Friday, October 30, 2009

Announcements & Inquiries

1. There is a Tanakh Yom Iyun at YU this Sunday. Full details here. I will not be there so you should all go and tell me your thoughts. The reason I won't be there is because I am going to be on an NCSY convention in Rochester, 6 hours away from all of you. Hurrah.

2. The Maharat is coming to speak at Stern. Really. TEIQU has decided this is the newest fun way to stir up controversy. The New York Times was all over Kugel; who knows what they are going to say about this one. Monday, November 2nd at 9:15 PM in the 36th Street Residence Hall on the Beren Campus (so on 36th St between Lexington and 3rd.) Be there or be square. Officially for YU and Stern people; if you can fake your way in, why not attempt it? Unless God decides otherwise, I'm definitely going to be there. You want to know why? Because I am very curious to hear this woman for myself, as you all should be. Personally, I think some clever person should record her lecture on MP3.

3. There's a famous icon: "I love the rain because no one knows I'm crying." Those people clearly didn't realize that one can cry in the shower.

4. Little boys who love Star Wars and make starships out of MagnaTiles and Legos are my favorite people in the whole world. If any of you have rowdy or energetic little boys, ages 3-5, it is almost a given that I will get on excellently well with them. They're like dumplings; they run and shout and get very excited and then fold ever so softly into your arms like warm, fluffy dumplings, their cheek soft against yours, their hair tousled in the sweetest of ways. And you can see from the way they fold, a dead weight in your arms, that they trust you to keep them safe, which of course you will. There is something very wonderful about little boys.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Which Olly Is An Absent-Minded Professor

I have a tendency to become very absorbed in whatever I am doing. I was concentrating upon my work, until a point in time when I absentmindedly rubbed the sole of my foot against the back of my leg. My foot was wet. That was odd. But I paid no mind until I realized that actually, my feet were in the midst of a puddle. No, scratch that, my whole room was a giant mass of puddles! Now, what in the world was causing this flood of water?

It was then that I recognized the culprit. The silver radiator/ water-heater is leaking. I quickly cranked it off and attempted to clean up the damage with paper towels. Of course, that didn't work, so it was time to bring out the big guns. There were towels involved, my friends. *looks solemn*

I confess, the first thought that went through my mind was: "So that's why all my notebooks have been getting so confoundedly wet!" You see, the water has been seeping into my backpack...

It seems my new choice is to freeze or to flood my room. Heat is not an option for Olly. Well, at least it isn't until I find the Superintendent and inquire about the fact that my belongings have begun to resemble Noah's Ark due to this silvery contraption.

The Great Divorce: Heaven That Dances Within

Yona told me to read The Great Divorce. Well, that would be putting it lightly. Yona told me to read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis yesterday, at once, immediately! It was imperative that I read the book. And he was right to do so because the book is brilliant. So thank you, Yona.

Lewis begins with a preface stating his objective, namely to respond to Blake's idea that there is a marriage of heaven and hell. Lewis explains:
    We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a pool but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.

    I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A wrong sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot "develop" into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, "with backward mutters of dissevering power"- or else not. It is still "either-or."

    -pages v-vi
While I do not entirely agree with him- I'm much more the Rav girl who believes that we must bring heaven down to earth, and transform the earth so that it can achieve its heavenly potential- I can definitely see where he is coming from. In this book Lewis proposes a vision of Heaven, not as he truly believes it is, but as a sort of moral or fable through which to reach our senses. And he succeeds in that, for he renders it beautifully. The way he chooses to depict the souls journeying from Hell in their quest to Heaven are as Ghosts who need to be firmed-up and achieve their solid state. It is only through letting go of whatever it is chaining them to Hell that they can become solid and stable as opposed to ephemeral and venture to Heaven. (As a sidepoint, it's interesting he chooses to depict it this way. One would think that one must forgo the earthly body and become 'spiritual,' or ghostly.)

There were two parts that really struck me. The first referred to a belief of mine, namely, that God cannot truly be upset with people who make honest mistakes.
    "Are you serious, Dick?"


    "This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalised for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken."

    "Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?"

    "There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed- they are not sins."

    "I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions."

    "Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk."

    "What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came- popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"

    "Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?"

    "Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our own lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?"

    "If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is a mere libel. Do you suggest that men like..."

    "I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but me and you. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn't want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes."

    "I'm far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it's not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed."

    "Of course. Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend: a drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm. The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man's mind. If that's what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent."


    "Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?"

    "Well, that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances...I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness- and scope for the talents that God has given me- and an atmosphere of free inquiry- in short, all that one means by civilisation and-er- the spiritual life."

    "No," said the other. "I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God."

    "Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? 'Prove all things' travel hopefully is better than to arrive."

    "If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for."

    "But you must feel yourself that there is something stifling about the idea of finality? Stagnation, my dear boy, what is more soul-destroying than stagnation?"

    "You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched."

    "Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some ready-made truth which puts an end to intellectual activity in the way you seem to be describing. Will it leave me the free play of Mind, Dick? I must insist on that, you know."

    "Free, as a man is free to drink while he is drinking. He is not free still to be dry." The Ghost seemed to think for a moment. "I can make nothing of that idea," it said.

    "Listen!" said the White Spirit. "Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again: even now."

    -pages 32-38
Lewis points out that while mistakes may be honest, they are not all innocent. I found that to be a sharp distinction. I also liked his point that when a man is drinking pure water, he is not free to remain dry simultaneously. There comes a point of choice. But perhaps best of all is the last point, to become a child once more. A friend of mine noticed that I at one time believed that to be confused was a noble pursuit. A man who felt that he had clarity was a man who could not be trusted, I decided. To admit confusion was to be truly noble. Thus, it became my desire to be a confused and clouded individual. Just as the White Spirit implores his friend, so too did my friend implore me, look for answers and for clarity; don't remain mired within a morass of confusion and claim that is true nobility! I listened to him; that's why this struck such a strong chord.

The second part that fascinated me and resonated with me had to do with love and what it means.
    "You mean," said the Tragedian, "you mean- you did not love me truly in the old days?"

    "Only in a poor sort of way," she answered. "I have asked you to forgive me. There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you."

    "And now!" said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. "Now, you need me no more?"

    "But of course not!" said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain from crying out with joy.

    "What needs could I have," she said, "now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly."

    But the Tragedian was still striking attitudes. "She needs me no more- no more. No more," he said in a choking voice to no one in particular. "Would to God," he continued, "but he was now pronouncing it Gud- "Would to Gud I had seen her lying dead at my feet before I heard those words. Lying dead at my feet. Lying dead at my feet."


    I do not know that I ever saw anything more terrible than the struggle of that Dwarf Ghost against joy. For he had almost been overcome. Somewhere, incalculable ages ago, there must have been gleams of humour and reason in him. For one moment, while she looked at him in her love and mirth, he saw the absurdity of the Tragedian. For one moment he did not at all misunderstand her laughter: he too must once have known that no people find each other more absurd than lovers. But the light that reached him, reached him against his will. This was not the meeting he had pictured; he would not accept it. Once more he clutched at his death-line, and at once the Tragedian spoke.

    -pages 116-118
The narrator of the tale talks over what he sees here with his Teacher. He is disturbed by it at first.
    "I hardly know, Sir. What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved."

    "Ye see it does not."

    "I feel in a way that it ought to."

    "That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it."


    "The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven."

    "I don't know what I want, Sir."

    "Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye'll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye'll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe."

    "But dare one say- it is horrible to say- that Pity must ever die?"

    "Ye must distinguish. The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty- that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken."

    "It's a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world's garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses."

    -pages 123-125
I cannot agree with all of this. I find it too simplistic. Firstly, a person must feel another's pain; there is a reason we say kol yisrael arevim zeh ba'zeh. If you cannot feel another's pain, I cannot call that goodness. I think there are times when one person's pain negates another's happiness and that is as it should be. But I do see the flaw in submitting to everyone's desire for whatever it is that will make them 'happy' as you do indeed have a Dog in the Manger ruling the universe. But I don't think most people are so unreasonable as to want the world to be a midden since they cannot abide roses. I think people have stronger claims than that, ones which are not so easily swept away. So while I respect and appreciate Lewis' point of view, he has not won me over here.

But the part that did touch me was the Lady who stated that "what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you." It is when she has no needs that she can truly love, for that love is entirely unselfish. I wonder whether that is something we must try to aspire to- an unselfish love? It seems in line with R' Dessler who states that to love is to give. One must give without desire to receive. That is very hard, I think. We are more used to seeing love as selfish; "if I can't have you, I will have no one!" the doomed lover cries as he commits suicide in various novels and plays. It is difficult to love to the extent that one does what is best for the other person rather than what one personally desires. There is a very strong desire to wish that others would care for one, "the craving to be loved" as the Lady put it, and due to it we can do things we should not, things that do not put the other person first. But what use would life be if we did not strive for the impossible dream? One day, perhaps, we shall love purely.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Brief Introduction To Biblical Criticism & Orthodox Thought

Disclaimer: This is a brief introduction to biblical criticism & Orthodox thought as taught by The Adept. This is not for everyone. I cannot be more clear. If you have never heard the words 'biblical criticism' before, this is probably not for you. If this is not something that troubles you, don't read this. This is only for those who find themselves on winding paths they must travel. Be very careful before choosing to read. Of course, per usual, any and all mistakes are mine.

Books for the Interested Student To Read:

1. The Old Testament in Modern Research by Herbert F. Hahn (this will take you up to the 20th century- get the 2nd Edition)
2. The Hebrew Bible Today: Introduction to Critical Issues
3. The Hebrew Bible and its Modern Interpreters
4. Sources of the Pentateuch

He also suggested that I read Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah.

A Brief Introduction to Biblical Criticism

In the original literature dealing with the Bible, there was no doubt as to the Mosaic authorship of the Torah. The contention that was raised was that Moshe wrote the Torah of his own volition.

Late Antiquity: First doubts regarding the Mosaic authorship of the Torah appear in late antiquity. See Ibn Ezra to Deuteronomy 1:2 and commentaries to him. He speaks of a 'secret'- the intention is that some passages of the Torah may not have been written by Moses. However, no matter who writes them, Ibn Ezra states that it would have been done via divine inspiration. Various Rishonim already raise some doubts about verses in the Torah.

17th Century: This is when modern bible criticism begins. The two big names are a) Thomas Hobbes and b) Benedict Spinoza. Thomas Hobbes pens Leviathan while Spinoza writes his Theological-Political Treatise.


* Claimed Ibn Ezra denied Mosaic authorship (which Ibn Ezra most certainly did not)

* Moses is spoken about in 3rd person. If he wrote the Torah, he ought to have written 'vayedaber Hashem eilai' rather than "l'Moshe."

* Is troubled by Numbers 12:3

    ג וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה, עָנָו מְאֹד--מִכֹּל, הָאָדָם, אֲשֶׁר, עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה. {ס}
    3 Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth.--
Could a humble man really write that about himself?

* Is troubled by Genesis 14:14-
    יד וַיִּשְׁמַע אַבְרָם, כִּי נִשְׁבָּה אָחִיו; וַיָּרֶק אֶת-חֲנִיכָיו יְלִידֵי בֵיתוֹ, שְׁמֹנָה עָשָׂר וּשְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת, וַיִּרְדֹּף, עַד-דָּן. 14 And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan.
Compare with Judges 18:29

    כט וַיִּקְרְאוּ שֵׁם-הָעִיר, דָּן, בְּשֵׁם דָּן אֲבִיהֶם, אֲשֶׁר יוּלַּד לְיִשְׂרָאֵל; וְאוּלָם לַיִשׁ שֵׁם-הָעִיר, לָרִאשֹׁנָה. 29 And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born unto Israel; howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first.

This suggests that the verse regarding the fact that Abraham pursued as far as Dan was added to the text after the time of Judges.

Now, while Hobbes, Spinoza and those that followed cast doubt on Mosaic authorship, they had no idea who did write the Bible. Spinoza suggested Ezra.


The groundwork for the literary approach to the Bible was laid by Jean Astruc, a Roman Catholic, who wrote a defense of the Torah (specifically of Genesis) in 1873. He noticed that the Shem Havayah (יְהוָה) and Elohim were both used and concluded that Moses drew material from two different documents, J and E. J stands for Jehovah (the Shem Havayah) whereas E stands for Elohim. Moses then fused these documents into one.

Astruct was thus defending Mosaic authorship of the Torah but introduced the Documentary Hypothesis as a defense thereof.

What's an example of how stating that there are two documents- J and E- solves problems? Well, let's compare Genesis 26:34 and Genesis 36:2. Here's Genesis 26:34:

    לד וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו, בֶּן-אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, וַיִּקַּח אִשָּׁה אֶת-יְהוּדִית, בַּת-בְּאֵרִי הַחִתִּי--וְאֶת-בָּשְׂמַת, בַּת-אֵילֹן הַחִתִּי. 34 And when Esau was forty years old, he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.
Here's Genesis 36:2-3:
    ב עֵשָׂו לָקַח אֶת-נָשָׁיו, מִבְּנוֹת כְּנָעַן: אֶת-עָדָה, בַּת-אֵילוֹן הַחִתִּי, וְאֶת-אָהֳלִיבָמָה בַּת-עֲנָה, בַּת-צִבְעוֹן הַחִוִּי. 2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite,
    ג וְאֶת-בָּשְׂמַת בַּת-יִשְׁמָעֵאל, אֲחוֹת נְבָיוֹת. 3 and Basemath Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebaioth.

These are not the same wives. These kinds of contradictions are solved by stating that one document is J and another is E.

That was Astruc in the 18th century. This was picked up by later writers as proof of different documents/ writers. The idea became that there were four documents in the Torah: J, E, P and D. They looked at Leviticus and Numbers and said, "Hmm, these look quite different from Genesis and Exodus." Leviticus is a priestly code. They examined Deuteronomy and determined that it seemed entirely different. By the beginning of the 19th century, all subscribe to the Documentary Hypothesis. The problem was that they could not date the documents.


Wellhausen lived in the 19th century; he died in 1918. He is the man who dated the documents. He was a Protestant professor of Bible and the first person to attempt to write a history of the biblical period based on J,E,P and D. After dating the documents, he would then be able to say what Israelite practice had been like in different centuries. He wrote the Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Prolegomena to History of Ancient Israel) in 1878.

What Wellhausen said was that he could only date one document perfectly: Deuteronomy. Then he could look at the others and ask, "Are these pre or post-Deuteronomy?"

Wellhausen determined that Deuteronomy was written in 621 BC. This is based on 2 Kings 22. In this book of Kings, a Sefer Torah is discovered in the Temple:

    ח וַיֹּאמֶר חִלְקִיָּהוּ הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל, עַל-שָׁפָן הַסֹּפֵר, סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה מָצָאתִי, בְּבֵית יְהוָה; וַיִּתֵּן חִלְקִיָּה אֶת-הַסֵּפֶר אֶל-שָׁפָן, וַיִּקְרָאֵהוּ. 8 And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe: 'I have found the book of the Law in the house of the LORD.' And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan, and he read it.

It seems like King Josiah institutes new halakhic practices based on finding this book. Upon looking to see what he did, Wellhausen determined that the book found was Deuteronomy. He postulated further that the scroll was planted in the Temple deliberately; it was a "pious fraud" planted in 621 BC so that it would be the new Jewish constitution.

Once Wellhausen had determined Deuteronomy was written in 621 BC, he then examined P, J and E and concluded J and E were older than Deuteronomy. P is post-Deuteronomy. Editors of P edited all four sources and that is what became the Torah of Moses in the 5th Century BCE. He says Ezra and Nehemiah are the people.

Wellhausen taught that "the law came in between." Judaism begins with the prophets. First came prophecy and afterwards came the Law for the Torah of Moses, that constricting, binding law. As a result of the prophets and law came Judaism which was not liberated till the 1st century when Christianity came. Wellhausen was a Christian theologian who desired to hail the success of Christinaity- the worst part of Judaism was the Torah, that binding, constricting Law, [and when Christianity came, it was no longer a concern.] So this is the key innovation of Wellhausen- that the "Law came in between." Judaism begins with Prophets, then follows with the Torah. Wellhausen then wrote a history based on thse assumptions of modern bible criticism. This became the backbone of modern bible scholarship.

Concomitant with the spread of modern bible criticism was the rise of skepticism regarding the Torah and Genesis especially. After all, if you are following Wellhausen's approach, the Torah comes after the Prophets and was constructed in the 5th century BC, presumably canonized in the time of Nehemiah. So you cannot reconstruct the history of Israel by looking at the imaginary constructs of Abraham and other figures in Genesis. And the laws and mores written in these texts are really 5th century laws and mores.

At this juncture it is appropriate to stress that Wellhausen's hypothesis remains a hypothesis. No archeologist has discovered J, E, P and perhaps you shall learn they have not discovered D, either.

There has been much wrestling with Wellhausen's hypothesis. Those who accept bible criticism are skeptical of aspects of it: dating of the documents, order of the documents, questioning whether indeed the scroll in 2nd Kings is really Deuteronomy and thus can be dated to 621 BC. Wellhausen posited that book was forged as well, a plant. Now, it is not at all clear that the book discovered by King Josiah was indeed Devarim. The way Wellhausen figured it out was to look at what King Josiah did in response to what he read in the scroll; he figured those laws came from Sefer Devarim. However, you will see that King Josiah also abolished Molech worship. See 2 Kings 23:10:

    י וְטִמֵּא אֶת-הַתֹּפֶת, אֲשֶׁר בְּגֵי בני- (בֶן-) הִנֹּם: לְבִלְתִּי, לְהַעֲבִיר אִישׁ אֶת-בְּנוֹ וְאֶת-בִּתּוֹ בָּאֵשׁ--לַמֹּלֶךְ. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.

Nowhere in Deuteronomy is Molech mentioned. So that does not support Wellhausen's contention at all. And we're certainly not sure that this sefer discovered by King Josiah was a "pious fraud"- we're not sure at all.

Modifications of the Documentary Hypothesis in Recent Times:

1) Wellhausen was an intellectual influenced by 19th century intellectual history. Thus, Hegel, Darwinian concepts of straight-line evolution (primitive to complex state.) Since the book of Leviticus is very detailed Wellhausen saw it as late. Modern scholars no longer subscribe to this rigid view of straight-line evolution. We have anthropological evidence for complex things appearing early.

2) Cultic act appears in early stages of most cultures- anthropology and archeology support this. (You will find bones and understand what was consumed in that society; if found by an altar, then these are the bones of sacrifices.) This appears before writing was invented. [I'm not sure what The Adept meant to prove by this contention but I assume he meant to say it undermines the idea of 'the Law came in between' since cultic would appear before the moral.]

3) Long periods of oral traditions being passed on preced written texts. The written text and the content of the text don't necessarily originate at the same time. If you look at the Anchor Bible you will see the book of Genesis dated to 2nd Millenium BC and describing life in those times as opposed to 5th century BC- and this is being written by someone who believes in the Documentary Hypothesis.

4) Archeological Discovery: When Wellhausen wrote, no one had ever heard of Hammurabi. Many scholars denied the antiquity of the Torah because they claimed no writing had been invented and thus Moshe would have been illiterate. (This is no different than the argument that psalms were Maccabean psalms until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and they are clearly pre-Maccabean. Thus there are no Maccabean psalms.) We also found Law Codes from the 3rd Millenium BC in writing, thus the illiterate argument does not stand.

Recent Developments in Last 1/4 of the Century

Bible scholars now fall into one of two schools:

1. Maximalists
2. Minimalists

Both cases move beyond Wellhausen.

Minimalists: They are generally skeptics. Their attitude is, "I will not move one iota beyond the evidence." Modern historians tend to take seriously only contemporary evidence. If asked why they believe George Washington lived, they will say we have documents, pictures, newspapers that we can radiocarbon date and that's why we believe he lived. You can't go beyond the evidence- so there is no archeological evidence that King Solomon ever lived so they will say there is no King Solomon. They said there was no King David either until recently! You will find minimalists especially in Israel.

Maximalists: Students of Albright, Speiser, more open to the idea of long process, oral history, questionable dating of the documents, etc.

Now, all this is extra-evidence (material outside of the bible.) What has been going on in our time is a reevaluation of the material as opposed to rejection. There are some who reject the Documentary Hypothesis but they tend to be thought of as mavericks. In the schools of higher learning in the USA, England, etc the Documentary Hypothesis will be taught. This is the accepted thought in Yale, Princeton, Harvard, etc.

Now let's looks at the Internal Bible Evidence.

Internal Bible Evidence: Roshei Perakim as explained by The Adept

If the Torah was a pious fraud perpetrated in 621 BC or even later, as only Deuteronomy is dated 621 BC whereas the rest, i.e. J,E and P could be written later, it's absolutely astounding to me what's missing in the Torah. Look at Deuteronomy 17. Remember, Wellhausen says this was planted in 621 BC! So look at this verse in Deuteronomy 17:14:

    יד כִּי-תָבֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ, וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּה בָּהּ; וְאָמַרְתָּ, אָשִׂימָה עָלַי מֶלֶךְ, כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתָי. 14 When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein; and shalt say: 'I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me';

    טו שׂוֹם תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ: מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ, תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ--לֹא תוּכַל לָתֵת עָלֶיךָ אִישׁ נָכְרִי, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-אָחִיךָ הוּא. 15 thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, who is not thy brother.

So it states that you cannot appoint an ish nachri. By 621 BC, after all the Kings of Judah and Israel, why do you need to tell me not a nachri? That seems totally illogical. Also, this scroll is planted for Josiah supposedly- so then why not write anything about the Davidic line? Also, from these verses the idea of a split kingdom is totally unknown.

Now, ordinarily we don't argue from silence- but here we have all the prophets speaking and they theoretically came first- "the Law came in between"- so why not mention these things?

Now let's talk about the Primacy of Morals over Cult.

There are many different categorizations of laws that we could make. We could categorize them as Lo Ta'aseh and Asei, as Chovos HaLevavos mentions, laws that involve mind vs. body but the categorization I will choose right now is Bein Adam L'Chavero vs. Bein Adam L'Makom.

In modern scholarship there are cultic laws and moral laws. Shaking a lulav is a cultic law. When it comes to the Ten Commandments, Anochi Hashem, Avodah Zara, keeping Shabbat are all cultic laws. Moral laws would be not killing, not stealing, etc. Now, interestingly, in the Ten Commandments, no distinction is made between morals and cult. There is nothing that says be more careful regarding the first five laws than the second set of five laws. Nowhere in the Torah does it say that one is more important than the other.

Now look at Isaiah 1:10 - Sedom and Gemorah in this context is referring to Bnei Yisrael. Isaiah is telling the Jews to listen to the Torah- God doesn't want your sacrifices and doesn't like your holidays or prayer! It's a clear message that the cult doesn't work automatically; you can't just bring sacrifices and expect it to work. The neviim are the ones who teach Teshuva. Ultimately, God is really concerned with His morals. Bnei Yisrael were careful about cult, never missed a sacrifice, but it's the morals that are the issue here.

Now look at the contrast! In the book of Judges, Shoftim, it is cultic sin, serving avodah zara, that brings national disaster. But in Neviim Rishonim it is overcharging, not caring for the poor, not caring for the widow that brings national disaster. God wants morals- the nitty-gritty of everyday such as using proper weights, etc. It is in Neviim where morals assume incredible significance but no weight is slanted toward that in the Torah.

What's missing in the Torah that was supposedly put together by J,E,P and D? The word 'Teshuva!' It never appears.

The fact that they don't utilize these themes of moral vs. cultic supremacy that are found in Neviim show that the Torah precedes the Navi, not vice versa.

And let's focus on inconsistencies. Look at Leviticus 18:18. This bans marrying two sisters yet at the same time the Redactor who supposedly edited J,E,P and D stated that Jacob (who for Wellhausen is a literary invention) marries two sisters! Now, if Sefer Bereishis preserves an ancient tradition, then there is no problem with that. But if I am creating an invention in the 5th or 6th century, why create a hero who violates the laws of history?

Or look at Deuteronomy 16:22:

    כב וְלֹא-תָקִים לְךָ, מַצֵּבָה, אֲשֶׁר שָׂנֵא, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. {ס} 22 Neither shalt thou set thee up a pillar, which the LORD thy God hateth. {S}

And yet look at Genesis 28:18, 35:14 where Jacob sets up a matzeiva (pillar). You know what is interesting? No one after Deuteronomy (throughout Neviim, etc) sets up a matzeiva. Thus we see that Genesis is not written after Deuteronomy; Genesis must, in fact, pre-date Deuteronomy.

A student at the lecture questioned: And how do those who believe in the Documentary Hypothesis answer this (internal bible evidence)?

The Adept replied: Generally, they ignore this as opposed to addressing it. But it is certainly a matter that needs to be addressed.

Deuteronomy Party: Paper-Writing In The House

So I need to write a thesis on Deuteronomy. Specifically on a Hebrew-writing meforash (not Rashi, and it could be one of the maskilim) who wrote on Deuteronomy. I also have to read the book of Deuteronomy with that meforash. Obviously I want to get started on that now as opposed to later. Question to the world- can you recommend a more Midrash-like meforash who I will enjoy reading who wrote on Deuteronomy? I could do the Malbim but I already know his biography so that's not so exciting. Stuff that came to mind for me to look through: Netziv, Shadal. I'd love to do the Aznaim L'Torah (R' Zalman Sorotzkin) but he might be too modern for the purposes of this assignment. I think the Torah Temima might also be interesting but he might also not fit for this assignment...I shall have to see. Anyway: suggestions?

David and His Women + The Michal/Jonathan Switcheroo

I'm reading Adele Berlin's book entitled Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative for class. She draws an interesting parallel between David's responses to his women/ the order in which he married them and the kingdom and his perception as a leader at the time. I don't completely buy into it because I don't think the text portrays David as impotent - it states v'lo y'daah; he did not know Avishag, but that doesn't necessarily mean he couldn't have (and it certainly doesn't mean that according to the Gemara) but according to the literary rendering I can hear where she is coming from.

Her depiction of Michal in opposition to Jonathan is also interesting. I don't completely buy this either since Jonathan is often depicted in heroic and warlike contexts (venturing against the Pelishtim with only his na'ar to help him, offering to die should God and Saul wish it, going into his final battle against the Pelishtim, etc). Then again, the point she is making is in reference to David, not Jonathan's character on a whole. However, there is also the fact that Michal seems shocked by David exposing himself to the maidservants, which could be construed as maidenly shyness, a feminine quality. Also, Michal assists David in his escape 'within the house' using rope and bedding to help him- she does not use weapons. See the many commentators to Yael and Sisra who claim Yael killing Sisra with a tent peg was dafka to not utilize true weapons, which would not necessarily be permitted to a woman (kli gever). The commentators praise Yael for acting like a woman even when murdering! (Thanks Rebbetzin Smadar Rosensweig, who taught me these commentaries.) So one could argue Michal is in fact super-feminine in that she helps David escape via 'womanly methods' vs. anything involving weapons (like Jonathan's arrows.) Berlin does not address this.

    Michal was the first, and in some ways the most interesting, of David's wives. Robert Alter (116-127) has given a vivid description of this character and the personal tragedy surrounding her, and it need not be repeated here. It is clear that she is a full-fledged character with opinions and emotions of her own. But beyond this, there is an aspect of Michal's characterization that emerges when it is compared with Jonathan's. This comparison cries out to be made; both Michal and Jonathan are the children of Saul who show more love and loyalty to their father's competitor than to their father. The biblical author further invites the comparison by juxtaposing their stories in 1 Sam 18-20. The results are surprising; the characteristics normally associated with males are attached to Michal, and those usually perceived as feminine are linked with Jonathan.
    The first of Michal's unfeminine traits is found in the notice that she loved David and made it known. It is recorded twice (1 Sam 18:20, 28), and is the only time in the Bible that a woman seems to have chosen a husband instead of the usual pattern of a husband choosing a wife. (Of course, the marriage could only take place because father Saul approved, for his own ulterior motives.) David, on his part, married Michal not for love but because 'it pleased David well to be the king's son-in-law' (18:26). His relationship to her is always colored by practical considerations. He apparently did not (or could not) object when she was married to someone else during his absence (I Sam 25:44), and his later demand for her return was motivated by political reasons (2 Sam 3:13-15). In this last incident Michal's feelings are not recorded, but her second husband appears somewhat effeminate as he tags along after her crying until Abner commands him to go back home.

    The feelings of love and tenderness that David might have expected to have for Michal are all reserved for Jonathan. Jonathan, too, like his sister, made known his warm feelings for David (1 Sam 18:1, 19:1, 20:17), but in his case they were reciprocated. The parting of the friends in the field describes how 'they kissed one another and wept upon each other until David exceeded' (20:41). At their final parting David laments 'I am distressed over you, my brother, Jonathan; you have been very pleasing to me- more wonderful was your love to me than the love of women.' (2 Sam 1:26).

    David, then, seems to have related to Michal as to a man and to Jonathan as to a woman. It is not a question of sexual perversion here, but a subtle suggestion that this reflects something of the essence of these two characters. Michal is the aggressive and physical one. She saves David by physically lowering him out of a window, and arranging the bed so as to appear that he is in it. She lies to the messengers, telling them that David is sick in bed, and then after the ruse is discovered and Saul himself questions her, she brazenly fabricates the story that David threatened to kill her if she did not aid in his escape (1 Sam 19:12-17). Jonathan, too, saves the life of his friend, but it is never by physical means; it is through words (talking Saul out of killing him in 1 Sam 19:4-5), and words with a coded meaning (the episode of the arrows in 1 Sam 20:20 ff.). Jonathan's most physical action is the shooting of the arrows for the prearranged signal- hardly a show of strength. The 'little white lie' that he told to his father to explain David's absence from the new moon feast (20:28-29) had actually been concocted by David himself (20:6). Jonathan is just the messenger boy. His words and deeds are certainly much less daring than Michal's.

    The last bit of information we have about Michal is that she never bore a child (2 Sam 6:23). Not only is this the culmination of the disappointment in her life, and a hint that the husband who never loved her now stopped having marital relations with her, but, in light of the foregoing discussion, it suggests that Michal never filled a female role, or at least the role that the Bible views as the primary female role. Significant, too, may be the fact that Michal, unlike many women in biblical narrative, is never described as beautiful. Far from being a typical woman, Michal has been cast in a most unfeminine role.

    -pages 24-25

Now I Am Frustrated

Anon 4:21 from yesterday,

I took out the קונטרס משכן ישראל : על קדושת מצוות הבית... from Gottesman and have been poring over it for the last hour and a half (in addition to the other hour I spent in the library.) While it's fascinating and I've basically read the whole book of Chassan Literature by now, I can't find the Steipler's Letter (which you say is there.) Now, I believe you that it's there but I literally scanned every inch of Volume 1 and now I'm on to Volume 2 so any chance you have some idea as to where it is? It must be that I have passed over it somehow...I saw a lot of similar ideas to it, especially in Volume 1, but nothing that matched the excerpt I have.

In any case, I'm sure I'll feel very foolish when you point out that it's right in front of my nose, but I figured I might as well ask.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Steipler's Letter on Intimacy

A little while back I mentioned that Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff had cited the Steipler's letter on sex in one of his lectures. As I had never heard of the letter before, I was very curious and wanted to find it. I looked for Rabbi Nathan Drazin's Marriage Made in Heaven only to discover that there was no English translation of the letter in that book. I then realized I had to find the Hebrew version, namely, Zivug Min Ha-Shamayim, and not only that, but the newest edition. Gottesman didn't have it, which was saddening, but then, upon searching WorldCat, we realized that only five libraries worldwide have got this book! Of these five, only one had the second edition (published in 1989.) Thus, it is with a sense of great happiness that I hold Harvard University's copy of Zivug Min Ha-Shamayim in my hands.

To offer context and a preface, the Steipler wrote this letter with the request that it not be published. He desired it only to be circulated so that those who needed to know of it would. However, Rabbi Drazin took it upon himself to quote particular excerpts/ paragraphs from the letter in order to clarify matters to those who were honestly searching. You see, the Jewish tradition seems to allow for different understandings of intimacy, ranging from a more ascetic approach to one that permits and states that one ought to find pleasure in this. A basic introduction to some of these points of view and our common understanding nowadays is provided by my article, "The Jewish Perspective on Sexuality."

The updated version of Zivug Min Ha-Shamayim contains a SH'UT section, namely Shailos u'Teshuvos (Questions and Answers.) It is in this section that someone cites the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and inquires as to how Rabbi Drazin can claim one ought to take pleasure in intimacy to the extent he does when the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch reads: בשעת הזווג יש לו להרהר בדברי תורה ובשאר דבר שבקדושה... ואף כשהוא אצלה לא יכוין להנאתו אלא כאדם שהוא פורע חובו שהוא חייב בעונתה, ולקיים מצות בוראו שיהיו לו בנים עוסקים בתורה ומקיימים מצות בישראל (Hilchos Tznius, Kaf-Gimmel, Beis through Tes). In answer to this question Rabbi Drazin cited from a "michtav aroch m'Gaon chasid echad." This, R' Rakeffet explains, is the Steipler's letter. While the excerpts are on page 110 of the book predominantly, I thought it best to scan the question as well, so below please find pages 109-111.

The Steipler's Letter on Intimacy

On the offchance that someone is unable to access Adobe Reader I also scanned the main part of the letter (page 110) in JPG form. However, I would greatly prefer it if you read the entire PDF as that's the way to achieve the best understanding.

The reason I have cited this letter and made it available is for the pursuit of holiness. Many people whom I have spoken to are very confused by the presentation of sexuality in Judaism and I think it is imperative for them to know that the Steipler used very clear language to explain that pleasure in this act is a pure and holy thing. Not only that, but that in our time it is not appropriate to act as ascetes in this matter. It is my desire that this letter only be used to promote holiness and understanding.

My Life Philosophy In A Nutshell

If you know me at all, you know this is true. In fact...any of you have any memories of us that bear this out? I could use some cheering.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Vanquishing The Evil Inclination: Eradication or Redirection?

If memory serves, the story of David and Avishag was explained to me in Arie Crown in accordance with the approach of the Yerushalmi. (I believe I learned it with Mrs. Pearl Gross.)

To cite from this source,
    the ARUCH LA'NER suggests a novel approach to explain the Gemara (Sanhedrin 22a). The Yerushalmi explains that in order for David ha'Melech to repent fully from his actions with Bas Sheva, David ha'Melech constantly tried to place himself in the same situation as he was in when the incident with Bas Sheva occurred, and then, in that situation, to act with the utmost righteousness and control. (This is the highest form of Teshuvah, as the RAMBAM states in Hilchos Teshuvah 2:1.) For this purpose, David ha'Melech had beautiful Pilagshim brought to him. For the same reason, David ha'Melech wanted an attendant to be found who would be the most beautiful woman in all of Israel. When Avishag saw that David ha'Melech was already very old, she said, "You no longer have the same desire you had in your youth, and therefore having a beautiful woman around will not serve the purpose for which you intend." This is what she meant by saying that even a thief eventually loses his ability to steal and then claims that he has repented, not out of true repentance but merely out of the inability to steal. David ha'Melech showed her that he was still youthful and thus could still accomplish complete Teshuvah.
The question was: What was King David's attitude toward his yetzer hara, the evil inclination that makes it possible for man to desire and to have intimate relations? Had he conquered it wholly so that he had no desire for Avishag at all, even though she lay next to him, flesh to flesh, or did he desire her but deny himself?

In school we were taught that King David slew his evil inclination, the interpretation being that he had no desire for Avishag at all. To me, this seemed peculiar. Wouldn't it have been much harder for King David to have desired Avishag but nonetheless deny her to himself in order to atone for what happened with Bat-Sheva? It seemed to me that this is what it should mean to conquer the yetzer hara.

Thus, to me it seemed as though there were two approaches:

1. Eradication (to slay the yetzer hara so that it no longer exists within a person- one only has one's yetzer hatov)

2. Redirection (to take the yetzer hara and redirect one's passions and desires into a more appropriate forum or channel in order to serve God- see Shabbat 156a.)

My best friend and I discussed this and he told me there is a machlokes as to which of these two approaches is better. He also suggested that complete redirection may lead to a form of eradication, in that if someone has truly redirected one's yetzer hara to kill into being a butcher, perhaps he no longer has any desire to kill a human being, so that desire was eradicated. I, in contrast, thought there was a possibility that the man still wanted to murder but slaked his thirst by killing cows rather than humans. However, this would never be totally satisfying to him. (Unfortunately, since in the Gemara it merely says the thirst is to 'shed blood' but never stipulates that it is specifically to murder or to shed human blood, I can't really prove my point.) Leaving that discussion aside, I thought it would be nice to offer some sources for both points of view per the simple understanding.

In Maalos HaTorah, Avraham ben Shlomo Zalman seems to prefer the eradication approach. He cites the Vilna Gaon as saying:
    When you are not able to withstand him [the Evil Inclination] because he overpowers you, then, "draw him to the study hall." Tell him that in the study hall you will do his will by learning for selfish motives in order to gain honor. This will put his mind at ease, and he will acquiesce. Thus, "doing not for its own sake leads to doing for its own sake" (Pesachim 50b). In this manner you shall be freed from the Evil Inclination completely. And so we understand the verse, "If your enemy is hungry"- and he desires to make you sin, "feed him the bread of Torah"- fulfill his will by learning for selfish motives, "for you will be heaping coals of fire upon his head" - when you subsequently reach the level of learning for its own sake.

    -pages 47-48
Thus, it seems that Avraham ben Shlomo Zalman is stating that if the Evil Inclination engages you, you may lose at first (having to learn for selfish motivations) but in the end you will prevail by learning solely for the sake of Heaven. This is not redirection but rather simply a way to pursue complete eradication. He makes this even clearer when he later writes,
    "The rabbis also explain (Kiddushin 30b n Bereishis 4:7. The verse recounts God's response to Cain's anger that his inferior offering was not accepted) "If you do good you will prevail." If you are busy in Torah, which is called 'good,' 'you will prevail'- the Evil Inclination shall be removed from you. But if not, you will be given into its hands, as it says, 'Sin crouches at the door' (Bereishis 4:7).

    -pages 48-49
The words he uses, היצר הרע מסולק ממך, do not speak to uplifting, utilizing and redirecting the Evil Inclination in order to serve God but rather of complete removal. This is in complete contrast to the Baal Shem Tov's approach. When I was at home over Sukkos, I saw my father reading Masechet Avot with the commentary of the Baal Shem Tov. Intrigued, I read the book. I have scanned the Baal Shem Tov's approach to the evil inclination to my computer and uploaded it in PDF form here. The Besht, in total contrast to those who think the Yetzer Hara ought to be slaughtered, believes that it must be conquered but not slaughtered or eradicated. See the box I have outlined in red here:

The Besht states that one who breaks and shatters the Yetzer Hara does not practice true gevurah, strength. But to conquer the evil inclination and raise it up so that one uses it for holy things is a much higher and more difficult level. That is what is truly intended when one speaks of kevisha with regard to the evil inclination. This is in line with what he states regarding the adage, "Who is wise? One who learns from every man." Every man, explains the Besht, refers to the Yetzer Hara as well!

He even explains that there are two types of tzadikim, those who kill the evil inclination within themselves and those who use it and simply channel it appropriately. He gives an interesting mashal regarding this. But the part I liked best was when he explained how one answers the yetzer hara in conversation:
    Once upon a time there was a king who desired to test his servants. He sent two men in his employ to speak words of evil and rebellion against him to see whether his servants would join them in their scheme or oppose them. The servants fell into camps: those who answered in kind and spoke words of opposition against the king and those who protested and claimed they loved and supported the king. There was amongst these servants one wise man who realized this was all a test and that the men who were speaking evil of the king were actually in his employ! Thus he rejoined, when they came to persuade him, "Fools! You yourselves are occupied in following the word of the king and you desire me to oppose his word?" The king heard the answer of the wise man and was most pleased by it; he brought him close and loved him and made him the head of his officers.

    The answer of this wise man holds the key to how one may rule his evil inclination when it desires him to sin. All he must do is turn to his Evil Inclination and say, "You yourself are simply doing the word of your Owner (i.e. God), and why should man transgress the commandments of his Owner?!"
I thought that was very clever; it struck a chord with me.

In any case, I am of the camp who is curious about all things and thus must find a way to uplift them and use them for the service of God. There are others who might be better served in truly slaying their yetzer hara, but when it comes to me, I prefer the Besht's approach.

Maalos HaTorah

My best friend once pointed me to Maalos HaTorah by Avraham ben Shlomo Zalman (he was brothers with the Vilna Gaon.) The translator is Rabbi Elimelech Lepon. Though no one book could sum up my friend's Judaic viewpoint, this was the one he could conceivably call his hashkafa if pressed. I found the book to be very beautiful, although I do not think the best possible use of most people's time is to learn full-time in a kollel. It seems the author agrees, as he stresses the need to put these laws into practice as opposed to merely learning them. Since I cannot keep the book out of the library on indefinite leave, I thought it best to type up some excerpts so you might have a taste.


The Gaon's Answer

I heard from my brother, the Gaon, the following solution: We surely cannot say that the sum total of the mitzvos is 613 and no more; if so, we would be forced to say that from the portion of Bereishis until Bo only three mitzvos are found (Bereishis: procreation (1:28); circumcision (17:10); prohibition on eating the sciatic nerve (32:33)). There are also many portions in the Torah that do not mention any mitzvos, yet this is difficult to accept. In truth, every utterance in the Torah that was uttered by the mouth of the Holy One is a mitzvah in and of itself. The mitzvos are truly innumerable. They are so all-encompassing that anyone with deep discernment and an understanding heart can conduct himself according to the wisdom of Torah and mitzvos, in all details of his personal matters and conduct, whether large or small. He can fulfill countless mitzvos every second. In the Gemara and Midrash we find many cases of our sages conducting themselves completely in accord with the Torah. Thus said King David, "I have seen an end to every purpose, but Thy commandment is exceedingly vast" (Tehillim 119:96).

When the Gemara mention 613 mitzvos it is referring only to the roots, but these roots spread into many branches. Which commandments are roots and which are branches is not known to us, nor is it necessary to know this, for each mitzvah and word of Torah contains the entire Torah and all the mitzvos; their rules, details and particulars.

~pages 15-16

Torah as a Tree

Thus, the Torah is compared to a tree, as it says, "She is a tree of life for those who cling to her" (Mishlei 3:18). The root of a tree spreads into many branches. Each branch spreads into many stems, and each stem into many fruits. Each fruit has many seeds, each capable of producing an entire tree with roots, branches, stems, leaves, fruits and more seeds to produce another tree, and so on ad infinitum. Also, a branch can be planted to produce a total tree with all its parts, as the philosophers wrote. So it is with words of Torah and mitzvos: every single word and mitzvah contains all the mitzvos and all the words.

The Torah has a further advantage over a tree, for the leaves of trees fall and wither. But it is written in regard to the words of the Torah, "its leaf does not wither" (Tehillim 1:3); and, "its leaf is a remedy" (Yechezkel 47:12). Our sages explained this to mean, "[A remedy] to unbind the mouth" (Menachos 98a. To unbind the mouth is to know how to speak, as will be explained further on.)

~pages 16-17

Torah Study and Faithfulness

The Torah is called a woman, as it says, "Moshe commanded us Torah, an inheritance for the congregation of Yaakov" (Devarim 33:4). The Gemara tells us, "Don't read 'inheritance' (morashah) but rather 'betrothed woman' (me'orasah) (Berachos 57a; Pesachim 49b). The desires of this world are called 'a strange woman,' as it says, "The lips of a strange woman drip nectar;" (Mishlei 5:3), "To guard you from a strange woman" (Ibid, 7:5). And it says, "Go not near the door of her home...Make your way far from her" (Mishlei 5:8), "Avoid, do not pass by, turn and pass on;" (Ibid, 4:15), and, "Stay far from falsehood" (Shemos 23:7). Thus, [by being faithful to the Torah]one fulfills many mitzvos.

In connection to this, I heard an explanation from my brother, the Gaon, concerning the Gemara (Sanhedrin 99b), "He who has illicit relations with a woman lacks sense" (Mishlei 6:32); this alludes to the man who studies Torah at irregular intervals. What does one thing have to do with the other? The Gaon explained that since the Torah is called a woman (Yevamos 63b. Just as a wife is beloved to her husband, so the Torah is beloved to those that learn it- Maharsha), therefore, just as an adulterer only approaches his consort now and then, whereas his wife is exclusively his at all times, so one who studies only now and then does not make the Torah his exclusive companion.

~pages 41-42

Guarding One's Torah

Our sages state, (Avoda Zara 3b) "You have made man like the fish of the sea" (Habakuk 1:14). Just as fish immediately die upon being removed from the water, so Torah scholars immediately perish when divorced from the Torah. Thus it says, "Guard yourself lest you forget" (Devarim 8:11). Is it possible to imagine a person forgetting he is alive and thrusting a knife into his stomach or into his heart? Could he throw himself into a fire? It is in this way that we should understand the words, "guard yourself." You must literally guard yourself not to forget the Torah [you have learned], for this would cut off your very life.

-pages 55-56

Another explanation of, 'For if you diligently guard,': Perhaps you will say, 'I will learn only the serious matters and not bother with the lighter ones.' Therefore it says, (Devarim 32:47), "It is not an empty thing for you." That which you claim is empty is your very life! Perhaps you will say, "I have learned the halachos- it's enough for me!" Therefore it says (Devarim 11:22) '[For if you diligently guard] all these commandments which I command you, to dothem.' Learn midrash, halachos and aggados. Similarly, it says (Devarim 8:3), "For man does not live by bread alone"- this refers to the midrash, but by all that comes out of the mouth of the Lord shall man live- this refers to halachos and aggados.

-page 97

The Torah mentions, "as you sit," to teach that you sould behave properly in your home so that the members of your household learn from your example. This is the meaning of, "and you shall teach them to your children," as mentioned above. For one should see to it that his family also conduct themselves according to the Torah.

The Zohar quoted above also teaches that one should speak to his family gently, for dibur connotes gentle language, as the Gemara (Makkos 11a. See there two opposing uses of the word dibur= harsh and gentle) explains. In addition, one should speak cheerfully to them, for 'sitting' connotes peace, which is the opposite of sorrow. As it says (Yeshayahu 14:3), "And it shall come to pass on the day that the Lord shall give you peace from your sorrow."

-page 129

"The Torah is likened to fire, as it says (Devarim 33:2), 'from His right hand went forth a fiery law for them.' Who is able to touch fire? Only Israel, as it says (Devarim 4:4), 'And you who cleave to the Lord your God are alive, every one of you, this day.' Rabbi Yochanan said, 'Whoever comes to engage in Torah study should regard himself as if he were standing in fire. The Torah that the Almighty gave to Moshe was written in black fire upon white fire. It was hewn from fire, engraved by fire and given from fire. AS it says, 'from His right hand went forth a fiery law for them.'"

It says in Yalkut Ha'azinu (Devarim 32:2), "My doctrine shall drip down (yaarof) as the rain, my speech shall flow as the dew.' If a Torah scholar is of good character, [the Torah's affect upon him is] compared to that of dew [i.e. beneficial and life giving.] But if [he does] not [behave in a manner befitting a Torah scholar,] it [the Torah] breaks his neck [arfehu [with as much forcefulness] as a rainstorm." (See Taanis 7a. 'Yaarof' can mean break the neck or annihilate- Rashi. Maharsha explains, 'turn your neck (oref) from him and go.' Thus the Gemara is understood: If the Torah scholar is a worthy person, relate to him as if he were 'dew,' i.e. seek him, always, as the dew is sought at all times. But if he is unworthy, turn away from him as if he were 'rain,' which is detrimental at times.)

My brother, the Gaon, explained the reason that Torah is likened to rain. The rain falls and nourishes all the grasses, both good and bad, yet the bad grasses grow better than the good. In the same way, Torah study develops the bad qualities that are in the heart of an improper scholar.

-pages 143-144

Also, the Gemara says (Yerushalmi Brachos 1:2), "Whoever learns Torah and does not carry it out in action would have been better off had his placenta overturned in the womb and he never came out to the air of this world." My brother, the Gaon, explained this according to the Gemara (Nida 30b) which states taht the child in the mother's womb "is taught the entire Torah. The moment he comes out into the world, an angel slaps him on the mouth [and causes him to forget all that he learned]." This needs explaining; what is the benefit in teaching a child if he is subsequently made to forget? Isn't it as if he never learned at all?

This can be understood according to the writings of the Alshich concerning what we say in our prayers, "Give us our portion in Your Torah," because all souls stood on Mt. Sinai, each receiving its portion of Torah. The Gemara says (Megilla 6b), "If someone says, 'I toiled [in Torah] and found,' - believe him." The word 'found' connotes the finding of one's lost object, for [whatever Torah one has learned] is part of his [original] portion. Now, if a child were not taught his portion of Torah in his mother's womb, how then could he find it even with much toil? And by the same token, if he were not made to forget what he had learned, what need would there be to toil at all? This [effortless attainment] would then negate the concept of reward and punishment. Therefore, a child is taught his portion in his mother's womb and this is called 'all the Torah,' which is to say, the Torah which pertains to his soul's allotted portion. When he comes out into the air of this world he is made to forget that Torah, and then, after much toil, he can find what he lost.

Now we can understand why one who learns Torah and doesn't put it into action would be beter off had he never come into the world. For the purpose of learning, alone, there is no need for man to enter this world. Hadn't he finished learning his portion of Torah while still in his mother's womb? The one who puts his learning into action, on the other hand, fulfills the intention of creation. Carrying out the Torah in action is the one thing that he could not possibly have done while still in his mother's womb, even though he learned it.

Similarly our sages said (Yerushalmi Sotah 7:4), "Cursed is he who does not fulfill the words of this Torah" (Devarim 27:26). Even one who learned and taught others but failed to do deeds of his own is included in the curse of, 'Cursed is he who does not fulfill [the words of this Torah].'

-pages 145-147

Sunday, October 25, 2009

To Be An Orthodox Homosexual Jew

This man is my friend although he is not the friend. I found his words very moving and thought I would cite them here:
    aaaand now for the heavy stuff. The real reason I'm writing this blog is to hopefully help people understand the situation of life. Not for pity or sympathy or love or support. Just understanding. I am a Frum Jew. I have alway been a Frum Jew. And With Hashem's help, I will continue to be a Frum Jew.
    The challenge Hashem gave me is that I am not attracted to women, I am attracted to men. Unfortunately, the Torah tells us not to be with men. Do I think anyone can lead a completely celibate life? No. But one can try. I have never and will never say "it's okay to be Gay accordoing to Orthodox Judaism." It is not. And this is why I struggle every day.
    I do not regret coming out. I am still happy with the decision to let the world know of the struggle of homosexuality and Judaism. However, it is still a struggle. And it is not okay to go against the Torah, no matter what our hearts desire.
    There's plenty more to come.
This is very brave since those of us at YU know exactly who this person is. I wish him so much good luck and hope everyone reads his words and strives to understand where he is coming from. I don't believe there are many who can fathom the amount of courage it takes to be who this man is and to live life as he does.

Thus, if you would like some perspective into the life of an Orthodox Jew whose sexual orientation is that of homosexual, read 'An Orthodox Jew.' He's a student just like the rest of us, doing homework, taking midterms, and watching TV...and he's also dealing with struggles that set him apart in a very unique way. The path he walks is one worth watching, so long as it is done with eyes that seek to learn rather than accuse.