Deep Theological Questions Volume 1

October 19, 2006

In my school we have a teacher at night who teaches us Medrash. With a lot of bored students theological tangents are just a way of filling up the time. Hopefully every Thursday (unless this bombs) I’ll put up a couple of questions for general discussion (its like a timewaster but you can never win)

1. The backround for this is a speech about how learning Torah is wonderful. A story quoted was a question to R’ Shach z’l about a Yeshiva doing an outreach program during the summer break. He said that if they would be learning during the break then they shouldn’t do it because the people learning are what really makes the outreach work.
I took issue with this because it seems to infringe upon free will that my decision on the margin is changed because somebody who doesn’t know me learns an extra page of Talmud. In addition, we have a principle that everything is controlled by G-d except for how well we follow his commands. This to seems to be violated by G-d controlling, based on the amount of learning done, how easy it is to follow his command.
The answer I was given is based on R’ Dessler’s idea that free will is not total it has an upper and lower bound which are based on our character. For example the average person has no free choice to rape somebody because it is so out of character, but also doesn’t have the free will to, say, let himself be killed rather than eat pork in public. I would say that this idea makes sense although I don’t think it is such an a sharp cut-off I would consider more of a continuum with reward and punishment based on the average behavior of those in your exact situation which is only known to G-d since every situation is unique.
So the answer was that those learning don’t take away free choice, they merely shift the parameters. I think that an external force changing your free-choice field without you having a role in it is a removal of free will.

2. The second question has to do with the nature of knowledge. One principle hammered into us frequently is that the Sages were not less knowledgable than us and that due to their knowledge of Torah they had significant knowledge of medicine for example. The question is two fold and the answer is unsatisfactory.
In the Talmud a book of medicine of Solomon is mentioned which was hidden away (the only book which could conceivably be called Natural Cures They Don’t Want you to Know About) given the nature of Talmudic cures I have a feeling that any effect these medicines had was very similar to placebo level and most modern medicines couldn’t have been manufactured then. In addition, if they had this medicine book and it was effective then how could they have condemned the millions to die from the various diseases.
The answer to this disturbed me a great deal because it seemed to have a ruthlessness far from Judaism. The answer was that people should rely on G-d instead of medicine and if the cost of that is a few million deaths that was an acceptable loss. The secondary answer was that knowledge of medicine wouldn’t change anything since G-d obviously wanted those who died to die at that time and that if you get the best medical care available then G-d treats you the same regardless of whether the medicine is effective or not. This point seems to be statistically disprovable since only recently did people staying at a hospital get increased life expectancy.

A bonus question: Are the prophets directly G-d as he spoke to them in their speeches to the people or are they putting G-d’s ideas in their own words?

Comments are as always welcome.


Where does the Left find these self-hating Jews?

August 9, 2006

Rabbi David Goldberg is disturbed by the violence and sees many Talmudic problems with….. Israel’s retaliation. To quote him.
“In one of the tractates of the Talmud – that vast repository of rabbinic law and lore – there is a discussion about the difference between killing in self-defence and murder. A man came before the eminent Babylonian sage Raba and said that he had been ordered by the governor of his town to kill a third party in order to save his own life. Was he permitted to do so? No, ruled Raba, the principle that if someone intends to kill then you kill him first only applies if thereby the life of the intended victim is spared. Otherwise, “Say not that your blood is redder than his; perhaps his blood is redder than yours.” Even in extreme circumstances we should comply with certain rules of moral conduct that enable societies to function and sovereign states to maintain relations with each other.
Talmud may be one of the misquoted texts out there, especially by liberal Rabbis. This passage is referring to complying with a third parties demand that you kill an innocent to save you from the demander. Hezbullah terrorists fall into none of these categories they are attackers who you can defend yourself against. Israel is a nation with not only a right, but an obligation from the Torah to defend itself by any means necessary.
War, too, has its own rules of limitation and restraint, enshrined in just-war theory, the Geneva conventions and international law. Prominent among them is the doctrine of proportionality: that the response to aggression should be commensurate with the act. It would be true to say that Israel has always taken a robust attitude towards reprisals. Zionist policy from pre-state days was to respond to Arab attacks with double force, as a deterrent. David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, was the supreme exponent of this approach. Yet, interestingly, shortly after Israel’s stunning victory in the six day war he counselled returning almost all of the captured territories because, in his view, after such a comprehensive thrashing the defeated Arab nations would leave Israel in peace for at least a decade. Moshe Dayan was dispatched to his desert kibbutz to tell the old man to pipe down. Piecemeal colonisation of the West Bank followed, in retaliation for Arab refusal to recognise or negotiate with Israel, which is why almost 40 years on there are 250,000 Jewish settlers on Palestinian land and no resolution in sight to the claims of Palestinian statehood.

To quote the Geneva convention on proportionality ”

Civilians have special protections under Convention IV, Protocol I, and Protocol II.

They must be treated humanely, without discrimination based on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or other similar criteria.

Violence to life and person including murder, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture are prohibited. The taking of hostages is prohibited. Outrages upon personal dignity, including humiliating and degrading treatment are prohibited. Sentences and executions without a judgment from a regularly constituted court and without benefit of the standard judicial guarantees are prohibited. Civilians must not be used to protect military installations or operations against attacks. Indiscriminate attacks are those which are not directed at a specific military objective or those which use a method of attack that cannot be directed at or limited to a specific military objective. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 4) This includes area bombardment, where a number of clearly separated military objectives are treated as a single military objective, and where there is a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 5a) This also includes attacks where the expected incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects is excessive to the military advantage anticipated. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 5b) Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 4) Combatants must distinguish between civilian and military objects and attack only military targets. (Protocol I, Art. 48) If it becomes apparent that an objective in an attack is not a military one, or if that attack could cause incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects, then the attack must be called off. (Protocol I, Art. 57)”

Israel is guilty of none of these offenses by any reasonable standard of war. Hezbullah is guilty of all.In addition the colonisation wasnot in retaliation but was done because people believed that the land was theirs. Anyway Rabbi Goldberg doesn’t advocate a return of Britain to the Celts and the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish. In addition, Ben Gurion was clearly wrong. the defeat of the Arabs gave Israel 6 years of peace before another all-out war.

The present eruption in Lebanon is the latest in a long list of major wars, smaller campaigns, two intifadas, terrorist attacks, suicide bombings and targeted assassinations that have bedevilled the region since 1967. Both peoples have been corrupted by the situation. Neither can claim moral superiority.
Major wars: Started by Arabs
Intifadas: Started by Arabs
Terrorist Attacks, Suicide Bombings: Arabs again.
Targeted Assasinations: Israel. It doesn’t seem clear to me why targeted assasinations are wrong to these lefties. Do they think Israel should leave the terrorists alone until they have personally committed a crime at which point the police can arrest the remains of the suicide bomber and turn them over to his weeping family where he will get a greater funeral than those he killed. Or maybe Rabbi Goldberg thinks Israel should send in ground troops to the area (just kidding that would be an invasion of Palestine’s soveirgn territory) or maybe he thinks they should rely on the PA, I mean Hamas, to deal with those pesky Hamas terrorists.
I think Israel can claim moral superiority.

It is reasonable to infer from newspaper coverage and television evidence that Israel has been noticeably disproportionate in its response to the abduction of two soldiers and the killing of eight others in a Hizbullah ambush three weeks ago. Asymmetric warfare, as it is currently fashionable to call the contest between regular armies and guerrilla forces, inevitably results in asymmetric casualties, at least 10 times higher in Lebanon than in Israel. The government of Israel has the legal sanction to protect its citizens and forcibly remove Hizbullah’s rockets from southern Lebanon, along with the danger posed by 2,000-3,000 guerrillas. However, it should be borne in mind that – intolerable though it is for a large section of the population to be forced into bomb shelters and some of them killed – Hizbullah’s arsenal of Katyushas, rifles, machine guns, grenades and mortars represents a negligible military threat to the survival of Israel. This is not a total war between two countries that involves both armed forces and civilians, making Israel’s response to Hizbullah rockets analogous to the American response against Japan after Pearl Harbor or Britain’s against Germany, as some of Israel’s defenders have grotesquely tried to claim.

Hezbullah is targeting Israel, pretty soon they’ll be able to hit Tel Aviv and they can already hit Jerusalem. To say that this is not a major threat to Israel is absurd. Again he doesn’t give an answer to what a proportional response is, only that the BBC shows more Lebanese homes destroyed than destruction in Israel so therefore, the response is disproportionate. Should Israel keep a body count of their civillian dead and aim to kill that many Hezbullah terrorists. Should they measure their economic damage and destroy an equivalent amount of property. Should Israel aimlessly lob primitive missiles into Beirut and hope to hit the terrorists. Or should they use their technological superiority to kill the terrorists and prevent future rocket attacks.

Whether Hizbullah is indeed the fanatical spearhead of a Shia arc of extremism bent on the liquidation of Israel followed by world domination, or whether the prospect of Muslim unity among its opposed factions is a chimera, is something for strategic analysts to argue over. What is certain is that governments must respond to events in the present, even while getting their foreign-policy thinktanks to anticipate the shape of future alliances. In replying as forcefully and misguidedly as it has done to provocation from Lebanon, Israel might not even achieve a rocket-free zone in the north. But given that the Palestinian problem is no nearer solution and that by creating a wilderness in Lebanon and calling it peace Israel has recruited thousands of new martyrs to the Hizbullah cause, military and diplomatic planners are going to have to ask themselves how long the respite will last. Was Israel’s disproportionate response worth the cost of strengthening Arab hatred, alienating world opinion yet again and, last but not least, inviting criticism from a growing number of diaspora Jews who wish for Israel to live in security but find it increasingly difficult to condone what is being done by the Jewish state in their name? As the late Richard Crossman said, a policy of pragmatism is never justified – especially if it is unsuccessful.

Deal with the present problems and leave the future for later events. An interesting strategy indeed. Does he mean that Israel should wait for Iran and Syria to send in their ground forces before bombing Beirut back to the Stone Age because if he does Israel isn’t following his advice because Iran and Syria already are in this war. Inviting criticism from a growing number of diaspora Jews who wish for Israel to live in security but find it increasingly difficult to condone what is being done by the Jewish state in their name. Frankly sir, Israel doesn’t care at all about what you think.