Sunday, August 07, 2005

Twilight Zone Judaism

Lately, very bizarre things have been happening to me. Coincidences which seem beyond explanation by probability alone. It freaks me out because I am at my core a rational person. However, at my deeper core, somewhere in the lower brain, just under the medulla oblongata, I am a superstitious coward.

The weird part is that this duality presents itself in Judaism that is all around me. On the one hand, we are enjoined to not believe in magic, witchcraft, evil spirits, etc... On the other hand, Orthodox Judaism, especially the Black Hatter/Chasidic flavors are rife with all this stuff.

So I am thinking about setting up a website; a clearinghouse for people that want to submit seemingly supernatural events that occurred in their life. I am talking about really freaky stuff, not just something that seemed far fetched. They would have to post detailed accounts.

Here's the catch - how do you know they are telling the truth? That is the crux of the dilemma. One giant prisoner's dilemma.


Blogger Sechel said...

What happened?

August 07, 2005 8:26 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Some of the stuff is pretty personal having to do with the health of my family. Some of it is just weird coincidences like thinking "it's been 6 mos since any of the kids threw up" and having one of them throw up the next morning, which doesn't sound like a freak thing except like five other things of this caliber happened in a month.

But here's an example of what happened to a woman in the neighborhood. Her kid had some kind of horrible accident where his hand got mangled. For some reason she wound up talking to a Lubavitcher who convinced her to check the mezzuzahs on her house. When she did, she found that one of them had a blemish on the word yadecha which means arm/hand.

August 08, 2005 9:05 PM  
Blogger Sechel said...

It seems to me it's necessary to separate out two kinds of weird coincidences. The first is literally just a coincidence, as you describe when you thought about your kids throwing up and then it happened. If you began to think there was some deeper connection there, then that kind of thinking would be merely superstitious. It would be based on a psychologically primitive mechanism of grandiose omnipotence, as if to say your thoughts control reality. That would be a misplaced kind of faith in your own omnipotence. That is why "superstition" in Hebrew is "emunah tefeilah," which means literally, "fallen faith," because faith rightfully should be directed toward G-d, but when we are superstitious instead it "falls down" into the things of this world, like faith in one's own magic power, or faith in the power of other things G-d forbid (black cats, charms, etc.)

The other type of event you describe is not like that. The belief that a mezuzah, for instance, has a protective effect, is based not on a faith in one's own omnipotence but rather, faith in G-d's; faith in His intimate relationship with all things that occur in the world, the system of Divine hashgachah, etc. I wouldn't rule that one out as a correct supposition.

It perhaps doesn't reflect a punishment for the blemished mezuzah, but more of a lack of ability of the mezuzah to protect, since it was blemished. However, I admit, as a rationalist for the most part, this kind of metaphysical mechanism still doesn't sit entirely comfortably with my thinking.

Vetzarich iyyum (the matter requires further study).

August 09, 2005 8:24 AM  
Blogger Sechel said...

iyyun not iyyum

August 09, 2005 8:28 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

OK. But a mezzuzah is supposed to be a reminder of the concepts of the Sh'ma. Was it intended to act as protection against bad things? You say that charms are a form of superstition, but what about all the kabalistic amulets that people believed would ward off evil spirits, red string, hamsa pendants, etc... Where does the line get drawn?

PS. Congratulations on getting mentioned on Jewlicious. I responded to that post implying that there was a lot of out of context quoting. CK denied it, and I let it go, but I can't say honestly that I was quoted in context.

August 09, 2005 8:34 PM  
Blogger Sechel said...

There are multiple sources from midrashic sources and the gemara that describe how mezuzahs are supposed to have protective powers. Should we take this literally? I don't know.

Amulets are another thing, though. In my unlearned opinion, they are superstitious and should be avoided.

I looked at Jewlicious. Actually I regret having made that statement but I'm not sure if I need to apologize. I need to ponder that one awhile.

August 09, 2005 9:30 PM  

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