Monday, December 17, 2007

Time for a Respite

To all my readers:
Thanks for spending the time to read my thoughts and opinions regarding Kiruv. I know it is a complicated and emotional subject, but I must take a brief respite from this blog. Yesterday, I left Four posts with a large number of interesting and informative reference links that discuss the Flood, Kuzari Principle, the issue of Chanukah’s historicity and the Gadol Hador Archives by subject area. During this hiatus, I will be closing the comment section. Feel free to email me at kiruvnetwork@hushmail. I’ll do my best to respond

The difficulty of engaging in honest dialogue with Orthodox Fundamentalists

[I will open this post up for comments when I return from my hiatus some time early next year (probably late Feb, maybe earlier). Commenting is currently turned off. I invite the reader review the entire dialogue here and make his or her own determinations]

This post presents a candid discussion about the nature and difficulties of engaging in honest dialogue with the Ultra Orthodox in general and those involved in Jewish Outreach in particular (known as "kiruv professionals"). It is a record of a recent email dialogue with an active commemorator of the Ba’ali Tshuvah blog - - BeyondBT.

The dialogue itself, as well as the summary below, provides valuable information and insight into some of the major issues that an intellectually honest BT must deal with when questioning the person or persons claiming to be teaching him/her about Judaism. It also exposes the reader to the kinds of techniques employed by Jewish outreach people to sidestep the most difficult questions about Orthodox Judaism. It is my sincere hope that this material, which by the way is not meant to be a scholarly work, be used as a starting point for the deeper research and soul searching that is necessary when considering a life altering decision to become Orthodox.

Why I am publishing this dialogue

BeyondBT is entitled to believe anything it wants; it’s a free country. But when it becomes a conduit for evangelizing an ideology that typically requires momentous life changes and sacrifices, it looses the right to forbid challenges to its beliefs, to remain unquestioned and unchallenged. If BeyondBt and similar outlets do not want their beliefs questioned then they should stop advocating them and they should certainly not, as is their policy, censor comments that respectfully challenge Orthodox dogma. In another words, once they disseminate their views in an attempt to influence others, I (and others) have the right to ask, “Why?” And I (and others) have the right to expect an intellectually honest response without obfuscations, evasions or pseudo-philosophical word play intended, consciously or not, to avoid substance.

Furthermore, I (and others) have the right to expect BeyondBT, as well as other active professional and amateur Jewish Outreach workers, to make full disclosure of their biases - - to inform others that the answers provided to common questions about disconfirming realities are always filtered through and the product of an ideology that prohibits any open-minded, open-hearted quest to corroborate the veracity of its doctrines. Most importantly, people have the right to know that kiruv people expect prospective BT’s to be open, vulnerable and willing to change but that they, themselves, have no intention of reciprocating.

I am well aware that the vast majority of this dialogue would have been censored by the BeyondBT administration, as well as any other Jewish Outreach blog sites, and I also admit that such suppression may appear justified from the point of view of a certain self-serving, contrived "spiritual" ethic. But, I also must say that, in practice, this attitude encourages a fundamental disrespect and superior attitude toward those for whom it claims to be helping, and a manipulative, controlling attitude towards those who have extended their trust. It is for this reason that I am sharing this correspondence (personal statements have been removed); It is an imperative to make others aware that the Kiruv industry in general and BeyondBT type outlets in particular, can not, as a general rule, be trusted to make the kind of full and honest disclosure of the facts that are necessary for anyone to make a life altering decision. In addition, publishing this dialogue provides a window into the difficulty of fruitful and honest dialogue with any individual who has strong preconceived notions that do not allow well established facts to interfere with their beliefs.

The dialogue: The four Questions

In order to keep the dialogue productive and honest, 4 straight forward questions were posed at the outset of the discussion. They were taken from the comment section of Naftali Zeligman’s essay

  • Does Torah contain statements of fact (use any definition you choose) that can be proved or disproved by an objective outside observer?
  • If it does, what are they - formulate them. If it does not, any claim that the torah is true is mere opinion, but tautological, devoid of content- -an empty assertion, sort of like "Jesus is God, read the bible," as I've seen on some bumper stickers.
  • If you are willing to assert that Torah has at least some truth to it, i.e., contains factual and provable statements, would you also be willing to take the next step?
  • If so, would you to draw up a list of verifiable Torah statements, preferably such that, if disproved, would change your attitude to Judaism.
  • These questions, which were asked over a half dozen times and which were never answered, go to the crux of the issue, which is whether Torah is a document which relates provable facts. If it does not state a fact that is susceptible to confirmation it becomes a document of mere opinion. Is that what BeyondBT is saying or has he completely defaulted in expressing his own true belief?

    The importance that all parties accept the possibility that they can be wrong

    A 5th question related to BeyondBT’s willingness to accept the possibility that he could be wrong in his belief was also repeatedly posed and not answered. The absence of an answer was not just discourteous, it was something much more; it reflected a lack of integrity and goodwill that is a prerequisite for any good faith discussion. Both parties must be willing to make this admission.

    If the potential BT, who does not have the time or background to thoroughly research the issues, or other interested persons, for that matter, is to trust their mentor, they should be certain to require this requisite before entering into any dialogue. Obviously, one can NOT be confident that the information they receive is credible if those communicating are unwilling to subject their assumptions to objective scrutiny. At a minimum, the outreach worker, if he is to act in good faith, must disclose that his own dogma precludes him from ever entertaining the possibility that his tradition could be in error. We would demand such disclosure in any other area of ones life. I see no reason to act differently in an area that is so elemental.

    I addressed this point in my opening email that set forth the ground rules for the dialogue. BeyondBT never even once acknowledged what I had written there even though I thought I could not have been more clear. I wrote:

    "The bottom line is this; if you have integrity, you must be willing to shift your initial position in conformity with the evidence. After all, how can you have integrity when you expect people to be open to your persuasion, an influence which may result in an individual making momentous and sometimes irreversible life changes, when you your self will not reciprocate the openness. With this in mind, I ask you - - BeyondBT, are you willing to consider the fact that you could have made a major life decision based on error or is it already a forgone conclusion that this could not be the case? If it is already a forgone conclusion that you are correct, why are we even having a discussion? Wouldn't it be the height of hypocrisy and dishonesty for you to engage myself and others when you fail to extend courtesy and decency with regard to disclosing your intransigency?"

    Again, this question was NEVER answered, let alone acknowledged.

    Obfuscations, Evasions and Pseudo-Philosophical Word Play

    Moreover, it is ironic that BeyondBT and his Rabbi, who immodestly assume the strength of their presumptions, have the temerity to ascribe close mindedness to others, such as Naftali Zeligman, author of Letter to My Rabbi when they themselves are unwilling to ever consider that they themselves could ever be wrong. I was deeply disappointed and to some extent taken aback when the Rabbi of BeyondBT failed to address the critical issues that Naphtali Zeligman's essay methodically laid out. Instead, he excused himself from this request by dismissing Zeligman’s competence in Torah and by implying that Zeligman did not have the requisite openness that would justify his time. The Rabbi provided no support for his opinions and presumptions and he *seemed* to be imputing to Zeligman, maybe in a way that betrays his own projected intransigence, a close mindedness that I do not perceive as consistent with the tone of Zeligman’s letter. But Zeligman would be in a better position to speak on his own behalf concerning the matter. I would have expected that our Rav would have extended the gentleman the *benefit of the doubt,* but this was unfortunately not forthcoming.

    Overall, BeyondBt did not make comments in a manner that contributed to the debate. He did not respond to the majority of my points. He either evaded them outright or he summarily dismissed them without any close scrutiny; no critique or honest evaluation was offered, other then to characterize evidence, that contradicted his assumptions, as conjecture or the empty and unsubstantiated musings of archeologist and academics. I would have expected a serious email setting out his own qualifications and endless notes backing up his conclusions, with sources and counter sources. I saw none of that. I find such behavior to be exasperating and immature. I would find such an approach unacceptable in my professional life and I see no reason why I should be any more tolerant of it when I am talking about a much more important issue.

    The dangers of the fundamentalist outlook

    Former fundamentalist Christian, Raymond E. Griffith, provides a very interesting account of the intellectual dishonesty, moral shortcomings and existential fear that pervade the fundamentalist Christian mind, which is eerily similar to what I experienced in the behavior of BeyondBT. I could not have described my respondent any better. Mr. Griffith, partly in an autobiographically manner, writes of the fundamentalist

    "He honestly believes he is right, but his belief in his belief is more important than the belief itself. Since this is under attack, he is in trouble. His attempts to escape the dilemma without confronting the fact that he is wrong are, of course, dishonest. But he doesn't see this. He has put up this desperate mental barrier that he cannot cross without devastating his self-concept and his faith. You are essentially correct that it is "denial, aversion, obfuscation and a moral inability to admit any error", but it is more than that.

    That's why they're always so hesitant to answer any questions. In all my debates with them, I've noticed that inarguable losses are snipped and ignored (to be revived later on) but no point is ever actually conceded. …………………………………..Again, the objections to their arguments do not matter to them. They have been mentally conditioned to ignore it. ................. They are not here to learn. They are here to teach others the truth. Remember, they have absolute truth, so they don't have anything to learn at all!

    Also very telling was Griffith’s admission that "at times I did feel forbidden to concede. After all, my opponents just had to be wrong, no matter how reasonable they were."

    The challenge then is not just for the inexperienced and trusting BT, it is also for the fundamentalist adherent. The arrogance, the supreme confidence that their ideology is inerrant, as well as the repression, dissociation, and denial that act outside the fundamentalist’s awareness, ultimately hinders the very thing that they value most --a connection with the Creator.

    In closing I want to share with you Rabbi Emanuel Rackman's apropos words concerning the tragedy of the fundamentalist mind set. He writes, in One man's Judaism, that "A Jew dare not live with absolute certainty, not only because certainty is the hallmark of the fanatic...., but also because doubt is good for the human soul, its humility, and consequently its greater potential intimately to discover its creator.” According to Rackman the tragedy here is not just that fundamentalist certainty inhibits the good: thereby hindering the development of the noble trait of humility, as well as ones sensitivity of the divine; it also imbues the bad because “man's certainty with regard to anything is poison to his soul.."

    Kiruv, Orthodoxy, and denigration of the wider world

    The Blog is not a polemic about which is better or worse, i.e. the ultra-orthodox, fundamentalist way of life vs. the life (kinds of lives) you find in the "outside" world. This blog, however, does point out the critical issues ignored, obscured and / or distorted by Orthodox Society in general and Kiruv workers in particular, one of which is the pervasiveness with which Orthodoxy denigrates, in an attempt to sell its wares, the world beyond Orthodoxy. Kiruv workers often emphasize secular society’s negatives and ignore, downplay or even falsely take credit for its positive aspects just as they overly accentuate Frum society’s positive elements (which exist in abundance to be sure) while ignoring, downplaying and denying its negatives. Some will even project the blame on the secular influences for its own failings (acting like goyim, the goyish influence, etc)

    The basis for these gross distortions and oversimplifications are many. For some, it emanates from a rigid fundamentalist mindset that exists outside conscious awareness and that engenders black and white views on life that is best understood with subtly and nuance. Others are more deliberate when they present this false dichotomy between the two worlds, intentionally contrasting an idealized and sanguine picture of the frum world with a pejorative depiction of the “outside world.” Such deceptive salesmanship can be expected from used car salesmen, but not from those whom we are most inclined to trust, especially when the product sold requires momentous life changes and sacrifices.

    One common example is the familiar refrain concerning the sorry state of the American family - - with its 50% divorce rate. This statistic, which is so often trumpeted as evidence of societies decay and in contrast to Orthodoxies triumphant values, is extremely misleading in its hiding of all the details about distribution. It obscures the revealing fact that those who marry later in life, in their thirties, often-graduate educated middle and upper middle class professionals, have a very low incidence of divorce, possibly no greater then the Orthodox world. The divorce rate also tells us nothing about the quality of Frum marriages where economic, personal and social forces inhibit divorce.

    Also ubiquitous is the oft-touted false analogy comparing the Orthodox community to the outside world’s social ills like violent crime and drugs. Again, it should be obvious that one cannot compare the frum community to the general American population. This common selection error or biased sample can only be avoided by comparing Orthodox Jews to similar socio economic classes, i.e. educated middle class Americans. In any event, many of the wider world’s ills are indeed shared by Frum society. In fact, a recent study from the American Psychiatric Association suggests that cheredi women suffer considerable levels of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, Cheredi apologists, who are theologically threatened by the very notion that such ills exist in their societies, have attacked the study (methodology, etc) rather then engage in honest soul searching that could lead to the kind of corrective measures that protect its precious children.

    At the yeshiva I attended, Machon Shlomo - - similar to Machon Yaakov - - I often heard such disparaging references about the "outside world," sometimes subtle, sometimes overt. These exaggerated and oversimplified depictions became less restrained as the 2-year program of indoctrination progressed. This crude emotional manipulation, often based on exaggeration and fear, is constructed to create powerful incentives to join Orthodoxy as much as it is constructed to create powerful disincentives to leaving. I believe that many BT’s (and Frum people) prolong their stay in Orthodoxy simply out of fear of re-entering this world, a world that many desperately wanted to escape before becoming frum, and a world that is often at best devalued in Orthodoxy and at worst demonized.

    Contrary to what the worst propagandists insinuate, the world is NOT predominantly filled with immoral, unrestrained, and self-indulgent people. It's a mixed bag, just like Orthodox Judaism; one encounters good people and bad just as in the frum world,generous and selfish people(just like in the frum world),sensitive and insensitive people (ditto), geniuses and fools (ditto), violent and gentle (ditto)spiritual and unspiritual people (likewise) -- and, of course, all combinations of the above.

    Yes, there are all manner of terrible things in this world: war, poverty, disease, madness, sexual abuse, racism, and all the rest. A thoughtful and sensitive person has to acknowledge that modern society, especially American culture, is pervaded by suffering, shallowness, nihilism, and a vacuous popular culture. However, in the midst of all this there is good as well. There are people whose hearts contain benevolence and compassion and who try to relieve others of their pain, who sincerely come to the aid of those who are misunderstood, disadvantaged, persecuted and mistreated.

    There are also many who seek truth, meaning and beauty who devote themselves to spiritual practices of various sorts, who seek to become more aware, more sensitive and who try to apply the truths they discovered in their daily lives. And there are people, who, although not focused on spiritual goals, have a basic decency about them and who try, in the course of their lives, to be kind to their fellow humans.

    So, if one decides to leave frum society, it does not, by any means, necessarily entail leading an immoral, unrestrained, and self-indulgent life (unless you really wish to be so, in which case you'll tire of that soon enough). Nor is the outside world always a cold cruel and meaningless place. Nor need one assume an attitude of uncritical acceptance of the world. It's quite possible to remain acutely aware of the limitations and imperfections of the world and maintain a healthy, albeit ambivalent relationship with it, while constructing a secure and meaningful space for yourself within it.

    In summary:

    1. One is not guaranteed a happier or more secure life by becoming a BT, or remaining as BT, than the life one would have had by living in the non-frum world. What determines the spiritual and emotional quality of one’s life is what you "bring to the table" in terms of your personality, character, values, economic status, beliefs, education, interpersonal and family relations, and hundreds of other variables too subtle and too numerous to list.

    2. Being Frum is not a panacea for people, who for whatever reason are fearful or repelled by the adversities and pain and ugliness of the "outside" world. Frumkeit does not confer immunity from harm or fear and may have its own burdens and difficulties that are unique to it. The point is that there is no absolutely safe harbor from the adversities of life and there are "storms" in the frum world and the non-frum world. Life can be beautiful and fulfilling in both worlds and life can be hell in both worlds, and life can be everything in-between in both worlds.

    3. The Kiruv movement has a tendency to malign, vilify, and ( in milder form) mis-characterize the "outside" non-frum, and the BT or potental BT should be very sensitive and wary of any person who must deprecate one system in order to elevate their own system. Such a person should be questioned very closely as to what they mean and how they justify their mis-characterization of the non-frum world. If one does that I think that one will find that the strategy is simply setting up a "straw-man" to knock down in order to prop up their own belief system. Such a person is very selective in the examples and issues he or she chooses from the "outside" world and neglects the many adverse issues in the frum world. It is an argument with blinders on. Western culture is too broad and too diverse to pigeonhole it as either good or bad. Every culture has its good and bad aspects; to focus on one or the other aspect to the exclusion of others is disingenuous. One has to see the whole picture.

    Historical and Scientific Scholarship & The imposibility of the Flood

    Problems with a Global Flood

    Marc Shapiro on the Flood, Here & Here

    "Believing in the truth of the flood (and a 5000 year old world) is more extreme than denying the existence of George Washington. Someone asked me if it isn't the case that we have more evidence for George Washington than for denying the flood. The answer is obviously no. We know about Washington because of one type of evidence, historical, and we have a great deal of this. However, the entire received body of knowledge in just about every field of human study is dependant on the fact that the world is not 5000 years old and that there was not a flood. These facts are the fundamentals of biology, physics, astronomy, history, anthropology, geology, paleontology, zoology, linguistics etc. etc. etc. Belief in a 5000 year old world and a flood which destroyed the world 4000 years ago is a denial of all human knowledge as we know it. It is a retreat into a world of belief, rather than one based on any sort of fact, and one who believes can believe anything he want to. The fundamentalist is not able to prove that Washington lived, only to say that he believes that Washington lives....Pay attention to what I am saying, it is impossible to make sense of anything in this world, in any field of science and many of the social sciences by adopting fundamentalist position. If people wish to live this sort of existence, fine, but one can't pretend that there is any sort of compelling reason for anyone else to. They certainly shouldn't try to put forth all sorts of pseudo-science to convince people of the correctness of their view.............

    People often say that they can hold the positions they do because they are ignorant of science and history. This is incorrect. It is not that they are ignorant of all these fields; it is rather that they reject them. There is a difference. The proper word to describe this is obscurantism. And I for one don't think it will last forever. One can only go against the obvious facts of our day for so long. Rabbis could declare that Copernicus's views were heretical for only so long before
    the weight of evidence ran over them. That will happen with fundamentalism, because if they don’t change, no one with any education will still be listening to them."

    Historical Summary:
    Egyptian and Assyrian history has an unbroken chain of monarchies and civilizations from 3000 BCE to the present, with no room for a flood that supposedly destroyed all life in the Near East (or, at a minimum, in Mesopotamia) c. 2105 BCE, the date derived from the Torah chronology. There is no mention of the Flood in these records of Egyptian or Mesopotamian civilizations which existed at the time and the physical evidence (e.g., inscriptions, among many other items) is staggering. the entire period is accounted for in tremendous detail, supported by over one million artifacts and the evidence for continuous, large-scale civilization in Mesopotamia and Egypt is "harder" evidence than our chain of tradition. There is no way that the descendents of Noach could have repopulated Egypt 200 years after a universally-fatal flood and restarted the culture, language, writing system, religion, etc. The very idea is absurd.There is no longer any room for doubt by any serious scholar. Rest assured that scholars in this area are "at each other's throats," and are quick to find flaws in, and attack, each other's theories. Nevertheless, there is universal consensus as to what was NOT happening c. 2105 BCE, -- "the Flood." In summary, the idea that there was a massive flood that destroyed civilization in Mesopotamia and/or Egypt c. 2105 BCE is universally considered absurd.

    Links to Kuzari Posts

    Historical Errors: Seder Olam & Chanukah

    Seder Olam-discrepancy between a chronological view of the Talmud and chronological view by historians

    Professor D.S. Levine
    Letter to My Rabbi-Judaic tradition unaware of its own history

    Blog Posts on the Historicity of Chanuka
    The True Meaning of Chanukah by Mis-nagid - the Bais Yosef's Kasha
    The Little Menorah That Didn't
    The Little Menorah That Didn't, #2
    The Little Menorah That Didn't, #3
    The Little Menorah That Didn't, #4
    The Little Menorah That Didn't, Part 3
    The Little Menorah That Didn't, part 4
    The Little Menorah That Didn't, Part 5
    Hanukka: The Faith of a Suicide Bomber Maccabee?
    Hanukka: Did The Maccabees Make It All Up?
    Hanukka 2006: What's The Truth About Sources For The "Miracle Of Oil"?
    Hanukka 2006: How Ignorant Are Haredim? This Ignorant
    The Rebbe And The Menorah
    The Rebbe And The Menorah, #2
    An Early Hanukka Present: The Rebbe and the Menora, Part 2

    Gadol Hador Archives By Category

    Although at times irreverent, this closed blog is an excellent resource for inquiring BT's and FFB's. It covers just about every conceivable issue that a soul searching Orthodox Jew confronts when critically examining their tradition.

    Nes-Nisayon / Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb
    Nes Nisayon I
    Nes Nisayon II
    Nes Nisayon V2
    Gottleib Endorses Gosse
    Why Gosseleib Doesn't Work
    Gosse Student
    Pottery & Paintings by G-d
    Gosse Goons

    Myth Moshol Theory
    When They Severed the Earth
    Adam: Man or Myth?
    Cassuto & Mythology
    Breishis & Science
    Can Torah contain Mythology?
    Not in Chazal
    Mythology is Aggadata
    Myth/Moshol is Non Literal?
    Mythology in the Torah II
    Adam & Eve & Their Snake
    Brisker Myth Moshol
    Myth Moshol V2.0

    Emunah Peshutah
    Emunah Peshutah vs Chakirah Amukah
    Don't Think It, Just Believe It !
    New: FDA approved Emunahpeshuttia !
    Avraham Avinu and Emunah Peshutta
    Bored with Breishis ?
    Har Sinai: A Case for Emunah Peshutah ?
    Emunah Peshutah, Modern Orthodox Style
    Emunahpeshuttia - Its for real !
    When is emunah peshuta ok ?

    The Point of Judaism
    The Point of Life
    The point of it All
    Kindergarten Hashkafah
    Sacred Cows I
    Sacred Cows II
    Machshavah Cholent
    Dinosaurs & Dibukim
    Machshavah Candy Mix
    Systematic Hashkafah

    The Kannoim & The Slifkin Bood Banning
    Gedolim manipulated by Kannoim
    The Lies of the Kanoim Exposed
    The Kanoi Hador
    The Kanoim Strike Again

    Rabbi Aron Feldman & The Slifkin Book Banning
    Rav Aharon Feldman's Letter
    More of the Letter
    Gedolim of Oz
    Science is from Sinai
    R Feldman insults Chazal
    More on Rav Feldman
    Move to the Right
    Responses Rip R Feldman
    Another Response

    Rav Moshe Shapiro & Co and The Slifkin Book Banning
    Kiruv Clowns
    MO vs UO
    Rav Mattisyahu Solomon

    Sunday, December 16, 2007


    Although I do not have any personal experience with or deep knowledge of Zen Buddhism, I think the well written and insightful Book Review, written by J.H. Mind, on Akiva Tatz’s LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW would be of interest and possibly benefit to those who are inclined toward and interested in the contrast between the spiritual systems and practice of Orthodox Judaism and that of Zen Buddhism.

    September 24, 2006 By J. H. Minde

    LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW purports itself to be a dialogue between Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, a noted Judaic scholar, and David Gottlieb, an American Jew practicing Zen Buddhism

    Tatz's and Gottlieb's opinions, however informed, are, of course, their own, and other Jewish scholars might agree or disagree with them. This reviewer finds more commonalities between spiritual Judaism and Zen than Tatz allows for. Zen practice can be an enlightening adjunct to any religious system. In its accessibility it can take the place of more ritualistic religious observances. In large part, that is the appeal of Zen. Tatz can never admit to this, and Gottlieb seems to lack any such awareness. Tatz does not trouble himself to explore Zen in depth at all, while Gottlieb is little more than his audience of one.

    Unfortunately for the reader, LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW is barely a dialogue. It is a virtual monologue during which the erudite Dr. Tatz so completely overwhelms David Gottlieb that this reviewer began to wonder if their dialogue was even a real one to begin with and not just an authorial device. The David Gottlieb on these pages is so colorless that it seems like he may not even be real.

    The religious chauvinism of the authors of LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW is evident from the beginning. David Gottlieb's introduction spans half a page; Dr. Tatz's consumes several. There is a lengthy glossary of Jewish religious and mystical terminology; Zen gets not a word. Gottlieb is described as having undergone a "lay ordination" as a Zen Buddhist in 2002, but this "ordination" is never explained. And if in fact Gottlieb acheived a leadership role in his Zendo, his grasp of Zen philosophy and literature seems shockingly weak.

    Perhaps this should not be surprising as his grasp of Judaism is just as weak. One of Gottlieb's earliest letters to Tatz spells out a dozen or so basic questions that even a particularly literate Bar Mitzvah boy could answer. Gottlieb seems to know nothing at all about Jewish history, Jewish religious practices, Jewish philosophy or Jewish mysticism, even though he describes himself as a "seeker" and claims to attend a Conservative synagogue regularly. If Gottlieb's ignorance is real, then it is a bitter indictment of the pallid state of mainstream American Judaism. But there is something so contrived about the intellectual befuddlement evident in Gottlieb's letters that this reviewer strongly believes that they were intentionally crafted so as to give Dr. Tatz a ready-made foundation for his numerous theses in this book.

    Dr. Tatz's discourses in LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW are articulate, reasoned, and brilliantly presented. The depth of his understanding and scholarship of Judaism is truly impressive. For those disaffected with "corporate" Judaism but wishing to return or to remain within the fold, LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW opens surprising new vistas of spirituality and mysticism in the ancestral faith. For those "seeking," Dr. Tatz has written an accessible, detailed, and reassuring introductory guidebook to Torah and Kabbalah. As Rabbi Dr. Tatz observes, many young Jews seek out Eastern religions for their esoterica and exotica, never realizing that Judaism is in its essentials an Asian religion just as is Buddhism. It is difficult not to praise Rabbi Dr. Tatz's achievement here.

    Over 95% of LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW is comprised of Rabbi Dr. Tatz's responses to David Gottlieb's brief (sometimes one-line) letters. When speaking of anything Judaic in this thick volume, Rabbi Dr. Tatz enters the realm of genius. As a discussion of spiritual Jewish practice, this book is without peer for a general readership.

    Having said that, it is difficult to praise Rabbi Dr. Tatz's insouciant intellectual particularism. Where Judaism and Buddhism agree, Dr. Tatz takes extraordinary pains to explore the depth of Jewish knowledge while damning Buddhism (and other faiths) with faint praise. Where they disagree, Dr. Tatz is almost venial in his criticisms of Zen Buddhism. He repeatedly falls into the unfortunate but very common habit of comparisons: Abraham, "our enlightened one," lived long before Buddha; by the time Buddha was born, Jews had already had their prophetic age; Jews have contributed immeasurably to Western civilization; and so on, as if such seniority in time indicates superiority in substance.

    Rabbi Dr. Tatz's self-righteous certitude that anything Buddhism can offer Judaism can offer more and better is the bigotry of that worst exemplar of our species, the True Believer. Certainly, a faith that has given rise to the elegance and complex simplicity of Ichiban, Bonsai, Haiku, and Chanoyu (Japanese flower arranging, horticulture, poetry, and the tea ceremony) not to mention a spare, direct, and immediate view of human existence, is worth more than just a specious examination. Rabbi Dr. Tatz needed to treat the subject of Zen with all due consideration, not just limit his inquiry to superficial divergences of ritual practice. For those interested, THE JEW IN THE LOTUS by Rodger Kamenetz addresses the specific "Jewish Buddhist" experience in a more openminded way.

    Gottlieb is of no use here. He hardly mentions any great Zen masters or their writings by name, he seems to have no intellectual ability to draw parallels between the two streams of thought (there are a great many), and since he knows nothing of Jewish mysticism he can find nothing complementary in Buddhist mysticism. He does ask at one point if Dr. Tatz had read any of the Zen books he'd provided, but suspiciously, the names of the books and their authors are never mentioned, as if to put off any specifically non-Jewish intellectual curiosity in the reader. Likewise, a rather embarrassing (probably invented) dialogue between the leader of Gottlieb's Zendo and Gottlieb's wife makes it into the book, apparently in whole. Gottlieb's wife goes on a rant about "idolatry" while Gottlieb quietly stands there, utterly emasculated. Although the scene calls for ethical outrage, Tatz says nothing about this truly offensive display of ignorance toward another faith. This reviewer had to wonder how, if Gottlieb was an "ordained" Zen practitioner, he had failed to explain any of the practice to his spouse or found his own answer to the question of Zen "idolatry." Gottlieb seems less like a Zen practitioner than a man interested in attending meditation classes at the YMHA. This is not an impressive moment in LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW.

    In the same vein, Rabbi Dr. Tatz spends a good bit of time knocking over idols, at least Buddhist ones, but rationalizes similar Jewish practices. Bowing toward a Buddhist altar smacks of blasphemy while bowing toward the Torah ark does not. Displaying photographs of Hasidic leaders is "inspirational" while the showing of Bodhisattva icons is "idol worship." And Tatz never addresses the exact congruence between the numerous Hasidic practice lineages that are descended from various Tzaddiks (wise men), and the Zen Sanghas (communities) descended in lineages from various Roshis (wise men).

    Tatz's Judaism is based on the "Word," and he talks volubly. Zen relies on zazen and shikantaza, forms of silent meditation. Gottlieb barely speaks, but only because he seems to have nothing to say. There is certainly nothing wrong in presenting and making attractive the huge, largely unknown corpus of Jewish mystical thought, but it is a shame that Tatz and Gottlieb made such an obviously conscious decision to turn this book into a minor tractate of religious propaganda. The apparent insecurity behind their decision will in itself be offputting to the intellectually curious reader. Their dishonesty is all the more hideous because LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW is otherwise a book of immense value and quality with much to recommend it. It stands on its own merits.

    Tatz and Gottlieb certainly didn't need to stoop to a disappointing parochialism to present their ideas. Notwithstanding the "give-and-take" format of the book, Tatz and Gottlieb are actually speaking from the same position and they should have just said so from the outset. Their decision to present Gottlieb as a confirmed Zen practitioner wending his way back to Judaism is simpleminded and becomes more and more transparent as the book progresses. Clearly, one of the major purposes of LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW is to present a presumptively indifferently disposed Jewish reader with an attractive alternative to any non-Jewish spiritual practice. Despite Gottlieb's presence, the "Buddhist Jew" of this book is a constructed human being who could have been of any other faith or none.

    Titled to attract a certain body of readers, LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW has essentially nothing to do with Buddhism. It would have been far better to have made this book a true attempt at dialogue or at least a frank examination of the two streams of practice. Perhaps Tatz needs to sit over tea sometime with Bernie Tetsugen Glassman-Roshi.

    Interesting Comments to Book Review

    J. H. Minde says:

    As my review shows, I was disappointed in this book, primarily because of its intellectual dishonesty. While Rabbi Dr. Tatz and David Gottlieb do a WONDERFUL job of bringing to the fore the mystical and spiritual foundations of Judaism, they are very unkind to Zen, which neither of them takes the time to examine, explain or investigate. "Zen" qua Zen is as unimportant to this book as having an accordian in outer space. Buddhism merely serves as a jumping-off point for their polemics.

    Shortly after writing the review, I was contacted by David Gottlieb and Rabbi Dr. Tatz, who engaged me in a brief but spirited dialogue. They both asserted that LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW was NOT meant to be a dialogue between Judaism and Zen, and seemed surprised that I thought it was. However, they did say that other readers had made the same 'mistake,' which makes me believe that the book was intentionally presented in a way so as to draw in "Buddhist Jews" and sell them on mystical Judaism and away from esoteric Eastern religious groups.

    I will say that Zen, at least, is NOT particularly esoteric, it is essentially a practice that seeks out the marvelous in the mundane, and so it has much more in common with Judaism than Tatz and Gottlieb want to acknowledge.

    In a fit of pique, Gottlieb posted carefully edited 'selections' from my review on his website, making it seem that I was making a vindictive personal attack against them both. Although Gottlieb described this as "a bit of fun" on his site, it was not at all amusing. I received hate mails from several self-righteous religious bigots, and was called an anti-Semite, among other things, a comment I take great umbrage at as a Jew born and raised and the child of Holocaust survivors. Gottlieb's maliciousness was manifest in his cherry-picking of half-phrases out of the review, and I regret that he and I are brethren in any degree both as Jews and as Zen practitioners. I'd prefer less benighted companionship on the Way.

    cipher says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Minde's review. These were the wrong two people for this dialogue - unless, as Minde suggests, there was an agenda on the part of the author or publisher to steer Jews away from alternate traditions (which may be the case, given that it was published by an Orthodox company, rather than by a mainstream publisher).

    I was troubled as well by the sections involving Gottlieb's wife, although I'm not willing to dismiss them as fabrications. Her dismissal of Buddhism as idolatry, her assertion that his practice of Zen is "a knife in my heart" (as I recall) - this is her attitude toward Zen, the least iconic form of Buddhism! I thought at the time, "She's lucky it wasn't Tibetan Buddhism; she'd have a meltdown!"

    And, I agree - as a theologically conservative Orthodox rabbi, probably qualifying as "ultra-Orthodox", Tatz is simply in no position to be able to understand or appreciate other faith traditions. And Gottlieb is in no position to represent Buddhism, in all of its many and varied facets. As an introduction to Jewish theology from a strictly Orthodox perspective, it's valuable. As meaningful dialogue or debate between the traditions - not so much.

    Thursday, November 1, 2007

    Will return next Week

    I will be out of town for work for the next week; therefore, I am temporarily disabling commenting until I have sufficient time to moderate new comments. It would be much appreciated if someone could email me at with instructions on disabling new comments while allowing for viewing of existing comments.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Modern Western Morality vs Orthodox Jewish Morality

    In my first post, a commentator, Felix, posed a most interesting challenge, a challenge often heard in Kiruv and Orthodox circles: What is the origin and basis of mortality? Is it derived only from the literal commandment of G-d, or are there other sources? If one maintains that Torah based morality is false or immoral, is this akin to asserting “there is no absolute morality”, i.e. moral relativism? Lastly, is it reasonable to maintain that modern man made morality, in particular America’s western morality, is superior to Torah morality - - which ostensibly is based on the mandate of G,d?

    In order to address the issue I will present several hypothetical examples and questions that illustrate the contrast between life under a Torah regime, where Halacha is the only source and basis of morality, and life under a Modern American Regime, where the source and basis of morality are enlightenment values. I ask my readers to think seriously and deeply about the examples I provide and apply their common sense as much as their faculty of reason. I also ask that the reader bear in mind that the perennial issue of the basis of morality is very complex and has a long historical context in the history of humankind outside of torah.

    That said, I would like to ask Felix, and those of like mind, a few questions:

    How do you feel about the Western concept of equality before the law? What do you think this concept is based on? Is it based on Jewish ideals? Or, is it based on enlightenment ideals?

    Do you agree that it is moral that in our society, I, as a Jew am accorded the same dignity and rights as any other human being? If you agree, as I’m sure you do, I want to know why you think this is just or moral. I also want to know how you would feel if laws were different in America, if the laws were more like South Africa’s apartheid laws; or worse, like Germany’s Nuremberg Laws** with its many unconscionable and odious decrees, like, for example, the September 30, 1938 edict requiring "Aryan" doctors to only treat "Aryan" patients.

    Imagine if in America the legal system required the execution of Jews for the negligent or accidental killing of a gentile, whereas a non --Jew would only pay damages. Does such a law seem moral or just?

    What about a law that prohibited a Non---Jew from saving the life of a Jew? What if that same law also made it a crime, subject to the death penalty, for a person to save the life of a Jew, unless he could prove in court that not saving the Jew could result in a loss of American gentile life due to Jewish animosity. Would this be moral? Would this be just?

    Let’s illustrate this moral dilemma with an example: Imagine, an old Jewish man on a cold sub zero night in the middle of what happens to be an almost all non------Jewish city. The old man slips on the ice, breaks his hip, and cracks his head. He lay there for hours, blood seeping from his cracked skull, shivering in the frigid cold, in pain, and deeply afraid. The suffering continues another 6 hours, until dawn, when the man finally dies. During this entire time, dozens of people walk by and ignore his desperate pleas for help. Could you do this? Would your heart bleed for the poor old man? If yes, where does this kind of feeling and sensitivity come from? Does it come from any set of laws external to yourself or does it come from something innate within you, something hardwired into your own humanity?

    How do think, from a cross-cultural perspective, human beings throughout the world would view such cold, cruel and heartless laws. Myself, having lived in more then a dozen countries and having worked with people in every major continent in the world, would feel comfortable saying that universally most people would find that these laws shock the conscience. It would deeply offend their innate and hard-wired moral sense. What do you think?

    Let’s discuss another scenario. Lets say that a murderous and truly evil non - - -Jew was about to kill a nice Jewish women for no reason other then for the thrill. Let us say a witness, in this case, another non - - - Jew, follows his conscious and kills the pursuer. Now, would it be just if American law would execute the good Samaritan non - - - Jew for murder. After all, the law says that one cannot kill a fellow gentile to save the life of a Jew, even when the gentile has no valid reason to engage in such an act (e.g. self-defense). Would this be just? Would this be moral?

    Now let’s take this hypothetical one step further and pretend that this imaginary society considers the nature of the Jew to be of a completely different species - -one really akin to an animal, and that this attitude has its roots in an ancient and sacred tradition, a tradition with many venerated and holy sages. One such sage, Mr. Ra'avad, when discussing the nature of the Jew writes:
    "for the Jews are like animals…and one who thinks of them as something [worthwhile] will gather the wind in his fist." Another sage writes, “'You (Non- - - Jews) are called men and the Jews are not called men.” A third sage, named Mr. Abe Issac Kook, writes: "The difference between the Non Jewish soul, in all its independence, inner desires, longings, character and standing, and the soul of all the Jews, on all of their levels, is greater and deeper than the difference between the soul of a man and the soul of an animal.”

    What would you think of such a society? Does it sound sort of the Nazi literature that dehumanized Jews?**

    It should be evident from the above hypotheticals that the basic notions of good and evil that we all have are, for the most part, common and universal. Anthropologist Solomon Asch makes this very point when he notes, “Anthropological evidence does not furnish proof of relativism. We do not know of societies in which bravery is despised and cowardice held up to honor, in which generosity is considered a vice and ingratitude a virtue."- Asch, Solomon, Social Psychology, (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1952), pp. 378-79.

    It should also be evident that the modern history of America and other Westernized nations is a march of progress in eliminating hateful discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and gender. This, in contrast to Fundamental Torah Judaism’s unconscionable, demeaning and discriminatory laws against non (yehudim) Jews. If the shoe were on the other foot and Jews were subject in America to laws similar to those promulgated by Chazal, and to which, I might add, the Orthodox world pays homage, the Jewish population would be outraged. From a humanistic, universal and most importantly, from a common sense point of view, do you think it correct, as the commenter Felix asserts, that, it has not been substantiated that our “new, modern, clearly man made morality is superior” when Fundamental Judaism persists in believing that gentiles have souls that are inferior and have precepts that inhumanely discriminate against them?

    Modern western civilization, with all its current faults (and I wont go into them in this forum), has developed and continues to develop a system or morality that is vastly superior to Orthodox Jewish Morality. Think about it.

    **I am not equating Judaism with Nazism, G,d Forbid. I am only commenting on the similarity in the way the two depict the *OTHER.* As victims of such hate, we should all be at the forefront of condemning similar attitudes and laws, even when they come from within our own tradition. We expect no less from others

    Ancient World Morality vs. Talmudic (Orthodox Jewish) World Morality: Attitudes and Laws toward the *OTHER*

    5th century bce Perisa under Cyrus: Laws and attitudes toward the *OTHER*

    1000 years before Chazal, there was precedent for the concept of equal rights for all ethic groups. See Human Rights in 5th century bce. Perisa under Cyrus “The Achaemenid Persian Empire of ancient Iran established unprecedented principles of human rights in the 6th century BC under Cyrus the Great. After his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, the king issued the Cyrus cylinder..... The cylinder declared that citizens of the empire would be allowed to practice their religious beliefs freely. It also abolished slavery,....... These two reforms were reflected in the biblical books of Chronicles and Ezra, which state that Cyrus released the followers of Judaism from slavery and allowed them to migrate back to their land. ...[Most significant] In the Persian Empire, citizens of all religions and ethnic groups were also given the same rights, while women had the same rights as men.

    3rd century bce. India: Laws and attitudes toward the *OTHER*

    3rd century bce. India, 700 years before Chazal, provides another interesting contrast to Talmudic morality and laws See Human Rights in 3rd century bce. India “The Maurya Empire of ancient India established unprecedented principles of civil rights in the 3rd century BC under Ashoka the Great. During his reign, he pursued an official policy of nonviolence (ahimsa) and the protection of human rights, as his chief concern was the happiness of his subjects. The unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of animals was immediately abolished, such as sport hunting and branding. Ashoka ……. offered common citizens free education at universities. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics or caste, and constructed free hospitals for both humans and animals. Ashoka defined the main principles of nonviolence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for teachers and priests, being liberal towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and generosity towards all. These reforms are described in the Edicts of Ashoka.
    In the Maurya Empire, citizens of all religions and ethnic groups also had rights to freedom, tolerance, and equality. The need for tolerance on an egalitarian basis can be found in the Edicts of Ashoka, which emphasize the importance of tolerance in public policy by the government. The slaughter or capture of prisoners of war was also condemned by Ashoka. Slavery was also non-existent in ancient India.

    5th Century Talmudic (Orthodox Jewish) Laws toward the *OTHER*

    For a complete exposition of all the relevant sources and halachas see here

    1.Killing a gentile (even an idolater, without a court hearing) in peaceful times
    is forbidden. However, a Jew who murders a gentile (even in peaceful times and even intentionally) is not punishable by death in the human courts (under normal circumstances). According to some opinions he is not punishable at all (under normal circumstances) by the human courts. But a gentile who kills a Jew, even purely by accident and unintentionally, must be put to death. This applies to a ger toshav as well. There is a single opinion according to which a ger toshav who killed a Jew by accident is not put to death, but only goes into exile (like a Jew who killed by accident).

    Mishna, Tractate Makkot 2:3, Sanhedrin 9:2, Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 57a, Avodah Zarah 13b
    Maimonides, Laws of Murder and the Saving of Lives 1:1, chapter 2, 5:4, 10
    Maimonides, Laws of Idolatry chapter 10

    2.It is forbidden to save a gentile who is in mortal danger or cure him from a fatal condition, even for payment, unless there is a danger that a failure to do so will cause animosity towards Jews. According to one opinion it is permissible to save a gentile in mortal danger, but one doesn't have an obligation to do so. This law doesn't apply to a ger toshav, whom Jews have an obligation to sustain.

    Babylonian Talmud Tractate Avodah Zarah 26a, 64b; Pesachim 21b, Rashi on Pesachim 21b
    Babylonian Talmud Tractate Avodah Zarah 64b
    Maimonides, Laws of Idolatry chapter 10
    Tur Yoreh Deah 158, Beit Yosef Yoreh Deah 158, Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 158:a, Shach Yoreh Deah 158
    Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 425:5

    3.It is forbidden to desecrate the Shabbat to save the life of a gentile, unless there is a danger that a failure to do so will cause animosity. There are different opinions whether this law applies to a ger toshav.

    Mishnah, Tractate Yoma 8:7
    Maimonides, Laws of the Sabbath, chapter 2
    Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 329:2
    Nishmat Avraham (Abraham S. Abraham) part 4, Orach Chayim 330:2

    4.If a Jew is chasing a gentile in order to murder him, it is forbidden to kill the Jew in order to save the gentile, even if there is no other way to save the gentile's life. A person who kills the Jewish pursuer in order to save the gentile's life must be put to death. But if a gentile (or a Jew) is chasing a Jew in order to murder him, one must kill the pursuer in order to save the pursued person (if there is no other way to save his life). This law applies to a ger toshav as well.
    Minchat Chinuch commandment 600

    5. In a case where someone orders a Jew to kill some innocent person or else he will himself be killed: If the person he is ordered to kill is a Jew then he must not kill him,__even if it will result in his own death. If the person he is ordered to kill is a gentile, then it is permissible to kill him to save the life of the Jew (in this situation).It appears that this law applies even if the person whom the Jew is ordered to kill is a ger toshav.

    Palestinian Talmud Tractate Shabbat chapter 14 14d, Maimonides, Laws of Torah Fundamentals 5:7
    Rashi on Sanhedrin 74a, Amud HaYemini (R' Shaul Yisraeli) 16:8-9
    Safra on Behar, parasha 5, HaTorah V'HaMitzvah (Malbim) on Safra on Behar parasha 5

    6.A gentile, as opposed to a Jew, can be easily sentenced to death in a court of
    law. This can be done by a single judge, based on the testimony of a single witness or on the defendant’s own addmission, with no prior warning, even if the witness is a relative [of either the judge or the victim]. This applies to a ger toshav as well.
    Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 57b, Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9:14

    7.The death penalty may be imposed on one (Jew or gentile) who abducts a Jew,
    but not on a Jew who abducts a gentile. Sources:
    Sifrei Devarim piska 273, Maimonides, Laws of Theft chapter 9

    Sample:(Orthodox Jewish) attitudes toward the *OTHER*

    Rabbi Abraham Issac HaCohen Kook
    In the book "Orot," Orot Yisrael chapter 5, article 10 (page 156), Rabbi Kook wrote: "The difference between the Jewish soul, in all its independence, inner desires, longings, character and standing, and the soul of all the Gentiles, on all of their levels, is greater and deeper than the difference between the soul of a man and the soul of an animal, for the difference in the latter case is one of quantity, while the difference in the first case is one of essential quality."

    Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin
    In the book "Poked Akarim" page 19, column 3, he wrote: "Concerning what is explained in Yevamot, 'You are called men,' and not the other nations, [the meaning is] that the Gentiles were deprived of the title 'men' only where Israel were called 'men,' because in comparison to Israel, who are the primary form of man in the Divine Chariot, it is irrelevant to call any of the Gentiles 'men'; at most, they are like animals in the form of men. Taken as themselves, however, all the children of Noah are considered men…and when the Messiah comes…they too will recognize and admit that there are none called 'man' except Israel…anyway, in comparison to Israel even now they are in the category of animals…"

    The Arizal and Rabbi Chaim Vital
    On the difference between souls of the Jews and Gentiles it is written in the book "Etz Chaim" (Heichal Abi'a, Sha'ar HaKlipot, chapter 2): "So we find that Israel possesses the three levels of soul (nefesh, ruach, neshama) from holiness… The Gentiles, however, possess only the level of nefesh from the feminine side of the klipot…for the souls of the nations, which come from the klipot, are called 'evil' and not 'good,' are created without the da'at [knowledge], and therefore they also lack the ruach and neshama."
    In Sha'ar Klipat Noga, chapter 3, it is written: "Now you will understand what the animalistic soul of man is; it is the good and evil inclination in man. The soul of the Gentiles comes from the three klipot: wind, cloud, and fire, all of them evil. So is the case with impure animals, beasts, and birds. However, the animalistic soul of Israel and the animalistic soul of pure animals, beasts, and birds all come from [klipat] noga."

    Gadol Hador Archives

    The following are links to the archives of a well-known and now closed blog. It covers just about every conceivable issue that an inquiring BT or FFB would think to ask. If the pursuit of truth and intellectual honesty are important to you, I would read this entire archive. I think you will enjoy what this blogger has to offer - - informative, intelligent, fascinating and witty commentary, all with brutal intellectual honesty. I recommend starting from the beginning. I would also save the html pages because the archive could be removed at any time.

    Gadol Hador:January 2005
    Gadol Hador:February 2005
    Gadol Hador:March 2005
    Gadol Hador:April 2005
    Gadol Hador:May 2005
    Gadol Hador:June 2005
    Gadol Hador:July 2005
    Gadol Hador:August 2005
    Gadol Hador:September 2005
    Gadol Hador:October 2005
    Gadol Hador:November 2005
    Gadol Hador:December 2005

    Gadol Hador:January 2006
    Gadol Hador:February 2006
    Gadol Hador:March 2006
    Gadol Hador:April 2006
    Godal Hador:May 2006
    Gadol Hador:June 2006
    Gadol Hador:July 2006

    Friday, October 19, 2007

    The Pathogizer, The Lonely Man of Faith & The Earnest BT

    When fundamentalists confront conflicting views, from the sincere yet doubting seeker to the most hardened skeptic, they often shift the focus to emotional considerations when the intellectual arguments get to difficult for them. Sometimes, there is projection of all kinds of pejorative attributes on to the questioner, with the implication that "there is something wrong" (i.e. personally and emotionally) with the repentant or wavering BT. Pursue the intellectual discussion too far or too deep and you will be villified (implicitly or explicitly) as "too selfish" or "not willing to give of yourself for the sake of G-d", or " you are not strong enough to accept G-d's will", and other such statements that call into question your true commitment.

    I call this self-serving and contrived approach to dispensing with challenges “pathogizing”, and it is an essential element of most Orthodox Jewish indoctrination (mostly Cheredi –Ultra Orthodox). In fact it is typical of fundamentalists of all religious persuasions and its ubiquity is evident from even a cursory perusal of fundamentalist Christians, Mormons and Muslims,etc literature. This approach allows for the easy dismissal of challenges, thereby allowing the believer to evade responsibility for confronting any challenges, as well as protecting him psychologically from the cognitive dissonance and existential insecurity that emanates from taking these issues seriously.

    We observe a classic example of this approach in the commentary of Avrum68 in the last thread. There, Avrum68 invokes the authority of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz “who warned folks about not confusing theology for psychology when dealing with doubt.” Avrum proudly notes “Never have I read wiser words.” Among the many elementary logical flaws - - more of which will be detailed below - - are the fallacy of “appeal to authority”. First, an appeal to Rabbinic authority and second, in an attempt to further buttress his point, an appeal to his very own authority, as a professional with a background which is “ rooted in psychology, particularly the psychodynamic variety.”

    Agnostic writer, after reviewing similar rhetoric by
    Avrum68 on another forum, perceptively demonstrates the impotence of this line of reasoning.

    He writes “Avrum68 not only insists on repeatedly committing the elementary philosophical error of ad hominem, he also commits the elementary psychological and ethical error of jumping to conclusions about the psychological functioning and developmental backgrounds of people he knows next to nothing about. He also commits the naive error of either-or thinking: either a person had an idyllic childhood in their religious family, or any possible objection they have to religious belief is really about emotional or social pain.

    A little sophistication, either in philosophy or psychology, would have taught him that very few have idyllic childhoods--whether religious, atheist, or agnostic--so the charge of "It all goes back to your dissatisfaction with childhood (or father, or mother, or social isolation, or penis envy, or unresolved oedipal issues, etc., etc.) is a charge that can be leveled at nearly anyone with whose views one disagrees, and therefore not only proves nothing, but suggests nothing; and a little sophistication in either psychology or philosophy would have taught him, too, that what awakens one to questioning--even in cases where the awakening agent is emotional or social pain--need hold little relation to the level of honesty with which one processes the cacophony of answers, and more questions, one encounters on the path of seeking. One can be raised without so much as a solitary moment of distress, and yet exert little honesty or courage in seeking truth; and one can be tormented by all manner of afflictions from the moment of birth on, and still strive for radical intellectual honesty.

    Furthermore, one with even moderate psychological insight--or moderate observational skills--would know that the great majority of people raised Muslim remain Muslim, the great majority of people raised Hindu remain Hindu, and the great majority of people raised Orthodox Jewish remain Orthodox Jewish--and that one can as easily wield the "psychological argument" against religious people, as in, "Regardless of how happy or unhappy your childhood, you're religious not because of the intelligent-sounding explanations you cite, you're religious due to emotional comfort with the familiar, and the unconscious terror of separating from family and tribe and cosmic frame of reference.

    Yet Avrum68 does not dismiss religious thinkers from happy or unhappy religious families, only skeptics from (what he insists, without knowing, are) unhappy families. Behold the double standard atop a bad argument--irrationality with a frosting of bias.”

    But the most salient point brought out by Agnostic writer and which is really the heart of the matter is that “regardless of why people make certain arguments, their arguments are either accurate and compelling to reason, or not. And discovering whether such arguments are compelling to reason is what the legitimate quest for truth, and a legitimate debate, is about--not the dubious subconscious archaeology of a motive for adopting an argument, but a clear discussion of the merits of the argument."

    The Lonely Man of Faith

    To be fair, not all fundamentalist or fervently religious will engage in such crude forms of emotional manipulation. The Fundamentalists who do so are unable to compartmentalize their beliefs that are based on faith from their beliefs based on scientific, objective analyses and admit to one or the other or both when they are in conflict. To be able to do so is cognitively dissonant and many Orthodox cannot abide this condition. It takes an individual of extreme courage and independence of will to live in cognitive dissonance and be OK with this state of affairs. It is difficult but not impossible. There are exceptional and thinking people who can do so, but they are rare. The "lonely man of faith" is truly lonely.

    What this all means for the BT

    Consequently, I admonish the acolyte BT to be wary of this tendency of Fundamentalists in general, and Haredi in particular, when they "pathologize" your motives, feelings, and doubts. By all means examine yourself in this regard, but do not fall prey to self-doubt or self deprecation just because they project their own pathology on you. We all have doubts and act on personal motives. Examine these well before you construe them to be unworthy or unacceptable.

    Friday, October 12, 2007

    Important: Machon Shlomo, Machon Yaakov, Sinai Retreats, Heritage Retreats

    Though there is much in Orthodox Judaism that I find deeply meaningful and appealing, I have come to realize, that, short of simply obliterating my own thoughts and feelings, I can no longer ignore the uncomfortable fact that Orthodoxy fails to corroborate many of its central claims - - historicity of the Flood, Bavel, the Exodus, numerous other historical anachronism, etc. Nor can I assuage my conscience, that is deeply pained by many of the tradition’s laws (cannot save a non jews life on Shabbos, etc) and attitudes (non jews referred to as animals, donkeys, etc) toward non (yehudim) jews.

    More significant, I have become increasingly aware of how ubiquitous intellectual dishonesty is in the Kiruv world, how skilled many Kiruv (Jewish Outreach) pros are in deflecting difficult questions regarding the pitfalls of the Orthodox lifestyle, as well as the tradition's many disconfirming realities.

    It is my hope that potential BT's, who are considering traveling along this path, can benefit from my experience and research so that they can make a more informed decision about whether or not to become Orthodox. I would have appreciated such. For that reason, I have created this blog, which culls together informative and relevant material from the Web, some of which is scholarly, some not, some based on my own reflections and some based on the musings of others who have also traveled this path.

    I, by the way, have no malicious intent here. I'm not an anti-Orthodox crusading ideologue. I have no animus toward Kiruv Professionals, my alma mater Machon Shlomo (Machon Yaakov), it's dedicated Rebbein, or any other kiruv organization. I've nothing to gain personally from this exercise except the pleasure of sharing my personal experience and insights that I think need to be (told) disclosed to old friends and friends yet unknown.

    *if you are considering attending any of the following institutions or programs listed below, you should, at a minimum, familiarize yourself with Letter to My Rabbi and Judaic sources on the attitude towards gentiles:

    click Kiruv Awareness Network to view posts and links