Monday, October 29, 2007

Entertaining hashkafic doubts

Another comment that I posted on XGH's blog:

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I also entertain skeptical thoughts but here's the two facts which ground me:

1) I believe in Hashem. How to define Hashem? The standard way - an omnicient and omnipotent entity who created the universe (ir, in some way, IS the universe.) I leave out whether this entity exactly matches whet is depicted in Tanach for the moment. Call him a nondenominational God.

2) I believe in Judaism. That is to say, I believe in the process. Rabbinic Judaism is mostly man made anyway. What we practice today would be virtually unrecognizable to Jews at the time of, say, Shlomo HaMelech. So for anyone, 90% of believing in Judaism is believing in the process of Judaism, the give & take of interpretation of the Torah.

As for the other 10% - well, I have doubts, but I figure my belief in Hashem and in the process of Judaism is enough grounding so that I can explore my doubts about whether parts of the Torah were written by humans, or whether individuals in Tanach actually exististed, or if there was ever really a great flood that ecompassed the world, in relative theological comfort.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

God and authenticity of Judaism

On his blog, XGH often stuggles with God's existence and with the truth of Judaism. Here is comment I wrote to one of his recent posts - I ended up rambling a little:

Seems to me that you struggle with 2 questions and that you need to examine each in a different light:

1) does God exist

2) if god exists, is OJ true?

Or break it down even further:

If God exists, what kind of God is he? Does he consciously rule the world or is all of existence just a sort of "side effect" of God's being? Or does he take an active role?

If he takes an active role, did he actually command us to do all the things that the Torah lists or is that a human document by people who were striving for God?

Even if it's not a totally human document, what level of input was there by God? Written by God, every word? Written by people interpreting the word of God? Written with ruach hakodesh or divine inspiration?

There's a lot behind the question: "Is Orthodox Judaism true?"

Personally, I believe in God (99% of the time - I think 100% is unhealthy to having an active, thinking religion) and I believe in traditional halacha. But what does believing in traditional halacha mean? That all of Torah Sheba'al peh came directly from God at Har Sinai, or that humans extrapolated it from Torah Shebichtav? There are definitely majorly flawed halachot. If it's a partially human system, then you can accept that some of it reflects the biases of those who instituted those laws (and you work within the halachic system to change them). If it's 100% min hashamayim, seems to me that would imply a flawed God. That's why I think that accepting that the system is partially human created invites MORE emunah, not less.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The YU Commentator has an article about Young Israel setting a national screening process for all YI shul rabbis.

Here's the comment I posted at the Commentator website:

More top-down homogenization and yet another reason I don't daven at a Young Israel.

I wonder why they're taking this action? I have never heard of a case of a YI hiring a graduate of Chovevei Torah, and I can't think of any YI that would.

Another comment - as a fan of YCT, it disturbs me to see Rabbi Helfgot using the "Torah True" phrase. While I respect Rabbi Helfgot tremendously, this is slightly disturbing. While there's nothing's wrong with "Torah True" in principle, it's become a catchphrase of the yeshivish world to exclude places like YCT, and even YU sometimes. His using the term comes off like a desperate attempt to say to the yeshivish world: "Look - we're one of you! Please acknowledge our legitimacy!"

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Can women read the Megillah for men?

Recently I started attending a local Gemara shiur (Talmud class.)

The class is studying Tractate Megillah, and one of the first things we discussed was whether women can read the megillah for men.

It seems very clear from the gemara, (towards the top of page 4a), that women can do so, and that men will fulfill their obligation by hearing a woman read.

The gemara says:




Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Women are obligated in the reading of the megillah, for they too were part of the miracle.

Note that it says “bemikrah”, in the reading of the megillah, not “beshmiyah”, in the hearing of the megillah.

However, Tosafot, while acknowledging that the plain text would appear to support that view, then jumps through hoops to work out an interpretation that denies women this right.

I wonder if this is a case of approaching the topic by the standards of the medieval period in which the Tosafists lived with a preconceived notion and then wringing out their desired conclusion through rather convoluted reasoning?