The Talmud tends to have a wider idea of what Torah is about than what you see in Maimonides. For example we find Hillel II said there would not be a messiah (ever) because the King of Israel Chizkia fulfilled that role.  And in the Gemara that discuss the opinion of Hillel we do not find anyone accusing him of being an apikorus or heretic. Now we know that the belief in a future messiah is one of the thirteen main principles of faith that the Rambam derives from the Talmud. And it is a clear principle to him that anyone that denies or even does not believe in any one of those thirteen principles is a heretic and not even considered Jewish.

This I do not mean as a question because it is clear that there are other opinions in the Talmud that hold belief in a future messiah is important to the degree that the Rambam stated. And all the Rambam did here is to decide the law as is his usual custom.

My point here is really meant for Reform and Conservative Jews to realize that not only is the Talmud important for them to learn but that it also represents a world view of Torah that is closer to their own understanding of Torah than Orthodox Judaism. This is in spite of the fact that the Orthodox do try to represent their position as being supported in the Talmud. Most often this is simply not the case.

On the other hand there are positions in Maimonides that are closer to Reform Judaism than what seems to be so in the Talmud. Secular studies in Natural Science would be the most famous example.
In a highly ironic way I discovered the position of several medieval authorities concerning secular studies  when I was trying to find Chizuk [encouragement] about just sitting and learning Torah all day.
This happened when I started learning Musar (Ethics) and discovered a good amount of the medieval Jewish authorities were basically saying to go out and get a job and do not use the Torah to make money and also to learn secular subjects. This was the exact opposite of what I wanted to hear from Musar (Ethics) books.
[I thought that sitting and learning Torah was the ultimate goal. 
On the other hand we all should learn Torah and do mitzvot as much as possible. And the Reform are wrong for trying to redefine mitzvot into social activism. That is intellectual dishonesty. Mitzvot are mitzvot and averot are averot [sin is sin] You don't get to redefine these things according to your sexual or intellectual orientation. 


There was something unique about Bava Sali [Israel Abuchatzaira] that that can't be attributed to just the fact of his emphasizing doing Torah and mitzvoth or to his miracles. Miracles we know are a dime a dozen. People in every religion take the miracle workers of that religion to be proofs of that religion. But they are not proof of anything because of several reasons. They can be from the sitra achra. Even when they are from the side of holiness still anyone doing certain kinds of service like fasting and general separation from the pleasures of this world tend to gain some kind of spiritual power. Furthermore miracles happen to everyone and have no bearing on the holiness of any individual

In spite of all this there was something really unusualness about Bava Sali.

What I mean to say by this is I want to bring out the idea that there is an essential contradiction between the idea of human perfection as represented by Bava Sali w and the idea of human perfection as represented by my parents and by Albert Einstein, Newton, and Aristotle.

Now we know outside of the miracles of Bava Sali there was by him a essential emphasis of simple and plain old Shulchan Aruch. Neither for him or for others was there any idea of specific things to emphasize. It was just simple keep Torah. [For the general public reading this blog I think the best idea of how to get an idea of what it means to keep Torah in the ideal sense you should find a sefer hachinuch.]

But There was a very different idea of human perfection as emphasized by people like Einstein.

And in between that were my parents that represented the human n perfection in terms of mentchlichkeit.[untranslatable Yiddish meaning basically human decency].

What I mean to point out here is that each of these paths has pit falls and even actual flaws for most people. But what we can do is to try to focus on certain points that are in each path and try to emulate and stick to these basic points as best we can with Balance and common sense.

I would like to point out that the basic path of Torah and mitzvot is a little subtle.Even with the Rambam writing it simply and bava sali showing a good modern example of how to do it --it still is subtle. The problem as Bava Sali said himself all paths are dangerous. That is one can try to do Torah in the most simple ways that would seem to be obvious and yet find himself in situations in which not just he finds the world that he has placed himself in is predatory but also finds himself doing more objective evil than when he was not trying to keep Torah at all.


The way that Orthodox Jews understand the Torah is based on Protestantism.
The idea that one or a few texts contain All Truth is Protestant.

Before Protestantism came about, it was not uncommon to interpret any given text according to the principle given by Saadia Geon: If the simple sense [Peshat Hapashut] makes sense, then we stick with it. If you can't make the simple explanation make sense, you have to interpret it.

The fact is that even before the Rambam and Saadia Geon came on the scene, this was the general way of interpreting the Torah.

In the Torah it says if one eats something unclean and then eats of a sacrifice or enters the Temple in Jerusalem the penalty is karet [cutting off]. Well we know that this verse is simply not true. The actual law is a person that touches something unclean becomes unclean and then if he goes into the temple or eats a sacrifice he gets karet. The reason the verse says it in the way that it does is because it is giving the size of the thing one touches. If less than the size of normal eating[an olive] then one is not guilty.

So why should Evolution present any problem? It  is only if one accepts Protestant theology.
Here are a few lonely  links that might be helpful for people:

Rambam More Nevuchim concerning the age of the universe and also the introduction to the More

about dating rocks

and Stefan Gould concerning missing links in the evolutionary chain in the case of the whale:

 However I admit that there are a number of important things that Orthodox Jews are doing right: for example (1) Learning Torah and Talmud [Gemara Rashi Tosphot] (2) Doing Mitzvot. In these areas they are in fact excelling. also in terms of actually living in Israel which is a mitzvah they do better that secular Jews whose generally support Israel but do not actually live there.


Some people think the kabala is independent of Plato but that assumption is not only wrong but also tends to create  a kind of weird bubble type of world that people that study kabalah live in. And this bubble world tends to detract from the positive things that people can gain from the thought of Isaac Luria .

It is also know that he sometimes touches on themes from scholastic thought from the middle ages.

None of this is news to anyone.

Mainly it looks roughly parallel. But  the creation is ex nihilo. We know that this is not compatible with Plotinus but rather comes from the Rambam and Saadia Geon. While it is true that Plotinus is not compatible with pantheism but neither is he compatible with creation ex nihilo

So while Kabalah of the Ari [Isaac Luria is pretty straightforward Plotinus in a highly developed mystical form] but seems to be moving in the direction of the Rambam.

OK that is the end of this subject.
Now I just wanted to point out a  one example we have a theme that pops up about tying oneself to the intellect that is contained in everything. This is straight from Plotinus. 


At any rate, one important reason to support the State of Israel is simple. We Jews have taken the trouble to get out of everyone's way. We are not asking for anyones kindness. We simply ask people not to attack us. And when people do attack us we claim the right to defend ourselves. There is nothing inherent in Torah that should prove objectionable to any gentiles of Christian or Muslim faith. However it is clear that Muslims hate us because of their religion, not ours. And Muslims do see Israel as a beachhead for Western encroachment. And that it is. We are bringing the Ship of Democracy and Human Rights  throughout the Middle East. This is something Muslims ought to welcome.


the world view of mainstream [Ashkenazic] Torah.

Hashkafa is the word used for the world view of mainstream [Ashkenazic] Torah.

It has to do with principles of faith for sure but it is much wider than that. It means in essence the philosophy of Torah and the word in itself implies that the Torah in fact has it own unique philosophy. We however do find that people carry into the Torah their own philosophies that they pick up elsewhere, and then claim that their philosophy is that of the Torah.- but this is not intellectually honest.

For me personally one of the advantages that I gained by learning Musar [ethical books of Torah written during the Middle Ages] is that it introduced me to the Philosophy of the Torah in a straightforward way before I had heard any alternative variations.

But Musar does this job in a soft way and only indirectly.

Recently in the process of learning Tractate Adodah Zara it seemed relevant to open up the Ramam concerning the actual principles of Torah as he explains them in Hilchot Teshuva [there he goes into greater depth than he does in the famous commentary to the Mishna in Chapter Cheleck in Sanhedrin].


Aristotle: that everything has  four causes. One is  purpose. And this purpose is close to intellect inside of everything. This refers to a well know idea that was developed in the Middle Ages.
 There are the four causes of everything  one of which is the teleological cause. And we know that the major characteristic of Aristotle is to develop independent idea from many different angles and then to weave them together. So the intellect in everything which in this case will refer to the Platonic idea is related to the purpose of the thing.

The purposes of all things are related to each other. They all come together like a function from a space to one point. That one point is the next world, the delight of the world to come. [Actually it is there is a hierarchy of arrows, that map from one space to another until you get to the last and final purpose.

 Rambam in the laws of Teshuva where he goes into some depth about what heresy is. Associating any  kind of physicality to God is one kind of problem that is identified in the Rambam. Also there is the problem of a mediator which the Rambam includes in the types of minut [heresy]. And there is no question the Rambam takes these things very seriously.



There are two ideas of what Torah is about. One is radical monotheism and the other is that of a document that is meant to lead people towards pure Monotheism. 

So the question is according to the Torah are all intermediate steps not kosher at all or is it possible that there is some justification of going to a tzadik for a blessing?  This is really a rather large issue and it would take a lot more than this quick note to deal with it thoroughly.

The idea of leading people towards Monotheism seems to be clear in Maimonides [in the Guide] when he gives reasons for mitzvot. 
This comes up nowadays when going to even Lithuanian Gedolim  seems to be commonplace and the issue seems to be surrounding the idea of an intermediary.

And it felt strange. I felt like I was opening up myself towards compromising the basic Monotheism of the Torah. I mean I was raised in home that was not particularly religious but the Torah was very important in our home and when I started learning Torah on a more intense basis I did not expect that my monotheism would be compromised.

Nowadays it seems to me that Orthodox Judaism is highly compromised concerning this issue [of Monotheism]. It does not seem to matter which group it is. While it is admirable the strict devotion to the Torah and Talmud that is claimed by the Orthodox, but that does not seem to provide an adequate excuse for diluting the most basic and essential message of the Torah


 I think it is possible to divide Breslov into two basic groups.

This would not be along the regular lines of who is the leader of that individual group. But the major issue would be concerning the problem of worship of a human being. I have been wondering for a long time where is Breslov located concerning this question. 

Yet a random sampling of people that come to his synagogue in Uman will show that many are pantheist and many also have crossed the line.  It is for this reason that I have decided that it is high time to take a closer look at the Talmud tractate Avodah Zara--Idolatry to see where the line can be drawn exactly.

I think that also it is possible to say that some groups of Hasidut do tend to blur the line between respect of a human being and worship of a human being.
However I do not mean to knock the more radical type of Breslov from the standpoint of strict adherence to the Law of the Torah.

But there is a much more serious issue that I was thinking about that relates to the interface between Strict Torah law and type of free society that Jews have gotten used to in the USA and in Israel. It is kind of a luxury to be striving for more strictness and more Torah when we have the benefit of a free society around us. 

Regardless of this it is clear that we need divine law and some counter balance to secular society. But make an ideal to undermine free and open society while enjoying its benefits seems to me to be problematic.


Tying oneself spiritually to a tzadik [i.e. saint]

Tying oneself spiritually to a tzadik [i.e. saint]. It occurs to me that I might have written about this in the past in light of the idea of Reb Chaim from Voloshin [the disciple of the Gra] that this type of thing is idolatry.

What bothers me is that the way this is understood by some people is to change the focus of Torah from being around God to being around a person. 

But I see this at least as a flaw in the system that should be openly corrected --that is it should be stated publicly that  the purpose of serve towards God is to do God's will and not to be tied to a tzadik.