Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Proof of the Posting is in the Fisking...

Since Godol Hador gave me the kibud of mentioning me on his blog. I thought I would return to the topic of his uber-post. I've been bothered by it for a couple of days now and finally had some time to put pen to paper.

From the comments:
The skeptics put up a lamo defence. They think only Mis-nagid (or maybe Ben Avuyah) can save the day for them. I mean, emailin Mis-nagid and asking him to fisk my post? How lame is that? For the record, I had nothing to do with that.
For the record, I did. Sort of. Actually, I commented to Mis-Nagid that the post needs fisking not that he should do it.

The reason why I said that is that I couldn't follow the logic in it. Let me attempt a friendly fisk since it seems like the only other person that was interested in analysing the post is S. Here we go:

The post starts out with setting the scene and building suspense. Religious doubts setting in, an unexpected visitor for Shabbos, a conversation, then debate about Faith and Reason, then a sudden revelation - "The basis of Orthodox Judaism is EXPERIENCE".

So far, I am enjoying this. Godol Hador is on the road to Damascus and far be it from me to spoil his trip. ADDeRabbi made a comment "you've just graduated from positivism to existentialism.", but frankly what GH is saying doesn't sound like Existentialism to me

Then there is a transition to a causality argument. Key point being made:
1) Being Orthodox "produces upstanding communities, families, and individuals."
2) Judaism is the ideal, all other religions, ethics are only good to the extent that they mirror Judaism
3) Judaism has proven this through 2000 years of history.

All these points are fiskable in themselves and may deserve their own posts on this or other blogs. However, although I was uncomfortable with these stated as facts, I moved on.

Next was a hypothesis of why some big name Rabbis were not seemingly bothered by theories that seem to conflict with fundamentalist interpretations of Judaism. Here I am a bit lost, because although it sounds very inspiring, when you analyze the actual writing, I can't actually figure out how it resolves the issue.

Before we move on to the last and most troublesome part of the post, lets analyze this point a little more. What GH seems to be saying is that we should continue to be Orthodox because it creates good people and good social/cultural structures. As someone commented it sounds like some spinoff on Reconstructionism.

GH makes a statement that Rav Kook "wasn't troubled by the DH, because even if it were true it would make no difference!...His basis for Orthodoxy was his own experience." Doesn't this seem circular?

Another point made by GH - "Only Judaism can consistently show both the experience AND the results, in every society, in every geography, in every era". How is this true? The story of Judaism is a continuous attrition due to theological splintering. Start with the Sadducees, then the Karaites, then the maskilim in France, Germany, Russia. All of these people started out experiencing, but their experience led them away from Orthodox Judaism.

OK. Now we are at the point where the post falls apart for me. We start out with the assertion that we should rely on Experience, but now we are back to proving things again.

"The Mesorah is what kept Am Yisrael going for 2000 years. As any good Scientist knows, if the experiment works, don't fiddle with the parameters!"

What does this mean? Does this make any sense from a rigorous scientific analysis? What does it mean for an experiment to "work"? What does it mean not to "fiddle with the parameters"? This sounds like the scientist is an inventor!

GH makes an analogy that no religion can repeat our results. Once again, the only results that have been mentioned so far is creating upstanding individuals, families, and communities. He states that Judaism is the only one that has done it successfully. He gives examples of others that have failed. But is this a rigorous argument. Does that prove that no other CAN do it successfully?

Once again, it is not the content that I object to, but the lack of rigor and logic in the argument.

OK. Release the hounds (I mean commenters)


Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Thanks for pointing out these things and giving me something to think about, at least in theory, since I'm not Orthodox. To tell you the truth, I was a little intimidated to read that post, because usually, when I read posts, I also read all the comments, which I considere as valuable as the post itself... Ahem, reading over 600 comments is a daunting task even for me! : (

February 15, 2006 9:30 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Boy, I figured by the time I get back from Rigoletto I'd ride to at least 100 comments on the coattails of Godol's post :)

February 15, 2006 10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are trying to intellectually deconstruct my post. But it won't work! You have to EXPERIENCE it.

OK, so I'm kidding a little. But really it was more about an emotional and experiential feeling than a rigorous logical argument. That was the whole point. I suddenly really got why people had faith.

February 16, 2006 7:14 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I was totally with you up until the point when YOU tried to follow-up your realization with a logical argument. And I couldn't follow your logic; hence my post.

Thanks for stopping by!

February 16, 2006 7:36 AM  
Anonymous Jethro said...

I couldn't understand the huppla over GH's post. It always seems self-evident that the point of religion in general is on the level of experience. Studies of converts show that they relate initially to the aethetics of a religion--song, closeness of community, etc.--and then only later come to accept the theological principles that undergird the religion.

I am sure that Spinoza's experience of God through nature confirmed him of the truth of his assertions, as much as GH likes to think the same can be said of Orthodox practice. And Edith Stein surely related her powerful experience of truth in the Catholic community that she joined.

Hell, even humanist Jews can make the same argument.

As to whether the tradition has stood up to a test of 2000 years, ignoring the communal cohesion enforced by two millenia of antisemitism seems to give too much credit to the mesorah.

If the 'experience' is so compelling, why are 90% of Jews not frum?

February 16, 2006 8:40 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


Precisely! This is why I tried to break down the post, so we can talk about it intelligently.

I really don't see a big chiddush in anything he says.

February 16, 2006 9:01 AM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Did you enjoy the performance? Who starred?

February 16, 2006 11:27 AM  
Blogger dbs said...

I seem to be writing a lot about how emotions play a role in our belief systems. As such, I loved the GH uber-post (good term). GH, who is primarily a rationalist, falls back on what are emotional (or at least subjective) arguments, which he proclaims to be The Answer.

February 16, 2006 7:23 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I enjoyed the first part of the post as well. What I don't understand is why he went from emotional/experiential back to rational halfway through. And his attempts to make a rational argument were feeble.

What disappointed me about the 650+ comments is that it totally became a flurry of tangents. Nobody seemed to actually look at the post.

So I tried to point this out in my fisking, but I must not be communicating well, or nobody else sees what I see.

February 16, 2006 7:56 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

If you have been watching GH's blog like I have, you will notice that he has a psychological need to prove Judaism objectively from time to time. This probably comes from him being raised in a charedi way. It is common for former charedis to desire this. Some, when they don't find any good proofs, decide to leave the fold altogether.

February 19, 2006 9:47 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Thanks Baruch (or is it Benedict) :)

I have been watching GH and I agree with your assessment, I just can't believe that the need to prove Judaism objectively comes in the tail end of the post that says it's not about proofs.

February 19, 2006 11:21 AM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

it's a reflex action. He can't help it

February 19, 2006 12:20 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Well, we love him anyway :)

February 19, 2006 1:37 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...


what are your reasons for being frum? Have you written a post about that?

February 19, 2006 3:02 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

No, I haven't written explicitly, although you can pick up some of my history from various posts. I started out completely secular and now I am somewhere between Orthodox and Orthoprax.

February 19, 2006 3:49 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Sorry, I think that sounded too evasive. I have some issues to work out in terms of my relationship to G-d and Judaism and I am not quite ready to put them to blog.

But in terms of background and observance level, I started out secular and became Modern Orthodox in the last 5 years.

February 19, 2006 4:00 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

I have lots of issues with this too. Although I came from the opposite direction.

I think it's easier to clarify your thoughts when you try to put it down in writing. That's why I started my blog.

February 19, 2006 4:32 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


That was my original intent in starting the blog, but for some reason I am having difficulty writing about serious theological issues.

I've been checking out your blog on and off. I enjoy reading your posts.

February 19, 2006 6:48 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

It's hard writing about serious theological topics. It's not something we're used to. Many times I get inspiration from commenting on other peoples blogs. My advice is not to try to be too profound and just right simply what's on your mind.

Thanks for the compliment. Come by anytime

February 19, 2006 7:37 PM  

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