Daniel Jackson on Belief and Rationality in Judaism

Although the challenges presented by the natural sciences have receded, fresh challenges have taken their place and seem to pose much harder and more far-reaching questions. The field of biblical criticism has unearthed a mass of evidence that the Torah is a composite document that reflects the prevailing ideas of other cultures contemporaneous with ancient Israel. How, in the light of such claims, can one adhere to the belief, required by Maimonides in his eighth principle of faith, that the Torah we have in our hands today is the very same Torah that was handed down by Moses, and that it is all of divine origin?

Torah min haShamayim: Conflicts Between Religious Belief and Scientific Thinking”
Dr. Daniel Jackson

TheTorah.com

The erudite polymath Daniel Jackson, whose day job is professor of computer science at MIT, delves into the heart of the Jewish struggle between the belief in Torah as the faithfully transcribed word of Hashem and the rational challenges posed by biblical criticism.

I read the article hoping that Jackson had discovered a Rambam-like balancing point, but that is as yet too much to ask for. Judaism has made its peace with science thanks to Maimonides, and more recently with Darwin. But while he offers no guide to the textually perplexed, he does end with a subtle reminder that there is a difference between doctrine and the mitzvot, and that while must observe the latter, our greatest danger is to base the edifice of our belief on the infallibility of every bit of our received doctrine.

I couldn’t agree more. I think it is possible to believe that Torah is the divine essence transcribed through the poor tools of human language, and that the very reason the Oral Law and the Rabbinic Writings are so important is that, in toto, they represent a quest for perfection of our understanding of the essence of Torah. The Pentateuch in our Seferim Torah is the heart, but the Oral Law and the Writings are the body, and neither can live without the other.

Standards

Another person, a Christian, said to me, later, “I’m sick of churches these days. Everything is geared towards ‘meeting your needs.’ They have so many ministries and programs for every possible group, and don’t get me wrong, a lot of them do real good. But the overall effect is to train us to expect to be catered to. If somebody isn’t meeting our needs, then somebody is failing us. That’s the mindset. But that’s not Christianity. It’s supposed to be hard! It’s the Cross!”

Source: ‘You Can See It All Over. It’s Unwinding’ | The American Conservative

This from Orthodox Christian writer Rod Dreher.

A question for my fellow Jews:

Raise your hand if you see this same sort of tendency in your synagogue, yeshiva, or shul.

Yep.

A religious leader should not pander. A religious institution should not lower itself.

A religious leader should lead. And a religious institution must aspire to the highest standards while offering help to everyone to reach those standards.

Evangelicals, Interfaith Dialogue, and Literalism

Evangelicals Are Losing the Battle for the Bible. And They’re Just Fine with That”
Jim Hinch

The Los Angeles Review of Books
February 15, 2016

While I recognize that this may represent to some of my more frum friends and mentors something of a heresy, I do read religious texts from other faiths. I find doing so essential for two reasons.

First, because any other faith contains an implicit – or in some cases, an explicit – rejection of Jewish belief, I see in those texts an opportunity to hold up a mirror and examine the edifice of Jewish belief and thought. We are our own harshest critics, but we are not the only ones, and being the stiff-necked but self-critical faith that we are, outside perspectives can be essential guides to understanding our own issues.

The second reason is that it helps us to explain Judaism to others in a way that they will understand. For those of us who do not live our lives in the warm embrace of a Torah-based community, interaction with the goyim is a fact of life. When a Jew of even moderate observance comes into contact with a curious atheist or member of another faith, we are often called to explain – or defend – Judaism, and often to explain how and why our beliefs cannot be lumped willy-nilly together with those of other religions. We can only do this when we know those differences.

The question of Biblical literalism is a matter that affects us all. Many fellow Jews whom I admire deeply, not least great modern poseks like Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, hold fast to the idea that the only history of the world before the arrival of the Tribes in the Promised Land is the one in Torah. I know of other sincere and observant scholars who hold the view that Torah is the moral history of the universe rather than a natural history. Both the Rambam (Maimonides) and the Ramban (Nahmanides) support a non-literalist view of Torah. Nonetheless, the debate continues, and I believe that we are better for it, just as Judaism was strengthened by the constant to-and-from between the schools of Shammai and Hillel.

it is, therefore, fascinating to watch Evangelical Christian thinkers move beyond the theological cul-de-sac of Intelligent Design as a means of reconciling science and faith. Any Jew who struggles with these questions and who lives among the goyim would do well to read Jim Hinch’s fascinating article.

On Shaming an Anti-Semite

Lisa Marie Mendez, a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student and employee at the UCLA Medical Center, has made her extreme distaste for “fucking Zionist pigs” crystal clear this past month in her rant against Jews on Facebook.

Source: A UCLA Student Working At David Geffen Medical Center Told Jews To “Get The F*** Out of Here.” When Will UCLA Kick Her The Hell Out? | Daily Wire

Given how disgusting and abhorrent as this angry rant is, I am as tempted as many others who have read it to visit personal retribution on the individual who spewed forth these anti-Semitic sentiments. (And let us be clear – while the words may be couched in anti-Israel rhetoric, they quickly become anti-Semitic.) But I believe to do would be a bad idea for three reasons.
First, the more I read her words, I am stunned that they come from the hand of an apparently intelligent young woman who has earned the right to study at one of the world’s foremost institutions of higher learning, and work at one of the nation’s best medical facilities. The only conclusion I can reach is that Ms. Mendez is a deeply angry, deeply wounded young woman. A retributive campaign against her would only make her more aggrieved. It would neither heal her nor make her reconsider the error of her beliefs. What is worse, trying to get this young lady fired or expelled flies in the face of the core values of Torah that compel us to the mercy, justice, and compassion of Hashem. In pursuing personal retribution against her, we would fail as Jews.
Second, the young lady has the right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to express her beliefs, irrespective of how hateful and stupid they are. What is more, she is a student at a major public university, and we should always work to ensure that those venues remain an especially open and free marketplace of ideas. As neanderthal and rodent-level as anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting are, they are laid most bare as foolish in an open community of scholars. As Jews, we must look to history and recognize that we have thrived in the Diaspora primarily in those places where intellectual expression was least constrained. We cannot defend the right of the talented and learned Mayim Bialik if we do not defend the rights of her detractor, Ms. Mendez. In pursuing personal retribution against her, we would fail as Americans.
Third, the righteous fight against defamation must never sink to the level of a witch-hunt. The most effective approach to anti-Semitism is outreach and discussion first and foremost. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL,) in its response to this specific situation, sought assurances from both the university Ms. Mendez attended and the hospital for which she worked that they did not share her sentiments, and in fact sought to distance themselves from them. They ascertained that the student did not allow her beliefs to infect her work and devolve into discrimination or hateful acts. We should take it no further.
This is not to say that we should moderate or cease or active opposition to anti-Semitisim in all of its forms. It is, rather, to say that we must do so with compassion, with a respect for free speech, and an unyielding determination to draw a line between seething hatred and acts of discrimination or violence.
Ms. Mendes should be ashamed of the words she has written, and I suspect that the day will come when she regrets her words as importune or even unjust. But that is a very different thing than saying that she should be shamed. Public shaming only stokes the fires of hatred and resentment.

What Happened to a Moderate Muslim at Vassar

The BDS liberals at Vassar, like the Party in George Orwell’s 1984, want you to imagine a vision of the future where they stamp their boots on an idealistic, human face.

It is ominous that Vassar College does not allow a healthy intellectual debate to flourish on campus, which requires even more persistent care-taking than the weeds on the campus lawn. Students should be given space to grow on campus, but they must not be allowed to grow so out of control that they conceal those who bring vandalism and handsaws into Main Building, and with them, the seeds of academic destruction.

Source: Pro-Israel Muslim Vassar student’s lonely fight to defend Israel – Anti BDS, BDS News, Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) – SPME Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

Extremely sad. We have now added to the college checklist for my son “a verifiable commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech.” Those things are more important than food selection in the cafeteria and rock-climbing walls.

Palestinian Propaganda Blitz in Connecticut 

Students at Connecticut College were greeted with fake eviction notices Monday night in their residence halls, put up by an anti-Israel student organization accusing the Jewish state of a series of crimes, The Algemeiner has learned. “My original reaction was shock, but this stunt was expected after last semester’s Birthright poster campaign,” Connor Wolfe, a Jewish student at Connecticut College who sits on the board of Hillel, told The Algemeiner, referencing a similar stunt last semester by Conn Students in Solidarity […]

Source: Mock Eviction Notices Accusing Israel of Host of Crimes Plastered Across Dorms of Connecticut College by Pro-Palestinian Student Group | Jewish & Israel News Algemeiner.com

Shades of Juden raus! 

And if the leaders of UConn do not take action to deal with this, we will know that liberal old New England is falling to the anti-Semites.

The Shame of New Jersey

In March, [Professor Jasbir] Puar — an associate professor of women and gender studies, with an emphasis on queer theory, feminism, globalization and diaspora studies — made headlines when, at a Vassar College lecture, she accused Israel of a host of crimes against Palestinians, including field executions and medical experiments involving the deliberate “stunting” of bodies.

Sergei Kan, an anthropology professor at Dartmouth, told the student newspaper that Puar’s statements were “academic antisemitism.” He reported witnessing a Jewish student present at the panel visibly distraught, as well as others troubled by Puar’s remarks, because their religion “was being covered in dirt,” he said.

Source: New Antisemitism Accusations Hurled at Rutgers Professor for Remarks Made About Israel During Panel Discussion at Dartmouth | Jewish & Israel News Algemeiner.com

Don’t be fooled by the photo. This individual is a dangerous anti-Semite who is attempting to legitimize her extreme views by cloaking them in the mantle of academic rhetoric.

Let us not forget that the benches of the accused at Nuremberg were populated with credentialed academics who cooked up rationalizations for the most atrocious Nazi laws and policies. And let us be very clear: this is the fraternity Puar has joined, and for which she proudly waves a banner.

The State of New Jersey holds in its hand the ability to grant – or withhold – tenure from this individual. Whatever her other contributions to her core field of study, her blatant disregard for the truth in service of her ideology is intolerable in legitimate academia, especially as she commingles her agitprop with her academic work.

The trajectory of Dr. Puar’s career at Rutgers will be a litmus of whether America respects the rights of all of its citizens, or whether the nation is slouching toward a new, more terrifying Holocaust.

When the Diaspora Came to San Diego


Remembering Louis Rose, the first Jewish resident of San Diego, California, whose name quietly graces little parts of this beautiful city, including this point on a placid cove near Point Loma.

“Behold My servant, I will support him, My chosen one, whom My soul desires; I have placed My spirit upon him, he shall promulgate justice to the nations.” –Yeahayahu – Isaiah – 42:1