Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Guest Post on Emes Ve-Emunah: As the World Turns...

Emes Ve-Emunah: As the World Turns...

Emes Ve-Emunah


Posted: 27 Dec 2013 01:40 PM PST
Guest Post by Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer

Rabbi Bechhofer
Orthodoxy across its entire spectrum is in upheaval. One must go back to the triple pincer challenge of Reform, Haskalah and the Emancipation to find similar turmoil. Then, however, because of the state of civilization at the time, cataclysmic catalysts took longer to have an impact and the responses could be formulated and implemented over a longer period of time, affording some measure of the leisure of contemplation and analysis. Today's civilization compacts, and therefore devastates all the more. We are all reeling.

But we are in a crucible, at high, rolling boil. It will take time – I do not know, of course, how long, but I suspect much less than the seventy-five or so years it took us to successfully adapt to those challenges of the early 19th century.

I do not foresee, at this point in time, that my generation – those of us who came of age in the 70's through the 90's or so – will be the heroes who successfully contend with the elemental forces at work. We were not brought up to be heroes.

The two generations that preceded us were heroic – in maintaining Torah through tribulation and tragedy, in fighting off the new challenges of secularism and Conservative Judaism, in establishing yeshivos and kollelim as axiomatic and widespread institutions.

When we came on the scene, there was – and is, to be sure – more of the same to accomplish. But it takes the form of another community Kollel in Chicago, another yeshiva in New Jersey, another Bais Yaakov in Monsey, an alternative community in Atlanta, another program to get Ba'alei Battim to learn, another lomdishe sefer on Bava Basra, etc.

We were also rendered timid – sometimes indirectly, sometimes directly – by the pioneers who preceded us, who were our Rabbeim and Roshei Yeshiva, our Rabbonim and the pillars of our community. They were men and women of vision and idealism, and we were along for the ride, and were given to understand – again, implicitly and explicitly – that we were to follow. They had more than enough creativity and leadership, and those were not our jobs.

There are so many clear manifestations and ramifications of our failure to overcome that timidity and passivity, the real and imagined limits and limitations in intellect, in spirit and in accomplishment.

The Internet has given us – somewhat belatedly – the ability to gripe and snipe together, to grumble and complain – but social media will not help us in the long run, but hinder us, as we mistake blog postings and Facebook comments for agents of growth that require the concrete rather than the ephemeral, the interaction of souls rather than their typed statements, the power of conclave rather than the curious notion of virtual reality.

We are outstanding at kvetching. We are utterly incompetent at doing.

Rather, in the absence of some major metamorphosis in my generation's collective heart-and-mindset, we are relegated to the role of any sandwich generation. We can and must maintain streams of thought, perspectives and influences of earlier times, to serve as a resources for the generation that inevitably will arise someday to bring redemption to Orthodoxy. 

I, personally, try to keep figures and writings that have moved me, at the disposal of our society, lest they be forgotten, compelling some future culturally primitive generation to reinvent a more deficient and imperfect wheel. This keeping of the flame is, in itself, an important mission. Especially when the seething cauldron might, at any moment, boil over and extinguish the flame. And thus we too will have played a role in bringing that redemptive time to pass, howsoever long this period of epic turmoil persists.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dvar Hashem MeYerushalmi Sanhedrin 6a: Ba'alei Battim?

 It is customary to call non-rabbis of some stature "ba'alei battim" - sometimes with a positive connotation, sometimes with a negative connotation.

The derivation of this appellation seems murky: Can't a rabbi be a "ba'al bayis?"

Perhaps the term is, in fact, a linguistic inaccuracy. In yesterday's Daf Yomi Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 6a) it says:

כתיב "ואל יתר זקני הגולה". אמר הקב"ה: "ביותר הם עלי זקני הגולה. חביבה עלי כת קטנה שבארץ ישראל יותר מסנהדרין גדולה שבחוצה לארץ". כתיב "החרש והמסגר אלף" ואת מר הכן? רבי ברכיה בשם רבי חלבו ורבנן. רבי ברכיה בשם רבי חלבו אמר: החדש אלף והמסגר אלף. ורבנן אמרי: כולהן אלף. רבי ברכיה בשם רבי: אילו החבירים. ורבנן אמרין: אילו הבולבוטין.

The Pnei Moshe explains: Bulbuttin - The officials and VIPs [i.e., not the rabbis]. According to the Sages there is no difficulty [in the assertion that the greater repository of sagacity was in Eretz Yisroel], for [ the Bulbuttin] were not such accomplished sages.

!!!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Morality" "Good" "Sin"


    My dear friend RT,
    Morality is an elusive concept. I am not sure what is the Hebrew equivalent of the English term. We need to agree on a Hebrew term to compare and contrast "Torah morality" to "secular morality." Suggestions?
    Judaism's great contribution to the world is the concept of טוב ורע. The Torah itself tells us, it is not enough to observe My laws. You must be good. And if I don't state explicitly what is good, you figure it out, ועשית הישר והטוב.
    I would love for you to provide sources indicating the sense and pursuit of Tov prior to the Torah - if you can.
    Even if Western society can be seen as moral - whatever that means - it is not intrinsically good. Capitalism is not a system based on the pursuit of good. It is much more based on greed. If Western society is lacking in morality, I would venture that the shortcoming emanates from the self-centered greediness that underlies our system. Our Judeo-Christian mores are the major mitigating forces. As they erode, consequences follow...
    • robert
      1. "...a Hebrew term to compare and contrast "Torah morality" to "secular morality." Suggestions?"
      how about the word found in the torah "Mussar"?
      2. I think it is highly unfair to say that capitalism is based on greed. It's like saying my desire to perform a professional service to another human is based on my love of money or based on greed. Neither is necessarily true. Capitalism is an economic system for the proper functioning of society. It is a tool. That a hammer (also a tool) can be used for murder does not make it an instrument based on evil. Same with Capitalism.
      Western society is not moral or immoral. Some of its adherents are among the most moral people in the world. It can be intrinsically good, based on the behavior of the people involved with it.
      some religions, otoh, are intrinsically immoral.
        I am comfortable with the word Mussar. I don't think RT would accept it.
        I do not believe economic systems are necessarily value-neutral. But that is only my perception based on history.
      I have more than one way to ascertain whether a given action is moral. The least complicated is to evaluate whether said action violates "don't do to others what you wouldn't want them to do to you." Now I'd like to hear your definition exclusive of the torah.
      Most of judaisms core morality is either self-evident -supported by their presence in nearly every society prior to the torah- or is copied from pre-existing law codes I'm sure you're aware of.
      The torah itself acknowledges that there is morality which has nothing to do with its teachings. Many were punished for 'bad' long before the torah was given. So how to be 'good' is not something the torah can take cr for having originated.
      Do you not think that there were plenty of good people who helped their friends, relatives, the sick, elderly and offered guests food and shelter prior to the torah?
      I don't want to get sidetracked with capitalism though i have much to say on it.
      But to continue a discussion of morality you must define it.
        Slick! ;-)
        I threw the ball into your court and you just threw it back...
        Your means of evaluating "morality" (which we still have not defined) is glib. It can preclude abortion (don't abort others because you wouldn't want to be aborted [harmed] yourself) on the one hand, yet allow for unfettered caveat emptor (don't restrain other people's shady busines,v because you wouldn't want to be restrained yourself).
        As to the other comment you make: We only know they were punished for not being good from the Torah itself...
        As to the definition of "morality," your turn...
          In abortion, somethings rights are being abridged. A fetus can't live on its own therefore its rights are secondary to the mother it requires for life. Furthermore, we can't know what the fetus 'desires' since its brain is not developed enough and even if it were, it might not want to be born. We DO know that we would not want to be forced to carry another potential being in our bodies against our will and ergo its immoral to force a woman to carry a potential baby against her will.
          Since i and you wouldn't want to be cheated its immoral to cheat others. Nothing complicated here.
          "We only know they were punished for not being good from the Torah itself..."
          So? this proves that the torah and its author had a definition of morality which didnt come from the torah.
            You mean that people who oppose abortion, on the one hand, and people who advocate minimal governmental regulation on the other hand, are, objectively, immoral?
              People who oppose abortion are mostly just religiously deluded. They have never been able to develop their moral compass. As a jew i know you're in favor of abortion as halacha requires, so you should be pro-choice. The repub. party platform is against abortion EVEN when moms life is in danger . That is an immoral position.
              • That is the position of the Catholic Church. Are you saying that, ergo, Catholicism is immoral?
              • Yes. And abortion is the least of it.
              • Ah ha. And you are the one and only right and true arbiter of morality - even against billions of Catholics, including serious theologians and philosophers - because?
              • Wait, is it now the sheer number of adherents that determines the truth of a moral standard? In that case, Orthodoxy doesn't even get to be the Jewish morality, much less morality for the world.
              • Why should you be the authority? What are your credentials or mesorah? Why is your position that you are a superior arbiter to everyone else nothing other than hubris?
              • Because I am the only one responsible for my actions. And therefore I am the one who must be responsible for my judgement. I cannot kick the can down the road, or resort to the notion that an ancient text or a political or religious leader said that what I did was ok to justify it.
                I have to be the authority for the morality of my actions because anything else is to abdicate responsibility to someone or something else. And the only means I have for making that judgement is what I can learn, and what I can reason.
              • Then you must respect every one else's own taking of their responsibility. And if they feel an ancient text is authentic, who are you to take issue? If anything, people who make themselves their own authorities are far more prone to poor judgment...
                Your lack of respect for others and their conclusions is very far from moral, in any sense of the term.
              • It is not a matter of respecting someone's taking of responsibility. Everyone is responsible for their actions (even if they choose to allow someone else to determine right and wrong for them).
                To put it in blunt terms, someone who straps a bomb onto their chest and goes and kills civilians in a suicide attack has clearly taken responsibility for their actions. That does not mean I am somehow compelled to honor their actions, or to consider that they were moral.
                As I said before, I am not a moral relativist, no matter how much you seem to want to try to make me one.
              • moshe
              • Interesting how you stipulate "civilians," implying that targeting soldiers is acceptable...
              • That is certainly more dependent on context.
                During a war, I would be hard pressed to call a suicide attack against enemy soldiers immoral.
              • I would say that that position of the Catholic Church is immoral.
              • Just to confirm: Dave is a moral person; Mother Teresa was an immoral person. Right?
              • I don't know, actually. If Mother Teresa believed that it was immoral to terminate a pregnancy even at the cost of the mother's life, then I believe that she held an immoral belief. I don't know if she agreed with that particular teaching or not.
                If holding an immoral belief or taking an immoral action is all that it takes to declare that someone is an immoral person, then we can wrap up now, because everyone is immoral.
              • Is Mother Teresa "wrong" if she maintains that if Dave believes it is moral to terminate a pregnancy under any circumstances then Dave holds am immoral belief?
              • Mother Theresa was an incredibly immoral person on many levels. The mythological hagiography surrounding her is worse than what I've read about some g'dolim on artscroll. And that's saying something. She loved suffering as it brings people closer to jesus so she wanted those under her care to suffer as much as possible. She diverted many millions given for the care of these unfortunate and decided instead to give it to the church to build more nunneries. She was despicable.
              • Yes. I am not a moral relativist.
              • But rather the supreme authority.
              • See below.
          Nice try. I offered a definition. i will explain how it fits with each of your questions. You haven't provided one. Let's hear.
            Sorry. What was that definition? I missed it. All I saw was a simplistic tool - which, you assert, is not the only tool, so is certainly not a definition - for "evaluating" morality.
              I have provided a basis for discussion. You ...nothing. If you don't have a definition exclusive of torah just say so. Don't tease me.
              • OK. Basis for discussion.
                Your basis is a direct translation of R' Akiva's definition of ואהבת לרעך כמוך -
                מה דעלך סני לחברך אל תעביד
                Hillel said that the rest of the Torah is simply the explanation of this "basis."
                You (or I) may have difficulties at times understanding how specific issues are manifestations of the "basis."
                But your "basis" is the Torah's "basis."
              • IH
              • Who is included in רעך and חברך and who is excluded, thereby, from the domain of "morality" or "mussar"?
              • Your question is based on a mistaken premise. While ואהבת לרעך כמוך ומה דעלך סני may entail inclusions and exclusions, morality - if we define it as mussar - has no exclusions. There is no one who is beyond the mission of Mussar - to attempt לתקן עולם במלכות שדי.
              • Can we therefore determine that anything which contradicts this basis is wrong? Even if it shows up in the explanation?
                (Also, as you note, and much like the Kantian Categorical Imperative, how you frame the question is how you control the result you want to get)
              • Yes. But only according to RT because it is "immoral." I do not accept his tool for evaluation as the definition of "morality" as I perceive it.
              • So Hillel was wrong?
              • No. He did not mean to define "morality." He meant to define the baseline that the Torah demands.
              • So Hillel was wrong?
                No. He did not mean to define "morality." He meant to define the baseline that the Torah demands.
                This demands a . It would be convenient if you were able to dismiss Hillel's words as just defining the baseline. That way you can reject his words as being a proper definition of moral without saying he was wrong. Unfortunately that's not possible. There are many cases where halacha defies his words completely. It isn't that halacha used them as a baseline and built up from there. It's that halacha rejects this maxim completely and says the polar opposite.
                Killing someone who violates shabbos when you wouldn't want to be killed for violating someone else's shabbos.
                Owning a slave when you would never want to be one yourself. And on and on. So Hillel had a decent concept of morality innately which then got ignored.
                So Hillel was wrong about torah. And the torah deviates often from Hillels stated moral principle.
              • check
              • Hillel's statement is not a legal principle, it's ethos. It doesn't supersede the halacha, it is descriptive of much of the mitzvot and obligations bein adom lechaveiro.
              • It reflects his attempt to summarize what its all about. It's probably what he would have LIKED to be true since it is a real decent yet brief way to get to morality. But it just isn't the basis for much of halacha. Even BALC. The first moral departure is that jews are treated differently than non-jews. that violates Hillels principle.
              • You think Hillel was such an Am Ha'aretz that he was not aware of these issue?
              • That's such a 'lazy rebbe' answer/question. Don't expect me to do your work for you . If you have a logical reconciliation for Hillel please tell me.
              • i don't direct people to books to find my answers. They're in my head and I use my own words. If you'd like to copy and paste a few relevant lines , thats one thing, but why not just explain in your own words.? In my experience any response that requires pages and pages of pre-ambles and framing is a result of weakness of argument, not strength.
              • Truth be told, it loses in translation. See the attached scan.
              • Treating your slaves nicely doesn't help. It's still immoral and still violates Hillels principle.
              • ...On the Old Testament attitude toward slavery, it's harder to take the line most Christians want to take. After all, the Torah does institute the practice of slavery. It tells Israel to take slaves of certain peoples conquered in war, which is actually merciful given what it says to do to the natives of the land. That means someone who truly believes the Torah came from God should admit that it's ok to institute a practice of slavery. At the same time, the context of the Torah limits this slavery from being anything like what we would think of as paradigm cases of bad slavery. The seven-year maximum alone (and some cases would be much less, if they began closer to the seventh year) shows a huge difference. The fact that many slaves voluntarily stayed with their masters, as a provision in the law allows, shows that it wasn't an oppressive practice. That it was voluntary and perhaps the best way at the time to deal with excessive debt shows that it's a mercy for Israelites who would become slaves. That the 49th or 50th year (depending on how you take certain passages) would return property to its rightful owner (not that Israel ever followed this law, but God had commanded it) also helps a great deal.
                So in the end I don't see how the slavery imposed by the Torah of God is anything like what people usually complain about when they say slavery is inherently wicked. I think I've given enough reason for Christians to think of slavery in very different terms from how it's usually thought of in the American orthodoxy of moral thought. It's not slavery itself that's wrong in principle. It's various other features that happen to go along with slavery enough in recent memory and at certain important times in the past. We associate those things with slavery, but slavery itself is in principle something that can be very good. At least that's what Christians should say, given what the Bible says.
                see more
              • That's not what he is saying.
                But you are incorrect. If you treat your slaves appropriately, and the alternative is to release them to a life of misery and affliction, then it is good and moral to retain your slaves.
                If you can purchase a slave from a foul master and treat him well so long as he is your household, and you do not have the wherewithal to make him free with dignity and security, that too is good and moral.
                If it is necessary to inflict punishment on someone who imperils society, that too is good and moral.
                If the betterment of society trumps the right of an individual to be irresponsible and wanton, that too is good and moral.
                Moreover, all these scenarios meet and manifest Hillel's principle.
                For some reason, which I can conjecture, you position your thoughts on such matters as a priori superior to anyone else's thoughts. Most unfortunate.
              • Let's stick to eved cnaani. From where did they come? Many presumably were forcibly removed from their homes/tribes/families/culture only to be bought and sold along the path to the residence of a jew who now owns him and his children, who are then passed down to the jews own children as property. And now you want to claim that since releasing him would leave him in poverty and misery that its GOOD and MORAL to continue enslaving him??!! And ignoring the fact that every slave purchased increases the demand for slaves thereby contributing to the enslavement of more humans?
                Then you further posit that since the jewish home is better than the 'foul' master alternative its actually an altruistic endeavor to own this slave??

                If slavery was such a good option for slaves, why not free them and hire them for their work just as was done for non-slaves? Will you next suggest that YOU know better what's good for these people and you're helping them by removing their freedom? Please. These answers will only work on the hopelessly gullible and on those who really really want to believe them without the slightest desire to subject them to critical thought.
                These defenses of torah-permitted slavery might be why as you said, "For some reason, which I can conjecture, you position your thoughts on such matters as a priori superior to anyone else's thoughts."
                With just one correction. My positions aren't by definition superior a priori in my mind, but having evaluated the available responses similar to what you offered above, I have the greatest confidence that my thoughts on this matter are in fact superior .
                There's only one honest answer for someone who accepts the divinity of the torah :
                "Yes, the torah contains many immoral and bad things. However, we must still follow it since god commanded us to."
                And therefore god is not omnibenevolent, and Hillel's words are simply incompatible with torash teachings.
                see more
              • Let us indeed stick to eved kena'ani. They did not come from the inhabitants of the land, as these were not intended as slaves, the term notwithstanding. They either, as Halacha provides, sold themselves into slavery, or were purchased from a non-Jewish master who was not divinely commanded to treat them with dignity.
                The slave trade prior to the African-American experience was generally in the spoils of war. If these people were not bought, they would undoubtedly be killed by their captors, not left in some romantic Rousseau-like noble savage state.
                The vociferous character of your tirade does not make it correct or true, On the contrary, איסתרא בלגינא קיש קיש קריא. The post-bellum sufferings of African-Americans - the effects of which linger beyond the sesquicentennial of their emancipation - demonstrate that it is a glib, simplistic and unsubstantiated assertion that you make about freeing slaves and paying them wages.
                I have cited thinkers - both Jewish and Christian - who give reasonable and reasoned explanations as to why slavery was considered moral throughout history. I know you well RT, and I have no hope of convincing you on anything. But to not even concede that there are thoughtful and thought-out perspectives that differ from yours, and to then state that you respectfully disagree - that is unbecoming.
              • " that is unbecoming."
                I guess you won't be voting for me to win "Miss Congeniality" . :)
              • It depends. It is all relative... ;-)
              • or were purchased from a non-Jewish master
                Exactly. And thus immoral. That christian and jewish 'thinkers' may try to explain WHY it was CONSIDERED moral is not the same as explaining whether it WAS moral. Again, YOU would not have wanted to be a slave and jews at that time didn't want to be slaves. The torahs lack of condemnation and lack of a ban is telling.
                In response to the last paragraph, there are many issues related to politics, economics, global warming, obamacare etc. in which I have my opinion but I understand and respect the other side to the point where i can't say with certainty that I'm right. This is not one of them. I know I'm right. And if you think you're having a hard time convincing me that slavery is moral, try to explain how killing a homosexual is moral and good. And tell me why its the epitome of goodness to put those who don't your particular beliefs to death. And perhaps you'll convince me that its the height of morality to kill the animals of a people you've defeated. After all, those animals :
                a) deserved it?
                b) would prefer to be killed ?
                c) are going to a better afterlife?
                I assume you would be equally dismissive and unconvincable (?) if someone was trying to tell you that the 9/11 hijackers were quite moral.
              • Experience has shown me that when people pile question upon question with no pause for breath, they are not interested in hearing responses, but hearing themselves pontificate.
                So, as you did, I will stick to Eved Kena'ani. Many people don't want to work at all, but must do so. When they are employed at a dead-end lousy job, is their employer immoral?
                Have you ever been fired/fired someone? Is that immoral?
                I wish the Torah would prescribe economic systems. It doesn't. It teaches us how to act within the prevailing system - morally.
              • "So, as you did, I will stick to Eved Kena'ani. "
                I wasn't sticking to eved c'naani as the sole example of immorality. I said that WHEN we're discussing the immorality of slavery we should stick to the eved cnaani form since it better reflects the problem.
                i hope you're not avoiding the other examples i raised for lack of a decent defense.
              • I am offended... ;-)
                RT, you know me better than that, I hope. Pick one issue at a time to address. Your choice.
              • i think we've exhausted the slavery issue. Let's try the killing of homosexuals who engage in gay sex after being properly warned even if the opportunity to do so only presented itself once every seven or seventy years. Explain how that is the height of morality and goodness.
              • Now to homosexuals. We don't go into people's bedrooms. If we do kill homosexuals it is only if they are involved willfully and wantonly and publicly in the full act.
              • Oh and you still haven't fulfilled what is a prerequisite for discussing morality which is to define it.
              • I did. It is elsewhere in this discussion. Seek and you shall find.
              • Mussar doesn't cut it. Neither does using another term you won't define.
              • I am in awe of your skill with peremptory statements.
              • Nothing peremptory. Historical basis.
              • I am not sure you understand the word peremptory.
                Full Definition of PEREMPTORY
                1
                a : putting an end to or precluding a right of action, debate, or delay; specifically : not providing an opportunity to show cause why one should not comply b : admitting of no contradiction
                2
                : expressive of urgency or command
                3
                a : characterized by often imperious or arrogant self-assurance <how become,="" he="" how="" insolent="" is="" late="" of="" peremptory="" proud,="" shakespeare="" —="">b : indicative of a peremptory attitude or nature : haughty</how> <peremptory an="" disregard="" objection="" of="">
                The statement: "Mussar doesn't cut it" is a peremptory statement.</peremptory>
              • My apologies. I was thinking of preemptive.
              • My understanding is that it doesn't have to be a public act, just that witnesses are able to see it. Please confirm.
                In any case, single heterosexuals are not subject to death for the same act and their sex is not called a "toeva" .
              • That which occurs before two witnesses is a public act! What are these guys thinking doing their thing in front of two witnesses who have just made their presence and intent very clearly known?
                Heterosexuals and lesbians receive malkos d'rabbanan (makkas mardus).
                The penalty is lesser because it is not a to'eiva.
              • The two witnesses could be looking through an open window of a private house.
                Further, what is the moral basis for homo to be any different than hetero ?
                And most importantly, the frequency of which the punishment can be carried out by man is a side issue to the morality of the law. The torah says they should be put to death for having gay sex. That death sentence is immoral. The gay sex is not. Though you can't really respond since you won't define the word.
              • The two guys know the two witnesses are watching them. So what if it's through the window?
                They are both immoral. Because a normal society does not want people engaging in sexual activities in public.
                But homosexuality is also a sin. We haven't spoken about the concept of sin apart from "morality" here. The Torah tells us that certain behaviors are sinful. Even among consenting adults. You don't like the concept of sin. That's why most people who opt out of Shemiras Torah u'Mitzvos opt out.
                The death sentence is not immoral. That's absurd. People of good will can argue if the death sentence is effective, if it is abused, etc. But it is not immoral.
              • 2 men have every right to do whatever they please in their bedroom or anywhere else in a private residence. To suggest that because they have a window and are warned THEY are immoral is again preposterous, though you can't judge its morality. You can only judge its torah-lity.
                Sin is another topic. Since you still refuse to define morality separate from torah and god, i can only assume you agree when I say certain parts of the torah are immoral since I've provided a method of evaluation which is currently the only one on the table. And by that definition it is immoral.
                Your options are to either dispute that killing gays fails the 'don't do unto others' test. or to offer another definition by which killing someone for gay sex would pass the test.
                "You don't like the concept of sin"
                It isn't that i don't like it , it's that it doesn't exist.
                " That's why most people who opt out of Shemiras Torah u'Mitzvos opt out."
                Study which supports this? In my case and those I know that didn't even make the list.
                "The death sentence is not immoral. That's absurd."
                i never said it was. My words were "The torah says they should be put to death for having gay sex. That death sentence is immoral.
                And it is. Killing someone because they want to act on their attraction which happens to differ from yours is sick, cruel,immoral, barbaric, vile and brought to us by the torah. It's interesting that god d much of the same moral thinking as the men of the bronze age.
                see more
              • One more thing before we leave the slavery issue. A society in which CEOs making $1million a year can fire at will lower level employees making under $50k a year is a far more immoral society than one that allows for humane "slavery."
              • So you assert. I strongly disagree. Proof I'm right is that i bet you couldn't find even a single fired low-paid worker of a $1M CEO who would choose to be a slave rather than a fired worker. That doesn't make it the ideal situation but with economic systems there's only fair analysis relative to the alternatives. It's fair to say that capitalism is the least moral and ethical of all economic systems.......EXCEPT for everything else.
              • In an economy without entitlements? Nonsense. You are thinking of an American who can get food stamps and welfare (hooray for socialism!).
              • James Johnson, a 79 year old ex-slave from Columbia, South Carolina, stated in his narrative that he “[felt] and [knew] dat de years after de war was worser than befo’”. The Emancipation Proclamation and the Union’s victory in the war secured the freedom of slaves, but with a society plagued by Jim Crow Laws and segregation, ex-slaves were far from liberated. Slaves paid the price for their freedom as emancipation introduced new hardships, insecurities, and humiliation.
                During the post Civil War and Reconstruction Era, a slave’s fight for freedom turned into a mere fight for survival. The majority of slaves were released from their previous plantations penniless. Wages for African Americans also fluctuated in response to the perceived worth of that person and manual labor was considered easily replaceable during the post Civil War time period. With income being an issue, few ex-slaves had the ability to own land. According to the 1880 Census, one-fifith of African Americans owned at least some of the land they farmed. However, these holdings were usually beset with debt, crippling African American owners in the long run. Johnson declared that, “Befo’ de war, niggers did have a place to lie down at night and somewhere to eat, when they got hungry in slavery time.”
              • " is their employer immoral?"
                Come on. An employee may quit whenever he likes and seek other opportunities.
                "Have you ever been fired/fired someone? Is that immoral?"
                Of course not.
                "It teaches us how to act within the prevailing system - morally."
                It {torah} teaches us how to act within the prevailing system - torah-like.
              • check
              • "Have you ever been fired/fired someone? Is that immoral?"
                'Of course not.'
                I may have missed some of your posts, but IIRC, you defined morality as don't do to others what you wouldn't want done to you. Most people don't like being fired; thus, it follows that firing someone is immoral behavior.
              • That's a fair question. An employment agreement is a contract between 2 people in which the employee agrees to do "x" under "y" set of rules established by the employer , knowing that under this agreement the employer "R" may fire the employee "E" if such conditions aren't met and even if only because he thinks doing so will save him money, since thats the ultimate goal of a business. In exchange R agrees to pay E an agreed sum.
                The one doing the action in a firing is the employer. Would that employer want all parties to a contract to be able to enforce that contract? i would think so. Would the employee want to be in a contract whose terms can't be enforced? No.
                Therefore from either perspective taking an action permissible under the terms of a mutually agreed contract is moral and ethical, even though the employee may not be happy about it when the agreed terms lead to his firing.. OTOH if the terms said that E is entitled to 3 weeks vacation and R refuses to allow it under threat of termination, THAT would be immoral and the law would consider it a breach of contract and he could be civilly liable.
              • And if there are no other opportunities?
                Why is it moral to fire someone? You are depriving them of livelihood and happiness.
                Your last statement is a truism, not a rational argument.
              • So is that YOUR basis?
              • No. I subscribe to commenter Robert's definition of Morality as Mussar. Hence, it is not sufficient to avoid harming others to be considered "moral."
              • Incidentally, I have a far more thorough and objective definition which I'll gladly describe once I hear yours.
              • So you have yet to be pinned down on any definition whatsoever. It's a clever ploy but I'm not letting it go. What is the definition?
              • A moral person is a person that strives to make himself and his sphere of influence good. A moral society is one that strives to make its constituency and its sphere of influence good.
                An amoral person does not strive to make himself and his sphere of influence good - but does not strive to make himself and his sphere of influence bad.
                An immoral person strives to make himself and his sphere of influence bad.
                You cannot define morality without defining "good" and "bad."
              • That just pushes the problem off from 'moral' to 'good' and will again require a definition of 'good' beyond the torah. IOW that's a cop-out. Please define whatever your definition leads to up to a point where that definition is Objective and not subjective. Especially not subjective to a torah def. since thats still nothing but a tautology.
              • There is no definition of "good" unless there is a "god" (god/good). As a bona fide atheist, you can have no concept of good. From your perspective, an egotistical, apathetic, utterly neutral person is moral. There is nothing "better" or "greater."
              • There is no definition of "good" unless there is a "god" (god/good)
                Really? Why is that? And before you answer please consider whether your answer claim and answer would also apply to the statement , There is no definition of "stinky" unless there is a "god" (god/stinky) ..no disrespect intended.
                As a bona fide atheist, you can have no concept of good
                Ridiculous. As someone who has been able to spend years working on both defining and applying morality , honesty and goodness to life situations I think i have quite a good concept.
                OTOH, people who accept that the morality of a book they believe written by god contains the final word on morality and goodness would have no reason to exercise their moral faculties and powers of reason. All they need do is study that book really hard. You aren't permitted to truly question and evaluate the torahs morality. And you def can't act on any disagreements you might have in a way that defies halacha.
                I feel bad for those who can never experience the freedom to really think in moral terms.
                From your perspective, an egotistical, apathetic, utterly neutral person is moral. There is nothing "better" or "greater."
                The good thing is that since my thoughts and judgments don't derive from any known book, you CAN"T possibly know what I think. This statement proves it. The person you described is at best neutral. You didn't list any specific good qualities . But since I know where you get your morals, I can say confidently that you would deem a jew who is a sabbath violating homosexual as being immoral.
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      The most religious segments of the American polity are exactly the groups most heavily supporting those elected officials advocating for unfettered capitalism; so that would tend to undercut your thesis.
        Religious people are not necessarily good people. Rav Wolbe makes this point eloquently in his harsh disparagement of "Frumkeit" in Alei Shur vol. 2. Often a non-religious person reflects Judeo-Christian values more than a religious person. This is because the religious person suffers from "Frumkeit." (See also the Meshech Chochmo's introduction to Vayikra.)
          And as an aside, if non-religious people tend to be better people than religious people, shouldn't we be hoping that everyone leave religion for the general betterment of mankind?
            Silly comment. Truly religious personalities are transcendent. They epitomize goodness. Evidently you never met one of them. Your antipathy can only be understood on that basis.
              No true scotsman . Plenty of religious people are highly immoral. plenty of non-religious are incredibly great people.
              There's no reason to expect correlation.
              • We are talking past each other since we have not defined morality. I specifically referred to goodness on that account.
                I admit that I erred using the term "truly religious." I knew I was being inaccurate when I was using it, but thought it was inconsequential. The actual connotation of "truly religious" is negative. I should have written "True Torah."
              • Still no true scotsman. Since nobody can avoid sin there;s no such thing. And amongst sinners you can't pick and choose after the fact as to who is "true torah".
              • You are coming from a Christian definition of the sin/sinner connection. In Judaism, people who sin are not necessarily sinners. A "choteh" in Yahadus is a perennial sinner. And it does not apply to all "sins" either. One who perennially misses davening is not categorized as a "choteh."
                BTW, I am responding to your challenge of the presence of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy on your own terms. In actuality, you are misapplying it here.
              • My friend, any attempt to claim that a truly 'religious' or 'torah true' person is a good person is precisely what is rendered fallacious by NTSF.
              • Nope. I will demonstrate. A Tzaddik in Our Time is a depiction and account of a Torah True Person (TTP). That is an objective standard against which to measure other people. To the extent that someone resembles or emulates Rabbi Aryeh Levin, he is a TTP. He may be further along the continuum or further back. Although human behavior is not subject to precise measurement, were it so, we might be able to describe a point on the continuum that is not on the level attained by RAL and say that is suffices as a threshold to be regarded as a TTP.
              • So as long as you have defined TTP as being such a level at which there may only be a handful of such people on the planet, you can feel comfortable saying that all religious people are moral. In that case, the vast majority of frum jews who do not measure up to RAL are not necessarily moral. What does that say about the system of laws they're following and whether those laws lead to morality? ANd that standard is FAR from objective. IF so, can you list for me who is currently worthy of being called TTP or like RAL?
              • It says life is not always about being but about becoming.
                Your last question is such an obvious trap. But like Roadrunner, I know (at least sometimes) when to avoid Wily Coyote...
              • Your last question is such an obvious trap
                That you perceive it so (correctly) shows that your position is untenable. You're in effect claiming that there are NO people you would call religious since thats the only way you can maintain your claim that a 'religious' person is 'transcendent' and 'epitomizes goodness'. thus your claim is meaningless.
              • Not at all. You are trying to get me to define the category by people. It is defined, as Reb Micha Berger notes elsewhere, by the Hakdama to Sha'arei Yosher.
              I have met a number of people who were both religious and genuinely incredibly good people.
              I have also met a number of people who were not religious, and were also genuinely incredibly good people.
              And I have met a number of people who were extremely devout, and astoundingly hate-filled.
              From this, I see no reason to believe in any correlation (much less causation) between religious beliefs and goodness (or even greatness).
              • moshe
              • Except how can you define what is good without referencing G-d? In fact, the words are etymologically related.
              • My point! The people you have met have been "both religious and ... good people."
                You have not met the personalities who are fusions of the two qualities, but personalities who are combinations of the qualities.
                I urge you to read A Tzaddik in Our Time. Only from such works can one garner the unique loftiness of authentic Torah personalities.
          Could you please define "Judeo-Christian" values?
          In general, I find that it is a handy term to look inclusive, but almost inevitably devolves down to "Christian but look, we'll say we include Jews too".
            Why don't we start with the Decalogue?
              The decalogue is not a particularly moral teaching.
              So why don't we call it "Judeo-Christian-Islamic" values, since as near as I can tell, the only commandment the Muslims don't have involves a day of rest, and that is one point where the "Judeo" and the "Christian" don't agree either.
              • moshe
              • They're also commanded to blow things up.
              • And we're commanded to commit genocide.
              • But in Orthodox Judaism we are not commanded to commit genocide.
              • Amalek?
              • You don't know the Rambam?
              • "Pay us or we'll kill you all" is at best blackmail with the real threat of Genocide.
                And that's assuming that you think the Rambam's view is anything other than revisionism to meet with either the mores of his time (after all, he would have been familiar with Dhimmihood) or sheer self-interest (since Jews were a powerless group at the time, and had a very strong interest in arguing against conquerors wiping out the conquered).
              • That's not what the Rambam says.
                But - and this is an important point - you have just made it impossible to discuss any issue with you. If there is any evidence that I might cite in a discussion that you would like to dismiss, you will dismiss it by branding it "revisionism" or "self-interest."
              • But that's part of the whole issue under discussion here.
                R' Harry's thesis was that Orthodox Judaism represents an absolute morality, as differentiated from those that are controlled by the zeitgeist of the cultures that contain them.
                The Rambam's take on Amalek (and my understanding that the requirement was, "Follow the Noachide Laws, and pay a tax, or we will have to kill you") is distinctly a change in Jewish thought.
                Now, I think it far more likely that he was trying to deal with the conflict between a commandment to Genocide and the the social mores of his time than it is that it was a matter of self-interest, but that is also a possibility. Part of the reason I think it more likely a conflict resolution is that his solution (again, as I understand it) is very much in line with the culture in which he lived.
                But that's part of my point; regardless of a claimed "absolute morality", all religions have their views of right and wrong altered by their own cultures over time. That's why we can see Christian Churches having bankers accepted as members in good standing (despite 1500 or so years of teaching against usury by the Christian community). That's why we can see Orthodox Judaism overturn the Shulchan Aruch (and the Rambam) on Conversions in the past century. That's why we can see Chareidi Judaism overturn the Ketubah in the last half century. That's why we can see the Baptists demand that teachers at Baptist schools swear to follow a specific creed.
                Because religions exist as part of cultures, and when the cultural pressure conflicts with religious doctrine, the doctrine changes. Just as it does in the secular world.
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              • Generally speaking, I have no problem with the "JCI" terminology. The "JC" terminology is traditional in the US because it is upon this basis that American values were forged - Islam enters the equation much later.
                I do, however, agree with the critique of Islam expressed by Emeritus Pope Benedict in the Regensburg lecture.
              • I disagree. American values were formed (as I said above) with an enormous influence from the Enlightenment, which is neither Jewish, Christian, nor Muslim.
                To put it another way, there is no way that a country that was created in a tax rebellion against its King could make a plausible claim to be based on Christian values.
              • Hmmm... have you ever read the Declaration of Independence?
              • The Declaration is a non-legal and non-binding document. The constitution not only makes no mention of god but wants the govt. to be separated completely from ones belief or lack thereof. See the "Treaty of Tripoli" for example..."As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion....,"
              • Yes, have you read the Christian Bible? Or for that matter, the Jefferson Bible?
              • Yes. And the Koran as well.
              • So how is a tax revolt the act of those following a God who declared "Render onto Caesar that which is Caesar's"?
              • Too far off-topic. Whether you (or, for that matter, I or anyone else) find their perspective plausible or not, the founding fathers believed that their revolt reflected Christian values.
              • I specified "plausible" in my initial statement.
                The very act of rebelling against an ordained King (especially over taxes) was far more in keeping with the ideals of government only with the consent of the governed coming out of the Enlightenment than it was with anything rooted in Christian doctrine.
                As I said in the first post on this thread, America is in a constant tension between religious extremism (after all, the Puritans got thrown out of England for being too uptight) and Enlightenment ideals, with the balance shifting back and forth over the years.
                However, the foundational document of the United States is far more a creation of the Enlightenment than anything else, and the author of the Declaration of Independence could not in any meaningful sense be considered a believing Christian (nor was he treated that way by his contemporaries).
              • Dwight Eisenhower looked to the Founding Fathers of 1776 to say:
                "all men are endowed by their Creator." In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men created equal.[12]
                ^ Patrick Henry, "'And I Don't Care What It Is': The Tradition-History of a Civil Religion Proof-Text," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, March 1981, Vol. 49 Issue 1, pp 35-47 in JSTOR
              • Christianity
                By Mary Fairchild
                Christian Quotes of the Founding Fathers
                Founding Fathers - Quotes on Christianity, Faith, Jesus and the Bible
                No one can deny that many of the founding fathers of the United
                States of America were men of deep religious convictions based in the
                Bible and their Christian faith in Jesus Christ. Of the 56 men who
                signed the Declaration of Independence, nearly half (24) held seminary
                or Bible school degrees.
                These Christian quotes of the founding fathers will give you an
                overview of their strong moral and spiritual convictions which helped
                form the foundations of our nation and our government.
                George Washington
                1st U.S. President
                "While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and
                soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add
                the more distinguished character of Christian."
                John Adams
                2nd U.S. President and Signer of the Declaration of Independence
                "Suppose a nation in some distant Region should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there
                exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and
                to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God ... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be."
                "The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could
                Unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general Principles? I answer, the
                general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men
                United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence.
                "Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and
                Attributes of God ; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System."
                "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding
                generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought
                to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from
                this time forward forever."
                Thomas Jefferson
                3rd U.S. President, Drafter and Signer of the Declaration of Independence
                "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the
                minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I
                reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever; That a revolution of the wheel of fortune, a change of situation, is among possible events; that it
                may become probable by Supernatural influence! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in that event."
                "I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ."
                John Hancock
                1st Signer of the Declaration of Independence
                "Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual. ... Continue steadfast and, with a proper sense of your dependence on God,
                nobly defend those rights which heaven gave, and no man ought to take from us."
                Benjamin Franklin
                Signer of the Declaration of Independence and Unites States Constitution
                --The Writings of Washington, pp. 342-343.
                --Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, Vol. III, p. 9.
                --Adams wrote this on June 28, 1813, excerpt from a letter to Thomas Jefferson.
                --Adams wrote this in a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776.
                --Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, p. 237.
                --The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, p. 385.
                --History of the United States of America, Vol. II, p. 229.
                Declaration of Independence
                Image: Photodisc / Getty
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                "Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshipped.
                "That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in
                another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet
                with them.
                "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world
                ever saw, or is likely to see;
                "But I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though
                it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of
                knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his
                doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive, that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his
                government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure."
                Go to Page 2: Christian Quotes of the Founding Fathers
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                --Benjamin Franklin wrote this in a letter to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale University on March 9, 1790.
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              • I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Holmes. Not relevant.
              • There is no question that the majority of the American rebels were Christian.
                The question is whether their actions could accurately be termed as "Christian values". I submit that there is no way a tax rebellion against a King can be squared with the Christian injunction to pay taxes.
              • moshe
              • Just because taxes are a necessary evil, doesn't mean they need to be confiscatory.
              • Christians are directly commanded to pay their taxes, no matter how unjust the ruler. Therefore, whether right or wrong, a tax rebellion can never be based on Christian values.

I include the following exchange just because it is amusing: 
     a day ago
    On the basis of this comment thread, I now better understand the comments from people left intellectually unsatisfied by discussion of these philosophic topics with RW Rabbis. Wavings one's hands to redefine problems so that they fall within the comfort zone of RW Orthodoxy and can thereby be “answered” is transparent and self defeating. Just saying…