Anonymous asked:

Many people site the Zohar's prophecies of the industrial evolution and of 9/11 as proof of the divinity of the Torah. Can these prophecies be debunked and if not why don't they prove the divinity of the Torah?

jewishatheist answered:

A) Yes, they can be debunked. B) No, they wouldn’t prove the torah anyways.

The main problem with “prophecies” in general (like those of Nostradamus) is that they’re usually quite vague, or simply interpreted loosely.

Industrial Revolution Prophecy:

The Zohar (part I, 117a) interprets along prophetical lines:

In the 600th year of the 6th millennium [1840 CE] the upper gates of wisdom will be opened and also the wellsprings of wisdom below. This will prepare the world for the 7th millennium like a person prepares himself on Friday for Shabbat, as the sun begins to wane. So it will be here. There is a hint about this in the verse “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life …all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened” (Gen. 7:11).

So, in 1840, the “gates of wisdom” and the “wellsprings of wisdom” will be open. That’s nice… but what the hell does it mean? Basically, anything.

If the year put forth was around 1990, rabbis would say it referred to the internet. If it was 1700, then it’d refer to the work of geniuses like Newton. Simply put, it’s vague.

Also, another important point here, is that knowledge grows over time. With some exception of setback (e.g. the dark ages), this is true. There will always be a new insight during every age. Furthermore, it shows another problem with this “prophecy”, which is that the “gates of knowledge” didn’t suddenly open (and certainly not suddenly in the year 1840): knowledge has been building up over time.

(More on this “prophecy” here.)

Zohar / Vilna Gaon 9/11 Prophecy:

And in the sixth day, shall be seen within 25 days of the sixth month (Hebrew month of Elul) and shall gather on the seventh day at the end of 70 days. In the first day it will be seen in one city, and at that day three high places shall fall down in that city. And the Palace of Strength shall fall down. And the ruler of that city (i.e. the angel that is responsible for this city in the upper worlds) shall die…
…One king shall rise, big and ruling in the world, shall rise over all the kings, and shall stimulate battles in 2 directions, and will overcome them. And… the holy land shall tremble(i.e. earthquake) 45 miles away from the place where the Temple used to be. And one cave shall be revealed (bin-Laden’s shelter?) beneath the earth. And from that cave a big fire shall emerge to burn the world (nuclear weapon?). And from that same cave shall emerge a huge superior bird (plane?) that will rule the whole world, and the kingship will be given to him…- (x)

So, to start, I got this text from the page of someone who seems to support the notion of this “prophecy” but even this person has to include quite a few question marks to even begin to make the pieces fit. In other words, it’s vague.

Firstly, the date it speaks of is actually Sept 13, not Sept 11, but some apologists will simply say that, “hey, what do you know, the famous rabbi, the Vilna Gaon, corrected that! He said the text had an error and meant two days before!” - Ok, let’s just put aside the fact that the text itself had the wrong date and it happens to be that of the thousands (millions?) of rabbis who’ve studied it, that there was one who suggested a different date that happens to work for this interpretation - let’s put that aside, say the Gaon was a semi-prophet too, and just continue…

"Three high places… in that city." A) What is meant by "high places"? It could mean buildings, or people, or gov agencies, or whatever. Vague. B) If we’re gonna say it’s about the buildings, well, only TWO "high places" fell in NYC. The prophecy predicts three in the same city.

"Palace of strength" - What is that? And why doesn’t it seem to have happened?

"Ruler of that city" - Oh, of course, suddenly this part is talking about angels. Or, just maybe, it was simply a prediction which didn’t occur.

"One king to rule them all" - the best shoe-fit I could imagine would be the US, but the US didn’t "rise" and doesn’t seem more powerful now than before. And I’m not even sure we can say we won our wars overseas!

Earthquakes? Giant Fires? Tyrannical birds? Messiah? etc. etc.

In other words, this clearly doesn’t work in the details, and even generally speaking it only works bc the text is vague.

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re: imperfect jewish world…


Well actually being Orthodox in theory means keeping Halacha but I’ll put that aside for now…

We are in agreement about certain points though. I think it is absolutely necessary to hold our leaders and rabbonim to a higher standard than the…

It’s funny how naive I used to be as kid as to what went on in the frum world. I used to think that all Jews were angles and that none of the issues the “goyim” had (affairs, drug problems, child molestation, theft, criminal activity, etc) happened in the frum community. It’s sad how wrong I was. As I got older I have witnessed all of these things in all areas of the frum community committed by people at every level. We are no different than any other group.

The Hopeless Cycle Continues…

This morning I woke up in the same manner as I do every other morning. I started with a deep and slow yawn. Then I stretched to squeeze out the excess grogginess that lingered from a night of semi-restless and unsatisfying sleep. I unplugged my phone from the charger and cycled through all the channels where I may have missed something drastically important over the past 7 hours; email, news sites, Facebook…

This cycle was different. While on most other mornings I read about the killing of other Peoples, this morning those killed were from my People. Three teenaged boys, murdered and dumped in the dessert after being kidnapped 18 days ago. The news sparked a feeling of aggression deep within. I suddenly felt wide-awake, enraged at the atrocity that We all overlooked as a potential outcome to the abduction. As the reality continued to sink in, my anger turned to into a feeling of loss. A loss of hope. Deflation. I lost hope that the boys would return safely. I lost hope that certain atrocities are off-limits in this conflict. I lost hope in reason. 

As the day went on and the news spread, discussions spurred on Facebook around the tragedy. Many of the comments from “our side” troubled me. People said things like “Let’s nuke ‘em all!” and “The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.” I wondered how any Jew could say these things about any other race, religion, or culture, even considering the emotionally fueled circumstances.  I asked one commenter that very question and to my surprise many other people jumped in to justify the comments. People said that extraordinary circumstances called for extraordinary measures. (Carl Sagan would be rolling in his grave if he heard that.)

So how are we supposed to react? What are we supposed to do? Should we level all of Gaza and the West Bank? There certainly are a large number of narrow-minded people who think that something to that affect would actually be a workable solution. Leaving the morality of such actions aside, it’s puzzling to me that anyone could think that that type of response would actually work. The people who are espousing this type of violent response are doing so as an emotional response to a heinous act of violence committed towards their people; the reason they want to retaliate is because they were assaulted by another group of people. Is it then not justifiable that other groups of people experiencing the same sorts of violence against them would want to respond in a similar manner? Is it really so hard to see that this is how the cycle works? Taking any large-scale action against Gaza or the West Bank is sure to just increase the anger and violence of the people on the receiving end. Wouldn’t the supporters of these ideas feel the same way if any large-scale attack were initiated against Israel?

The point I’m making has nothing to do with who’s right or wrong and what’s justified or unjustified; it merely has to do with the perception of the people on the receiving end of the violence and their likely (and expected) response.

So what should we do? Well, we should definitely go after the specific people who committed these crimes and prosecute them accordingly. But it should be done in a way that does not kill, harm, or impoverish people not directly involved. But what should we do on a larger scale? How can we end this seemingly hopeless situation? I obviously can’t claim to have the right answer to solving this very complex and difficult issue. But it seems to me that the sort of solution needed is not one that involves large-scale violence. The problem here is one of violent and intolerant cultural memes. And you can’t bomb away a meme. They will live in on writings, teachings and mythology. Dangerous memes have to be eradicated through other means, mainly through displacement caused by other, better, memes. So while I cannot say what THE solution is to the problem, I can say pretty confidently the sort of solution we need is not one of violence but one of meme displacement; a shift in culture and ideas on both sides (after all, we have our own cultural memes contributing to the conflict). 

In the meantime, we mourn the loss of three innocent boys and struggle with the emotions that pull us away from rationality. But we must understand that the further we depart from it, the less we can expect the other side to refrain from making the same departure.

localsadgirl asked:

i really liked your piece on kiruv. i found that my relationship with my father improved exponentially after i stopped being frum, and honestly i think that alone is reason enough for me to never be frum again--i don't think God is going to punish me for choosing my family over frumkeit, and i don't think it makes me less of a Jew or a bad person to opt out of frumkeit. i wish i'd realized this before i got really involved with frumkeit. i am still repairing our parent/child relationship.

Thank you!

I know how you feel. When I was born, my parents were not frum. They got divorced when I was 3 and then my mom became frum and my dad remained irreligious. In fact, he became pretty anti-religious.

My mom had primary custody over my brother and me; we went to my dad’s every other weekend and every Tuesday night. From the time I was three until the time I was thirteen I kept Shabbos every other weekend and ate treif whenever I was at my dad’s. When I turned 13 I decided, along with some pressure from my mom and the rabbi of the agudah shul she went to, that I had to become full-on frum and the only way to do this was to go away to yeshiva. But because I lived in a smaller city, going to Yeshiva meant going out of town. Of course, my dad did not support this and fought hard to keep me home. We had the most spectacular fights about it. In the end, I, at the age of 13, had to take my dad to court for the right for me to go away to yeshiva. I won.

As you can imagine, this strained our relationship for all kinds of reasons. I stopped eating non kosher at his house. I stopped going there on Shabbos and holidays. I was in another state for most of the year and because most breaks were for yom-tov, which I would not spend at his house, we spent very little time together. And the time we did spend was awkward because he would often try and challenge my religious beliefs and it made me upset and uncomfortable.

Last fall when I told my dad I was an atheist (about a year after I stopped believing in Judaism), he was in shock. He said it was one of the happiest days of his life. We talk a lot more often now and we are working to repair our relationship and make up for lost time.

Kiruv is an MLM scheme

For the first day of Shavuot, my family ate at my in-laws’ house for lunch.  My 25- year-old brother-in-law is a pretty frum guy. He invited two younger B’al Teshuvas over for the meal. The boys were probably 20 and 22 years old. They had each been frum for about three years. They wore their tzittzit out and had big, black velvet yarmulkas. They were recruited into frumkite by an organization called JET (Jewish Education Team). My pity for them grew the more they talked about how they became frum.

After the meal, my mother-in-law, who lacks a few important filters, asked them questions about how their parents felt about them being frum. The younger boy said his parents were pretty supportive. The older boy said that his parents were quite upset and that it has definitely strained their relationship. He said they just didn’t understand.

At that point I began to wonder just how many wonderful parent-child relationships were destroyed by the kiruv movement. I recalled the many stories from other b’al teshuvas about how they had little to do with their secular parents, or how they can’t relate to them anymore. I thought about my ultra-orthodox brother and how he wants little to do with my atheist father because of his views on religion. Religion put a wedge in my relationship with my father for much of my own life as well.

Later on, the younger boy talked about Facebook and how he recently purged hundreds of his “friends” due to the inappropriate stuff they posted. But then he said that he did not un-friend anyone who was Jewish because there might be a chance that he could “kiruv” them at some point in the future (he was not trained enough yet to say “m’karev”).

That’s when it hit me. Kiruv is an MLM scheme. It’s not enough for you to become frum and live a meaningful life on your own terms. You need to recruit more secular people to become frum and then you need them to recruit more of their friends to become frum and so-on and so-forth. The man at the top (the head of NCSY, or Aish, or this-or-that kiruv movement) gets as many drones as he can to follow him and recruit people so he can increase his life’s meaning more with each layer.

Instead of selling herbal creams or energy credits they sell you meaning through a book that they want you to believe in on their terms. And, of course, it’s not enough for them if you just do some of the parts that appeal to you or pick this or that tidbit practice. They want you to follow every last letter of it they the way that they think you should - the strictest way.The way that erodes the person you once were and leaves your loved ones wondering where you went when they rejected what you tried to re-sell them so the guy on top could fill his meaning quota.



Last Saturday was our son’s bris. Here’s the speech I gave. Instead of talking about God and stuff I decided to drop some philosophy on them. Was definitely not the type of speech this audience was used to. But it was well received.

Thank you to everyone for coming today to…

Thank you!

We did the bris at my in-laws house instead of shul :) :)

Bris Speech

Last Saturday was our son’s bris. Here’s the speech I gave. Instead of talking about God and stuff I decided to drop some philosophy on them. Was definitely not the type of speech this audience was used to. But it was well received.

Thank you to everyone for coming today to share in our simcha. A special thank-you to my in-laws for hosting this simcha and to my mom and Jerry for hosting the Shalom Zachor last night. And Thanks to Phil for not messing up.

This morning I want to talk about a library. But not an ordinary library like the one I take my kids to on a long Sunday afternoon to kill an hour. The library I want to talk about is an imaginary library. It’s called the Library of Babel. 

The Library of Babel is a series of rooms connected to one another spanning in all directions. The books that line the shelves from floor to ceiling contain only the 26 letters of the alpha-bet, numerical digits, spaces, commas, and periods. Every book is exactly 1,312,000 characters long.

Within the walls of this nearly infinite library you will find every combination of those 1,312,000 characters possible. No two books are the same. The library is many times larger than the size of our known universe.

Most of the books in the Library are actually gibberish –hodgepodges of nonsensical character combinations. There’s a book that has 1,311,999 spaces and then the letter X. There’s another that has the letters M T B repeated over and over with no spaces (although there’s one with spaces, too).

But here’s the thing about the Library of Babel: somewhere within its walls lies everything ever written, every phrase ever spoken.  It contains every one of Shakespeare’s plays, every Beatles song, and every speech the rabbi has ever given. It also contains versions of those with a single error. And versions with multiple errors. Somewhere in there is a version of Hamlet that begins with “To wash or not to wash, that is the question.”

The library also contains the biography of everyone that has ever lived. It has your biography. Every one of your life’s moments is written somewhere among the vast number of pages.  But there is also every alternate version of your life. There is a version that mirrors your life up until 5 minutes before you left shul. In that version you went home instead of coming here for free food. There are also many versions of your life where you chose entirely different paths many years ago.

Ok, so why am I talking about this crazy theoretical library that’s making your brains hurt?

I’m talking about it because we’re here to celebrate the birth of our son Zachary. Zachary’s life story is already written somewhere in that library. In fact, every possible life he can live is already in there. There are versions of his life where he does amazing things—where he changes the world. Then there are versions where he goes down the wrong paths.

 The duty we have as parents is to help our children live the best possible versions of their life stories already written in the Library of Babel. Six years into parenthood, I can tell you it’s not easy.  But little Zachy, (yes he already has a nickname), is lucky to be born with a head start. His biography’s introduction is already written. It talks about his family’s fantastic friendships with wonderful people. It talks about his amazing grandparents and the support and love they provide to his parents and his siblings. It talks of a great grandfather named Shlomo Zalman, who’s Zachary is named after. And although I never had the chance to meet him, I can only imagine the type of person he was through the qualities he bestowed on my father-in-law.

The introduction to Zachary’s biography also talks about his mother – a-lot about his mother. It talks about how much she loves lasagna and a good deal. It talks about all the little things that she does for her family that make her so special. And it talks about how grateful his father is that he found her and how much he loves her every day, even in those times when he doesn’t express it enough.

So Zachary’s story is just beginning. But wherever it ends, it will surely have many pages about the endless love he and his siblings received from those close to them. 

We wanted to thank everyone for sharing in our simcha today. May we all be blessed to live the versions of our life stories that we envision in our most aspirational moments.

Thank you and good Shabbos.