Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mizrachi staff unravel the secrets of the Universe

I sent my colleagues a pdf. with an correspondence from Marc Shapiro from a now defunct blog. It related to our ongoing discussion ongoing discussion of Torah and Science issues. (feel free to read it yourself by using the link above)

I thought that although Shapiro's tone was a bit too sharp to be called scholarly, it was well expressed and worth reading. I enjoyed the discussion that followed, and include it below. In it, I argue for consistent vs. hodgepodge philosophy.

(as an aside, I my few readers are not put off by my occasional posting of conversations. I mean for them to be helpful and enjoyable in a Kuzari or Socratic way. Let me know if I miss the mark)

From: Michael Naftali Unterberg
The argument made forcefully by Marc Shapiro

See files attached to this message (sent from GoodReader)

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From: Noam Shapiro
nice- thanks

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From: Adin Krohn
I like the article. However, why does he assume that the MO laity should take their cues from Professors/Bible scholars and not  their rabbinic leadership?

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From: Michael Unterberg
If their Rabbinic leaders are MO, he feels that they should agree with the scholars. He is arguing that this is the only position that can be called modern. If their Rabbinic leadership disagrees, he is calling them chareidi.

I reminds me of the David berger anti-messiah rants. The feel harsh to me, but the logic is compelling.

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From: Noam Shapiro
Just curious- Do you think there is a sizable percentage of MO rabbis who would agree with this? I think there might be more than we realize. (Just a hunch, can't prove it one way or another.) Probably still the minority, but it's a miut hamatzui...

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From: Adin Krohn
I guess I feel that he seems to be blaming the laity when their (our?) leadership is leading them down this path.
I like your comaprison re: chabad.

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From: Michael Unterberg
I actually kind of agree with Marc Shapiro. It may be definitional to being modern. I think most MO shuls have charedi Rabbis.

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From: Adin Krohn
I feel there is a spectrum in terms of how people define modern orthodoxy. Being open to secular studies and culture is one aspect. I happen to feel that many MO rabbis accept evolution, and interpret breishit perek aleph as they will (reading science into it, non-literal, whatever), but when pushed on this type of issue become very uncomfortable. In other words, how far do you take this non-literal thing? Does that make them chareidi? Can you be "sort of modern-orthodox"? Like anything, defining yourself one way or the other is tested when taken to the extreme. I think rabbis and their communities should talk more about this stuff.
one more point: One "defense" I've heard about accepting the historical reality of the flood, etc. is that no (or very few) major mefarshim ever suggested it didn't actually happen (unlike maaseh breishit where many write that this isn't the literal story). But, Marc Shapiro would say, I assume, that given our scientific knowledge now, we would have to revisit the issue. The mefarshim weren't aware of the scientific info which compels us to take this approach. But had they been aware, they would agree.

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From: Michael Unterberg
I guess the question is, do I stand or believe in anything in a consistent way? Or is my intellectual world a patchwork sort of Frankenstein hodgepodge?


I think that the Netziv's definition of Yashar in he intro to Breishit refers to the type of consistency where your beliefs follow all the way through to the end. Perhaps this consistency is not the most important characteristic of a religious personality, but I would hate to say that it doesn't matter.

The MO (or any other) label is not what matters to me. To me the question is, if I believe in science and Torah, what does that mean? How do I resolve the apparent contradiction?


The Rambam and Ra'avad argue over a similar issue at the end of Perek 5 of Hilchot Teshuva. That's where the Rambam explains that the reason that we see a paradox between God's foreknowledge and free-will is because as human's we cannot understand the Divine "mind".


The Ra'avad says that since that is not really an answer to the question, the Rambam would have been smarter not asking it in the first place. He argues that the Rambam was unwise to cause even momentary doubt in the reader by asking a complicated question without easy answer. Better to leave the reader in simple faith. If the reader hasn't noticed a paradox, why bring it up?


We can't know how the Rambam would have responded. But I have always guessed that he might not believe in "simple" faith. He could argue that not seeing the paradox is symptom of not understand what Divine foreknowledge or free-will are. Or both. To not be aware of the paradox indicates a Jew who believes in terms, but not what they mean. To the Rambam, that may not be true belief at all. Pointing out the question and philosophical challenge is therefore a necessary educational step in creating a Jew who believes in ideas, as opposed to slogans.


I would argue, that this orientation to the search for Truth, wether from within the Torah, outside the Torah, or in resolving perceived contradictions between the two, is the difining characteristic of MO. But even if it isn't, I think it is following in the footsteps of the Rambam.

Is doing less and leaving things in the zone of the uncomfortable confusion copping out? I'll let you decide.


As for the approach of "reading science into it", I think that Shatz has more than successfully defended that while such an approach is philosophically tenable, it just doesn't work. You would have to explain days and nights before the sun and moon, plants before sunlight, water above the sky, etc. etc. Keshem shemakablim schar al a derisha, mekablim schar al a perisha.

--
MNUnterberg

Afterward:
From: Noam Shapiro 
Date: Mon, Jan 3, 2011 at 4:48 AM
To: fms-judaic-staff-meeting@googlegroups.com

Well said, Michael. But isn't it sad that MO may come down to a search for EMET? In other words, shouldn't that be the defininf characteristic of every Jewish ideology? I find it sad that there are frum Jews that fear truth. If "chotamo shel haKadosh Baruch Hu Emet" - why should anyone fear truth? viAyen bidivrei FDR - "We have nothing to fear but..."

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From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
Date: Mon, Jan 3, 2011 at 8:38 AM
To: "fms-judaic-staff-meeting@googlegroups.com"

I guess it is a different definition of truth being sought. I suppose the disagreement regards wether the chochma that rests with the goyim should be relevant to a Jew's search for Truth. MO considers all truth to be the context of the search, other ideologies confine the area of pursuit more narrowly.

I suppose a cynical way to read what I am saying is that it is not only fear but arrogance that narrows the search for truth in non-MO circles, but I would rather chalk it up to a sense of fidelity. 

We disagree with them bec we think that Hashem must be pursued using the broadest of means.

Sent from my iPad

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From: Noam Shapiro 
Date: Mon, Jan 3, 2011 at 8:56 AM
To: fms-judaic-staff-meeting@googlegroups.com

I guess I just do not understand why you wouldn't use all faculties/forums available in order to achieve Yediat HaBorei

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From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
Date: Mon, Jan 3, 2011 at 9:44 AM
To: "fms-judaic-staff-meeting@googlegroups.com"

I guess I understand but disagree. If your view of torah is that it is all encompassing, you see no need to go beyond it's borders.

I feel the need to defend the non-Torah u'Madda position because it was held by chachamim going back as far as we can tell. So has the other approach. Although from my perspective it seems wrong, I assume it must be chalked up to an elu ve'elu. 


Sent from my iPad

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7 comments:

Shraggie said...

It's interesting to note that Marc Shapiro's objection is the term "modern" with regard to certain beliefs. There are many who may argue that his insistent point of view with regard to holding science as the benchmark for religion -- and not Torah (including she'baal peh) -- would cast more doubt on the term "orthodox" than on "modern."
Without going into the dozens of mefarshim which discuss the literalness of the Torah -- I know enough to know that I don't know enough -- a basic tenet of being an Orthodox Jew of any flavor means believing in G-d, and that Moshe emes v'Torasoi emes. While we must strive to the limit of human capacity to understand the Torah and its complexities, we must also have even not-yet-fully-understood Torah as our benchmark, not scientific conjecture (note that there are VERY few scientific 'laws,' mostly theories).

MNUnterberg said...

True enough Shraggie. But I don't think the fact that we can't reach the end absolves us of the need to keep going on the journey.

Also, note that most people misunderstand what is meant by a scientific theory, as it means something different than our usual colloquial use of the term.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory

Shraggie said...

Michael,
I agree - learning is, without a doubt, about the journey.

While most people do confuse the colloquial use of the term 'Scientific Theory', the earlier part of the article supports my statement: A scientific theory is constructed to conform to available empirical data about such observations, and is put forth as a principle or body of principles for explaining a class of phenomena. - Merriam Webster.

Shraggie said...

ops.. forgot to finish my thought...

The definition states "available empirical data about such observations." While science states that there can always be new empirical data (falsifiability as described in the Wikipedia entry), the entire concept of Torah is that it is divine, and therefore all encompassing, and there can be no additions made by man.

MNUnterberg said...

It is the rigorous standards of evidence and falsification that make science such a great describer of the universe. Science describes the physical world around us.

The Torah lays out the more important spiritual, moral and religious Truths by which we live our lives.

My position is that since these are two different realms, science and Torah can never contradict each other. They are talking about different things. While science answers the questions of what is out there and how does it work, the Torah is answering the questions of why is the world here and how should we live in it. Ultimately, both are tools to understand the world that Hashem created and put us in.

Any perceived contradiction is missing this important point.

Jocelyn said...

Woah, now. "The Torah lays out the more important spiritual, moral and religious Truths by which we live our lives. " I very much disagree with the use of "more important" here. Taken from a rationalistic, naturalistic standpoint, I can easily argue that developing a complex understanding of olam hazeh through Science is a crucial way of understanding how God continually puts His Hand in the world. This may be the closest we can get in modern times to nevuah. Additionally, Science not only allows one to understand the world, but also to effect changes in it-- to protect and rescue people from suffering. That's pretty huge. So as for your statement, I think Torah is crucial in teaching us how to understand and act ethically within the world, but Science allows us to actually do things within it.

MNUnterberg said...

I don't disagree, Jocelyn. I wouldn't want to get into a debate about wether religion or science have configured more to civilization.

I simply meant that at the individual level, religions Truths are more crucial to a life well lived. But there is no question that the collective work of scientists has moved civilization ahead by leaps and bound over the past few centuries.

Of course, we have also seen what happens when science and technology are removed from true ethics. Social Darwinism is a great example of the former, death camps of the latter.

Ultimately it returns to my earlier point that religion and science are each more important in their respective realms. In responding to Shraggie's points, I was acknowledging the centrality of Torah from his vantage point, and it's superior relevance to that perspective.

By separating the realms of science and Torah, I am not only arguing that they don't contradict, but also that they don't compete. Each is more important within their non-overlapping majesteria, to use S.J. Gould's term. They are complimentary.