Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Justified Conclusions

This is a question for those true rational believers out there. I understand that you believe the skeptics are dead wrong but my question is whether you see their views as justified.

Is it a justified conclusion for a person to view the Torah plainly, see the literary anachronisms, see the immoral commands, see the mythic nature of the stories and come to the conclusion that it was not penned, either directly or indirectly, by God?

Is it justified for a person to come to the Talmud, see the many mistakes those great rabbis made, see the logic used as contrived and faulty and come to the conclusion that the opinions and rulings in those many pages are without authority?

I'm not asking if you see the skeptics as being _right_ but of being justified in their views. Justified means that both you and the skeptic recognize that these issues do exist but that as opposed to you they come to different conclusions. These conclusions are not wild and crazy but indeed rationally constructed with the evidence at hand.

As an example, sure, you may not buy the Documentary Hypothesis, but is it a wild conclusion based on nothing but a madman's imagination? Or do you see how one can come to that conclusion even if you disagree with it?

So is skepticism justified? Or is faith the only justified path?

10 comments:

hayim said...

I am struggling to become this somewhat oxymoronic "true rational believer", and admit to still have a long way to go to reconcile Faith and Reason.

With that humble caveat in mind, let me just say that I see you as "justified" in the sense you yourself defined. I understand how you reached your conclusions, even though I do not share them.

I believe, from my discussions with people more advanced than me in the re-construction process, that it is indeed possible to find such a resolution, although the people who accomplish that are to be reached more often in academe and in yeshivot, whether UO or not.

I was told privately that in Y. Leibovitz's philosophy it is irrelevant if the Exodus happened or not, and will try to learn more about that in the future.

I am also currently reading Tamar Ross - her idea of cumulativism certainly espouses all the discoveries of DH, of a developing morality, and yet gives a basis to living as a fully observant Jew.

Etc. To me, having a Tradition is such an incredible asset in my life that I am understanbly very reluctant to declare it bankrupt. Could this be the main difference between a skeptic and a "true rational believer" ?

Orthoprax said...

Hayim,

I'm almost sorry to tell you this, but you sound pretty much like a skeptic already.

"I was told privately that in Y. Leibovitz's philosophy it is irrelevant if the Exodus happened or not, and will try to learn more about that in the future."

That's true, Leibowitz's philosophy is anti-metaphysics and calls all religious "facts" to be meaningless. In it a committment to halacha is a decision that is made for its own sake so it needs no justification.

The philosophy just tends to crumble because the view still requires a belief in God for which a halachic life is to worship. And to believe in God is to include some metaphysical connotations.

It also raises the question of why one should make the decision to choose a life of Halacha rather than a life of monkish meditation in a Buddhist temple, or whatever.

Ultimately, I think it's a complex, post-modernist explanation to justify following halacha even though you know it has no objective validity, but I also think it fails because you only need such an explanation if you already know that halacha has no objective validity in the first place.

But if it works for you, godspeed.

"I am also currently reading Tamar Ross - her idea of cumulativism certainly espouses all the discoveries of DH, of a developing morality, and yet gives a basis to living as a fully observant Jew."

It does, but not an _Orthodox_ Jew. If you believe in the DH, you cannot be Orthodox. And, btw, her ideas can be used to prove that Jesus was the next "message" from God too. I mean, how the hell can you know what's a real message or not?

"Etc. To me, having a Tradition is such an incredible asset in my life that I am understanbly very reluctant to declare it bankrupt. Could this be the main difference between a skeptic and a "true rational believer" ?"

I think not. I like tradition too and I'm also quite fond of it. But that doesn't mean I'm not skeptical of the factual claims behind it.

Sarah said...

Daniel,

Although his writing doesn't say this, Lebovitz's work always hints to me that he didn't really care whether or not there was a God.

For one thing, his view on Halacha suggests something of the sort. To Lebovitz, the end goal of Halacha is just that - following Halacha, and accordingly, he says there is no such thing as "coming closer to God." Such a statement, to me, implies that to him, whether or not there is a God is irrelevent. Halacha is the only thing that matters. Lebovitz does mention God a lot, but never in a context that changes anything about his view on Halacha being paramount. (To me, it seems like semantics ... the crowd he's talking to will never listen if God is not a part of it ... and mentioning God doesn't change his essential premise)

The answer to why one would want to live this life again needs to have nothing to do with God. It is the system Jews have been living in for years - one that unifies us in some way and helps us, as a nation, survive. Accordingly, he will consistently back the feminist position, saying that Halacha must change to fit a different social reality. It's the system he values, not it's being divine. As a Zionist, Lebowitz saw Israel as essential not because of God, but because of political, pragmatic reasons.

In addition, the fact that he has such problems with contemporary idolatry such as Messianism always strikes me. Why is it that Lebovitz has such problems with attributing things to God, with R' Kook's messianism in terms of Israel, etc? He says it's because anything coming outside of what the Halacha permits cannot be sanctified. There is no kedusha in the people. There is no kedusha in the land. Which always leads me to wonder: what is kadosh? And the answer is: God, and Halacha. And if Halacha is ultimately in our hands, then it seems to me that God's existence is essentially irelevant to him.

I could be projecting here, but this is always the hunch I get when reading him.

Orthoprax said...

Sarah,

The thing about Leibowitz's philosophy is that he isn't trying to create a new form of Judaism but rescuing the "pure" form by removing the meaningless religious "facts" and metaphysical notions. But in that admittance, that he isn't trying to recreate a system of religion, he cannot totally separate himself from the religion as it has been. And God is the giver and commander of Halacha in the original system.

Leibowtiz tries and jumps through hoops with word games, but ultimately making the decision to take upon the yolk of Halacha is to intend to act in activities which address God. And to address God is to recognize a metaphysical "something."

I think Leibowitz does have issues with the typical mental picture that believers have of God and I think he composed his whole religious theory so that he could dismiss such metaphysical understandings of a transcendent being. Does it matter to Leibowitz if an unbelievable super-being exists? I think he would say that what cannot be known, cannot be useful to us. He would duck the issue. Simply refuse to take a stance because a stance on such a "fact" stinks of metaphysics. But my point is that you simply cannot escape such metaphysical questions, but you can play word games and continuously duck the question indefinitely.

"It is the system Jews have been living in for years - one that unifies us in some way and helps us, as a nation, survive."

If that is your answer then you have failed the Leibowitz test. He says that one should engage in Halacha for its own sake, not for other reasons like for cultural or national unity.

"And if Halacha is ultimately in our hands, then it seems to me that God's existence is essentially irelevant to him."

Yes, irrelevant in some way, in his personal view perhaps, but God is the unshakable metaphysical ghost which haunts Leibowitz's philosophy.

hayim said...

Daniel,

"I'm almost sorry to tell you this, but you sound pretty much like a skeptic already."

Lol. You don't need to feel sorry for me, I know exactly where I am holding - the last year has been pretty hard on my previous BT UO hashkafa. But I am not ready to declare myself a skeptic, at least not yet.

I guess I am Ortho in prax, while the Dox department door has a huge sign with "under construction" written on it ! :)

My problem is that the "dark side of the Force" is easily accessible today - your blog (and others) is a case in point, together with Talk Reason etc.

Books, both scholarly and popular, can also be found without having to do too much research (one member of my shul became very upset at me recently, as he caught me reading "The Bible Unearthed").

What is on the other side ? Most rabbis I speak to don't seem to have a clue. And in the last 6 months I spent in the blogosphere, I can't recall Mis-Nagid losing any discussion (most people seem to just ignore his comments, for the sake of convenience).

Yet I still hope that some people have satisfactory answers - answers that will enable me to stay religious while not rejecting rationality. As I said, I think they are more to be found in universities than in yeshivot today, and that their views are not too widely known as of today.

Yes, maybe I am wrong and will regret the couple of cheeseburgers I will miss in the meantime ;). Time will tell.

"The philosophy just tends to crumble because the view still requires a belief in God for which a halachic life is to worship. And to believe in God is to include some metaphysical connotations."

Two quick points : 1. I am not so bothered by non-rationality at this point, much more by irrationality. Obviously religion requires you to make a leap of faith at some point, just it should not be too contradicted by plain facts !

2. (also with respect to Ross) whatever you might think of their philosophy, these people are intelligent fellows. They can be wrong, but I highly doubt you can disprove their whole belief system in just one paragraph like the one I quoted.

Sarah said...

"But my point is that you simply cannot escape such metaphysical questions, but you can play word games and continuously duck the question indefinitely."

I don't really see the problem with the ducking. If the question of whether or not God exists won't change one's actions, then essentially it would be correct to say that it's not useful and isn't worth discussing, just as it isn't worth discussing whether Exodus really occured.

"If that is your answer then you have failed the Leibowitz test. He says that one should engage in Halacha for its own sake, not for other reasons like for cultural or national unity."

You're right in that I was inserting me in there (should've mentioned that). But either way, I think that there's a lot to say about his view on Halacha. It's true that he's all about Halacha for Halacha's sake. But then you're forced to wonder what Halacha is that one would choose to follow it "for it's own sake." You've chosen to associate Halacha with God, as the "giver and commander." Fine - but Leibowitz says straight out that following Halacha has nothing to do with God, and that one cannot come closer to Him through Halacha. He really does separate the two as much as he possible. Add to that, the fact that he doesn't think Halacha is unchangeable and asserts that it must fit changing social realities, and I cannot help but think that "Halacha for Halacha's sake" really means Halacha for the system's sake. And that system is what keeps the Jewish people going.

Orthoprax said...

Hayim,

"Yet I still hope that some people have satisfactory answers - answers that will enable me to stay religious while not rejecting rationality."

Listen, I know you're trying and I hope this won't upset you, but you sound a hell of a lot like I did a couple of years ago. But I really, truly hope you do find what you seek - and when you do, you can stop back here and tell me about it.

"1. I am not so bothered by non-rationality at this point, much more by irrationality. Obviously religion requires you to make a leap of faith at some point, just it should not be too contradicted by plain facts !"

Were Judaism simply in accordance with how we know the world to work, none of these issues would ever come up.

"2. (also with respect to Ross) whatever you might think of their philosophy, these people are intelligent fellows. They can be wrong, but I highly doubt you can disprove their whole belief system in just one paragraph like the one I quoted."

I didn't try to "disprove" them, I was pointing out problems in their theories. Leibowitz, especially, cannot be "proven" wrong, because he doesn't claim anything to be factual. He can't be wrong anymore than basketball can be wrong.

Ross though, has severe problems in her thesis. How to tell what a true message is is a big one. I'm not telling you this as a full strength counter-argument, but just as a note for you to keep in mind as you study their views as you said you intend to do.

Orthoprax said...

Sarah,

"I don't really see the problem with the ducking."

The problem with ducking a serious question like this suggests that the philosophy is incomplete or flawed. That may not bother most people since just about every philosophical theory has a flaw or hundred, but this one is kind of a major sticking point in Leibowitzism.

Of course Leibowitz tries to get as far from God as possible, but since he's working "in the system" he just can't escape it.

Ahh! {sound of clanking chains that are not clanking} Metaphysical ghost!

Sarah said...

"but this one is kind of a major sticking point in Leibowitzism."

The difference I see is that I don't think it's necesarily a sticking point. True, it may be a flaw, a question he cannot answer, but I don't see that the flaw hinders the rest of his theory.

To me, the existence of God just doesn't matter all that much. I can however, see how that could bother you. Agree to disagree, I guess.

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