Thursday, November 26, 2009

Criteria for a Divine Text?

On a recent Hirhurim post "anon" responded to the question "Is there any way that G-d could have written the Bible so that it would be clear that no one other than G-d could have written it? The answer is plainly no.":
Errmm, the answer is plainly yes. It would just have had to include predictions for each year of the next few thousand. And make it meteorological predictions to avoid self fulfilling prophecies. Also, if it had contained detailed instructions on how to build a space ship rather than a mishcan.
Now I'm assuming that the space ship comment was written tongue-in-cheek. But if not, I would discount this as a "proof from God". After all, if the raison d'etre of Torah is to be an "instruction book for living", why would God include such things that were irrelevant for such a purpose? Yes, a blueprint for some advanced technology would argue for a superior life form, but a rationalist/skeptic would likely claim that it was the product of an alien author rather than the Creator of the Universe! [As an aside, the intentional inclusion of scientific data now known to be erroneous is one of the main reasons that we know the Urantia Book was fabricated by a human author(s) who relied on the science of his time. Oh wait, the Torah also includes the "science" of its time (e.g., the Creation story and the Flood story) that we now know are not scientifically true. Dang! Well at least we can allegorize the Torah stories or rely on "non-overlapping magisteria"...]

But let's grant anon's assumption and disregard the question of why God would include material whose only function were a proof of His authorship. Besides, a midrashic tradition would certainly produce a rich corpus and apply ethical teachings to such proof-texts. Let us also ignore Clarke's 3rd Law (any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic) and assume that most folks would default to the God explanation rather than that of a super advanced culture. So posit that the Torah is exactly the same as we have it now, but with the addition of a very long Parashat Mezeg Avir (whose reading would be on a Yom Tov with either fasting or plenty of shnapps!) that contains meteorological predictions for each year of the next few thousand years.

At first, I thought that writing the Torah so that it was undeniably written by God would violate a core principle of Judaism, that of the imperative for free-will. After all, if folks KNEW with 100% certainty that God wrote the book, they'd be so much more likely to follow it. However, even leaving aside the rebellion stories (Golden Calf, Korach...) that some like to point to in countering this assertion, I realized that nothing would really change from what we have today. The difference would be in the details.

Tanach would be filled with stories written by "meteorological neviim". The influence of the priestly caste - with their claim to exclusive use of divine weather instruments (wind gauges, crude thermometers) - would wither after the destruction of the Second Temple. They would be supplanted by the Pharasaic rabbinic tradition who would use hermeneutic principles to expound the many faces of Torah behind each weather prediction. An unbroken chain of tradition would eventually give rise to gedolim who were well-versed in cloud formations, but also involved with creating tznius patrols to dictate the color and length of foul weather gear, and proclaiming bans on books (the Modern Orthodox Farmer's Almanac) and TV (the Reform Weather Channel.)

Of course, Judaism would still be a minority religion since the "offshoot religions" of Christianity and Islam would accept that the "Old Weather Testament" was God-given, but that its proscriptions were supplanted by later and more-perfect revelations. The former would give rise to many climate sects (the Temperates, The Tropical Evangelicals) and various end-of-day messianic cults (we'd be close to the end of the 3000 years of weather predictions so there would be plenty of 2012-type wackos).

We'd still have OrthoFundies that believed every word was from God and was literally true. Countering them would be adherents of the JEPDW Documentary Hypothesis (the "W" being the "Weather Document".) We would also have some Orthodox scholars (sorry, I mean Orthopraxic Heretics) a la James Kugel that would argue for a prophetic tradition mediated by a lesser divinity like Af-Bri!

In one of my earliest posts I asked, "if you consider yourself an atheist or agnostic what would be sufficient proof to you for the existence of God?" In a similar vein, what would be sufficient proof to you for the existence of a God-given document?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Saturday, Rabbi-to-Be Eats Pork

Oh, sorry, my mistake. On Saturday this Rabbi-to-Be punches other folks in the head in an attempt to rattle their brain inside their skull in order to knock them unconscious.

This last Shabbos, Yuri Foreman defeated Daniel Santos of Puerto Rico in an upset match to capture the World Boxing Association’s 154-pound championship.

Then there's Dmitriy Salita, an Orthodox Jew with an undefeated record in over 26 career bouts.

Regardless of such rationalizations (mentioned in the Salita article above) that "It's not really true that in order to win you have to damage the other person or beat them up... it's really about scoring more points than your opponent, and that's not unlike chess.", boxing is a brutal sport that frequently results in dementia pugilistica (similar to Alzheimer's dementia), Parkinson's disease, and other neuro-degenerative diseases. Whether it's "deracheha darchei noam" (the ways of Torah are pleasant), or prohibitions of "sakonos nefashos" (danger to life), or the many possible Shabbos restrictions such as creating a wound, this occupation is completely anathema to Jewish ideals.

Chabadnik Dov Ber Pinson is the rabbi who is studying with Foreman. The fact that a so-called rabbi would consider granting semicha to a student with such an occupation is unconscionable. It should be no different than if the student said, "I want to be a rabbi, but also want to eat pork on Yom Kippur."

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Great Sin of a Dying Man

I usually enjoy Rabbi Michael J. Broyde's halachic analyses, although I didn't find that his long post on women and halacha in this Hirhurim post added to the topic in any meaningful way. It really could have been reduced to this single sentence that he included: "is this conduct a mitzvah, mutar or assur?", possibly with the addition of "End of discussion."

But I found his footnote #1 quite troubling:
Recently, I entered the hospital room of a dying person who was intensely davening shacharit (he was in the middle of birchot keriat shema when I arrived) but the time of the day was after chatzot. This conduct was sinful, but I chose not to say anything, even when he asked me if he was doing something wrong, in the view that a sincere person like this can maybe rely the view of the Rambam that birchot keriat shema can be said all day, as the Peri Chadash accepts le’halacha, or maybe simply this was not the time and place to explain the issue.
WOW! The guy is on his deathbed. He is intensely praying what may be his last shacharit, and Rabbi Broyde's first thought is that this was a sinful practice? I can just picture the heavenly court now: "hmmm, what should we do? He's a beinoni - his mitzvot are in perfect balance with his aveirot?" "Wait!", says another ministering angel - "we just realized that he was davening after chatzot and he isn't a hassid. Send him to gehinnom!"