Thursday, December 30, 2010

Photos: What Is It? The Answer!

Earlier this week, I posted a photo and asked people to guess what was the subject of the photo.  Here again is the photo:

Canon XSi, 65mm macro lens (5x magnification), f/11, 20 seconds.

The answer is that the photo is the middle of this flower:

The first Anonymous poster said "a plant." While that's technically true, it is very vague. "Fort," however, was the first person to come up with the correct, specific answer -- the inner part of a flower. So, he wins the 20 Wolfish Points. :)

The Wolf

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Photos: What Is It? Take A Guess!

I took this picture this week. 20 Wolfish points to the first one who can guess what it is.

I'll put up the lens, exposure settings, etc. with the solution later this week.

The Wolf

(My RL friends who have seen the photo already are not eligible. :) )

Monday, December 27, 2010

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

There are many that have said that the recent bans promulgated by the Gedolim (i.e. Rabbi Slifkin, the Lipa concert, The Making of a Gadol and now Vos Iz Neias among others) have caused the stature of the Gedolim to become far less relevant and important today.  To some extent, that is true -- the mishandling of some of these bans has exposed the flaws in the process of some of their recent halachic rulings and has damaged the reputation of the Gedolim among the general populace. 

Nonetheless, as evidenced by what happened with some of the cases mentioned above, the Gedolim still can be said to have enormous power.  They can bring pressure to bear on people and events which can lead to loss of money, public embarrassment and communal shunning.  The ability to bring such pressure to bear is an enormous power -- one that must be wielded with extreme care.  I would think that if one has the ability to wreck a person's life, that ability should only be wielded with extreme care and great trepidation.  The power to do such is a great power -- and, as Uncle Ben reminded Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility.

Do the Gedolim have a responsibility to us?  I believe they do.  Any leader has a responsibility to the people that he or she leads.  If a Gadol (or anyone else for that matter) is going to assume the power to greatly affect the lives of others, then he must be responsible to make sure that that power is used wisely and appropriately.  There must be safeguards, checks and balances to make sure that the power is being used properly -- and those wielding the power must be responsible to make sure that those safeguards, checks and balances are in place.

Sadly, today, there are no such checks and balances.  We have recently seen how the current edifice of halachic decision making is flawed and that the leaders (perhaps unintentionally, but still disasterously) have shirked their responsibilities.   Those responsibilities include the following:

The responsibility to adequately investigate the facts and circumstances before making a ruling.

If a Gadol is going to issue a ruling that will impact a person (and all the more so if the impact is going to cause a severe loss of money or prestige), he has a responsibility to independently investigate the circumstances surrounding the case.  This includes contacting the people affected and giving them a chance to adequately respond.

We saw this responsibility cast aside numerous times.  The Gedolim who signed on the ban against Lipa's concert were told that there was going to be mixed dancing (among other misinformation) at the event.  At no point did any of the Gedolim who signed on the ban even so much as pick up a phone and call Lipa or one of the event organizers to determine if this was true (it wasn't -- there wasn't even going to be mixed seating).  The same thing occurred with Rabbi Slifkin -- he was phoned (not by any of the Gedolim who signed on the ban against his books) and told that he had hours to retract his books and was not given any real chance to respond.  In addition, the ban against his books was signed, in many cases, by those who did not even read the book.

Another aspect of this responsibility is the responsibility to not simply rely on the signature of another Gadol when deciding whether or not to sign on to a halachic decision of considerable importance, scope and effect.  If Gadol X signs on a document, I should have the right to assume that Gadol X has actually looked into the matter and came to the decision himself.  If, however, Gadol X is signing on the document only because Gadol Y signed, then what is really the value of the signature?  To say that he trusts Gadol Y?  We already knew that he probably did.  In the end, you get documents where twenty or thirty Gedolim sign, but only one or two probably actually gave any real, serious thought to the decision at hand.  If so, is it really twenty or thirty Gedolim issuing a decision?  No it's not -- it's merely one or two making the decision.  In the end, however, I believe that if a Gadol is going to sign on a document, they have an absolute responsibility to investigate the matter for themselves.  If I'm to be told to obey a document because Gadol X signed, I have the right to be assured that Gadol X actually did his due diligence to investigate the case -- and not rely on the word of a third party -- even that of a fellow Gadol.

A Gadol has, in my humble opinion, an absolute responsibility to do his utmost to ascertain the facts of a situation before issuing a ruling on it.  It's not reasonable to expect a Gadol to get every fact correct every time -- they are only human and sometimes mistakes will be made -- but they must do their absolute best to make sure they have the facts of the situation before issuing a ruling. If the Gedolim are going to fail in their responsibility to investigate the facts (including all sides), then how can we have a responsibility to listen to their words?

The responsibility to avoid even the appearance of manipulation by those with agendas.

If a Gadol's ruling is to have any meaning, it must be clear that it is a fair ruling.  If people perceive that the ruling was manipulated or engineered by those who have a particular axe to grind or agenda to push, many people will simply ignore the ruling.

I find it extremely ironic that a Dayan (judge) in a Bais Din must take great pains to figuratively bend over backwards to avoid even the appearance of manipulation or favoritism in a court case involving a lousy five dollars, but when it comes to public policy that affect wide swaths of the community on a far grander scale, no such impartiality is enforced.  It will all too well known that many of the now-infamous halachic decisions that have been handed down lately (including, according to several reports, the recent ban on Vos Iz Neias) were engineered by parties with a particular political, monetary or ideological grudges against others.  It is, in my humble opinion, the absolute responsibility of a Gadol to make sure that his decisions are not only arrived at in a fair manner without undue influence, but that they also don't even have the appearance of manipulation by insiders or outsiders.  If a simple five-dollar case in Bais Din requires this, I would think that it's a no-brainer that major halachic and public policy decisions requires the same -- and in this, the Gedolim have failed.

The responsibility to clearly elucidate their rulings including defining the parameters of those rulings, the process of how the question came before them and the process of how they arrived at their decisions.

A Gadol who issues a ruling has a responsibility to make the ruling as transparent as possible.  That includes not only clearly defining the parameters of his ruling (i.e. in what circumstances does it apply and under what circumstances does it not apply), but also on what facts and assumptions the ruling relies, how he came to make the ruling in the first place (this is a part of maintaining the appearance of independence from manipulation) and upon which sources he relies to make his rulings.  The saying "sunshine is the best disinfectant" is wholly applicable here -- a Gadol who is not being manipulated by others and is making his best effort to issue a correct ruling has no reason to fear being completely transparent about the factors that go into his decision.  Allowing people to see how the decision was arrived at will increase people's confidence that the ruling is impartial and correctly arrived at.

The responsibility to ensure that their rulings can be verified by the general public.

Rav Elyashiv has been famously quoted as saying that there are so many rulings being issued in his name that are not, in fact, from him that unless you hear from him directly (or see it in a responsible Torah journal or legitimate sefer) that you can assume it's false.

While I can applaud Rav Elyashiv for his honesty in this matter, I believe that he (and other Gedolim) have absolutely abdicated a fundamental responsibility that accompanies power -- the responsibility to ensure that forgeries are not issued in their name.

This is something that is extremely important.  The government takes great pains to try to shut down counterfeiters -- not necessarily because their efforts might devalue the currency (although that can be a factor) but also because counterfeiters, by definition, usurp power that the government alone has -- the power to print currency.  Likewise, one of the most carefully guarded objects of rulers of old was their signet rings and seals -- not because they liked to wear rings or have pretty designs made in wax -- but because such objects actually conveyed power to those who wielded them.  If you saw an edict sealed with seal of the king, such an edict was extremely likely to be obeyed, whether the king actually endorsed the edict or not.   It's not for no reason that the writer of Megillas Esther focuses on the fact that the king gave his ring to Haman -- the one who wielded the ring truly wielded the power.  A ruler or leader who does not actively take steps to find, stop and punish those who wrongly usurp their power is no true leader, since it is difficult (if not impossible) to determine which of their edicts are proper and legal.

While the Gedolim may not have signet rings and seals, they have, in my humble opinion, utterly failed at the responsibility to protect the validity of their rulings.  By allowing word of their rulings to spread by word of mouth and broadsheet, they allow far too many opportunities for other people to either put their own spin on their rulings or, worse, make up rulings for them out of whole cloth. 

I find it utterly incomprehensible that in today's day and age, we still disseminate rabbinical rulings by word of mouth and by posters plastered on walls.  Oddly enough, I think that the World Wide Web is an ideal medium for the Gedolim to issue their rulings.  If a Gadol had his own website under his firm control, he could post his rulings there -- and people would be able to be reasonably confident that the ruling was, in fact, issued by the Gadol who owns the site.  In addition since "space" and "paper" are not true issues on the Web, the Gadol can expand on his ruling as much as necessary to cover some of the other points I made in this post. Even if the Gadol in question did not want to get involved with the Web, there is always the option of having an automated telephone system where people can call and hear a recording of the Gadol saying something to the effect of "yes, I issued this ruling, these are the parameters, this is how I came to the decision, etc.  The Gadol, of course, would have to be vigilant in ensuring that only content he approves of goes up on the site or the telephone system (the site/telephone system, in effect, becomes his signet-ring) - but as I mentioned earlier, an essential part of having the power to issue rulings is the responsibility to protect the integrity of those rulings.  Failure to do so results in an open invitation to having the very validity of the rulings he issues questioned, disregarded and, ultimately, ignored.

The responsibility to be able to make independent decisions regardless of the personal consequences and free from communal pressure.

This responsibility is perhaps the most important responsibility that a Gadol has and yet, at the same time, the one that may be the hardest for him to make because of the potential personal cost involved.

In the United States, justices to the Supreme Court are appointed and, failing any misconduct on their part, maintain their positions for life.  There is an important reason for this lifetime appointment -- the need to maintain an independent judiciary.  It is vitally important that, if a decision is to be a correct one (meaning free of political pressures and based strictly upon the law and his or her interpretation of it) then it is important that they not be subject to recall based on those decisions.  You may argue with how successful the implementation of this has been (both conservatives and liberals can probably quote numerous cases where they feel that judges ruled based on their political biases rather than the law*), but the principle is sound.  When a correct decision needs to be made, it has to be free from political pressure.

This also needs to apply to the Gedolim as well.  If a Gadol is going to issue a ruling, it is his responsibility (as I mentioned above) to ensure that the ruling is fair and not manipulated or engineered.  However, it also has to be free from personal considerations as well, including those of power and prestige.

Unfortunately, it is all too apparent that in many cases, Gedolim sometimes make decisions because it's the popular decision to make and one that will appease the masses.  Jonathan Rosenblum, in an article about a year ago, made the point very clearly.  In discussing why there would be no public statement regarding a possible change in communal policy, he says the following:

There is another reason that there will be no such public statements. Any such statement would be met with vicious attacks by the “kenaim,” who would say about the gadol in question precisely what KollelGuy asks me: Who are you? The Chazon Ish did not say what you are saying; Rav Shach did not say it.” Perhaps KollelGuy remembers the attacks on one of the Sages he mentions for his tacit support of Nahal Chareidi. (Even Rav Shach used to say that he was afraid of the stone-throwers.) One of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the United States told me recently that the gedolim cannot even discuss questions surrounding poverty because if they did the “street” would just label them fake gedolim.

In other words, there are cases where the Gedolim are afraid to make a correct ruling (or public policy decision) because it would mean the possible loss of their positions as Gedolim.   Even if you put aside the fact that this causes their rulings to smack of corruption (even if there is, in fact, no corruption in any particular ruling), this undermines the whole point of having Gedolim determine public policy to begin with.  Of what value is there to have a Gadol make a determination if there is a possibility that the determination is rooted in his fear of being labeled a "fake Gadol?"  Aren't we relying on them to give us true rulings?  If their rulings can be influenced by "the street," then how can anyone trust their rulings?

I'll admit that it's not easy to ask any person (Gadol or not) to put their positions on the line when they are faced with making an unpopular ruling.  But part of being a true and responsible leader is to take responsibility for your leadership decisions.  If the cost of a true ruling is the loss of personal power and prestige (i.e. by being labeled a "fake Gadol") then perhaps that's the price you must pay.  If a person is going to accept the awesome responsibility to wield the power to ruin lives, then he must also be willing to take the responsibility to stand up and assure the people that his decision is correct, even if it comes with personal consequences.  Failure to do so simply means that the inmates are running the asylum.

If one is going to posit that the Gedolim have the power to make important communal and halachic decisions and that we, the general populace, have a responsibility to follow their decisions, then they have a responsibility to make sure that their rulings are factual, informed, fair, honest, clear, verifiable and free from manipulations, agendas and communal pressure.

The Wolf

*  But then again, if both sides feel this way, perhaps it's right after all...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Photos: Autumn Highway

Back in October, I spent a day up in Harriman State Park, taking pictures of the fall foliage. Here's one of the shots I took that day:

Canon Xsi, 39mm, f/5, 1/60 second.

As always, comments, critiques and criticisms are welcomed and appreciated.

The Wolf

Thursday, December 09, 2010

In The Interest Of Fairness

I haven't read it, but since I posted my opinion on the People's Court case, I'm also linking to the VIN article from Rabbi Yair Hoffman who interviewed the couple.

The Other Side Of The Wig Story

The Wolf

If You Know Someone's Up Late, Does That Mean It's Right To Knock...

As parents, Eeees and I try to impart many life lessons to our kids.  One of those lessons is that there is a time when it's okay to disturb people and a time when it's wrong.  For example, we stress to them that after 10PM, calling time is over.  Unless you have explicit permission from the person you're calling beforehand (or barring an emergency, of course) you do not call people after 10PM.  You certainly don't go knocking on their door, even if you know that they're still awake.  The reason, very simply, is basic mentchlichkiet.  People are entitled to their own disturbance-free private time.  I know that I'm not thrilled when people call after a certain hour (most family, certain friends and emergency situations excepted) and I certainly would not do to someone that which I wouldn't want done to me.  Which brings us to last night.

Due to a project that I needed to work on at school, I did not get home last night until about 10:30.  As you can imagine, after a day at work, school, a train and bus ride home, I was fairly tired and ready for my "down time."  We gathered the kids together and lit the menorah.  By the time we were done (there were some delays, of course), it was close to 11:00.

A few minutes after we finished, George and Walter wanted to go outside to see how the four menorahs with all their lights looked from the outside.  So, out they went to the side of the house (that's where the window with the menorah is) and watched for a minute or two.  Afterwards, they came back into the house and told me that there was someone who wanted to see me.

I walked into our front room and there was a tzedaka collector.

I try to make it a rule that I never turn away a tzedaka collector.  Yes, I'm not rich and even when I do give, it's usually not more than a few dollars, but I always try to give something.  Walter, God bless him, gave me a few dollars to give to the guy.  But I told him to put his money away.  In this case, I was going to break my rule.  Why?  Because it was after 11:00 at night.

Yes, the collector probably knew we were still awake because of the freshly lit menorah in the window.  Yes, he saw Walter and George leave and come back.  But just because you know a person is awake at home does not make it right to knock on his door at all hours of the night.  It is (and perhaps it's just my opinion) just not right.

Granted, there is always the possibility of an emergency.  If someone's car crashes right outside my home at 2AM and the driver knocks on the door and needs to use the phone to call an ambulance or a tow truck, I would certainly understand.  But this wasn't an emergency... it was a guy collecting for his family*.  What's worse, he didn't seem to even care that he was disturbing people at 11PM at night.  If (God forbid) it were me and I *had* to knock on someone's door at 11PM for some reason, the first thing out of my mouth would be "I'm so sorry to disturb you this late at night but...."  Nothing of the sort came out of this fellow's mouth.   He just began his shpiel without the slightest regard for the time.

Now, granted, perhaps he was not aware that I had just arrived home.  He certainly could not have known that I had just endured a full day of work and school and was just ready to call it a day.  And let's even give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn't realize that if I just lit the menorah it means that I had just recently arrived home.  Even so, just the fact that he's knocking on the door collecting at 11PM in a non-emergency situation is just plain wrong.  At 11PM, people deserve not to be bothered.  By 11PM (and even earlier) people should be allowed to relax at home without being disturbed.**

So I turned him away.  I did it nicely.   I didn't lecture him (although I think I should have -- but I tend to be non-confrontational).  I didn't berate him.  I just told him no.

So, I'm curious... what do you think?  Did I overreact by not giving him anything?  Was I in the right?  I'd like to know what you think?

The Wolf

* Yes, that can certainly be viewed as an emergency in desperate enough situations... but you know it's not the same thing.

** As a side point, I'm curious... was he just walking by my house, saw the menorah and my sons and decided to give it a try?  Or was he actually attempting to work the block at that time?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Attempted Fraud Was Bad Enough, But To Make It Worse...

I'm sure that by now, most of you have seen the People's Court case that aired on Dec 2.  If not, you can view it at the end of this post or read the summary below.

An obviously frum couple are suing a dry cleaning establishment for $3000 for the destruction of a wig.  The couple's young child put a $3000 Georgie wig into the dry cleaning bag before it went off to the cleaners.  The dry cleaners saw the wig and phoned the customer what to do with the wig.  The person calling had limited English skills and there is some confusion about what transpired over the phone call.  The customer says that she told the dry cleaner not to wash it -- the dry cleaning employee says that she was told to wash, but not dry it.

In any event, the dry cleaner went ahead and washed the wig.  The couple said that they took the wig to three different stores to see if it could be repaired, but they were told it was a total loss.  The couple, however, did not bring any documentation of this (other than the receipt for the original wig purchase from Georgi back in May).  The judge called a recess to consider the matter.

When the judge came back from recess, she said that she called Georgies and confirmed that the woman did indeed purchase a $3000 wig from them back in May.  However, the wig was a long-haired wig (the one that the woman was wearing in court) and not a short wig (which is the one that was damaged).  In addition, the damaged wig was a cheaper wig that Georgies does not even sell.  The judge, in the end, tossed the suit.

What mystifies me about the couple's behavior is this: 

I understand if they succumbed to temptation and decided to sue the dry cleaner to get them to pay for the more expensive wig.  I don't approve, of course, but we're all human and we've all succumbed to some form of temptation or other.

However, if they did indeed attempt to perpetrate a fraud, I have to wonder what possessed them to do it on national television.  It's bad enough they brought the suit in the first place -- but had this happened in small claims court, the case would have been thrown out and, at worst, a small blurb would have appeared in a local paper.  But now, however, the attempted fraud is all over the internet.  The video has 20,000+ views on YouTube, not to mention the many more people who actually saw the episode when it aired.

There is a reason that Chazal tell us that when one is tempted to sin they should do so in a far away place... so as to minimize the chillul HaShem that will result.  I'm just utterly shocked and bewildered that they chose to attempt this on national television.  To me, that's just as bad as the actual attempted fraud.

 The Wolf

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sometimes I Wonder Why I Bother...

I have a love/hate relationship with the Yeshiva World News coffeeroom.

I love them because they give an interesting insight into the frum community that doesn't really exist anywhere else.  I always love to find out what other people think about various subjects, especially from people who might disagree with me on various matters -- and the Coffeeroom provides that to me very well.

However, there are things about it that I hate and sometimes downright depress me.  I'm not going to start providing a laundry list of the things I don't like -- most of them aren't really relevant here.  However, one of the things that sometimes baffles and frustrates me to no end is the moderation policy.

The Coffeeroom's policy is that all messages must be approved by a moderator before appearing.  Personally, I think that's the wrong way to run a messageboard -- but so be it.  However, the items that they choose to suppress are sometimes mind-baffling.

Take the recent Thanksgiving thread.  After a back and forth, one poster brings up Rabbi Brodye's Broyde's thoughts on the matter and says:

Rabbi Michael Broyde authored a comprehensive analysis of the issue. He cites both sides of the debate, and essentially concludes that there is upon whom to rely in allowing a celebration of the holiday.

Another poster, instead of trying to show where Rabbi Brodye Broyde is wrong, goes for the ad hominem attack (note the change in honorific):

Professor Broyde surely makes some interesting academic observations on the matter. But for halachic conclusions, we rely on Rabbonim. 

My response to the second poster is that instead of going for the ad hominem attack, why not simply address Rabbi Brodye's Broyde's point?  In other words, if you think Rabbi Brodye Broyde is wrong, why not simply show us where he is wrong?

Apparently, suggesting that a poster is using an ad hominem attack is verbotten in the CR, since the moderator actually removed that portion of my sentence.  In a later post, I even gave the poster a link to Rabbi Brodye's Broyde's words on the matter and challenged him to show us where Rabbi Brodye Broyde is wrong.  That post went down the memory hole.

So, apparently, according to at least one of the moderators, attacking a Rabbi is okay, but asking him to actually back up his words with rational arguments is forbidden.  Issuing an ad hominem attack is okay, but pointing it out is forbidden.

Go figure.

The Wolf

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Take On the Unfolding Kollel Scandal

Earlier this week, Israeli authorities rounded up numerous Chareidim in Israel who are accusing of defrauding the State. In a classic case of identity fraud, it seems that the yeshivos were collecting monies for students who either did not attend the schools or were taking the monies allocated for the personal use of people who attend the yeshiva but have a policy not to take money from the State.

I don't know if the accusations are true or not. However, this episode has helped to illustrate several interesting points:

1. We Keep Our Priorities Straight -- Marty Bluke points out that this affair is being discussed on the Chareidi website. However, there the discussion isn't about whether or not the parties involved are guilty or whether we need to rethink the way we do things. The discussion there focuses on trying to find out who notified the authorities. In other words, it's not the fault of the thieves, it's the fault of the people who turned them in. 

2. We Learn To Distinguish Between Important Issues and Issues of Lesser Importance: I find it highly telling that these same people who would look down at me for wearing a colored shirt, or working for a living, or for wearing a leather yarmulke, or for any of the other things that violate the chareidi lifestyle -- but yet don't even rise to the level of minhag or Rabbinic mitzvos, have no problem blithely violating the actual Torah commandment against theft.

Lord knows that I'm not perfect... and I don't expect Chareidim to be either. We're all human and we all make mistakes. But it's one thing when someone makes a one-time mistake and yet another when the violation is repeated and systemic. How someone who is repeatedly violating a Torah law can look down at someone who simply doesn't dress the same way or is otherwise acting in accordance with halacha is beyond me.

3. We're Can Keep the Big Picture In Sight: I am personally in favor of Torah study. I may have some quibbles with the way the kollel system is currently set up (ok, perhaps more than quibbles), but on a deeper level, I believe that there should be a kollel option for those who have the aptitude and desire.

But it has to be realized that the purpose of the kollel (or at least one of the purposes) has to be to educate people in the observance of the mitzvos. If the purpose of the learning doesn't include actual observance of the mitzvos, then what the heck is the point of the whole venture? To learn what the Torah wants while hypocritically acting the other way? I don't think so -- nor should any rational person. But if we support Torah learning with thievery what message does that send to the avreichim that are learning there -- especially in this day and age where many in the yeshiva world revere the Rosh Yeshiva himself and view his behavior as a model to emulate?

I don't have a problem with instutions that serve the community -- be they kollelim, tzedakah organizations, or the like. But the paramount thing is that these organizations have to be run above-board and with complete honesty. If we can't do that, not only do we risk further chillul HaShem, we also might begin to lose faith in our own institutions.

The Wolf

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Somebody's Getting Married...

Mazal Tov to Chana (aka The Curious Jew on her marriage to Heshy today!

May the new couple enjoy many years of happiness, health and joy together as they build a bayis ne'eman b'yisroel.

The Wolf

Monday, November 08, 2010

This Blog Is Not Abandoned

I know it's been a while since I wrote anything here.  I've been very busy (and going through a bit of a funk as well) and that has sapped much of my free time and creativity.  Nonetheless, I do have some ideas percolating and hope to have something up shortly.

Thanks for staying tuned.  :)

The Wolf

Monday, October 18, 2010

Photos: Ghostly Stream

I spent just about all day yesterday in Harriman State Park, taking pictures of fall foliage. While I got a number of nice foliage shots (some of which I might post here), my best shot of the day (IMHO) was of a stream. Here's the pic:

Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens, 30 seconds, f/32

As you might imagine, the stream did not really look like that. It was simply water flowing down and around the rocks. So, how did I get the water to look like that? Did I use some Photoshop magic? No, I didn't (as a matter of fact, I don't even own Photoshop).

The trick to taking "ghostly water" shots like that is to use a long exposure. If you look under the picture, you'll see that for this shot, I left the shutter open for 30 seconds. That's quite a bit of time. Because the water was flowing at a nice pace (had it been flowing faster, the water would have looked even more "ghostly") leaving the shutter open for so long allowed me to capture much of the movement, resulting in the image you see.

Of course, it's important to remember that if you're going to leave the shutter open for that long, there are two things you MUST do:

1. Use a tripod. I don't care if you're the best surgeon in the world -- no one can hold their hands still for 10 seconds, let along 30. You absolutely must use a tripod to keep your camera still while the shutter is open.

2. Change the f/stop on your camera. I stopped the camera all the way down to f/32 -- the smallest aperture I could get with the lens I used. If you don't do this, your entire picture will be completely overexposed.

3. Although not a must, a filter would also help to reduce the amount of light coming into your camera. This will allow you to keep the shutter open longer.

As always, I welcome all comments, critiques and criticisms.

The Wolf

Thursday, October 14, 2010

See? Science and Torah Can Agree!

The Boston Globe is reporting that genealogists have discovered that President Barack Obama is a distant cousin of Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin -- high profile members of the opposition political party.

I don't really care to comment about Obama, Limbaugh or Palin -- you'll notice that I rarely, if ever, bring up politics on this blog. But the article brought me to an interesting conclusion -- that there is one thing that even the most ardent Biblical literalist and the most atheistic evolutionist can agree on -- that if you trace back far enough, all human beings are related to each other.

See, science and Torah can agree! :)

The Wolf

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Poor Arguments

Every now and again,  you come across an argument put forth by someone and wonder how it is possible that they don't see the refutation to their very own argument.  A good example of this was found on Rabbi Lazer Brody's website earlier this week.  He writes:

My simple mind asks a question - How is it that the scientists purport to know what happened millions of years ago, yet deny the hard historical fact that 2 million men, women, and children saw the revelation of Hashem on Mount Sinai a mere 3323 years ago? This latter fact has been passed down from father to son and from rav to talmid (teacher to student), so that's why I go with the simple faith of our forefathers. Also, if it was good for the previous generations' spiritual giants, it's certainly good for me.

The answer, of course, is very simple -- (1)  Events that happened millions of years ago left behind physical evidence that can be examined today -- fossils, geological formations, layers in ice cores and the like.  Mattan Torah, on the other hand, did not leave behind any physical evidence.  That's not to say that it did not happen -- on the contrary, I believe that Mattan Torah occurred.  But you cannot express dismay at the fact that scientists are willing to rely on physical evidence and not on historical retellings that have one root source.

Another factor to consider is that there is a qualitative difference between "hard" evidence (such as the physical evidnce I mentioned earlier) and "soft" evidence (traditional retelling of historical events).  The latter type of evidence is far easier to manipulate than the former.  Just to give an example, ask any two random people to tell you the story of Little Red Riding Hood without referring to a written text.  In the vast majority of cases, the people telling the stories will not relate them exactly the same way.  Some people may choose to play up or embellish one part of the story more than the other.  Or put it this way -- did your father tell over the story of the Exodus by the seder EXACTLY the same way every year?  Do you tell it over to your kids EXACTLY the same way?

Lastly, of course, there is an additional difference.  Rabbi Brody may have this tradition passed down from father to son and from rebbe to talmid -- but the scientists don't.  If Rabbi Brody is willing to accept this, then that's fine -- but he cannot insist on forcing those same views on others -- not unless he's willing to accept the ancient traditions passed down by other religions as well.

Rabbi Brody continues in his post:

It's utterly absurd to think that anyone could have been capable of pulling the wool over the eyes of such intellectual and spiritual giants as the Ramcha"l, the Vilna Gaon, Rebbe Chaim Volozhiner, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev or the Chofetz Chaim. Stories do change and develop over time, no one can argue with that. But the holy Zohar warns that our Torah is not a mere collection of "stories", G-d forbid, but precision Divine wisdom. That's why our sages throughout the generations believed in every iota of Torah

I don't necessarily know that the scientists would agree that it's "utterly absurd" that the wool could have been pulled over the eyes of the tzadikkim he mentioned above -- but let's put that aside for the moment.  The real problem with his argument here is that he's assuming something that's not in evidence -- that a deception is being perpetrated.  His argument (as I understand it) is as follows:  if Mattan Torah is false, then someone lied.  If it's a lie, the above named people would never have fallen for it.  Hence it can't be a lie.

However,  Rabbi Brody is engaging in the fallacy of the excluded middle.  There is another possibility -- that the people who transmitted the historicity of Mattan Torah to these tzadikkim actually believed in these events.   As such, when (for example) the Chofetz Chaim first learned about Mattan Torah from his father, he has no reason to doubt his father's word, because his father believed in the historicity of Mattan Torah.  There was no deception being perpetrated against the Chofetz Chaim because his father presented the facts as he believed them to be and as he received them from his father.  I don't know anything about the Chofetz Chaim's father, but for the sake of argument, let's say that he, too, was an extraordinary man who would never knowingly accept or transmit false information.  But could you say the same thing about his father?  His grandfather?  And every person in the chain back to whichever son of Aharon (if I recall correctly, the Chofetz Chaim was a Kohen) he is descended from?  Is it not within the realm of possibility that *someone* in that chain was deceived, duped or even just came to believe information that was not historically accurate?  If so, then no one is "pulling the wool" over these giants any more than Ptolmey "pulled the wool" over the people of his day with his geocentric model of the universe.  There was no deception -- merely people working with the information that they had at the time.  By framing it as a "deception," Rabbi Brody excludes the possibility that they could have simply believed in inaccurate information because that was the information/evidence that they had at the time.

I don't have any problems with Rabbi Brody's beliefs.  As I mentioned above, I, too, believe in Mattan Torah.  But I do have a problem with his arguments -- they are poorly thought out with easy refutations at hand -- refutations to which he has seemingly blinded himself.

The Wolf

Monday, September 27, 2010

Men Behaving Badly During Davening

A Public Service Announcement to the folks I davened with on Sunday:

To the fellow davening next to me:

It's bad enough that the shliach tzibur (prayer leader) for Shacharis is reciting the Chazaras HaShatz (the repitition of the amidah) so low that I can barely hear him.  Please don't compound the problem by saying your "catch up" davening loudly next to me.  I believe that, even though you are a member in the shul and I am only a guest, my right to hear the chazzan trumps your "right" to say Az Yashir in a loud voice.  An even better idea would be to come on time next time so that you can say Az Yashir when the rest of the congregation is doing so. And you didn't make matters any better when you recited portions of your (silent) Amidah out loud.

To the parade of people marching to and from the sukkah at the start of Hallel:

Yes, it's a nice minhag (custom) to bentch lulav and esrog in the sukkah.  I get it, I really do.  But if doing so is going to result in your missing half of Hallel, then you're better off just bentching lulav by your seat.  I highly doubt it's worth missing half of Hallel (I saw some of you coming back inside as we were up to "Ana HaShem..." just so that you can bentch lulav in the sukkah.  If the minhag means that much to you, then next time bentch lulav at home in your sukkah before coming to shul, or else come early and do it in the shul's sukkah before davening, or else just do it at your seat right before Hallel.

To the conversationalists:

I understand... it's a Sunday, it's Chol HaMoed, there's no work for most of you and you have plans for a great day with your families.  I get it, I really do.  But there's no reason to be discussing them (or any of the other minutiae) that is discussed during davening.  I was barely able to hear the Chazarras HaShatz for Mussaf because of all the talking in the shul.  Yes, I suppose I am partially to blame because I sit all the way in the back -- I suppose if I moved closer I might be able to hear better -- but I really shouldn't have to.  It's not as if the Shliach Tzibur for Mussaf was all that low -- he wasn't.  Absent the talking, I could have heard him perfectly where I was.   Once again, I'm willing to bet that even though I am only a guest and you are members, that my right to hear the chazzan trumps your "right" to discuss your plans for the day.  Perhaps, in the future, you might consider the following:

I am normally strongly opposed to the practice that some people have of removing their tallis and tefillin before the very end of davening.  Yet, I understand that sometimes people are in a rush because they have to get to work or because they have important plans that are time-sensitive.  So I'm dan l'kaf z'chus (I give the benefit of the doubt).  But I would much rather see you leave early and hold your discussions outside while the davening is still going on rather than have you discuss them in shul.  It's REALLY hard for me to be dan l'kaf z'chus when I hear you discussing things that are (a) not related to the davening and (b) don't HAVE to be discussed right then and there and (c) are discussed loudly enough that I can hear you a few rows away and can no longer hear the shliach tzibbur.  So, next time, how about leaving instead of talking?  Both are wrong, but at least if you leave, I have grounds on which to give you the benefit of the doubt.

The Wolf

Monday, September 20, 2010

Frum People Don't Kiss or Hug Their Spouses...

... or at least that's what one couple wants their nearly teenage daughter to believe.

A very interesting and sad thread appeared on Imamother this past week in which the topic was discussed.  In the thread, a woman says that her very sheltered 12 year old daughter accidentally saw her neighbors making out on the couch.  The couple had apparently left their blinds open and hence the daughter was able to see them kissing and hugging.  Being very sheltered, she probably never saw anyone kiss beyond a quick peck on the cheek and was disgusted that her neighbors -- otherwise fine Jews (from my reading of the post) -- were "acting like chilonim."  As the poster puts it:

Obviously I'll never know just how much she saw but she was in total shock that this couple were "behaving like chilonim" and she was nauseous over the whole thing. Needless to say, my dd is very sheltered and could not imagine that anyone Charedi would do something so disgusting! 

The poster's first instinct was to tell the kid the truth -- that married couples do engage in such behavior but that it is meant to be private and that the couple should not have been doing such when others can see them.  And so she told her daughter.  Her daughter's reaction:

She was not happy with that answer and of course, started to ask me about her father and myself.  I didn't give her a straight answer but I did let her know that it's normal and natural.

So far, so good.  Kid sees something that was meant to be private.  Being a pre-teen and never having been exposed to this, she's kind of grossed out - a perfectly natural, normal reaction (given her upbringing).  Mother tells the child that it's normal and natural for couples to behave this way and that she'll learn more about it as she gets older.  

But the story doesn't end there.  When the woman's husband hears about the story, his reaction is different.  In her words:

When DH found this out he was not a happy camper. He would rather have her think that the neighbors are pervs or something. Oy.

And sure enough, he does just this.  In a later post, the woman recounts what happened the next day:

She ran to tell my dh about it this morning before I woke up. He told her that it's ossur and not done and that the neighbors are not beseder and that the only reason I said that it is done is because I didn't want to say bad things about the neighbors and that I didn't know what to say. She asked me if that's true and I said yes.


My husband says that the mere fact that she got such a shock from what she saw is enough of a reason to make sure she gets back on track and the only way to get her back to her equilibrium is to let her think that it's wrong. He says it's allowed by halacha to lie about this. I said that she'll eventually know I'm a liar and he said that the important thing here is not if I'm a liar or not - it's her state of mind.

The thread goes on for seven pages in total and in those seven pages, EVERY single woman who expressed an opinion on the matter all agreed that the initial response was the correct one and that her husband's approach was wrong.  These responses come from just about all segments of Orthodox Judaism as represented on Imamother -- Chareidi, Chassidic, Litvish, Modern Orthodox, etc.  Yet, in the end, she continues to stand by her husband's decision.

So, what's the end result here?

1.  Over the next few years, one or both of the following is going to happen to this poor girl:

     a.  She will internalize the message her father gave her, come to view physical intimacy with loathing and disgust and possibly even suffer from self-hate when her own hormones kick in and she begins to have desires for physical intimacy.  Oh, and heaven help her kallah teacher and future husband.

     b.  She will find out from her friends that her parents lied to her and that they cannot be trusted to provide her with serious mature answers to the important questions in life.

2.   The father, by telling his daughter that "it's ossur and not done and that the neighbors are not beseder" has, in effect, told her that the neighbors are disgusting perverts.  Granted, they should have closed the window blinds, but from the mother's description, it doesn't sound like we're dealing with serial exhibitionists here - it was a mistake, pure and simple.  But the father chose to paint them as deviants rather than have the courage to face the truth with his daughter.

3.  By telling his daughter that her mother lied, she, in effect, helped to undermine her credibility.  By "confirming" the "lie" (which, mind you, was in fact the truth), she has put herself in a position (vis-a-vis her daughter) from which she has no credible resolution.  IMHO, undermining a spouse's authority with anyone (and *especially* with her children) is one of the worst things you can do in a marriage. 

I don't want to address the fact that this couple has obviously never shown affection for each other in front of their kids.  If that's the way they want to run their marriage, that's their business.  It's not how Eeees and I run ours.  Our kids see us hug and kiss.  They can visibly see the affection that we have for each other -- whether we're in physical contact or not.  Eeees and I believe that it's healthy for children to see these things (and yes, they did go through their "ewwww" phase -- but they got over it) and to see that hugging, kissing and physical intimacy (within limits, of course) are perfectly normal and healthy in a married relationship. 

I can understand a parent wanting to keep their child sheltered.  It's a perfectly natural parental reaction.  Yes, some parents tend to overdo it, but at the core of a parent is the desire to protect his or her child.  Unfortunately, however, children cannot be sheltered forever.  At some point, they will have to be told about subjects that you might not want brought up -- and sometimes they'll come up sooner than you like.

We had this issue with one of our children.  Eeees and I were forced to give him information about intimacy sooner than we would have liked.  No, s/he didn't walk in on us or anything like that -- but s/he became aware of some information on his/her own and we, as parents, had to put that information in the proper context.  We could have lied to the kid and we could have buried our heads in the sand -- but that would have been the wrong thing to do.  The child would have grown up and internalized the wrong message about intimacy -- and that would have required far more extensive "fixing" later on and a total loss of trust in us as parents. So, we chose the responsible choice -- giving the child the information s/he needed and putting it in the proper context.

Children are naturally curious about the world.  They will constantly ask questions, and they will sometimes see or hear things that you would rather they not know about.  But a child also needs to know that they can come to their parents for accurate information when they see something that so shakes the foundation of their world.  That doesn't mean that you *have* to answer every question -- sometimes a subject should be avoided or pushed off -- but a child needs to understand that a parent won't lie to them.  As one poster in the thread beautifully put it, you can't be mechanech with sheker - period.

Perhaps our method isn't for everyone -- but I can say this:  if my kids had accidentally spied a married couple making out, they might have been a bit grossed out -- but they also would have realized that it's a natural part of the relationship.  Furthermore, they would know that they can talk to us about it and receive honest and truthful answers.  Eeees and I don't lie to our kids, nor do we EVER make the other parent out to be a liar.

The Wolf

Hat tip:  Pesky Settler and OnionSoupMix

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Shana Tova

I want to wish all my readers, my correspondents and everyone else a Shana Tova.  May you all be blessed with health and happiness.  May all your wishes for the coming year be fulfilled.

The Wolf

Friday, August 27, 2010

Do People Actually Hear Themselves When They Speak...?

... or write, in this case.

The proposed Park51 community center/mosque/whatever you want to call it has been in the news for the last few weeks.  Personally, I'm of two minds about it and can hear both sides' argument.  As a result, I don't have terribly strong feelings on the matter one way or the other.

Other people, of course, have strong opinions about the building -- and they're certainly entitled to them.  But sometimes people make some really silly statements and I wonder if they actually give much thought to their statements and whether what they're saying might be just as equally applicable to themselves or their community.

Let's take a look at a few examples, courtesy of the YWN Coffeeroom.

The first response in the thread is a good example in fear-mongering.  

What I find scary about this whole thing is they'll build one mosque, than another and another....and than they will literally just take over!  

Now, I'm going to switch just one word in the quote -- tell me how is sounds to you.

"What I find scary about this whole thing is they'll build one synagogue, than another and another....and than they will literally just take over!"

Not too nice sounding, is it?  But I bet you could have heard some people saying the same thing in communities where Orthodox (and even non-Orthodox) Jews moved in.  I would not be surprised to find out that such sentiments were uttered by long-time residents in places such as Lakewood, Williamsburg, Boro Park, Postville, Monroe and Flatbush in the past who saw the character of their neighborhoods changing.  And if someone uttered it today, we'd (rightfully) denounce the person as a bigoted, ignorant and antisemitic.  But yet, the very same people who would scream and holler about it being said about them have no compunctions about using such language against others.

A similar sentiment is expressed further down the thread by a poster named Baruch-1:

It's bad enough to have a growing Muslim population in America, I don't want it in my back yard in NY! And if it means using logic like not allowing a mosque on WTC grounds, then I'm up for using whatever it takes to prevent Islam from growing here. 

And, again, here's the "revised" quote:

"It's bad enough to have a growing Jewish population in America, I don't want it in my back yard in NY! And if it means using logic like not allowing a synagogue on WTC grounds, then I'm up for using whatever it takes to prevent Judaism from growing here."

Again, sounds pretty ugly, doesn't it?  We'd scream and protest (again, rightfully) if someone said that today, but to say it about Muslims and suddenly everything's okay?

Next, we turn to the hypocrasy that some of the posters, knowingly or unknowingly, exhibit.

Here's one from a poster with whom I usually agree and is usually pretty level headed:

No, it should not be built. The freedom of religion does not apply to a religion that BANS ALL freedom of religion.

I would suggest that before she suggests stripping Muslims of their freedom of religion on the basis that they don't allow it that she actually look into just how much freedom of religion is allowed to non-Jews under halacha.  Granted, they don't have to be Jews, but their choices are actually quite limited and Judaism clearly does not have the concept of "freedom of religion."

Baruch-1 (who provided a quote above) also gave us an example of this as well.

Islam is by its nature (according to the 'pashut' reading of the Quran) a controlling and an intolerant religion! There I said it! Forget about contemporary Talibans and Wahabis, since its very creation, Islam has subscribed to the belief that Christians and Jews are Dhimmis thus making them subserviant to Muslims under Shariyah law.

Is Baruch not aware that halacha is also very controlling and, at times, intolerant?  Does he not understand that, under halacha, one could find situations where non-Jews are subservient to Jews?  Is he really so blind as to not see it?  And yet he basis his opposition to Muslims on this.  As the saying goes, "doctor, heal thyself."

I have no beef with people who have strongly held opinions on whether this building should be built.  As I said, I can see both sides of the argument and both sides have valid points.  But when people resort to pure hatred and hypocrisy to make their points, then I consider it out of bounds and in very bad taste.

The Wolf

Photos: Daisy In Drop

I can't say this is one of my best shots ever, but it's the beginning of an experiment in macro photography.

Canon XSi, MPE-65mm macro, f/16m, 15 seconds.

As always, comments, criticisms and critiques are welcome and appreciated.

The Wolf

To see all my photo pictures, click here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Don't You Find It Amusing....

... when people who say "let's flood the public schools" with our kids as a solution to the community tuition problems are probably the same ones who want their yeshivos ultra-segregated so that only the "right" kids can attend?

What do they think the public school system will do?  Set up "yeshivish-only" classes?

The Wolf

Molestation... and the Lakewood Response To It.

The Asbury Park Press is reporting about a recent case of a Lakewood father who decided to notify the authorities when his son accused a yeshiva teacher of sexually abusing him for about a year.   The teacher has since been arrested, pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. 

But there is another story here, aside from the child and the molester.  As it turns out, the father now facing opposition in the community for having chosen to go to the police rather than have the matter handled internally by a local Bais Din. Attempts were made to get the father to drop the charges.  Notices were distributed as a recent charity event decrying the "shameful thing" that was done -- not the abuse, of course, but the fact that the victim's father went to the police.  One Lakewood resident has been charged with witness tampering in the case.

Personally, I believe that most people, if they felt confidence in the system provided, will use it.  People will go to Bais Din for civil cases when, and only when, they feel confident that justice will be served.  If people feel that an institution is corrupt or unable to solve their problems, they will find another system that can do so.  If this is true for civil cases, how much more so will it apply to criminal cases when people may fear for the safety of their families or others? 

I think it's evidently clear that, in the case, the father of the victim did not feel that Bais Din was capable of handling the matter -- and, in truth, I can't say that I blame him for having such feelings.  Given their inexperience with such matters, the past track record of rabbinical organizations in sweeping such allegations under the rug and and lack of any true enforcement and prevention mechanism, there probably isn't a great deal that any communal rabbinical organization can do alone to stop molesters.  That's not to say that at some point in the future they may not come up with a valid, reliable method for handling such cases in the future, but, for the present, there is no evidence of any credible method for dealing with criminals in our midst.  And with no assurance that the rabbinic authorities can prevent this person from harming his son or anyone else, he turned to the ones he felt were best able to ensure that this does not happen again.

But aside from all that, there is another dimension to this case -- that of the implied social contract between ourselves and our neighbors.

Rabbi Shmuel Meir Katz, a senior Dayan in Lakewood, was quoted as saying the following:

"We have our own system. We have our own laws, and as long as the Bais Din (rabbinical tribunal) feels competent on taking care of something themselves, that's our surest recourse in our circles.''

What Rabbi Katz doesn't seem to realize is that we don't live in isolation.  In Lakewood, as in most places in the world, we live side-by-side with non-Jewish neighbors.  And since we live side-by-side with them, actions taken by either group tend to affect the other.  If there were a murderer, a rapist, a child molester, or even a simple cat burglar in our neighbor's midst and they struck, we'd want to make sure that they are brought to justice.  Even if we don't care about our neighbors, we'd want to at least be sure that the criminal will not strike us.  But how would Rabbi Katz feel if the molester's community defended him saying "we have our own laws, we will take care of it internally?"  Would he feel confident that the matter is resolved?  Would he feel safe that his community is secure because his neighbors have decided to handle it amongst themselves with no outward accountability?   Or would he demand that the police get involved to remove the molester from the Lakewood area so that children will once again be safe?  My guess would be that most people would not be satisfied with such an arrangemnet.

But that being the case, how can Rabbi Katz expect that his non-Jewish neighbors will be satisfied with such an arrangement?  How can he, in good conscience, tell reporters "we have our own laws" when he would not accept such an argument from any other group?  And, with the knowledge now public that we won't turn over criminals to law enforcement, how can he ever in the future, in good conscience, complain when another group refuses to hand over someone who harms a Jew?

The Wolf

Hat Tip:  VIN

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rabbinic Approval of Community Events

The Jewish Community Council of Marine Park is sponsoring an emergency blood drive tonight at K'hal Bnei Torah ("Rabbi Schiffenbauer's shul" -- 3514 Flatlands Avenue -- Google map link) from 6:30 to 11:00 PM tonight.  I urge all those who are eligible to give blood to do so.  I plan to be there myself later on in the evening and drop off a pint of Wolfish blood.  Donating blood is a mitzvah and saves lives.  On top of that, they'll even serve you dinner too.

I found out about this event through a flier that was distributed in various shuls in the neighborhood.  At the bottom of the flyer were printed the following words:

This Blood Drive has the complete support & endorsement of the Vaad Horabbonim of Marine Park.

This is not the first time I've seen this sort of disclaimer for an event.  In fact, I've been seeing them more and more often over the last few years on all sorts of events from children's carnivals to gatherings to discuss serious communal issues.

I'm not going so far as to say that there are no events that shouldn't have rabbinical oversight or endorsement, but one wonders why you would need rabbinical endorsement for something as simple as a blood drive.  Even if you thought there might be a halachic issue with giving blood (I'm certainly not aware of any issues that  have a valid logical basis), that's why we have rabbis to ask questions of, correct?  If I saw a flier for a blood drive and I thought it might be a problem, I would simply call up my local orthodox rabbi and say "Rabbi, there's a blood drive tonight and I'd like to donate but I'm not sure if it's allowed because of reasons X, Y and Z..."  You should not require a rabbinic committee to approve an event or organization that is a mitzvah and providing a benefit to the community.  An ad to raise funds for a charity such as Tomche Shabbos shouldn't need to say something along the lines of "approved by the Vaad Harabbonim of...." That's not to say that organizations shouldn't have a rabbinic adviser to whom they can turn when they have a question -- organizations should have just such an adviser.  But this obsession with getting rabbinic approbation for any event is just another sign of the fact that common people are abdicating their responsibility to use common sense and good judgment.

One wonders where this is all going in the future.  Will my kids be sending out invitations to their sons' bar mitzvahs with the line "Approved by the Vaad harabbonim..." on it?  Or will my future five-year old grandchildren receive an invitation to a friend's birthday party that reads "Come to Chavie's Birthday Party!  Approved by the Vaad Harabonnim!?"

The Wolf

Monday, August 23, 2010

Does Anyone Have Any Data On Orthodox Jewish Marriage Patterns?

I'm attempting to do some research into the "Age-Gap" theory of the "Shidduch crisis."  I've written a program to simulate a community, but right now, my virtual community acts based on my guesses of when people marry and the age of their spouses.  I would like to improve my model based on real-world data (if there is any out there) and see if I can get my virtual community to behave more like the real community.

So, does anyone know of any studies that were done on Orthodox Jewish marriages in recent years?  Specifically with data as to the ages of marriage of the partners?

Thanks in advance,

The Wolf

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Crisis In Faith

Ignorance, the saying goes, is bliss - and that much is true.  But sometimes bliss isn't enough to go on.  Sometimes you need to confront the reality, however unpleasant it may be.

A commentator recently asked me if I was going through a crisis of faith.  My first thought upon seeing the question was to dismiss it out of hand.  But having taken some time to reflect on the matter, I can't help but wonder if perhaps he is right.  Perhaps I am going through a crisis of faith.  If faith is a byproduct of ignorance, then I am certainly going through a crisis of faith.

We have all seen examples of Jews who failed, in a very public way, to live up to the Torah's standards of ethical behavior.  We've seen examples of rabbis who steal.  We've seen examples of rabbis who molest children and commit other sexual indiscretions.  We've seen examples of rabbis who are corrupt and either follow the money or power when it comes to communal policy.  We've seen rabbis make outrageous statements that defy logic and comprehension.  We've seen rabbis who are far more concerned with minutiae such as skirt lengths, wigs, music and the like rather than seeing that people can get a Jewish education or making good communal decisions.  We've seen rabbis who seem to be far more interested in dividing the Jewish community between their own "correct" enclave and the "Other" portions of Orthodox Judaism -- to say nothing of the vast majority of non-Orthodox Judaism -- than in bringing Jews together.  We see rabbis who seem to want to advance their own personal agendas in a "my way or the highway" fashion in the areas of marriage, divorce, conversion, etc. rather than reach out and form a halachic consensus that is workable for everyone. 

And we have whole communities that are willing to march in lockstep behind these rabbis, whether they are right or wrong, without giving even for a second considering the possibility that these rabbis just might be wrong.  We have whole swaths of our community who have granted leading rabbis a de facto status of infallibility, whose words are not to be questioned or commented on.  And we have seen how those very same "infallible" rabbis can be manipulated by people who have personal agendas by using partial truths or outright lies to form communal policy, disrupt the livlihood of people engaged in perfectly legitimate occupations and so on.

People like to say "Don't judge Judaism by the Jews."  As with the popular expression that I mentioned earlier, there is a certain amount of truth in the saying.  Jews, like the rest of humanity, are only human.  Like all other human beings, we have our failings and there will be those of us who engage in misconduct that brings shame on the community.  It's unfortunate that it happens, but as long as we're human, it will happen from time to time.  And you can even expect that rabbis, too, from time to time, will misbehave as well.  They are subject to the same basic human temptations that the hoi polloi are subject to.  You would think that rabbis should be held to a higher standard than the common man, but not to a standard of perfection.  But yet, we have seen in the last few years, rabbis engaging in bad behavior in incidents that are becoming far more numerous than any that I can remember in my lifetime.  Perhaps all this went on all the time and I was merely ignorant before -- but now that I know, I cannot "unknow" it.   This is not to say that there are not rabbis out there who are saintly human beings, who work tirelessly for the communal good and work on fixing K'lal Yisroel's problems rather than creating new ones.  I'm certain that they're out there and I'd even venture that they are the majority -- but just as a single skunk in a patch of a thousand roses can overwhelm the plesant scent of the flowers with his stink, so too one bad rabbi can cause more damage than the good works of many good rabbis.  And the stink of the skunks is getting harder and harder to tolerate.

If I could say that this crisis of faith that I'm having is limited in its scope to the behavior of some lay individuals or rabbis, I could perhaps find it much easier to resolve.  But it runs far deeper than that -- it also runs into the areas of community policy, attitudes and theology.

Orthodox Judaism has been experiencing a "slide to the right" for a while now.  Things that were perfectly acceptable in some circles thirty years ago are now deemed "beyond the pale."  As an example, someone recently said the following to me:

An ehrlich yid would not agree to a shidduch where seperate [sic] seating was not a given.

Keep in mind that mixed-seated weddings were fairly common in the Orthodox community in the past generation or two.  But according to this commentator, all those people are just not ehrlich (i.e. honest, virtuous)-- and neither are a lot of people today, it seems.  No matter how honest you are in your dealings, no matter how meticulous your observance of the mitzvos, no matter how careful you are in dealing with the feelings of your fellow man, if you agree to a shidduch where there is mixed seating, you're just not ehrlich.

And the attitude goes far beyond simply mixed seating.  It seems like it's almost every month that some new ban arises in the community -- whether it be concerts, fish, the Internet, media in general, books, clothing colors and styles and on and on.  As a community, we are imposing ever stricter guidelines on people, both through official channels (i.e. community rabbis, schools, other institutions) and unofficial channels (if you don't conform in even the most minute way, your kids will have difficulty getting a shidduch).  And while higher standards can be a good thing, it must be balanced by the ability of the community and it's people to be able to happily live within those standards.  Chazal recognized this over a millennium ago with the idea that a decree, no matter how valid, warranted or needed, cannot be enacted if the community cannot (or will not) live under it and abide by it.  Today, however, we seem to have remembered the need for communal decrees to address new situations that arise, but we've forgotten the part that any solution must be one that the community will accept and live by. Perhaps the reason for this is because these bans and decrees come from people with an agenda to push and by well-meaning rabbis who are given misleading and false information and are out of touch with the common people.

If I could say my crisis of faith goes even to the area of increasing standards, perhaps I might still be able to ride it out.  But it goes even further than that -- it also goes to the attitudes that are prevelant in some parts of our community.

Frankly, I am appalled by some of the attitudes that are present in our community, but perhaps the most important underlying cause is the refusal of our community to move forward.  We seem to be stuck in a Middle-Ages mindset -- and based on the rules that some of us have adopted, we will always be in that same mindset.

A while ago, I engaged in a debate about whether or not statements made by and attitudes expressed by rabbanim are influenced by the environments in which they lived, or whether such statements are, in effect, made in a vacuum and therefore unalterable by time or place.  I posted about this a while back with regard to a statement by the author of the Torah Temimah about the lack of intelligence in women.  Many in our community seem to take the position that because a rav in place X and time Y made a statement that it applies in all places and all times and that there is no possibility that his own personal biases, upbringing, surrounding culture and environment could have had an input into his attitudes and statements.  So, if the author of the Torah Temimah says that women lack intellectual stability, then it's true of women in all places and all times.  What would such a person say to the fact that it can easily be seen in today's world that women are, in fact, intellectually stable and can achieve in almost any field of intellectual endeavor?  Nothing.  They simply close their eyes and repeat the mantra of "Toras Emes, Toras Emes."   Ignore the evidence that's right in front of your eyes.  Perhaps this was best expressed by Rabbi Uren Reich a few years ago when he said:

If the Gemara tells us a metziyus, it’s emes veyatziv. There’s nothing to think about. Anything we see with our eyes is less of a reality than something we see in the Gemara.

While his comments address the Gemara specifically, I would not be surprised to find that he would expand that to include anyone in the accepted gedolim throughout the ages.  I would find it hard to believe that Rav Reich would take the opinion of a twenty-first century scientist over a statement of Rashi, the Vilna Goan, R. Akiva Eiger or the Chazon Ish.

But such thinking leads to warped communal policy and dysfunctional communities.  Rather than looking at the fact that women are obviously capable of advanced academic learning and perhaps we, as a community might benefit from additional people learning Torah from a female perspective, we simply repeat the mantra of "women aren't able to learn Torah" and forbid them from even opening up a Mishnayos, let alone a Gemara (or, in the case of some communities, even a chumash!).  Rather than considering the fact that the concept of mesirah is obviously an artifact of another time and place where conditions were much different than in the present-day United States, we actively shelter child molesters, thieves and other criminals in our midst, where they are given more opportunities to commit crimes.  And so on.  As a result, we have dysfunctional communities that are increasingly out of step with modern social realities and will only continue to cause further tension both externally with those outside of our community and internally as those modern realities seep through the walls that are being erected (and yes, they *will* seep through).

If I could say my crisis of faith goes even to the area of communal policy, perhaps I might still be able to ride it out.  But it goes even deeper than that.  It goes even to the theological core of what is being presented.

It's very clear from the scientific evidence that the world is far older than 5770 years.  It's very clear that the world wasn't created in six literal 24-hour days (although at one point, I presented a possible way to say that the world was created in such a fashion).  It's very clear from the available evidence that there was no global flood some 4000 years ago that covered the entire earth and wiped out all animal life excepting eight humans and two to fourteen of every non-fish species.  Valid questions can be asked about the Exodus, Mattan Torah and the Conquest of the Land.  The idea that the Torah that we have today is a letter-perfect copy of the one that Moshe received on Mount Sinai grows more doubtful in my mind every time I think on the matter.  The idea that an entire corpus of oral law was somehow passed down from generation to generation unwritten, unchanged and unaffected/uninfluenced by the biases, agendas and beliefs of the people who engaged in that transmission sounds more and more ludicrous to me every day.  Even the seemingly simple concept of Yeridas HaDoros presents major difficulties for me.  And for any of these points which, to me, are supported by either physical evidence or simple reason, I can, in essence, be considered a heretic who is to be shunned by the community. 

Some people, it seems, seem to be willing to be bliss in their ignorance, ignore the evidence (or worse, claim that it's faked or part of some vast conspiracy to discredit the Torah) or impugn the credentials or intelligence of the people presenting the evidence (i.e., if only the PhD in physics would read the essay penned by the religious high school graduate, he would see that the entire scientific endeavor is a fraud.).  But I cannot do that.  I tend to believe that someone who has a PhD in physics knows a thing or two about the subject.  And that an entire community of physicists working together and in competition with each other know more about the subject than people who lived before the field was seriously studied.  I tend to believe people who can produce repeatable observations and experiments over those who assert something as fact but cannot (or will not) produce the evidence to back it up.  How can I maintain faith in a system that seeks to present fiction as literal truth and mistaken information as scientifically accurate?

Even if it were only on theological grounds that I had difficulty, I might be able to dismiss those difficulties or push them to the side.  But at this point, I'm having difficulties on all the items presented above and others that I've chosen not to mention.  I can no longer be ignorant.  I can no longer be in a state of bliss.  I cannot unring the bell and pretend that I have not heard the sound it produced, nor would I want to.  I would far rather know the truth, however ugly, than be blinded by a fantasy.

So, yes, I guess you could say that I'm suffering a crisis of faith.

The Wolf

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Quick Cryptic Note

If one is not allowed to have an honest self-appraisal of himself, then what's the point of any other opinion he may have?

The Wolf

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Please Call Me Mister Wolf

"Hey, Rabbi!  How are you this evening?"

I had just left shul after davening Ma'ariv last night when the question rang out from the darkness behind me.  I turned around to see a fellow walking after me.  I figured he must have been calling out to me since I was the only other person walking in that direction.

The fact of the matter is that I am not a rabbi.  I never have been and, in all probability, never will be one.  In the past I had given some consideration towards going for semicha (ordination), but I never seriously followed up on it.

"I don't know whom you're talking to," I responded.  "I'm not a rabbi and there's no one else here."

It turns out that he was, indeed, talking to me.  I could easily excuse his error since he didn't know me (I generally keep a low profile in the community) and probably did not know whether I was a rabbi or not. 

After I politely pointed out his error to him, he defended his position by saying that today, everyone's a rabbi.  And, to pity the poor fellow, that's when I let him have it*, for this is one of my pet peeves -- the nearly universal application of the title of Rabbi.

I am a firm believer in the theory that only those who have earned the title Rabbi should use it.  If someone sends mail to my house addressed to "Rabbi Wolf" or "Rabbi & Mrs. Wolf," I don't open it.  I'm not "Rabbi Wolf."  If someone calls and asks for Rabbi Wolf, I tell them (politely, of course) that they've reached Mr. Wolf and that there is no Rabbi Wolf at this number.  And I let the fellow who greeted me know that I don't believe in applying titles to those who haven't earned them.

Personally, I feel that if you apply the title of "Rabbi" to everyone, then it cheapens the title until it becomes meaningless.  After all, what value is there in a title if every other person in the community has the same title?  Is there value in being a General in the army if everyone else is a general?  What makes a doctorate degree so distinctive if everyone in the world is to be called "doctor?"  So, too, I feel, by calling everyone "Rabbi," it denigrates both the title and the very real efforts of those who have worked to achieve it.  When the fellow answered to me that the title was already demeaned, I said "so why demean it further by applying it to those who haven't earned it?"

To further prove my point, I pointed out to him the tana'im Ben Azai and Ben Zoma.  There is a reason by we don't refer to these people as "Rabbi Shimon ben Azai" and "Rabbi Shimon ben Zoma."  The reason, very simply, is because they did not earn semicha.  That's not to say that Ben Azai and Ben Zoma weren't brilliant talmiedi chachamim and scholars.  They certainly were; but the fact remains that, due to other circumstances in their lives, they never earned semicha, and hence, we don't apply the title of "Rabbi" to them.  Yes, there were tana'im who didn't use the title "Rabbi" (such as Hillel and Shammai, for example), but they came from the earlier generations when the practice of using the title had not become common.  Ben Azai and Ben Zoma, on the other hand, were contemporaries of Rabbi Akiva, by whose time the title was used for those who earned semicha.

The fellow I was talking to wasn't swayed by my arguments and, at the end of the discussion, we had to agree to disagree.  Of course, he certainly didn't mean to demean the title of "rabbi" by using it on me - he was simply trying to be friendly.  I understand that.  Nonetheless, I firmly believe that, barring exceptional circumstances, the title should be reserved for those who have earned it.  I suppose one could make the case for an "honorary" rabbi for someone who is clearly a gadol but has, for whatever reason never received semicha, but I clearly do not fall into that class.  So for me, I'd prefer it if you call me Mister Wolf.

The Wolf

* Calmly and politely, of course.  I don't usually rant and rave at strangers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Female Derangement Syndrome

There is an illness that it affecting some people in our community.  It's an insidious illness... often there are no warning signs until the initial outbreak.  Once an outbreak occurs, however, it leads to violence, vandalism and destruction.  It seems to strike most often in the Chareidi communities of Israel, although, I suppose, it is possible for it to strike elsewhere as well.  The illness is called Female Derangement Syndrome.  Despite it's name, just about all those afflicted with the illness are males.

The most recent outbreak of this disease occurred in Emmanuel, in Israel.  A fellow who operates a Go Kart ride decided to allow some teenage girls to take a ride on the Go Karts.  This, apparently, did not sit well with Rabbi Yehoida Gadasi, a local Emmanuel rabbi.  When he heard that girls were on the Go Karts he proceeded to march on to the tracks, yell at the girls, force them from the Go Karts, yell at the operator, curse him, pick up the Go Karts, smash them against the floor and damage them.  He accused the owner of "opening a brothel" by letting the girls ride the Go Karts.

If something like this were an isolated incident, we could dismiss it as the work of a "lone nut."  But, unfortunately, this seems to be part of a larger trend.  Far too many reports are coming in of cases where violence against women or their activities.  We've all heard of the reports so far... whether it's a woman getting beaten up for riding in the wrong section of a Mehadrin bus or throwing acid in a girl's face or cursing, spitting on a woman and throwing cinder blocks at her (!) for not dressing in a tznius fashion, or throwing chairs at women at the Kotel,or any of the other acts of violence that have been committed against women in the name of "modesty."  Clearly the people who commit these acts must be sick.  They clearly suffer from Female Derangement Syndrome... a sickness whereby one is led to irrational violence by the otherwise lawful actions of women.  

You might ask how I know that these men are sick?  Perhaps they're just control freaks out to control everything women do and they use violence towards that end?  I suppose that's a possibility, but I can't help but think that some of these people are just plain mentally ill.  Someone who equates allowing girls to ride a Go Kart to opening a brothel is just not playing with a full deck, in my (non-professional) humble opinion.  If Rabbi Gadasi really believes that a girl riding a Go Kart is the equivalent of a whore, then he's clearly not rational.  If someone thinks that a woman deserves to be beaten up for sitting in the wrong seat on a bus, then he is (again, in my non-professional humble opinion) incapable of dealing with the real world and the standards that most normal human beings (and the Torah, too, for that matter) apply to social interactions.  To me, that's a sign of illness.  

Now, I don't mean to excuse these men because they have a "sickness."  One can be sick and still be considered responsible for criminal acts they commit because of the sickness -- and men who suffer from Female Derangement Syndrome should be no different.  But ultimately, the onus is on the community to deal with these individuals, to treat them if possible or put them in a position where they can cause no further harm.  Sadly, however, the community usually just turns a blind eye to the monsters in their midst.  The community must do more to rein in these lunatics.

The Wolf

(UPDATE:  One of my commentators informs me that Rabbi Gadasi is Sephardi and not Chareidi.  This leads me to a question -- is being a Chareidi exclusively an Ashkenazi phenomenon?)

Friday, August 06, 2010

Photos: More Water Drops

Lately, I've been experimenting with photographing reflections (or perhaps more correctly, refractions) of images through water drops.  I posted one such picture a few months ago.  Here is another photo of that genre:

From Wolfish Musings Pictures
Canon Xsi, 100mm macro lens, f/5.6, 4 seconds

If I may say so, however, this picture really need to be viewed larger than I can display it here on this blog   I encourage you to follow this link to the picture in my Picasa gallery to see it larger and get a better look at the refracted flowers.

As always, comments, critiques and criticisms are encouraged and welcomed.  Hopefully, this time no one will have any moral objections to my choice of subject.

To see all my photo pictures, click here.

The Wolf

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Don't Fall for Flawed Torah Proofs.

I recently came across a web site that claims to have proof that the Torah was given by God to the Jewish people.  As regular readers of my blog know, I have come across sites like this one before and have yet to find *any* conclusive iron-clad proof from the text that the Torah was written by a Divine Being.  Every proof that I've seen has some fatal flaw -- whether it be faulty reasoning, begging-the-question or just plain factual error.  Sadly, this site's "proofs" suffer from the same fatal flaws.  I'll be going through some of them in a minute.  Before I do that, however, I want to point out several things:

1.  Lack of evidence does not equal evidence of lack. 

I'm sure that many of you have heard this before and it is100% valid.  Just because I can't prove that the Inivisible Pink Unicorn does not exist does not mean that it does not exist.  Of course, each individual has to weigh for themselves how strongly consider the lack of evidence when making a determination -- but it cannot be used as definitive proof that the object you are considering does not exist.

2.  Demolishing a proof does not equal demolishing the underlying argument.

In each case, I will show how the proof being presented is flawed.  I will not, however, be presenting any counter-arguments.  I will make no statements of my own regarding the Divinity of the Torah (which, for the record, I do believe in), nor will I be making any arguments against it.

3.  Don't ever let anyone "guilt" you into believing something.

The site that we're looking at has the following paragraph on it's home page:

The evidence brought down in this website should convince a reader that the Holy Torah was given to the Jewish people by G-d himself.  If the evidence does not convince you or someone, that does not mean that the evidence is not strong, it just means that you do not want to be convinced. Just like there are holocaust deniers, even though there is prove, there are G-d deniers even though there is prove.

Did you get that?  If you don't believe his proofs, you're the equivalent of a Holocaust denier.  All he's trying to do is to make you feel guilty for not believing in his proofs.  If you aren't utterly persuaded by my evidence, he (in essence) says, it's not the evidence's fault but yours.  Don't fall for that.  By all means, if his evidence is conclusive, believe him -- but don't do it because he puts a guilt-trip on you.

That being said, let's get down to his "proofs."

His first proof is as follows:

How does a person keep his/her balance?

Well, according modern science, the ear may hold the answer. "The inner ear includes both the organ of hearing (the cochlea) and a sense organ that is attuned to the effects of both gravity and motion (labyrinth or vestibular apparatus). The balance portion of the inner ear consists of three semi-circular canals and the vestibule." (Wikipedia, Ear)

Since Hebrew is a Holy Language, every word is self descriptive. The word "ear-אוזן" (Ozen) is of the same root as "balance-איזן" (Izun). The linguistic miracle of ancient Hebrew, proves its Divinity.

Pretty cool, no?  The ancients must have somehow known that the ear controls the balance of the human body and even encoded it in the Hebrew language by using a similar word for both "ear" and "balance."

This is a classic example of begging-the-question.  Begging-the-question is a logical fallacy whereby you assume the point you're trying to prove.  The whole proof rests on the fact that we assume that when the words "Ear" and "Balance" were created in the Hebrew Language, they were purposely given similar roots.  However, if you consider that it might be a simple coincidence, then the whole proof falls apart.

"Ah," the true believer might counter, "how can you say it's a coincidence?  What are the odds that two completely different words would be so similar?"  Indeed, the author of the "proof" calls it a "linguistic miracle," implying that it's almost impossible that such a thing could happen naturally.

Alas, that simply isn't the case.  To understand why, you might need a (very) brief primer in the Hebrew Language.  Words (especially verbs) in Hebrew tend to have three-letter roots, which are then altered (usually with prefixes and suffixes) to denote subject and tense.  The author's argument rests on the fact that the roots for ear and balance are the same or similar.  The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 letters.  So, the odds of any two three letter words being the same are 1 in 223, or 1 in 10,648.  Unusual?  Maybe.  Miraculous?  Hardly.  Absolute proof that a Divine Being created the two words?  No way.  Absolute proof that God authored the Torah?  Not even close.  Note that the "proof" doesn't address the Divine authorship of the Torah at all.  The absolute most it could prove is that those two words (and *prehaps* the Hebrew language) was composed by a Divine Being.  But it doesn't even come anywhere close to that. 

On to his second proof.  This one involves the length of time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth.  The Gemara states Rabban Gamliel had a tradition from his father's house that the period between two new moons is not less than 29.0359 days after the previous new moon.  Since Rabban Gamliel did not have a telescope or an advanced timepiece, and since the statement is factually true (barring slight variations due to tides, etc.), the fact that he knew this must mean that the knowledge came from a Divine Source.  Pretty cool, no?

Now, before I give you the answer to this one, I want you to consider one thing:  Suppose the statement is true.  Suppose God Himself appeared to Rabban Gamliel (or his ancestors) and said "The period between new moons is not less than..."  Does that prove that God gave us the Torah?  Does that somehow prove the existence of the Avos?  Does that in any way cast evidence on the historicity of Mattan Torah or the Exodus?  The answer, very simply, is no, it does not.  It simply means that Rabban Gamliel had a tradition from God Himself on this one fact.

That being said, now let's look at the facts.  I don't know that God Himself didn't, in fact, appear to Rabban Gamliel's ancestors and impart this fact.  But we do know that the Babylonian astronomer Naburimani also calculated the synodic period of the moon (the fancy way of saying the time between one new moon and the next) several hundred years before Rabban Gamliel lived. 

"Ah, " the true believer will say "perhaps the Babylonians got the figure from us.  After all, how could the Babylonians (or anyone else from the ancient world) have figured it out to such precision?"

Before we answer the question, let's consider the fact that while it's possible that the Babylonians got the figure from us, there is no proof of it.  It's at least just as likely that Rabban Gamliel's ancestors got the figure from the Babylonians.  Nonetheless, there is a simple way to figure out the synodic period of the Moon.  Since a solar eclipse can *only* occur at the time of conjunction between the sun and the moon, all you need to do is calculate the number of days between two solar eclipses and divide it between the number of lunar months between those two eclipses.  Don't believe me?  Go to this list of solar eclipses and calculate it for yourself.  (Keep in mind, of course, that the number of lunar months is not the same as the number of solar months.  There are 235 lunar months in 19 years, not 228).  You too will be able to easily calculate the synodic period to a few decimal places.  Since it is presumed that the ancients did know how to count days and months, it is hardly a Divine miracle that the ancients possessed this knowledge.*

On to the third proof.   This time, the author brings a Gemara in Niddah which tells us that all fish that have scales also have fins.  Only a Divine Being, the argument tells us, with knowledge of every fish species in the world could possibly have made such a statement.  After all, the ancients certainly didn't know of every species of fish on their own.  Heck, we're still discovering new species of fish today.  Hence, such a definitive statement could only have come from an all-knowing God.  No non-omniscient man could possibly have made such a statement.

To the best of my knowledge, the statement is correct.  Although I am not a marine biologist, I am not aware of any species of fish that has a fin but no scales.  Pretty convincing, no? 

Again, however, the author is making the leap from asserting that if one statement of the Torah is true, it must all be true.  There is simply no basis for such an assertion.  As with the period of the moon, the *most* that it can prove is that God told the ancients secrets of marine biology that they could not have otherwise known.  

But it doesn't even prove that.   This is yet another case of begging-the-question and assuming that a Divine authorship before proving it.  To illustrate, let me give you an example.  I'm going to make a statement right now:  Every star (barring collapsed, dead stars) conducts nuclear fusion in it's core.  Now, fast forward 1000 years, a million years or even a billion years and suppose we find that, indeed, every star that they've ever found fuses atoms in its core.  Does the fact that I made that successful prediction make me Divine?  After all, I certainly didn't examine every star in the universe.  How could I possibly know that there are no stars that don't fuse atoms? 

The answer, of course, is that I simply extrapolated from what I do know and made a general rule.  Since I know that every star we've found so far fuses atoms, it's not too hard to make a rule that all stars conduct nuclear fusion.  Similarly, an ancient, examining the fish around him, could easily notice that every fish that has scales also has fins and make such a rule.

"Ah, " the true believer will counter, "but wouldn't he be afraid of being caught?  Wouldn't he be afraid to make such a statement if there was even a possibility that someone in the future might disprove him?  Surely someone making such a statement would have to be 100% sure, or else face the possibility of being disproven."

This, however, is another example of begging the question.  The believer is assuming that the person making the statement would be afraid of "being caught."  But is that the only possibility?  Perhaps he wasn't concerned about being incorrect.  Perhaps he simply thought he was correct just as I think I am about stars.  Perhaps he was simply making a general rule without regard for exceptions.  In short, you can't prove that this statement came from a Divine source and you certainly can't prove from this that the entire Torah is Divine in origin.

The author has quite a few more "proofs" at his site and I don't have time to go through them all.  Perhaps I'll look at some of the others another time.  But the important thing I want you to take away from the post is this -- just because someone says that something is a proof, that doesn't make it so.  In order for it to truly be a proof, it has to stand up to tests against both logic and empirical fact.  Sadly, none of the "proofs" that I posted about here do that.

The Wolf

* As an aside, if you want an interesting eye-opener into how much astronomy you could learn with only a stick, a rope and a stone, read chapter 5 of Neil DeGrasse Tyson's book Death by Black Hole.