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.