Sunday, December 25, 2005

Was Spinoza an Atheist?

When ever discussing the philosopher Spinoza, and his beliefs in God the question that always comes up is was he an atheist or not? In his letters he out right denied being an atheist, and his book on ethics is all about God, so much so, that he has been called a "God intoxicated man". So, on the face value the answer would be no, that he was not an atheist.

But not so fast, many claim that he only used the term God because atheism was frowned upon by the religious authorities, and he didn't want to make them upset. But in fact his views were really atheistic. If Spinoza believed everything is God, they claim, then doesn't that mean that nothing is God?

I've been reading a Yahoo group dedicated to Spinoza recently, and I saw an interesting point about this topic in one of the threads:

If a person was brought up in an environment, or by any
other means, has arrived at a point where they favor, lean toward, or
in any way take pleasure in something that might be termed Theism or
Theology or Religion or Faith or etc. The term Atheism might be used
to refer to anything that does not seem to also favor or lean toward
or that in any way seems to be negatively disposed toward what they
term Theism etc. On the other hand a person who's life experiences
cause them to associate the terms Theology or Religion, etc. with
oppression, exclusivity, etc. might come to favor, lean toward, or in
some way take pleasure in something that might be termed Atheism. The
first person has a negative association (a pain for them) while the
second person has a positive association (a pleasure) with the same
term; Atheism. Other might just say; Huh?
His point being that there are certain ideas which may have negative emotional connotations, that we wish to avoid even though the substance we may largely agree with. I speculate that in Spinoza's time the term atheism was associated with a certain kind of hedonistic connotation which he wanted to avoid, which is why he wanted to distance himself from the word atheism. He probably saw himself in the spiritual tradition of philosophers who believed in God and spiritual ideas rather than the pure materialists.

I have a similar issue. In modern times the term atheism is generally associated with the philosophies of materialism and scientism. I myself am not attracted to this philosophy so I tend to avoid being characterized as an atheist. On the other hand, God is usually associated with the religious view of life, and a conscious, willful, and personal idea of God. This is not something I agree with either. So it looks like I'm stuck in the middle. I'm not really comfortable with either term.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the terms we use to describe our views aren't as important as the views themselves, so I'm not so bothered by the fact that neither term really fits me. However, it makes it difficult for me to give a straight answer to the question "are you an atheist?", which is a little annoying.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The True Meaning of Chanukah by Mis-nagid

I found this interesting post by Mis-nagid explaining the origin of Chanukah. I asked him if I could repost it here, and he agreed. Of course, it was written by Mis-nagid, so it goes without saying that if you are charedi and easily insulted, you may want to skip this post.

Thus spoke Mis-nagid:

Frum Fantasy or How a Legend Spawned an Industry

The frum world is thoroughly suffused with fantasy and ignorance. Frum people know pathetically little about their own history and practices, and what they do know is usually wrong. In general, frum institutions never teach any history at all, or at least nothing that deserves the name. Most yeshiva bochurim have no idea what was going on in the world at the same time as any Jewish event. All "history" is seen through the gauze of fantasy. The frum view of the history of world revolves around Jews and includes lots of myths, which makes for a witch's brew that has little to do with real history.

The root cause of this lack of rigor in understanding the past is the need for ignorance. After all, if you ask "What was going on in the rest of the world during Noach's Great Flood?" you may be surprised to find out that great (undisturbed) civilizations in Egypt and China were already writing stuff down, and never mentioned any flood. As the frum dogmas are not grounded in reality, so too the history must be kept floating above the ground, never attached to anything of substance, lest it come tumbling down to earth.

Chanukah, one of the few Jewish holidays based on a true historical event, is, ironically, no exception to this. Grab a frum person and quiz him or her: In what year was Chanukah? Who was Antiochus? Who were the Yevonim? Who were the Chasmonoyim? How long did the war last? You'll get the most pathetic answers (if you get any), because frum people have no sense of history. Shoot, most frum people don't know what the word "frum" means, or where it comes from! [*]

There is one aspect of frum Chanukah that truly brings this sense of ahistory into sharp relief. Case in point: the Bais Yosef's Kasha. To those of you lucky enough to be uninitiated in the frum cult, this peculiar obsession of frum Chanukah takes the form of a question. The Bais Yosef asked, "If the oil could have lasted for one day, but lasted for eight, only seven of them can be termed miracles. So why celebrate eight (rather than seven) days?"

This "difficulty" occupies a special place in the frum universe; it's a "true" classic. Gallons of ink were poured to answer this stupid question. Virtually every frum commentator since his time has had a crack at it. There's even a very large sefer consisting of nothing but answers to this one question. However, every single one of those answers is wrong -- completely, utterly, and totally wrong.

Before I get to the correct answer, let's understand why they're wrong. Don't worry, I don't have to refute them all, one at a time. The reason they're off-base is simple: it's a legend. The story of the miraculous oil was made up approximately six hundred years after the events of Chanukah. Of course the rabbinical legend has inconsistencies -- it's fiction. There's no point in trying to "fix" them. It's like reading Curious George and trying to explain how so few balloons could lift a monkey of George's heft.

Now, to the real answer to the Bais Yosef's Kasha.

Due to their aforementioned lack of history sense, most frum people have no idea that there are books written from the era of the Maccabees. Nor do they know that these books make no mention of any miracles. Ask a frum person what is says in the two[**] Books of Maccabees, and they'll say "Books of Maccabees?" I'll not get into why those books are invisible from the frum world, but I'll note one piece of irony. Virtually every frum child knows the Chanukah story of Channah and her seven sons. Where's the story from? The Book of Maccabees 2.

Were you to read the actual history of Chanukah, when you get to the part about the rededication [chanukah] of the Temple, you'd find the following:

10:5 Now upon the same day that the strangers profaned the temple, on the very same day it was cleansed again, even the five and twentieth day of the same month, which is Casleu [Kislev].
10:6 And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the feast of the tabernacles [Sukkot], remembering that not long afore they had held the feast of the tabernacles [Sukkot], when as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts.
10:7 Therefore they bare branches, and fair boughs, and palms also [lulavim, hadassos, aravos], and sang psalms [Hallel] unto him that had given them good success in cleansing his place.
10:8 They ordained also by a common statute and decree, That every year those days should be kept of the whole nation of the Jews.

That's right, the very first Chanukah was a delayed Sukkot. Sukkot traditionally required going to the Temple, but on the correct date for Sukkot, the Temple was still under Seleucid control, so it was not celebrated properly. The Maccabees cleverly scheduled the Temple's grand reopening on the anniversary of its sacking, and celebrated Sukkot like it's supposed to be. It was especially poignant due to the fact that the transient and ephemeral living embodied in the story of Sukkot was so resonant with them, having just spent so long hiding in mountains and caves.

Furthermore, the book opens with a letter to the Jews in Alexandria, telling them to celebrate this new holiday:

1:9 And now see that ye keep the feast of tabernacles [Sukkot] in the month Casleu [Kislev].

That is the correct answer to the Bais Yosef's Kasha. The reason Chanukah is eight days (instead of seven) is because it was a delayed Sukkot, which has eight days. It was always eight days, and the rabbis made their legend match the extant practice, leading to the slight inconsistency noted by the Bais Yosef.

Before I close this post, I'd like to add a piece of speculation. The Mishna nevers discusses Chanukah, even going so far as to give a grave warning against reading the Books of Maccabees (Sanhedrin 10:1). In the only Gemara to discuss Chanukah, history gets three lines, while ritual minutaie get more than three pages. However, there is one interesting link in this rabbinified version of Chanukah that may hint at their knowledge of its true origins.

In the discourse on how to light the Chanukah candles, two opinions are proffered. One says to start with one candle on the first night and add one each night, until you are lighting eight on the final night. The other says to start with eight and remove one each night. Where it gets interesting is the reason offered for the latter position. The justification given is that the candles represent "parei hechag," the bulls of the holiday. By this he means the bulls offered on Sukkot. As recounted in the Torah, those bulls were offered in decreasing number each successive day.

The commentators struggle to explain why that Sukkot practice is relevant to Chanukah lights. Some of them are almost amusing in their tortured logic. I'd like to offer a possibility; that this could be a partial remnant of the earlier explanations for the custom of the Chanukah lights.

email me: [mis-nagid_AT_hush_DOT_com]

[*] It's a Yiddishization of the German "fromm," meaning pious. Admit it, you didn't know that.
[**] The other Books of Maccabee aren't about Chanukah, and are somewhat misnamed

Ok, so now that you are feeling warm and fuzzy and in the Holiday spirit, I wish you all a Happy Holiday.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The God of my Childhood

My concept of God through the years have changed a lot. One early memory I have thinking about God was as a child, watching a bubble gum commercial about this blond girl in tight jeans who started chewing gum and blowing large bubbles. And as the bubbles grew in size, she also grew, until she grew so tall that she was walking on top of the earth. And I remember thinking to myself "oh, so that must be what God is like", a blond haired girl in tight jeans blowing big bubbles while walking on top of the earth. It all made sense to me at the time. I wonder if this is how most people think of God as a child, or is it just me?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I've Always Been a Little Odd

It's true, I never was like most people. There was always something different about me. For a long time I resented it. But I have since grown to appreciate the differences that make me who I am.

An example of this that sticks out in my mind is the time when I went to sleep away camp. If you've ever been there you know that at the end of the summer they each camper gets an award for something they excelled at. Most campers got awards in a sport of some kind. But for those of us who didn't care for sports, and weren't very good at it, they had to give us something lame to make up for it. Most of the time, I got the "Best in Middos" consolation award, which basically means best in character.

But one year I got something different. They announced that I got the "Most profound camper" award. At the time I didn't even know the meaning of the word profound. I thought it was a joke, or even worse, an insult. I was pissed off at my counselors for giving me such a lame award. What could they be thinking? Was I that lame?

But when I got older and realized what it meant, and I learned the value of thinking, I was real proud of myself for receiving that award. Hell, I still am. I'd much rather be "the most profound", than "the best in basketball". Especially in a Jewish camp; Let's face it Jews are known more for their mind, than their athletic ability :)

So thank you counselors (I don't even remember their names anymore) for being so kind and thoughtful. I will always remember that lame-ass award.

I have no idea why I even mention this story. But I hope you found it somewhat interesting.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Am I Really an Atheist?

I've been rethinking the notion of calling myself an atheist. While it is true that I no longer believe in the primitive religious notion of God i.e. a willful conscious being outside nature; perhaps the real great philosophers and thinkers didn't use the term God in that way. Perhaps the ancient thinkers meant by God as the Ultimate Existence, or Being. Spinoza explicitly stated this, and perhaps others, such as Maimonides also meant this. I'd rather think of my self in the tradition of the great spiritual and philosophical thinkers rather than the materialist atheists. Of course, in the end, how we define ourselves doesn't really matter that much. What matters more is what we think, feel, and believe.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

What was up with Ezekiel?

26 And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire;e and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form. 27Upward from what appeared like the loins I saw something like gleaming amber, something that looked like fire enclosed all around; and downward from what looked like the loins I saw something that looked like fire, and there was a splendor all around. 28Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.

chapter 1, The Vision of the Chariot

After reading Ezekiel's vision of the chariot recently, the obvious question occurred to me: How are we to understand his vision? I can think of a few reasonable choices:
  1. He didn't really see these visions, rather he was being metaphorical. He was using the common religious symbols of his time to make a point.
  2. He actually saw the images of the glory of God in his mind. Perhaps he consumed psychedelic drugs to achieve this.
  3. He was seeing an extraterrestrial UFO (some people actually believe this).
  4. He was insane.
It's hard to know exactly what the answer is, although, I have to admit the descriptions in his visions do creep me out a little. I wonder if the people living in his time thought it was perfectly normal? Maybe they were used to such descriptions. I'm not sure, because I don't see any of the other prophets being so descriptive of "God's glory".

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Thank God for the Atheist World!*

I grew up in a Orthodox Jewish home. I was taught at an early age that the world was created by God, and that the most important thing in the world is to serve Him. I later went to doubt everything I was taught was holy. Eventually, I just flat out denied it. There are many reasons I had at the time for going this way. But the most important thing, I think, is that my mind is not compatible with this belief. Being free minded is one of the things I most hold dear. Some people cherish money, others sex, but I cherish freedom of mind and spirit above all else. How could I live my whole life without questioning my beliefs? I was taught that to merely question certain fundamentals in my religion was off limits and not permitted by God Himself. On the one hand, I was devoted to my religion, but on the other hand, it was impossible not to question. It was a difficult situation to be in.

One day, while in Yeshivah, I was learning the Kuzari by Rabbi Yehudah Halevi. The book starts off telling a story about the king of the pagan kingdom of Khazar who wanted to adopt a new religion. He decided to call on three representatives from the major religions in Europe to argue in favor of their respective religions. First he heard from a Muslim cleric, then a Christian, and lastly a Rabbi. The Rabbi's arguments so impressed him, that he decided to convert his kingdom into Judaism. The book is used to bolster a Jews faith in Judaism, but for me it had the opposite affect. I was impressed with king that he was so open minded. I thought to my self, shouldn't I be so open minded? Do I believe because I think it has validity or do I believe because I was born into it? I looked around my yeshiva from the heads of the yeshiva to the students and I wondered if any of them ever honestly examined this religion that they spend so much time and effort on?

Unfortunately for me I didn't see a lot of people there that seriously examined their faith. I concluded that most people don't really give it much thought. The answers they give in yeshiva are very weak, and will only convince a person who wants to believe, not a person who wants to objectively judge it. I couldn't live like that. Besides, what did I have to lose? I mean it's not like Judaism is false, right? So I went on with my questioning, but I never really found any answers that satisfied me.

I kept on asking myself one simple question: if I wasn't born into this religion, would I think it was true if I had examined it objectively? The answer that I couldn't deny was, no, I wouldn't have believed in it. The only real reason that I did believe in it was because I happened to be taught this way. It was this simple point that brought me to where I am today. I just couldn't honestly say I believed in it anymore.

For a while I was confused, angry, and sad. But as I got more used to my beliefs and ideas, I was happy. I finally was able to believe what I felt was true and good, and not just what I was expected to believe. This was liberating for me, and even though it wasn't a easy way to go by any means, I am still glad I did it. The road less traveled is sometimes the right choice.

*Sorry GH, but I just couldn't resist.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Follow Up Questions

In my previous post I asked whether there is value in studying the ancient Hebrew Bible. My follow up question is assuming that there is value in it, and that we can learn and be inspired from it, does that mean that the Hebrew bible is unique? I mean, if the Hebrew bible is just inspired writings of ancient humans, what makes us think that other civilizations didn't also have inspired writings?

What about the ancient Sumerians, Greeks, Babylonians, Asians etc.? Didn't they also have inspired writings that we can learn from? Why should we give the Hebrew prophets special treatment?

We should look for wisdom where ever we can find it. Wouldn't we be doing our selves a disservice by ignoring other cultures just because it's not our direct heritage? I don't think sentimentality for its own sake is a good thing.

I guess what I'm really getting at is that it's one thing to study and appreciate your own heritage and be proud of it, but it's another thing to ignore other cultures just because it's not your own

The Torah: Who wrote it? Who cares?

I'd like to say a little bit about the authorship of the Torah. My general understanding is that the Torah (5 books of Moses) was not written by the person who it's named after i.e. Moses. Although it is likely that a person named Moses existed and he did write a book of law (the Torah of God), which was similar to the Hammurabi code in structure. This book of law was lost to us, but parts of it were saved and incorporated into the Pentateuch. After the original law book was lost, the Pentateuch came to be known as the Torah because it contained parts of the original law written by Moses. This, contrary to Jewish tradition, is my basic understanding.

There are many theories as to exactly who wrote the Torah and why. It is commonly believed that it is comprised of multiple documents and oral sources. The reason why it is believed that there were multiple sources instead of it being written by one person or persons is because there seems to be sections of the Torah which are repeated often with contradictory details. This view was first stated by Baruch Spinoza in his Theologico-Political Treatise, published in 1670 CE. Later, scholars tried to identify who the authors were and what there motivations were. The most common view in academia is known as the Documentary Hypothesis, which states that there were 4 different sources which were combined into one book by an editor (maybe Ezra) much later. I won't get into the details because it is complicated, and I am by no means an expert.

The question now is does it really matter? Of course to fundamentalist who believe that the torah is the word of God and that one is required to follow it, the question is more urgent. If you have a tradition that says that God dictated the Torah to Moses, then it goes with out saying that you will be reluctant to believe otherwise. But to us who are not of this opinion, the question is it that important to know who wrote it? To be honest, other than for intellectual curiosity, I'm not sure how important the question is. The Torah was written as a book of moral instruction and inspiration for the Jewish people, it really doesn't matter who wrote which parts or if it. Sure it would be nice to know, after all it is one of the most influential books of all time, but it really wouldn't add or subtract from the religious or moral value of the book itself.

The more important question is whether the book still has any value for modern readers or if it just a relic of the distant past? Can we still gain moral instruction and inspiration from it? That, to me, is a more pressing issue.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Guess Who's back

No, it's not Slim Shady, it's the original Hasidic Rebel. He's back from an extended blogging vacation. HR was the first Jewish blog that I visited. I'm glad he never deleted his blog, because It's fun to go back and read my old comments (I blogged under the handle "skeptic") and see how my views have changed since then. Back then I was less secure in my views and I was still coming to terms with my doubts. After he shut his blog down, I kissed the Jewish blog world goodbye, until I chanced (or was divinely guided, depending on your POV) upon Godol's blog. It's good to seeHR return. I doubt it's going to be the same as before when everyone was there non-stop, because, unlike before, there are just so many different blogs that exist, and not just one place to go

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Shout Outs

To the mysterious commentator Smoo,
I like some of your comments that you have left on this blog. I think we have some similar ideas. Why don't you get a blog of your own?

To Mississippi Fred,
I find your blog and comments around the jsphere to be very knowledgeable and erudite. My challenge to you is to write a post which is not scholarly or detached, but that is pure religious passion and fervor. Do you accept this challenge? :)

To Mis-nagid,
You are always sharp and bold (and usually on the mark). You do not mince words. I have a question and a challenge for you. My question is why do you have a hyphen in your name? My challenge is for you to write a post (you can send it to me or some place else) that is not critical or negative, but positive about Judaism. I know you feel positive in some ways, but your comments are usually negative or detached and scholarly. So I would very much like to read something different from you.

The Universe: Accident, Intentional or None of the Above?

Orthoprax is having a debate with a fellow skeptic about whether the origin of the Universe is accidental or Intentional. I was planning on posting about this sooner or later. Here is a brief summary of my current views. Perhaps I will go into more detail later.

The truth is I don't think it's really coherent to talk about the origin of the Universe. Ex nilo doesn't make any sense to me, and therefore there had to always be something which existed. If that's the case then the Universe always existed and we can not speak of a real origin. All we can say that the universe in the form that we currently know it began at some time (call this the Big bang, if you like).

But there are more choices than accidental and intentional. There is also the possibility of unintentional, but necessary. So it's not an "accident" because it had to happen in exactly the way that it did, but at the same time it's not "intentional" i.e. there isn't a force which created it with a purpose (intent) or function in mind. I would choose this option if I had to make a choice.

There may be more ways to look at it. I would be interested in hearing more perspectives

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Aphorisms and Interludes

If everything is holy, then nothing is holy.
If everything is an illusion, then nothing is an illusion.
Without its opposite, nothing can be.

Everything changes while staying the same.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Who Am I? Why Am I Here?

Let me give you a little background information about myself so you know where I'm coming from. I grew up in a typical middle of the road Orthodox Jewish home. I had a normal Jewish education, and I was very good at learning Talmud. I never really had too many problems with Judaism. I wasn't the most frum guy in the world, but I believed in God and I kept the torah without complaint. After High school, I went on to study in Yeshiva in Israel.

In Israel, my level of observance increased greatly. I began to take my Judaism much more seriously. I stopped watching movies. I stopped watching TV In fact, I didn't do much but study Torah. I also started to adapt the standard yeshivish garb of white shirt and black pants.

Eventually, I went back to study Torah in America. All was well and good for a while until something strange began to happen. I started to question how Torah was studied. I noticed that the main focus was Talmud and nothing else. I also began to lose interest in Talmud. But what really began to bother me was the lack of intellectual honesty I sensed in the Yeshiva world regarding the foundations of Orthodox Judaism. Was it really as clear cut as I was taught to believe? The answer soon dawned on me was that most of the things I took for granted didn't have a firm foundation in reality.

My doubts continued for a while. I didn't give up Judaism right away. I continued to struggle with my doubts and think about these issues. Eventually, my thinking lead me to give up Orthodoxy for good. I was completely disgusted with the yeshiva system and Orthodoxy. I felt bitter and deceived. I gave up my observances in secret, but I continued on the outside to keep my Orthodox appearance.

For a while I didn't even think about Judaism. I had enough. I wasn't too concerned about my Jewish identity, because I was taught that serving God and studying Torah was what was really important, and since I didn't believe in those things any more, what was the point of being Jewish?

A funny thing happened, though. I discovered the Jblogosphere. I stumbled one day onto this blog and I got very interested in it. I wondered why I kept on coming back and arguing everyday. I thought I was passed caring, but I realized that I wasn't. I still cared about Judaism in some way or form. I realized that I was judging Judaism based on the OJ understanding of Judaism and perhaps there is a better and more authentic way of understanding of it. I'm not really planning on going back to Orthodoxy or to try out any of the other popular versions of Judaism, because I quite frankly don't see much good there. I don't want to start a new religion or recreate the old one in my own image, either. But I am looking to see if I can find something within the Jewish tradition that's worth keeping for myself. And that's why I created this blog to explore the possibility of finding a Judaism that I can relate to.

The Belief in Jesus is a Neth!

The Godol ponders:

So how and why did this incredible reverence for the Bible develop? And why was it so convincing both to the Roman Empire and subsequently to Islam? And it's a reverence that has lasted for at least 2000 years, and maybe even more than 3000 (for the less skeptical).

Of course this is no absolute 'proof' of anything, but it does make you think.

The implication is that its popularity indicates that there must be some divine origin involved. Good point. But then again don't you ever wonder about how the belief in Jesus got so popular? I mean it sounds very wacky doesn't it? Yet people all around the world believe in him. Amazing, isn't it? The truth is that its popularity doesn't indicate anything about it being divine. All it indicates is that it contains something which many different people really liked.

Another good question is if the Hebrew Bible is such a good book, why is it that most people ignore it today. The Christians mainly study the "New testament". The Muslims mainly study the Koran. Even Orthodox Jews spend more time studying Talmud and Jewish Law than studying the Hebrew Bible. Why is that? Is the Hebrew Bible outdated?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Tanach Seriously Revisited

Joinoson schrieber asked me in the comment section what I mean by taking tanach seriously, so I thought I would elaborate.

Tanach is the source of Judaism in my opinion, so in order to understand Judaism we have to understand Tanach. As I mentioned before, I for one felt that the education that I got in Yeshivah was very pitiful in this regard. I never studied the whole Tanach from top to bottom. I also was never educated in modern scholarship. All I learned was a little part here and a little part there, there was no focus on Tanach as a whole. I felt the whole study of Tanach was through the eyes of the Babylonian rabbis and not as the prophets or the authors of the works had in mind. Tanach is the source of all Western religion and morality it is in our self interest to take it seriously as the prophets intended, and also to understand how and why it had so great impact on Western civilization. What was the essential message of the prophets? Can we look at it as a unified whole or did the message change over the years? Is it still relevant?

There are so many questions; it's hard to know where to start.

The Jewish Ecosystem

Judaism is not a thing, like a toaster, which has one purpose. When someone talks about a toaster you generally know what he means: a mechanical machine which burns toast. Judaism, however, means many different things to many different people, so it's hard to define it. Judaism is more like an ecosystem which contains a lot of very different things under one name. I will try to give a brief descriptions of some of the different animals that go under the Judaism name:

  • Orthodox Judaism - Lithuanian Ghetto Judaism, they are more concerned with trivial ritualistic observances such as microscopic bugs in lettuce.
  • Reform Judaism - wish they were Christianity, but unfortunately they aren't, so they try their best to pretend
  • Conservative Judaism - a little bit of Orthodox, a little bit of Reform. Generally too scholarly for their own good.
  • Secular Judaism - your basic liberal secular humanistic philosophy with a touch of Jewish traditions and nostalgia.
  • Something new called "Open Source" Judaism - The anything goes form of Judaism? Beats me what this means.
what do all these things have in common so they can fall under one name? They all share as their source the inspirational message of the ancient Jewish prophets. Whether the prophets would approve of any of the above mentioned Judaisms is anyone's guess. My guess is that they wouldn't have gotten 4 cubits width near any of them, but that's just my opinion. What I do know for certain is that none of these branches of Judaism satisfies me personally.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Taking Tanach Seriously

I found a good free online resource for understanding Tanach using modern scholarship techniques. I haven't read it fully yet, but it looks promising.

One of my goals is to study Tanach seriously. I did not have a real opportunity to study it while I was learning in Yeshivah. If you're not familiar with the modern Yeshivah system, it may come as a surprise to you that they don't do a very good job at studying Tanach. The focus is almost completely on Talmud. You are expected to learn Tanach on your own. And it goes with out saying that modern biblical scholarship is off limits in the Orthodox Yeshivah system.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Myths, what are they good for?

While science does an excellent job in explaining the natural world, it doesn't explain the moral world or the world of "human existence". The old mythologies, in addition to explaining how the world got here, tried explaining, among other things, the origin of good and evil and the purpose of man in this world. In other words, besides explaining how the world works, it also explained why the world is the way it is, and how we ought to behave in the world. Clearly science comes up short in this department. In my opinion we need a companion to science in order to explain the moral world (philosophy/religion). It is an emotional human need that will not die.

In reality, myths have never really gone away, they just evolved into what we call religion or philosophy (for the non believers). The question is for a person like myself who doesn't believe in the religious notion of god, is it possible reinterpret the myths of old in a modern light or do I need to create a personal myth/philosophy to satisfy my existential needs? Perhaps there are existing philosophies that would satisfy me? Is it even possible to find or create a modern mythology that I will find satisfying? Is it a futile mission? These are some of the questions I want to explore in this blog

Where Have All the Myths Gone?

Have you ever wondered why there are no modern myths? In ancient times society would tell myths and pass it on from generation to generation. Why have we stopped doing this? And are we better off with out them?

The obvious answer is that we living in modern societies are much more literate and educated then the ancient societies. It is also obvious that our modern techniques of gaining knowledge is far superior than the ancient way. We base our world view on scientific facts, and not tall tales or mere figment of the imagination. We therefore have a greater understanding of how the natural world works, and there is no need for these mythical stories anymore.

While I largely agree with this opinion, I wonder if it is the complete story? Is there another purpose to myths other than to explain the natural world? Can we really do with out them?