default metaphysics among the educated secular elite, including most academic philosophers. And that default metaphysics is materialismYet the irony of this situation is that the philosophical foundations of materialism, in a proper metaphysics, are in worse shape now than they have ever been.

Dr Kelly Ross:
The Fortunes of Materialism

It is a curious time in the history of metaphysics. Few areas of 20th Century philosophy have been as shunned and neglected as metaphysics. Entire schools of philosophy, principally Logical Positivism and the "ordinary language" approach founded by Ludwig Wittgenstein, have specifically rejected the possibility or meaningfulness of metaphysics as a discipline; academic philosophers tend to assume that the success of science replaces or discredits the philosophical treatment of metaphysical questions; and popular culture confuses metaphysics with spiritualism or the occult. .... The combination of these factors has resulted in a sort of naive default metaphysics among the educated secular elite, including most academic philosophers. And that default metaphysics is materialism. One sees this in the prevalence of the "new atheism" in popular culture, whose appeal rests largely on naturalistic and materialistic views of reality, and in what otherwise seem to be the generally sensible views of philosophers like John Searle.

Yet the irony of this situation is that the philosophical foundations of materialism, in a proper metaphysics, are in worse shape now than they have ever been. The "new atheists," and other commentators, like Stephen Hawking, whose scientific ideas begin to lead them into philosophical reflection, are philosophically very naive and seem to have only the shallowest familiarity or understanding of the history of philosophy, let alone of metaphysics proper. Metaphysical materialism should not have survived the progression of ideas through Berkeley, Hume, and Kant; but perhaps because this outcome was muddled in the treatment of German Idealists (like Hegel), a simple version of Democritean Atomism returned in the 19th century among those more impressed with the progress of science than with the jargon and obscurantism of Idealism. That is when materialism gained some traction as the default metaphysics of generally sensible, critical, conscientious, and empirical opinion. Even the denial of Marx that his "materialism" was an ontological theory (rather than about material economic conditions of production) was ignored and forgotten in the general impression that, after all, it must be just that.

The revival of Hegelian Idealism in the early 20th century, by people like F.H. Bradley (1846–1924) and Josiah Royce (1855-1916), failed to impress in comparison to what were beginning to be remarkable and even astounding continuing advances in science. Such neo-Idealism collapsed into the Positivistic desire to be subservient to science (which we see dramatically in the career of someone like Bertrand Russell, who was a student at the time of Bradley's greatest influence in England); and the attendant recoil from metaphysics allowed the naive 19th century materialism to insensibly be taken up as self-evidently true. Yet it was science itself, as we shall see, that would decisively explode, again, Democritean materialism. The response of philosophy was curiously to draw encouragement for epistemological skepticism and nihilism rather than to reevaluate the metaphysical issues. In the long run, science would not be well served by this approach, as confidence in the objectivity of science itself would be eroded, and the notion would become current that scientific knowledge was merely the self-interested agreement of socially powerful and politically suspect race, class, and gender interest groups. The collapse of the foundation of materialism thus did not drag down materialism, which continued as default metaphysics, but was displaced into the undermining of science itself, upon which its cognitive confidence presumably rested. So we have the ironic result of the modern materialistic Nihilist, who believes no more in science than he does in God.

Part of the naive confidence vested in modern materialism is the sense that it is just obvious. We see matter. This is the Dr. Johnson school of metaphysics -- Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) kicked the table to refute Bishop Berkeley (definitely a common sense kind of guy). However, this does no more than bespeak the naivety and ignorance of the view. Dr. Johnson did not understand that his refutation was irrelevant to Berkeley's argument. We do not see matter, and its existence has never been obvious.

The truth of this is evident from the first example of a clear ontological materialism, which was the Atomistic theory of Leucippus and Democritus. Reality, in their view, consisted of Atoms and the Void, i.e. particles of matter together with empty space, and atoms were the ultimately small bits of stuff that could not be divided down into smaller particles: they were atomos, "uncuttable" (where we seen the -tom, "cut," or -ektom, "cut out," part in much surgical terminology, e.g. "hysterectomy," to cut out the uterus). Atoms differed from each other only in shape and size. Nothing about this theory was visible to the naked eye. Atoms were too small to be seen, much less inspected; and the variety of the world, which other Greek philosophers had explained with different kinds of "stuff," vanished in the uniformity of whatever it was that constituted the content of atoms. Popular presentations of Atomism neglect that question altogether. What was in the atoms? To answer that, anyone would need to admit that Atomism was based, not on the method of observation and experiment in modern science (which is sometimes carelessly credited to Democritus), but on the metaphysics of Parmenides. Thus, atoms consisted of no more and no less than "Being," the existence of whose ontological opposite, "Not Being," was rejected by Parmenides as self-contradictory.

Atomism altered Parmenides merely by holding that "Not Being" exists as much as "Being." Not Being, in turn, derived its meaning from the concept of empty space. "Being" could thus be broken up into atoms, allowing them to have different shapes and sizes and to move around in space. This would then explain the apparent differences among visible substances and the reality of change in the world. The elegance and simplicity of this theory continued to appeal to certain philosophers, such as Epicurus and the Roman Lucretius; but the paradox of empty space being nothing and yet something did not gain any great popularity or consensus in ancient or mediaeval philosophy. Instead, space itself was identified with matter, a connection still explicitly upheld as late as René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza. If space itself is matter, then there clearly cannot be empty space. Although most people, as well as philosophers, are now comfortable with the idea of empty space, facets of the issue are not at all absent from the consideration of space in modern science.

Now, a definition of matter and of materialism may be in order. Matter is a substance (substantia), i.e. a durable, separable, and identical entity, that possesses only the characteristics of an "externalist" ontology, i.e. that it underlies (substans) the existence of concrete, empirical, or phenomenal objects in nature, that it is intrinsically subject only to natural laws and causal interactions, and that consciousness and purposive determinations are not inherent in it. Descartes, who identified matter with space, could simply define it as the substance whose essence is spatial extension, allowing that there were other substances in reality (i.e. souls and God). Materialism is a stronger doctrine, that matter is the only substance, with conscious phenomena as no more than epiphenomena of matter, if they are not to be dismissed as illusory (as is done by Behaviorists and certain Materialists). Materialism is thus a reductionistic theory in fundamental metaphysics, or ontology, which is the study of "Being qua Being" or the identification of the óntos ónta, , the "beingly beings" -- the genuinely existing or fundamentally real things. Materialism is a false doctrine; but "matter" is a legitimate concept, in terms of an external and causal, and so scientific or naturalistic, understanding of the world (see "Ontological Undecidability").

The connection of space and matter can also be found in Aristotle, as construed through his own theory of "form" and "matter," where form is the actuality of things and matter is the potential or power for change. In these terms, matter again is invisible, since anything available for perception will be actual and an example of "form." Even the four elements represent a certain level of actuality. "Pure" matter or "prime matter" in the theory is invisible and unavailable for direct inspection precisely because nothing about it is actual. Although it is perhaps not required by the theory, Aristotle then identified matter with space. This means that empty space would be identical with prime matter and so doesn't exist for the same reason that prime matter doesn't actually exist. On the other side of the divide, Aristotle thinks there are beings that are pure form. This began with God, but Aristotle then allowed that there were pure form "intelligences" that were responsible for the motion of the planets. In the Middle Ages, the "intelligences" were identified as angels, and St. Thomas then introduced the view that human souls could also exist independently as pure forms, which Aristotle had not believed. But whatever version we prefer, beings of pure form, beings free of matter, are without spatial extension. This gives us an unambiguous answer to the famous Scholastic question of how many angels will fit (dance?) on the head of pin, which is, "All of them." They don't take up any space and so can be fit into any space, however small. All of this may seem, and may be, very dated as metaphysics, but elements of it persist in the metaphysics of Leibniz, which becomes, most significantly, part of modern debates about space and matter.

Indeed, as we move from the physics of Descartes to that of Newton, the possibility of (actual) empty space reemerges in modern science. This is not only because Newton believes that motion is possible in empty space, which Aristotle had denied (until contradicted and refuted by John Philoponus), but, more importantly, because Newton believes that gravity is transmitted (or something) as action at a distance. Descartes and earlier physics had always held that forces could be transmitted only by contact between bodies -- a sensible view when there can be no empty space. But Newtonian gravity leaps across empty space, for which action Newton had no better explanation than that it was the Will of God. Nevertheless, the reality of space for Newton, and belief in its absolute structure and existence, was sharply denied by Leibniz. This led to the epic Clarke-Leibniz Debate, one of the most important events in the history of modern philosophy. Samuel Clarke's defense of Newton worked best in terms of what was needed and implied in physics, e.g. that the rotation of a body can be detected from internal observation (i.e. in relation to space itself), without reference, as Leibniz required, to eternal bodies. Leibniz's objections to Newton were mainly metaphysical, including the argument from sufficient reason of spatial counterparts (q.v.), which was refuted by Kant with the point that right and left handed mirror opposites do physically differ, which Leibniz denied, specifically in spatial terms and not in any other physical metric.

In the 19th century, for some reason there were physicists, like Ernst Mach (1838-1916), who wanted to get around Clarke's rotation argument against Leibniz. This was never more than an ad hoc special pleading until Einstein introduced his theory of Special Relativity in 1905. Then, absolute position in space could no longer be determined, and even size became Relative, in the direction of motion, because of space and time dilation. It was soon widely believed that Einstein's theory meant that Newton was wrong about space and that Leibniz was correct, and I have so far never seen this questioned in popular or even more specialized treatments of the history and philosophy of science. But Einstein had suggested or proven nothing of the sort -- indeed, rotation as acceleration falls entirely outside the purview of Special Relativity -- and this is what makes me wonder about how well even academic philosophers have understood the metaphysical issues involved (or even Special Relativity itself). For if Leibniz was correct about space, in just the way that he understood it, this means that space doesn't exist. In fact, Einstein's theory did not affect the status of Clarke's rotation argument at all. But really, did Ernst Mach and all the subsequent scientists and philosophers really mean to say that space doesn't exist? Is this part of science now, that space doesn't exist? I don't think so. But if space does exist, and we are not to accept Leibniz's conclusion at face value, then what kind of metaphysic of space are we left with? Well, no significant effort has been made to deal with that, largely thanks to the lack of clarity about what Leibniz's theory was.

The irony of this situation is that space emerges in Einstein, particularly with his theory of General Relativity in 1915, as a significant feature of the physics. Einstein's approach to gravity is to replace the concept of "forces," and particularly Newton's appeal to forces that act at a distance, with geometry. The Earth goes around the Sun, not because it is pulled into an orbit through the invisible attraction of gravity, but because it is following the equivalent of a straight line, a "geodesic," in curved space-time. Matter causes a deformation in space and time. The Earth, with its Newtonian velocity, just follows the path laid out for it. One is not left with the impression here that space doesn't exist. Quite the opposite. The physicist E. C. G. Sudarshan (b.1931), who introduced the theory of tachyons (particles that travel faster than the velocity of light), told a seminar I was taking at the University of Texas in the 1970's that Einstein's field equations looked to him like those for fluid mechanics. Space-time flows like water.

Indeed, by being subject to curvature, in Non-Euclidean geometries explored in the 19th century, the reality of space becomes absolutely essential to Einstein's treatment. And this becomes more acute when we realize that this is Einstein's answer to Newton's doctrine of action-at-a-distance: it is now space that mediates the force of gravity, but not space as the old contact-matter of Cartesian physics. Matter, whatever it is, moves within the geometrical structure of empty, but existing, space. This is a rather extraordinary idea, but no one would ever mistake it for a Leibnizian theory that space does not exist. Yet academic philosophers managed to make it through the 20th Century without a clear recognition that Einstein's refutation of Newton's theory of space is a fairy tale that is incommensurable with the larger nature, requirements, and implications of Einstein's own theory.

Meanwhile, other events had been occurring. Ernest Rutherford announced in 1911 that atoms were mostly empty space. He (or his graduate students) had bombarded gold foil with alpha particles (subsequently discovered to consist of two protons and two neutrons), most of which sailed right through the foil as though it had not been there. To this astonishing result was added the equally curious datum that occasionally one of the particles would be scattered back almost directly towards its source, as though it had rebounded off something all but impenetrable. So Rutherfold concluded that most of the mass of an atom was concentrated in something very small at its center, the "nucleus." Indeed, the nucleus is typically something like a hundred thousand times smaller than the whole atom -- roughly the ratio in units of a Fermi (fm, a femtometer, 10-15m) to an Angstrom (, 10-10m) -- a reality that is seldom indicated in popular presentations, in which nucleus and atom are often the relative sizes of golf balls and grapefruits. Instead, if the diameter of an atom were about 100 meters, slightly longer than an American fooball field, then the diameter of the nucleus would be an impressive one millimeter, something that would be quite invisible on the field and practically undetectable even by the players during a football game.

Meanwhile, the rest of the empty atom was somehow filled with orbiting electrons, whose negative charge bound them to the positively charged nucleus. There was immediately an obvious problem with this. If charged particles orbit the nucleus because of electrostatic attraction, they are accelerated; and accelerated charges emit radiation and lose energy. The atoms would almost instantaneously collapse. Rutherford had no solution to this problem. The solution, when it came, which was quickly enough, nevertheless has never subsequently figured in popular ideas about the atoms. We still see images of electrons orbiting the nucleus (an image constantly seen on the popular television show, The Big Bang Theory), and it is a popular pastime for people to imagine that our solar system is somehow an atom in the matter of a larger universe (as recounted in classic form by Donald Sutherland in Animal House [1978]). That's impossible.

Part of the solution to the problem of the atoms came in 1913, with Niels Bohr's theory of the quantacized atom. Bohr proposed that electrons lodge at certain specific energy levels, "orbitals," in the atom. Each level can only hold a certain number of electrons, and when electrons jumped from one level to another, they emitted the very specific wavelengths of radiation that could be seen in the spectra of stars and of heated elements. This explained beautifully the mystery of things like the spectrum of hydrogen; but it also left unexplained why such orbitals existed or what electrons were really doing in them.

An answer to this came from Louis de Broglie, who suggested in 1923 that electrons could be understood to have the characteristic of waves, which meant that in the atom they were standing waves (as opposed to traveling waves, which move), with the integer and half-integer nature of whole and half wavelengths of waves "in a box." This is the only physical explanation that has ever been given for the quantum states of electrons in the atom, yet its nature has come to be neglected because of Werner Heisenberg's addition to the theory, that the square of the wave function (which of course turns all negatives into positives) would give a probability distribution for where the electrons as particles will be found when the "box" is broken and the wave function collapses by an act of observation.

This interaction of waves and particles in retrospect is a bit curious given another side of Einstein's work in 1905. Einstein's analysis of the Photoelectric Effect, for which he received his only Nobel Prize, included an analysis of light as consisting of particles, in line with Newton's thinking, rather than as waves, as had been established in the 19th century. Richard Feynman, with his own Nobel Prize in Physics, put it very bluntly: "the wave theory collapsed." But it didn't. It got expanded. De Broglie had analyzed electrons as waves and had calculated their wavelength. This ended up agreeing with experiment. Bohr eventually posited a principle, "Complementarity," of the "wave-particle duality": if you haven't observed things yet, light and electrons behave as waves; but once you have observed, or are even able to infer the positions of particles, then the wave function collapses and light and electrons behave as particles, i.e. have discrete locations (subject to the Uncertainty Principle of Heisenberg, in which position and momentum cannot be known with equal precision).

As Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy) always used to say, "This is another fine mess that you've gotten me into." There is no popularly accepted system of metaphysics that can accommodate the wave-particle duality. Bohr himself seems to have endorsed an Idealist or Anti-Realist position, that "nothing exists until it is observed" -- this is the "Copenhagen Interpretation" (because of the Danish nationality of Bohr). To the extent that this remains popular, it is the Anti-Realist version that conforms better with trendy Nihilism of "Post-Modern" academic thought. But Einstein was a Realist, and he hated it. And even though Einstein was long dismissed as, in effect, an old fuddy-duddy, the absence of a proper metaphysics for the system, even at a time when metaphysics was in poor repute, meant that the problem was bound to gnaw on people's minds.

Nevertheless, there was a system of metaphysics that fit the wave-particle duality perfectly, which was Kant's Transcendental Idealism, which contained a similar duality of observed (i.e. synthesized into perception and consciousness) vs. unobserved (not synthesized). Most of the early participants in these matters knew Kant and even had the language to read him in German. Bohr's position is sometimes said to be Kantian, but this only shows that anyone who says so is relatively unfamiliar with Kant's thought and doesn't understand the place of "empirical realism" in it. I get the impression that Einstein and Kurt Gödel, on their daily walks to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, sometimes discussed such things. Yet Kantian metaphysics has never been put forward by prominent physicists as an interpretation of quantum mechanics. This puzzles me. I suppose it is largely due to the difficulties in interpreting Kant's system and its lack of popularity in contemporary philosophy. This leaves behind a continuing scrimmage between Realists, Anti-Realists, and Positivists (who don't want to explain anything) in Physics and Philosophy of Science, with sometimes tortured, bizarre, or irrelevant proposals to avoid the wave-particle duality and collapse the metaphysics into one or another form.

Meanwhile, the form that a particle like the electron will take when it is a particle was specified by Paul Dirac. The electron will be a point particle, having no extension in space. The reason for this was simple. If an electron is extended, and is charged, then the charge presumably will be spread over the surface of the particle. However, negative charges at different spatial locations will repel each other, with a force that increases with proximity. Thus, while atoms might have collapsed with orbiting electrons, an extended electron will instantaneously explode as its parts repel each other. Collapsing atoms and simultaneously exploding electrons make for a nice image to associate with popular representations of matter.

This is easily remedied with the postulate of the point particle. However, we now may notice an attendant curiosity. Atoms are not merely mostly empty space, they are entirely empty space. Perhaps that was not evident for a while, since the actual size of protons and neutrons could be measured; but in the 1960's Murray Gell-Mann proposed that these particles consisted of smaller ones, quarks. The quarks are -- you guessed it -- point particles. But now, if atoms, and so all matter, are entirely empty space, this produces, not a Democritean world of Atoms and Void, but something exactly the opposite of Parmenides: A world where absolutely everything looks like it is fundamentally Not-Being. The currently popular systems of "String Theory," in which particles are extended in one dimension do not alter this point, since one dimensional objects do not fill space. That strings are extended and so might be subject to the original problem with extended particles is avoided by the circumstance that charge is not inherent in the string but is an epiphenomenon of the oscillation of the string in a higher dimension of space.

If matter, in the form of fundamental particles (quarks and leptons), does not fill space, what does? The answer to that is easy: Fields fill space. OK, but what then is a "field"? The answer to that one is not easy, for Modern Physics contains two different and exclusive explanations of what a field is. One we have seen already. A field in Einstein's approach is a deformation of space-time. String theory in recent physics itself includes an extension of Einstein's theory by additional dimensions of space (typically six) in order to accommodate all the forces of nature besides gravity. Thus, as previously, a theory that follows Einstein posits space as an actual thing that mediates the interactions of all the forces of nature.

For a while, however, Einstein's use of space was not the most popular approach to fields in physics. The other approach was an artifact of quantum mechanics. It was noticed that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, in which the product of position and momentum is proportional to Planck's Constant, could be rewritten in terms of energy and time. Indeed, the units of Planck's Constant can be stated as "Joule-seconds" (J*s), which are units of energy and time. The result of this was the theory of virtual particles, where energy can be borrowed from nothing as long as it is "returned" within a length of time proportional to Planck's Constant. The larger the energy, and so the more massive the particle, the shorter the time. Photons and gravitons, which have no rest mass and so no intrinsic energy, can therefore exist permanently as "virtual particles."

Virtual particles were then used to explain the interaction of the forces of nature. Electromagnetism and gravity, mediated by massless photons and gravitons, would be infinite in reach, while other forces (Strong and Weak) were mediated by particles with mass and so have a finite effect. But since they don't have "real" energy, virtual particles cannot be observed or detected as such, unless somehow real energy is transmitted to them. These strange entities thus became the basis of the entire theory of fields in quantum mechanics.

In the Feynman diagram at right, we see an interaction of real particles and real energy, where an electron-positron pair (which are anti-particles) annihilate each other and the resulting (real) energy (of a gamma ray, , an energetic photon) gives rise to two quarks, a d-quark and an anti-d-quark. It is the convention in Feynman diagrams to show anti-particles as real particles traveling backwards in time, which is why the arrows for the positron and anti-d-quark look like they are going backwards.

In the next Feynman diagram we see something a little different. Here two normal electrons scatter off each other -- both being equally and negatively charged, they repel each other. Their interaction is mediated by the exchange of a virtual photon. Feynman realized that virtual particles themselves could split, loop, and interact, complicating the diagram and implying a potentially infinite nest of interactions. Indeed, his original mathematics for virtual exchanges produced infinite values, which clearly did not match the observed scattering of particles. His genius was to discover mathematical techniques ("renormalization") that enabled him to calculate values for successive splits and loops and eliminate the infinities. The precision of his calculations was astonishing and opened the possibility that even physical constants, like the Gravitational Constant, might be calculated (rather than inferred from observation) in such ways. This proved the value of the quantum understanding of forces and fields using virtual particles.

In this way Physics went merrily along, confident that Einstein's geometry was silly and that quantum theories would easily deal with all the forces of nature, despite the oddness of all the virtual particle business. Then there was a problem. The math didn't work for a quantum theory of gravity. It didn't work, and it didn't work; and physicists went back to Einstein and began working on theories that introduced extra dimensions to accommodate additional forces of nature. This is what is the most popular now, although String Theories are coming under criticism for being arbitrary and not making critical predictions. Other physicists continue hopefully with quantum theories for gravity. But the old days of quick and dramatic progress in all this seem to have been gone, unless and until a new genius pops up with something entirely new and unexpected.

For the rest of us, the choice between Einsteinian space-time (despite the Leibnizian result that space doesn't exist) and quantum virtual particles is a curious one. In the former case, we are effectively back in a Parmenidean (/Eleatic) universe, where Being is an extended plenum (of space) and matter and energy (and fields) are wave phenomena within it, while with the latter, the phenomena of nature are either equally (Kantian) or exclusively (Copenhagen) the contents of consciousness, once an observation has been made. None of these are remotely comparable to a good solid Democritean Atomism or 19th Century Materialism. Because of this, we get books with provocative titles like The Matter Myth: Dramatic Discoveries that Challenge Our Understanding of Physical Reality [Paul Davies & John Gribbin, 1992, Simon & Schuster, 2007]. Yet the curiosities and problems of matter in modern Physics seem to have barely registered on popular culture, academic philosophers, or even physicists, whose background in philosophy or metaphysics is, of course, spotty, minimal, and inaccurate. In debates about space, they should at least have a good knowledge of Leibniz, if not Kant; but this does not seem to be the case -- and patently false statements continue to be made about Kant's philosophy of geometry by people who really should know better.

The fortunes of materialism are thus not promising, and both popular and academic culture should pay a little more attention to what happened between Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Of course, that will not happen spontaneously; and it will require some treatment, as on these pages, that catches the attention of the gatekeepers of popular and academic discourse.

Infantile Atheism


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Copyright (c) 2012, 2013 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

But on issue that are central to the concerns of the Torah itself Orthodox Halacha is often contrary to Torah Halacha

I have considered that perhaps Ultra Orthodox Judaism in spite of some good points is a cult. Sometimes this seems going a bit too far and sometimes it seems right on the money. In New York they are making a gigantic prayer convention to save the Jewish people from gezerat shmad {decree of destruction}. This is a term from the Talmud and refers to a period of time in which the Roman authorities declare that any Jew found keeping certain commandments will be killed. This phrase and its meaning is very well dealt with in the Talmud and later halacha authorities. It is not something that you can apply to any situation that you do not like.
But today the Orthodox from all over the spectrum is declaring that this time is a time of Shemad because the State of Israel is asking orthodox Jews  to share the burden of serving in the Army.  Not Anti Semites that anyway hate Jews will find a lot to relish in this. But I write over on this edge of the Internet basically for people that take the view that wiping out the Jewish people is not a worthy goal. And these people I think will agree with me that serving in the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] is not to be compared with a case of the Romans forbidding Jews to keep the Torah. People that want to wipe out the name of Israel from the world? What type of people are these? I know they have human DNA. But my finger nails also have human DNA. That does not make them human. 


John Locke understands the mitzvot of the Torah as being directed towards the Jewish people specifically. This to some degree makes sense. We know that Christians do not consider themselves to be under the obligation to keep the Torah. This is I think the reason that they do not spend much effort ironing out the details of how to do so like the Talmud does --because to them the whole issue is irrelevant. And in fact we know the letters of Paul the very first Christian documents came out against keeping the Law. [However it is true that this is against the opinion of Mathew].
At any rate we see from John Locke that he held from the Divine Command Theory of Morality at least in terms of Jews. God said to us Jews so we have to do. And that is that and Shalom on Israel. Nekuda. Period.
The fact that Divine Command is a problem because of Plato's question is it good because the gods command it or do the gods command it because it is good?
This brings me to the point of this essay. Now we know why the Rambam and Saadia Geon abandoned
Divine Command theory and went for Natural Law.
This has lots of implications. First it means that gentiles are under the Law. After all it is natural. It also means that how we understand the law is significantly different. And this changes how we keep it. Now even though we do not poskin (decide the law)  like R Shimon ben Yochai considering this question of dorshin taama dekra [We do go by the reason for the verse as opposed to the literal meaning.] still you can see in the Rambam that understanding the reason for the mitzvah does change how we keep it.


[Though I have recommended learning Talmud with Chaim Soloveitchik in my past blog, I should mention that Kant and Prichard bring up other issues which are perhaps as important or more so,- such as moral autonomy. This is a subject which you just don't get learning Talmud; and it is an important subject since it is the foundational principle of American democracy which many Jews in America and Israel believe in instinctively.

I want to defend the idea that it is necessary to learn Kant with Prichard. And in fact they should be printed together. The reason is simple. Even if you do not agree with Prichard he still makes Kant a lot more interesting.
This is not any different than the reason we learn Maimonides together with the Raavad.
And furthermore, I think he brings up important points.

[Though I have recommended learning Talmud with Chaim Soloveitchik in my past blog, I should mention that Kant and Prichard bring up other issues which are perhaps as important or more son such as moral autonomy. This is a subject which you just don't get learning Talmud and it is an important subject since it is the foundational principle of American democracy which many Jews in America and Israel believe in instinctively]

And one thing I am trying to get to is that his conclusion at the end of his life is remarkably close to Schopenhauer's idea of the will. I.e he concluded that Wilson was wrong and an act is not causing a change. it is willing a change.

of course there are great exceptions like that German guy what is his name? Oh Habermass. Right. And that other fellow Searle. Still I feel the best are from the Kant or intuitionist schools.

I don't mean here to disparage the philosophers from the Math Logic schools like Kripke. But I am here referring to the philosophy of meaning and value.


Three pillars of English character: (1) moderation, (2) individuality and (3) love of hard labor.

One  subject that I want to deal with:  Freedom and Passover and the development of the idea of Freedom as we know it in America and the Western World which invention of the John Locke and the English. I would like to go into the good and bad aspects of the character of the English that gave rise to the English Empire and also has given way to the decay and downfall of England.

The main way I want to deal with this subject is to concentrate on the three pillars of English character: (1) moderation, (2) individuality and (3) love of hard labor.

What a priori value does freedom have?
Why should it have any value? It arose from the conflict between the church and the monarchs in Medieaval Europe. But if you would know the absolutely true objective law of morality, what possible value could freedom have? And let us say that it is a value because of what we don't know about people and their character and their individual situation. Then in theory the more you understand about yourself and others, the less you would value freedom. (I am saying that Reason does perceive freedom as value because morality is an ought --not a must. The laws of morality area based on free will.

The English character which gave rise to the Empire of England (and its extension, the American Empire) do seem to be  much based on the Old Testament. It values and principles and laws. Can anyone imagine England developing the way it did without its Christian orientation?  This is certainly ridiculous.  And the further England and the USA go away from this basic orientation and world view, the further they sink into the mud.
I am not saying they were doing everything right when they were more religious. But I can say it was a lot better when people were going to church on Sundays; -and it was better for Jews then too.
I claim everything right about the USA comes directly from the ideas of Torah (and John Locke and he claimed openly that his ideas were straight from the Bible--especially limited government). [Not in his Two Treaties but in other writings.]

It is a true observation that it was the Calvinist work ethic that created the capitalist west. Without a love of labor and hatred of false gain could capitalism succeed.


But it is just that some aspects of the USSR  are impressive enough to me to seek out what aspects of that system contributed to the good that it did .
[The USSR was based on Marx and the philosophical aspects of Marx were are from Hegel, and the social aspects from Rousseau and the theory of value of labor from a rejected theory of Adam Smith.]

Maybe Americans are not that impressed with mathematics  and think that the engineering achievements of the USA out-shadow anything the USSR did. But the amazing Soviet mathematicians were so great in my eyes that it causes me to think that the Soviets must have been doing something right. [Plus I still see some residue effects of the USSR-- people obey the law!
But also I see that capitalism could never succeed in the Russian Empire. Capitalism without restraint is not viable. And the problem in Russia is there is not abhorrence of theft. and you can't abhor theft and ill gotten gain without some basic approach based on the Bible. This is the reason that Muslims are de-evolving into apes. Even though they have had some good religious principles in the past, but without a basic Biblical approach there is not much you can expect from people.

The problem with any Biblical approach however is not just that of interpretation but also cults that base themselves on the Bible.

The last issue I want to deal with is the defend learning the Mishna with the commentary of the Rambam.

Mainly I will try to say that with the commentary of the Rambam you avoid some of the anti science tendencies you find in the more commonly learned  Bartenura [Rav Ovadia from Bartenura]. Also I find the Rambam is short and to the point, and it is possible to make a lot more progress with him than with most other commentaries that tend to be too long.

I already spent too much time writing this short essay and I can tell already I will not be able to get to these subjects today in any detail.


What makes something a cult?

 To my way of thinking the approach   of talking always with God like one talks with a friend makes the Monotheism of the Torah more felt and more intense. But I am sometimes alarmed when I hear people making a little bit more of a tzadik than I think is warranted by proper Torah thought.


Part of the problem I see in American education is that the issues that went into making of America are not addressed. Certainly freedom is mentioned  and yet the European conflicts between Church, Monarchs , Parliament and the people are almost ignored.
This creates a problem for Jewish people that learn in American public school. The issues of limitation of authority is certainly not addressed in the Talmud itself, and we don't get any idea of what and how are the limits of authority.

My question is from a Torah standpoint what is the limit of rabbinical authority and is there in theory any thing that could stand before rabbinic authority like the was in European --the Kahal-- the tax paying home owners?


Does conversion to Torah require an act of the court (beit din)?

Does conversion to Torah require an act of beit din (מעשה בית דין)? [That means a court that has ordination  in an unbroken chain from Sinai. And this the Gemara says no longer exists. The last people to get true ordination lived right after the time of the Mishna. And it was in the beginning of the period of the Talmud that it puttered out.] The ordination we have today is a fraud.]
I have assumed for years that according to the Gemara in Avoda Zara (עבודה זרה) that conversion does not need a beit din. This was in spite of the fact that I knew the Tosphot there assumes that Gemara is going along with the Gemara in Sanhedrin. [The Gemara in Sanhedrin says conversion is a "din"--which means it needs the authentic ordination.] But my learning partner mentioned to me today an interesting fact --that you do not see an major rishon ראשון (medieaval authority) who disagrees with this. Whether the Rif or the Rambam or Tosphot-- everyone is assuming you need an act of beit din.
The only thing different nowadays is that you can never tell if someone is sincere until after the conversion.

And it is also interesting to notice that in Breslov there was an old tradition to convert anyone who wanted to be converted immediately--or thus I have heard in the name of Michael Dorfman.
So to make a long story short, in spite of the fact that the Gemara in tractate  Avoda Zara seems to make conversion a very simple process [i.e. jumping into a natural body of water for the sake of becoming Jewish], still from Tosphot and the general medieaval authorities it does look like you need some kind of beit din.
Now Tosphot does say that even though there is no such a thing of ordination anymore, still someone can convert because there are things a beit din of three regular guys--(with no semicha) -can do. And Tosphot wants to extend the list to conversion. Well fine. So be it. If that is what Tosphot says, who am I to disagree? And one thing I have learned in life: Tosphot is always right.
At any rate, it is clear that the convert does not need to accept all the mitzvot with rigor, but the basic outline of mitzvot. That is open in Shulchan Aruch itself. ["They make known to him the outline of the mitzvot and don't make it hard."] But still basic mitzvot are needed--like shabat, kashrut, etc.
There is not argument about this. But since conversion is big business, most people in this business hide all these facts so they can continue the scam. But  three people as a beit din of regular guys we have seen that we need. I thought to get out of this problem. Most rishonim want three people --they don't however have to have ordination  because  ordination today anyway has no legal status.

In conclusion to me it looks like the dipping does need to be in front of three ordinary Jews. There is an opinion in the Rif that even in front of one Jew is good enough.

My learning partner noticed in the Rambam that the the Torah was given to all Israel and to whom ever wants to accept it. That means anyone who wants to keep Torah can do so. That is the basic idea. The trouble begins with the fact that some people supposedly convert to torah but don't really want to keep the laws of the Torah.


 The issue of cults..I am still trying to figure out how is it possible for a person to take a set of religious doctrines and use them to create a personal following around himself. And furthermore I am wondering how naive people can protect themselves from this type of thing.. This does not seem to depend on doctrine at all. It seems almost any set of doctrines from principles that I would consider to be kosher to even highly un-kosher doctrines can be used by people to make a following around themselves.
I mean who does not want dozens of fawning followers willing to do your every bidding?

I think the first hint that something is wrong is when the leader of your group is obviously a person that is highly comfortable around others. The more people friendly someone is, the less nobility of character they have.


Fear of God- the Musar movement

Yesterday I wrote a blog about fear of God
I still think that Isaac Blazer [a disciple of Israel Salanter] was right- that everything (--i.e. the  happiness and success) depends on fear of God.
The major problem with fear of God is that any human good will be exploited by charlatans.
Just like you find charlatans in every field of knowledge, so you find this in Torah and the world of people that are concerned with keeping the commandments. These charlatans make it hard to decipher what path is really effective in bringing one to fear of God. In this context, "charlatan" means someone who dress like a Torah scholar without actually having finished the Talmud at least once with all of the Tosphot. The dress is not innocent. They are definitely trying to use clothing to convince people they are holy. 

But to put the Torah on a firm philosophical foundation the top is Maimonides.

[Just for quick information, for Maimonides, the path to fear of God lies through the Talmud. After a basis in Talmud, then comes the actual steps that bring to it.

Physics according to  Maimonides brings to fear of God, and Metaphysics brings to love of God.]

The problem with this is obviously that no one has actual carved out a path to God through Physics. This is different than the Talmud in which there is a level of holiness one gets just by opening it up and learning. [This is my approach to the issue of holiness. It is a circle of value. 

You will notice that I don't think that learning Torah, or enlightenment is the goal and highest aspiration of man, but rather fear of God.
For details see the writings of Isaac Blazer and the general Musar movement.

In any case, however the Musar movement got off track, still we should ourselves get the basic Musar books of the Middle Ages and the later Musar of the disciples of Israel Salanter and try to keep every word.

[I should mention that teachers of Torah tend for some strange reason to be charlatans and highly morally challenged individuals. Why this is the case is not important at all. What is important is to realize that to learn Torah and Musar is more subtle than it seems at first. it does not mean to join the local religious groups which not matter what they call themselves have a חזקה of being some kind of devious, unclean cult. Better to go to a conservative or Reform Shul until this kind of problem is cleared up.]


I had an idea today about the role of fear of God in the ultimate scheme of things.

I had a epiphany today about the role of fear of God in the ultimate scheme of things.
The thesis I want to defend is this: there is an Intermediate Zone that looks very much like holiness. People that get stuck there inevitably have miracles that they do, and people that come to them experience all kinds of lights and miraculous events. In fact, it is almost impossible to tell that it is the Intermediate Zone --kelipat nogah (קליפת נוגה האמורה במרכבת יחזקאל או היכלי התמורות של הזוהר) except for the effects it has on the community that surrounds the tzadik, guru, or pastor. But I believe I have found a way to skip over the Intermediate Zone:  Fear of God. And this Fear of God is what is well defined in books of Mussar [Ethics]  from the Middle Ages like the Duties of the Heart and the books of the disciples of Rabbi Israel Salanter.
(מדרגת האדם מיוסף הורוויץ וכוכבי אור מיצחק בלזר)

This is the multi layered thesis I want to defend.
One way I want to go about this is to examine the idea of the Rambam about what leads to Fear of God: learning Physics.  [If you read Maimonides carefully (בספר המורה) you will see he holds learning the  Metaphysics of Aristotle leads to Love of God, and Physics leads to Fear of God. (In Mishneh Torah he puts it all together. Learning the works of God inspires one to love and fear God. But he does not say that about learning Torah. And this idea of the Rambam is repeated by all the major books of Musar-- that learning physics and metaphysics brings to fear of God. Or lets me say they bring the actual language of the Rambam but as far as I know they might have been thinking it means kabbalah. [I mean  in Reishit Chachma he brings the Rambam but seems unaware of what the Rambam was referring to.  And this goes for almost all Musar books after the time of Zohar was published. They all assume  Maase Bresihit מעשה בראשית and Maase Merchava מעשה מרכבה are Kabalah. Exactly not like the Rambam.] In any case I never saw kabbalah bring anyone to love and fear God, but rather to a large range of messianic illusions. Thought I think that the Ari is important as a good approach to understand Torah. But I think most people that get into Kabbalah are not thinking of it in that way. I think they are looking for a spiritual uplift (a trip) or spiritual powers. So they get caught in the Intermediate Zone of Illusions. היכלי התמורות, עץ דעת טוב ורע)
  The obvious problem is that we do not see that the Natural Sciences divisions of most universities seem to have a lot of Fear of God.
  I would have to argue that this impression is only superficial. And that sciences students in my experience have more internal integrity and fear of God than most Orthodox Jews  who excel in external signs of fear of God.

There are paths of holiness that sometimes get blocked. The  tzadik צדיק tries to clear a path, and is sometimes successful, and sometimes even if he successful, is the underbrush  grows back and makes it uncross-able.

This happened to the path of [the Rambam] Maimonides. But that is because he made the connection between fear of God and science in only one direction. The truth is there is an opposite connection also--the path to physics is by fear of God. This path is unknown to date because people do not see the metaphysical significance in natural science. They think only people with talent can learn and understand science. This is not true.

The idea here is that people assume that with talent you can learn and excel in science, and without talent you can't. This only on the superficial level of science. There is a deeper level which one can reach only by Fear of God. But this fear of God is internal and unconscious. It can't be discerned by how much a person does external religious rituals.

[Of course some people with a great amount of talent go very far in science with no apparent fear of God at all because God sometimes gives people gifts and talents for no apparent reason, but here I am referring to people of average talent like myself.]

An example is the type of scientist my Dad [Philip Rosten] was. The fear of God in our home was not overt but very much present. [My Dad was responsible for a lot of the technology that went into focusing infrared rays and creating night version of the US Army and the camera for the U-2 and the satellite communication systems for SDI and other stuff ].

It does seems to me that we have a mitzvah of learning Torah and this is an obligation on every Jewish male all the time. The Rambam goes into detail describing how everyone is obligated --young old sick weary etc. He has a whole list. But he also expands this mitzvah to include Physics and Metaphysics.
I think that just like the mitzvah of learning Torah does not depend on whether one is smart or even understands his learning or not--so with physics and metaphysics. it think it is a mitzvah to learn Physics and Metaphysics --just like the Rambam said. I have no idea why this is either ignored by some Jews and take it as a general permission to learn secular subjects( though it is not a permission for general secular  things); or people take great offense at it.
I have seen for example in the writings of Reb Natan the idea that learning the natural sciences is a terrible thing. I can see perhaps he was reacting to the Haskalah. But that learning science should be a bad thing is ridiculous and certainly not what any rishonim (first authorities) held..

My learning partner mentioned a source in the Talmud itself. We know the Rambam is bringing  his ideas from Chagiga and the story in the Talmud about R. Yochanan Ben Zakai
But there is also a story about R Ishmael ... [using science as a proof for how long the pregnancy of certain animals lasts. My writing got interrupted here so I forgot the details but I think that this was an argument between R Ishmael and the Sages in tractate Bechorot. ]


militant atheism

The issue of the militant atheism was brought up today in my Talmud session.

I was encouraged by my Rabbi Freifeld to learn secular studies. in this context I learned Sartre. Even though I had read some Existentialist literature in Beverly Hills  High School, then that I first tackled the thick volume of philosophy of Sartre.
 I had a small degree of philosophical knowledge already which I had accumulated by my studies of Spinoza and Plato in high school. So Sartre seemed pretty second rate to me. I had already been exposed to the Greats.
Sartre came up because he was the first that tried to disprove the existence of God. Before him there were people that did not believe but did not evangelize for that. [With my learning partner I went through the different schools of Greek thought but I can't do that here.]

Also mentioned in this conversation that my essay in which I drew a distinction between monotheism and the pantheism was inspired by Brad Scott and his essay. He had been  part of a Hindu sect and became Christian. And he noticed that in Medieval Christian theology the distinction between monotheism and pantheism was clear.

Basically it was the Christians  that paved the path to a clear understanding of Monotheism starting with Pseudo Dionysus. It is my opinion that when the Rambam borrows from Pseudo Dionysus [specifically the negative theology of the Rambam which is a distinctive Dionysus doctrine] and other Christian sources he does not mention his sources, but when he draws from Muslim sources, he does mention his sources. [The Physics of Aristotle is the obvious source for the Rambam's treatment of monotheism, but I think he also borrowed from Boethius. This would be worth  certain amount of effort to go into if anyone out there would be willing to spend the time and effort.]
Be that as it may. The type of faith that we Jews recognize as Monotheism was formulated very well by Maimonides.

Now I wanted finally to go into Godel and his formulation of  proof of Anselm.To my learning partner I just mentioned that I felt that mathematical logic was such a deep field that it would be for me like the Talmud. I would have to be involved in it for 30 years before I felt qualified to say anything intelligent about it. However from far away I can see a few things that can perhaps protect the proof of Godel from some of major critics. The compactness theorem for one.
[The Torah puts Monotheism as the foremost principle. That is the reason for the Rambam's approach.


The Intermediate Zone

[1] The Intermediate Zone (היכלי התמורות) (נוגה)  with the insights of Paul Brunton and Sri Aurobindo,
[2] The basic primate nature of all human beings,
[3] The need to enter the Intermediate Zone,
[4] Formation of cults around people that have only entered into the Intermediate Zone.
[5] The pseudo religions of psycho analysis, and psychiatry, and psychology which  partake of all the worst characteristics of the Intermediate Zone.
[6] Perhaps after all the above I might offer some suggestions about how the deal with the problem of the Intermediate Zone.

There is a ridiculously short amount of time today so let me just make my first major point as fast as I can.
People have to go into the Intermediate Zone. This is like university. There simply is no choice. You can't look at the writings of Aurobindo and Brunton and say well the Intermediate Zone is so dangerous, so why bother with the spiritual side of things at all? The reason is that we are all primates and the evil in our basic character comes out (from potential to action), and we fall into all the different types of viciousness that is associated with our animal nature whether we like it or not.
But to jump up to the Divine realms is not possible without preparation.
So we are stuck with the need to enter a very dangerous area of spirituality, an area in which people think because they have visions or powers that means they are enlightened. They simply do not realize that the Dark Side [Sitra Achara] is playing with them.

The solution I really don't know, but I have found a set of basic principles that has helped me as I wade my way through this swamp of cults.

I have seen a lot of manifestations of the Intermediate Zone. Most often this is with people of some established religion. This is more than people in Eastern cults. A lot of time a person accepts an established religion, and assumes that since it is the right religion, therefore all the intuitions he or she has come from the side of Holiness and Light.   At least people in Eastern cults seem to be aware of the possibility that their visions might not all be from the Side of Light.

Of course, it is not smart to be involved in a religion that was founded on someone who was heavily in the Intermediate Zone or the Dark Side (סיטרא אחרא) like Islam. But even religions founded on enlightened individuals do not provide protection from the Intermediate Zone.

One confusing issue is the difference between the Intermediate Zone and simple mental illness. Some people  look at any spiritual manifestation as mental illness. Sometimes this is correct. Sometimes they are confusing manifestations of the Intermediate Zone with insanity.

(rest of essay deleted)

If you want to understand about cults and the Intermediate Zone I recommend learning about Scientology which gives a good template or measuring stick to understand whether your group is a cult or not. Adi Da also is a good example --or in fact even a better example because of lots of powers and miracles phenomena that appeared there.  If you want to understand this subject these two examples are important to learn about.

stripping the gurus
 This is a good reference book for Eastern spirituality. But the same could be written about spiritual leaders in other traditional chains.


I was just looking over the Talmud in Bava Metzia and I saw an important point. On page 104.The Mishna brings two conditions in which in renting there is a meaning that is implied "this field" in the case where one says, "I want to rent this apartment from you." These are the two strongest conditions: "This" and the person that want to rent the place. But you don't know that the  Mishna required both conditions. All the Mishna does is juxtapose this with the case of a serf. With the serf there is no requirement that the field remain the same. [It is entirely conceivable that the mishna requires neither condition and only make the difference to depend on whether the case is serfdom or rent. Or that it requires both of the strongest conditions. Or anywhere in the middle also for that matter]
It is hard to know what the Mishna means.

So when we get to Ravina and Shmuel things pick up. Ravina says, all that matters is the "this," and Shmuel says all that matters is who said it (the person that wants to rent, or the one that wants to rent out his place).
Here is where the Rambam comes in and brings the Tosepfta (teaching) that says exactly the same things as the Mishna in the case of renting and says openly it does not matter if the word "this" was used. This is a proof to the Rambam that  if the renter said it, then it does not matter. My point is it is hard to see why the Tospefta should be assumed to be a proof of the meaning of the Mishna.


So today I will just mention an important subject in the Talmud. What happens if a rabbi makes a mistake in a halacha.

 I wrote an essay yesterday attacking the Trinity and suggesting to Christians to repent. To my surprise almost no one looked at my blog.
So maybe I will stop attacking Christians. Maybe there's enough of that on the Internet. And after all even in my own philosophy, what matters is not what people believe, but what they do.
[Of course what they do depend slot of what they believe.]

So today I will just mention an important subject in the Talmud. What happens if a rabbi makes a mistake in a halacha. The first strange thing about this subject is the fact that Rabbi Tarfon is brought [Sanhedrin 33] as an example of a person that made a mistake in a simple thing [Devar Mishna]. The concept of Simple thing {devar mishna) is from what Rav Papa said something there is no argument about. something known and simple. In the days of r Tarfon the question of a female sheep that had the uterus taken out was not a settled question

the next thing is rav sheshet. Even thought he is quoted as referring to a devar misha still what he said makes more sense if you explain it to refer to shikul hadat.--question of judgment.

The major point i am trying to get to is to make the disagreement between rav papa and rav sheshet refer to a argument between the rambam and the geonim.


From what I can tell people are mammals. And not just any mammals, but part of the group of primates. Besides the basic viciousness of character come along with that, people seem to be particularly prone to physical, mental, and character illnesses.

Though I was too young to participate, I think the events of the 1960's effected me greatly.People that were not around at that time can't relate to the atmosphere. For me the world disintegrating around me caused a "crisis of world view."

The urgency to form my own consistent world view has existed ever since then.

For this reason I looked at different religions and philosophies;-- all with the interest to form my own world view that had internal consistency and would correspond in fact with the real world.
I don't have time right now to go through all the mistakes and things that I can't tell if they were mistakes or not.
[I did a lot of searching in: Spinoza, Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese philosophy, the Jewish Orthodox world, Christan streams of though, Islam etc. Though I never got that interested in Islam I had long discussions for several years with Muslim Imams and lived nearby a Muslim village. I have been around enough so that little that people do surprise me.  European philosophy is the most impressive of the bunch of world views I have seen and Plotinus and Maimonides, Kant and John Locke have to rate at the very top. (With honorable mention to  Anselm,  Aquinas, .)

Right now I will just state for the record my basic conclusion. If I have time I will try to go into the path that led me to this conclusion.
First the basic structure of my world view is that of Plotinus-- the neo-Platonic philosopher. But this comes with a slight modification. I don't think that Plotinus can be defended except by Immanuel Kant . Without immediate non intuitive knowledge there is no reason to assume to be true anything that Plotinus says. There is no ground for any of it. It comes across as ancient mysticism. But with Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer a whole world opens up--the world that Plotinus navigated.

The meaning of this and it relevance for issues today is thus: It means that I am firmly in medieval school of thought of Jewish thinkers like the Chovot LeVavot [Duties of the Heart] and Maimonides (who was far more neo-Platonic than people realize).

The practical relevance for all this is that I know that some people feel free to ignore facts and reality in their pursuit of religious purity. I am not among them.

From what I can tell people are mammals. and not just any mammals but part of the group of primates. Besides the basic viciousness of character come along with that people seem to be particularly prone to physical mental and character illnesses.
Religions that claim people are basically good are false.
Psychology is just another religion with its own false doctrines and high priests.

This is not to say that mental illness and character illness are not real problems.
But in terms of applying the basic principles of the Torah to real life situation. I find the Talmud and the books of the medieval thinkers like Maimonides are the best.
I think sin is a cause of lots of problems and also bad character traits like anger or pride. As far as that goes Israel Salanter was right. The only hope for people to improve their character is to make a whole movement around learning the books of ethics that deal with that issue


However it seems to me that it is safe to say that the idea of closeness with a tzadik [saint or Guru] is not in the Torah.

In a neo Platonic system there is a possibility of having a central personality.
You can see this in the thought of  Eastern Religions.
However it seems to me that it is safe to say that the idea of closeness with a tzadik [saint or Guru]  is not in the Torah.
Just the opposite. There were plenty of people that were close to King Saul and King David that did not end up very well. I might mention Doeg and Avshalom, but to me the most striking example is Yoav ben Tzeruya
This is the saddest story in the Torah. King David would have been nothing without this fellow. Zilch. Talk about "shimush talmidai chachamim."
[Yoav was the general of David and he stood by David when all his friends turned against him.]

 I can see this as perhaps one reason the Rambam went to Aristotle.
The simple truth is that the Torah does not look very Neo Platonic.

He might have and does have many character flaws. It means simply someone attached to God in some abstract way and someone that one can also become attached to God by means of some connection with this person. --Like with me hearing his talk on Shabat and by being in the land of Israel.]
On the other hand it is hard to know the meaning of this Light. It does not seem to imply higher knowledge or better character.
In the Torah, the central point is to keep the commandments of God which are 613.And of all the commandments there are ten that are central. And in these commandments, the place of ones physical father and mother occupy a central place, not any prophet tzadik  or other role model. [The commandment of the Torah to honor ones father and mother refer to ones physical parents.It does not mean one can exchange them for what one wants to believe are his spiritual parents and then make up a commandment to honor them. this is falsifying the meaning of the Torah.] The reason for this is simple if one has learned a bit of the writings of Isaac Luria. The father provides one with his or her outer protective light. and ones mother provides him or her with the internal light.

Plotinus makes a very good point about human personalities, those closer to music or love need more direction than those closer to metaphysics.


Maimonides and Physics

I have wondered about the approach of the Rambam towards learning what he calls Physics and Metaphysics. [He says what the ancient Greeks called Physics and Metaphysics is what in Torah is called the "Work of the Divine Chariot" and the "Work of Creation." מעשה מרכבה ומעשה בראשית.]

My question is why does he put this into the category of service of G-d?

Now in the Jewish people there has been a traditional approach to what could be called "the service of God." This is is usually considered to be learning Torah and doing mitzvot and good deeds.
The approach of the Rambam never made a dent in Jewish theology.

I have never heard of any explanation either of why or how this could be considered the highest service of God -- even greater than learning Torah.
Though I have seen in other books [Maalat Hamidot מעלות המידות, Chovot Levavot etc.]
from medieval Jewish thought that adopt this approach to some degree, but never with the wallop that the Rambam gives it.

I would like to suggest here the reason for the Rambam. It is due to his Aristotelian philosophy.

It goes like this: everything has  four causes. The final cause is it purpose. Every individual object in the world has purpose. And the world itself has purpose. When one serves God by revealing the light and reason and logic in everything in the world, this accumulates in the higher purpose of the whole creation.

Personally, I have adopted the approach of my parents and Maimonides as the proper approach.
This is not Reform or Conservative or Orthodox. Just like you can not fit Maimonides himself into any of these modern categories so my path also.
 The failure of Reform was to teach moral relativism and to equate Left wing politics with Torah.
They are not teaching the approach of Maimonides, but neither are the Orthodox.

The idea of Aristotle. He goes along with that everything has purpose, and  every purpose in itself has a purpose. You can see there the implication that each of the four Aristotelian causes has in itself four Aristotelian causes.

Reform Judaism is not a cult. In fact it has some things right that Orthodox Judaism does not have.
(1) Monotheism. Orthodox Judaism has become a religion of pantheism which is opposed to the world view of the Torah and the Talmud and the Ari. That would be in addition to the pantheon of little gods they have.
(2) They are not opposed to the State of Israel and in fact do what they can to support it.. I have never heard of a Reform or Conservative person that was opposed to the State of Israel. I do  not look kindly on many Orthodox  who support the effort of the Muslims to wipe Israel off the map and drive the Jews into the ocean.
These are two important issues. When the  Ultra Orthodox  not just in word, but in deed try to bankrupt the State of Israel.
When  the  Ultra Orthodox support Islamic causes, they don't seem to realize that they are supporting people that have every intension of murdering Jews  like they have always done and seem to be intent on doing for the perceivable future.[What I mean is  the  Ultra Orthodox think they are just opposing the political contract of the State of Israel. They want to be under gentile rule. But they don't realize that gentile rule in Israel was never benign.]

(3) Reform lacks the astounding amount of child sexual abuse that goes on in the Orthodox world

The problem however is that for some reason Reform do not learn the much Mishna or Talmud. And even the Conservative do not make it a priority.
And the very idea of keeping the commandments is not on the radar scope of the Reform. Well at least the right wing of the Conservatives do better in terms of keeping mitzvas.

The major problem with Reform it they lack the numinous  aspect of Torah.

I think the Conservative movement is on the right track in terms of emphasizing the Talmud but also recognizing that reason and logic and science also are authorities in there areas.
At this point I would have to say that since the Orthodox seems to have problems with facts and reality that it has morphed into a cult. Orthodox have had plenty of time to get their act together, and just seem intent on getting more and more fanatic.


 It was the path of the Rambam and which had been pioneered by Saadia Gaon to make learning Physics and Metaphysics a type of service of God.

  The effect of this opinion of Maimonides and Saadia Gaon had no effect on the Jewish Orthodox world, but had an enormous effect on the world of Reform and Conservative Judaism.

  The world of Orthodox Judaism was shifted into railroad tracks that were not constructed by Gaonim nor the Rambam. Rather by people that choose to ignore the Rambam because they were convinced that they knew better how to be religious. That is religious delusional fanatics.

I know the Rambam (Maimonides) wanted to make what he calls Physics and Metaphysics as a higher type of service of God.

So far I have not seen this done, or even taken seriously. When people in the Jewish world want to serve God nowadays, they go to learn Talmud. It is rare or never that they go to university to learn Physics.  It, in fact, would be considered the height of folly to be involved in Physics for the sake of God. But not to me. I have tried to follow this advice of the Rambam ever since I heard of it, because it is not just the opinion of the Rambam that I am depending on for this, but also the opinion of my parents.
The way I see this is that the natural sciences are the wisdom of God contained in his Creation.

And I should mention that the two places I studied Physics at were amazing--Hebrew University at first and then Polytechnic Institute of NYU. Professor Elitzur, Sorin Solomon (who gave me the classic text Gravity), at HU and Prof Van Wagenen (who put up with my constant questions) and Prof Arnold at Polytechnic: Thank you. Plus the students at Hebrew U that helped me catch up, Michal bat Beila, and Noel at Polytechnic and all the others. There was a whole group that helped me, but I forgot most of their names. Without their help, I would have been lost. Without Michal's help, nothing would have begun. She showed me the way to derive the derivative of x^2. That one 15 minute session opened the door of Mathematics to me.

When I was young  the idea of being self taught was also emphasized in our home. So if you are like me and not able to be part of a Physics program at a university and have to do the work at home I recommend just saying the words and going on and then reviewing the whole book as a whole--of what ever text you have available.


Kabalists in Israel

Kabalists in Israel. One way to tell if someone is fraud is by listening to them when they mention a subject you know something about. [They claim to knowledge in Talmud, but when they open their mouths the effect is spoiled] This test works for  other subjects as well. It was mentioned to me about a religious book called Genesis and the Big Bang. But it works for kabalah as well.
But the whole scene of kabalists in Israel is confusing. Perhaps it might be better to mention one at a time. I have forgotten so many it might be hard for me.
Perhaps a few names at first just to help me so some recall.
There was that fraud who prayed at the western wall every day for the sunrise minyan. He had the major characteristic of most kabalists in Israel that whatever personal likes and dislikes they have, they attribute it to Ruach Hakodesh (the divine spirit רוח הקודש).
There was that fellow in the old city who  had some connection with Rav Ashlag. But since he is not part of the Kabalah Center, people go to him for a Sabbath meal, and get a little spiritual inspiration. He is believe it or not a OK fellow. I would not exactly call him a kabalist along the lines of Bava Sali but he is a kosher person.

Then there are the  kabalists that learn Shalom Sharabi. They like to think that they are the real thing, but they too are just deluding themselves. And have all the normal character traits of frauds. And actuality believe anything they think is automatically the Divine Spirit. But in terms of knowledge of kabalah it seems to me that they are actually doing well. They take the Ari and the Reshash and do a rather rigorous examination of both. I have even heard from one friend in the old city that this Reb Yaakov actually knows an thing or two.
But none of these people are "up there."
  They are just looking in from the outside, and as usual filled with delusions of grandeur which seems to be part and parcel of anyone who touches the Zohar.
  Then there are all the kabalists that actual have some kind of spirits divine or otherwise.

  I have to say that they people are not really kabalists per say. They don't know much of the Ari or the Reshash. But they have something. It is what should be called trans-personal. It is not the divine spirit. but it is something. but they confuse it with the divine spirit. This is a trait of the religious world that they assume any spiritual manifestation buy a Jewish persona has to be from the Divine realm.

Then there are all the descendants of Bava Sali.

Bava Sali had great character but a lot of the miracles were a result of his character, not some kind of knowledge. But the flaw was that his knowledge was not perfect. He made mistakes about people and even the failed miracles are not advertised. There were times he said such and such a thing will happen that simply never came about.

Descendants of Bava Sali tend to have something of his spirit. I could mention a few. Rav Shimon Buso in Netivot, Reb David Abuchatzeira in Naharia, Moshe Buso in Jerusalem [somewhere in the vicinity of Rechov Shmuel HaNavi]. The daughter of Bava Sali, Avigail Buso. She definite has something like the Divine Spirit.


The book of Spinoza, the Ethics, was a companion of mine for all my years in high school. But eventually I started seeing some problems in his logic. There are good reasons I switched to Leibniz and Kant.
But as Jewish books go as far as ethics is concerned, the Ethics of Spinoza is powerful. 

The Ethics ("Musar") books of the Middle Ages e.g., The Duties of the Heart, are better than the Ethics. They avoid some of the problems you find in Spinoza. They are a little more modest about what we can know.

I forgot it, but I did have some way of defending Spinoza. I think it was something like this: What is an accident? Some characteristic of a substance. The difference between them is the substance is permanent and the accident can go away. A leaf can be green in spring and red in fall. But substances also change. In fact there is little that is permanent. What is it that these substances are accidents of?
It is this permanent substance that survives  all changes that Spinoza calls substance.
 This argument is what I used to try to defend Spinoza. Not that I am particularly happy with them but that at least we can understand what Spinoza was trying to get at.

Now if you want to give a critique on Spinoza, it would go like this. Even with this justification, that is still not a axiom. Typically an axiom in Geometry or Physics starts  with something self evident and almost trivial. For example if a=b, then b=a. You don't start with something highly counter intuitive and then try to make it into an axiom like "Nothing can affect a substance." [Even though philosophers do this all the time since Hume, it still just talking cleverly and making something dumb sound smart. ] For reasons like this. and several others(that Leibniz pointed out) I decided that Plato, Aristotle, Maimonides, and Kant were closer to the truth.


Spinoza puts a condition of substance which almost forces his conclusion of Pantheism. 

 People claim for the Rambam the title of the greatest Jewish philosopher. Maybe he was, but the Guide for the Perplexed is the most perplexing book I have ever read.
They used to print it with the commentary of Joseph Albo. If you can get through it congratulations! I found it frustrating. And the medieval alchemy really bothered me.
But if you want to get to what Maimonides was saying without having to go through hell and back to find out, then the best book I ever saw is David Hartman's. And the Rav Kook Institute also had a very good edition of the Guide with a short but very good commentary.  Also Rav Kapach from Yemen had an edition based on the original manuscripts of the Guide with his own very deep commentary. If you have time I would recommend learning these and also Plato and Aristotle in order to have an idea of the issues that the Rambam was addressing in the Guide.


I have been challenged to write an essay about moral objectivity.. I have not read the essay on the Standford or Internet encyclopedia of philosophy.. [Whatever is there I am sure I could never write anything better than that.] But in the meantime, I just want to organize a few thoughts about this subject.
  First, Professor Michael Humemer does not use the idea of the fallacy of subjectivity in his essay because he knows that an outside statement about morality can be coherent as long as the statement itself is left outside the set of all moral facts.[As Moshe Israel Rosten noticed] 
  To defend Moral Objectivity I could in theory use  Professor John Searle's argument. [ Here is the web adress:] But his argument works really only against the idea that all knowledge is subjective. But some people don't say that. They say just moral facts are subjective. This is harder to defeat. (Moshe Israel Rosten pointed this out to me. This is because the moral relativist might accept there is objective truth but just not in the area of morality. For that you need the essay of Michael Huemer in Colorado

But I should mention that my interest in objective morality actually goes deeper than a challenge on the Internet. When I was learning Torah I certainly thought I had found one self consistent objective logical and reasonable system of morality and a unified coherent world view. That illusion has been smashed. In its place I have a philosophical system based on Kant and Plato that the Torah can be justified with.  But what I presently believe in does not really come anywhere near the grandeur of Torah and Talmud. So what I try to do is to fit the Torah into my present world view. But the whole process is like  the practice medicine used to be about a hundred years ago. It is a hodge podge of different things that seem to work with no unifying principle
At any rate Michael Huemer does a neat thing. It claims that also the claim of all moral values are subjective is alos incoherent in this way:

Since rational judgment presupposes some ground apart from the judgment on which for it to be based, the denial of objectivity implies the intrinsic impossibility of rational moral judgment, since said denial means that moral values cannot have any independent existence apart from the mind


"There is a systematic plan to establish an Islamist beach head in the United States with the eventual goal of watching the United States crumble from within and establishing Islamic rule in this country,"

Steve Emerson's 70-minute film, Jihad in America: The Grand Deception, was released on DVD last October. Emerson, who directs The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), says the documentary traces the roots of Islamism inside the United States and reveals the chilling reality about the goal of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Our job is to change the Constitution of America," Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances for the Islamic Society of North America, says in the film. "There is a systematic plan to establish an Islamist beach head in the United States with the eventual goal of watching the United States crumble from within and establishing Islamic rule in this country," Doug Farah, a national security consultant and analyst, adds.

My own comment on this is that America will not be able to fight an enemy as long as it does not acknowledge the fact that it is an enemy. America and the whole western world and Russia also ought to learn the difference between a friend and an enemy before it is too late. Even Russia needs to learn this.
This is not the same type of conflict as the cold war. That was a conflict between two powers each trying to prove to the other that they could make a decent and just society. This is not what Muslims are trying to do. They are trying by the power of money and oil to infiltrate and destroy Russia and the USA.
It does not help to go back in history to find people like Ibn Rushd, or al Farabi. The question is what is Islam today. The greatest threat to the survival of the human race in two million years. and a threat to the very existence of Planet Earth.
Muslims armed with atom bombs are just as much a threat to us all as Muslims armed with a 747 jet airliner. Even more so.


Kabalah? Is it for you?

I would like to defend the theses that it is better to leave the Zohar alone. But I would like to also say this with the understanding that often there are very good insights into the Torah which you can find in the Zohar and the Ari (Isaac Luria האריז''ל).
To I make my these clearer I want to say that what gentiles consider Kabbalah and what the Zohar and the Arizal [Isaac Luria] are about are two very different things. The Zohar is not about magic. It is a neo platonic explanation of the Old Testament.

And it is an explanation that is necessary  for many reasons. One is that the alternative--Maimonides [the Rambam] with his reasons for the mitzvot  based on Aristotle are not very convincing. Clearly some type of Neo -Platonic approach is necessary. [See other medieval kabbalists especially Avraham Abulafia and the Ramban (Nachmanides).] (I mean the Rambam might be right but in any case he is hard to accept and grasp.)

Yet I still have to say that my general impression of people that learn Zohar is that they start thinking they are the Messiah, and get other delusions rather quickly.

That is just one criticism of it. I have another one also. It is this. That the aspect of Torah which is Numinous and holy is not touched by the Zohar or the Ari. This is an inner holiness of Torah which has nothing to do with the things talked about in the Zohar at all.

I should say that I spent time learning Kabbalah, and I am familiar with many of the so called "kabalists" in Israel, so I am not completely ignorant about this subject. I learned the Eitz Chaim of  the Ari [Isaac Luria] several  times, and went through the other writings of the Ari at length. I read several works of the Remak (Moshe Cordovero) including the Pardes and the Reshash and prayed with the Sidur HaReshash for many years. I went through  several authors of Medieval kabbalah like Avraham Abulafia and others. A lot of this was very inspiring for me.  But still it has the tendency is to instill delusions into people.
I know the fraudulent kabbalist of the Kotel.  And I knew others that had actual insights. One fellow had virtual film going through his head showing him the life of people that came to him. [He was put into Cherem (excommunication) by Rav Ovadia Yosef]  I was close with many of the disciples and descendants of Bava Sali.

Also one odd thing was that people that learned Kabbalah also thought they knew how to learn Gemara (The Babylonian Talmud), even though they could never tell you a simple explanation in any Gemara  They seemed to believe their expertise in Kabbalah gave them expertise in everything.

So though Kabalah is a legitimate sub-section of Torah learning, still there is the problem of cults.
And the Sitra Achra that got mixed up with it also.

The main principle in terms of Kabalah is this: Sephardim are OK, Ashkenazim are not.
The Ramchal also is fine [as far as I can tell], even though Rav Hutner (Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin) is reported to have said that some aspects of his teachings come from the Shatz.] 

  So I say in general simply to learn in a kosher Lithuanian type of yeshiva.
And avoid kabbalists. [But it is still OK to go to descendants of Bava Sali for blessings and advice-not because of Kabbalah, but rather from the standpoint of being descendants of a tzadik which gives  certain kind of merit.]


I think it is common practice for nations to try to limit the ability of their enemies to launch attacks from nearby bases. From what I understand this was part the reason the the USSR absorbed different territories after WWII and the reason they demanded that American remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey and the reason that Israel took the Golan Heights.

In spite of my ignorance about American history I recently read a very nice book on the subject and it was amazing in given the basic overview with detail but not too much. From what I can tell it was not just the British but also France was taking American boats and men. The thing which triggered the war was that after both England and France had signed agreements to discontinue this practice, they kept on doing it.

Besides that England was not fighting Napoleon at the time. They were involved with an economic war with France. And this was part of the reason they impounded American boats they could trade freely with France and England. This bothered both England and France.
In the attack on Canada, America was intending to limit the ability of England to launch naval attacks against America.
I think this is common practice for nations to try to limit the ability of their enemies to launch attacks from nearby bases. From what I understand this was part the reason the the USSR absorbed different territories after WWII and the reason they demanded that American remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey and the reason that Israel took the Golan Heights.I think this was also the reason that America attacked Florida when it was owed by Spain and why it took possession of Alabama --i.e with intent to stop the attack the creek Indians.I will not even go into the reason for taking Texas.


Muslims certainly nowadays tend to be a problem to the degree they believe in their religion.

I never found American history interesting. I look on America as a machine that works where all other machines failed. It is a machine that you feed into it lots of people and out comes a just and decent society. What interests me is: "Why does it work?" For this I go to the thinkers that the USA Constitution is based on. [Plato Aristotle Aquinas , John Locke, Jefferson, Cicero, etc.] This has become much more interesting to me in recent years as I watch the slow disintegration of American society. Just like I want to know what made it work in the first place I want top know what is destroying it.

It is not enough to look at Muslims or the infiltration of the KGB into American universities. Muslims  certainly nowadays tend to be a problem to the degree they believe in their religion. But it was not always that way. There is a consensuses among scholars that the Islamic Golden age was real and not just completely make believe.Though there is a debate about this still the weight of the evidence shows that the original period in Baghdad from about 800 AD until circa 1240 AD was a flourishing period for Jews and Muslims. And even nowadays we find a few great Islamic scholars [e.g. Saleem who shared the Noble prize with Weinberg] . It is hard to say that Islam by definition is automatically the destroying force of Satan. Personally, even though Muslims tried to kill me many times in Jerusalem, still when I lived in Safed in the North of Israel, I found Muslims and especially the Bedouins to be consistently nice and decent people. [Though I have heard that recently they have deteriorated.] Blacks also are like this. There are many outstanding people that are black. It is hard to see them as some kind of generally bad influence. So it is curious what is contributing to the downfall of America?  [The KGB certainly had a great influence on the Social Studies Departments of America universities, but this could not account for the general deterioration of American society. The KGB spend about a 1/3 of its resources in this direction.]


Most people that lived in the USSR that I have encountered always have something nice to say about it. [I have been hanging around one of the former republics of the Soviet Union so when I say this it means that  everyone misses the USSR.] And they always start with: "It was not so bad." And they always include the word "stability." If you compare the USSR with what came before it and what came after it, it is hard to miss their point. Instead of free market capitalism as you used to have in the U.S.A. you have strong man tactics, or bully capitalism. [The same thing that Marx criticized in the first place]
And before the USSR there were massive pogroms in almost every Russian and Ukraine city. And Russia was fighting a completely ridiculous pointless war in the West and chaos reigned. And people concentrate on what was wrong with the USSR, but forget that the alternative was  already much worse and corrupt. and this fact continues until this very day Jan 2 2013.
I will not even get into the good aspects of Soviet Science and the massive efforts to make housing and transportation and medical care available for everyone at almost zero cost. Sure it would be better if a country had a free market system in which everyone had strong  Biblical values so that there would be an inherent sense of right and wrong. But lacking that, there is no question that the USSR was an improvement on what came before it and what came after it.

And sadly America itself is rapidly coming to the place where people are lacking all basic Biblical values and in fact need something like a strong centralized federal government to keep them even barely other words I would like Jews to be good Jews and Christians to be good Christians. But lacking that, I think you need something like a strong centralized government to keep people from hurting each other. And in America Christan are no longer good Christians and Jews either ignore the Torah and Talmud or go off into strange nightmarish Chasidic cults.
And the way the USSR dealt with Muslims is great lesson for us all. When some  Soviet citizens were taken prisoner, they send in Unit Alpha of the KGB. They caught one terrorist and sent his body parts to the other  terrorists. . Nor did they have some smart Beverly Hills lawyers arguing about Muslim Human and Civil Rights.