Sunday, May 24, 2009

Different Ways To Believe In Orthodox Judaism

There are many different ways for a Jew to believe in Judaism. However, remaining in the Orthodox version leaves us with two overall paths. I will refer to these two paths as the Rambam/Ralbag (World must be congruent with science always) and the Maharal path (World's science could change whenever since G-D is all powerful He can change anything). Both of these paths have their benefits and deficiencies. The Rambam/Ralbag path makes Judaism very comprehensible and allows the world to be attainable for a thinking person. However, it requires a less literal interpretation of the Bible. The Maharal's path is less comprehensible and removes all certainty from the nature of life. However, it allows for a literal meaning of the Bible.

These two paths are both widely used nowadays. However, scientists will laugh at the Maharal's approach. How can it be that we humans can not understand nature and predict its course? Well, the Maharal's path leads us to the following answer. You scientists are very haughty assuming that you know how the world works. You think that Gravity has always existed in its current state and that the properties of all chemicals have always been the same. How can you possibly know this? Do you have a time machine that tells you that for the past 4 billion years, according to you, the nature of the world was constant? Isn't that an assumption? The certainty that you give off is flawed because it is based on assumptions. I however believe that G-D controls nature in every way. He can change its course in an instant. In fact, there are points in the Bible that even say this. For example, after the flood in Noach's time the Bible says (Genesis 8:22), "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." This implies that G-D made nature cease, or at the very least change, during the time of the flood. There are more examples, but this is not an exhaustive list. Thus we see that the Maharal's path can explain why science today does not effect the modern Jew's faith that follows this path. Science does not truly contradict the Maharal's path since G-D controls all of nature, so any "proof" against the Bible that scientists can bring is inconsequential since it is all based on false assumptions.

In the Rambam/Ralbag path we assume that science is right with its assumptions. We buy into the idea that nature has always been constant. This allows for us to become convinced by the scientists and make us choose one of two options. The first option is to completely discard the Bible and our belief in G-D. This is why the Rambam/Ralbag path is so dangerous for orthodox Jews, because it leaves itself open for people to see a conflict and lose hope. The second option is what the Rambam and Ralbag actually do, reconcile the text with science. This is usually not very hard to do. However, it does require that there be a non-literal understanding of the text. This is exactly what the Rambam, in The Guide for the Perplexed, does and it is also what the Ralbag, in his commentary on the Bible, does. An example of some non-literal interpretation of the Bible comes from the idea of the Gemorah that the Torah (Bible) uses the language of man. For instance, the Ralbag explains that the Rain that the Bible refers to during the flood of Noach was not literally rain. The Ralbag explains that there was just so much water that it seemed like it was the opening of the gates of heaven. This is similar to when a man says it was raining cats and dogs. Man doesn't literally mean it was raining cats and dogs, rather it was just a heavy downpour. With these ideas in mind, it is clear to see that this approach of the Rambam/Ralbag can reconcile science with the Bible and Judaism.

****Update
Check out my post where the Maharal openly talks about these ideas here. I will be writing more posts on this subject after this post on the Maharal.

15 comments:

Garnel Ironheart said...

True science does not claim as fact anything it cannot definitively prove. If scientists, in their misguided zeal do make "definitive claims" based on incomplete data, then the scientists are the problem, not science.
There are parts to the Text that science can be reconciled with. There are other parts that simply cannot. This is easy explained as God intervening in history. Natural laws, which He created, works most of the time, except when He decides to override it. Thus both appraoches in your post make sense.

E-Man said...

"There are parts to the Text that science can be reconciled with. There are other parts that simply cannot. This is easy explained as God intervening in history. Natural laws, which He created, works most of the time, except when He decides to override it."

This is the Rambam's idea. However, the Ralbag goes to such an extent that he is able to explain all science according to the Torah. He, however, has to adjust the text more, I guess. I am getting his amazing work Milchamos Hashem within the week and I am really excited to see how he reconciles all science with the text. Soon, I will write a post on it, Biezras Hashem.

MKR said...

Well, the Maharal's path leads us to the following answer. You scientists are very haughty assuming that you know how the world works. You think that Gravity has always existed in its current state and that the properties of all chemicals have always been the same. How can you possibly know this? Do you have a time machine that tells you that for the past 4 billion years, according to you, the nature of the world was constant? Isn't that an assumption? The certainty that you give off is flawed because it is based on assumptions. I however believe that G-D controls nature in every way.

This approach, as far its content is concerned, seems to me indistinguishable from an acute mental disorder. A determined lunatic could maintain the belief that the universe came into being on June 7, 2010, with the mere appearance of having already existed for billions of years; it is, after all, a mere "assumption" to take such appearances for realities. If one rejects the assumption that we can know how things work in nature in general on the basis of a finite body of observation—which is the assumption that the Maharal's approach rejects—then one can adopt and, with a simulacrum of rationality, defend any of an unlimited number of such wildly counter-evidential hypotheses. (Chesterton famously said that a lunatic is not a man who has lost his reason, but a man who has lost everything but his reason.) The belief, e.g., that Genesis provides a literally true history of the universe is just one such hypothesis. Of course, one can distinguish it from the delusions of lunatics by reference to the psychological characteristics of the proponent, the number of people who have adopted the belief, its durability over time, and other extrinsic criteria. My point is just that it is equally delusional as far as its content is concerned.

In the Rambam/Ralbag path we assume that science is right with its assumptions. We buy into the idea that nature has always been constant. This allows for us to become convinced by the scientists and make us choose one of two options. The first option is to completely discard the Bible and our belief in G-D. This is why the Rambam/Ralbag path is so dangerous for orthodox Jews, because it leaves itself open for people to see a conflict and lose hope. The second option is what the Rambam and Ralbag actually do, reconcile the text with science.

That seems to me a false dichotomy. I would say that the options are (1) to give up the belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and (2) to interpret the passages that conflict with scientific findings in some non-literal fashion, i.e., as not "really" meaning what they seem to say. To give up all belief in God and in the Bible would be just a more specific variant of option 1. For my part, I find it difficult to credit the notion that whoever wrote the passages of Genesis that say, e.g., that God made a firmament in the sky with water on the other side of it did not mean that God made a firmament in the sky with water on the other side of it but rather something that is entirely compatible with what we know about the cosmos.

E-Man said...

Replying to the first paragraph. I agree with you. In fact, many Rabbis that hold of this approach (Maharal's approach) say that the dinosaur bones were put in the earth to test us. It sounds ridiculous. However, the difference between these ideas and an actual lunatic is this, in my opinion: The lunatic bases everything on his own perception of reality. The Orthodox Jew that follows the approach of the Maharal says that there is a G-D. Now, once you have an all powerful G-D, anything is possible and that is the point they try to make. So, if you know there is a G-D then all of this is possible. They differ from the more rationalistic approach because they believe that certain things that are said in the Torah are literal and they learn a lot of things that are counter science and sometimes logic. But, they have to believe these things because they believe it is the word of G-D. In Medieval times this was a lot more acceptable because science was so vague and indefinite, but nowadays it just seems foolish. However, how can you throw out an approach that such great men in the past believed in. I don;t think we should follow it today, but it seems wrong to say it is impossible.

In regards to your second paragraph, I understand why you think it is a false dichotomy, however, if you don't believe the Bible is the inerrant word of G-D then why would anyone be jewish? If the Bible is not the inerrant word of G-D then the Jewish religion has no legs to stand on. Also, I understand that if you believe the bible is written by a man then of course he had no idea what the heavens were actually made of, but if it was G-D then He knows what the heavens are made of.

I should write a post as to why G-D has to refer to the heavens as water and other such difficult descriptions in another blog post. It would help me solidify this idea of the Rambam/Ralbag.

If you would like to see where the Rambam says this http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp112.htm. I also have a post on it http://markset565.blogspot.com/2009/06/ralbag-explains-rationlistic-view-of.html please ignore the "genius" that argues with me in the comments. He is an ardent Rav Slifkin critic and non-rationalist and believes the rationlist approach is against the Torah.

MKR said...

In Medieval times this was a lot more acceptable because science was so vague and indefinite

Agreed. I think that is an important point.

However, how can you throw out an approach that such great men in the past believed in. I don;t think we should follow it today, but it seems wrong to say it is impossible.

Well, it is "possible" in the same way that the lunatic hypothesis that I discussed in my previous comment is possible. That doesn't mean that it is rationally credible. I think the question is not whether such a position is possible but (1) whether it is (now) rationally tenable, and (2) whether, apart from its tenability or lack thereof, there is anything to be learned from it. To (1), my answer is, no, given the scientific discoveries of the past 400 years or so. To (2), my answer is, yes, because it is a position that has played an important role in the history of Jewish thought and because answering it requires us to reflect on the foundations of our knowledge and beliefs about the natural world.

if you don't believe the Bible is the inerrant word of G-D then why would anyone be jewish? If the Bible is not the inerrant word of G-D then the Jewish religion has no legs to stand on.

I take it that you meant to ask a different question from what you have written. The question "Why be Jewish?" presupposes that one is Jewish by choice. That is true of converts, but most Jews are Jewish by birth and not by choice. With reference to them, the question is senseless. So I assume that you meant to ask "Why practice Judaism?", "Why be an observant Jew?", or something on those lines. Apparently, you regard practicing Jews who deny Biblical inerrancy as walking contradictions. If so, you should tell that to the millions of practicing Jews—the vast majority, I would say—who do not share your belief in that doctrine.

I suspect, though, that your view is that only adherence to the entirety of halacha as interpreted within Orthodoxy counts as practicing Judaism, so that so-called Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism are, for you, not Judaism at all, and adherents of those denominations are not practicing Jews. If that is your view, then I am inclined to agree with you that without the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, Judaism (so defined) has no legs to stand on.

E-Man said...

I know, their view is the non-rationalistic approach so it is not supposed to be based on rationale. However, they differ from the lunatic because of the belief in G-D. They don;t believe that reality is as they see it, but rather as G-D can do anything so reality is whatever G-D says it is. I don't think this puts them in the same camp as the lunatic, but I do hear your point.

MKR said, "The question "Why be Jewish?" presupposes that one is Jewish by choice. That is true of converts, but most Jews are Jewish by birth and not by choice."

I do not understand, what makes someone Jewish? The Jewish religion believes that you are Jewish if you are born Jewish. However, if you do not believe in Judaism, but you were born Jewish, then do you consider yourself Jewish? I would say no, why would you consider yourself Jewish? But if you do consider yourself Jewish, then why do you? So if you believe in Judaism and you were born Jewish then you are Jewish, but if you believe Judaism to be false do you really believe you are Jewish? Nowadays, no one forces you to be Jewish. (I guess I am using Jewish as someone who practices Judaism on some level, not necessarily orthodox).

"Apparently, you regard practicing Jews who deny Biblical inerrancy as walking contradictions. If so, you should tell that to the millions of practicing Jews—the vast majority, I would say—who do not share your belief in that doctrine. "

I have been asking this question for a long time, why would someone declare that they belong to a religion that they think is false? If the bible is not the inerrant word of G-D, or at least a revelation that G-D gave to the prophets that they put in their own words (as conservative Judaism assumes) then why follow it? Here is a website that spells out the beliefs of conservative Judaism http://www.fact-index.com/c/co/conservative_judaism.html#Beliefs

I am curious how you would define Judaism. Technically Christianity used to be a sect of Judaism so is it to be considered Judaism? Are Samaritans and karaites part of judaism?

I would not count out the reform and Conservative Judaism since they believe in everything the Orthodox do but with a few distinctions. Conservative are more liberal with what they can change and Reform believe that the laws are not obligatory, but something to aspire to. However, if those movements did not believe that the bible was the word of G-D (either direct or reworded by the prophets who hear it) why would they follow this false book? What does it matter?

If Muslims did not believe the Koran was the word of G-D, why would they follow Islam? If Christians did not believe the New testament was the word of G-D, why would they follow it?

MKR said...

I do not understand, what makes someone Jewish? The Jewish religion believes that you are Jewish if you are born Jewish. However, if you do not believe in Judaism, but you were born Jewish, then do you consider yourself Jewish? I would say no, why would you consider yourself Jewish? But if you do consider yourself Jewish, then why do you? So if you believe in Judaism and you were born Jewish then you are Jewish, but if you believe Judaism to be false do you really believe you are Jewish?

You are entangled in irrelevancies. Your original question was "if you don't believe the Bible is the inerrant word of G-D then why would anyone be jewish?" I said that such a question is senseless and suggested a question that you might have been what you were trying to ask. You reply by pressing the question why someone who does not believe in Judaism should believe himself Jewish. That is an entirely different question—which confirms my original point, namely that you must have meant to ask a different question from what you wrote.

As for your new question, it confuses the issue still further. You slide from asking (in your original question) about the Jew who does not accept Biblical inerrancy to asking (in your new question) about the Jew who does not "believe in Judaism." If you take these to be the same question, it confirms what I was saying, namely that you are assuming that Judaism is identical with Orthodox Judaism. In your latest comment, you deny that you make any such assumption. But that just means that your new formulation is not a reformulation of the same question as you were trying to ask before but a completely different question.

As for the question itself—"If you do not believe in Judaism, why consider yourself Jewish?"—it seems to me that the answer is easy (and probably not satisfying to you). The application of the term "Jew" is determined by Jewish practice. According to that practice, it applies even to Jews who do not accept Judaism.

Here is an analogy: Suppose that I invent something called the B League, to which, I decree, everyone belongs whose last name starts with the letter B. If your name is Berman, you can dismiss my "league" as a load of utterly pointless nonsense and say that you don't care a fig about it, but you can't deny that you are a member of it. The rules that define the association entail that you are a member, whether you like it or not and whether you care about it or not (unless perhaps you go to the length of changing your name). Analogously, the Jew who scorns Judaism is still a Jew because the practice of Judaism says he or she is one.

Once again, I think that the question that you have asked is not the one that you meant to ask. Perhaps what you meant to ask is: why should the born Jew who rejects Jewish beliefs care about being Jewish? That, I think, is a very difficult question, and answering it is a lot of work. But note that it is entirely distinct from your original question about being Jewish without belief in Biblical inerrancy.

MKR said...

I have to correct what I wrote in the last paragraph of my last comment. I said that the question "why should the born Jew who rejects Jewish beliefs care about being Jewish?" is a difficult question. That is wrong. It is a misconceived question. Being Jewish means different things to different Jews, for different reasons: reasons pertaining to family, social life, ritual acts, cultural associations, and I don't know what. There is no one answer that fits everyone.

E-Man said...

I do have to revise what I said. I was thinking of Judaism solely as the religion of Judaism. However, I realize that there is the nation of Jews that is also at play. Your analogy makes sense for a nation, like if I am born in America I am an American citizen unless I actively renounce my citizenship. However, I do not think it pertains to a religion. A religion is something that must be accepted based on what that religion stands for. Judaism, whether it be Reform, Conservative or Orthodox believe the bible is from G-D. I erred when I used the words inerrant word of G-D. Rather a better description is that G-D spoke to Moshe and Moshe wrote the Bible. Now, Reform and Conservative believe that the Bible is G-D's words to Moshe, but moshe wrote it in his own words, whereas Orthodox believe it is dictated word for word (I am actually looking into this now and I am not sure that is 100% true).

So when I say why would anyone be Jewish, I mean part of the Jewish religion, not the nation. Anyone can be called a "Jew." Hiter called many people Jews who did not even consider themselves to be Jewish. So you are right that people can be called Jews no matter what.

My point was why would anyone associate themselves with Judaism, be it reform, conservative or orthodox, if they do not believe the Bible is from G-D? By this I mean to say the dichotomy is not false, either the bible is from G-D or there is no religion of Judaism. Perhaps there are people who are from the nation of Israel, but why would anyone care about the Bible. If there is no G-D the bible is just another piece of ancient literature like the Odyssey.

E-Man said...

And once the Bible is worthless why believe in the G-D of the Jewish religion?

E-Man said...

I am confused as to why you are limiting my statements about the bible to orthodox Judaism. Reform and Conservative Judaism are based on the fact that the Bible is 100% true. Therefore, anyone that denies this also denies those sects of Judaism, no?

MKR said...

Judaism, whether it be Reform, Conservative or Orthodox believe the bible is from G-D. [. . .] Reform and Conservative believe that the Bible is G-D's words to Moshe, but moshe wrote it in his own words

That is not my understanding of either Reform or Conservative Judaism. My understanding is that Reform and Conservative rabbis have long accepted the findings of archaeology and Biblical criticism, according to which even the oldest parts of the Bible were written in the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, centuries after the supposed exodus. Here is one statement on the Conservative view of revelation. (I just did some Googling to find it; no doubt there are more comprehensive statements on line elsewhere.)

Reform and Conservative Judaism are based on the fact that the Bible is 100% true.

Since the Bible is full of contradictions (sample), no coherent religion can be founded on the idea that its contents are 100% true. But, setting that aside, certainly Reform and Conservative Judaism do not affirm Biblical inerrancy. I am glad, in any case, to see that our disagreements may come down to questions of fact that can be resolved empirically.

And once the Bible is worthless why believe in the G-D of the Jewish religion?

I am struck by how you leap from "The Bible was not written by God" to "The Bible is worthless." It seems to me that you regard the world in a rigidly dichotomized, black-and-white fashion.

E-Man said...

I linked to this above, I am not sure you saw it. I believe this website says contrary to your beliefs and when I discussed this with my Grandparents Rabbi this is the belief that he said conservative Judaism believes in, officially. meaning this is what JTS will tell you Conservative Judaism believes. Here is the link:

http://www.fact-index.com/c/co/conservative_judaism.html#Beliefs

E-Man said...

Apparently, Reform Judaism says believe whatever you want.

http://www.fact-index.com/r/re/reform_judaism.html

E-Man said...

Also, all of these contradictions that you believe are found in the Bible are actually not contradictions according to Orthodox or conservative Judaism (not sure about reform anymore). Their explanations are found in the Mishnayos, Gemorah, Midrashim etc. So with these explanations there are no contradictions. (But I doubt i will ever be able to convince you of this so it is not worth debating.) That is why Orthodox and Conservative Judaism believe the Torah came from G-D and some people in Reform Judaism that choose to believe it is the word of G-D.

Also, there is nothing found in Archeology that contradicts anything in the Bible. There is lack of evidence, but there are no outright contradictions that I am aware of.

"I am struck by how you leap from "The Bible was not written by God" to "The Bible is worthless." It seems to me that you regard the world in a rigidly dichotomized, black-and-white fashion."

I mean that it is religiously worthless. It has value for the study of the human condition if it was written by man. But how could it have any religious value if it is false?