Saturday, June 28, 2008

Evolution Shemvolution

In the tradition of Jewish Philosopher, my first post:

The Theory of Evolution has long been disproved. As if another nail were needed for the coffin into which Charles Darwin and his Theory are decomposing, here is one more proof.

According to Evolutionists, random mutations in a gene pool, aided by natural selection, prove beneficial and propel the gradual improvement of species. As well, new species form from this process. Species’ problems are solved using this technique. So, if a camel is having trouble reaching the top branches of a tree, well then natural selection favors the camel who has a mutation that codes for a longer neck, and wholla, a giraffe is evolved!

And since there are many copies of a camel and a nearly infinite evolutionary time, then all manner of problems is solved with mutations and natural selection. So, you are a species having problem swimming? Well then you can evolve from a cow to a whale! Suddenly a cow is able to swim in oceans, flipping its newly evolved fins and holding its breath as it dives deep in ocean waters!

But, if Evolution and natural selection are so good at solving very complex problems like allowing for a cow to evolve into a whale, then how come Evolution has not been able to cure the age old Cancer problem? Diverse species from humans to mice, to sharks, to plants, all develop cancer. And as we know, cancer is not good for survival of an organism. So how come, if evolution is so good at solving problems – given that it has had billions of years to work on this problem – it has not been able to find a solution for cancer?

The cancer problem is yet another proof of the absurdity that is evolution. To A god fearing person it is obvious that cancers are consequences of sins committed by individuals. It is God’s way of evening a score. George Collins, by now, can teach you a thing or two about the consequences of heresy and God's punishment!

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Sad Day

Truthful ideas can weather criticism. A correct theory will survive logical attacks, and proponents of correct theories should not and generally are not afraid of critical analysis.

Yet religious concepts have a tough time withstanding logical criticism. When I scan the internet, I find no shortage of orthodox Jewish blogs. Very few of them, though, are open to honest discussion. The comment sections of these blogs are generally not friendly to critics.

One notable exception to this was the so-called “Jewish philosopher” (to be found at I liked reading and commenting on this blog mainly because the blog represented Orthodox Jewish thinking without apology, and because it accepted frank criticism of its ideas.

In fact, besides the “Jewish Philosopher” blog, I am unaware of any other blog that unabashedly represents Orthodox Jewish ideas, and is willing to defend itself against criticism. No other Jewish blog was willing to tackle Evolution Theory, Jewish Orthodoxy’s views on atheism, authenticity of the Torah, the view of Jews about non-Jews, and God’s alleged relations with people. Although I frequently heard opinions similar to Jewish Philosopher in Orthodox Jewish circles, no one was willing to place these opinions in writing and defend them. No one was willing to attempt to defend these ideas in a forum where opinions could be openly exchanged. No one, except JP!

A group of very smart readers and commentators had blossomed around JP’s blog and regularly left comments. Generally no one was able to change one another’s opinions, at least not by anyone’s admission, but there was, I felt, an honest exchange of opinions. It was fun to see and anticipate the comments of people following a new blog post, and I certainly took some time every day to read this entertaining blog.

So I was saddened to see that this last blog go by the wayside. As of a couple of days ago, ‘the Jewish Philosopher’ has begun ‘moderating’ the comments section, in effect censoring dissenting commentary. Now, it is important to mention that no one has used foul language and aside from the usual banter and playful put downs, no one generally left obscene or grossly demeaning commentary. So, I must conclude that the reason for moderating the comments section must have been the withering and generally successful criticisms of Orthodox Jewish ideas. I guess the kitchen got a bit too hot and JP felt that he had to get out of it.

Too bad!

It is thus my intention to pick up where JP failingly left off. I will provide blog entries similar to ‘the Jewish Philosopher’ in order to introduce Orthodox Jewish or religious ideas in order to provide a forum for commentary. Of course, I am unable to provide perverse and tortured logical constructs, the kind JP masterfully and consistently delivers. But I will try to deliver blogs to serve as springboards for further discussion and commentary. For those who wish to contribute blog writings so that we can provide frequent and consistent entries, please let me know.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Occam's Razor

I recently engaged a fellow blogger (Orthoprax) in a rather lengthy and tedious argument. I asked him how he knows that God, if He exists, is one. He replied that God is postulated to be singular on the ground of parsimony. He stated that it is a simpler hypothesis to assume that God is one rather than more than one. Needless to say I was unsuccessful in my attempts to convince him otherwise. At one point he called my attempts “annoying” and repetitive.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the concept of parsimony or Occam’s Razor. So, I will make another attempt on my blog, where the neighborhood is a bit friendlier.

First, Parsimony, or Occam’s Razor is a logical principle, which states the following:

All else being equal, the simplest hypothesis proposed as an explanation to a given phenomenon is more likely to be the true one among alternate hypotheses.

This is a rather useful principle and is frequently used in scientific thought and in everyday decision making. Let me give some examples:

Suppose you wake up one winter morning and notice that the ground is covered with snow. You wonder what happened at night when you were sleeping. The possibilities are as follows:

  1. It snowed last night and the ground was covered with snow.
  2. A group of professionals with snow making machinery came in when you were sleeping and worked all night to fill the streets with artificial snow.
  3. It started snowing last night, but the snow fall was brief. Following the brief period of snow, the professionals came and augmented the snow with powder.

If you had no other data than the information given to you above, which choice would you consider more likely?

You might say that choice #1 is more likely since it only assumes the occurrence of a common and natural process, namely the occurrence of snow in winter time. It is simpler to assume that the ground would be covered by natural snow than man made snow, given that we routinely see natural snow in the winter. You might say that choice #1 is more parsimonious, and thus more likely to be true.

But suppose now that you lived in Southern California. Here, the occurrence of snow is much less common. It is very uncommon to see snow in the Southern California. Perhaps in anticipation of an upcoming motion picture filming, a crew equipped with snow making machinery really made snow to cover your street. Given the information of your location makes possibility 1 and 2 somewhat equally parsimonious. Possibility #3 is not parsimonious since it assumes both snow in a warm climate and existence of machinery. All else being equal, possibility #3 is not parsimonious.

What we learn from the above example are:

  1. Hypotheses which make the least number of assumptions are more likely to be true, all else being the same.
  2. When further information is provided, the parsimony of a given hypothesis is altered.

Now let’s consider one more example:

Suppose I wish to know how many inches of snow are on the ground in place X in the winter. The choices are:

  1. 1 inch
  2. 2 inches
  3. 3 inches

Having no further information, and knowing nothing about place X, can we decide which is the most likely answer? Can we by parsimony argue that choice #1 must be the correct answer since it is the simplest? If not, why not?

Notice here, that the choosing “1 inch” of snow is not any more parsimonious than the other choices.

Let’s see another example:

Last night I went to a party; guess how many people were there:

  1. 5
  2. 10
  3. 20

Here, again, note that we can not give a reasonable guess based simply on parsimony. Any one guess is as good as any other.

Now, one final example:

I own an elaborate watch. How many people have constructed it?

  1. 1
  2. 5
  3. 10

Here, again, notice, that without any further information, we can not guess on the number of people which have made my watch. We can make an educated guess, saying that from what we know usually a team of workers come together to make watches, but this draws from extraneous information. The point is that parsimony does not allow for making this choice.

Now, for the question at hand:

HOW MANY GODS ARE THERE? The choices are:

  1. One
  2. More than one.

I have given an example of how we can use the concept of parsimony to make choices, and I have given examples of circumstances where we can not. Now, to which of these examples does this question belong?

Is it parsimonious to assume that God is one? If so, why?

This fact is that there is no basis to assume that God, if he exists, is one!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Shemitah, Continued

I have to say that when I first read about the laws of Shemitah, I did not realize that there is a uniform year of Shemitah for every one. I simply assumed that each landowner’s shemitah falls on a different year. Farmer A could have his shemitah in 2007, where farmer B would have his Shemitah year in 2008.

I was stunned to learn that Shemitah year all falls in the same year! There is no place in the Torah that requires that Shemitah years be synchronized. Why then do we do this?

Would it not make more sense if Shemitah years were staggered so that at a given time only a maximum of 1/7th of the land would be at rest? This way, the land of Israel would not have to starve (or rely on imports of food) for a year every seven years. Actually, Israel, if it were completely under the rule of the Shemitah would suffer for 2 out of 7 seven years in that it takes a year to sow and reap.

Can anyone come up with a reason (other than simple tradition) for why staggered shemitah years would be against Halacha?
Similarly, it occurs to me that we as Jews have abandoned the so-called "jubilee" year. This year apparently occurs every seven Shemitah cycles (ie. every 49 years). Here, all leased land reverts to the original owner. I think, in a classic cop-out, where the rabbis, deciding that Jubilee years are decidedly bad and impractical, declared that the year of Jubilee is unknown, AND THEREFORE SHOULD BE IGNORED! If this is not an example of outrageous cynicism, I do not know what is! It would be as if the rabbis declared that it is not possible to measure exactly what time Shabbat begins, SO LET'S IGNORE SHABBAT!
Dear reader, does this make any sense?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Chanukah is celebrated along the same general time as Christmas, giving us Jews a way to share in the celebration of the season. But what is Chanukah about? What are the religious origins of Chanukah; what are its traditions and requirements?

I attended a lecture given by an Orthodox Rabbi about Chanukah. This Rabbi stated that there are two historical reasons for why Chanukah is celebrated:

1. Chanukah is celebrated in remembrance of ancient wars fought by the Macabees (a group of Jews) against the Greek Empire.
2. When The Macabees fought the Greeks and won the battle for Jerusalem, and when the Jews recaptured the Holy Temple (Beth Hamighdash), they searched their stores and were able only to find enough oil to light the Holy Temple for one day. Yet, by a miracle, the oil lasted a full eight days! Chanukah is celebrated as a remembrance of this miracle of lights.

Chanukah, therefore, according to this Rabbi celebrates first the Military victory of the Macabees against the Greeks and second the miracle of Hashem in causing the light to last longer than expected. This is the traditional explanation that is given for the festival of Chanukah.

I have heard this explanation before regarding Chanukah, and I am willing to bet that the reader has also heard a substantially identical explanation for this holiday. Sounds good, doesn’t it, that we as Jews fought and won a war, aided by God, and celebrated the outcome, having been gifted a miracle in the process?

As usual, though, when it comes to religion, things are a lot more complicated than they seem. Let us analyze the holiday of Chanukah.

Is Chanukah a religious holiday? I asked my Rabbi whether Chanukah is a religious or secular festival. He looked at me as if I had two heads and said, “of course it is a religious holiday”.

But if Chanukah is a religious holiday, then it should be mentioned in the Torah, right? Well, it turns out that the five books of the Torah do not mention Chanukah at all. In fact, the five books of Torah end with the death of Moses, more than a 1,000 years before the Macabees. I looked up the so called, ‘Tanakh’, which are the later books of the so-called ‘Torah’, and, again, Chanukah is not mentioned in these texts at all.

So I went back to my Rabbi, somewhat timidly, and asked whether he can tell me where in the religious books is the festival of the Chanukah mentioned. He told me that I should look in the “Books of Macabees”.

In the Jewish library at Aish, I found the Books of Macabbes. There are two books of Macabees, in fact, which describe the goings on of the wars of the Syrian division of the Greek Empire with the Jews. The Macabees, it turns out, were a family of Jews, Kohens, who were outraged at the tyranny of the Syrian rule of the Jews around year 170 BC. The Macabees were five brothers, who were amazing fighters and were able to win several battles against their enemies. In one battle, by no means the last, the Macabees were able to capture Jerusalem and to free the Holy Temple. The Book of Macabees describes the devastated state in which the Temple was found, and the desecration that was done to the temple by the Syrians. The Macabees cleaned the temple and resumed the sacrifices. They also proclaimed that from that date forward, the battle should be commemorated as an eight-day holiday.

But here is the problem: the Book of Macabees is not considered to be part of the Torah. I carefully studied the contents of books that are considered to be part of the Torah, and the Book of Macabees is not part of the Torah. In fact, I was able to find documentation, wherein the earlier Rabbis had debated which book to include and exclude into the Torah. The Book of Macabees, alas, did not make it!

So, again, I have a problem: If Chanukah is a religious holiday, then where is this holiday sanctioned? The book of Macabees cannot be such a source, since it is not considered a holy text. As usual, when it comes to religion, things are more complicated than they appear.

At the risk of digression, I want to spend one paragraph pointing out that it seems ludicrous that the Rabbis have decided what text is holy and what text is not. They have decided, for example, that the Book of Jonah, where prophet Jonah is swallowed by a whale only to survive, is indeed a holy book. Questioning the contents of the book of Jonah is therefore tantamount to blasphemy. The Rabbis have included texts into the religious cannon as they saw fit. We must say that the Book of Jonah is the Torah, because they decided that it is so. If we question it, we are heathens! In their ultimate wisdom, they have decided that the Book of Macabees is not part of the Torah. So they have to live with that consequence as well. The tradition of Chanukah as a religious holiday, then, cannot come from this book.

But let us assume for the moment that the Book of Macabees is a holy text. Let us say that it carries religious authority. I have carefully read the book, and there was no mention whatsoever of any miracles of oil lasting longer than its usual time. Nowhere in the book is such a miracle mentioned. Judah Macabee declared the holiday of Chanukah as a joy of a military victory, not as a celebration of a miracle of God. If this event of a case of oil lasting more than one day was so miraculous, why I wonder was it not mentioned at all in a book that chronicles those events from a Jewish perspective?

I went back to my Rabbi and once again asked: “Rabbi, if Chanukah is a religious holiday, where is to be found in the Torah?” This time, the Rabbi told me to look in the Talmud.

Once again, I went to the Aish library and studied the relevant portion of the Talmud. It turns out that even in the Talmud, Chanukah is mentioned very briefly. There is a paragraph, encompassing one third of the page about this holiday. There, indeed, the Talmud mentions the miracle of the oil lasting eight days instead of one, and there, the purpose of the holiday is given to be entirely this miracle. The Talmud does not mention the Macabees and does not at all describe the battles of the Jews. It simply states that a case of oil that was supposed to last one day actually lasted eight days.

So there we have it - the source of Chanukah is the Talmud.

But wait a minute! Isn’t the Talmud a chronicle of the so-called ‘Oral Torah’? I thought that Orthodox Rabbis consider the Talmud as the writings of oral communications of Moses with God on Mount Sinai. This is what the Talmud supposed to be, is it not? Put more simply, I thought that the Talmud was the written communication of oral teachings of God to Moses. So, do the Rabbis mean to say that the Holiday of Chanukah, which occurred over 1,000 years after Moses’ death was communicated to Moses on Mount Sinai? Am I missing something?

Either the Talmud is not the culmination of oral teachings at Mount Sinai, or if it is, the story of Chanukah does not belong in the Talmud. There is, of course, the possibility that the Rabbis have added the story of Chanukah to the Talmud after the fact, conveniently inserting a ‘miracle’ in order to transform a military victory celebration into a religious holiday.

It is important to keep in mind that the Talmud is a vast book, encompassing many sections. The Talmud began to be written about 500 years CE and took hundreds of years to complete (The Mishna was written around 200 CE and the Talmud about 500 CE). At the earliest, then, the passage mentioning the miracle of Chanukah must have been written some six hundred years after the Macabee wars. The so-called miracle of oil was not reported until six hundred years after the event. The book of Macabees, which was written at the time of the war, does not mention the miracle. Yet the Talmud, which was written 600 years later, does. Does this sound suspicious to you as well?

Did a miracle really take place? You can see that there is room for doubt.

But let us assume that the miracle of lights really did take place. Let us say that when the Jews reclaimed the Holy Temple, there was only enough oil left to light the Menorah for one day, but somehow the oil lasted for eight days. Let us assume that this was an intervention from God. My question simply is, SO? Is it really important that the light lasted longer than it was supposed to?

Remember that during the wars talked about in the Macabee period, thousands of Jews died. Entire generations of Jews were lost. The Holy Temple was desecrated. Even when the Jews through the Macabees sustained a victory, the bloodshed did not stop. For years after the Jews retook Jerusalem, the war raged on at a terrible cost to the Jews. Ultimately, the Jews lost the war and were once again subjugated. So if God were to intervene on behalf of the Jews, was it enough that he caused a supply of oil to last longer than it was supposed to?

In what way was the light that lasted eight days a necessary event? If the lights dimmed or went out of the Menorah briefly, would that have been a terrible tragedy? The Holy Temple had been desecrated by the Syrians; Pigs were slaughtered at Beth Hamighdash; unspeakable horror was committed there. Given this, if the Menorah ran out of oil, would it have been such an earth-shattering event? Couldn’t the Jews simply go out and produce some more oil to rekindle the candelabra? This is what God’s miracles are made of? This is the majesty of God?

God did not interfere when hogs were brought to the Holy of Holies and slaughtered at the alter. Yet he caused a miracle of lights such that a can of oil lasted longer. Big deal!

I remember about a year ago, I had bought a cellular phone and forgot to recharge it. But to my pleasant surprise, the phone functioned some two days more than the manufacture’s suggested charge life. A miracle, right? No doubt that six hundred years from now, when my bones have turned into pulp, someone will write about my cellular phone and state that this is a miracle of God, and that we have to celebrate this occasion!

Who are we kidding?

In preparation for this article, I scanned the books that were available for sale at “”. There are many books on the subject of Chanukah. The books deal with a number of subjects from cooking for the occasion, to Chanukah songs, to describing Chanukah to children. I even found a book of Chanukah told from a perspective of a Jewish lesbian in a household composed of a child with “two mommies”. But what I did not find was a realistic treatment of the holiday, its true origins, its true history, and its objective historical analysis. It is as if the Jews have forgotten to ask questions about their religion and their religious holidays. What has become of us?

The story of Chanukah arose out of a military victory. Chanukah is the celebration of a battle won by the Jews – a battle in a war that the Jews ultimately lost. There is nothing magical about this event or this battle. Jews fought, probably courageously, with considerable loss of life. The Macabees were probably brilliant military tacticians who may have overcome military superiority of the enemy. It is not unusual in the military chronicles for a numerically inferior force to win battles, especially in circumstances where the force is defending its homeland. The Jews fought courageously and well. Their winning of a battle is indeed a cause for celebration. To invoke a miracle, and somehow ascribe the achievements to God’s intervention is to cheapen their efforts. To say that Chanukah is a commemoration of a miracle is to lower the value of Jews’ efforts at winning freedom for their homeland.

Forget that the oil was supposed to last one day but lasted longer. I do not care! Remember, instead, that our ancestors rose up against a mighty enemy, and courageously fought back. Remember that the Jews united in an effort to preserve their way of life. Remember the Jewish heroes. Sing songs about Judah and Simeon Macabee who fought brilliant battles. Light candles (in a Menorah if you want) to commemorate the brave Jews who fell in those battles. Remember your fellow Jews who came and went through the arrow of history. Remember your brethren; forget the meaningless ‘miracles’ concocted by the Rabbis’ imaginations. Celebrate Chanukah for what it should be – the commemoration of the triumph of the Jewish people against adversity.
When people ask you, “Why do we celebrate Chanukah?” tell them we celebrate the victory of the Jewish people from their enemies. We light candles to remember the joy of winning as a united nation of Jews. Take religion out of Chanukah.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shemitah, Continued

As I mentioned in the previous blogs, the law of Shemitah as found in the Torah was an attempt to rest the land from farming every seven years. The Shemitah allowed for a Sabbath for the land. Additionally, upon the commencement of the Shemitah year, all debts were canceled, and all bondages were released.

The law of Shemitah was ostensibly the Torah’s way of being compassionate, allowing the poor to partake of the fruits of an uncultivated land. The poor also were given an opportunity every seven years to escape eternal debt.

There is no doubt that the roots of this law are compassionate. It is clear that the author of the law of Shemitah wished to ease the burden of the poor and orphans in obtaining food and in escaping from eternal debt. Kudos to the author of Torah for having his (?) heart in the right place!

The problem is that the law of Shemitah is not realistic. If I am lender of money and know that the year of Shemitah is approaching, then I would be crazy to lend money to anyone, knowing that the debt would soon be voided. Why would I want to lend any money when I know that the year of Shemitah is approaching? I would imagine that all lending, effectively all business would grind to a halt as the Shemitah year is approaching. The poor and those in need would have trouble borrowing money even if they have every intention to repay their debt.

In many ways, this law of Shemitah reminds me of communism. Both systems were rooted in compassion but in the end they both proved unrealistic. The trouble is that whereas the failed communistic system can be attributed to failings of human social design, the rule of Shemitah is the making of God. Now, the question is, how could an all knowing God, in his design of the Shemitah, fail so spectacularly in failing to foresee the nature of humans, his creation?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

On Shmita (Shemitah), continued

The laws of the Shmita, or the sabattical year, are fascinating. In the coming blogs, I wish to explore the concept of Shmita.

Leviticus 25: "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto HaShem."

It is clear from this passage that God views the Shmita year as a sort of Sabbath for himself. God is saying that the Shmita year is important to him just as a Sabbath is important to us!

So, it should be that, if Shmita is so important to Hashem, then we should not only honor it in the land of Israel, but everywhere! If God deems that it is important that the land should rest every 7 years, then why would this not apply to lands outside Israel? If Shmita is good, when would it be good only for Israel?