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November 25, 2009

Why Are So Many Jews Atheists Or Agnostics? It's Their Stupidity, Stupid

Rabbi Levi Brackman The real cause of overwhelming Jewish atheistic tendencies seems to be a tragic ignorance of Judaism’s most profound teachings and ideas and therefore a juvenile understanding of the Jewish idea of a monotheistic God.

Why so many Jews are atheists
Real cause of overwhelming Jewish atheistic tendencies seems to be tragic ignorance of Judaism’s most profound teachings and ideas
Rabbi Levi Brackman • Ynet

It is indisputable that a disproportionate amount of secular Jews self identify as atheist or agnostics. The celebrated atheist Christopher Hitchens has suggested that this is because Jews carry an atheist gene. This is an interesting and arguably racist conclusion that I wholeheartedly disagree with. Though it does make me think that Hitchens the atheist with Jewish lineage and many of the great Jewish theists have much in common.

Now, it is undeniable, and Hitchens agrees, that Jews have traditionally been deeply analytical questioners. One has only to study the Talmud (the magnum opus on Jewish law canonized in the fifth century) to recognize this. In fact the entire genre of rabbinic literature is full of questions, arguments and intellectual query.

For thousands of years Jews have been taught to question and delve deeper to uncover the truth inherent in any discussion. This tradition lives on in the Jewish community despite the fact that many Jews do not study classical Jewish texts as intensely as they used to.

One might argue that the entire literature of Jewish mysticism, otherwise known as the Kabbalah, is based on a single existential question pertaining to the meaning of the famous biblical phrase, “Hear O’ Israel the Lord our God the Lord in One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The Jewish mystics wanted to understand what the Bible meant when it said that God is one. They question how one unified God was able to create a universe so fragmented. The question of why a God would care what humans do (or don’t do) is a question that Jewish mystics prominently ask.

These are questions that atheists also ask. It is fair to say that most Jewish metaphysicians were skeptics at heart. They doubted the simplistic way of understanding the Bible. But their motives for asking these existential questions were different than those of the atheist. For the mystic intellectual inquiry brings a deeper appreciation and understanding of the truth inherent in the words of the Bible. The atheist, conversely, questions in order to disprove. The fundamental quest for truth, however, remains similar.

No atheist gene
In my view, many secular Jews become atheists because of a lack of Jewish knowledge rather than because of an atheist gene. Most contemporary Jews—if they are given a Jewish education—discontinue all formal Jewish education at around age thirteen. This is because synagogues make part-time religious school attendance a condition to having a synagogue based Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Thereafter, however, most young Jews discontinue any formal Jewish involvement or education.

Thus, most secular Jewish adults, at best, have a thirteen year olds concept of how Judaism perceives God. Based on this miniscule amount of formal Jewish education it is little wonder that secular Jews tend towards atheism. No one can expect naturally skeptical adults to continue believing in a sophomoric concept of God. Indeed the concept of God I believed in at age thirteen has little resemblance to what I believe in today after many years of study.

To be sure, belief in monotheism is not solely dependent on an in-depth knowledge of Jewish metaphysical teachings. But a sophisticated understanding of the uniquely Jewish concept of God is necessary if such a belief is to stand to the intense scrutiny of a deeply analytical and questioning mind. My experience tells me that most Jews—especially those who claim to atheists—lack such knowledge and the God they say they don’t believe in I don’t believe in either. It is difficult to take the claim of being an atheist seriously knowing that the individual has not studied the extensive literature on Jewish metaphysics.
 
Thus, the real cause of overwhelming Jewish atheistic tendencies seems to be a tragic ignorance of Judaism’s most profound teachings and ideas and therefore a juvenile understanding of the Jewish idea of a monotheistic God. Undoubtedly, the concept of Jews carrying an “atheist gene” is a red herring that has little evidentiary basis. To ignore the evidence and choose instead to believe in an unevidenced and unprovable “atheist gene” sounds to me like the type of belief system the likes of Hitchens have themselves criticized within religion. How ironic.

I should write a column titled, "Why So Many Rabbis Are Morons."


Lets list a few of the common reasons people – Jews included – give for being agnostics or atheists:

1. Large chunks of the Torah are factually incorrect. The universe is not 6,000 years old, no worldwide flood took place, millions of Hebrews did not flee Egypt, and the Land of Israel was not conquered like the Book of Joshua claims. This is not speculation; it is science-based, fact-based reality. And it doesn't even begin to touch on the Torah's internal contradictions, of which there are many.

2. Theological issues surrounding the Holocaust.

3. Corrupt rabbis and religious leaders. (This was a quite popular reason 120 years ago, and it seems to be regaining its popularity today.) Some of the proponents of the mysticism Brackman cites were, in fact, major criminals or enablers of major criminals – just like today.


A Jew whose Jewish education stopped at 13 is far more Jewishly educated than your average hasidic Jew is secularly educated.

A Jew who goes to college and graduates will have taken physics and other advanced sciences. A hasid who learns in yeshiva will generally have a secular education that stopped about the 8th grade. But because much of science and history contradicts Torah, that hasid's science education will in all likelihood stop even earlier than that – much earlier, in fact.

So while a non-Orthodox Jew knows something about Judaism, the hasid knows little about science or history. (That's why Brackman can write that the Talmud was "canonized in the fifth century" and not realize educated people read that sentence and their eyes roll.)

One can be an educated scientist and believe in God, and one can be hasid and study advanced science. But this is rare, in large part because of the conflicts between science in Torah.

Convincing answers exist for the science / Torah split for people who want to find convincing answers. For people who simply want to find the truth, convincing answers are much harder to come by.

Acknowledging this conflict – and honestly acknowledging the very real issues Judaism cannot answer in this regard – has to come before chiding people who lack faith.

But to do this one needs to know these points of conflict actually exist.

Rabbis like Brackman think a ma'amar from the Alter Rebbe will "answer" all those questions and "refute" science. And they also think those of us who were not convinced are either too obtuse or too poorly educated to get it.

But as any objective look at the situation will show, nothing could be further from the truth.

Comments

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Thanks for the commentary because I don't think the author gets it. Maybe there is a lack of Jewish education among Jews, but I don't think that's the cause. A lot of
people's values just can't be reconciled with religious beliefs and practices.

Brukman writes: "It is difficult to take the claim of being an atheist seriously knowing that the individual has not studied the extensive literature on Jewish metaphysics."

Problem with his statement that to study "exensive literature on Jewish metaphysiscs" will take several life times. Since according to him nobody can be true atheist without doing it, then nobody can ever be a true atheist. He apparently has no problems with this.

What if I turned it around and say that nobody can truly be believer in one God until he studies in depth all atheistic phylosopies and literature, which also would take several life times by the way? Would he agree with my statement? I doubt it. Thus what we see here is typical rabbinical double standard.

Actually, I personally enjoy reading atheistic literature--not because I believe in it, but because I enjoy their passionate quest for Truth; it offers a pathway that could (paradoxically) lead back to God.

In my opinion, being an atheist involves a huge leap of faith ...

I would say to Rabbi Brackman that any Jew who can , and does not live in his own Land, is a type of atheist.
Eretz Yisrael is the only Land on earth which was specifically given to the Jewish people to live in.
Rabbi Brackman, and all Chabad, and other anti-Zionist "orthodox" groups, are "atheists" by not fulfilling this commandment, especially at this time when it is easily possible.

shmarya, i get this sense that you backhand and faceiriesous compliment a lubavitcher with "the rebbe would be prud" there is a part of you that still means it... so i get the feeling...

i enjoyed brackman's article and it would have been better had he remained sceptical about the possible causes. spinoza, soloman maimon, loius jacobs, chaim potok, abraham geiger and many many many others were hardly amaratzim.

facitious
shmarya, i get this sense that your backhand and facetious compliments to many a lubavitcher with "the rebbe would be proud" there is a part of you that still means it... so i get the feeling...

i enjoyed brackman's article and it would have been better had he remained sceptical, and perhaps offered more reasons, about the possible causes. spinoza, soloman maimon, loius jacobs, chaim potok, abraham geiger and many many many others were hardly amaratzim.


"A Jew whose Jewish education stopped at 13 is far more Jewishly educated than your average hasidic Jew is secularly educated."

What a great line.

I think the rise of corruption is related to the rise of power. When the frum world was weak no sane man sought rabbinical position for money or power. I do indeed believe there were many leaders at the time (however nonsensical their understanding of the world) whose motives were pure and ethics were solid. Now the rare leader who is utterly honest himself is still corrupted because he will not speak out about the open sewer running down his street. Even the few who speak out only do it on a few things while they know of many problems.

is there A reason you're always behind on the semi-positive news?


http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1183996_millionaire_rabbi_cleared_of_drug_dealing

Where does he get his information from???
He is totally incorrect. I would say more Jews who go off and become atheist are the ones who sat through a very religious right through to yeshivah.

At the end of the day religion is based upon faith and that is all. If you don't have faith then nothing will make you believe.
It's like a trust game. Wear a blind fold and fall backwards and hope that the person behind you will catch you. If you don't know anyone is there you won't take the risk.

I think there is truth to the fact that many or most non-Orthodox Jews are not Jewishly educated, and that they have a stunted, 13 year old Bar Mitzvah view of God. But there are exceptions amoung the non-Orthos, and who is to say if they had a good Jewish education they would embrace religion? And it is also true that a good secular education is equally important, IMO, to be a sophisticated Jew.

Bottom line: There are many ignorant atheists, ignorant theists, learned atheists, and learned theists. It's best to decide from knowledge rather than ignorance (secular & religious) what you choose to believe, but it comes down to faith. Personally, belief is important to me, even if I don't drink all rabbinic Kool Aid and Mountain Dew. But that doesn't mean that someone who disagrees with me is stupid.

So, YL, are you advocating a Mountain Dew gene? I probably have that one.

I think your critique of the article per se is worth stressing. Regardless of the position he is advocating, his argument boils down to "if you were as smart as me, then X", which is invalid.

"That's why Brackman can write that the Talmud was "canonized in the fifth century" and not realize educated people read that sentence and their eyes roll."

I'm not that educated. Why should my eyes be rolling?

Theological issues surrounding the Holocaust.

What? No rebuttal.

I vehemently disagree that the Holocaust was G_d punishing the Jews for some perceived wrong doing. I believe G_d just didn't give a $hite about the Jews. Therefore, why should I give a $hite about G_d?

Do you want to know what drives Jews to atheism or agnosticism? Simply put, our own people through exclusionism, prejudice, ignorance, arrogance, conceit, superiority and hundreds of other traits that we stand and shul and ask forgiveness on Yom Kippur. We, through the attitudes we practice on one another and teach to our children, which they in turn practice in our Jewish day schools and shuls.

That coupled with the total inability to mix with those not of our own kind drives Jews away. One day, if we are not careful, the most common expression will be Jewish by heritage but not practice.

We need to teach another attitude, and practice it. We need not hear the following: Your Jewish aren't you? How come you aren't an asshole?

Cheers, AC.

Shmarya, do you believe in God?

Successful Messiah: Do you believe in being relevant? What does Shmarya's belief have to do with this essay?

Nothing. It's a tactic of several dissenters on this site to divert attention from their inability to discuss the subject at hand with what they consider knock-out questions or statements.

If you read his bio you will notice that Brackman has a post graduate degree from UCL (the fourth best University in the world). In addition in the world of academia the word canonized is regularly used with regard the Talmud. (See http://www.thefreedictionary.com/canonized). The ignirance is not on Brackman in this casse.

The ignorance is yours, Steven.

The point is WHEN it was "canonized."

this article is but another example of self-serving drivel. he starts out with a misrepresentation of what an atheist is , and why.

++They question how one unified God was able to create a universe so fragmented. The question of why a God would care what humans do (or don’t do) is a question that Jewish mystics prominently ask.
These are questions that atheists also ask. ++

wrong. most atheists recognize that there is no evidence for the existence of any god, and therefore have no belief in one. it has nothing to do with why the bible says this or that. even if one would spend a lifetime learning his texts, and would find a way that these texts could be made to answer the questions he claims are being asked by atheists, it would not answer the most basic question of all. WHAT EVIDENCE IS THERE FOR GOD?
and while shmaryas comments certainly show how laughable a continued belief in the bible is, and how science has in fact disproven much of what is contained in the bible, it is really unnecessary. for the burden of proof lies not with the atheist. it rests solidly on the theist. before you accept belief in anything, you must have some evidence. there is NO evidence that anything written in the torah could not have been written by late bronze age man.

++Thus, the real cause of overwhelming Jewish atheistic tendencies seems to be a tragic ignorance of Judaism’s most profound teachings and ideas and therefore a juvenile understanding of the Jewish idea of a monotheistic God. ++

and i could just as easily say the real cause of the rabbi having atheistic beliefs towards the IBU (the invisible black unicorn), the true creator of the world, is his tragic ignorance of the IBU's profound teachings.....
sounds silly.
the scientific points raised merely show that even if there were evidence of ANY gods existence, the torah could properly be excluded as having been that gods writing.
the rabbi should stick to speaking to the uneducated yeshiva students where his message will no doubt be widely believed and further justify their ignorant beliefs.

By your logic, Steven, Einstein's poor career as a student means he's a moron no matter what he ever did or said in his life. I guess Da Vinci's dyslexia makes him a moron too. And let's not forget Beethoven's inability to compute simple math problems. Morons, all! It's the degree that counts. Fool.

+++Do you want to know what drives Jews to atheism or agnosticism? Simply put, our own people through exclusionism, prejudice, ignorance, arrogance, conceit, superiority and hundreds of other traits +++

Posted by: :)

incorrect. nothing "drives" people to it. what you are or should be saying is what drives people away from organized religion? or orthodoxy? or ...
a true atheist does not allow the actions of theists to determine the validity of their beliefs. if being a devout believer in scientology or mormonism, or homeopathic medicine led to the most pious behavior amongst their adherents, that would have no bearing on the credibility of their beliefs.
the point you make would only be appropriate if the question was ,"should we believe in the torah since doing so will make us better people?"

The author's logic is flawed.
First off, I suspect that if you took an IQ test comparing atheists (all races) and believers (again, all races, religions) the atheists would score higher. So calling them stupid is...well...stupid.
Second of all, most believing Jews never attempted to study the other religions out there (the Rabbis would ban that)so by the same token how does the author know his religion is correct without studying everything else out there?

Ben - good point..

++I vehemently disagree that the Holocaust was G_d punishing the Jews for some perceived wrong doing. I believe G_d just didn't give a $hite about the Jews. Therefore, why should I give a $hite about G_d? ++=

Posted by: effie | November 25, 2009 at 11:30 AM

effie, that would not make you an atheist or an agnostic. it would mean you have presupposed his existence, and have found no way to rationalize and justify the holocaust based on these assumptions, and then rather than tossing out the assumption, you maintain it, minus the "just and merciful" portion, and therefore have anger towards god. that is neither atheistic nor agnostic.

KM- there's truth there. no doubt essays like this were written (carved?) about belief in Odin, etc.
From the "local" perspective, I also think its not that secular Jews don't believe in a God, they just define Gd's requirements from the Jews a bit differently. Assuming there is a Gd, and he had a good reason for allowing the Shoah, is he really hung up about examining broccoli with a magnifying glass, and willing to cast those who don't into eternal hellfire? Does Gd really care if one uses their blackberry or ipod on Shabbat (or heaven forbid, use a Shabbat elevator?). There are big jumps and assumptions made, that if one believes there is a God that every bit of narishkeit said in his name is also God, and that rejection of all the extreme rulings is equivalent to being an atheist.
One may be more correct maintaining the 13 year old's belief in Gd, in terms of theological truth. ..

Please explain the ignorance. Ravina and Rav Ashi died in 421 and 427 respectively. Which is when tradition says the Talmud was canonized. Even others who say that the Talmud was canonized (Halivni, Kaplan and others) by the savoraim it was only a century later. It seems that the ignorance is in fact on you.

Please.

"Only a century later"? Meaning late in 6th century. Meaning long after Brackman claimed. And many scholars place that date much later than that – into the 9th century.

You also appear to be confusing the death of Ravina 1 with Ravina 2. Ravina 2 is the one who was the student of Rav Ashi, I think, and he died much later – close to 500.

So, Steven, the eyes roll at you, as well.

No early in the sixth. Secondly I am talking about the Ravina and Rav Ashi who tradition suggests authored the Talmud they died early in the fifth century. Whereupon the Talmud was canonized this is according to the tradition that even Maimonides agrees with.

Please name a scholar who says that the talmud was canonized in the ninth century. I know of none.

I had the opportunity to hear the self-avowed atheist philanthropist (Birthright etc.) Michael Steinhardt speak more than once the past couple weeks, and he made it very clear that no Rabbi, including Adin Steinsaltz et al., were able to convince him of the existence of God. In fact, he sees his atheistic perspective as well-rooted in the Jewish tradition by invoking 2 Judaic concepts: (1) The image of Jacob struggling with God (hence: Yisrael, "ki sarita im ho'elohim..."), (2) Judaism's emphasis on the here-&-now as ultuimate telos & purpose, not some other-worldly paradise. (The latter is somewhat debatable, but OK.)

In fact, he mentioned that when offered by a frum Jew in Jerusalem a $100,000 to sell him his Gan Eden for all his philanthropic work etc., Steinhardt immediately agreed & took the check (which he gave over to Birthright), which he saw as a sure-win proposition: selling nothing for 100G. (The believing buyer also was happy: he later admitted to Steinhardt that he was willing to go up to one million dollars to purchase it!)

Be it as it may, in our day & age, no "proofs" will convince anyone, not the ontological arguments, not the cosmological arguments, not even the teleological arguments. In its latest incarnation, just read Oxford's J.L. Mackie's "Miracle of Theism," where he tears Oxford's Richard Swinburne's "proofs" of natural theology apart.

Induction per se will not get us any closer to an Uncaused First Cause (UFC) divine entity. If anything, it is indoctrination of irrational dogma that will get us there. It is about time to accept that the days of Midevalist attempts at synthesis of religion & philosophy are over.

Yes, emunah implies drinking the Cool-Aid (i.e. quantum leap irrespective of reason/logic). Only after this, the beliver attempts to fit his/her beliefs with some form of reason/logic. As the good books say, "layda u'lha'amin," & the late Lubavitcher's Rebbe's take on Maimonides' definition of "leyda" (v. his hadranim on Mishne Torah; also v. Tzemach Tzedek's Derech Mitzvotzecha "Ha'amanat hoElohut," the first couple of ch.)

Also, all this discussion has nothing to do with the veracity of Torah etc. -- this is a much more existential issue that can be applied to any religion predicated on an UFC.

Having said that, God qua aesthetic-experiential (imaginary) entity of focus for whatever creative-life-affirming use, can be very useful & powerful. It is what the mystics and some artists have in common.

As long as kept morally neutral, God can serve morally neutral inspirations.

--ZIY

No early in the sixth. Secondly I am talking about the Ravina and Rav Ashi who tradition suggests authored the Talmud they died early in the fifth century. Whereupon the Talmud was canonized this is according to the tradition that even Maimonides agrees with.

I think you need to recheck your rabbinic history.

Please name a scholar who says that the talmud was canonized in the ninth century. I know of none.

I think Rubenstein does.There are others. You should be able to Google and find them.

This should be conclusive that you are wrong: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudMap/Gemara.html

Just be a man admit it and apologize.

As far as I remember, canonization began in early-mid 400s by Ravina & Rav Ashi, & then completed in ca. 499. It was still not formally canonized into our current cversion until after the Rabanan Sevuraim a century or more later, towards the end of the Sassanian rule. With the upheaval that came with the Arab invasion ca. 630s on, & the subsequent Jewish migration, the Talmud spread to the rest of the diaspora & supplanted the Yerushalmi.

--ZIY

From the source you just cited:n 987, the medieval authority Rav Sherira Ga'on, leader of the Pumbedita academy (then situated in Baghdad), composed an important study ("Epistle") on issues of Talmudic literature and chronology. Although Rav Sherira accepts that the Talmudic "end of instruction" is a reference to a final redaction, he applies the expression not to the famous Amora Rav Ashi(to whom he attributes only the beginnings of the process), but to a lesser known figure, Rav Yose, and to his contemporary Ravina, who were active at the close of the fifth century.

Modern scholarship, basing itself on careful internal analysis of Talmudic passages, prefers to see the redaction as a prolonged process that may have extended over several centuries. The anonymous Aramaic discussions that hold the work together and give its it much of its distinctive dialectical character are often attributed to the "Savora'im," or "Rabbanan Sabora'ei" the anonymous Babylonian scholars who were active in Babylonian during the sixth century, perhaps until the Muslim conquest.
So the apology, Steven, needs to come from you.

Modern scholars do not agree on precise dates (Kaplan, Halivni, Weiss etc.).

Tradition has always seen it as being the fifth century. It is reasonable for anyone to give the fifth century as the date of canonization especially in a piece where that fact is only a sideline rather than the main focus.

Right that's because Sharira thinks that it was not just Ravina and Rav Ashi rather it them and their Courts. (Maimonides also holds this). No matter, the traditional reading is that it was canonized in the fifth century. Modern scholars have a different view (none say it was the ninth though). Did Brackman need to mention the Modern Talmudic scholarship in an article where the point was only incidental? Of course not. You were wrong to call him on it and it just showed your own ignorance.

Eyes roll…

One last point the Muslim conquests were from 632–732. So the canonization was certainly never thought to be in the ninth century. Indeed you need to roll your eyes at your own ignorance of Jewish history. Well done for doing so.

Like I said, eyes roll and roll and roll…

Shmarya thank you for sharing your analysis of the article. Not that you need my thank you or acknowledgement. I am also not saying that I agree with 100%. However the analysis is refreshing (except for the negativity, like referring to many Rabbi's as morons - even if that is true). I think that your work is important and effective when you argue fatcs and logic (once again not that you need or want to hear my Haskama) I think your web sites impact and potential are diminished when your bloggers engage in childish name calling and knee jerk reactions. Keep up the positive work.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Dear God,

Please let SMR's conviction be thrown out. If you cannot do that, can we get a fresh Chabad scandal. One that will last a few years. This site needs a new enemy, preferably a Lubavitcher ... fast.

Pls let it be a conservative scandal. Easy does it conservative Yidden, I am just kidding. We all know it will be Haredi or Chabad anyway.

As far Atheists and agnostics go, I would submit that we are all atheists and/or agnostics at certain times and under certain circumstances. Just as I would also submit in the same vein that atheists and/or agnostics are at times the greatest believers.

I think that before the beliefs of another, whether they be Atheist, Hindu Moslem or whatever belief, should not be dismissed as stupidity. The argument becomes circular, just as a reform Jew may have a limited knowledge of orthodox belief, an orthodox jew may have limited knowledge of the reform belief. In order for one to truthfully reject the other there has to be knowledge and information about the others views and not just mereley dismissing them as juvenile. However this cuts both ways.

Oh and by the way, is it our belief's that really matter at the end of the day or is it our actions? If I am an atheist and kind, ethical, charitable etc. Am I not closer to G-d than the biggest believer who doesn't practice what he preaches?

I think most (not all) Haradi educated Jews lack the education in history of the Jews and particularly Rabbinic Judaism. They're steeped in supersition and Rabbinic lure.

They are afraid to study the sciences because they strongly appose their doctrines.

The early rabbinic sect with Jonathan Ben Zakai are largely responsible for the spread of the Talmudic Sect or the dumbing down of Judaism.

I think more Jews would be incline to participate if they saw the value in Jews life, ethics, spirituality. Rather they're taught to worry about the hight of the mechitza, how full a cup must be to make kiddush, how long Channuka candles must burn, etc...

This souless legalism takes away from being happy in Jewish practice. The Rabbi's dropped the ball on Judaism centuries ago and people dont buy their system.

Being the fact that maybe 10% of all Jews follow the Talmudic system it is proof it's a huge failure.

I just love it when uneducated Lubabs pose as intellectual savants. It's thoroughly entertaining.

The word stupidity as defined by dictionary.com means "lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind." How Mr. Brackman arrives at the conclusion that anyone who disagrees with his archaic fantasies is stupid, is well, stupefying.

The correct word in this context may be ignorant, as in lacking knowledge or training, but professor Brackman is intent on the Ad Hominem, on attacking and belittling those that disagree with him, for that's what small-minded insecure people do.

Hmm, I think "religious" Jews often act so imbecilic, that it makes it hard for anyone to think that these people "know" the answer about God, or for that matter--anything.

Hmm, I think "religious" Jews often act so imbecilic, that it makes it hard for anyone to think that these people "know" the answer about God, or for that matter--anything.

Hmm, I think "religious" Jews often act so imbecilic, that it makes it hard for anyone to think that these people "know" the answer about God, or for that matter--anything.

i dont think that most jews don't believe in God. I think its the opposite. I think god no longer believes in the Jewish people.

+++Just as I would also submit in the same vein that atheists and/or agnostics are at times the greatest believers. ++
\
Posted by: Chabadnik Attorney

that is preposterous. first of all an atheist would no sooner believe in the god of the bible than he would any of the other claimed and revered gods throughout history. do you ever find yourself being a "great believer" in zeus? or thor? i would guess not. well to the atheist, the likelihood of wavering in and out of belief, as you imply, is likely similar to your wavering over belief in quetzlcoatl.
secondly, you are using two terms, atheist and agnostic as if they are mutually exclusive and represent different levels of non-belief. this is incorrect.
atheism is simply not accepting that there is any evidence for a god. the opposite is theism. agnosticism is the stance that gods existence is unknowable. the opposite would be gnostic. so one can be an agnostic theist or a gnostic atheist. lumping them together is therefore inappropriate.


APC: What do you have against Thor? C'mon, Natalie Portman is going to be in the upcoming movie, that's a reason to believe in the Jewish Gd right there!

++In order for one to truthfully reject the other there has to be knowledge and information about the others views and not just mereley dismissing them as juvenile. However this cuts both ways.++

Posted by: Chabadnik Attorney

i disagree. one doesnt need to know anything about atheism to reject it other than its meaning. "there is no evidence for the existence of god" . all one needs to do is provide some evidence. this is not easy. and conversely, one need not know any of the intricacies of zeus or the book of mormon to reject them as nonsense. merely knowing the basic circumstances of how they came to be believed in is often more than enough.
your position sounds like a defense for your belief, in seeming to require many years of study before an opinion can be formed either way. this limits the number of people who you would deem qualified to reject it. in truth, the issue is quite simple. if you cannot provide any proof of gods existence, the proper course is to assume he doesnt exist. and even if one relies on one of the shaky philosophical proofs, one still needs to have evidence that of the billions of writings by man over history, the torah is different than all the others in that its author was god. for this there is not only NO evidence, but powerful contra-evidence. and i dont need to have become a bukki in jewish meta-physical writings to pass this judgement.


alternative childcare : i'm fond of the whole family. thor , sif, thrudd. and i love natalie.

"Thee correct word in this context may be ignorant, as in lacking knowledge or training, but professor Brackman is intent on the Ad Hominem, on attacking and belittling those that disagree "

And you and Chicago Sam discuss facts and present logical argument. You would never attempt to prevail in an argument by calling someone an imbecile or small-minded and insecure.

++ If I am an atheist and kind, ethical, charitable etc. Am I not closer to G-d than the biggest believer who doesn't practice what he preaches?++

Posted by: Chabadnik Attorney | November 25, 2009 at 04:48 PM

very clever and tricky. you suggest that a moral atheist is close to god. thats a nice attempt at assuming the fallacy of their position without having done anything to give you the right to do so.
why not say , "If I am an atheist and kind, ethical, charitable etc., then i am a better person than a theist who doesnt share these qualities."

Dear Chabad Attorney,

You must not be reading the various newspaper articles, which have appeared in Jewish newspapers all around the world about the Haredi/Chabad consortium and their foolish antics in disenfranchising any kind of Jewish opinion or denomination that disagrees with their own, e.g., the view of those rabbis, who maintain the universe is only 5770 years; or the view of the Rabbi MM Schenersohn, who thinks the sun really goes around the earth.

If you want examples, many of this forum's participants along with myself can supply you with as many cases detailing how these rabbis make complete fools of themselves, and desecrate our faith for all to see.

It's time to wake up, my friend, and start critically re-evaluating your clients' ideology, you might come to realize that there are many retrogressive forces within the frum world that require a dramatic re-visioning.

I think most (not all) Haradi educated Jews lack the education in history of the Jews and particularly Rabbinic Judaism. They're steeped in supersition and Rabbinic lure.

True enough


They are afraid to study the sciences because they strongly appose their doctrines.

True enough for many

The early rabbinic sect with Jonathan Ben Zakai are largely responsible for the spread of the Talmudic Sect or the dumbing down of Judaism.

Huh ? Jews have always pursued intellectual pursuits. The Talmud is one of the highest intellectual pursuits. Even Conservative Jews an any educated person who has studied Talmud would agree. I had an African American Law Professor who studied Talmud and would reference it in class.

I think more Jews would be incline to participate if they saw the value in Jews life, ethics, spirituality. Rather they're taught to worry about the hight of the mechitza, how full a cup must be to make kiddush, how long Channuka candles must burn, etc...

True enough

This souless legalism takes away from being happy in Jewish practice. The Rabbi's dropped the ball on Judaism centuries ago and people dont buy their system.

Some do some don't. The ones who do will have Jewish Great Children.

Being the fact that maybe 10% of all Jews follow the Talmudic system it is proof it's a huge failure.

The Talmud is a part of the way of life Western civilization, its laws, ethics and morals.


Shmarya. Am I totally off here? I understand that people may their complaints about the hypocrasy etc of many Haredi Jews etc, but is it accurate to say the Talmud has not significantly contributed to our society or that its study is not an intellectual pursuit?

Chicago Sam - those who think they "know" the answers about G-d are imbeciles. Does that mean we should follow our faith?

I meant does that mean we should not follow our faith?

very clever and tricky. you suggest that a moral atheist is close to god. thats a nice attempt at assuming the fallacy of their position without having done anything to give you the right to do so.
why not say , "If I am an atheist and kind, ethical, charitable etc., then i am a better person than a theist who doesnt share these qualities."

Posted by: ah-pee-chorus | November 25, 2009 at 08:02 PM

I agree that is what I am saying, except that I am adding that if it turns out that there is a G-d, the atheist (who is a guy person) would be closer to G-d than the theist whose practices are unethical.

It's time to wake up, my friend, and start critically re-evaluating your clients' ideology, you might come to realize that there are many retrogressive forces within the frum world that require a dramatic re-visioning.

Posted by: Chicago Sam | November 25, 2009 at 08:07 PM

I have read the articles and I agree with you. It doesn't in my opinion provide me with an excuse to abandon my beliefs.

With respect to the Talmud, many of its arguments and its modus operandi for how it derives halachot are, in my opinion, irrational--and should be rejected by any kind of intelligent reader.

While there are numerous examples of interesting and thought-provoking controversies that are found in many of the Talmudic texts, there is also a lot of narrishkeit and ideas that are even morally offensive, which unfortunately rate with some of the most bigoted and intolerant comments ever expressed in recorded history.

When studying the Talmud, it pays to keep a critical eye on the subject matter and not merely accept its teachings simply because the ancient rabbis canonized its teachers, and believed that all the words of their predecessors were infallible.


Fortunately, Judaism is pluralistic enough to embrace points of view that are self-critical of itself.

You may want to familiarize yourself with the critiques of the 9th century Gaon Shmuel Hofni on the story of the witch of Endor, along with Abraham Ibn Maimonides, in his brilliant Introduction to Ein Yaakob. Both these great Gedolim of the past did not shy away from criticizing the Talmud itself when it makes claims that contradict rational thought and science. I might add even Maimonides heaped scorn on many of the literalists of his age.

Today's Gedolim could learn a lot from the past . . .

The argument from ridicule is not convincing whether employed by atheists or by theists.

++agree that is what I am saying, except that I am adding that if it turns out that there is a G-d, the atheist (who is a guy person) would be closer to G-d than the theist whose practices are unethical.++

Posted by: Chabadnik Attorney | November 25, 2009 at 08:20 PM

but you left out the all-important.."if...." you just said it as if it was a given.


Dear Chabad attorney,

I am not urging you to abandon your faith, but I am asking you to engage yourself in questioning your faith, as I do with mine.

In an age where great skepticism abounds, we need to view the questions of the agnostics and even the atheists with a certain degree of respect; in many ways, their critiques about religion will serve to help purge ourselves of our theological hubris. Freud's famous, "The Future of An Illusion," may help most religious people take the steps in removing the childish illusions that limit their experience of faith.

Of course I am not saying that Freud is correct in his judgment of religion, but we need to nevertheless distill our faith from ideas that do not serve its message particularly well.

Chabadnik Attorney:
I say, it's ok to follow your faith, as long as you remain honest with yourself, i.e. be willing to listen to other points of view, don't be a judgmental prick for or against being religious, educate yourself about the differences and similarities of various religions and denominations, look critically at the pros and cons, and remain open minded.
You have a brain with the ability to reason. No need to come to any final conclusions (those that do inevitably become Kool Aid drinkers). And don't let rabbis or any kind of 'holy men' do your thinking for you. Sure, examine what they have to say, but don't become a shmuck.
Participating in this conversion already is a step in the right direction. Find smart people to talk to (in person) about stuff like this. Avoid overconfident fanatics, especially those with beards, wacky hats, and bad breath. It's still a free country, so talk, discuss, debate, disagree, laugh at those who take themselves too seriously or who think they have all the answers.

Last week my nephew challenged me with a simple challenge, we were discussing miracles, personal v miracles seen by the whole world his challenge was, why whenever someone claims that they saw a miracle it is always something that could be debated i.e. did they get cured because the miracle or not, why didn’t God ever produced a miracle that all of sudden a limb grows back and the person is walking, never ever did a food or a hand grow back, why is God not able to perform this type of miracles, any explanations?

Brackman's contentions are based upon nothing other then self-serving parochialism and rationalization. It his very common for those who are willing to look at the Talmud and mysticism, in addition to 2,000 years worth of incremental legalistic restriction colloquially called "halacha" critically, to lose emunah.

The Talmud is not only a historically inaccurate document, it deliberately revises history to serve the political and theological agenda of its authors.

Just consider the mythology they synthesized when they created Chanukah. A limited and short-term victory that led to a war of attrition they nearly lost, but for inviting in the Romans, was reinvented as another David vs. Goliath story. Additionally, a fairy tale was concocted centuries later about an ever-burning candelabra and etched itself into Jewish memory as a "miracle."

For those who choose to believe it, Chanukah represents a joyous and meaningful occasion. For those who prefer what they believe is a greater truth, it's just a fairy tale.

The Talmud doesn't stand up to critical examination. Try reading "The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud" by Rabbi Jeff Rubinstein, or The Roots of Rabbinic Judaism by Boccaccini for some perspective. I'm not suggesting their 100% correct- but the scholarly and archeological data overwhelmingly invalidate Talmudic contentions about Rabbinic authority and validity.

++, any explanations?+++

Posted by: OMG | November 25, 2009 at 08:43 PM


i'm sure you know the convenient answer. that if it could not be debated, then that would remove our ability to choose to believe. it would be too obvious to be test anymore.
of course my answer is slightly different...because there is no such thing as a miracle. the world is in effect governed by statistics and probability. nothing more.

Yossel the koifer - you sound like kin.
of the two books, which one would you pick?

Dear Ah-pee-chorus,

I agree that most religious folks see miracles as events that transcend the laws of nature, but that is a narrow definition of miracle.

The term "miracle" derives from the Latin word, mīrāculum, from mīrārī, which means "to wonder at," from mīrus, "wonderful."

If I may paraphrase the great 20th century Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, the "miraculous" is more of a subjective kind of experience, a way of looking at the world; the miraculous does not require a teleological suspension of the laws of Nature.

C.S.- i couldnt agree more. by that definition i am in awe of the 'miracles' i see many times a day, and marvel at the wonders of this earth. and as a wholly irrelevant side point, which i hope you'll forgive me for, when the belief in god left my being, my ability to appreciate much of what i see increased dramatically, which was counterintuitive.

Chicago Sam wrote:
"Hmm, I think "religious" Jews often act so imbecilic, that it makes it hard for anyone to think that these people "know" the answer about God, or for that matter--anything. "
Very well put CS. I like it.
Imagine when the "religious" Jew is of the sect of Brackman.

I give Brackman credit for raising an interesting topic, even though I do not agree with his arguments.

Dear APC,

I have always maintained that you have a much deeper perception of the Divine than many other "religious" folks I have met; I think you are really rejecting the idea of God as a human projection (Fuerbach), and I would concur with you on that point; but to me, God is Supreme Reality, whatever that may be ... God is more of a mystical experience than anything else--even though I cannot logically convince you otherwise.

Two Simple Points:

1) once you study the physical evidence of history it becomes obvious that the Exodus story just ain't so.

2) the whole point of Judaism is so silly that its rarely taught to yeshiva kids.

the whole point of jews and mitzvot is
entirely for tikkun in terms of the shevirat ha kelim and thats just bad ( and horribly wrong) astrophysics.

Thus the core ideas of theological Judaism are false. There is no counterargument to this.

Correct me if I'm wrong, I mean it, but your second point alludes to Kabbala, not Torah. No matter how well rabbis argue that Kabbala is Torah, it's not. So I'm not sure your point that Judaism's core is false holds water, since Kabbala isn't really the core of Torah, it's just intriguing metaphysical interpretations by 'mystics' with a lot of time on their hands, which appeal to multitudes because of the sense of global purpose they inspire. Again, correct me if I've misunderstood.

WSC, CS and APC: Your thoughtful comments are appreciated. Its most beneficial when the conversations are constructive.

Duh: I am not sure how simple those two points are.

Shalom and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

but you left out the all-important.."if...." you just said it as if it was a given.

Posted by: ah-pee-chorus | November 25, 2009 at 08:33 PM

APC: You give me way too much credit if you think I did that on purpose :)

Thanks for the kudos, CA, but many of us still regard Chabad as a retrogressive force in Jewish life today.

I realize every client--even the most disgusting--deserves the best kind of legal counsel; from this perspective, you are doing a mitzvah.

Happy Thanksgiving

Even atheists can enjoy this holiday:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/1125/p09s01-coop.html

Happy Thanksgiving to all believers, non-believers, and undecided!

Cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner is a good time to contemplate shevirat hekeilim.

YL: in response to your earlier comment (8:32), all I can say is, that's so silly. :)

Maven: Happy Thanksgiving ;)

Yochanan Lavie : back at you. all the best.

I think there is truth to the fact that many or most non-Orthodox Jews are not Jewishly educated, and that they have a stunted, 13 year old Bar Mitzvah view of God. But there are exceptions amoung the non-Orthos, and who is to say if they had a good Jewish education they would embrace religion? And it is also true that a good secular education is equally important, IMO, to be a sophisticated Jew.

YL, as usual, has provided a cogent comment on the subject in stark contrast to most of other trashing about in the comments. I would expand his comment to include the idea that even most American MO educated day school students are woefully undereducated in both historically critical thought and the wide variety of Jewish philosophic thinking over the past 1000 or so years. Such students certainly have more exposure to classic Jewish text study, but often lack the "10,000 foot view" required to try and pull it all together (a lifelong struggle for many, of course - by definition).

Simon Rose, you've got a good point.
However, I've checked out the "opposition"
ie. Karaite Judaism, and believe it's not an easy way out (a la Reform or Conservative), since in the Karaite system everyone has to interpret the Tanach for themselves and in effect every one has to become their own rabbi. Some people can't be bothered doing that. That's why the Rabbinic version won for so long- because you get the Tanach interpreted for you, so less need to think.

I meant to say "believe me, it's not an easy way out...""

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