A Good Facebook Discussion on Social Orthodoxy (and General Jewish Philosophy)

I had an interesting discussion on Facebook with someone and since I have not posted in a while, I figured I would just cheat and share the discussion. The quotes are from the other guy and the rest is from me.

i consider myself an Observant Jew, modern, and constantly reviewing my ideas and values, but I found this article very strange. An Orthodoxy that doesn’t serve G-d? just serves the continuity of the Jewish people? I can’t see that, sounds short lived to me.http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/the-rise-of-social-orthodoxy-a-personal-account/

Why do we need to judge the value of an ideology in terms of how long it lasts? We tend to judge things on timescales close to human lifetimes and if we were to take a step back and look at almost any system of ideas we would see that no one system tends to last all that long before evolving into something else. If you were to go back to the origins of Judaism and look at it from outside a human timescale you would see that ideas tend to change every few hundred years. Yet we don’t say that all those ideas were wrong because they were short lived. Rather we see that the cultures of the people practicing Judaism changed (as all cultures do) and so the ideas within Judaism changed as well and they will continue to change.

Ok, now I’ll read the article :)

Guy #2 The value should be judged on the truth. The truth is that Judaism that does not rooted in Gd s Torah is not Judaism and is not truth and not sustainable.

OP: I am not saying all new ideas are wrong, just these! and, yes, we do say that the Karaites and Sadducees were short lived and wrong. I have to agree wit guy2. any Judaism that serves Jews instead of G-d, seems very short sighted.

@ Guy #2, "Truth" is a slippery slope especially when it comes to ideas. Even the idea of "God’s Torah" can be defined many different ways through different areas of Jewish History. On an iPad as well so can’t type a lot on it now, but there are many good books on the subject, my favorite being Max Dimont’s Jews, God, and History.

@ op I would argue (in more detail if not on an iPad) that ALL religions ultimately serve the people who practice them much more than any God, whether or not those practicing it accept that or not.

Guy #2: Yes, many views. Many of them are false and have led to the creation of new religions.
Gd wants us to work toward perfecting His world. Ben Adam lahavero is part of honoring Gd as well. Saying benefit Gd vs. benefit man is a false dichotomy. But yes, Gd is perfect and complete and needs nothing from us, do in effect our free will is our opportunity to improve ourselves and come closer to Gd through his Torah and mitzvahs.
OP: @ me, yes, there is always an element of religion for the improvement of human and human society, but not serve as the ultimate goal. the ultimate goal of religion is to serve G-d. Eastern religions that have no service of G-d, are fully dedicated to the enlightenment of the practitioner, and although attractive, I don’t see that as the fundamental of Judaism. and the liberal versions of Judaism that do believe that, have a shaky future.

@ OP reading the article I don’t think this form of Social Orthodoxy is doomed any more so than other offshoots of Judaism (including Orthodoxy). The main reason being that, as the author points out, his Social Orthodoxy is rooted in practice and tradition. I would argue that rituals tend to have a much longer shelf life than beliefs. 

Studies of the early development of almost all religions show a development process that tends to begin with animism, magic, and rites (i.e. ritual practice) and then later evolves into form of mysticism, creed, and dogma. (Suggested reading: http://www.amazon.com/Religion-Culture…/dp/1479109681 andhttp://www.amazon.com/Magic-Science…/dp/0881336572) Judaism is no exception and early Judaism was formed around rituals and only later did the explanations and beliefs in those rituals develop along with Monotheism. And those ideas of God continued to evolve over two thousand years, absorbing many ideas from Christianity and Islam along the way. 

(For example, the Idea of God that Guy #2 presented above is a mystical notion that is developed by R Isaac Luria in the 1500’s and later outlined by R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato in Derech Hashem in the 1700’s, almost 3,000 years after the formation of Judaism. It’s an idea that was originally influenced by many Christian and Muslim philosophers and theologians and was not an Idea that existed in the early forms of Judaism.)

My point here is that throughout history almost every religion began with ritual first and creed came second. Rituals are far easier to transmit than beliefs. Rituals will continue to be practiced long after the beliefs behind them have faded.

OP. @ me It’s an interesting point but I can’t think of any evidence to support it. All religious prophets started with a message and a core belief. From Moses to Buddha to Ballulah. Not one started with a ritual

@ OP: Without getting too into it too deep before Pesach, I would suggest reading one (or both) of the books posted above as well as Karen Armstrong’s A History Of God.I think you will see a lot of supporting evidence for my assertions above. I also think that they may clarify what I mean by “Ritual” (I think you may be interpreting that as a religions ritual or a specific ritual. I mean ritual more in the sense of the things cultures do that make up their every day life. Every culture has forms of rituals). I think Karen Armstrong’s book in particular may challenge some of your views about all religious prophets starting with a message and a core belief and as prophets being the main founders of modern-day religion.

OP: @ me, again good points, but we know its major linguistic stretch to say Ritual could mean culture, or cultural ways. Very different meanings that do not overlap. 

2nd, I am familiar with Karen Armstrong, but you are having difficulty providing an 
example of a religion that started as ritual/culture. Sure, many people say the AVot and Moshe didn’t really exist. I don’t accept that view. but we certainly know that Muhammed, Buddha, Guru Nanak, and Ballulah existed. Did they not start their religions, or did they 1st teach ritual or culture? No.

3rd, its strange to me how Jews completely reject re reading the Torah as G-d becoming Man, as the Christians say. But accepting that G-d wrote the Torah, but it was all a gimmick or teaching mechanism, and there is no G-d? how is that any different? its a radical change, and I don’t think should be accepted.

To clarify, I did not mean say ritual = culture. The clothes people wear, the songs they sing, the art they create, the food they eat are all part of their culture but are not rituals. HOW they don their clothing, compose their songs, create their art, or prepare their food can be forms of ritual (and almost always were for ancient and indigenous people) and are also simultaneously part of their culture. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual

I think it’s also important to further clarify my point that religion is normally preceded by forms of animism, rites, magic, and ritual. This is most definitely the case with early religions and indigenous religions. It is well documented by anthropologists in the books I linked to above as well as many many others.

As an example of how this could theoretically apply to Judaism, we know that many cultures in antiquity practiced circumcision (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_male_circumcision) also almost every culture has food taboos and food preparation rituals (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2711054/). Every other culture has different stories as to why they practice these rituals and have these restrictions. They all developed early on as a form of ritual practice and only later did the religions ideas evolve around these rituals. It is not a stretch by any means (especially in light of all the archeological and anthropological evidence to support it) that the same thing happened within Judaism. Ancient Hebrew tribes practiced these rituals alongside other local cultures and only later did the religious explanation evolve in the form of the Torah. This has nothing to do with whether or not the Avos were real people. They could have been real people, inspired by real people, or entirely made up later. In all three scenarios they still offered a divine/religious explanation to existing rituals and practices.

Christianity and to a lesser extent Islam branched off from Judaism and so they can still be said to have originated in Ritual as they broke off from another religion that began that way. Christianity in essence rejected many of the ritual aspects and just kept some of the ideas of the Divine Sky God (although further evolved them to bring Man into the equation). Islam kept some of the rituals, changed some, and added their own (picking up the rituals of the Arab tribes they absorbed along the way and using Islam as a divine explanation for many of those existing rituals). 

Buddhism is partly in exception in the sense that the Upanishads tend to deemphasize ritual (and often times resist it outright) with the idea that Enlightenment is the ultimate goal and rituals can not bring you to enlightenment. But even so, I could argue that Buddhism was preceded by ritual in the sense that it is offered as an opposition to ritual. 

There are indeed modern religions that are almost completely founded on prophecy (Scientology, Mormonism, etc.) but my initial point was focusing more on the idea of how religion began within human society.

I hope this helps clarify my points a bit more. 

On your #3 above, I don’t think the Jews you are questioning believe God wrote the Torah but he didn’t mean it (i.e. teaching mechanism). I think they believe Man wrote the Torah. Or they believe God wrote the Torah and Man changed it. But you’re write, if they believe God wrote the Torah and gave the Oral Torah in it’s current form, then yes, something would seem quite odd about thinking it is just a gimmick of sorts.

OP: again, @ me, interesting points. I am not sure how they are relevant. And, to the main point, countless numbers of liberal Jewish thinkers would make innovations, because they found other ancient cultures had similar stories and practices. That doesn’t prove that Judaism started in magic, or just fables, or stories, that evolved into Torah. its certainly a theory in academia, but its not proven by any stretch of the imagination. 

So, again, this is the critique of the Haredim, or Machmir Modern Orthodox. When Jews begin to believe that our Torah is a collection of man made stories, that was eventually turned in to a myth about a giving of the Torah, the Jewish movement begins to dissipate. That evidence surrounds us! So, your theory that change always happens and rituals are the main key to continuity, just doesn’t add up, in today’s clear evidence of the Jewish liberal movements.

and, yes, this article, just like Conservative and Reform thinkers, says that Judaism can be whittled down into a perfectly harmonious modern system, where Humans are at the center, our rationalism is perfect, and G-d is a fictitious supernatural being. 

a tragic mistake in my opinion. maybe understandable 200 years ago, when modernity 1st started. but, we have seen the results, and now Orthodox practitioners think they are part of some revolutionary idea, but they are just repeating the mistakes of the past. that is even more tragic.

I don’t think the few points I mentioned are enough to prove Judaism origin’s one way or the other. In fact, I don’t think Judaism’s true origin is something that is provable. But I do think there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that academics cite to make a convincing argument that Judaism started the same way every other religion was started - by men. If we believe the academics about the origins of every other religion it seems like a double-standard to me to suddenly discredit them entirely for their account of our own religion.

The more I have spent studying comparative religion, philosophy, biology, physics, cosmology, archeology, the more evidence I see to support the academic opinions of Judaism origins and the less evidence I see for what we claim to be our origins. That is just my outlook and I don’t expect everyone to agree.

On your second point, I would argue that the previous Jewish Liberal movements actually focused more on belief than on ritual. For example, Conservative Judaism believes in God. They believe that God inspired Man in some way to write the Torah. Or that he initially gave some form of Torah that man tweaked and improved. But the belief in the divine is primary (This is clear if you listen to, or read any of Rabbi Wolpe). Thus the detailed rituals of the Torah are less important and the belief in God is more important. It’s a belief over Ritual. However, in the article you posted, it seems that the adherence to Ritual is the #1 priority and Belief is secondary. That, to me, seems different than previous liberal Jewish movements.

Taking a step back, these conversations always tend to revolve around the idea that our religion’s goal should be a high-fidelity transmission to the next generation, regardless of the desire of that generation’s individuals to practice it or the happiness it gives them. That’s understandable since that is what’s prescribed in the Torah. But if taken literally it seems as though our religion’s end goal is its own fecundity. 

We tend to judge belief systems in terms of how long they last and how close they stayed to their original form. (Ironically, modern day Haredi Judaism is quite a ways away from where Judaism started.) I think a much better way to evaluate any belief system would be to rank it based on the happiness it provides to those practicing it, the freedom of choice it provides to others, and the suffering it eliminates from the world. I understand that this is not a universal view, especially within observant Judaism. However, when we frame the discussion around what specific practices will preserve the forms of Judaism that We feel are most true, we inherently end up persecuting others and causing suffering to real people making real decisions about how they live their own lives. Some people may think it their religious obligation to do so. And therein lies the danger.

The assertion that the success of any religion has to do more with its preservation than it does with the meaning those practicing take from it seems to be one in need of change.

Finally, if we are assessing the landscape of today’s flavors of Judaism and how they have faired since a few hundred years ago, I am far more concerned with the state of Haredi Judaism than I am with the long assimilated branches of Liberal Judaism. A large majority of Haredim are born into poverty, live in poor conditions, are malnourished, and lack basic education. Women are forced to live secondary roles and follow rules imposed on them by men. Individuals have little choice in what they do with their lives and the ones who question anything are shunned, humiliated, and scorned. This is a terrible system that people are born into with little choice of leaving. I am far more concerned about the spread of that form of Judaism than I am about a Judaism where God plays little or no role.

Now if you’ll forgive me I need to go perform the ritual of finding the Chometz. Tomorrow I will ritually burn it and then prepare for a really long ritual meal in which we will be ritually discussing the events of an Exodus that I am doubtful will have occurred in the manner we will be discussing. But I will enjoy (most of) it none the less! ;)

And that was that. What do you guys think?

The Poorly Designed Argument From Design

One of the most common arguments made by theists for God is the argument from design. The basic version of the argument was made by William Paley in the 1700’s and it goes as follows: Just as we can look at the complexity of a watch necessitates a watchmaker (designer), so too the complexity of the universe (or the human eye, or any complex thing) necessitates a designer.

It’s worth noting that even if the Argument From Design were indeed proof of a designer, it does not in any way prove the Theist’s version of a personal and loving God. It only takes you as far as Deism. 

David Hume presented one of the best critiques of the argument in pointing out that if complex and ordered things require a designer, that designer would have to be at least as complex, in which case it, too, would require a designer. And that designer would require a designer. And so on in an infinite regression. So the Argument from Design takes us nowhere.

Darwin then showed how complex organisms can evolve on their own through cumulative changes guided by a process known as natural selection.

Although the Argument from Design no longer holds any weight with any serious philosophers or scientists, many Theists refuse to let it go, squeezing it’s ankles tight as it tries to walk into the sunset of apologetic history. (Moshe Averick, author of “Nonsense Of A Higher Order” uses the argument almost exclusively as his proof for God’s existence.)

There is another flaw that I see in the Argument from Design. It goes as follows. Every designed thing, aside from art, is designed in order to solve a problem. It has an intended purpose or an intended use. A watch tells the time. A chair keeps you off the floor. A car takes you from one point to the next. Every designed thing has an intended purpose and that purpose can be deduced by looking at the thing in use.Some items may have many purposes or people may find alternate purposes the designer did not intend. But the purpose is indeed objective.

When one looks at the universe one cannot infer an intended objective purpose for the universe. Theists may tell you what they think the purpose is, but that purpose is not objectively inferred by looking at the universe. If it were, everyone would agree on it, just as everyone agrees that a watch’s purpose is to tell time. (True it may have secondary purposes like style, and showing how wealthy you are. But those do not negate its primary purpose).

What problem does the existence of a universe solve? If the universe were designed with purpose, what is the objective problem in having no universe at all and how does this designed universe solve that? Unless we are to assume our universe is just poorly designed solution to whatever problem not having a universe proposes.

This is why I see the Argument from Design breaking down from the get-go. It defines purpose and design wrong. Design does not equal complexity. In fact, good design is the simple. If one programmer writes a program with 150 lines of code and another programmer writes a program that does the same thing with 50 lines of code, the second guy is a better program designer because his solution accomplishes the same thing in a simpler manner.

For something designed to have a purpose there has to be an objective problem that it solves. There is not such objective problem inferred by looking at the design of our universe. And so the Argument from Design is note more than a poorly designed argument.



I wasn’t even going to report this as I try not to focus on individual assholes in the jewish world (since every world has assholes in it), but then someone pointed out this is the guy who wrote the popular kiruv book “beyond a reasonable doubt.” So I thought it was worth mentioning.

oh, and the book is really unimpressive. as I recall, it basically read like this: “the world is amazing! therefore god!… our bodies are amazing! therefore god!… etc.”

Though I’m really curious how this news will effect the book’s popularity. But even if it gets dumped, some other non-intellectual will just repeat the same stupidity and get it published all over again with a new book, a new title, and the same ol’ shallow ideas.

p.s. I wonder if the jury will find him guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” hahaha, sorry, couldn’t help myself! =]

I have that book and it’s the sorriest excuse for a book I have ever read. The entire books is based on personal incredulity and ignorance of every claim that science makes.




if you don’t know what this is about then go here

… jewishatheist says:
  1. Just because a moral system is held by G-d, doesn’t make it objective
  2. If we have a definition of morality, and it doesn’t match up with G-d’s actions, what then? (cf: the Flood, not permitting two people…

Wow, fantastic response.

Side note, I spent the morning catching up on JA posts. Now I’m late for work. Good thing I’m the boss!




by Rabbi Gutman Locks

Yonatan asked:

I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and I was referred to “Mystical Paths” by one of the Rabanim [rabbis] of the Chabad beis Din[Rabbinical Court] of Crown Heights. I read your article about Yoga but I am still not clear…

This would be hysterical if it were satire. Unfortunately this is a real answer from a real(ly dumb) person.

Sadly, many people live their entire lives like this.

The (Sneaky) Shabbos Project


Many of my frum friends have shared this video on Facebook over the past few days along with comments like “this is amazing” and “so beautiful!” I knew from the title that my opinion of the video would likely be quite different. How right I was.

Watching this video upset me quite a bit. I felt as though I was witnessing Orthodoxy hijack modern secular South African Jewry in an attempt to pull them back a few centuries. The premise of the Shabbos Project is not about about unity or community. It’s about one group of throwbacks trying to bring about their messiah by tricking the masses into conforming to their beliefs. It’s about sneaking in the backdoor of peoples’ lives so the organizers can bait and switch the participants with their hidden kiruv agenda.

It’s also pretty likely that the vast majority of participants did not actually keep all the laws of shabbos. I’m sure the organizers left out laws like “You can’t brush your teeth” and “you can’t read anything secular” and all the stuff that would make people realize how oppressive the idea of shabbos really is. And I’m sure the organizers didn’t let the participants know that they believe that many minor shabbos transgressions are punishable by death.

If only the secular participants understood what the end-goal of the organizers was, I’m sure they would not want to participate. 

I wonder how the organizers would feel if secular Jews started a movement called the “Breaking Shabbos Project” where all of the secular Jews try and get frum jews to be michalel shabos?

As a side-note, did you notice how the lead rabbi and his wife won’t even sit on the same couch next to each-other? They sat on separate chair with a big arm divider. That’s the type of life awaits the people who get sucked in through kiruv. 

Reality FTW.