Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Halachic Holes

Consider for a moment what it would mean for the omniscient creator of the universe to design a system for living for the denizens of the universe. As I think of it, the system would be perfectly in tune with the way the universe works on a standard basis. Everything the people of the universe would come in contact with would fit perfectly into roles and categories designed by the omniscient creator and there would be no grey areas. Things would always work out. See, if the universe, people and the rules for people in the universe to live by were all composed by the same omniscient source, we should not expect any contradictions or problems between what the rules order and what reality is, right?

For example, if such a creator were to design a system that differentiates between men and women, and differentiates strongly at that, I would think the way of the universe would never allow for some grey area where the individual could be neither a male or female or both male and female, right? The situation should simply never come up. And yet it does. While relatively rare, individuals are born with intersexual anatomies that run the entire gamut between male and female. It is even possible, and cases have been documented, that a person can be born with one testes and one ovary.

If prayers were supposed to be given every day at specific times of the day depending on the placement of the Sun in the sky during the course of the day then I would think that there could never be a situation where a person could be living in a place where such a system wasn't in effect. Yet there are such places. At the higher latitudes there can be instances where the Sun doesn't set for six months or alternatively when it doesn't rise for six months. And then of course there is all that space outside of the Earth where one may not experience any sort of planetary revolution at all.

The point I'm making about all of this is that Halacha has certain assumptions built into it regarding the way of the world that never would have been assumed by the omniscient creator. If God was writing Halacha or otherwise ensuring its correctness through the ages it would never have these categorical errors in the first place. Prayer times would never have been defined by the position of the Sun because that's only useful in special cases. And otherwise, if the system required male or female in black and white terms, the world would not be designed in such a way that male and female status could be unclear. If God is the creator of both the world and Halacha then there should not be this disconnect which seems exactly like humans took their false or biased understanding of the world and built a legal system around that impression.

Now, of course, there are Halachic 'patches' for these and similar issues. If you go to the North Pole just follow the zmanim you would from where you come from. But this misses the point. You don't need patches on a perfect system. The point again is that these are categorical misapprehensions of the way the world works. Something an omniscient creator could never have done.

28 comments:

dbs said...

Nice post, but allow me to be the first to present you with the "lo bashamayim hee" argument. (Which I actually do believe, but a little differently from the frum readers.)

Torah is not a sterile paint-by-numbers book of pat answers - it is a living, breathing code which offers its wisdom only to the degree which we strive to recieve it.

Or not.

Orthoprax said...

DBS,

"but allow me to be the first to present you with the "lo bashamayim hee" argument."

Funny you say that because I was thinking it as I was writing the post. The point is that it is true (as far as I understand the phrase anyway) - and there are many Orthodox believers who do understand Halacha as largely an artifical system based on scholarly guesswork but something that we're 'stuck with' until Moshiach sorts it all out for us.

Other Jews just aren't willing to see it that way.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax, Good point.

dbs, Isn't lo bashamayim hi what Orthoprax is saying? He's just not adding the bogus "God designed it as if He were an Ancient Near Easterner."

Anonymous said...

I think that generally speaking divine psychoanalysis is at least very shaky, at worst meaningless.

Promoters of the Torah, New Testament and Koran ALL claim that these books are so wonderful, God must have written them. Detractors all claim that these books are so bad, God could not have written them.

I will only point out that the level of violence, including domestic violence, and addiction disorders seems to lower in the Orthodox community than elsewhere, and that Judaism, when it originated, was probably the most original and distinctive religion in history. Since then, most of mankind has imitated it. If that suggests something about its divine origin, I guess that's up to you.

Orthoprax said...

JP,

"Promoters of the Torah, New Testament and Koran ALL claim that these books are so wonderful, God must have written them. Detractors all claim that these books are so bad, God could not have written them."

It's not a question of morality but of knowledge. Surely God would know his own world and hence He wouldn't design a legal system with misapprehensions about how the world works.

Or maybe He would, but that's for guys like you to explain...if you can.

Anonymous said...

Well, the times of prayers are based upon the times of day when the sacrifices were brought. The sacrifices were brought only in Jerusalem, which, last time I checked, is quite far from the Polar Regions. Hence, there will never be a problem.

There are special halochos to deal with androgynous individuals as well. Ask rabbi if you have that problem.

Orthoprax said...

JP,

"There are special halochos to deal with androgynous individuals as well."

Yes, like I said, they have patches on the system. The point is that a perfect system shouldn't need patches in the first place. Halacha puts black and white judgements on a world that is stubbornly filled with greys.

A good example that I can think of is simply the way the calender works out. Why in the hell would the year be 365 and 1/4 days long? Why do we need leap years and intercalated months in the first place? If the year and 'holy times' were designed by God as a system then these irregularities wouldn't exist. Otherwise it is apparent that we are forcing our desire for regularity on a stubborn irregular universe.

If these things were designed together they should fit together and not seem like we are forcing them to mesh.

Anonymous said...

OP, I don't see the kashia. A fundie answer is that Hafoch Bah, Vhafoch Bah.... It's all in the torah if you know where to look.

Anonymous said...

"Something an omniscient Creator could never have done."

Is this not an oxymoron? you simultaneouly use the word "omniscient" and imply that there is something He can't do.

I don't think the Torah is as black and white as you say it is. There are nuances all over the place. But perhaps the best way - that is most accurate - to describe it is think of the Torah as a framework sort of made out of silly putty that you can re-shape when you need to. still the same basic material, but can be pushed into different shapes.ok no that's not the best way, but it's all I got at the moment.

Orthoprax said...

Baal,

Fundamentalists have answers for everything, but the point I'm making here is that it is apparent from a casual understanding of the system that it is a human 'fix' on the physical universe and not a specially created function for it.

As in my above example, the fact that the length of a year is irregular indicates that it wasn't designed to be part of a system by which humans ought to live. A human system was draped over the irregular year and we manage through the irregularity. We are creating the regular existence for ourselves, it is not inherent to the way of the world.

The irregularities which Halacha needs to bend around indicates that they did not have a common source.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"Is this not an oxymoron? you simultaneouly use the word "omniscient" and imply that there is something He can't do."

In a logical sense He can't do it. If He is omniscient - i.e. all knowing, He cannot have misapprehensions of the way the world works - i.e. not know something. So no, it is not an oxymoron.

"I don't think the Torah is as black and white as you say it is. There are nuances all over the place."

As in all legal systems, stuff has to fit in categories by which we can deal with them. The fact that some things don't fit neatly into categories is a testament to the fact that the system and the universe don't see eye to eye.

"But perhaps the best way - that is most accurate - to describe it is think of the Torah as a framework sort of made out of silly putty that you can re-shape when you need to. still the same basic material, but can be pushed into different shapes.ok no that's not the best way, but it's all I got at the moment."

Yes, just like all human systems it is flexible to an extent. But that's not really the point I'm making. The point is about those categorical misunderstandings that Halacha adopts.

Rabban Gamliel said...

In all things we start as our frame of reference the familiar. By definition the perfect world is the world we have. I don't believe in a nonsensical world. There's no need for science, or philosophy in such a world.

Anonymous said...

OP,

Actually, you're really 100% correct. Of course the fundies will slip around it.

I should have said "Great Post"

alex said...

"there are Halachic 'patches' for these and similar issues"

Patches? or Contingencies? -- Depends on your viewpoint. (Of course, the one who says "contingencies" will get labeled as a fundie by Baal Habos.

No matter how perfect *you* (the generic 'you') would design the universe, someone else could design it even more perfect.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

It's not about perfection for the sake of perfection, but a regularity that would exist in a designed system with Halacha in mind. Even contingencies wouldn't be necessary if the system was designed alongside nature.

Anonymous said...

And if Darwinian evolution is true why does it need constant patches?

Anonymous said...

I think I finally got your question, Orthoprax. You're asking: If God created the universe and He authored the Torah, why didn't He design the universe to make Torah observance more convenient? Like why aren't we born with a netilas yedayim cup attached to our elbows? Or why don’t we have a compass on our noses which we can use to figure out which direction to face while praying?

That's a great question, and answer is that I'm sure God has His reasons for making life a little bit difficult and complicated for us. Perhaps, for one thing, we will be worthy of more reward for having persevered in this difficult and complicated world. As the Talmudic sages taught: God wished to increase the merit of Israel, therefore He increased the Torah and commandments.

Orthoprax said...

JP,

"And if Darwinian evolution is true why does it need constant patches?"

Clearly where patches are needed there are other factors at work. Evolutionary theory is quite obviously and openly a human model.

"I think I finally got your question, Orthoprax. You're asking: If God created the universe and He authored the Torah, why didn't He design the universe to make Torah observance more convenient?"

No, that's not what I am asking at all.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that I really don't get the point of your argument. Take, for example. davening times. How, in your omniscient G-d model, would they have been designed? By absolute time scales that the people who kept the religion had no way of measuring? Even if one should believe that the entire halachic system is straight from G-d (not my personal belief) it's going to have to work out for those to whom it's being given. Creating a whole system and confusingness around the incredibly few people who are neither male nor female is not Divine, it's simply silly.

Now, the corollary part of your question is 'why didn't G-d make the world as simple as the halachic system necessarily had to be?' And to me, the question is equally answerable- G-d created the world by taking a very few laws of nature and then letting them go crazy and figure things out on their own. Why doesn't the sun work out in neat little 300 day cycles? Because there is no reason, according to the laws of nature, why it should do so. And G-d is hardly going to swoop in and miraculously rearrange things to make the calendar easier. For one thing, there's no reason to do so, and besides, it would be a bit unsubtle for His usual interactions with nature. Similiarly, people are born neither male or female because G-d ordered the world around gene and cells and things that can occasionally go wrong- necessarily for evolution and people being different and all sorts of things- and it's hardly going to happen that mutations can occur in any area except that one specific one.

All of this, of course, is according to the theory that all of Halacha is equally designed by G-d at or before the creation of the earth. Not necessarily exactly what I myself believe, but I don't see your objections as a proof against.

Orthoprax said...

Tobie,

It's not a proof at all, it's simply suggestive of a non-correlation.

"How, in your omniscient G-d model, would they have been designed? By absolute time scales that the people who kept the religion had no way of measuring?"

Why did davening need to be at specific times of day in the first place? What about a formulation that centered around meal times, for example? But it's really not the point of what else could have been done, I'm just pointing out the flaws in the system which were apparently based on natural phenomena.

"And to me, the question is equally answerable- G-d created the world by taking a very few laws of nature and then letting them go crazy and figure things out on their own."

Ok...but that's hardly an answer in its own right. You're basically saying that God, in fact, did _not_ design our world. I'm not sure many Orthodox people would be comfortable with that.

If things _were_ neat then the world would appear designed for our lives.

The point is that if Halacha and the universe came from the same source they would mesh better rather than appear as if one is being thrusted onto the other. One being forced on the other suggests separate origins.

Anonymous said...

"The point I'm making about all of this is that Halacha has certain assumptions built into it regarding the way of the world that never would have been assumed by the omniscient creator."

Like what? The examples you give are of unusual situations which, because they are rarely if ever practically applicable, rabbis are uncertain about what the halochah is. To say that an omniscient God would not ask Jews to pray morning, noon and night because there would someday be Orthodox Jewish polar explorers or astronauts (have there ever been yet?) I think is ridiculous.

Orthoprax said...

JP,

Did the rabbis make Halacha or did God? If the rabbis, as flawed human beings, made a faulty Halacha based on non-omnisicient comprehension of nature then we have no argument.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax - is your claim that G-d did not create halacha, or that G-d did not create nature? and that if He had, it should somehow be more conducive to halacha observance? G-d could have created nature and then expected us to fit halacha around the way He created it, bc that's how halacha works- we form it to fit around our daily lives. what better way to teach people how to create their own system than by making difficulties for them to work around?

I personally see no reason why G-d shouldn't have created the world any way He liked; why should He make everything neat and tidy? maybe He just didn't feel like it. It's not a very intellectual argument, I admit, but there's no especial reason that G-d should have created the world in accordance with intellectual arguments.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"is your claim that G-d did not create halacha, or that G-d did not create nature?"

I'm not making an ontological argument, I'm just saying that the beliefs that a) God designed the world and b) that God designed Halacha do not jive well together.

"G-d could have created nature and then expected us to fit halacha around the way He created it, bc that's how halacha works- we form it to fit around our daily lives."

Sure, could have. But then you've simply gone the other way with the argument as opposed to Tobie above. For you, Halacha has been designed by man, not by God. The next question from this then is why should we consider Halacha on a higher status than other manmade systems?

"I personally see no reason why G-d shouldn't have created the world any way He liked; why should He make everything neat and tidy? maybe He just didn't feel like it."

Ok, you could make up any number of reasons why you believe God acted as you believe He did but then you have to at least acknowledge the issue I have raised - that the world does not appear to be designed with Halacha in mind.

I never claimed it was a knock down argument or a proof of any type. It is simply a demonstration of a lack of correlation.

Anonymous said...

You are right- in my comment above, I lapsed into my own positions. But I think that the standard charedi has his own basic quiver of arguments: Hashem couldn't make it too clear that He had created the world with the Torah in mind, because then it would all be too obvious and there wouldn't be free will; Hashem wanted to make Torah study more complicated and difficult, to give us rewards for the effort we put into it; the world is created in accordance with a deeper, more sophisticated plan that we can have no idea of comprehending it; halacha ditto ditto ditto; and probably plenty of others that don't come to mind at the moment.

And I'm afraid I don't get the point of this 'demonstration of a lack of correlation'. In the post, it sounded like your ta-da proof against halacha being written by the omnipotent Creator. If that's not what it's about, why does the lack of correlation matter? Many things fail to conclusively demonstrate that Hashem wrote the Torah- is this simply another example of one of those things?

alex said...

If I can just tweak what I wrote above, so that my *real* point would come through... I had written "No matter how perfect *you* (the generic 'you') would design the universe, someone else could design it even more perfect."

New version: "No matter how harmonious *you* (the generic 'you') would design the universe-halacha interaction, someone else could design it even more harmonious."

Orthoprax said...

Tobie,

One can come up with a limitless number of ad hoc explanations for the issue I raised. You have to use your reason and see them for the unfounded answers that they are.

Like I said, I hadn't attempted a 'proof' but I do believe that it is an argument against the belief in the two assertions I laid out above. It is an argument to show that it makes more sense to simply understand that one or both of the beliefs are not true since your alternative is to come up with some unconvincing ad hoc explanation.

If one or both beliefs are not true then we see the world as we'd expect it to be. We would not expect nature and Halacha to mesh together - just like we wouldn't expect any human system to mesh with nature.

I think my argument here is on a similar theme as 'problem of evil' type questions. The world just isn't the way we would expect it to be given the theology's beliefs.

And just like for the problem of evil, theists have come up with series of ad hoc explanations that are really unconvincing.


Alex,

"New version: "No matter how harmonious *you* (the generic 'you') would design the universe-halacha interaction, someone else could design it even more harmonious.""

Perhaps, but the fact remains that they are not harmonious in some gross respects. Obviously my argument would be much less compelling if there weren't these clear cases of basic misapprehension of nature going on in Halacha.

alex said...

I think your answer is fine, but I do believe that the meaning of "gross respects" is in the eye of the beholder. Apparently, a couple of your readers, including myself, think the respects aren't so gross.