Q & A

Various questions asked over the World Wide Web:
Q: At what point does Nevuah (Prophecy) come into play when determining Halacha?  For example, if I am trying to understand a part of Torah, but cannot determine the meaning, and I have some vision or inclination which pushes me towards a decision, is that correct?  Or
should be simply focus on the pure nature of logical reasoning and the human brain to determine the outcome of whatever G-D intended for us to learn in the Torah? (Michael)

A: It is a Machloket between the two greatest Jewish philosophers of the middle ages – Rambam and Kuzari (not much a surprise there).
According to Rambam the answer is – prophecy plays no role in deciding Halacha. If Eliyahu Hanavi were to walk into the Sanhedrin while they were contemplating a Halachik matter and proclaim “Hashem told me that normative Halacha in this matter should be according to this and that opinion”, Rambam says that the appropriate, Halachic, response by Sanhedrin would be: “string him up”. By claiming that Hashem told him what the Halacha is, he has proven to be a false prophet, whose punishment is death by strangulation. This is because Hashem has already transmitted His normative instructions once, and only once, and that was- to Moshe. That revelation includes all necessary rules, tools and information to decide all future matters. It’s like a constitution and legal system, based on which the authoritative bodies can deduce and decide everything.
The role of prophecy (in the public sphere) is very specific:
i. To warn/instruct/inspire the nation/s about their moral and religious conduct
ii. To transmit specific instructions from God, to do with a non-Halachic political issues (usually during war times and such)
A prophet may, of course, participate in Halachic debates and forums but only as one of the Chachamim, basing himself on the same rules, sources and logic.

The Kuzari, on the other hand, has a very different approach to prophecy for which we do not have time at the moment. The short version is that according to Rabbi Yehudah Halevi the answer is – yes. Prophecy is the best way to determine Halacha whenever it may appear. For instance, he states that the prohibition of לא תוסיפו ולא תגרעו ממנו – not to add or detract from the Mitzvot of the Torah is directed at the masses but the high court, which sits in Beit Hamikdash and is assisted from Above can “add or detract”, as they are a direct continuation of the revelation at Har Sinai.
And if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard this amazing concept, it’s because it’s indeed frightening. Especially considering Christianity was built on the concept of a “new revelation” which annulled so much of the original revelation. That’s not at all to say that – God forbid – the Kuzari is wrong, just why it is so less known than the Rambam on this. By the way – Ramban has a very similar approach to that of the Kuzari.

BUT. Even the Kuzari is talking about actual prophecy. That does not include you “having some vision or inclination which pushes you towards a decision”. That can, and most probably is, motivated by many things you may or may not be aware of – your intellectual and/or moral dispositions, psychological and/or social tendencies and a dozen other things. It may even be a spiritual enlightenment of some kind (whatever that means). None of that is prophecy – according to Rambam or Kuzari. What is prophecy, then? that’s for a different time.

Just so you’re not completely disappointed – if you were to look to the Chassidish thought you’d find the concept of Ruach Hakodesh “assisting” the rebbis in their Halachic and even their “mundane” decisions. Ruach Hakodesh, being a “watered down” form of prophecy. There definitely are sources for this approach but Rambam is the widely accepted approach on this because:
a. He’s Rambam
b. It creates a more solid, structured Halachic system, less prone to being undermined by false prophets/Messiahs/Gurus/weirdos or just the masses themselves…

Q: Another question, to what extent do we have to believe the Mashiach is about to come? In theory, if taken to the extreme, I shouldn’t go out to dinner because I should think the Mashiach is about to come and ill have to cut it short. I shouldn’t spend too long in the bathroom, because ill have to run out to greet him or whatever, I shouldn’t do anything from which I can’t immediately run from. What’s the deal there? (Michael)
A: Please find me a (Halachik) source that says you have to believe that the Mashiach is about to come. The Rambam, who set the belief in Mashiach as an Ikar (fundamental) of Emunah, says as follows: “The twelfth Ikar- The Days of Mashiach; to believe that he will come and will not come late”, meaning that he will come when it is the right time. If you look at the continuation of that same paragraph (the very end of the introduction to Perek Chelek) you will see that we must:
  1. Believe that he will come
  2. Believe in his greatness (I take that to mean- study and understand what the meaning of Mashiach and the Era of Mashiach mean)
  3. Pray to Hashem for the Mashiach to come. (Meaning pray and anticipate redemption)
For those who make the anticipation for Mr. Mashiach the central theme of their connection to Torah I would bring what Rambam writes in Igeret HaShmad:
“…for there is no set time for the coming of Mashiach that people can say that it is near or far. And the commitment to the faith and Mitzvot is not dependant on the coming of the Melech HaMashiach, rather we are obligated to keep The Torah and Mitzvot and attempt to do them fully. And after we do all we are obligated, if Hashem merits us, our sons or sons’ sons to see the Melech HaMashiach- good, at that is a goodness upon goodness, and if not- we did not lose anything, rather we have gained by doing all we are obligated.”
Q: I actually had a question. It recently came to my attention that way back in the day, before the Jews conquered Jerusalem that there was a practice of seething a kid in its mother’s milk as a sacrifice to the Canaanite god called Shalim. I know that the rabbis are all knowing and everything is based in mesorah, but is it possible that the prohibition of meat and milk is really just a way of stopping Shalim worship? (Jesse)
A: Yes and no. In his great work guide to the perplexed, the Rambam says that the purpose of the entire Torah is to uproot idol worship and engrave in us a belief in Hashem. He continues to express this idea by bringing dozens of Mitzvot and explaining that they are the exact opposite actions of specific practices of idol worship.
This concept caused certain approaches throughout history to claim that the Mitzvot aren’t eternal; that when the specific idol worship vanished- the mitzvah ceases to be relevant as well.
Their mistake is twofold:
  1. When the Rambam (and others) gives Taamei Mitzvot, they are not trying to give us the reason why Hashem gave the Mitzvah, rather they are trying to make the Mitzvot tasty (Ta’amei Mitzvot from the word ta’am, flavor). We can’t actually understand Hashem’s reason for commanding a Mitzvah. We are not gods’ psychologists and cannot encompass his reasoning as it is infinite. What we CAN do is to try and see in what way a Mitzvah builds something in this world or negates something negative, but that is only a partial aspect of the Mitzvah.
  1. According to Rambam (among others), Avoda Zara is not just a thing of the past. There is, built into the human condition certain tendencies and inclinations which drive it to seek a connection with the divine.  The classic approach is that among the gentiles this tendency is expressed through idol worship. As the connection is man made it results in replacing the divine with the finite. Different forms of Avoda Zara correspond to different aspects of a person’s senses-emotions-thoughts-nefesh. Some emphasize sexual pleasures, others- relieving or injuring oneself. Even though (most) of the practices of A”Z no longer exist, the tendencies towards what they supply- do. Therefore, the value of the Mitzvah is eternal.
Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook brings another Ta’am for Basar and Chalav: milk is taken from the cow as an act of mercy as it relieves her. The taking of meet is done through an act of cruelty- killing. Although we are allowed to eat meet (for the time being), mixing meet and milk expresses a blurring of the distinction between mercy and cruelty, good and bad. It is important that we separate the two which in turn affects us back, accordingly.
[if you give some thought you can easily unite Rav Tzvi yehuda’s explanation w/ point no. 2 above]
Q: I heard quoted of the Rambam that it would be haughty of us to
believe that
we are the only intelligent life in the universe. True? (Michael)
A: Not exactly.
The quote you are referring to is that it is haughty to think that the entire universe was created solely for man. According to Rambam there are many creations which are on a much higher level within creation, such as angels (a.k.a ‘separated logics’), heavenly spheres… Following the classic greek philosophy, Rambam credits these and other creations with higher levels of intellectual apprehension.
(Written to Jesse regarding a question based on classic biblical criticism)
Science and Torah, by definition, never contradict. They exist on two different ‘playing fields’: Science deals with- what and how things exist. Torah deals with- what is the meaning of what exists. There is no need or even meaning to try reconciling the two. They never meet. If you find a point where they do- you are using one of them incorrectly.
A scientific theory is defined as a theory which can be proven or disproven. Anyone familiar with the methodology of history and archeology knows full well that they can only speculate and fill in the blanks of what is mostly not there. They cannot unequivocally prove anything. The lack of archeological findings is not proof of anything. The only thing it proves is that you haven’t found anything. The things you’ve found support the option that this and that happened, or make it more likely but that isn’t proof.
Think for a second- is it possible to prove that something did not happen 1000 years ago? Torah is also not a scientific theory, and therefore, can also not be proven or disproven by scientific means.
Historical stories, those of the Torah included, are not just trying to tell us what happened. There is no such thing as an “objective” historical account. Example- what happened on 9/11?
–          Fanatic fundamentalist Muslims maliciously and intentionally crashed planes into the twin towers murdering thousands of innocent civilians in there attempt to terrorize the free world into subduing to their aggressive beliefs and demands.
–          Freedom fighters were driven by despair and oppression to strike a defensive blow by crashing planes into the twin towers, hurting the soldiers and heart of oppressive and colonialist capitalism which, for years, was systematically destroying their beliefs and countries.
Which one is right? Both and neither. Ask two people to describe a specific event, or even a specific object, you will always get- at least to some extent- different accounts. Things that cannot be measured with a ruler and a stop watch, (as Einstein said about science) are always “perspective based”.
Historians and Archeologists tell us theories, filling in the blanks with things that they themselves admit cannot be proven. They will say that this and that theory would explain this and that archeological finding; or that we have this and that question which can be answered with this and that theory. But it all stems from their personal perspective. I can give you excellent explanations and different theories which would explain the exact opposite.
Dear Jesse,
Like before, I will be a bit annoying and not answer your questions straight forward (at least not at this point. Maybe in a later e-mail or when I return from my sojourning).
Again, there is a fundamental problem with the questions, or, more accurately the assumptions based on which the questions are being asked. All philosophical questions/answers/claims about God cannot escape the very small confines of the human brain. What I mean by this, is the following- every person can only discuss and deduce things which he is familiar with from within the limitations of his physical and emotional experiences. A person can discuss color only if he can (now or in the past) actually see.
Whenever we discuss God, we are applying are pea size intellect and trying to fit this awesome “concept” in to it to analyze it as if we were Gods psychologist’s and he was laying on a couch before us. In truth, you are only questioning whatever you decided this God phrase represents. When the philosophers are philosophizing (is that even a word?) about God, they are not questioning a God that they know, rather, they are questioning what THEY THINK God is. You are applying the laws of nature, or laws of logic as YOU know them from YOUR intelectual, limited experience and applying them to the source of all logic, nature, laws, questions, answers, contradictions and everything else you can (and can’t) think of and imagine. Basically, you are humanizing God. You are talking and thinking of him as a persona. Now, how logical is that?
What I am sure you are thinking to ask me at this point is- if so, then how can we say anything about God? The answer is: we know that everything we say or think about God- himself- is inaccurate and therefore partially false. As Rambam explains at great length in guide to the perplexed, all descriptions we use to describe God are NOT positive attributes, they are negative ones. Meaning- when we say that God is “one”, we are not trying to say that he is actually one like we know that term, rather he is not many. When we say God “Acts”, we don’t actually think that the word act- which is a completely physical, human word/concept taken from our material world- actually describes anything about God himself, rather, we are just more worried about people thinking that God doesn’t act.
And here is the most important part (the one that I am not able to expound upon via e-mail. it is very deep and complex and requires face to face dialogue) – We do not meet God primarily through our logic, rather through life itself. I don’t need to make things up about what God is or is not. I am fortunate enough that God has eliminated this impossible task from me by revealing himself to the Jewish people throughout the ages. From the revelation of the Exodus to the survival in the exile and the unprecedented rebirth of a dead nation to its homeland, language, culture, etc… Etc…
Interestingly, the Torah doesn’t deal too much with “who is God”, “What is God”… It deals less (actually- barely at all) with theology, and mainly with morality, with what this God -THAT WE, THE JEWISH PEOPLE THROUGHOUT OUR HISTORY KNOW- expects us to do.
(To Michael regarding a debate with his brother about the question of Amalek)
This is what I had time to write up during my flight back to Israel. As you will see, I haven’t addressed his main question, but started with something more fundamental.
First step, I think, prove to him he is not being motivated solely by intellect. It sounds he is convinced of this, but in truth, that is a lie:
“I’m just really against genocide, and don’t see how I can be part of a religion that commands me to wage a Jihad against another people.”
Why doesn’t it bother you to be an American, even though America is built on the destruction of another nation (Indian)? Even though they are no longer persecuted, they have not received compensation for the cruelty acted upon them- the theft of their lands and the murder of their people. How can you be part of a nation and live in a land which was substantially built through slavery, a historical injustice not rectified until today? Simple- neither one of those require you to DO anything, verses Judaism which requires a whole bunch.
“You can’t pick and choose what’s important, not if you’re Orthodox, anyway. So to say something like “it’s only one mitzvah, there are 612 other good ones” is total crap to me.”
If it is really just that one Mitzvah he has a problem with, why doesn’t he just drop that one? Meaning- he’s an Orthodox Jew in the sense that he believes that it is a package deal. How convenient for him. Why not be a Conservative Jew or a Reform, who just push aside that Mitzvah entirely and “be able” to still enjoy being part of Judaism/history/family blah blah blah, and all the other things he pretends to miss and be anguished about?
Here comes the most important part in this segment: As Kuzari stresses in many places- questions of theology cannot be unequivocally proven or disproved solely by logic. Empirical questions may be settled completely. There is only one correct answer to the question what is four plus four and there is a definite way to prove it. This is true to all matters that are scientific and empirical. Questions of theology and morality on the other hand are not dependant primarily on logic, rather on something else.
Let’s take the back and forth you had about not killing. You got him to admit that he cannot logically claim that killing another human is wrong, rather that that is just the way he “feels”. (In parenthesis, I will say that there is something very dangerous to what he said that someone can think otherwise on this matter and he can’t argue with him about it. If that were true- based on what can we try and lock away killers? Or rapists?). But what is it that makes him “feel” that killing is wrong? Why doesn’t he “feel” that killing is right and good? Questions of morality and theology are geared by our dispositions. It could be our moral upbringing, an experience we had, or a preference towards the ramifications of one side verses the other.
I will give you the example Kuzari uses to illustrate this pivotal point: the king and the Rabbi are arguing whether the world has always existed or was created at some point. The king is representing philosophy and claiming that the world always existed. The Rabbi says something along these lines: “We cannot blame the philosophers for this thought of theirs since they did not have a tradition in their nation regarding this matter.” The king replies: “Because of this we shouldn’t believe Aristotle in his wisdom?” The Rabbi answers: “has there ever been a complete proof to either side of this argument? Aristotle found both sides of this question unlikely. He ended up evaluating the various Kushiyot against each side and decided that the questions against the creation theory were stronger. But, if he were raised with a tradition of creationism, he wouldn’t find it so hard to accept, and would find himself leaning towards that side.” So, bottom line, what made him choose the side that says “the world always existed”? The ramifications. Creationism carries with it belief in a creator (Don’t get all exited and upset Michael; to Aristotle, if the world began at some point it means there was an intelligent being that initiated the process.), a belief in a creator carries with it many ramifications, such as- why did the creator create me? What am I supposed to do here? Etc… etc…
Your brother agrees that arguments can be made regarding the Amalek question this way and that way. Again- in his own mind, what makes these arguments “stronger” than the others? What makes him decide that if the Amalek question isn’t answered that means the entire Jewish belief system and way of life is meaningless? Is it really intellect? Please… let’s be logical about this and stop fooling ourselves…
Tune in to our next episode of “Beat the Apikoros”, in which we will discuss.
1. TTS (Trust The System – establishing a basic trust and faith in the Jewish people, its history and tradition, based on their miraculous existence and their tremendous moral influences on the world throughout the ages)
2. Amalek       (Gods’ creation of inherent good and evil in the world and their manifestations in the human world; the national identities of Am Yisrael and Amalek. How the people and/or phenomena of Amalek always appear to fight Am Yisrael right before/during Am Yisrael’s return to national life)
In response to my answer (above) regarding Amalek, I received the following questions from Ariel:
1. The question of Amalek can be (I think) broadened into a question of how God (who is/should be compassionate – see point 4) can command something that goes against the idea of compassion. Also, Amalek is only one sub-question, one could ask the same thing about mamzer, etc…
2. It should bother you to be an American, and you should try to fix what happened (or compensate as much as you can). But how can you currently be part of a group that supports something that goes against your morality? This is also a response that does not really answer the question – it just asks the same one about another topic, which only serves to strengthen the question (or prove that a person is hypocritical – which is irrelevant in terms of the value of the question). Secondly, it may be (critical to keep the “may be” in mind) that passively committing a sin is better than actively committing one – which could be an answer to the question of being American.
3. I don’t understand how one can advocate dropping one mitzvah (picking and choosing) – unless one decides to live life according to their morals regardless of what God says (which I agree with)
4. The same way the we have the law of gravity, and only one instance of something going against the law (without an explanation or modification of the law) would be enough to prove gravity wrong. Similarly, (the way I view things), Judaism has a “law” that God is compassionate – and any one instance that shows that God is not compassionate (without an explanation) would be enough to disprove the rule. If that rule is false, I would not want to be part of the Jewish system.
5. If theology cannot be proven through logic (or be shown to be more likely correct), then why should a person choose to follow one theological path unless they think it will lead them to a better life – in which case, one could follow any path (theological or not) that would lead them to a better life (as long as they follow their set of morals).
6. I have a problem with saying (as the rabbis are quoted) that a person is wrong (or more likely to be so) if they do not have a tradition about the issue (it may be a good thing – it removes bias).
7. If you cannot trust your moral sense (regardless of where it comes from), then everything is totally arbitrarily (why is jihad wrong?) and you cannot trust any sense/source of right and wrong.
8. There is nothing wrong with choosing one idea over another based on the ramifications – that is how we all judge something (and that is how it should be; if a scientific law will have ramifications – have predictions – that are known to be false, then obviously the law if wrong).

I answered:

1. Hashem is described by Torah both as compassionate and vengeful. Neither one of these describe His “true nature”. We are not God’s psychologists. We cannot lay him down on our coaches and intellectually analyze him. Our intellect is only one of the ways in which we perceive reality and as I’ve stated previously, our intellect is confined to many things – the structure of logic as it’s developed throughout the history of the world (specifically, the Western world), social standards and acceptances, etc… in Nietzsche’s words – “Human, all too human”.
The attributes used by Torah to describe Hashem is a big and complicated topic in Jewish thought. There is the Rambam school of thought which says that all descriptions are “negative descriptions”, meaning they don’t tell us anything positive about Hashem, just that we shouldn’t think he possesses any negative traits. e.g. we say Hashem is “smart” only because we don’t want you to think he is stupid, we say Hashem is “one” because we don’t want you to think he’s, oh, let’s say – 3. And so on and so forth. An addition to this approach says that the attributed DO have a positive side in the sense that they describe how these actions of Hashem would be called – in our world. Meaning, the only way we can relate to things is based on the world that we know. In our world and experience, such an act is called “mercy”, so, we will attribute mercy to Hashem as it pertains to this act. This is a very complex topic. I am barely scratching the surface of it. I raise it because you seem pretty sure of what God IS (or think that we think he is) and this is a fundamental point that needs to be addressed.
Regarding the 2 specific cases you raised:
Mamzer – two basic approaches. The first – you wouldn’t ask why is it “fair” that a baby is born with HIV just because his mother had it. That is because you understand that it is a natural consequence of her behavior. Has nothing to do with morality, fairness or anything else. We understand that just as the physical world has rules and laws that govern it, so does the spiritual world. Sigmund Floyd did us a great service in revealing to us that the psychological world has universal rules as well. It makes no difference if they developed by evolution or hardwired by God. We live our lives knowing, experiencing that both the material and psychological worlds have rules with natural consequences. Is it fair that if I grew up in a home with no love that I should be aggressive and depressed my whole life? no. The world has many layers. Physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual (and probably some others as well). When Hashem created the world and set order in it, we understand this to be true to all layers of reality as they are not distinct one from each other, just different layers. A Mamzer is a result of the worst kind of sin. The use of the most constructive force in man (sexual inclination) for its complete opposite. Instead of creating a life which will be an expression to man’s aspiration towards the divine by becoming part of the continuum of Am Yisrael, adding a link in the chain etc…, he is a gross break in the chain. He is the result of man (and women, of course) acting not like human beings who can control their urges and aim them towards positive, rather as an animal who is subject and enslaved to its most primal urges. The – natural – result of such a union is damaged. I know that doesn’t sound very nice but it’s no different than the mother who conceives a baby while smoking, causing her child to have asthma…
The other approach to Mamzer says this – it’s not necessarily that his Neshama is damaged (as the previous opinion holds), rather that society needs to discourage such behavior as it is destructive to the building of a healthy society. Why is this the fault of the child? it isn’t but sometimes the individual suffers for the sake of the whole. I know it sounds unjust, which is one of the reasons I prefer the first opinion (which I happen to believe in, regardless, because of its far reaching conclusions in other questions as well). Regardless, I do think this is true. Is it fair for a child that his mother is put away in jail when he is a baby because she stole? no. When we punish her are we also punishing him? yes. Is it “fair” to him? no, but society needs to protect itself even if that means someone who has no fault what so ever will suffer. Doesn’t mean we don’t care about them at all. A mamzer is still a Jew it’s just that his marriage options are very limited.
I have to get ready to leave for Yeshiva so I’ll stop here. I’ll just say quickly that the Amalek question is answered in the exact same two ways – I’m assuming you can make the parallel yourself.
Regardless, it’s interesting how the 2 strongest examples of (what we perceive as) immoral Mitzvot have no relevance today. Could it be that Hashem and or Chachamim have diverted things so as not to put us in a conflict with how we see morality today. I would argue -yes, though this has far reaching consequences on the understanding of the development of Torah and Halacha.
2. You need to see the context of what I was writing to him. I was saying that I don’t believe him that the reason he’s stopping to be religious is because he can’t be part of a religion that believes in that. If that were really true, he shouldn’t agree to be an American which is built on annihilation of the Indian nation, slavery, etc… every day he is an American he is benefitting from those acts which are at the foundation of American success.
3. Again, the context of that was לשיטתך to the person I was speaking too.
4. See conversations below
5. See conversations below
6. The claim is that there is ALWAYS SOME bias, whether one realizes it or not. The bias is a result of our characters, the culture we grew up in, the moral standards we are accustomed too, etc…
7. Thank God we have an objective set of morals to guide us – Torah. Meaning, the creator of everything, including morality, gave us instructions and guidelines for knowing what is moral and what isn’t, what is right and what is wrong. One could argue that only an element “outside” the system can decide the ground rules, as those inside are too affected by the system they are already part of.
8. But, in our instance, the person decides which ramifications they are interested in. Meaning, the ramification of saying that the world has no creator is that there is no objective expectation from man. This caused Aristotle to see the option of “the world always existed” as less illogical than “The world was created”.
Ariel responded:
If one were to describe someone as “smart,” – even though that may not describe his “true nature,” it would not mean that they are not “smart” – whatever that means (I don’t think the discussion is over what “smart” – or compassion… – actually means). If God is not compassionate (the way I understand it (what other compassion could we possibly be talking about), granted that one may argue what would be compassionate in a given situation) then what I said before would apply – that I would not want to be a part of a religion that believes in that God.
As much as God may be hard to understand, I still think we can (critically) analyze what he says, how that correlates with his actions, whether it agrees with our moral conscience…
This first section does not seem to really be saying anything – I’m not sure I understand your point.
I absolutely do not think it is fair for a child to be born with HIV (or any other disease) – but I do not claim that nature is fair (although it should be, especially if there was a fair God…). If it is no different (in terms of deserving that fate) to be born a mamzer and to be born with HIV (as you wrote), then why would you claim that the laws that determine one’s becoming a mamzer (which come from the Torah) are any more compassionate/right/fair then those that determine ones HIV status. If they weren’t, why would you choose to be bound/take part in these laws?
To sum up: the fact that nature is not fair (although it should be), does not make it right for the Torah/God to not be fair/right/compassionate…
If the spiritual world has “rules”:
1. What are they?
2. Why are there so many versions of them?
3. Please prove them – or at least test them, – you cannot argue that religious rules/laws are empirically sound laws (for sure not to the same degree as scientific ones). Sure – one could argue that there are reasons for why these laws (which are somehow different depending on who is asked) do not always “work” (for example why good people suffer) but these reasons usually do not seem to really answer the question (ex: they are not as good as they seem, they will be rewarded later)
With regards to the second reason for mamzer – that could be potentially argued to be valid, except that I don’t think it would actually work (in that I don’t think it would prevent the act, especially nowadays when the consequences can be avoided regardless). Also, this answer seems to be very unlikely – would the Torah actually command something like this for that reason? It does not seem logical – in order to prevent Person A from committing an act, promise to punish Person B (and C… – the next generations) – and that is even less likely to work on someone who would commit the act in the first place (which isn’t even such a bad act). Also, why choose this punishment (of making the child a mamzer) specifically for this sin (why not for killing…)?
I do not think that the second reason (that you gave for mamzer) could be argued in the case of Amalek, as I don’t see how the mitzvah contributes to the building of a “healthy” society – to the contrary. If one would argue that Amalek just means anyone who has a certain ideology/acts a certain way, then:
1. There does not seem to be any indication of that in the Tanach, especially if one looks at the episode of Saul with Amalek.
2. In most cases I would think that we would know what to do anyway (If someone tries to kill you, kill him first). If you argue that Amalek is more a philosophical issue (go back to point 1), then does Judaism really advocate that we should really kill some one for incorrect thoughts (leaving aside the issue of how we would know someone’s feelings)?
With regards to applying the first explanation for mamzer to Amalek, I think my response covers that also…
Regardless of the fact that they are not relevant today, it still seems that they are still regarded by God (through the Torah) as commandments that are still good – otherwise why would he have commanded them (unless he is not good)? The fact that they are not observed today is hardly relevant to their moral status, and by extension, to the moral status of the Torah.
Also – I have heard many opinions saying yes (and some saying no) – but would you (in a theoretical – at least for now – situation) advocate for the following of these laws?
I responded:
A. We should probably speak about this some time in person as it is indeed a complex idea but very important to this discussion. The basic idea is this – the words smart, compassionate, etc… all describe human realities, meaning they are words we use to describe different parts of our reality. When trying to describe Hashem it’s not just a matter of a difficulty in our ability to describe/define him it’s that he is indescribable – by definition. What can be described are his action – ‘this is an act of mercy” ‘this is an act of cruelty’, etc…
You asked – “what other compassion could we possibly be talking about”. Read up on Greek history and the customs of Sparta and how they treated babies and children. They honestly believed they were being compassionate to people by killing babies who could not become warriors. This is only 1 of many. many examples throughout history where we see that human ability to differentiate between compassion and cruelty was extremely limited or at least very relative to historical and social acceptances.
B. I don’t. I agreed – they are no more, or less, “fair”. According to this explanation it is the natural consequence just like the natural consequence to die if I am pushed off a building by someone. Is it fair? absolutely not. Can we understand why it is that this will happen? yes, b/c that’s the rules that control our reality – it’s called gravity.
C. The laws are laws whether I like them or not. A person can decide he won’t cooperate with the rules of nature. Fine. Good luck. It’s not exactly the same as I can be a Mamzer and decide to marry whoever I want. Fine, you’ve done something unnatural. We do such things all the time – we smoke, we don’t eat our veggies, etc…
What I’m saying is – you are subject to them, or in your words, ‘you are bound by them’ – regardless. Why would you choose to follow them (in your words – take part in them) is a good but a whole other conversation. See my short version of answer to it here:http://250wordsonjudaism.blogspot.ca/2011/08/connection-between-belief-in-god-and.html and my personal answer to myself here: http://250wordsonjudaism.blogspot.ca/2011/08/why-am-i-observant.html
D. What are the spiritual rules of the world? Why, the rules of the Torah, of course…
E. Not sure what you mean when you say “why are there so many versions of them”- why are there so many religions, or why so many opinions within Torah. Regardless – why are there so many versions of the natural laws?
F. Sure I can prove the rules. I have thousands of years of testing and observing to look at to see if they work. The questions is – what do you consider “the laws work”? you seem to think it means if you are good – you will be successful and happy. I disagree. For instance – where do the rules (the Torah) say that good people won’t suffer? Sorry to keep doing this to you but my short thoughts on that here: http://250wordsonjudaism.blogspot.ca/2011/08/reward-and-punishment.html
The rules, as I understand them, say that breaking the rules, or following them will impact the collective, not necessarily the individual. On the collective level I think Torah has proven fantastically that it works, that is to say that it betters the world and humanity.
G. I agree that in today’s world the second reason I gave for Mamzer wouldn’t “work”. That is why it isn’t really enforced today.
This punishment correlates to the offense. A person is a home-wrecker. He doesn’t understand the value of family and community, etc, etc… therefore, the result of that act will not be allowed to become part of the community. Your assumption that someone who would commit such an act wouldn’t care about the punishment anyway is more true in today’s world. But remember that until 200 years ago there was no such thing as living outside the Jewish community and there was no such thing as a non-religious Jew. It doesn’t mean they were all devout but they were all part of the religious community, by default. Also, the mere fact that the punishment is so harsh creates a complete taboo on the topic that one could argue prevents people from even getting near that Issur.
H. Sure the second reason I gave for Mamzer could be argued in the case of Amalak, by looking at the society of man. Every time Amalek has appeared in Tanach it was right before Am Yisrael was about to take a leap forward as a nation – on the way to Israel after Mitzraim, right before we became a unified people under a king, right before we came back for the 2nd Beit Mikdash (Purim), right before we came back in this last redemption (The State of Israel). These are not just interruptions to Am Yisrael. They are interruptions to the world as our national situation affects that of the worlds’ like no other nation. See some examples here:http://250wordsonjudaism.blogspot.ca/p/gentiles-write-about-jews.html
I. As far as Amalek – what is the Mitzvah today? it’s to eradicate their memory (interesting – isn’t our eradication of their memory the only thing that keeps their memory alive?), meaning, it’s to focus on the philosophical and moral eradication of “pure evil”. Meaning, there is no Amalek today and they won’t pop up any time soon – as a people (this is what the Rambam says).
Mamzer – yes, I would, theoretically. BTW – it isn’t accurate that all the generations afterwards will be Mamzerim. See this link from Yeshivat Har Etzion (careful, even less PC than anything we’ve spoken about so far) http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/5769/1163maamar3.html


Q: So Hashem is totally infinite and stuff, so we can’t truly relate to him. and yet he is the fountainhead of being. Our existence is dependant on him. Seems sorta opposite right? On one hand we can’t relate to him, on the other we necessarily do. My question is: whets the deal? (Michael)
A: Well now, that is the million dollar question. That really is the question. I can’t answer in length right now but the essence of it is that you need to understand that logic isn’t everything. Meaning- we can’t relate to god’s ‘essence’ with our thought/understanding (except in the negative), but wecan relate to ‘God himself’ through life itself. Life itself is infinite. Can you relate logically to your own essence? Can you define it? Can you fully grasp your own life experience- everything you were/are/will be at every given moment? And so on and so forth.
“The infinity of your own subjective life holds within it a certainty regarding an objective infinity, and in relation to it”. Chew on that one a bit.
And if this is true for an individual’s life, it is even more true the life of Am Yisrael, a.k.a- the Kuzari. This is the central concept the Kuzari tries to relay throughout the book- the communal/collective existence of Am Yisrael is the ‘place’ in existence where ‘Hashem’ ‘meets’ the world.
BTW- your last e-mail- I’m not so sure what you’re asking.
Q: My question was this: Hashem is infinite we are finite, how can one relate to the other. on the other hand, Rambam says on the topic of Hashem’s saying אהיה אשר אהיה, that Hashem is because he is, he is the foundation of existence, that the phrase “to be” is a relational word, how do you “be”? you “are” in relation to him, for he is the only thing that necessarily
exists, we are accidents, he is essential. So on the one hand we can’t relate to him because a relationship between infinite and finite is impossible, on the other hand, we exist only because we relate to him.
1. Logically speaking- there is a paradox we cannot be solved.
 But the problem lay with the question itself. Analyze the question. Analyze the inability of the question- and of the logical process- to come to any conclusion in this matter:
You are investigating God. The investigative tools and process are specific- limited- aspects of your conciseness which itself is only an aspect of your life force at this given moment which is only an aspect of the entirety of your existence; your thoughts/emotions/experiences… from the moment you were born (at least) until dozens of years from now when your bodily functions will cease. They are all part of what you call “I”.
You have to realize the limits of your thought process- what questions are answerable through investigative logic and what questions can -and should- only be answered through what you might call “intuitive logic”. It is intuitive not because it is weaker than logic. Exactly the opposite- it is way higher than logic. Logic can tickle the bottom edge of it.
“Within the certainty of your own subjective existence you find the certainty of the objectiveness of the divine”, and, “Within the divinity of the existence of Am Yisrael throughout history and its role and influence on the world you find Hashem”. Sorry if I’m being cryptic, but that’s all I got time for right now.
2. In that aspect that we relate to him- we aren’t finite. There is an aspect within our own existence which is not finite- life itself. It does not take up space, it does not have dimensions or weigh anything, it does not have color or smell, it’s existence does not depend on time, rather just manifests itself through time, logic cannot grasp it… and so on and so forth.
Q: Can you explain to me the introductory dialogue in the Kuzari, b/w the Philosopher & the King?  What I’ve understood is as follows: G-d is above the world, doesn’t interact with the world, & certainly won’t care about you (the King). Additionally, the world is kadmon (always in existence, since the beginning of time), and the present state of the world can be traced back to the beginning of the world like links on a chain. Therefore, people are product of their genes & environment, & they will be born into their role in the world.  (I.e., someone who doesn’t have the genes/environment to be a Philosopher, can never become one).  However, certain people can work to obtain the sechel hapo’el.  (I was a bit confused by this part). Once a people obtain the sechel hapo’el, they reach the highest level, & are above the physicalities of the world. Is this somewhat correct?  Also, does this argument reappear in the book? (Jimmy)
A: Everything you said is correct. The Sechel HaPo’el, has to do with the physical structure of the universe as it was understood in ancient times. You have to remember that there weren’t 2 separate disciplines of physics and metaphysics. Nothing was based on experiment, only on hypothesis and deduction. The Sechel Hapo’el was considered to be the lowest of the nine spheres that comprise the universe and serves as the link between the physical world and the “higher” worlds. (‘higher’ and ‘lower’ in this context is physical-geographical). The Sechel Hapo’el is what gives all things in the physical world their Tzura – form and therefore knowing “what everything is in its essence” means that a person has become one with the Sechel HaPo’el.
The emphasis in the duologue is less what the philosopher says and more on the king’s response which plainly put is – “sounds interesting but who cares?”. The philosopher presents a perfection which is purely intellectual and has nothing to do with everything else which is part of man’s identity, for instance – will.
The rabbi has a much more extensive exchange with Aristotelian philosophy again in part 4 paragraphs 13 through 18 and again in the 5th part paragraphs 13 through 18.

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