that reflects their basic socialist values. What is the surprise? No wonder Republicans have trouble.

I could suggest that everyone should start to learn Gemara, Rashi, and Tosphot [Talmud]--but to do so I would have to explain in what way this can provide a solution for the American dilemma and set of problems.
This might need a little more time than I have right now.
But I think I can give a basic introduction into the idea. I might not be able to finish but let me begin.
Human history is divided into three parts. Period one has in it three part Pre Socratics, Plato, and neo Plato, This period deals with how is change possible.

Period two is the Middle Ages. This deals more religious issues but issues which also relate to philosophy. The two issues are free will and divine simplicity. Here also there was leading up period and then the peak in Moshe Ben Maimon [or Aquinas depending on who you ask].

The modern period dealt with two issues also the mind body problem, and the debate between the rationalists and the empiricists.--How is knowledge possible? This went up until Kant. Then we had the post Kant period. Here also were three parts pre Kant, Kant and post Kant. [Also politics became an issue in this period.]

Now a new period is starting. I can't predicate the question that is going to seize the interest of mankind for the next thousand years. But I can say that people are going to need and anchor of rationality and moral value--the very thing you get when you learn the Torah together with the Gemara, Rashi, and Tosphot.

I can imagine that one major question will deal with the interface between Divine law in the Torah and how it relates to the natural law and natural rights. This is a continuation of Medieval thought but with the modern advent of the USA the fact of natural rights will become important as it relates to divine law. 

[note 1]

Another important aspect of the Talmud which I did not mention but which is relevant is because of the problem with the theory political authority.  I did mention in the essay that one question that will arise in the future is the interface between political authority and Divine authority abut what needs to be pointed out here is the fact that John Locke's ideas of natural rights really have no empirical basis. It is not just that Habermas and others have noted the problems with the theoretical basis of the Constitution of the USA and the more obvious problems with the total lack of intellectual justification for Marxist doctrine. It is that a new theory of political justification is necessary.  Habermas blew John Rawls theory out of the water but that still leaves us with need to defend or modify the system of John Locke.  In short: Divine Law is back. You just can't get around it.


Gaon from Villna

We find that world view issues were important to Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon. It is not just that he wrote the Guide for the Perplexed to  answer questions concerning, well, world view issues, but that these ideas pop up often in all of his writings.
 But when you try to get into the Rambam [Maimonides] you find several pitfalls.

One obvious one is Jose Faur. While his devotion to the cause of the Rambam is admirable but  his knowledge and understanding of the Rishonim [medieval authorities] is ziltch and when he attacks the other  Rishonim based on his lack of knowledge it come out looking like he went of a bit much into the "Sefardi pride" trap.

I think it is a true thing that the best way to learn the Rambam is in conjunction with the regular normal Rishonim like Topshpot and not to make a fetish out of him. [This is the way Ashkenazim have always learned the Rambam and Reb Ovadia Joseph also for that matter.]

On the other hand it is a good idea for people to start the task of understanding the Rambam in world view issues a little better. 

 I need to mention here that the Rambam had children and descendants that continued to be the rav roshi [chief rabbi] in Cairo for many generations. And a lot of them wrote books along the lines of the Rambam. So even if they are not the last word on what the Rambam was thinking, still they are instructive to give some hints about his path.

One curious issue that does come up in the Guide and in the book of the Rambam's son [Avraham ben Moshe] was the issue of pantheism.

You can guess why the Guide for the Perplexed is the most unpopular book in the world for Hasidim. You certainly do not want people finding out that the Rambam did not think that Torah belief and pantheism or panetheism were compatible.

In fact I once went through a book concerning the Gaon from Villna and it was clear form reading the actual documents of his time that the Hasidim were using a sophisticated strategy to  convert Jews to another religion. They were holding on to Jewish ritual even more strongly than normal religious Jews. This gave them the ability to substitute Jewish beliefs with pantheism. And they also learned how to use seemly sincere acts of kindness to promote their movement.

 The original Guide that you used to see hanging out in the frum world [you know the one with the commentary of Joseph Albo and someone else.  It is a very difficult book but it rewards the effort. 

There is a great book on the Rambam by David Hartman which is the best modern commentary on the Rambam that I have ever seen.


Gemara in Bava Kama page 3

I wanted to write something fast about the Gemara in Bava Kama page 3 side A and then correct my spelling errors later.
And I wanted to point out how this is relevant in a larger way to general understanding of the Gemara. First I wanted to say that this part of the Talmud we need to divide into three parts. Part one and two deal with the braita [outside teaching = teaching that is not part of the Mishna] and the third part derives all four cases of tooth and foot in a different way.

The first way of the Braita is clear. We use "he sent" for foot and to get  to the lesser case [it walked by itself] we use a to tooth. The braita does the same with it ate. It uses it for tooth and to fill in the lesser case it uses a hekesh to foot.
 At this point--part three the Gemara uses "he sent" for both tooth and foot without us. And to get to the two other lesser cases it uses "ubier" ("It ate").. It does this but it only says one case for "it ate." The case the animal walked by itself. the  on the מהרש''א explains that it gets to the second less several case of tooth by means of the logic the gemara just got done using--the fact that tooth and foot are in equilibrium. so if you use it ate for foot you have to use it for tooth also.

 The natural question תוספות asks here is why does the gemara not ask like it did above what do you use the verse  כאשר יבער הגלל?

What this means is that about the Talmud uses    כאשר יבער הגלל to fill in all the gaps. The חמור case of נכלה השורש tooth and לא נכלה. Now what can now after the Talmud derives everything without that verse, what  do you need the verse for?

תוספות answers that the ברייתא means to say that if we did not have the ברייתא way of deriving all for cases we would be able to fall back on the way of the braita,

Ok this piece was what I wrote fast. Now I would like to explain a few things. one thing is that I used simplified approach in explaining this Gemara. You probably noticed that I left out the fact that part one and part two of the gemara assumes that all distinctions of tooth go into foot and visa verse. you cant have missed it because it is an essential part of the reasoning of the Gemara. And yet when I explained the Gemara used on two cases for foot [(a) he sent the animal, and (b) it went by itself] and two cases for tooth [it ate all, it ate part.]  For those of you familiar with covariant coordinates this is easy to explain why I did this. I similar changed the coordinates. I used vertical lines instead of slanted lines to go through my graph. The end result ends up the exact same way.
hard words
hekesh [“similarity” = same aspects of different cases= “what is it with this case? Thus and thus. So is it with that case.]

בבא קמא ג' ע''א 

 First I wanted to say that this part of the תלמוד we need to divide into three parts. Part one and two deal with the ברייתא, and the third part derives all four cases of שן and רגל in a different way.

The first way of the ברייתא is clear. We use ושילח for ניזקי רגל and to get  to  איפה שהלכה  בעצמה we use  שן. The ברייתא does the same with וביער בשדה אחר. It uses it for שן and to fill in the lesser case it uses a היקש to רגל.
 At this point the גמרא uses ושילח for both שן and רגל without us. And to get to the two other lesser cases it uses "וביער בשדה אחר. It does this but it only says one case for וביער בשדה אחר. The case the animal walked by itself. The מהדורא בתרא של המהרש''א explains that it gets to the second less several case of שן by means of the logic the גמרא just got done using  that is fact that שן and רגל are שווים. So if you use וביער for רגל you have to use it for שן also.

 The natural question תוספות asks here is why does the גמרא not ask like it did above, What do you use the verse כאשר יבער הגלל.

What this means is that about the גמרא uses כאשר יבער הגלל to fill in all the gaps. The מצב  החמור of שן and the מצב הקל.  Now after the גמרא derives everything without that verse, what can do you need the verse for?

 תוספות answers that the ברייתא means to say that if we did not have the third way of deriving all for cases we would be able to fall back on the way of the ברייתא,


For the general public I feel I ought to insert a note or two about what is important about Gemara.

The basic importance of the Talmud is in two areas. Numinous value and moral value. The way I understand this is basically through the school of thought of Plato, Kant,.  I should mention  that even Maimonides is somewhere in between Aristotle and Plato and Platonist. So in terms of would view and a good consistent way to evaluate moral issues the Talmud is important. It also does give a rather spiritual path. And it has the advantage of being a logical rigorous explanation of the Written Law{Torah}.
There is also a philosophical advantage to the Torah and Talmud. This has to do with Western Civilization and in particular the USA. Right now it is a bit difficult to find a rational justification of either. In my view, the Talmud provides a way out of the modem political dilemma. I would have to find time to go into this another time.


I just got done writing about the Talmud on my other blog so I don't know how well i am going to be able to focus my attention here.
Here i wanted to discuss the Rambam.

We all would like the rambam to be saying in his eight chapters that the Torah is the middle path and also that it brings to the middle path. Right? But on the surface that does not seems to be what he is saying. My thesis is that in fact that is what the rambam is saying.
 Ok not to the meant and potatoes of the subject. Thus saith the Rambam: people have physical aliments and mental sicknesses. Medicine teaches us how to deal with physical sickness. And the same principle applies to mental sickness. You go to the opposite extreme for a while until  the bad nature or diseases is uprooted an then you return to the middle.

Now at this point it looks like the rambam is saying two different things. It seems he means that the Torah is itself the middle path, But also that it brings to the middle path. but how can he say that is the way to get to the middle is to go to the opposite extremer which he just got done saying is pure evil?
The Torah is i hope not telling us to go to some evil extremer in order to straighten out our personal problems!

I suggest that the Rambam here can be meaning that the Torah provides  ways for individual to cure themselves but that its general approach is in fact the Middle. Nazir is perfect example that the rambam himself brings  and [nedarim] oaths also. is an example . also a time to do for God is brought by the rambam as a general Principe that the Beit Din can use to correct faults of the generation that is :it is not just for a prophet.


A connection length of days and fear of God.

 I found a connection length of days and fear of God. And I definitely have found myself in need of length of days.--My days had become very short of full of nonsense. I decided I needed a definite refill of fear of God. So I asked myself from where do I think I might get a little fear of God? The most obvious answer I could think of is the idea of learning what is called Musar. This refers to two sets of books on the subject of Fear and Love of God and good character traits. One set was written during the Middle Ages by Jewish scholars. Another set was written recently by people on the same themes. One of these books is called the Madragat HaAdam.


Do slogans determine people’s behavior?

How much do slogans determine people’s behavior? They find some slogan that makes sense to them and then use it to make snap decisions based on the slogan. I think slogans determine very much. See the essay of a professor from MIT (John Sterman) I have a link to on this blog in his discussion of computer models and how people do use their own modeling of reality and a small set of rules to determine their large range of behavior, I was once at the shabat table of Rav Zilverman in the old city of Jerusalem and he asked me if I could come up with a catchy slogan for the Geon from Villna. . . I gave some stupid answer I am sorry to say. I mentioned some  one of the aphorisms in the book Even Shelama. Today thinking back to this I realize that not only is very little of the Gra very catchy, but my suggestion missed the whole point. The point is something short and simple that grabs a person and alters their future behavior. 

Now we have see that some slogans cause people to do bad things. and other s are just a consciouses trap-- like ways of capturing people and  making them mental slaves them as we see in many religious cults today.
Often these cults use some nice sounding slogan but they act individually and collectively in ways opposite from the implication of the slogan.
 Philosophy also works by slogans. Hume came up with the idea that if something disagrees with his premises that it is meaningless. He wrote that if you could find some idea that is not based on observation then he would agree that his empirical philosophy is false, and then he goes right on and finds examples of ideas that are not based on observation. Then he does his neat trick. He calls these ideas meaningless. and every since then in any discussion with left wing liberal  when then encounter an idea that disagrees with them they say it is meaningless.

What I am wondering here is if it is such a good idea to reduce human life and its complexity to a bunch of slogans?

[Note 1] Maybe my parents had the best slogan of all: Be a mensch. This sadly is untranslatable.But roughly it means to be a decent human being with good character traits-decent kind just loyal loving and responsible. This was the Jewish ideal of human perfection in the European generation of Jews that came to the USA.]

[Note 2] The Gra, it could be said would have had a slogan like "learn Torah". This might not be catchy but it does capture the basic idea. He did think that by learning Torah most of a persons problems are solved. And in fact he might have been right about this. Maybe the idea of learning only Torah is a bit too much. But I think it is fair to ask people to have a simple session every day in Torah Mishan and Gemara called "shiurim kesidran." That is "sessions in order." That is take a Old Testament and start at the beginning and when you have read some in order then you put a place marker and put it down. Then you do the same with the Mishna.. And you do this in order and you do not repeat anything nor do you pause to think about anything.