כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם

כִּי לֹא מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי מַחְשְׁבוֹתֵיכֶם, וְלֹא דַרְכֵיכֶם דְּרָכָי

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Blog on the Block

Skeptical Yid, a frequently heard voice on OTD blogs and a partner in crime (we pun for fun!) has started a blog called On a Different Derech.

A very warm welcome to the blogosphere, ODD (somehow that sounds odd to me)! And may you be zoiche to many koferdika posts, omein!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Aished Jazz Player Insults Atheists, then Gets Grilled

Rabbi Adam Jacobs, who was Aished after he got his degree in music at Brandeis and a Masters in Jazz Performance, has some assertions to make that infuriates atheists and insults people with an IQ higher than the amount of valves on a jazz trumpet. So he probably thought he did a big mitzvah.

In a blog post in the Huffington Post called Atheism's Odd Relationship with Morality, Jacobs displays his ignorance about atheism and reveals a condescending attitude so typical of kiruv clowns.

He starts off bashing Sam Harris, who is probably one of the greatest experts on the topic of morality and atheism:
What I do not yet understand is why he (or any atheist for that matter) makes so many moral proclamations. The average atheist makes certain basic assumptions about reality: that we all exist as a result of blind and purposeless happenstance, that free will is illusory, that there is no conscious "self" and that there is no objective right or wrong. As Dr. Will Provine has said, "[as an atheist] you give up hope that there is an imminent morality ... you can't hope for there being any free will [and there is] ... no ultimate foundation for ethics."
And later on, he writes:
Through my private conversations with atheists, most of whom I would describe as very good people, I am becoming convinced that they don't really buy the party line when it comes to ethics. Like it or not, they seem to have an objective sense that certain things are "just wrong" and it's almost as if those things are built into the fabric of reality. Objective morality requires an absolute standard by which to judge it. The alternative is amorality.
Very much the Aish party line of course.

Thank God therefore (sorry for the pun) for people like Ezra Resnick who wrote a devastating rebuttal called A rabbi’s odd relationship with morality. I highly recommend you read it.

Now, just for the record, I am not an atheist (perhaps I am agnostic, not really clear about that yet), but the argument that there are no real morals without God is really bad. Resnick offers a superb refutation and I hope Jacobs read it:
The Bible repeatedly and unequivocally supports slavery, tribalism and discrimination, and commands the destruction of entire nations including women and children. The idea that all people have intrinsic value and ought to be treated equally — regardless of race, gender, or religion — is a modern, secular value, resisted mightily (to this day) by traditional religion.
His conclusion is priceless:
If Jacobs were not so arrogant and ignorant, he would realize that whatever parts of his own ethics are defensible are products of human rationality and secular thinking. And if he cares more about obeying the purported will of God than about the actual well-being of people in this world, then his morality is a disgrace, and he might stand to learn a few things from some atheists.
I would suggest Rabbi Jacobs to stick to his posts on Jazz and Kabbalah, a topic that would be more in his area of expertise and less likely to insult his target audience.
For more reading material on morality and religion, click here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday links

It feels like Friday, but it really is still Tuesday. And I have some links that I think are worth sharing today:

  1. Rav Shteinman On Torah, Steak And Ice Cream. One of our ‘gedolim’ pretends not to know what ice cream or steak is and is very insensitive towards a yeshiva bochur that happened not to like learning Torah. Familiar, anyone?
  2. OTD shares some thoughts with us about living at home. Going OTD has ramifications for the family (shidduchim, how do I approach other people’s beliefs?). Many thought to ponder and he deserves our advise.
  3. Daat Emet has a great section of Questions & Answers with some interesting English translations as well. This one is called Mass Revelation (make sure to click the English flag here!) where he refutes some Lawrence Kelemen arguments. He questions the assertion that people always double-check what their religious leaders tell them by referring to some urban legends. Also, he disputes assertion that what needs to be disproven is the fabrication of a story out of a whole cloth, whereas it is more likely a story that developed over time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

College is Assur

I just read Fence Sitter’s excellent  first blog post where she writes:

I did not go to college because I thought that it was assur to do so and then I had three kids by age 23.

This hit a raw nerve in me.

When I was in Yeshiva, I was also brainwashed not to go to University. In my particular yeshiva, the saying went “PENN yifteh levavchem”. In other words, going to PENN (or for that matter any IVY League university) would definitely make you go astray…

After 3 years of yeshivah, I was convinced that going to university would make me lose my yiddishkeit. So I did some 3-year course way below my ‘level’ and I am actually currently working on a job that required only a 3-month course.

(This, of course, is one of the pet ‘proofs’ of the frum community that you don’t really need a degree to earn a living: “I know someone who did not do a degree but earns a lot of money”. The exception should somehow prove the rule. Well, actually, the rule is that people who don’t have some higher degree of secular learning will end up having a job in which they can not support their families.)

Of course, not having studied is not trivial to me.

First of all, there is little possibility for me to advance in my job since I haven’t got the right CV because most jobs in IT require some higher level of studies. OK, I am sure there are jobs that don’t really require that as a rule, but it nevertheless is give as a requirement for pretty much every interesting job I ever looked for.

Secondly, I should easily be able to study according to the career coaching tests I did. It is stam a waste not to have studied and instead doing some lame course where my brain cells were fermenting most of the time, I could have learnt some tachles skills.

But what really eats me is that I never knew what it is like to be in university and never had the intellectual satisfaction of studying something real.

Now that I am married with 2 children, I will have to think of a way to do a bachelor with an Open University program if I am ever to pursue some higher level studying. Since most of them require some 10 hours of week studying (minimum!), Î am currently too reluctant to sacrifice the time I have with my family, especially my children, and my wants and aspirations will have to take a backseat.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Banality of Eden

One of the reasons, I am sure, why they don't start teaching children Torah with Bereshit is because teachers would get too many simple questions they couldn't answer. I mean, if people already can't make up their minds if Adam haRishon had a belly button, what could one answer if asked how they could already converse in Leshon haKodesh on the first day they were created?

In any case, I am reading The Bible According to Mark Twain and I just have to share this genius piece with you. Enjoy!

Today, in a wood, we heard a Voice.
We hunted for it, but could not find it. Adam said he had heard it before, but had never seen it, though he had been quite close to it. So he was sure it was like the air, and could not be seen. I asked him to tell me all he knew about the Voice, but he knew very little. It was Lord of the Garden, he said, and had told him to dress the Garden and
keep it; and it had said we must not eat of the fruit of a certain tree and that if we ate of it we should surely die. Our death would be certain. That was all he knew. I wanted to see the tree, so we had a pleasant long walk to where it stood alone in a secluded and lovely spot, and there we sat down and looked long at it with interest, and talked. Adam said it was the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
"Good and evil?"
"What is that?"
"What is what?"
"Why, those things. What is good?"
"I do not know. How should I know?"
"Well, then, what is evil?"
"I suppose it is the name of something, but I do not know what.""But, Adam, you must have some idea of what it is."
"Why should I have some idea? I have never seen the thing, how am I to form any conception of it? What is your own notion of it?"
Of course I had none, and it was unreasonable of me to require him to have one.
There was no way for either of us to guess what it might be. It was a new word, like the other; we had not heard them before, and they meant nothing to us. My mind kept running on the matter, and presently I said, "Adam, there are those other new words -- die, and death. What do they mean?"
"I have no idea."
"Well, then, what do you think they mean?"
"My child, cannot you see that it is impossible for me to make even a plausible guess concerning a matter about which I am absolutely ignorant? A person can't think when he has no material to think with. Isn't that true?"
"Yes -- I know it; but how vexatious it is. Just because I can't know, I all the more want to know."
We sat silent a while turning the puzzle over in our minds: then all at once I saw how to find out, and was surprised that we had not thought of it in the beginning, it was so simple. I sprang up and said, "How stupid we are! Let us eat of it; we shall die, and then we shall know what it is, and not have any more bother about it."

Can't beat Mark Twain.