Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Age of Reason?

Originally posted on Divrei Acher
Sunday, July 19, 2009

I'm reading Gershom Scholem's autobiography, and the strongest impression that I got from it so far, was the intellectually stimulating environment he found himself in. The Apikorsus of all brands was there for the picking. There were groups, circles, clubs and organizations of all kinds based on this or that shared common belief. Today, there are a few of us here and there who have to go to great lengths to meet a like minded soul. When I read accounts of that time period, I feel like I'm in the wrong century. Granted, most of the intellectual fads of the time, were based on some sort of socialism, which is revolting to me, mostly due to it's naivete, and completely unfounded belief in humanity. Nonetheless, it was a time fertile for intellectual creativity, and Meshugaim like us, who cared or at least though they cared for the truth, were common enough to be a class for themselves, that can flourish as such.
This bring me to my second point, the different manifestations of our Apikorsus. It seems like these guys had guts, something that I find lacking in many of us, myself including, to a degree. Certainly, much of this difference can be attributed to demographics. Most Jews at that time, especially in Eastern Europe, were religious, and that was the time when those that couldn't stay were leaving. It was a mass exodus, simply because it's time had come. In numbers there is power, and it seems like the established religious power holders, were on the defensive. We're now a century after this process, and the religious community has come back in a much smaller, compact and introverted form. It's also been setup (at least the ultra Orthodox) with the primary goal of keeping its members in the fold. This has created a very different dynamic, a sort of reversion to tribalism if I may use the term, which is very successful at keeping it's limited numbers in the fold.
And still, I think there is something missing. Maybe it's living in America, the land of the cheeseburger and the SUV. I don't know, but why can't we be something more than just a couple of Meshugaim. We're definitely a product of the times, and times have changed, alas they've become more boring.

Freethinking Upstart said...
>Granted, most of the intellectual fads of the time, were based on some sort of socialism, which is revolting to me, mostly due to it's naivete, and completely unfounded belief in humanity.

Maybe you could talk more about your revulsion with socialism. I find political theories intriguing.

What do you think most of the intellectual fads of today are based on?
JULY 19, 2009 3:34 PM

Frum Heretic said...
If you haven't already read it, check out the fascinating article from The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090126/grafton/single
JULY 19, 2009 6:05 PM

Baal Habos said...
Acher, agreed, it's kind of sad there are so few of us. That's actually on of the depressing things about blogging. I expected to see the circle of bloggers grow exponentially, but that has not really happened.

Frum Heretic, the best line in that article: "You know that I believe that mysticism is nonsense, total and complete nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship."
JULY 19, 2009 8:39 PM

Pen Tivokeish said...
I believe it a has a lot to do with material wealth.

Poverty was and still is a great motivator.

Also, the kotzker vort: "אַל תֹּאמַר מֶה הָיָה שֶׁהַיָּמִים הָרִאשֹׁנִים הָיוּ טוֹבִים מֵאֵלֶּה כִּי לֹא מֵחָכְמָה שָׁאַלְתָּ עַל זֶה. " that it may be true, but no need to dwell upon it. :)
JULY 20, 2009 5:21 PM

Baal Habos said...
PT, yes, poverty is a great motivator. So how come Bnei Brak is not awash with skepticism? (Or is it?)

I think there's more to it.
JULY 21, 2009 7:17 AM

Acher said...
"You know that I believe that mysticism is nonsense, total and complete nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship."

By far my favorite quote of all time.


Yor point is valid but isn't completely accurate historically. Often lots of fevrent intellectual activity was going on amongst youth who grew up in middle class families or even well off. Case in point, Scholem himself.

Oh the times they are changing, hoho the times they are changing...

Bob Dylan


It's too bad I was very tired last night when I read your comment, because I was very much in the mood for writing some bitingly sarcastic polemic against foolish do-good political movements. Today, I'm in a more equanimous state of mind, which is good I guess. Briefly, my cynical nature and the clear perception that everyone is ultimately selfish, no matter what sauce they may put their words in (it's a simple fact of nature), makes me scoff at any type of socialism, which is ultimately based on some belief in the goodness of the human spirit. Utter nonesense, and all attempts at it have proven my view to be correct again and again.
As to contemporary political thought, I have to admit that politics doesn't interest as much, if at all, as history, and I only study political theories for their historical value, so I'm relatively ignorant as to contemporary political thought.
JULY 21, 2009 7:55 PM

evanstonjew said...
First of all Scholem wasn't an apikoris in our sense. He came from an assimilated home and returned to Judaism. Second he was religious, even mystical though he never went to a shul. Third the difference between then and now was that they had hope, and though very sophisticated in a Berlin-German way, they were not cynical. Fourth he wasn't a socialist but a radical close to anarchists. His friend Benjamin became a communist, but Scholem was never ever close.

Scholem knew little of East European yiddishkeit. Buber did. Scholem was a great yekke, right about Zionism, right about Israreli politics, right about Hanna Arendt and Eichman to name just a few of his famous polemical fights.

If I had to pick the greatest of that chabura in the sense of the most geshmack I would say Agnon.The greatest German Jewish writer of that period for me is Kafka. The one with the greatest general influence is Benjamin. The guy who taught me the most about Judaism is Freud followed by Scholem. LOL.

What a wonderful awesome generation.
JULY 22, 2009 12:55 AM

Acher said...

>though he never went to a shul

Incorrect, but otherwise, true, true, true, and true. But I wasn't specifically referring to Scholem, reading him just got me thinking of the times, and in reality I probably relate more to the Russian intellectual, the ostjude, than to his Yekke couterpart. There was much more cynicism there, but it seems like at that time it was of a constructive kind, not of the desperate kind I see in myself and others today.
JULY 22, 2009 7:46 PM


Originally posted on Divrei Acher
Thursday, July 30, 2009

Listening to Eichah last night, I realized a simple thing, namely that of the first 4 chapters in which the Psukim are composed in alphabetical order, there is a discrepancy in the order used. Only the first chapter goes according to the order we're familiar with, chapters 2-4 have Peh before Ayin in all three chapters. Is this a mistake in transmission, or more likely, there were different orders used in different times? Has anyone noticed this, also any suggestions about literature on this topic.
What disappointed me about this finding last night, was the following: I've read Eichah dozens of times already, and it took me to become an Apikores to realize something as simple as this? Were we really that blind? I know we were, but that blind!
Another simple thing that came to my attention is that the meaning of the Posuk,
רְאֵה יְהוָה וְהַבִּיטָה, לְמִי עוֹלַלְתָּ כֹּה: אִם-תֹּאכַלְנָה נָשִׁים פִּרְיָם עֹלְלֵי טִפֻּחִים, אִם-יֵהָרֵג בְּמִקְדַּשׁ אֲדֹנָי כֹּהֵן וְנָבִיא
'See, O LORD, and consider, to whom Thou hast done thus! Shall the women eat their fruit, the children that are dandled in the hands? Shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? (Lamentations 2:20)
has nothing to do with the Gemara's Pshat that says the latter half of the Psouk is a retort by God, referring to the slaying of Zecharyah by the Jews hundreds of years prior. This I kind of knew, but still the Drush which RSH"I brings down was always so vivid, I would automatically read it that way.

Nu, so what's the Mussar Haskel. Don't read TN"KH without Meforshim: you will become an Apikores. And conversely, the surest way to become an Apikores is to read the text of TN"KH by itself! But please boys and girls don't try this at home, it is dangerous.

zdub said...
They messed up with the links, but this should still work:

The Peh/Ayin Order in the Acrostics of the Book of Eichah.
JULY 30, 2009 8:39 PM

Baal Habos said...
Acher, great catch!

Some will say, what's the big deal? Chazal already caught all this, as pointed out by zdub. Well, Chazal had a much smaller corpus of literature to work with. I.e. they never had to mess with Tosifos (or even Gemarah)! So while we are attuned to scouring the details of the Mishna Berurah and Toisfois, Chazal had the luxury of analyzing the core texts. (Obviously I didn't do such a fine job with my Sanhedrin, because I don't ever recall hearing about this Ayin/Peh issue.)

And zdub, thanks for that link.

Interestingly enough, with the reversed order, this vort does not hold true.
JULY 31, 2009 10:40 AM

Acher said...

First, I'm happy to know that I have more than a dozen readers, maybe with 13 it means we can make a Pesach Seder, (Lfum Chad Girsa) :)

Anyway, thanks for the link, and that means I should check my emails from the Sforimblog more often for good stuff like this.


I was actually very disappointed that I didn't remember the Gemarah in Sanhedrin myself, I did go through Sanhedrin some years back. But again, my greater disappointment lies in the fact that it took me till now to realize it.

And that Vort is true, I mean the good part of it: Elvis = Lives, Mamesh what can be more Poshut than that :)
And please if you have anything more like that please email me, you know I love this type of stuff.
JULY 31, 2009 8:00 PM

Modernorthodoxhistorian said...
I wrote an article on this:
see seforim.traditiononline.org

it is the last article on the site

Mitchell First
OCTOBER 6, 2009 8:23 PM

No questions asked

Originally posted on Baal Habos
21 MARCH 2009

Last week, a comment in a Letter to The Editor in the Jewish Press caught my eye. I doubt that comment would have passed muster (not Mustard!) in the Yaated Neeman. Check out the last Letter on the bottom entitled "Hearing Vs. Discerning".

It seems that Dr. Yaakov Stern goes out of his way to make this astonishing admission:
“While we may not like to admit this, even to ourselves, the reality is that everyone to some degree is plagued by doubt as to the veracity of the Torah and the omnipotence of Hashem...........”

Now, that's quite a shocker. Until my skeptic years, I really can't say that I was consciously aware of such feelings. Sure, I may have had some issues with some Chazals and some Gemaras. But that's not quite the same as doubting the veracity of the Torah. I may even have had some questions about the Torah, but to claim everyone is plagued by doubt seems to speak more to Dr. Stern's frame of mind.

[So please tell us Dr. Stern, what exactly about the Torah do you doubt? Maybe I can help out out there? Yuk Yuk.]

And if you DO doubt it and if everyone doubts it, why is it so terrible to ask questions in public? If doubt is normal, then maybe there's a good reason for it! If doubt is commonplace, isn't it more than expected that some will act on their doubt? Why is it a given, in polite company, that Toras Hashem Temima?

But the truth is that Dr. Stern is at least partially correct. Many people might have moderate levels of doubt. The numerous "train the teacher" Kiruv programs might be be nothing more than an excuse to allow the FFB adult to explore the forbidden in a controlled environment. When Rabbonim tell people about these programs in public, they often say as an unplanned afterthought, "and it will help your own Emunah". Books like Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive are not just meant for the borderline BT. I think it's on the Bookshelf of many Maaminim Bnei Maaminim.

Yet, for all the doubt that does exist, it's still verboten to express your doubts in public. Honest questions of basic belief are not tolerated. Just try it. Just try the vaguest hint of questioning even today's rabbonim, let alone Chazal, and you'll get comments such as "you need to work on yourself" or "That's dangerous" or "I believe such and such because I believe in God". As if their Rav has Gilui Eliyahu.

You'll get odd looks and many types of statements either putting you in your place or cavalierly dismissing the hint of questioning. You'll get any statement other than an open admission that there's a good reason to doubt or that it's OK to doubt.

So my skeptic friend. Just nod your head at the assertion that there will be a Mechitsa in Olam Haboh when listening to Hashem's Shiurim (yes, that was a statement from an Adam Godol). Just keep your mouth shut.


Because an elephant in the room is easier ignored than a buzzing bee.

posted by Baal Habos @ 3/21/2009
Great post. and they wonder why I call it a cult...
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 12:58:04 AM
– Like – Reply

>Because an elephant in the room is easier ignored than a buzzing bee.

The problem is, these days the Gedolim are becoming more and more like buzzing elephants.

I think you're a better judge on what a Frum person really believes and how much he doubts. You were a believer as an adult, while I started loosing it as I came into my own. Although I will say that when I was really FarFrumt, I not only believed, I thought I can prove God through Moreh Nvuchim etc.
But I even have a hard time believing many Frum people are in a state of mind that I was before my official skepticism, where I had dubts but wouldn't allow myself to "go there". That's already too much. So maybe this Stern himself is Abiselh you know, not all the way were he 'should' be.
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 1:02:36 AM
– Like – Reply

Baal Habos
OTD, Thanks!

> So maybe this Stern himself is Abiselh you know, not all the way were he 'should' be.

Yes, that's why I said "astonishing admission". No way this would make it into a more right wing paper.
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 1:18:26 AM
– Like – Reply

kollel wife
Well said. We, grown men and women, are expected to act as if that which is uppermost in our minds doesn't even exist. What a horrific sham our lives have become.
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 1:42:06 AM
– Like – Reply

Baal Habos
>We, grown men and women

Kolel Wife,we could use a few good women on this blog. But I'm not sure I want to have real Kolel Wives reading my blog, unless you're a real skeptic. Are you pulling some kind of letzanus?
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 1:52:28 AM
– Like – Reply

Pen Tivokeish
Re your poll "For believers only", I yell discrimination BHB. You need to create another poll with similar questions for the كفّار kuffār
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 8:48:10 AM
– Like – Reply

Actually I think this makes sense. There's lots of things that go on in society, but people make a conscious decision not to have it all 'out in the open', to at least maintain appearances. Many examples, including marriages, adultry other issues etc etc etc. Society requires a certain facade.
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 10:59:21 AM
– Like – Reply

>Because an elephant in the room is easier ignored than a buzzing bee.

That is exactly why you bloggers are in business.
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 12:12:15 PM
– Like – Reply

Baal Habos
> Actually I think this makes sense
Sure, everything I write makes sense!
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 12:21:18 PM
– Like – Reply

I've long noted--with considerable dismay at his inxplicable knack for getting said rants published in the JP---Dr. Stern's entries in the Letters section of the Jewish Press. For what it's worth, they exhibit a very consistent and defined, if obnoxious, worldview: basically all examples of independent thought he disses & dismisses as "gedolim-bashing". He's also a fan of that time-honored device of "I'm not criticizing---I, too am guilty of the above"---which tends to come across about as sincere as "nisht oif Shabbos geredt, but what stocks are you pushing this month?" or "no offense, but that haircut makes you look like a baboon."
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 3:05:42 PM
– Like – Reply

There is a big difference between "questioning" and "skepticism", and even more so questioning a modern day Rabbi and questioning Moshe Rabbeinu.

Not sure what Stern had in mind, however IMHO, asking questions is good, I've questioned everything (almost). The problem is where you you look for answers. Hint - the internet is the wrong place.
Monday, March 23, 2009, 5:38:17 PM
– Like – Reply

What's wrong with questioning moshe rabennu.
No other field do they kill u for questioning a historical figure.

Imagine getting stoned for questioning wether einstein was right. Imagine where science would be if it didn't.
Monday, March 23, 2009, 8:50:29 PM
– Like – Reply

Monday, November 28, 2011

How Identities Cloud Judgment

Originally posted on The Skeptitcher Rebbe
Thursday, December 2, 2010

I recently cam across this article: http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html and I thought I would share it here.
Keep Your Identity Small

February 2009

I finally realized today why politics and religion yield such uniquely useless discussions.

As a rule, any mention of religion on an online forum degenerates into a religious argument. Why? Why does this happen with religion and not with Javascript or baking or other topics people talk about on forums?

What's different about religion is that people don't feel they need to have any particular expertise to have opinions about it. All they need is strongly held beliefs, and anyone can have those. No thread about Javascript will grow as fast as one about religion, because people feel they have to be over some threshold of expertise to post comments about that. But on religion everyone's an expert.

Then it struck me: this is the problem with politics too. Politics, like religion, is a topic where there's no threshold of expertise for expressing an opinion. All you need is strong convictions.

Do religion and politics have something in common that explains this similarity? One possible explanation is that they deal with questions that have no definite answers, so there's no back pressure on people's opinions. Since no one can be proven wrong, every opinion is equally valid, and sensing this, everyone lets fly with theirs.

But this isn't true. There are certainly some political questions that have definite answers, like how much a new government policy will cost. But the more precise political questions suffer the same fate as the vaguer ones.

I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people's identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that's part of their identity. By definition they're partisan.

Which topics engage people's identity depends on the people, not the topic. For example, a discussion about a battle that included citizens of one or more of the countries involved would probably degenerate into a political argument. But a discussion today about a battle that took place in the Bronze Age probably wouldn't. No one would know what side to be on. So it's not politics that's the source of the trouble, but identity. When people say a discussion has degenerated into a religious war, what they really mean is that it has started to be driven mostly by people's identities.

Because the point at which this happens depends on the people rather than the topic, it's a mistake to conclude that because a question tends to provoke religious wars, it must have no answer. For example, the question of the relative merits of programming languages often degenerates into a religious war, because so many programmers identify as X programmers or Y programmers. This sometimes leads people to conclude the question must be unanswerable—that all languages are equally good. Obviously that's false: anything else people make can be well or badly designed; why should this be uniquely impossible for programming languages? And indeed, you can have a fruitful discussion about the relative merits of programming languages, so long as you exclude people who respond from identity.

More generally, you can have a fruitful discussion about a topic only if it doesn't engage the identities of any of the participants. What makes politics and religion such minefields is that they engage so many people's identities. But you could in principle have a useful conversation about them with some people. And there are other topics that might seem harmless, like the relative merits of Ford and Chevy pickup trucks, that you couldn't safely talk about with others.

The most intriguing thing about this theory, if it's right, is that it explains not merely which kinds of discussions to avoid, but how to have better ideas. If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

Most people reading this will already be fairly tolerant. But there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.
I think this article is very insightful and has some very good points. It makes me want to reconsider how I identify myself or at least how the way I identify myself may skew my beliefs.

However, even if you think you don't identify with a group you may still be falling into the above trap. For example, I am not sure how much of my argument for circumcision has to do with my identity (probably a lot) as well as I am unsure how much other peoples arguments against circumcision has to do with their conceived identities (either as atheists or whatever). It seems to me that people should always be on guard against the traps in our minds that we set for ourselves. You can never be too sure that you are arguing solely on rational grounds and that your personal emotional attachment towards a topic has nothing to do with your positions.
Posted by Skeptitcher Rebbe at 10:23 AM

Anonymous said...
I don't identify (much) with Jewishness even though I was born into a Jewish family. As a I get older my identification gets less. But it will probably be there somewhat forever. I don't see it ever going away completely. Somethings are impossible to remove even if you wanted to
December 2, 2010 1:41 PM

Questioning Yid said...
I found this article quite interesting myself. I am all too familiar with the detrimental effects of identity on parties being able to relate. I have a deep-rooted Jewish identity, but it was formed in a mixed marriage and a predominantly Christian school. As I moved beyond the early stages of being a Ba'al Teshuva, rather quickly I might add, I returned to my identity incorporating my non-religious and non-Jewish background. I disagree with the general idea that any sense of identity is detrimental. It is through our identities that we find others with whom we relate and form friendships, communities, and societies. Perhaps, rather than avoiding things entering our identity, we should instead work to ensure our identities are not just tolerant of others, but are open to differing identities and points of view. We should identify as people interested in getting to know and understand the thoughts and feelings and beliefs and identities of others and welcome them with open arms. I think that is the true step beyond.
December 13, 2010 9:07 AM

Anonymous said...
The premise of this article is wrong. JavasScript does always lead to an argument.

Mac vs PC? Yankees vs Redsocks. Apple, Microsoft, Google... all of it.
February 28, 2011 4:49 AM

MatureDurai said...
"I disagree with the general idea that any sense of identity is detrimental. It is through our identities that we find others with whom we relate and form friendships, communities, and societies. Perhaps, rather than avoiding things entering our identity, we should instead work to ensure our identities are not just tolerant of others, but are open to differing identities and points of view."
Well said,Questioning Yid!Cheers!
August 1, 2011 1:28 AM

Circumcision. Should it be banned?

Originally posted on The Skeptitcher Rebbe
Sunday, November 28, 2010

I have been having a rather heated discussion with Brian Westley on OTDs blog post about circumcision here.

While I don't believe that circumcision has any superstitious benefits, I do believe it does have real social ones, namely avoidance of ostracism from within the Jewish community for your child (if you wish to be a part of the Jewish community). Also there isn't a reverse ostracism from outside the Jewish community either (having a circumcision is very common for non Jews as well). Since I don't think that the costs are too significant (mild memoryless pain for a short while, recovery in about a week) I think it should be up to the parents to decide whether or not their son should get one as an infant and shouldn't be banned universally.

What do you think?
Posted by Skeptitcher Rebbe at 11:28 AM

G*3 said...
I don’t think anything should be banned unless it’s shown to be harmful. Circumcision has not been shown to be harmful, therefore it shouldn’t be banned.
November 28, 2010 12:04 PM

Bob said...
Male circumcision is a safe, popular, healthy & beneficial procedure for individuals & parents to choose. It provides benefits such as 12x less likely for UTI, +22x less likely for cancer, 28% less risk for herpes, 35% for HPV & 60% for HIV/AIDS. The risks are about 0.2% and are typically minor & easily corrected.

Parents should research circumcision and make an informed decision for the health & well-being of their son.

More information can be found at the following sites:






November 28, 2010 12:16 PM

Baruch Spinoza said...
I have a different why I am against banning circumcision. You can read about it here ( http://skepticbutjewish.blogspot.com/2010/11/ban-circumcision.html ).
November 28, 2010 1:50 PM

Caroline said...
Eliyahu Ungar Sargon made an interesting film on the topic
"Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision"
November 29, 2010 4:04 PM

Caroline said...

November 29, 2010 4:05 PM

Hugh7 said...
Isn't "avoidance of ostracism" an unworthy motive for cutting part of a child's genitals off? If the community ostracises someone because of something someone else hasn't done to them, shame on that community! Who do they think they are? Let them mind their own business!

@G*3: How about the fact that a significant number of men hate the fact that it was done to them? More than 70 have signed up for a class action. Apart from certain harm, the risks, from unaesthetic outcomes all the way to loss of the penis and death, go underreported.

Bob's figures need context. For example, since less than one in 100 boys gets a UTI, by his own figure, 991 circumcisions in 1000 are wasted. His citations are laughably biased.

#Jewish philosopher: Only for adult volunteers where AIDS is rampant. The protection (even if genuine) is only for infection by men from women, very rare in the US.

A small but growing number of Jewish parents are choosing to name their sons without surgery. Contact details for celebrants, including a number of rabbis, are here. One, in New York, has celebrated hundreds.
November 29, 2010 6:04 PM

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...

Many people permanently alter the bodies of their children in ways that don't affect the functionality of those bodies, but are done solely for the reason to avoid social ostracism. Such things like altering a deformed ear or nose which funtion totally normally from a medical standpoint but are seen by most in society as being an abnormality.

I don't see why allowing a parent to alter their minor childs body is acceptable in the above case is acceptable whereas with circumcision doing it for the same reason considered unacceptable. I am willing to change my mind on this, I just haven't been convinced that the differences in either scenario are too far removed or that the effects of circumcision are so negative and harmful to oppose the practice universally.
November 29, 2010 7:34 PM

Tony said...
Skeptitcher Rebbe,

The above is acceptable because it is a deformity. The foreskin is not a deformity. It is a normal body part. No one is suggesting that medically necessary circumcision is unacceptable. Proxy consent has validity. But altering a child's healthy body to avoid something that may not happen or may not bother the child is bizarre.

For example, I have red hair. I was mocked for this throughout childhood (and still am, amusingly). Should my parents have forcibly dyed my hair to save me from this social torment? That's not permanent, either. The correct analogy to circumcision, of course, is for them to continue forcibly changing my hair color now based on their opinion of my body, whether I want it or not. Since I can't undo the circumcision they forced on me.

Yet, I'm indifferent to the ridicule I receive about my hair. Why should I care what my peers think? They can judge me for being who I am, but that doesn't lessen me in any way. I learned that because I was mocked for who I am. It's a cliche, but the social attacks made me stronger, not weaker.

As for the effects of circumcision, it's objective harm. It's a surgical alteration that removes healthy tissue and nerves. It creates a wound. It leaves scarring. There is a risk of infection and complications from the surgery. And it alters the functioning of the penis. (An objective claim, unlike the subjective question of whether it's better or worse.)

Does the individual want any of that? I don't. Why should my parents' misguided, inaccurate perception about my body rule over my (lack of) need while I was in their care? As I said, at 37 years old, it's a decision they're effectively still making for me. Permitting that under proxy consent is flawed.
November 29, 2010 9:22 PM

Hugh said...
As a common slogan has it, "A foreskin is not a birth defect", and it is very odd to treat it as though it is. (People in the US seem far readier than elsewhere to modify their children for conformity's sake alone, as witness the preoccupation with straight teeth. It may also have to do with the economics of the health care system.)

Circumcision does affect functionality. I don't imagine you have talked to many intact men in detail about exactly what is conferred by their foreskins. It has been described as "a symphony of sensation" - not just more sensitive, but better sensitive. Cutting off the foreskin, with its ~20,000 nerves specialised for feedback, is like pulling out the accelerator pedal and leaving an on-off switch. You can still get there, but the journey is not as enjoyable.

Forgotten pain was still pain at the time, and how long does it take to forget? Taddio et al. found circumcised babies react differently to the pain of vaccination, months later. Crimes committed on drugged victims are still crimes, even though they are not remembered.
November 30, 2010 3:59 AM

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...
But its only considered a deformity by social standards not natural ones. The weird looking ear functions just as well as any other ear. If you are indifferent by the ridicule you receive from your hair, why should you try to alter the shape of the ear so that your son or daughter wont be? If it really makes you stronger why is it altered at all if there is no medically necessary purpose? It is for purely social reasons it is altered so why alter it? Deformity is only something you in your society consider abnormal, what is to stop another society from considering it an acceptable deviation?

I have heard opposite accounts on how sex life after a person had a circumcision was actually improved. More nerve endings doesn't necessarily mean better sex.

Sex may or may not be more enjoyable with a foreskin, but for those who have one they will never be able to tell what it is like without it. For those without one (even if it was voluntary) will never be able to go back, so its not really like an individual can compare sex life with and without a foreskin and then choose to have his foreskin. So I don't really see that as a strong argument, since comparisons and decisions based on that comparisons with regards to sex are practically impossible.

Hugh, I would like to see the study by Taddio if you don't mind. I think that is an interesting factor to take into account, as long as I understand what exactly was tested and what the findings were.
November 30, 2010 10:23 AM

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...
One more comment, I just don't really agree that circumcisions really are all that harmful. I am beginning to think that the benefits I am describing are not really all that rational.

But if I were going to try to force my views on my wife and refuse to let her circumcise my son I think I am going to have to have a really convincing argument for the horrible and terribly harmful thing circumcision is, and as of yet I am not convinced that it is. I still see it as a fairly mild operation with very little functional difference in the person. If it wasn't a common practice and my wife didn't insist on its importance I definitely wouldn't do it but as things are now I don't believe my son will be all that upset or resentful, because it really is not such a big deal IMO.

If I had convincing evidence that showed beyond a reasonable doubt that circumcision is something that truly is harmful to a child then I would reconsider position on it.
November 30, 2010 10:47 AM

Tony said...
I'm not suggesting I think parents should have surgery on their children if the child has a deformity. I have a family member with a mild birth defect. It hasn't been corrected because there's no need. My only point is that I won't judge parents who face that tough decision for their children. At least they're confronting an abnormality.

Parents who circumcise their normal children don't face that decision. They're deciding in favor of common at the expense of normal. That's not a valid decision by proxy.

What is it that's preventing you from seeing the harm of circumcision? I'm genuinely asking because I'd like to persuade you, if you're open to listening. I think you are.

Circumcision is objective harm. That much is undeniable, as there's a wound after the surgery. I accept that the value of that harm weighed against the claimed benefits is subjective to the individual.

For me, it's not close. It's a net harm because I don't value the cultural conformity it was meant to confer, and I resent my parents for forcing it on me. But I don't expect that everyone will or should have that opinion. I only expect everyone to understand that anyone could have that opinion. Parents aren't psychic. Imposing their preferences on their child when those preferences do physical harm is wrong because the child may not want the potential, subjective benefits the parents value.
November 30, 2010 4:22 PM

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...
"What is it that's preventing you from seeing the harm of circumcision?
Circumcision is objective harm. That much is undeniable, as there's a wound after the surgery."

Well I guess the objective harm as being minimal enough for it not to really matter. To me its like parents who choose to pierce their daughters ears as an infant. There is pain and there is permament scarring to the ears. No medical purpose, only for social reasons, and who knows if the child would want their ears pierced.

I think your arguments are valid, but there are two main reasons I don't feel that the harm is significant enough for me to be universally against the practice.

1) While there is scarring, it is "normal" scarring in our society and the pain for infants truly is minimal if the procedure is done properly. My son when he was circumcised cried literally no more than a few seconds, the wound healed in a couple of days, and he didn't show any discomfort in that area since the cut was made.

2) The pain and distress for those who wish to be circumcised later on in life, even a young child a couple years old is very very high, and the healing process takes weeks and sometimes over a month. If my son did decide, at an age where he could consent, that he wanted to be circumcised, to fit in or for other reasons, I would have to put him through a horribly painful procedure. I know of one Jew who is very upset with his parents for not getting him circumcised since he did want to fit in later in life and the procedure was very painful, he said he could barely walk for weeks. I would much rather spare my child of having to make that decision at all and give him a relatively painless memoryless surgery over that scenario.

There are no guarantees either way and a son could be equally upset with his parents for either not circumcising him, or for circumcising him. Like you said parents aren't psychic and it is impossible to tell what is the likelyhood for either case, but for a Jewish family it is likely to be higher than for a non Jewish one that the child would rather have a circumcision, but there aren't any garuantees.

For you it was a net harm, for others it could be a net gain. For me it was a net gain, I probably would have been just as pissed at my parents as you are if they hadn't circumcised me since I would have to go through this grueling process which could have easily been avoided as a child.

Thus I view the decision from the parents perspective to be basically on neutral grounds. There is a possibility it will be a net gain or loss for the child to circumcise, but it is also possible it will be a net gain or loss for the child to not circumcise. Since the likelyhood of all the cases are unknown I don't feel like there is a general net harm to the procedure and I basically view it as net neutral.

btw I am enjoying this conversation very much and your comments have been very thoughtful and engaging. Thanks.
November 30, 2010 5:44 PM

Rabbi Lamech Somayach Meshumad Meshubach said...
If you want Jewish boys to avoid HIV keep them away from Rabbi Yehudda Kolko at Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn, NY.
December 1, 2010 12:25 AM

Tony said...
The facts that pain can be minimal (not entirely verifiable) and not remembered aren't relevant. Such reasons could justify any number of invasive procedures on a child. If you numb him up, you could punch him in the face and do less permanent damage than circumcision. It's an intentionally absurd example, of course, but it gets at my point that all of the extraneous factors we wrap into this discussion distract from the core. The act needs to be judged on its objective facts, not the subjective add-ons each of us value in our own way.

Yes, I think it's likely that a significant number of boys left intact and raised Jewish would want circumcision. I don't see a conflict there. This isn't about despising circumcision, per se. Whatever might motivate someone to choose it for himself is valid for him. I don't think circumcision itself is automatically bad. But force is. This is about each individual retaining choice over his own (healthy) body.

In economic terms, the basic concept is that all individual tastes and preferences are subjective. I don't value circumcision. I value not being harmed (however minimally one might judge it). I don't value cultural conformity. I don't value the potential health benefits. And so on. That's my collection of preferences. Yours are different and they're no less valid. But each of our preferences are only valid for ourselves.

Overall statistics show a different story on what males left intact will likely choose or need. The percentage of circumcision among those men is very small. That's useful for the general population.

But you raise a valid issue within the ritual subset of circumcision. It's necessary to address this. Again, all individual tastes and preferences are subjective. Circumcision has claimed benefits, claimed harms, and objective harms. Each individual can decide for himself how he weights each item. For Jewish males who would have to choose circumcision later in life, they would decide whether they value the commandment and/or social benefits more than the real physical cost(s). If they choose circumcision, yes, the healing process will be challenging, although I've read anecdotal evidence across the spectrum of possible experiences for adult circumcision. (I wouldn't confine the choice to 18+, just consenting males.) But they will be choosing for themselves that the benefits are more than the costs. Males raised Jewish who later reject circumcision or Judaism entirely are stuck with their parents' choice.

I think our difference is partially in utilitarian (i.e. community) versus individual thinking. I have no issue with decisions for communal reasons, but the individual is superior in the narrative of rights. He must choose permanent inclusion in a community. Without the option to exit, even if he wouldn't exercise it, it's an issue of force.

The remaining issue is, of course, our evaluation of the objective harm. I think the comparison to ear piercing is useful, but the difference in degree is significant. Ear piercing doesn't remove a normal, healthy body part. It doesn't alter the functioning of a body part. The loss of the foreskin is a significant portion of the harm. Most boys will come out of circumcision with the typical, intended results, and the wound will heal. But the foreskin will be gone. It won't be there to protect the glans. It won't be there to provide gliding action during sexual activities. The nerve endings are gone. Whether or not these are acceptable is, again, unique to the individual. But they are real, and we can't know what the individual will want.
December 1, 2010 11:16 AM

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...
"Overall statistics show a different story on what males left intact will likely choose or need. The percentage of circumcision among those men is very small. That's useful for the general population."

Part of the reason that is the case is because the pain involved is tremendous for adults to undertake a circumcision. This is why mild pain in the procedure for an infact is indeed useful information since it is contrasted in relation to the same procedure on an adult where the pain is significantly higher.

When you don't circumcise an infant who grows up to be an adult who wishes to be circumcised you steal from him the opportunity to have a memoryless and significantly less painful operation to achieve the same results. In my determination the choice that a parent has to circumcise their infant son is a different choice than that an adult has to circumcise himself. He can't choose to have a memoryless, less painful procedure as an infant, that option was only available to his parents who decide whether or not to chose this option for him.

My preferences are indeed different than yours, but my preferences are as follows in decending order [circumcision as an infant(for myslef)] > [circumcision as an adult] > [No circumcision]

The likelyhood of my preferences being in line this way was, in my own opinion, rather high seeing as many children from Jewish families do wish to be a part of the Jewish community and in so doing for the most part wish to be circumcised. Their preferences would likely be close to my highest preference, of having my circumcision as an infant.

But to go even deeper parents are continually given license to decide for their children things that will permanently change and effect their children to a far greater degree than circumcision would. Very often do parents make these decisions for their children based on assumed preferences without the childs consent. Sometimes they get it wrong but many times when the parent is consientious they get it right. Why should this decision be excluded from a parent on the issue of circumcision but not on the countless other more impactful issues such as:

1) Whether or not they will grow up in a specific religious community or not.
2) Whether they will be in close contact with many relitives, like grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins or not.
3) What type of education they will receive.
4) What (if any) musical instruments they will learn.
5) What (if any) additional languages they will learn.
6) What sort of nutrition they will receive as children.
7) Whether or not they will be immunized against various diseases.
8) Whether they will be breastfed or bottlefed.

The list can go on and on. These items permamently affect the child in a much more impactful way than circumcision, most of the time they are done without the childs consent and they are irreversable. The child grows up and is happy with some of the decisions his/her parents made on his/her behalf without his/her consent, sometimes they are unhappy. The same is easily said of circumcision. I am very happy that my parents made the decision that I could never make, to have an infant circumcision, for me.
December 1, 2010 12:44 PM

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...
Tony, a bunch of your previous comments seem very similar to one another. Did you want me to delete any of them for you.
December 1, 2010 12:51 PM

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...
I would agree with you for the most part, basically if I believed that the parents choice to circumcies was the same choice as the individuals to circumcise himself, because the significant differences in pain. If the choice was essentially the same (for example using a special dye that permamently changes your hair color) I would agree with you that this decision should not be up to the parents because the choice can just as easily be given to the child when he can consent. The choice between infant circumcision and no circumcision, and the choice between and adult circumcision and no circumcision is are significantly different choices in my determination. The person can't choose to have a circumcision as an infant.

Also I believe that the impact of having a circumcision vs not having one is minimal, greater than ear piercings no doubt, but still relatively minor compared to most of the more impactful things parents are warranted to do (and rightfully so) to their children without their consent that are also irreversable.
December 1, 2010 1:12 PM

Tony said...
Yes, please delete them. Google gave me errors for length. I waited and refreshed and nothing showed up, so I assumed they were lost. I apologize for that.
December 2, 2010 11:18 AM

Tony said...
I agree that the pain involved for adults is a reason why more intact males don't choose circumcision. That supports me. They reveal their preference for avoiding pain more than being circumcised. That's instructive. When you circumcise an infant who grows up to be an adult who wishes to be intact, you steal from him the opportunity to have his normal body and no painful operation. There are opportunity costs on both sides. But only in refraining from non-therapeutic circumcising do you allow every individual to get as close to what he wants as possible.

The problem is assuming that the pain is mild for an infant or milder than adult circumcision. We don't know how different they are, if at all. It's obvious that infants feel pain. How do they process it? Do they want that? That's not an end to the debate, but it looms much larger when the surgery is not needed. The facts that an intervention can be only mildly painful and memoryless are irrelevant. It doesn't add anything to the discussion of ethics.

It's also worth noting that adults can receive proper pain management tailored to their response and can choose how much skin to remove (and whether or not to remove the frenulum).

I concede that most Jewish males left intact would ultimately choose circumcision. I think that percentage would decrease over time, but I accept that it will be a majority for a long time. However, I can't accept that we should ignore the minority to avoid a painful choice for the majority. The majority can still get most of what they value. They also might find that their preference changes from:

[circumcision as an infant] > [circumcision as an adult] > [No circumcision]


[circumcision as an infant] > [No circumcision] > [circumcision as an adult]

With infant circumcision, the minority can get none of what they value. Even on utilitarian grounds, defending circumcision doesn't work.

I think your list of options is useful. I agree, there can be a permanent effect, but that isn't guaranteed. For 1-5, those are not permanent. They can be overcome, with a caveat about the potential death of relatives with whom parents forbid contact. Nutrition and breastfeeding matter, and to a large extent, I think interference with those decisions is wrong. As long as the child is not malnourished, it's a parental decision.

The only item similar is vaccination. It's an intervention, it carries risk, and it's in essence permanent. However, vaccination deals with diseases that have few, if any, better prevention methods. Unlike circumcision and female-to-male HIV transmission, for example, a child can get measles in the course of normal social interaction. More importantly, vaccinations work with the body's natural functions to kick-start it. Circumcision for health (not really our focus) or social reasons works against the body, changing it to meet beliefs. That's the crux of where it differs and why standards for interfering with parental decision-making are different for the two.

I disagree that these permanently affect the child in a more impactful way. I was sent to church as a child. I've rejected that. (Disclosure: I'm agnostic.) I was given musical lessons for an instrument I didn't want, so I stopped when I could. As an adult, I'm now learning an instrument I like. I was raised an omnivore, and I'm now a vegan. And so on.
December 2, 2010 11:34 AM

Tony said...
(This is the second half. I'm assuming the first half will show up before this, eventually.)

I will always be circumcised. And I will always be against it for myself. It can't be overcome. You value circumcision, particularly that it was done to you as an infant. That is correct for you. But your conclusion is not mine, as I know you understand. We all have a basic right to be free from unwanted harm. A person can't choose circumcision in his infancy, but he also can't unchoose a circumcision in his infancy. That's the core fact. Until a child can offer consent, non-therapeutic circumcision is an unethical violation. Proxy consent is invalid.

There is no corresponding right to grow up* circumcised. Yes, you would have to choose it for yourself, with all of the drawbacks that go with it. Again, that's revealed preferences. It leaves the individual to evaluate and determine his own life. If you value circumcision more, you would suffer for a brief time, but you would ultimately get most of what you want. I will suffer my entire life and never get back any of what I want. I'm stuck with my parents' preference, or at least what they incorrectly assumed I'd want.

Related: On Monday, you posted Sara Bareilles' "King of Anything". Since I first heard it, that song resonated with me for a parent-child relationship, generally, and circumcision, specifically. For what that's worth...

* As I stated earlier, with any proposed prohibition on non-therapeutic circumcision of minors, the requirement should not be iron-clad on the age of majority. With the right textual protections against coercion, I'm fine with the individual's consent at whatever age he concludes he wants to be circumcised.
December 2, 2010 11:36 AM

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...

Thank you for your well thought out and elucidative comments. I will have to chew them over a bit.

I will give you my initial reaction though. First off I think that the permanancy of all of the choices parents make in my list are in the realm of altering you in regards to your mind not your body in general. You will carry with you the connections you make as a child for the rest of your life. Sure you can learn a new language as an adult, but your mental skills will never be able to improve as much as if you had learned it as a child. I do believe that experiences you have as a child will alter your mental state for the rest of your life, either for good or for bad, and I believe a altering a persons mental state is more impactful to their life than the body altering of a circumcision.

I just simply haven't been convinced that I should universally reject this practice. I think that if I were to agree with your logic, which I think is very reasonable, I would also have to universally reject the practice of infant ear piercings (IEP). It seems to me that you wouldn't reject IEP because of the scale of harm done in your determination is not significant (correct me if I am wrong). I can't see how IEP are different than infant circumcisions in any other way. If the scale of harm done can be a determining factor in whether or not one should reject a procedure of this kind (and I think it is) then I am simply not convinced that the scale of harm is significant enough for me to oppose it. I would oppose other similar procedures whose harm I consider too significant to allow (such as cutting off a childs arm or tattooing disgusting images to a childs face) and I would not oppose practices I don't consider significantly harmful (like IEP, or a small tattoo on an inconspicuous part of an infants body assuming doing so doesn't make the child look abnormal, or circumcision).

As you said earlier:

"The remaining issue is, of course, our evaluation of the objective harm. I think the comparison to ear piercing is useful, but the difference in degree is significant"

Who gets to decide where to draw that line of where the degree of significance lies? I think it is hard to tell where it does and circumcision may be close to where that line gets hazy or it may not. I still am unsure about it being ok but I am also not convinced that it is unethical.
December 2, 2010 12:07 PM

Tony said...
"... You will carry with you the connections you make as a child for the rest of your life. ..."

I don't want to give the impression that I disagree with that. I probably did, since I was nonchalant on discarding some of my parents' decisions. I do carry the connections. We're all a collection of our experiences, not just the ones we like/choose/etc. Is it better to say "reduce the permanence" or "lessen the effect" of past parental decisions, or something like that? I still think that's different from circumcision, since I can't undo any of its effects.

Regarding IEP, I think parents shouldn't do it. It carries risk of infection. The incidence is rare but awful when it occurs. I think it treats children like dress-up dolls rather than children. Parents aren't considering that their children will one day be independent people with their own preferences. I've met women who wish their parents hadn't pierced their ears. Not many, but they exist. (Like circumcision, it should be allowed when there's consent, not the age of majority.)

As for a prohibition, it's tricky. I'd support it, and I think it's justified. But it's not a battle I'm interested in fighting, precisely because the difference between it and non-therapeutic circumcision is significant.

Drawing a line on significance is about objective facts. I think the line has both on the same side, against. If it's somewhere between the two, it's not so much about where that line is or who decides, but why it's drawn between them. Ear piercing affects a normal body part and exposes the recipient to some risk. Circumcision removes a normal body part, denying aspects of the human experience to the individual.

I respect your need to ponder our discussion and will not try to convince you further. We've hit the bulk of the discussion, anyway. I obviously hope my position will eventually convince you. Regardless, I commend you for thinking. I rarely encounter anyone who supports proxy consent for non-therapeutic circumcision who is willing to think. Most proponents already "know" everything (i.e. a subset of facts with many errors) they need to know. Thank you for being decent.
December 3, 2010 11:30 AM

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...

I have really enjoyed all of your comments. I commend you for your consistency and I think your reasoning is totally sound. Like I said earlier I will have to dwell on this some more before I can make a decision, but you have given me a lot to think about, and who knows I may very well oppose this practice in the future. But like all things I think all people should take their time with developing their beliefs and should do so with the utmost care, which I can see you have done with your position on circumsision.

I don't think I have really anything more to say on the subject either. Again thank you for the engaging conversation and for visiting and reading my blog. I really do appreciate it and love discussing difficult issues like this with open minded, thoughtful and respectful people such as yourself.

Take care and have a wonderful winter season.
December 3, 2010 11:49 AM

Questioning Yid said...
How delightfully refreshing to see a thoughtful and respectful dialog between opposing parties on a hot-button topic that never devolved into puerile and pugnacious exchanges. Thank you both for restoring a bit of my faith in humanity and true discourse!
December 13, 2010 9:20 AM

Jasmine said...
I'm against it for a very simple reason: bodily autonomy, which I consider sacrosanct (as far as an atheist can, anyway). People (and that includes infants) have the absolute right to decide what gets done to their bodies. Since an infant obviously can't make such a decision, the only ethical procedures are critical, life-saving ones. Others must wait until they are old enough to decide on their own. Surely that's not too much to ask?

Suppose it were considered socially important to give an infant a giant facial tattoo that marks them out forever, regardless of their later wishes. What would we make of that?

With the case of the deformed ear, again we must wait. Perhaps the child will not consider it so bad after all. Perhaps in the future such things will be accepted. Perhaps in the future there will be better ways to fix it. Who knows? Not us.

I submit that parents who surgically modify their children without permission are placing their own social discomfort over the wellbeing of their child.
December 20, 2010 12:07 PM

Balboa said...
I don't think circ should be banned for adults who choose to do it for themselves. I do think parents should not have unnecessary surgeries done on infants. especially not in synagogues with parties and smiles while the infant cries for help. I relented and had it done for my son after about a month because it would have cost me my marriage and my kids didn't deserve that.
December 26, 2010 3:08 AM

Oy Oy Shabbos

Originally posted on Divrei Acher
Saturday, June 6, 2009

Over Shabbos, two things got me thinking.
First, when we say during Hagbah:
וְזֹאת, הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-שָׂם מֹשֶׁה, לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל-פִּי יְהוָה בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה
the first part of the sentence being from Deuteronomy 4:44, and the second from Numbers 9:23, I thought: is this the best we came up with for expressing that the whole Torah was given to Moshe by God? The answer is yes, because for those who know, it doesn't state anywhere in the Chumash that God relayed all of it to Moshe, so yes, this Mishmash Posuk is the best we came up with for stating what the Torah itself is conspicuously missing. Which lead me to think: did I have to get this far to realize this. Why didn't I notice that we say this Mishmash sentence because we've got nothing better, five, ten years ago. I also knew that this is a composite Posuk, but I never thought, why, why nothing better. Unfortunately, the truth is that we usually don't think straight, especially when we're brought up to simply follow what we're taught. This is why I usually don't explain what brought me to my Apikorsus to those not familiar with the issues, and what I tell the same people when they say: do you think you're smarter than RSH"I, RMB"M or whomever. And, Ein Hachi Nami, I'm not. But in order to realize the Chulent your in, you have to look at it from outside. It only takes one peak, but that one peak makes an immeasurable difference.

The second thing was when the Rav spoke for the Aufruf there, and he asked what's the origin of the Brochoh given to the newlyweds "בית נאמן בישראל"? He answered that the source comes from Abigail who beseeched David saying: "Forgive, I pray thee, the trespass of thy handmaid;
כִּי עָשֹׂה-יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי בַּיִת נֶאֱמָן for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house."
Now the meaning of this wish as far as I know is either that the couple should build a faithful house in Israel, meaning faithful to the Jewish faith. Or that one should have a בית נאמן a faithful household, בית taking on the meaning as in ביתו זו אשתו. The real story behind David and Abigail is actually not very veiled in the text of Shmuel, and it tells a story that is the farthest thing from faithfulness. Although he probably is correct, that the phrase originates from there, but this is a good example of projecting contemporary imagery onto very different people from the past.

Baal Habos said...
Nice, nice.


>It only takes one peak, but that one peak makes an immeasurable difference.

I'm not sure about that. It takes lots of peaks, but there is the peak that breaks the camel's back.
JUNE 7, 2009 8:16 AM

Acher said...
True, I was referring to that one all important peek, the one that breaks the camels back. In my life, it was the foray into biblical criticism, and it was that one peak, more than any other one thing.
JUNE 7, 2009 12:04 PM

Avi said...
Please dont make me think about it. It's too depressing....Avi
JUNE 11, 2009 2:40 PM

He Who Fights Monsters said...
Let me put it to you this way:

What's more troubling - that evidence of Noah's flood doesn't seem to exist, or that the flood story was imported from Sumerian mythology?
JUNE 14, 2009 2:40 AM

Acher said...
I don't understand why either would be troubling, it's not a personal matter, it's a question of historical accuracy.
JUNE 16, 2009 2:01 PM

Hechsher on What??

Originally posted on Divrei Acher
Friday, May 7, 2010

We've come beyond the threshold of absurdity even for Charedi shenanigans. It seems that it has become Assuer to own any stocks, lest they be involved in Chillul Shabbos or other Halacha compromising activities.
But wait! This is not all. The Gedoilim always have a Refuah Kodem L'Makoh. So there are Hechsherim for ETFs and bonds etc.
And so the contest is on! Who can correctly predict the next thing to be Assur. The winner gets to monopolize the Hechsher ensuing from that Issur.

G*3 said...
That's brilliant. I wish I'd thought of it.

It just goes to show, even in a down economy there are opportunities for those who think outside the box.
MAY 7, 2010 12:51 AM

Undercover Kofer said...
Maybe this will allow people from the Eidah Charedis to get some higher education (Business MA or so) in order to give out hech-share-im ;)
MAY 7, 2010 3:24 AM

Baal Habos said...

MAY 7, 2010 2:44 PM

Acher said...

Presto, grab the lead in this market before it's too late, it could be a lucrative opportunity.... just look at Kedem's strong arm tactics..... they can def bve applied tp the whiskey business as well....
MAY 7, 2010 5:22 PM

Lady-Light said...
או-או-שכחתי להחליף מעברית לאנגלית
Sorry about that.

Here's a good one: having a label on fish or chicken (or for that matter, matzah meal) which says "glatt."

The word has come to mean "mehadrin meha-mehadrin," not 'smooth' in lung-checking, as it originally meant.
Go figure: it's the chumra of the week club.
OCTOBER 1, 2010 3:57 PM

Kefira - Like a hole in the head

Originally posted on Baal Habos
20 JUNE 2006

I once had a rebbi in Beis Medrash, who often stated that Kefira Material, anything that contradicts the Torah, is like a hole in the head. Get exposed to it, even accidentally, and you've damaged your brain with a tiny hole, spiritually speaking that is. Do it often enough and you've got hundreds of holes; effectively you're damaged goods. Not that the Torah is false (CH"VSH), just that you as an individual are no longer capable of resisting the falsehoods of the world.

I knew instantly that he was right. When I was a mere stripling of 12, I took out this interesting looking book from the library, "God is an astronaut". It tries to demonstrate thru various events in Tanach, that God, as we experienced him, was really an astronaut from another planet. For example, the desciption of the Chayos in the Maase Merkava could resemble a spacecraft. Layouts of the pyramid were really landmarks for alien aircraft. Ancient roads were landing strips for aircraft. The deaths of Nadav & Avihu Bhakrivam aish zara was due to electricity. That's how there were "burnt" without any external markings. There were hundreds of interesting tidbits like that, most of which I can't remember the details. It is considered a flawed work of pseudo science, but it makes for fascinating reading.

I felt this was gibberish, but it always left a slight impact on me that maybe what happened back in bibilical times was really the result of an encounter with a more sophisticated culture.

Later, personal encounters by me with real science and history was more than enought to leave me with serious doubt as to the accuracy of Torah Misinai as we know it.

This brings me to individuals like Lakewood Yid, Chardal and others who hang around GH blog. I just can't see how they can escape the Kefira holes that my Rebbi warned me of. I wish them lots of luck, cause they'll need it.


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The back of the hill said...
Ah, the conflict between truth and fact.

It's all true. But none of it is factual.
June 20, 2006 2:03 PM
Baal Habos said...
Welcome back, BOTH.

> It's all true.

Yes, thats what the mean by Torah True Judaism.
June 20, 2006 2:21 PM
Avi said...
So what is the problem? They will have so many holes in their brain, that they will become holy. Isent that what they want? Avi
June 20, 2006 3:46 PM
Baal Habos said...
Avi, very cute! (and ain't that the whole truth).
June 20, 2006 5:27 PM
Moshe Kappoya said...
I've come to the same conclusion, which why I feel I must say goodbye.
June 20, 2006 5:33 PM
Baal Habos said...
MK, if you're a maamin, then please do yourself a favor and stay away.
June 20, 2006 5:38 PM
Moshe Kappoya said...
My soul weeps for you.
A short personal anecdote if I may.
When in my teens, I rebelled against my religious upbringing and began to "slip away". Not long after, my uncle passed away on Yom Kippur. At the funeral another uncle told this story about the deceased.
During WWII when the Nazis ym"s occupied Hungary he decided to "hide" amongst the goyim there. Being a wealthy man, he was able to dress the part of a "gentleman" and move about the town freely. One day he met a shiksa that recognized him. She told him that if he did not marry her, she would report him to the Nazis. He refused and was deported to one of the camps. He survived and eventually came to NY.
After hearing this I thought to myself, here was a man who could have lived very comfortably, but instead choose to go through hell rather then betray his religion. And so too for the past 2000 years my ancestors have willingly submitted to torture and death to stay true to Hashem's Torah. And I was going to be the SOB to break the chain?!?

I will pray that you find your way back.
June 22, 2006 10:32 AM
Baal Habos said...
MK, Thanks.

My soul weeps for me as well. However, I'm not breaking any chains or Halacha. Except possibly belief. Nuch 120, if God takes me to task for that, I can't help that. I can only control my actions. The Gemara Said Lo uvdo Avoda Zara ella Lhatir Lahem aroyos. I haven't been matir any Arayos.

That being said, past ancestral or personal sacrifice is not reason to have emuna either. It may appeal to your emotions but it does not follow logically.

During early Christianity days, Christians were thrown to the lions by the Romans for being Christian. That doesn't prove the Christians are correct, right?

What was it in your teens that led you to rebel? Intellectual or Emotional reasons? I'm willing to bet it was emotional, i.e. friends, taava, bad teacher , etc.

That's very typical of teenagers and adults as well.

I think you are making emotional decisions, which is not necessarily bad. You'll certainly have a clear conscience as it relates to Yiddishkeit.
June 22, 2006 12:24 PM
Moshe Kappoya said...
However, I'm not breaking any chains or Halacha. Except possibly belief. Nuch 120, if God takes me to task for that, I can't help that. I can only control my actions.
I think you may not realize the severity of denying one of the 13 ikrim. And yes, we are expected to control our thoughts and desires. Remember "Lo Sachmod"?

As for myself, yes initially it was an emotional decision. But I can honsetly say that today I believe because it is obvious to me.

With faith, there are no questions; without faith, there are no answers.

Yisroel Meir Hakohen (1838-1933)
June 22, 2006 3:16 PM
Baal Habos said...
MK, Firstly the 13 Ikkarim are debatable. I even heard my Rav say it; he's a regular Chareidi Rav who is quite well known. There are other versions such as 7 Ikkarim or 3 Ikkarim or possibly even one Ikkar. These were promulgated by other Rishonim. It's just the Rambam's Ikkarim became well known. Secondly, a requirement to "believe" just makes no sense. What if you don't? You can't be forced to believe something if you don't.

If I tell you that you must believe the sky is green, you only believe it it you believe.

You can profess belief, but that doesn't mean you do.

I tried to pre-empt some of this in my comment to you before about Lo Uvdo Avoda Zara.

This is a famous kashia, how can one be forced to believe. In yeshiva we learned that really everyone believes but they fool themselves into not believing because they really don't want to believe in order to be Matir Arayos.

Well there are many who have lots of doubt and would wish that it were true, yet still are not Matir Arayos. etc.

> Remember "Lo Sachmod"?

Agreed, once you believe then controlling your desires and envies is do-able.

> With faith, there are no questions; without faith, there are no answers.

Possibly, but that doesn't mean the faith is true either. The same motto can be said of other religions.

Hmmmm. I would have hoped that I'd attract other people in by boat. I'm not looking to try to convince believers of anything. But I'll gladly defend my skepticism to anyone.
June 22, 2006 5:04 PM
Moshe Kappoya said...
I think you'll find this interesting...
June 23, 2006 1:39 PM
Baal Habos said...
I read it and it does not do much for me. I really don't feel I need to do any teshuva for many reasons. At least not any more than your typical Baal Habos needs to do Teshuva.

An interesting point though is Mitoch Shlo Lshmuh. It does say about Torah, Meoros Shebah Machzirin Lmutav - As long as you're not learning Lekantair.

And I believe thats true, the more you learn the more "religious" you will be. That's no different than someone who reads science books all day, will become more intellectual.

There was a period when I recognized that I was learning exactly Lekantair. So for around 4 years I stopped learning. I'm over that now and I'm back to a daily dose of learning. At least it keeps me connected.

So tell me, how wacky is that for someone who pretty convinced about the non historicity of TMS ?

Good Shabbos.
June 23, 2006 4:20 PM

Pinchas Giller said...
The "kefirah holes" sounds close to R. Nachman Breslaver's famous "Torah of the Void" (Likkutei Moharan 64); the astronaut thing sounds like Erikh Von Danekin's "Chariots of the Gods."

This all must have filtered down to you wherever you were.

It seems that the frum world is very 2 dimensional and shies away from complexity or paradox in the objects of their belief.

You said:

"..serious doubt as to the accuracy of Torah MiSinai as we know it."

But maybe you knew it with insufficient subtlety.
June 27, 2006 1:18 AM
Baal Habos said...

You are possibly correct about the book being Chariots of the Gods. When I wrote this post, I went looking searching for a book entitled God is an Astronaut and came up empty. But, thats the title as I remember "reading it" many years ago, so that's what I went with.

The other incident are verbatim words from a revered recently deceased Litvishe Maggid shiur.

I don't think R' Breslav or Von Daniken's neccesarilly had copyrights on their respective ideas.

No subtlety? That's funny.

Anyhow, what I find realy interesting, is that commenters often post on ancillary issues, somehow missing the point of the post. Maybe it's my writing. Or possibly, if I re-arrange your sentences, your'e disagreeing with the Kefira holes issue by saying that people should be able to live with the dichotomy of ideas. Well, I tell you that LY does not live with the dichotomy, because he simply rejects science and anything that threatens to conflict with with cocoon. Which is not bad. But one day, something may crack and he'll really be in deep doo-doo.

I'll post about subtlety in the future.
June 27, 2006 9:02 AM
PInchas Giller said...
No, all I meant was that Torah mi-Sinai may be more complex, in its reality, than the simplistic view. And, I apologize, when I said "you" I meant the 2nd person plural, as in Torah mi-Sinai as taught to the masses. I think that the idea is full of mysteries and paradoxes, myself.

And your writing is quite fine, it is my thought processes that are erratic.

There was a point, in the popular culture, when there was a theme that Aliens were going to come & bequeath humankind with knowledge. "Close encounters," "ET" it was even parodied by Woody Allen. Lately the aliens in movies all seem to be malevolent. It's a nastier decade.
June 27, 2006 8:23 PM
Baal Habos said...
Pinchas, no apologies necessary either way. Unfortunately my upbringing (chareidi-lite)does not really provide for a complex TMS. And true Chareidi has no leeway at all.

See any good movies lately? I can't even recall the last time we (the wife & I) went to a movie or even rented something. I settle for Seinfeld reruns and borrowed Sopranos. IMO, The early Sopranos were the best thing out on the tube. Ever.
June 27, 2006 11:12 PM
lakewoodyid said...

Please explain:

Da Mah She'tashiv L'apikores.
June 28, 2006 11:48 PM
Anonymous said...
my intention was the first words not the last word
June 29, 2006 1:05 AM
Baal Habos said...
> Da Mah She'tashiv L'apikores.

LY, it certainly does not mean going surfing the web LOOKING for apikorsim.

You have strayed from your own characterization of your blogging as defending anti Chareidi posting. Now you're doing mundane postings about Flip Flops in shul. Your web charisma is carrying you away.
June 29, 2006 9:53 AM
Baal Habos said...
> Anonymous said...
my intention was the first words not the last word

Anon, sorry, I don't know who you are and what you're referring to.
June 29, 2006 9:56 AM
lakewoodyid said...
>LY, it certainly does not mean going surfing the web LOOKING for apikorsim.

You're avoiding my question. You said Kefirah make spiritual holes in the brain.

The Mishna says we should know what to answer. We can only answer if we read their position.

How could the Mishna allow it if it creates holes?

(Hint, see the mefarshim on the mishna in Avos perek 2)
June 29, 2006 12:21 PM
lakewoodyid said...
>> Anonymous said...
my intention was the first words not the last word

>Anon, sorry, I don't know who you are and what you're referring to.

Sorry about that one. Blogging from a treo is a pain.

I was simply trying to say that although I quoted the Mishna - "L'apikores", I was not refering that term on anyone.
June 29, 2006 12:23 PM
lakewoodyid said...
>Now you're doing mundane postings about Flip Flops in shul. Your web charisma is carrying you away.

I'm fully entitled to express my right wing views. As much as your entitled to express your doubts.

And standing before God "nisht koveh'dig" is not a mundane matter to me.
June 29, 2006 12:38 PM
Baal Habos said...

> How could the Mishna allow it if it creates holes?

That was not my Vort, it was from a very chushoov Maggid Shiur. I will try to research it the Inyun. I sincerely doubt it means actively engage in conversation with Apikorsim unless forced into it. It probably means Study Tanach and Gemora well so in case you get into the position where you are forced to confront an Apikores you will know how to respond.

Yes, you certainly are entitled to blog on what you wish, but I remember you saying your charter is to defend against anti-chared sentiment, right?
June 29, 2006 3:21 PM
lakewoodyid said...
>Yes, you certainly are entitled to blog on what you wish, but I remember you saying your charter is to defend against anti-chared sentiment, right?

Gotta sometimes take offence too.
June 29, 2006 5:30 PM
Baal Habos said...
> Gotta sometimes take offence too.

LY, as long as you don't
"take offence" :)

Good Shabbos.
June 29, 2006 11:42 PM
happywithhislot said...
Many people believe orthodoxy is the only way to preserve the jews.
I agree.
That doesnt mean that privately you cant have brain.
I think youre accomplishing both.
Youre saving orthodoxy, and saving your brain.
Double schar.
Hashem gave us sechel and rabboonim.
Those two are mutually exclusive a lot of the times.
I believe they are becuase when you make the leap to all faith, you have no sechel. Its not a bad thing. We need our standard bearers. Doesnt mean they arent smart or wise.
July 07, 2006 1:27 PM

You Skeptics think you're so smart!

Originally posted on Baal Habos
08 MARCH 2009

Or some other variant thereof.

Such as "And you know better than all the Gedolim??!"

Rabbi Gil Student states here
You think you're the smartest and most unbiased person on the planet. That may or may not be so, but I'm not going to set aside my judgment for yours.

It happens to be that I did grow thinking I was smart. After all I overheard my mother telling a friend, "My little BHB must be brilliant, he got a 95 on his IQ Test!"

Well, as it turns out for once the believers got it right. The Gedolim are way smarter than us skeptics.

Michael Shermer tells us about Planck's Problem, after physicist Max Planck, who made this observation on what must happen for innovation to occur in science: "
An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning"

And he states further :
Psychologist David Perkins conducted an interesting correlational study in which he found a strong positive correlation between intelligence (measured by a standard IQ test) and the ability to give reasons for taking a point of view and defending that position; he also found a strong negative correlation between intelligence and the ability to consider other alternatives. That is, the higher the IQ, the greater the potential for ideological immunity. Ideological immunity is built into the scientific enterprise, where it functions as a filter against potentially overwhelming novelty."

It seems it's the smart ones who are able to cook up all sorts of tangled and intricate answers to defend their existing positions. It's the smart ones who are able to create Toras Lukshin to avoid confronting new truths

So, Rabboisai, there you have it. I agree, I'm NOT so smart after all.

A freilichen Purim.