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Monday, 11 June 2018

Halacha LeMoshe Mi Sinai

Image result for shin on tefillin

 The 4-headed "shin" on the Tefillin is an unusual variation of the modern Hebrew letter shin, which ordinarily has only 3 heads.  There is also a 3 headed shin  on tefillin, with the same calligraphy.  It appears nowhere else in Hebrew literature, And, the explanation, according to Maimonides, is that is is one of the 31 alleged Halachot that were given orally to Moses at mount Sinai, but not committed to writing (until the Oral Law became a book).

In fact, apart from this list of 31 halachot, many others are also claimed to have been given to Moses but not mentioned in the Torah.  It is interesting - how does one verify philosophically such a claim?
The problem  is that there is no written contemporaneous evidence of there being an oral law or these specific halachot being given to Moses. The claim occurs some 1150 years after the event.

This particular claim, of the style of the shin, its calligraphy etc. can be refuted. That is because the Hebrew script at the time of Writing of the Torah was not the same as the one we have today or at the time of the Mishnah.  The Hebrew script of the Bible was paleo-Hebrew.  And the paleo-hebrew alphabet does not look the same as the modern square letters , which are in fact Aramaic.

Paleo-hebrew alphabet.jpg

The second last letter of this alphabet looks very much like an English "w" and that in fact was a Biblical shin.

Had the halacha of this shin (and indeed tefillin ) been given to Moses at Sinai, it is unthinkable that it would be written in the form of a future vulgate language. It is likely that the scholars who concocted this story of the 31 or so laws were unaware of the history of the Hebrew language.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Dessler's Strive for "Truth"

A famous ultra-orthodox rabbi,  Eliyahu Dessler, was primarily active in the Gateshead yeshiva of England and later the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Israel. His books have become a set piece fo the Lithuanian Hareidi stream of orthodoxy, who consider  his every word as being scientific and Divine truth all in one.  However, even a brief  familiarity with his writings reveal that not only are his views  questionable, but they are often entirely false.

According to one lecturer at

" Rav Dessler opened the shiur with an important statement of purpose. Rav Dessler did not see the תנ"ך as a history book. He also did not see it as a book of theology, which is an abstract inquiry into the meaning of Judaism. The stories in the תנ"ך are there to teach, to instruct us how to serve Hashem"

Firstly, the  תנ"ך is not a single book, it comprises of various books, some of which are Prophetic, others are more historical or Chronicles.   The Books of Kings and Chronicles have many functions, but they are primarily historical records of leaders of Israel or history of Israel.

Furthermore,  there are many prophetic and theological books within the TNK. That doesn't exclude the moral and ethical instruction.  However, just as an example, the book of Daniel, can hardly be described as an ethical work.  It is full of miracles, mystery, prophecy and eschatology.

Even in Kings, we see, for example, Elijah's battle with the prophets of baal.  This is not an ethical instruction, it is about supernatural events, which are not applicable today since we do not have Prophets.  It is thus all the more surprising that Dessler, who takes his name from that very prophet, is making false statements about the TNK.

What is more worrying, is that thousands of rabbis who are his followers take his words as Gospel, when in fact they are false speculations.

Monday, 5 March 2018

The “Rabbi” - Yosef Mizrachi, and Holocaust Denial

A while back, the popular but controversial so-called Rabbi Y. Mizrachi caused yet another stir when he denied that 6 million Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust. Although he subsequently apologized for this, it is worth analysing how and why such crass stupidity was ever publicised.

The lecture, given in Hebrew begins with him “revealing a secret” (sod). He then says that the “emet” (truth) is that less than 1 million Jews were killed. This figure is in line with holocaust deniers, revisionists and neo nazis – whom he supposedly opposes. Why has a man who claims to be a rabbi, who allegedly studies and teaches Kabbalah, and speaks in Holier than thou language to everyone else – fallen to such a low, even in his own poor history of offensive remarks?

I suggest we try to reconstruct some of his world view.

He tells a story of how he left school and then left the army, to look for work in the USA. Here he got a job in a bagel shop. Working at the till, he claims that he calculated the receipts of customers in his head, without using the till itself. By this he implies that he is some unrecognised mathematical genius. However, he has no formal education, and has no credentials or recognised mathematical or scientific qualifications. He also has no formal training in statistics, so he is not a reliable person to pontificate on matters so grave as the Holocaust and its victims.

Next, he repeatedly barks at his critics, claiming that he has brought more people back to “Orthodox Torah” than anyone else in history. Again, a tall story. However he has signs of arrogance and megalomania, and has hidden messianic pretensions. This same line was used by the followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who claimed him to be the messiah. It was also part of the Shabbetai Zvi movement, which initially gained many followers, who became religious and fooled even the some of the leading rabbis of thee time.

In the same lecture, Mizrachi claims that the American DJ Howard stern is not Jewish, because his mother is allegedly not Jewish. However, this is false. Stern's parents both were Jewish (although he may have joked about being half Jewish at some point). Now Mizrachi is not a qualified Rabbi, and is also not a Dayan, so he is not someone who can answer halachic questions or make decisions regarding Jewish status. But his comments show that he has an arrogance way above what his actual capacity and status is.

So what would possibly motivate a person to come to with such nonsense?

Here are some possibilities:

1) Simply, he has to create material for his lectures, so he has a fertile imagination. He has no scientific research programme, these are all conjectures, perhaps ideas that come to him when he is traveling from one lecture to another.

2) He may have delusions of grandeur. This is supported by the terms he uses. He didn't present this claim as a theory or hypothesis, but he presented it as a “secret” ans as the “Emet” or truth. The evidence was self generated, i.e. the workings of his own mind. So a serious researcher, historian or scientist would not make such grandiose statements without having them verified by independent experts. Thus, it seems he has a superiority complex, and that also explains how he reacts to people who criticise him. To him any idea that comes into his head must ipso facto be true, and that is how he makes such insane comments, and tries to back them up by appeal to religion or “Divine Information” (the name of his website).

3) It is not clear where his influences come from. He mentions Satmar, Neturei karta , but also criticizes them at times. Yet he is repeating the same kind of Holocaust denial that Neturei karta made when they visited Iran. They said on BBC news that they felt only 1 million Jews were killed, because they held that 6 million was a figure created by Zionist propaganda. He is anti-Zionist, so some of these negative influences may well have come from the NK .

There are also false allegations made by  Mizrachi that Theodore Herzl wrote to the Pope with a programme for mass conversion of the Jews. This is another false claim, but it comes from the same type of Neturei Karta/satmar sources, who have a pathological hatred for Zionism.  Just as he himself has criticised NK for attending a holocaust denial rally in Tehran, and prayed for the health of the PLO terrorist, so he himself (Mizrachi) had fallen into the trap of Holocaust denial.

It is important to note that he tried to make a public apology to a Holocaust survivor, but the survivor attacked this man's nasty behaviour.

The sad thing is that Mr Mizrachi does have some worthwhile thins to say. I find that listening to a 1 hour lecture of his might actually have 1 or 2 very interesting points. One such point is that it is forbidden by the Shulchan Aruch to listen to a Rabbi who is nasty – that means insulting, offensive, arrogant, extortionate, or dictatorial. Unfortunately, by applying this principal to Mizrachi himself , which a lot of people will intuitively do, it would mean we should not listen to anything he says, even if some of his ideas are valid or true.

If I had one message to give to Mizrachi, it would be to check his own arrogance, and wonder why he has aroused so much anger, unparalleled by any other rabbi on the current scene. He could potentially be a truly righteous person, and not drive away so many people. He has been banned from the UK for example as a hate preacher. Part of his own defence mechanism is to see everyone who opposes him as evil and impure – but he has made the most evil statements, which are on the same level as those made by neo nazis and holocaust deniers. This perhaps refutes his claim that everyone who opposes him is evil.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Maimonides vs Raavad – Modern Orthodox revolutionary?

The 2 great Rabbinic scholars of the 12th century were known as Maimonides (Rambam) and his frequent controversialist, Abraham ben David (RABaD or Raavad). Whereas Maimonides is well known throughout the Jewish (and non-Jewish) world, with hundreds of books about him, hospitals, and schools named after him and is a celebrated figure of Jewish intellect in areas of philosophy, medicine, astronomy etc. Rabad is scarcely known outside of rabbinical scholarship and the experts in halacha (and Kabbala) who study his original critiques of Maimonides.

Maimonides is known as a towering intellect, who was esteemed by surrounding Muslim and Christian cultures; as a philosopher whose magnum opus The Guide for the Perplexed is still the mainstay of Jewish philosophy and theology, and whose original 13 principles of faith have become a declaration of faith for the rabbinical orthodox world. Rabad was known as a great talmudist, who had the entire Talmud deeply ensconced in his memory, and he was reputed to be able to access any part of it on demand. He was the major rabbinic authority for France and Ashkenaz, whereas Maimonides was the authority for Spain and Sepharad.

Maimonides is considered a “Modern” orthodox proponent, because of his philosophical and rational thinking, his use of science and rejection of mysticism and superstition. Rabad, on the other hand, is largely claimed as a model for Ultra-Orthodoxy precisely because of his espousal of and expertise in Kabbalah, and his alleged disregard of science. However, neither of these stereotypes are necessarily true. I will argue quite the opposite.

A statement I have often heard from the Yeshiva world is that they follow Maimonides in halacha (legal interpretation) but not in philosophy. Indeed, the relatively modern Shulchan Aruch is largely based on Rambam's legal works. This statement, however, is problematic, because the one authority who is supposedly authentically Orthodox – Rabad – was also the chief critic of Maimonides' halacha, and not philosophy. Rabad leveled severe criticism against the “Mishneh Torah” of Maimonides, both methodological and substantive. The main methodological criticisms were that Maimonides was not providing sources for his statements, and that a text book of halacha is a bad thing, rather it should be derived through consideration of the various opinions in the Talmud. Indeed certain of Maimonides' statements seem to be in error (or fabricated) and Rabad will show that there is in fact much evidence to support the opposite conclusion.

The key problem with Maimonides is that he tends to present a strict position, when in fact the Talmud suggests a lenient or permissive position on many matters. He also seems to be aloof and unconcerned by the real world burden he is imposing on people, whereas Rabad is very concerned by the increasing burden of rabbinically added extras. In one famous controversy, Rambam is suggesting that a rabbinic Gezeira (added restriction) cannot be undone by a later generation. Here, the Rabad presents a case where this was precisely occurred since the reasons for that restriction were no longer relevant.

So whilst it may be claimed that Rambam was a Modern orthodox revolutionary, he was in practice an extreme conservative, who often presents halachic views which are impractical and unwarranted, whereas Rabad was the true revolutionary. Revolutionary is a relative term, since our impression of Rabbinic law is one of strictness and ascetism. Rambam, the philosopher was the ascetic, and he imposed an ascetic halacha, whereas Rabad, the Kabbalist was the most open minded thinker in the past 1000 years. His vision of Talmud was not one that strangles a person's humanity, happiness of enjoyment in this world – this was the conclusion that Rambam reached. Rabad viewed the Talmud as a way of living and allowing people to fulfil there lives in this world, and not to wait for the next. Hence, it is my view that Abraham ben David was the true Modern Orthodox revolutionary.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Single Lineage Theory

As previously discussed, the mainstream Rabbinic concept of Matrilineal descent is a single lineage theory. That means the woman can conceive by any man, or anonymous donor, and the child will still be considered Jewish.  In fact even in the case of adultery, if the male cohabiter is not Jewish, the child will (according to Rabbinic halacha) be both Jewish and kasher, ie  without the taint of mamzerut. (Mamzerut is a complex matter and is not supported by the textual reading of the Torah).

There is evidence that refutes the matrilineal theory.  Today’s evidence is from the Mitzvah of Levirate marriage or Yibum.

Deut 25:

ה  כִּי-יֵשְׁבוּ אַחִים יַחְדָּו, וּמֵת אַחַד מֵהֶם וּבֵן אֵין-לוֹ--לֹא-תִהְיֶה אֵשֶׁת-הַמֵּת הַחוּצָה, לְאִישׁ זָר:  יְבָמָהּ יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ, וּלְקָחָהּ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה וְיִבְּמָהּ.
5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not be married abroad unto one not of his kin; her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her.
ו  וְהָיָה, הַבְּכוֹר אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵד--יָקוּם, עַל-שֵׁם אָחִיו הַמֵּת; וְלֹא-יִמָּחֶה שְׁמוֹ, מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל.
6 And it shall be, that the first-born that she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother that is dead, that his name be not blotted out of Israel.
ז  וְאִם-לֹא יַחְפֹּץ הָאִישׁ, לָקַחַת אֶת-יְבִמְתּוֹ; וְעָלְתָה יְבִמְתּוֹ הַשַּׁעְרָה אֶל-הַזְּקֵנִים, וְאָמְרָה מֵאֵן יְבָמִי לְהָקִים לְאָחִיו שֵׁם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל--לֹא אָבָה, יַבְּמִי.
7 And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate unto the elders, and say: 'My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother unto me.'
ח  וְקָרְאוּ-לוֹ זִקְנֵי-עִירוֹ, וְדִבְּרוּ אֵלָיו; וְעָמַד וְאָמַר, לֹא חָפַצְתִּי לְקַחְתָּהּ.
8 Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him; and if he stand, and say: 'I like not to take her';
ט  וְנִגְּשָׁה יְבִמְתּוֹ אֵלָיו, לְעֵינֵי הַזְּקֵנִים, וְחָלְצָה נַעֲלוֹ מֵעַל רַגְלוֹ, וְיָרְקָה בְּפָנָיו; וְעָנְתָה, וְאָמְרָה, כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִבְנֶה אֶת-בֵּית אָחִיו.
9 then shall his brother's wife draw nigh unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say: 'So shall it be done unto the man that doth not build up his brother's house.'
י  וְנִקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל:  בֵּית, חֲלוּץ הַנָּעַל.  {ס}
10 And his name shall be called in Israel the house of him that had his shoe loosed. {S}

According to rabbinic thought, the father of a child has no bearing whatsoever of the identity of the child, i.e. being part of Israel or being a “Jew”.  This is entirely from
the mother. Thus the father could be a Chinese Buddhist,  an African tribesman, or a native American, and the child would still be Jewish.  However, the Torah refutes this claim.  

In the case given in the Torah above, the problem with the husband dying childless is that his name is blotted from Israel:  6 And it shall be, that the first-born that she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother that is dead, that his name be not blotted out of Israel.”

From here, we can deduce that for a person born to be considered an Israelite, he must have his father’s name, i.e. identity.  This sounds like the mirror image of the rabbinic claim.  It doesn’t tell us whether both parents need to be Israelites. However, the  Yibum does not apply to a wife who dies childless, i.e.  her sister is not obligated to marry the husband  whose wife dies (assuming the sister is not already married). This means that the name of the mother is not passed on to the child, and hence the Israelite identity is passed on from the father.

The Yibum procedure has a single function, which is to perpetuate the name of a deceased man, should he be childless.  One might ask, what would be the purpose of this mitzvah if the Israelite identity were passed on from the mother?

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Israelites, Jews and Matrilineal Descent. Jews or Shoes?

The question used both rhetorically and also legally, is “Who is a Jew?”.

According to Rabbinic Judaism, which in its orthodox manifestation controls many Batei Din around the world, and dominates the Israeli scene, this is something which is passed on by the mother and not the father. A Jewish woman who intermarried with person of non Jewish heritage still gives birth to “Jewish” children, whereas the favour is not returned to the Jewish man who takes a wife of non Jewish heritage.

This is the well known story. Apart from conversion, which is the only other option, there is not much of an alternative. The Karaites do not have a clear position on this, although some will make a claim that Patrilineal descent is valid, whereas others insist on both parents being Jewish.

To try to understand this issue, it might help to define what “Jewish” actually means. In fact, there is something that preceeds “Jewishness”, and that is being an Israelite. Israel was a given name to Jacob. His descendants are Israelites. Israelites are the people to whom the Torah was given. Before we can discuss Jews we need to understand who the Israelites are.

Genesis Chapter 29

16 Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 And Leah's eyes were weak; but Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon. 18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and he said: 'I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.' 19 And Laban said: 'It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man; abide with me.' 20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her. 21 And Jacob said unto Laban: 'Give me my wife, for my days are filled, that I may go in unto her.' 22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. 23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. 24 And Laban gave Zilpah his handmaid unto his daughter Leah for a handmaid. 25 And it came to pass in the morning that, behold, it was Leah; and he said to Laban: 'What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?' 26 And Laban said: 'It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born. 27 Fulfil the week of this one, and we will give thee the other also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.' 28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week; and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife. 29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her handmaid. 30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. 31 And the LORD saw that Leah was hated, and he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. 32 And Leah conceived, and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said: 'Because the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.' 33 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said: 'Because the LORD hath heard that I am hated, He hath therefore given me this son also.' And she called his name Simeon. 34 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said: 'Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons.' Therefore was his name called Levi. 35 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she said: 'This time will I praise the LORD.' Therefore she called his name Judah; and she left off bearing.

Jacob's first 4 sons were:


These were born from Leah. His 2nd wife, Rachel, was infertile at this stage, so she offered him her handmaid, Bilhah, to bear children for him. Bilhah bore:


Then Leah gave Jacob her handmaid called Zilpah, and she bore 2 sons:


Then Leah bore him 2 further sons:


And a daughter called Dinah

Finally, Rachel was successful in bearing a son named Joseph. And again later she bore Benjamin.

These 12 sons of Jacob, through 4 wives, become the 12 tribes of Israel. They are referred to throughout the Torah as Bnei Israel - “sons of Israel”.

If they are sons of Israel, from 4 different wives, 2 of whom are handmaids, then the Torah attaches more importance to their patrilineal lineage than their matrilineal lineage. That doesn't denigrate the matriarchs in any way, but they are descended from Laban, who was not the most “pure” or honest of people.

It is important to note that one of the tribes of Israel is called Judah, after the son of Leah and Israel.

So far, the only determining factor of identifying an Israelite is that he is one of the sons of Israel = Bnei Israel. Israel has 4 wives, 2 of whom are sisters, the other 2 are unknown handmaids. Hence the identity of the sons are by definition, after father. If it were otherwise, they would not be Israelites, but Leahites and Rachelites. The promise was made to Abraham, and not Laban. Laban was the grandson of Nahor, who was Abraham's brother. Again, it was Abraham, and not his brother Nahor who was chosen as the progenitor of Israel (nation) who would inherit the land of Israel.

Any suggestion that Israelite identity is matrilineal is both logically absurd, and contradictory tot he Torah. We have no idea who Laban's magical wife was, and why she should determine who is a Jew! BY what merits should she determine the future of Israel, when this was already promised to be the speciality of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? So far, matrilinealism is a parallel universe, or alternate narrative , divorced from reality, history or the text of the Torah.

So what of Judah and the Jews?

As far as the Torah is concerned, Judah is only one of the 12 tribes of Israel. There is nothing more Israelitish about Judah than there is about Gad, Reuven, Dan, Naphtali, Benjamin etc. Technically speaking the other tribes are non-Jews. Because Jews are Yehudim, who are descended from Yehudah (Judah). Indeed, Jacob blesses all his sons, who will inherit the land of Israel and each get a portion of Israel.

Yehudah's family is also interesting. In Genesis 38, we see that Judah marries the daughter of a Canaanite. They have 3 sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er marries an unknown woman named Tamar.
Er dies, and so Onan must perform a levirate marriage to continue his brother's seed. The levirate marriage is predicated on a patrilineal inheritance. By definition, only a male from the deceased's family, (usually brother) can continue his name. Onan gets buyer’s remorse, and is punished for refusing to bring up his brother's name. He dies as a result of this sin. So to continue with the Levirate marriage, which is Torah commandment, the youngest son of Yehudah – Shelah must marry Tamar. Yehudah is scared that the bad luck will go on to kill his 3rd and last son. So he puts this on hold. Even if Shelah does sire a son for Tamar, it is only to continue Er's name, not Tamar's.
Er, Onan, and Shelah were the first sons of Yehudah, and were Yehudim – the very first Jews in history. Their Jewishness was not from his Canaanite wife, but from himself. His wife's father was called Shua, a Canaanite. According to Rabbinic thought, since Judaism is matrilineal, then the inheritance was from Mr or Mrs Shua. In other words, Jews are not descended from Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, but from Shua, and Canaan. Therefore, the new religion is in fact Shuism, and the descendants should be called Shoes not Jews.

Yehudah then ends up with what he thinks is a prostitute, but turns out to be Tamar. By this, she is continuing the name of Er, and not Yehudah per se. Yehudah becomes an unwitting Levirate for his son Er. The sons born to Yehudah and Tamar are called Perez and Zerah. These are now , along with Shelah, the 3 living Jews, because their father was Yehudah. If we follow the rabbinic argument, they are not Jews at all, but Tamarites. In fact, their religion would be Tamarism and not Judaism, but they are actually legally descended from Er.

The Torah, and the law of Levirate marriage therein offer strong proof that Israelite identity in general and Yehudish (Jewish) identity in particular is patrilineal. It cannot be otherwise. There is no Shuism, or Tamarism or Canaanite Torah. The promise of Israel was made to the forefathers, and not to Canaan or Tamar. The rabbinical question of “who is a Jew” and its answer, in fact is claiming that a Shuite (Shoe) is a Jew. This is absurd and meaningless.

Whilst is true that we later see in the book of Ruth that Perez is the ancestor of King David, this is patrilineal. It is from his line via Er and Yehudah that David becomes King and not from Tamar.
As far as the Torah is concerned , Israelite and Jewish identity is patrilineal, even where there is intermarriage with Canaanites, as was the case with Yehudah himself.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Beyond the Sea

One of the first objections that will be raised by students or skeptics when engaging in discussion with the Rabbanites will be regarding the oral law. Many people will question the validity of the oral law, since it is natural to assume that the Torah in itself is adequate. The rabbis are well prepared for this kind of question, but only if it comes from those who are new to religion. It is not acceptable to ask this question once you buy into Rabbinic Orthodoxy.

Indeed, these prepared answers go back a thousand years or more, since the days of Saadia Gaon and Judah Halevi. Their foremost argument is that understanding the Torah on its own terms is beyond our grasp, and hence we need an/the Oral Law to explain it to us. I call this the “beyond the sea” argument, since we allegedly would need someone with knowledge of the oral Law to bring the Torah from beyond the sea, so that we can understand and practice it. So we are told.

There are a couple of problems with that.

1) It is not impossible to understand the Torah, as I have tried to show throughout this blog.

2) The Torah itself refutes the “beyond the sea” argument.

Hence in Deuteronomy 30 , we read:

10 if thou shalt hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law; if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.

11 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'

13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'

Verse 10 is speaking only about the Written Law, what is written in the Scroll of the Torah. That is the same entity that the Sadducees and Karaites held as the exclusive source of Torah law. Verses 12 & 13 are refuting the notion that the Torah is illegible on its own, and that we need external laws , e.g. the Oral law, which the Pharisees and rabbanites held as the dual Torah, the partner of the Written Torah, rejection of which they considered heretical.

Rabbi Saadia Gaon, who was a tremendous intellect and philosopher, and R' Yehuda Halevi who was a poet and anti-philosopher, both used the precise “beyond the sea” argument which the internal logic of the Torah refutes!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Pirkei Avot – A Critique

The Mishnah known as “Ethics of the Fathers” or more literally, the chapters of the fathers, forms a central part of Rabbinic ethics and thought. It is so important that it is read regularly in Synagogues  in the summer months, and is part of the standard Siddur.

It contains some interesting ideas, and is certainly reminiscent of the Stoic philosophers, who presumably had some influence on rabbinic thought. The rabbis claim that this is an endogenous part of the Torah, but this is disputable.

I would like to refer to one particular statement which is part of the rabbinic approach to economics, but also to psychology.

From Ch.3:

1. Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): "From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation."
Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), "Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city."
Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated (Psalms 128:2): "If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you"; "fortunate are you" in this world, "and good is to you" in the World to Come.

Whilst the first clause is logical, and the second is a discussion of Proverbs, the 3rd clause is the problematic one.

It is claiming to be based on Psalm 128, however, it is telling an entirely different story. The psalm is saying that one who earns his own living is fortunate, and if he sustains a wife and family he will be happy, and blessed.

The Mishnah is taking this out of context, and redefining the meaning of wealth.
A quick look at an online dictionary will define “rich” as “having a lot of money or valuable possessions”

This is the common understanding of the term “rich” or “wealthy”. Indeed, the Torah , in Deut 28, included wealth , as we understand it, and as the online dictionary defines it, as part of the blessing for observing the Torah:

“11 And the LORD will make thee over-abundant for good, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, in the land which the LORD swore unto thy fathers to give thee.”

This is real economic wealth, not New Testament style denial, e.g. “ we don’t have peace, but I’ve found peace in my heart”.

The next verse is even more powerful:

12 The LORD will open unto thee His good treasure the heaven to give the rain of thy land in its season, and to bless all the work of thy hand; and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow.

This is talking about our Lord’s treasure, and not having credit card debts, rather the freedom of having no debts, and having abundant finances to live out one’s life.

The rabbinic version of wealth, at least as far as Avot is concerned, pays no attention to real life – because the rabbis are not concerned with real life. It is a monastic and ascetic form of denial, which they are trying to impose on their followers. Being happy with one’s lot is not always a good thing.  If one has a bad lot, then being unhappy with it might raise the chances of improving it than being in a state of denial and acceptance. And this is taught in yeshivot and by rabbis, to denounce all worldly wealth and ambition.  However, there is a duplicity in this also, since at the same time, collections are made for yeshivas, for poor families, for those yeshiva youngsters who wish to get married. I have never heard of Rabbis collecting for secular Jews who are poor and wish to get married.

There is no easy or guaranteed formula to achieve wealth. Poverty can affect all kinds of people. Being happy with poverty is a very strange and inhuman outlook. It contradicts the logic, but also contradicts the Torah.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Is Genesis Deterministic?

We see early on in Genesis that the presumption of choice is given to man, and hence he can be warned to avoid certain actions:

2 בְּרֵאשִׁית

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying: 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat;
17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'

Indeed what, particularly,  in  Rabbinic theology is known as “free will” is  the fundamental belief in our ability to make clear choices between good and evil.

However, this is not always so clear cut, and does not always seem to be part of God’s Homology. [Homology is God’s theory of human behaviour, just in the same way that we call our own theories of God “Theology”].

Hence, we see only a few pages later, in Genesis 6:

5 And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.
7 And the LORD said: 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.'

Not only does the species of human or Homo Sapiens lose its ability to balance good and evil, but God regrets having made us in the first place!  It seems like an experiment gone wrong rather than a planned creation.

Ch. 8 is even more radical in  its implication:

21 And the LORD smelled the sweet savour; and the LORD said in His heart: 'I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

The Creator in Genesis is not only stating that the Human programme is corrupt from its youth, but that this is reason not to  bring punishment on us again!  This seems to contradict all we know about religion in general and the Torah in particular.

The Torah later on tells us of blessings or curses for our acceptance  or  rejection of the Torah laws.  Human nature has not changed though, as we see in the frequent admonitions of the neviim.
So to the same extent that we can claim that the Torah teaches Free will, it also seems that we have not the ability to exceed our hardwired genetic programme, which is intrinsically evil, and hence should not in theory be culpable for being ourselves.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Is the Oral Law a big lie?

That is quite an insulting question to ask a rabbinic orthodox Jew  - "Is the Oral Law a big lie?".

However, I am asking it.

This  is a halachic version of wikipedia

Assuming the content is accurate, a very odd statement is made:

"To Prevent Sin

It is permissible to lie in order to prevent another Jew from transgressing a sin. For instance to a person who is lax in certain prohibitions that a certain rav ruled that it is forbidden even if the rav never did. [8] "

If this line of reasoning  has been established by the rabbanites, that means they will have no problem making false claims about the authority of their laws and halacha.  It is saying that when lying is expedient  to further the cause, then it is OK.  This can apply to ascribing the Zohar to being par of the Oral Law, or the Oral Law as being part of the Torah.  By simply lying  in the claim that the Oral Law was given to Moses, they create adherence to this set of man made laws.  

It also means that no credibility can be given to claims and statements by the Pharisees.