Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tosfos-Need for a Mashgiach (Jewish Watchman Over Food)

A Mashgiach is someone that is hired by a kashrus organization that watches over food to make sure it is all kosher. This means that the mashgiach watches so no non-kosher food is mixed into the kosher food and that all the laws of kashrus are followed.

In the top Tosfos in Kiddushin on daf 76A it talks about being able to eat Matza made by a Samaritan. The Gemorah states that it is allowed. However, Tosfos presents the following problem. He says, "It says (in Pirkei DiRebbe Eliezer chapter 38) that anyone who eats the bread of a Samaritan, it is as if they ate pig." This seems to contradict the idea in the Gemorah so how can we reconcile these two ideas?

The Gemorah previously discussed that the Samaritans were a group of people that existed in the northern part of Israel after the ten tribes were removed. The Gemorah discusses that the Samaritans converted to Judaism, but their conversion is questioned. There are differing opinions as to why they converted. Mainly, they converted so that lions would stop attacking them, making them false converts. This is the opinion the Gemorah is dealing with here. The opinion here is that the Samaritans are the same as any other non-Jew, except in the few laws that are known among the Jews that the Samaritans follow. However, these laws they follow do not include kashrus.

With this in mind we can now discuss the answer that Tosfos presents in order to reconcile this problem. He says, " We can answer this question by stating that a Samaritans bread is like pork only when he makes the bread in his own house [seemingly with no one watching]. However, if the Samaritan makes the bread in a Jews house, [seemingly being watched by the Jew], then this bread is completely kosher.

I am not sure, but this might be one of the earliest sources for the possibility of having a mashgiach. Allowing food to be made by a non-Jew is very convenient for the Jews of today. What with all the different certificates of kashrus.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rambam-The Size of the Celestial Bodies- Yisodei Hatorah perek 3 halacha 8

In this halacha, the Rambam discusses how the science of his time viewed the size of the celestial bodies. He says,

כל הכוכבים הנראים יש מהן כוכבים קטנים שהארץ גדולה מאחד מהן. ויש מהן כוכבים גדולים שכל אחד מהן גדול מן הארץ כמה פעמים. והארץ גדולה מן הירח כמו ארבעים פעמים. והשמש גדולה מן הארץ כמו מאה ושבעים פעמים. נמצא הירח אחד מששת אלפים ושמונה מאות מן השמש בקירוב. ואין בכל הכוכבים כוכב גדול מן השמש ולא קטן מכוכב שבגלגל השני:

"Every celestial body that is visible is either small, in the sense that the Earth is bigger than one of them, or they are large, in the sense that they are many times bigger than the Earth. The Earth is larger than the Moon by a factor of 40. The Sun is larger than the Earth by a factor of 170 times. We find that the Moon is approximately 1/6800 of the Sun's size. The largest celestial body is the Sun and the smallest is Mercury."

The Peirush (Unknown commentator) explains that the Rambam says the word visible because he admits there are some celestial bodies that are invisible because they are too small to see. I think this is an incredible statement since they were able to figure this out with very primitive instruments. Also, it is amazing that they were able to realize that Mercury is the smallest of all the planets.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Rambam- Zodiac's (constellations) Appearance Explained- Yisodei Hatorah perek 3 halacha 7

For some reason the Rambam finds it crucial to explain astronomy. Therefore, he continues his discussion of the constellations. He says,

גלגל התשיעי עצמו אין בו לא חלוקה ולא צורה מכל הצורות האלו ולא כוכב. אלא בחיבור הכוכבים שבגלגל השמיני הוא שיראה בכוכבים גדולים שבו תבנית הצורות האלו או קרוב מהן. ואלו השנים עשר צורות לא היו מכוונות כנגד אותן החלקים אלא בזמן המבול שאז העלו להן שמות אלו. אבל בזמן הזה כבר סבבו מעט, לפי שכל הכוכבים שבגלגל שמיני כולם סובבים כמו השמש והירח אלא שהן סובבין בכבידות. וחלק שיתהלך השמש והירח כנגדו ביום אחד ילך כנגדו כל כוכב מהן בקירוב משבעים שנה:

"The ninth Sphere itself has nothing in it, no divisions, no forms like these forms [we mentioned] and no stars. However, it does have a connection to the stars that are in the eighth Sphere. It is because of this connection that it appears to have big stars that shape these forms [of the Zodiac] or the forms close to them. These twelve forms [of the Zodiac] (in the eighth Sphere) have not been in correlation to the twelve divisions (that are in the ninth Sphere) since the days of the Great Flood since that is when they were given their names. Nowadays, the (eighth) Sphere has turned a little (and is therefore out of sync with the ninth Sphere and its original designations). The reason for this is because the stars that are in the eighth Sphere are all rotating around like the Sun or the Moon, only they rotate slower. (To compare the two) the amount of the sky that the Sun covers in one day, these other stars it takes 70 years."

The Peirush (unknown commentary) explains that the reason the Rambam feels the need to tell us that the ninth and eighth Spheres are out of sync is because the original astronomers thought that even the eighth Sphere does not rotate. However, by the time of the Rambam all astronomers had found out that really the stars do rotate and have shifted their position in the sky from the previous years, albeit slowly.

The eighth and ninth Spheres are things that are so far away and difficult to understand. The reason that the Rambam devotes so much time to figuring out the constellations and telling us all the science that he knows is clear. The Rambam is telling us that science must be understood in order to connect to G-D. One can not truly appreciate the creator of something if they do not understand the intricacies and difficulties involved with those objects. A man who knows how to make a watch can appreciate the difficulties involved with making that watch. Also, a fellow doctor can understand how hard medical school is, whereas a lay person might not appreciate the difficulty and self sacrifice that is involved.

This is why I think the Rambam takes such great care to delve into these seemingly meaningless ideas. I mean, why should we care how the outer most Spheres work? Will we ever come in contact with them? Will they ever effect us? It must be that we are on a mission to understand everything in this world in order that we can have a greater appreciation for G-D.

Just as a side point, I think this teaches us a very valuable lesson about appreciating anyone, especially our parents. A person never really appreciates all that their parents do for them until they themselves become parents. Only once a person is put into the shoes of their parents do they realize the difficulties that parenting involves. This, of course, is true by most things.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rambam- The Zodiacs- Yisodei Hatorah perek 3 halacha 6

The Rambam describes how the Zodiacs are made up and described. He says,

גלגל התשיעי שהוא מקיף את הכל חלקוהו החכמים הקדמונים לשנים עשר חלקים, כל חלק וחלק העלו לו שם על שם צורה זו שתראה בו מן הכוכבים שלמטה ממנו שהם מכוונים תחתיו. והם המזלות ששמותם. טלה. שור. תאומים. סרטן. אריה. בתולה. מאזנים. עקרב. קשת. גדי. דלי. דגים:

"The ninth Sphere, that encompasses everything, was split into twelve parts by the first scholars. Every one [of the twelve divisions] was given a name based on the form that appeared in it from its stars that are below [the Sphere in that area] because [that image] is beneath it. These are the Zodiac that their names are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces."

The reason the Rambam says that the ninth sphere was divided into twelve parts was because really it is all of the stars found in the eighth sphere that is included in these divisions. The Zodiacs are just the constellations in the sky and by talking about them, the Rambam is not saying they have any power or anything of the sort. They are only used as reference to describe the different areas of outer space.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rambam- How Many Spheres Are Out There- Yisodei Hatorah perek 3 halacha 5

In this halacha the Rambam seems to contradict his previous assessment of how many Spheres there are. He says,

מספר כל הגלגלים המקיפין את כל העולם שמונה עשר. ומספר הגלגלים הקטנים שאינן מקיפין שמונה. וממהלך הכוכבים וידיעת שיעור סביבתן בכל יום ובכל שעה ומנטייתן מרוח דרום לרוח צפון ומרוח צפון לרוח דרום ומגבהן מעל הארץ וקריבתן יודע מספר כל אלו הגלגלים וצורת הליכתן ודרך הקפתן. וזו היא חכמת חשבון תקופות ומזלות. וספרים רבים חיברו בהן חכמי יון:

"The number of all of the Spheres that surround the Universe is 18. The number of all of the small Spheres that do not surround [the Universe] is 8. Knowing the path of the stars, the measurements of their rotations every day and hour, whether they lean towards north or south, and [knowing] how high above or close to the Earth they are will lead one to figure out how many Spheres there are, their form, their movement, and their circular path. This is the wisdom of calculations of seasons and the station of the stars (the zodiac). There are many books [on this subject] that have been compiled by the Greek sages."

The numbers 18 and eight seem to contradict the Rambam's previous number of 9. The first halacha in this perek says that there are 9 Spheres, so why does the Rambam contradict himself? The truth is that the Rambam does not contradict himself, rather these 18 Spheres are a description of the Spheres found within the 9 greater Spheres. This goes back to the Rambam's statement in the second halacha where he says that all of the 9 greater spheres are made up of many smaller Spheres.

The Peirush (unknown elucidation) on the Rambam describes how we come to the number 18 for the Spheres that surround the Universe. He tells us that the Sphere for the moon, that the Rambam mentioned in the first halacha, is really divided into three sub-Spheres. Also, the Sphere of Mercury, that the Rambam also mentioned in the first halacha, is also divided into three sub-Spheres. The next five Spheres Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are split into two sub-Spheres. Together thes sub-Spheres all add up to 16 Spheres and the remaining two are the last two Spheres mentioned in the first halacha, the Sphere that contains all other stars and the Sphere that goes from east to west that surrounds all the other Spheres and causes all other Spheres to rotate.

Before describing the 8 smaller Spheres, I think it is important to point out something from The Guide for the Perplexed. The Rambam states (Section 1 Chapter 72), "The number of these spheres encompassing the Universe cannot possibly be less than eighteen: it may even be larger; but this is a matter for further investigation." The Rambam clearly states that he did not have a perfect knowledge of the Universe, but still attempted to explain it according to the science of his time. Showing us that, eventually, his ideas about the planets might be outdated and that his ideas are not the sole way of learning these sciences. This shows his idea that, although halacha is unchanging, that doesn't mean scientific knowledge does not progress. However, one does not effect the other.

The number eight comes form the fact that the first seven of the Spheres, that are mentioned in the first halacha in this perek, all have a local Sphere that exists inside of them. It is called Pelech Tadvir(Which I believe translates into the continual spinning of the planets.) The Sun, however, is the only one of the first seven that does not have this quality and therefore, does not have this mini-Spheres. The last two Spheres, mentioned in the first halacha, also do not have this mini-Sphere because they do not contain a planet that can have the qualities of spinning continuously. This brings us to 6 mini-Spheres. However, Mercury and Venus are considered to have two mini-Spheres. Perhaps this is because they spin much faster than Earth and that is why it seems like they have an extra spin.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rambam- Shapes of the Spheres- Yisodei Hatorah perek 3 halacha 4

The Rambam describes the Spheres' shape in this halacha. Again, the Rambam is basing what he knows on Aristotilian knowledge and any other available science sources he had at the time. These descriptions do not detract from his genius, nor do they hint at a lack of halachic knowledge on the Rambam's part. All these ideas show is that the Rambam believed that scientific knowledge should be used to enhance our understanding and love for G-D. He says,

כל הגלגלים האלו המקיפין את העולם הן עגולין ככדור והארץ תלויה באמצע. ויש למקצת מן הכוכבים גלגלים קטנים שהן קבועים בהן ואין אותם הגלגלים מקיפין את הארץ אלא גלגל קטן שאינו מקיף קבוע בגלגל הגדול המקיף:

"All of these Spheres that surround the Universe are circular like a circle and the Earth hangs in the middle. There are some celestial bodies that have small spheres that are set around them. However, these spheres are not the spheres that go around the Earth, but rather they are spheres that are not set [in a permanent place] inside of the larger sphere [they are in]."

The Rambam makes some very impressive observations for his time period. He talks about different celestial bodies having orbits around them. For instance, his observations could be referring to Jupiter and its moons or Saturn and its moons. This is what is meant in the Rambam when he says there are spheres that do not rotate around the Earth, but rather around something else. He is telling us that everything rotates around the Earth, but within those greater orbits are the micro-orbits of the planets' moons and other similar bodies.

As we understand in science today, it is the Sun that is at the center of our galaxy and not the Earth. Although we may think the Rambam to be wrong in what he thought was scientific fact, it is amazing how accurate he was in astronomy. There are many planets that have moons and other types of orbits that exist around them, like the rings around Uranus and Saturn. Still, these bigger bodies still orbit around the Sun with these smaller orbits around them. The Rambam realized this, even though he was wrong about what body was at the center of the Universe.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Shavuous- First Tablets VS the Second Tablets

The Kedushas Levi asks a question. He says why is it that Chag Hashavuous is referred to in Chazal (rabbinic teachings) as Atzeres, whereas the Torah itself never refers to Shavuous as Atzeres, but rather only Shmini Atzeres is called Atzeres? The reason for this is that the Jewish people damaged their unity during the Luchos Rishonos (first tablets) and the name of Atzeres is very telling of how great the original absorption of holiness was during the first tablets. After the Jewish people sinned and lost the holiness from the level of receiving the first tablets it wasn’t proper to name the chag Atzeres because the holiness that was originally placed on this chag was now lacking. If this is so, then why do chazal still call Shavuous Atzeres?


To understand the answer to this question we must first analyze the spiritual level of the Jewish people during the Luchos Rishonos (first tablets) and Luchos Shniyos (second tablets). By the first set of luchos the Torah says that the luchos were made by G-D and they were written by G-D who engraved the tablets. Chazal say over here that when you see the word Charus (engraved) you should read it as Charus with a yud that means free. The freedom was from the yetzer hora (evil inclination) and the angel of death. This is what the level of the Jewish people was from the luchos rishonos, a freedom from sin and death, like adam harishon before the sin.

The Ohr Gidalyahu here quotes a chazal that compares the luchos rishonos to the body and the soul of a human. He says that the luchos rishonos' creation is compared to what the Jewish people’s essence was at that time and would be forever if there would have been no sin of the Golden Calf. The Luchos rishonos’s body, the stone tablets, were made by G-D, and the words on the luchos were also written by G-D. This is comparable to the body of a man and the soul of a man. The comparison is that just like there is no separation between the stone tablets and the writings on the tablets, they are both considered to be completely spiritual entities, so too the body and soul of a man at that time were considered to be one entity.

This connection between the body and the soul describe the level of the Jewish people at this time. To explain this idea we will bring in what Rebbe Simai said. He said that everything that is created in the heavens has their body and soul on one spiritual plain. Therefore we are comparing the jewish people at this time to angels that were created solely for heaven. The only difference between a man and an angel are that the man has a body from earth and a soul from heaven that are constantly at war with one another, whereas an angel has a body and soul from heaven that are in harmony. By Mount Sinai, the Jewish people's bodies were elevated to a status of heavenly creatures.

This idea is also revealed through the Jewish people's statement of naaseh vinishma, do and hear. The naaseh (action) is with the body and that elevated their bodies to a completely spiritual essence since at that time they were using their actions solely for G-D.

Therefore, when a person brings his soul and body into harmony we say that death is not even relevant to him since death is only relevant to an earthly type of body. It is similar to the Chazal that says Yaakov Avinu Lo mais. Yaakov didn’t die. It doesn’t mean that he is still alive, but he reached such a level that Chazal say that he passed into the next world, but he departed from his body like someone takes off a coat, he had no real death because of his high spiritual status.


The second set of luchos were a bit different from the first. G-D told Moshe to take two luchos made of stone and then G-D would write on them the words from the first luchos. The body of the luchos rishonos and the words were both from heaven, but the luchos shniyos had their body from earth and their words from heaven. They had a soul from heaven and a body from earth. This is because all of the Jewish people's spiritual level was lowered because of the sin of the Golden Calf. It was because of this sin that death became relevant again in the world, because the body became an earthly concept again.

The reason that only the body was lowered in spirituality and not the soul as well was because the sin of the golden calf was only in the naaseh (we will do) which corresponds to the body, however the nishma (we will listen) remained intact and that corresponds to the soul.

Another difference between the luchos rishonos and luchos shniyos is that by the luchos rishonos the Midrash Rabbah says that G-D told Moshe that all he had to know was the aseres hadibros vizehu (the ten commandments and that is all). However, by the second set G-D gave him Midrashim, Aggadita and Hilachos (the oral Torah).

The best way to describe the differences between the luchos rishonos and shniyos is to look at the commandment of keeping Shabbos. By the luchos rishonos it says zachor (remember) and by the luchos shniyos it says shamor (guard). The underlying theme of the luchos rishonos were zachor (remember) and the underlying theme of the luchos shniyos was shamor (guard). By the luchos rishonos the reality of the Jewish people and the life of the Jewish people was to follow everything that G-D said without veering left or right. Meaning that every commandment that they were given was not a warning it was just a fact. G-D said don’t kill, not as a warning but as a reality of life. (To use yeshivish talk, stealing and killing wasn’t even shayich.)

However, the idea of shamor is an idea of warning. This warning is an idea that if you do something then you will suffer consequences. That is why by the first luchos it doesn’t mention shamor, because it wasn’t relevant to mention. This is because of the high level of the Jewish people. However, once the Jewish people fell from their high level then the idea of shamor became relevant again. Now, the Jewish people needed the warning of shamor so that if they did something wrong there would be consequences. Through the idea of shamor then the Jewish people could reach the idea of zachor, which is where your life is a reality of keeping these commandments.

The idea that the first luchos were a reality and not a warning is shown in the following way. By the first luchos there is no vav between lo tirzach (don't kill) and lo tinof and so on, but by the second luchos there is a vav. The reason for this is that the vav is put in there to describe a warning. Like you can’t do this and this and this and etc. But by the luchos rishonos it was just a part of life and reality so there is no vav necessary. (this idea comes from the bais yaakov)

By the luchos rishonos everything was understood about the specific parts of the Torah and no expounding was needed. This is because at this time the Jewish people was given a clear vision of what life was supposed to be like, similar to Adam harishon before the sin.

However, by the second luchos since the Torah was no longer a clear vision much studying was needed in order to understand it like all of the midrashim and agadita. Nevertheless, if all the effort is put in then a clear vision of life with the Torah can be acquired.

The Oral Torah is the explanation that comes with the luchos shniyos. This is what we can use in order to make a clear vision of what it is we are supposed to be doing. The way to really reconnect our body and soul is through the Oral Torah. With the luchos rishonos we did not need the Oral Torah since we already had the clear vision of how to live our life, but because of the sin, our body and soul became at war and the only way to create harmony again is through the Oral Torah.

This is why the Torah never refers to shavuous as Atzeres, but chazal do. The luchos rishonos were destroyed and we are living with the luchos shniyos. The Written Torah in and of itself is not enough to give us a clear vision of how to live and connect our bodies to our souls. However, chazal call shavuous atzeres, because through the Oral Torah, the gemorah and so forth, we are able to recreate this clear vision and connect our bodies with our souls.

This is where the custom of learning all night comes from. We are trying to learn the Oral Torah to reconnect ourselves with the idea of creating a clear vision of what we are supposed to be doing in order to connect our bodies and our souls. This will recreate the high status of the Jewish people and bring us back to our level before the sin of Adam harishon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rambam- Properties of the Spheres- Yisodei Hatorah perek 3 halacha 3

The Rambam attempts to explain some of the features of the Spheres and how we can relate to them. He says,

כל הגלגלים אינן לא קלים ולא כבדים ואין להם לא עין אדום ולא עין שחור ולא שאר עינות. וזה שאנו רואין אותם כעין התכלת למראית העין בלבד הוא לפי גובה האויר. וכן אין להם לא טעם ולא ריח לפי שאין אלו המאורעין מצויין אלא בגופות שלמטה מהן:

"None of the Spheres are light, nor are they heavy. They do not have a red appearance, black appearance or any other appearance. The reason we see them as blue is because it appears this way to our eyes because of the height of the atmosphere. Also, the Spheres have no taste or smell because these qualities are only found by the bodies that exist lower than them."

The Spheres are not the planets and stars, rather they are the orbit that contains them. The discussion now is focused on what are these orbits. An orbit contains no color, mass, or any type of physical properties. This is what the Rambam is pointing out about the Spheres. He is trying to explain what science at his time believed, that the planets and distance stars are contained within separate orbits.

The most interesting point made here is that the orbits have no color. This seems to contradict what is seen on earth since at different points of the day we can see the sky as blue, black or red. If the orbits have no color then why does the sky appear to be these colors? The Rambam tells us that the Earth's atmosphere creates the illusion of color in outer space. The sky that we see has nothing to do with how the universe exists, but rather it is a creation of the atmosphere of Earth, because of its height. Therefore, these colors do not contradict the ideas found within Rambam.

As a side point, it is interesting to note that when the astronauts go up in space there is no color, but just a vacuum. The dark color comes from the distance of the expanse that no one has traveled to yet. What is out there, even modern science does not know for sure. According to modern science, the universe is expanding and therefore we can not see to its end. Nevertheless, it seems like Rambam was correct on this point, that space is a vacuum with no color, mass or other type of Earthly qualities.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rambam- Motions of the Spheres- Yisoedei Hatorah Perek 3 Halacha 2

The Rambam continues discussing his understanding of the universe. In this section he describes the inner woekings of the spheres. He says,

כל גלגל וגלגל משמונה הגלגלים שבהן הכוכבים נחלק לגלגלים הרבה זה למעלה מזה כמו גלדי בצלים. מהן גלגלים סובבים ממערב למזרח. ומהן סובבים ממזרח למערב כמו הגלגל התשיעי החוזר ממזרח למערב. וכולן אין ביניהם מקום פנוי:

"All of the spheres, from the first eight levels of speheres that have the celestial bodies inside them, are separated into several sub-spheres. [They are ordered in such a manner] that one is higher than the other like the layers of an onion. Some of these sub-spheres rotate from west to east and others rotate from east to west like the ninth sphere returns from east to west. Also, there is no space between these sub-spheres."

The Rambam here is describing why it appears that some things in the sky rotate east to west, even though he said that the eight spheres with celestial bodies in them rotate west to east. It seems like he is attempting to explain meteors and asteroids. These bodies contradict the idea that all of the spheres rotate from west to east. However, by introducing the idea that the eight spheres are made up of many sub-spheres that some rotate east to west and not just west to east, the Rambam is able to explain this phenomenom.

It seems like the Rambam is not basing this knowledge on talmudic sources, but rather it seems like he is basing his ideas on Aristotilian philosophy. Obviously, the Rambam's scientific views are not correct according to the way we understand science, specifically astronomy. This, however, does not detract from the Rambam's point of view that it is important to try and understand science and through this become closer to G-D. Obviously, no one is able to understand how science works perfectly, but that should not stop us from trying.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Reconciling Immanuel Kant's Theory of Morals With Judaism

I would like to introduce this subject by just stating that I believe everything the Torah says is moral. However, I do find a value to explaining the morality found within the Torah from external sources as well. I do not believe the Torah's morals are limited to these external morals, since the morals found in the Torah are from G-D and therefore infallible, but these external morals do provide logical explanations for the choices of G-D's morals. It is probably the case that these reasons are not the real reasons, but giving reasons for the commandments are fallible in the same way, yet people have always tried to do that.

In order to introduce Kant's ideas, I would like to bring in a portion written by the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It says,

"Kant argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative” (CI). Immorality thus involves a violation of the CI and is thereby irrational. Other philosophers, such as Locke and Hobbes, had also argued that moral requirements are based on standards of rationality. However, these standards were either desire-based instrumental principles of rationality or based on sui generis rational intuitions. Kant agreed with many of his predecessors that an analysis of practical reason will reveal only the requirement that rational agents must conform to instrumental principles. Yet he argued that conformity to the CI (a non-instrumental principle) and hence to moral requirements themselves, can nevertheless be shown to be essential to rational agency. This argument was based on his striking doctrine that a rational will must be regarded as autonomous, or free in the sense of being the author of the law that binds it. The fundamental principle of morality — the CI — is none other than the law of an autonomous will. Thus, at the heart of Kant's moral philosophy is a conception of reason whose reach in practical affairs goes well beyond that of a Humean ‘slave’ to the passions. Moreover, it is the presence of this self-governing reason in each person that Kant thought offered decisive grounds for viewing each as possessed of equal worth and deserving of equal respect."

Kant's ideas here seem very rational and well developed. All people are equal, we are not to be 'slaves' to our desires and only rational thought is to be used when figuring out what is moral. I believe that the morals that are laid out in the Torah can be shown to be very congruent with these ideas, except the last. This, however, does not preclude the Torah from being similar to Kant's ideas since Kant is using rationality, whereas the Torah uses the morals that are laid out by G-D. Therefore, the important aspects to show that are congruent are that all people are equal and that we are not to base morality on our personal desires. The fact that Kant gets his morals from logic and the Torah receives its morals from G-D does not make these two approaches dissimilar.

Before continuing, I believe it is important to point out that Kant specifically says that Judaism's morality can not be congruent with his morality. However, the reasons he gives show a lack of understanding of Judaism. For example, he says that the laws contained within Judaism appear to only apply to the nation and political aspects of the jewish people. This is pointed out in the following paragraph that describes Kant's views written by Peter J. Leithart. He says,

"Judaism was only a collection of merely statutory laws supporting a political state; for whatever moral additions were appended to it, whether originally or only later, do not in any way belong to Judaism as such. Judaism was meant to be secular. Its commands are political, external; the consequences of disobedience are dispensed by human beings. Judaism contains no reference to the future life, and since this is a rational belief, it can only be that G-D deliberately excluded this from Judaism. Judaism did not aim at any universal church, but was exclusivist and hostile to the whole human race outside. G-D was not a moral G-D, but demanded obedience without any accompanying demand for moral progress."

It is interesting to note that most Jews that Kant associated with were non-religious philosopher types. It stands to reason that he did not really know the truth about Judaism. First of all, "The consequence of disobecidence" was not just dispensed by human beings. This is true because there are several laws in Judaism that say a man's soul is removed from the covenant. The fact that Kant can even entertain the idea that Judaism does not refer to the future life reveals that a non-believer must have taught him all he knew about Judaism. As we all know, Judaism is all about the future life. The next world, the spiritual world, is talked about so much throughout the Mishna, Talmud and so many other jewish sources. My final comment will be on Kant's idea that Judaism is exclusivist. First off, Judaism allows anyone to convert, which he says makes Christianity non-exclusive. Secondly, the belief in Judaism is that one need not convert and that person can still live a meaningful life as long as they follow the seven Noahide laws. The morality found within the Torah is not exclusive for Jews, rather it is meant for all humankind. The laws are exclusive for Jews, for them to fulfill the statutes, but the morals found inside the Torah are universal.

Kant's morality philosophy must first be stated before being able to compare it to the Torah. It states, "

An agent's maxim, according to Kant, is his "subjective principle of human actions": that is, what the agent believes is his reason to act. (Kant, Foundations, pp. 400, 429.) This idea has five steps:
1)Find the agent's maxim (i.e., an action paired with its motivation). Take for example the declaration "I will lie for personal benefit." Lying is the action; the motivation is to fulfill some sort of desire. Paired together, they form the maxim.
2)Imagine a possible world in which everyone in a similar position to the real-world agent followed that maxim.
3)Decide whether any contradictions or irrationalities arise in the possible world as a result of following the maxim.
4)If a contradiction or irrationality arises, acting on that maxim is not allowed in the real world.
5)If there is no contradiction, then acting on that maxim is permissible, and in some instances required.

I think this type of rationale can be applied to the morals in the Torah. (By the way if I am wrong that does not disprove anything other than my theory.) First, it must be stated that Kant believes that human beings, because of their ability to act on a law they give to themselves, their autonomy, possess a dignity that renders them as ends not means. To kill a human being then is always wrong in that it is the ultimate violation of their status as an end. On the other hand, in so far as we choose to kill another, justice requires, Kant believes, that we die also. The case of a war would be along the same lines. In a legitimate war of self-defense against an aggressor, killing the enemy is morally justifiable, since the latter has chosen to attack us without just cause.

These ideas found within Kant's ideology can answer up some questions of morality that have been bothering people about certain Biblical statements. For example, exterminate Amalek. How is it possible that a moral system would require the destruction of a nation? I believe that, if we say that the Torah is similar to Kant then we have our answer. The Torah reveals to us that the nation of Amalek will always try to kill the nation of the Jews. This was proven years later when Haman, in the story of Purim, tried to kill the Jews and it was made known that he was from Amalek. Therefore, since there will be a continuous struggle and the Amalekites will always try to kill the Jews, it is incumbent upon the Jewish people to survive. This survival is contingent upon the fact that we destroy Amalek since they will forever try to kill us. How could the Jewish people make sure they survive? By wiping out the very nation that is trying to wipe them out. I think that is the justice that Kant speaks of and it can be applied to this situation. Also, this does not violate the five steps that he lays out for individual thought because this is only a reactionary measure for what is just.

Similarly, this idea explains why a murderer should be put to death. If a person kills another then it is morally unacceptable to leave that person alive. For if you leave them alive, how is it just and fair that one who has killed another remain alive? It has to be that he is put to death in order that the justness of the world and its morality remain intact.

Kant and the Torah seem very congruent in their ideas of what is just, but like I mentioned before, I think they are also similar in how a person should morally behave in general. One should always be thinking, what would happen if the whole world acted like this. Similarly, in Judaism, the rules only allow one to act in a certain way that is not detrimental to society. Anything that is detrimental is not permissible. I think the main difference between them is that Kant uses his rational, whereas the Torah is morals straight from G-D.

Again, I am not an expert on this, but these were some ideas that I came up with. If proven wrong then maybe Kant and the Torah are not reconcilable, or maybe I am just not thinking in the proper way. Either way, this was just an idea I had that i wanted to share. I am open for anyones comments and corrections.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rambam- Understanding the Spheres (Celestial Bodies and Their Orbits)- Yisodei Hatorah perek 3 halacha 1

The Rambam's approach to Judaism is that of a rationalist. He attempts to explain and understand everything based on science and nature. The only problem with this is that in his time, science and nature were not understood in the same way we know it today. Their understanding of how the celestial bodies moved and rotated is not the same as we know it today. However, this lack of scientific knowledge does not in any way detract from his ideas on Judaism. Every generation, according to the Rambam, needs to use the science that they know to rationalize their understanding of G-D. As Rambam understood science and tried to rationalize G-D's existence through that scientific knowledge, so too must we use the science available to us and rationalize the existence of G-D. In this perek he discusses the celestial bodies. He says,

הגלגלים הם הנקראים שמים ורקיע וזבול וערבות. והם תשעה גלגלים. גלגל הקרוב ממנו הוא גלגל הירח. והשני שלמעלה ממנו הוא גלגל שבו הכוכב הנקרא כוכב. וגלגל שלישי שלמעלה ממנו שבו נוגה. וגלגל רביעי שבו חמה. וגלגל חמישי שבו מאדים. וגלגל ששי שבו כוכב צדק. וגלגל שביעי שבו שבתי. וגלגל שמיני שבו שאר כל הכוכבים שנראים ברקיע. וגלגל תשיעי הוא גלגל החוזר בכל יום מן המזרח למערב והוא המקיף ומסבב את הכל. וזה שתראה כל הכוכבים כאילו הם כולם בגלגל אחד ואף על פי שיש בהן זה למעלה מזה. מפני שהגלגלים טהורים וזכים כזכוכית וכספיר לפיכך נראים הכוכבים שבגלגל השמיני מתחת גלגל הראשון:

"The Spheres, they are called Heaven (Shamayim), Expanse (Rakia), Residence (Zevul) and Mixing (Araba). There are nine Spheres in total. The closest Sphere to us is the Sphere of the moon. The Sphere after that is the Sphere that has within it a body which is called Mercury. The third has within it Venus. The fourth has within it the Sun. The fifth has within it Mars. The sixth has within it the body of Jupiter. The seventh has within it Saturn. The eighth Sphere has within it all the other bodies that appear in the expanse. The ninth Sphere is the Sphere that returns,every day, from the east to the west. This is the Sphere that surrounds everything and causes everything to rotate.

The fact that a person sees all the celestial bodies as if they are all in one Sphere, even though they are arranged one higher than the other, is because the Spheres are pure and transparent like glass and sapphire. Therefore, we see the bodies that are in the eighth Sphere as if they are lower[, closer to us,] than the bodies in the first Sphere."

The one important point that I want to focus on here is the four different names that the Rambam gives to the Spheres. If there are nine Spheres then why does the Rambam say there are only four names, what about the other five Spheres? I think the answer is as follows. The Rambam believes that there are nine Spheres in total, but some of the Spheres are in the same general category.

The Heaven category includes the Sphere of the Moon since this is the Sphere that is right above our sky and with which we can most closest relate. Then there is the category of the Expanse, this includes the bodies of Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This category encompasses all the Spheres that cause the bodies inside these Spheres to rotate. The next category is that of the Residence. This category contains within it the eighth Sphere which is the Sphere that contains all the other celestial bodies that are so far away that we can't even relate to them. The final category is that of Mixing. This category contains the ninth Sphere which is the force that moves all other Spheres.

The first category, Heaven, is the category that most relates to humans. This is experienced through the calender, which we base on the moon. Also, this is why every month we do the blessing on the Moon. The next level is that of the second category, Expanse. The Expanse has the Spheres that man relates to, but on a much more distant level. This is why we bless the sun, but only once every 28 years. Also, we relate to the other bodies in our solar system, but on a much more distant level. The third level is that which we can not relate to, but there is something physical that we can see. This is the category of Residence. The Residence is the Sphere where celestial bodies that can relate to G-D because of their distance from man, but can't relate to G-D because they are visible, which makes them physical on some level. The final category, of Mixing, refers to the Sphere that causes all Spheres to rotate. This is the final level before G-D. This is because this Sphere is completely removed from physicality except that it has a relation to the physical Spheres because it causes them to rotate directly. G-D causes everything to rotate indirectly, but this Sphere is the direct cause of the rotation of these other Spheres. It is similar to how the Chayos cause the Ophanim to come into existence.