Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On The Allogorization of Scripture

I was at R. Natan Slifkin's lecture by YU last night. Overall, he gave a very good presentation on Intelligent Design and why he feels it is counter to traditional Jewish teachings.

One of the things that was presented is a subject that has been brought up in the past in his lectures, and indeed, must be brought up when having discussions concerning the origin of the world as it relates to the Torah. That subject is the allegorization of certain episodes in the Torah - in this case, specifically, the first few chapters of B'raishis (Genesis). For those of us who accept the validity of scientific study, then the account of Creation in B'raishis cannot be read 100% literally and must have been, at least to some degree allogorized.

However, I wonder how far we can carry this ability to allogorize Scripture. For example, there is evidence to suggest that a global flood, as described in Parshas Noach did not occur. So, one could also allogorize the story of Noach.

But at what point to do we stop allogorizing Scripture? Or, to put it another way, whether the unvierse was created in seven days or billions of years has no appreciable effect on the way I live my life. I still keep the same mitzvos and traditions regardless of how long it took to create the universe. Likewise, whether or not the story of Noach is literally true might make a small difference on whether or not I would say a Bracha on a rainbow. Beyond that, there is little in Noach that relates to my everyday life. So, I don't have a great difficulty in allogirzing Noach either.

But what happpens when we progress beyond that? If we were to uncover evidence that the Avos did not exist (and yes, I appreciate the fact that lack of evidence is not evidence of lack) then can we "toss them away" as well? It's one thing to say that the people who were the primary audience for the Torah, the people at Sinai, did not have an adequate background in cosmology and physics to understand a 100% literal account of creation (I'm not certain that we do today), but can we say the same thing about the lives of the Avos?

Furthermore, what about the Exodus itself? It's one thing to say that the people who left Egypt couldn't understand a modern cosmological account of Creation, but can you say that they wouldn't understand the concept of the Exodus? Of course not, because they lived through it. But yet, there may be evidence that the Exodus could not have happened literally as described. So what do we do? Allogorize the Exodus? But for what purpose would you allogorize the Exodus to the people who went through it? And, of course, if you come to the conclusion that the Exodus didn't happen and that the whole thing is allogorical, why celebrate Pesach? Why go through the whole ritual (not to mention the trouble of destroying all of one's chometz) if the Exodus didn't happen? Without the symbolism of the events behind them, the matzah, marror and korban pesach lose all meaning.

The question that I suppose I am asking is, what is the limit to which we will allogorize Tanach? Do we stop at Creation? Noah? The Tower of Babel? At what point can we point to a Chumash and say "from here on in, it's pretty much factual?" Or can we allogorize the whole thing away?
Now, before anyone starts thinking that I've gone completely off the derech, let me state that I'm not stating that we should just chalk the Chumash up as a myth (or even as a myth with valid lessons). I do beleive that the Exodus occured and I do believe that the Avos existed and lived their lives more or less as told (although I'm not so certain about the Go-Go dancers in Joseph's prison scene :) ). But nonetheless, the question does need to be asked. From which point onward (if there is such a thing) can we say "before was prehistory and myth and from here onward is history?"

The Wolf

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Torah - it's not science, it's not history.

Rabbi Nosson Scherman begins his commentary in the Stone edition of the Tanach with the words: "We begin the study of the Torah with the realization that the Torah is not a history book, but the charter of Man's mission in the universe." In other words, Rabbi Scherman, one of the more prolific authors of the "official" publisher of the right-wing Chareidi world states, even before he comments on the first verse in B'raishis, that the Torah is not a history text and, therefore, should not be viewed as one. Events are not recorded 100% literally and metaphors and other literary devices are employed.

It would seem, however, that many people are mediayek (exacting) about Rabbi Scherman's words. After all, he states that the Torah is not a history book, but doesn't state anything about math, science or other disciplines. It seems that they believe that the Torah *is* a science book and that any scientific theory that contradicts what is stated in the Torah (as they define it -- we'll address that shortly) must be ipso facto false and therefore discarded. Therefore, you have many Jews today who believe that the sun orbits the earth, that lice grow spontaneously and that there are a race of half-earth, half flesh mice running around.

The reason that they believe these things is because they believe that the Torah She B'al Peh (the Oral Torah) taught these things. The rulings of the Oral Torah became codified in the Talmud about two millenia after the Revelation at Mt. Sinai.

However, like any oral tradition that is passed down from one generation to the next, mistakes and uncertainty began to creep into it. In fact, according to the Midrash, it began shortly after the passing of Moshe, where, in the thirty days after his passing, three hundred halachos (laws) were forgotten. It's obvious that these laws were from the Oral Tradition (after all, they had the written Torah right in front of them -- they could hardly forget it). It is true that the midrash states that they were restored, but there really is no guarantee that the "restored" version was the original.

The truth of the matter can easily be seen by opening up any page of the Talmud. On the pages, there are disputes back and forth as to what the halacha should be in any given situation. The arguments don't only cover situations that didn't exist at the time of Mt. Sinai, but also cover situations that did occur, as well as historical fact. Even the very date of the Revelation itself couldn't be stated with 100% accuracy, as there was a dispute as to whether it happened on the sixth day of Sivan or the seventh.

In reality, it is inevitable that any oral tradition will have divergencies as time goes on. Look at it this way: if, over the centuries there are divergencies in written texts (the Torah has several divergent texts that have developed over the centuries) where one can always resovle disputes by looking at a pre-existing version, then certainly in an oral tradition, it is ludicrous to state that it survived intact over the millenia.

In reality, the Oral Torah adapted to the times around it and many facts that weren't present at Sinai became a part of the Oral Torah. Whereas the Original Oral Torah may have "read" something like the Rambam's Mishneh Torah or the Shulchan Aruch (highly organized, giving laws for various situations), it evolved to the point where it contained not only the laws (as they were remembered by later generations) but also the histories, sciences, medicines and folk-wisdoms of the day. But these additions were *not* a part of the Original Oral Torah that was given at Mt. Sinai. I don't believe, for example, that Moshe was taught that in order to see Shaidim (harmful spiritual beings - demons?) one must follow the remedy mentioned in Berachos. It was simply a part of the folk-wisdom of the day that became "tied up" with the Torah. The same applies to many of the scientific statements and medicinal remedies that appear in the Talmud.

Of course, there are those who take a different view on the matter. They take the simple view that "if it's in the Gemara, it must be true." End of story. But the fact of the matter is that texts and traditions do not exist in a vacuum. (Indeed, a recent reader made that point to me regarding my recent criticisms of R. Nachman, which I intend to address in a future post.) In order to believe that the scientific statements in the Talmud are all 100% accurate because they were given on Mt. Sinai requires one to believe in several counter-factual theories: (a) that God gave all of science to Moshe on Mt. Sinai, when there is really no evidence of that and (b) that the transmission of these facts passed reliably from father to son (or teacher to student) without change or deviation through the millenia - a highly unlikely scenario given the comparison that I made to written texts above.

In addition to that, you'd have to posit that the people in the chain of transmission either (a) passed along the scientific information but did not understand it or (b) understood it, but chose not to use it. After all, one can rightly ask where the light bulbs were in the yeshivos of Sura and Pumbadisa. Wouldn't they have been able to learn much more Torah if they could learn at night as well? Where were the printing presses? Books, in those days, were highly expensive and rare simply because they had to be hand-written. We take for granted the fact that millions of copies of the Tanach and Talmud exist today, but until six hundred years ago, that wasn't the case. The average Orthodox home in Brooklyn, New York today contains more printed Torah material than most towns had until the invention and popularization of the printing press. Certainly Torah could have spread more widely if there were printing presses! But the fact that these (and other) inventions did not exist at the time of Chazal make us choose one of the following three possibilities: the two mentioned above or (c) they simply did not have the knowledge. Choice (a) is highly illogical - why spend time and energy preserving knowledge that you can't understand or use and (b) makes little sense either - the Jews in ancient times could certainly have benefited from the advances in medicine, travel, food, etc. that we take for granted today.

In addition, if one is to believe one of the above two theories, one must ask at what point was this scientific knowledge lost? Who "dropped the ball" (so to speak)? Or do the chachamim of today still possess this knowledge but are keeping it from the general public?

That leaves option (c), that the science in the Talmud is the science of the day. And, of course, this can be proven to be true. It is obvious from statements made on Pesachim 94, for example, that the Amoraim had no notion of how the seasons work. Had they known that in the Southern Hemisphere the season is the opposite of the season they currently had, they would not have made the statements regarding how the land and springs are hot or cold because of the position of the sun. Likewise, of course, we know that the sun does not go through "windows" to illuminate the earth since half the earth is illuminated by the sun at all times. Take a look at the famous Blue Marble photo taken by the crew of Apollo 17 on the way to the moon. As one can see, there is no sphere "above" the earth with "windows" for the sun to exit and enter from. Day and night are caused by the rotation of the planet, not by the "travels" of the sun across the sky.

The odd thing, of course, is that this seems to be accepted even in the most Chareidi circles today. I don't know of anyone who thinks that the fact that half the world is lit up at any given time is a "scientific theory" that should be discarded. After all, anyone can call up someone on the other side of the world and simply ask them if it's day or night. So, it seems, this "scientific fact" from the Talmud has fallen by the wayside, even in most Chareidi communities. Many other disproven, facts, however, don't seem to be discarded as easily.

The other option that is sometimes presented is the idea of Nishtanu Ha't'vaim (nature has changed). In other words, while the scientific statements made in Talmud may not be true now, they were true at the time that they were made; however, a fundamental shift in nature occured causing the science to change. So, for some, that has become the answer: Medicinal remedies presented in the Gemara don't work? Nishtanu Ha't'vaim. You can't use black cat ashes to view Sheidim? Nishtanu Ha't'vaim. The sun doens't go through windows anymore? Nishtanu Ha't'vaim. The sun no longer orbits the earth? Nishtanu Ha't'vaim.

Of course, one is then entitled to ask at what point nature changed. When did the celestial mechanics change so that the earth now orbits the sun instead of the other way around? What has fundamentally changed about nature that rememdies mentioned in the Talmud no longer work? Of course, there are no answers for these "questions."

I've heard some Chariedim espouse that they have no objection to science in an operational sense, but have objections to it in a "historical" sense. In other words, they have no problems with modern scientific findings, but when they start encroaching on areas such as Creation and the genesis of Man, then the science becomes "unkosher." However, none of the issues that I brought up above have to do with Creation or Genesis. I purposely did not address the well-trodden subjects of cosmology, evolution or the Flood. I stuck to matters that are purely "operational" in order to sidestep such arguemnts.

Those that view the Talmud as a science text or history text are missing the boat. They don't realize that aside from it's function in the transmission of Torah, it gives us insights into the lives led by people living in those times - and that includes their views of science, technology, theology, art, history and many other disciplines. But in these areas, it's not an infallible text; it's merely a reflection of the knowledge of the times.

The Wolf

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Rav Reich and Lakewood Yid on the power of the Gra z"l

Lakewood Yid quotes a speech given by Rav Uren Reich at the Agudath Israel's 82nd National Convention. While I have problems with several parts of Rav Reich's speech (which I commented on at LY's blog), the discussion turned to one particular statement. The statement is as follows:

Chazal HaKedoshimhakatan shebetalmidei Rabbeinu haKadosh mechayeh meisim! If the Gaon says that he could bring down kol galgal hachamah on this table and show it to Aristo – do we have a safek that what Chazal HaKedoshim said is emes? Ra’u mi’sof haolam ve’ad sofo – ain leharher achar divrei haGemara.

Roughly translated, what Rav Reich is saying is that if the Gaon (presumably the Vilna Gaon) said he could bring the entire universe down to his table top and show it to Aristotle, certainly the Talmudic statements regarding the nature of the universe would be shown to be correct.

Now, LY acknowledges that it's not so certain that the Gaon ever made such a statement. However, he goes on to state, that if he did, he certianly had the power to do so. When asked by a poster if the Gaon could actually do such a thing, he answers:

If the Gaon said he could, then he could. R'tzon Ye'rayov Yaaseh. (He [God] does the will of those that fear Him -- translation mine).

By postulating such a statement, LY, in effect, makes the Gaon omnipotent. If he could say it, he could do it (by virture of R'tzon Y'raiov Ya'aseh). Such a position is inherintly ridiculous.


Why couldn't Yehoshua finish the conquest of Eretz Yisroel and drive out the Canaanites? After all, certainly Yehoshua feared Hashem and certainly he wanted to conquer EY. R'tzon Y'raiov Ya'aseh.

Why couldn't Dovid build the Beis Hamikdash? After all, Dovid certainly feared Hashem and certainly he wanted to build the BHM. Heck, he wrote the line "R'tzon Y'raiov Ya'aseh!"

Why couldn't Yirmiyahu prevent the destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash? Didn't Yirmiyahu fear Hashem? Was Yirmiyahu less than the Gra?

Why couldn't the Tana'im prevent the destruction of the second Bais HaMikdash and Betar? Was the Gaon greater than all of them put together? Did they not fear Hashem? Were they not aware of the verse of "R'tzon...?"

Why couldn't the Rishonim prevent the decimation of European Jewry during the Crusades? Did they not want to prevent it?! Did they not fear Hashem?

If none of these great people could prevent the very mundane (non-miraculous) happenings that happened during their lifetimes, why does it make sense to say that the Gra z"l could bring the entire universe down to his tabletop?

The Wolf

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ruevein Ben Tova Chaya - R'fuah Sh'laimah

R. Harry Maryles posted about his young grandson who suddenly became ill with what looks like bone cancer. Please say Tehillim and be mispallel (pray) for Ruevein Ben Tova Chaya.

The Wolf

Saturday, August 19, 2006

National Geographic - Hareidi-Style

This week's Mishpacha magazine reports that National Geographic will be putting out a Hebrew edition aimed at the Torah-observant Jewry. The article notes that National Geographic has been been publishing in full color since 1962, but often discusses scientific theories that are "at odds with the Torah." This new edition, however, will be edited with "extreme sensitivity and refinement" so that Hareidim won't come into contact with anything that might possibly cause anyone to become interested in science.

I personally don't know if the magazine will adopt a Yated-like policy with regard to pictures of women, but if they do, here's a sampling of what to expect:

The Wolf

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bloggers I Know

Ezzie and Steg posted about the bloggers that he's met In Real Life or via other media. I figured that it would be fun to do as well, however, I'm going to keep mine a lot simpler because (a) I don't know as many bloggers as he does and (b) I'm not going to use any confusing symbols.

So here goes:

Bloggers that I've met with face-to-face:
PeskySettler - whom I've known for about 19 years (and who designed my blog banner)
Neandershort - although he doesn't know when he met me :) (or at least I don't think he does)
Joshua (commentor, not a blogger)
eeees (commentor, not a blogger. Of course, she sees me every day!)

There are others, of course, who have been at the same event as I, although we didn't meet face to face (or weren't formally introduced). They include:

Just Passing Through
Steve Brizel

and probably many others that I missed (please forgive me). If I missed you, please feel free to drop me an email and I'll correct it.

The Wolf

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Game: Where is the pasuk (verse)?

I've often noticed how our children in mainstream yeshivos are taught midrashim almost as if they were written in the very text of the Torah itself. After all, just about every first grader knows that the Chumash describes Avraham's harrowing ordeal in the Furnace or how he destroyed all the idols in his father's shop one day. Of course, none of this is recorded in the Chumash itself, along with details of many, many other midrashim that are taught as verbatim history to our children.

As such, I'm going to give my kids a test, and see how they perform. I'm going to ask them to find me the pasuk that says the following:


Find me the pasuk where...

... Avraham discovers God through self-deduction at age three.
... Rivka was three years old when she married Yitzchock
... that Ya'akov learned in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever for fourteen years.
... that Dinah was hidden in a box.

Life in Egypt & the Exodus

... that the Jews had six children at once.
... that Moshe was born on the seventh of Adar.
... that when the Egyptians hit the frogs they split into multiple frogs.
... that there was someone dead in *every* Egyptian household after the final plauge.
... that the sea split into twelve separate pathways.
... that Nachshon ben Aminadav was the first person to jump into the sea.

In the Wilderness

... that God held Mt. Sinai over the heads of K'lal Yisrael.
... that the Jews perished (and were ressurected) with each word spoken by HKBH.
... that the Mann could taste like whatever the taster wanted.

That's probably enough. These are things that every school child in yeshiva knows and probably believes to be written in the Chumash itself. I'm going to ask my kids over the next few days to find the pesukim where these things are written - I'm curious to see what the result will be.

The answers, by the way, are:

Answer: (highlight to see):
Only the item about every Egyptian household having dead is actually a pasuk. The rest are from later sources.

The Wolf

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Blog Banner

Some of you may have noticed the new blog banner that I put up a few weeks ago. I just wanted to publicly thank Pesky Settler (email her here) for the wonderful job that she did. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but she created something that was far better than anything I could have thought of. The Wolf

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Old Home Week

I have been a ba'al kriah for a long time. In fact, I've been laining every Shabbos and Yom Tov (with the occasional Shabbos off for a bar mitzvah, laryngitis*, etc.) for eighteen and a half years.

For the first sixteen and a half years, I lained in a shul in Kensington. I started when I was young and single and, in fact, walked forty minutes to shul every Shabbos/Yom Tov to lain. After I got married, we rented an apartment closer to the shul so that I could continue to stay there. The people in the shul embraced me as one of their own, and they later embraced my wife and children as well. We were truly happy there.

Unfortunately, the housing market forced us out of the neighborhood. We had reached the point in our lives where renting simply did not make sense for us anymore -- to rent an apartment was costing us almost as much as a monthly mortgage payment would be. In addition, the situation with our landlord was quickly becoming untenable (I'd rather not go into it - and they ended up selling the house shortly after we moved anyway) and we would have to move out. The houses in Kensington, however, were hideously priced. We saw hovels that were more than we could afford -- let alone places you'd actually want to live.

So, we ended up buying in another area of Brooklyn. I didn't want to leave the shul where I'd been for sixteen plus years, but I had no real choice. It was too far from my new house for my kids to walk (if it had been me alone, I would have continued laining there). Sadly, we left the shul where I had my aufruf, where my boys had their brissim and where I was sure they would have their bar mitzvahs. Such is life.

In my new neighborhood, I was fortunate to find a new ba'al kriah position within a week or two. And, to be honest, I'm happy in my new shul as well. However, despite that, my wife every now and again reminds me that she misses the old shul - as I do too. I still have family that davens in the old shul and every now and again I hear from them that they still miss me in the old shul and that my laining is missed as well. Well, it's nice to know that you're missed.

As it turns out, last Shabbos I ended up staying by some relatives who were sort-of in the neighborhood of the old shul. While I still had to walk back to my new shul to lain for Shacharis, I was able to walk in to the old shul and surprise everyone by showing up for Mincha. I walked in shortly after laining started. When the gabbai called me up for an aliya, the person laining handed me the tallis and said with a smile "here, you can lain for yourself." I had Se'uda Shlishis there as well and had a nice time catching up with some of the old crowd.

By some strange coincidence, someone from that shul had a baby boy last Thursday (poor kid - he's always going to be told "when you were born, it was like Tisha B'Av!"), so I had an excuse to go back this morning for the bris. Again, it was nice to see everyone (I got to see some people who weren't there by Shabbos mincha) and catch up with all the old news and gossip. My wife and kids also got to go and see old friends and renew old acquaintences. Heck, I even got to lain again in the old shul.

So, it's been "old home week" for me and my family. Of course, what all this has done is stir up some old feelings. I can't say that I regret the decision to move (for starters, I couldn't afford to stay in the neighborhood anymore and it was the right time for us to buy a house), but I can say that I regret some of the tradeoffs that came with making that decision. I like the new shul: I like the people, the rav, the style of davening, etc. - and it seems that they like my laining (they've let me continue for the last two years) - but it's not the same as the old shul.

When I think about my feelings regarding my old shul and my new shul, I'm often reminded of something I saw on TV. On the television series Soap, there was a character who appeared for a few episodes named Barney Gerber (played by Harold Gould). At one point, he's explaining about his life to Jodie (Billy Crystal) and his marriages. He was happily married to one woman for many years. After many years, however, his wife was killed (hit by a bus, IIRC). He was shattered and felt like he would never love anyone again. As it turned out, he did meet someone and fell in love again. The way he descirbed it, however, was that the new love "wasn't better" than the first. "It wasn't better, wasn't worse. It was just... different," as he put it. The rest of his speech made it clear that he dearly loved his second wife - not in any way that was inferior to the love he had for his first -- it was just ... different.

That's kind of the way I feel about the two shuls. I miss the first shul very much. I miss the people, the rav, even the building. Everything about it had (and still has) it's own charm. But yet, I also like the new shul. It's a differnet style of davening, a different crowd and a different style of rav - and yet I like it too. Not in any way that's worse, or better than the old shul - it's just different.

Now, if we could find a way to merge both congregations into one...

The Wolf

* Yes, one year I got laryngitis on Rosh HaShannah. I tried to lain anyway on the first day but after the second aliya, it was obvious that it wasn't going to work. I missed the rest of that day and the next. By Shabbos (RH was Thursday and Friday that year) I was able to lain again.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dating: How it was and How it is

How it was:

אמר רבן שמעון בן גמליאל, לא היו ימים טובים לישראל כחמישה עשר באב וכיום הכיפורים, שבהם בנות ירושלים יוצאין בכלי לבן שאולים, כדי שלא לבייש את מי שאין לו. וכל הכלים טעונין טבילה. ובנות ירושלים יוצאות וחולות בכרמים. וכך הן אומרות, שא נא בחור עיניך וראה, מה אתה בורר לך; אל תיתן עיניך בנואי, אלא תן עיניך במשפחה.

R. Shimon Ben Gamleil said: There were no greater holidays in Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur, since on those days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white clothing (so as not to embarass those who did not have - and all such garments requried tevilah). The daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vinyards and this is what they would say: "Young man lift up [your eyes] and see, what [girl] do you choose for yourself? Do not look for beauty, but set your eyes on family." Mishnah - Ta'anis 4:8

How it is:

You can't meet a girl except through the arrangement of a shadchan. The shadchan must first check out the girl by asking all sorts of questions regarding schooling, hashkafah, size of the father's bank account, if there are any skeletons in the family's closet (did her cousin once accidently eat cholov stam?)? What type of tablecloth does her mother put on the Shabbos table? Does the family do anything that in the slightest way deviates from the norm?

Of course, in some circles, before the shadchan can even approach the boy, s/he has to have the answer to the most important question of all: For how long will your father support the young man in learning and how much support will he be providing? The larger the figure, of course, the more doors open to the young woman. If the figure is small (or non-existant), then the options may be few and far-between.

Once the shadchan puts his/her stamp of approval on a potential match (and, of course, after the parents give their approval), then it's time for the prospective couple to meet in a stressful setting where every word, action and breath has to measured and thought out three times before being executed, lest it convey the wrong idea (If I use the word "religious" instead of "frum" will he think I'm not religious... I mean frum enough?? Can I tell her this joke, or will she think that I'm not serious enough?) . Throughout the date, both parties must hide behind a mask of frumkeit, since they are afraid to let their true selves show through (even though, in the end, it is the true selves, not the mask, that they will be marrying).

At the end of the date, the young man will take the young woman home (to her house!) and both sides will confer with the shadchan and with their respective camps for a strategy session and date review where every minute action that happened (and didn't) on the date is wheighed and analyzed. Of course, any direct contact between the boy and girl at this point is strictly forbidden -- all contact must occur through the shadchan. Why, if he were to call her up directly and say something like "I really enjoyed our date, I'd like to see you again," it would cause such a public scandal that the two of them would likely not be able to get another date with anyone else within 100 miles. So, both parties discreetly contact the shadchan and give their impressions of the date, telling everything that they felt was right or wrong about the date, and then both parties wait for the shadchun to let them know that the other one is interested (or not) in seeing them again. And so, another date gets arranged (or not).

But no dancing!

The Wolf

(Yes, I know it's not truly as bad as I make it out to be in my post. But the point remains how such a system as existed in the times of the Mishnah would *never* fly in certain circles today. I guess they're just frummer than R. Shimon ben Gamliel.)

P.S. Happy anniversary to the artist who designed the header for my blog and who is supposed to get back to me with information! :)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

On R. Nachman and Skepticism

Emet/Truth posts a saying of R. Nachman of Breslov. The saying (as quoted) is as follows:

It is written, 'A fool believes all things' (Proverbs 15:15). It is good to be such a fool. If you believe even that which is false and foolish, you will also believe the truth. You are better off than he who is sophisticated and skeptical of everything.

One can begin by ridiculing foolishness and falsehood. Eventually he will ridicule everything and end up denying even the truth. As one of our greatest sages once said, 'It is better that I be called a fool all my life and not be wicked even one moment before God (Eidiyot 5:6).

Sichos HaRan/ Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #103
( http://www.breslov.org/torah/wisdom/100-109.html)

I can hardly believe that this quote is accurate. Did R. Nachman really make such a statement? Should we actually be a fool and believe everything? Of course, such a feat is impossible. There is so much contradictory information out in the world that it is impossible to believe everything.

Even putting such contradictory information aside, I find it hard to believe that followers of R. Nachman would really recommend believing things that are simply hard to believe. Do they really believe that there are alien bodies being kept at Area 51? That the Bermuda Triangle is a place where ships mysteriously disappear? That Elvis is doing three shows a week on Jupiter?

Skepticism, in and of itself, is not a bad thing - and being skeptical of some things will not automatically lead one to ridicule everything. After all, it was skepticism that Jews showed 2000 years ago that caused us to reject the messianic claims of Jesus. Without that skepticism, we'd all be Christians today. It was skepticism of the claims of Mohammed that led the Jews of the Middle East to reject Islam.

Skepticism is the sign of a healthy mind. The ability to critically think through information to sift truth from falsehood (yes, Mis-nagid, I know what you're going to say) is something that has served Jews for ages. To go to a state of simply believing everything is downright dangerous.

Apparently, I'm become a skeptic of R. Nachman...)

The Wolf