May 10, 2007.
Before you read this entry, please read the following extract written by a fine Physicist and Scientist, Richard Feynman. Then read my commentary, which, even though I have the out-most respect for Dr. Feynman, I disagree.
While I was at the [Ethics of Equality in Education] conference, I stayed at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where young rabbis- I think they were Orthodox- were studying. Since I have a Jewish background, I knew some of the things they told me about the Talmud, but I had never seen the Talmud. It was very interesting. It’s got big pages, and in a little square in the corner of the page is the original Talmud, and in a sort of L-shaped margin, all around this square, are commentaries written by different people. The Talmud has evolved, and everything has been discussed again and again, all very carefully, in a medieval kind of reasoning. I think the commentaries were shut down around the thirteen- or fourteen- or fifteen-hundreds- there hasn’t been any modern commentary. The Talmud is a wonderful book, a great, big potpourri of things: trivial questions, and difficult questions- for example, problems of teachers, and how to teach- and then some trivia again, and so on. The students told me that the Talmud was never translated, something I thought was curious, since the book is so valuable.
One day, two or three of the young rabbis came to me and said, “We realize that we can’t study to be rabbis in the modern world without knowing something about science, so we’d like to ask you some questions.”
Of course there are thousands of places to find out about science, and Columbia University was right near there, but I wanted to know what kinds of questions they were interested in.
They said, “Well, for instance, is electricity fire?”
“No,” I said, “but… what is the problem?”
They said, “In the Talmud it says you’re not supposed to make fire on a Saturday, so our question is, can we use electrical things on Saturdays?”
I was shocked. They weren’t interested in science at all! The only way science was influencing their lives was so they might be able to interpret better the Talmud! They weren’t interested in the world outside, in natural phenomena; they were only interested in resolving some question brought up in the Talmud.
And then one day- I guess it was a Saturday- I want to go up in the elevator, and there’s a guy standing near the elevator. The elevator comes, I go in, and he goes in with me. I say, “Which floor?” and my hand’s ready to push one of the buttons.
“No, no!” he says, “I’m supposed to push the buttons for you.”
“Yes! The boys here can’t push the buttons on Saturday, so I have to do it for them. You see, I’m not Jewish, so it’s all right for me to push the buttons. I stand near the elevator, and they tell me what floor, and I push the button for them.”
Well, this really bothered me, so I decided to trap the students in a logical discussion. I had been brought up in a Jewish home, so I knew the kind of nitpicking logic to use, and I thought, “Here’s fun!”
My plan went like this: I’d start off by asking, “Is the Jewish viewpoint a viewpoint that any man can have? Because if it is not, then it’s certainly not something that is truly valuable for humanity… yak, yak, yak.” And then they would have to say, “Yes, the Jewish viewpoint is good for any man.”
Then I would steer them around a little more by asking, “Is it ethical for a man to hire another man to do something which is unethical for him to do? Would you hire a man to rob for you, for instance?” And I keep working them into the channel, very slowly, and very carefully, until I’ve got them- trapped!
And do you know what happened? They’re rabbinical students, right? They were ten times better than I was! As soon as they saw I could put them in a hole, they went twist, turn, twist- I can’t remember how- and they were free! I thought I had come up with an original idea- phooey! It had been discussed in the Talmud for ages! So they cleaned me up just as easy as pie- they got right out.
Finally I tried to assure the rabbinical students that the electrical spark that was bothering them when they pushed the elevator buttons was not fire. I said, “Electricity is not fire. It’s not a chemical process, as fire is.”
“Oh?” they said.
“Of course, there’s electricity in amongst the atoms in a fire.”
“Aha!” they said.
“And in every other phenomenon that occurs in the world.”
I even proposed a practical solution for eliminating the spark.
“If that’s what’s bothering you, you can put a condensor across the switch, so the electricity will go on and off without any spark whatsoever- anywhere.” But for some reason, they didn’t like that idea either.
It really was a disappointment. Here they are, slowly coming to life, only to better interpret the Talmud. Imagine! In modern times like this, guys are studying to go into society and do something- to be a rabbi- and the only way they think that science might be interesting is because their ancient, provincial, medieval problems are being confounded slightly by some new phenomena…
They didn’t understand technology; they didn’t understand their time.
– Richard Feynman
For as much as I respect Dr. Feynman I strongly disagree with him. While it is true that the Talmud has not been edited and commented a many centuries, it is very much contemporary; and probably the reason no new comments have been added. Besides, not too many people can measure up to Rashi, Rambbam and othe Tzadiks that commented in the Talmud.
However, Dr Feynman’s comments where about the students, not about the Talmud.
But the students for the upper hand, that is why they could not be trapped.
As you can read on my previous entries, I have been going through a transformation, which in itself is very rewarding. The point altogether of this transformation is to question. Question everything. Question your sense, your superiors and inferiors, your children, wife, husband. Question your Rabbi. Hold everybody’s feet to the fire.
Does GOD exist?
As I stated before: I have a hard time believing in GOD and I hard time not believing in GOD.
The students definitely believe not only in the existence of GOD but they believe in the word of GOD. They believe in the intention of GOD and even more, they believe that GOD’s intentions are good.
So, the Talmud, is not only commentary but interpretation of the word of GOD according to Judaism. And the study of it is the attempt to understand “THE LORD WORKS IN MISTERIOUS WAYS”.
Last week I was in Miami. On my flight back I sat next to a Jamaican woman. She was very nice (Hi-5 ☺ ). But she was absolutely clueless about any other religion outside Christianity. She had herd and knew about Jews, Muslims, and other religions, but as far as she knew, she had never met anybody that was not Christian. Obviously the conversation steered towards religion – entirely my responsibility, I am terribly curious about Rastafarians, but the more I research the more confused I get, it makes no sense to me. I explained to her that outside some small details, Christianity and Judaism are very much the same. The only major difference is the Messiah.
To Christians, Jesus was the Messiah and now are waiting the second coming.
To Jews, Jesus ranges from a prophet to a revolutionary; Jesus was not the Messiah and we are still waiting. My personal opinion is that Jesus, very much like Rashi centuries later; he tried to bring religion to the masses because GOD does not care how much you have, but how you behave.
Why do I disagree with the good Dr?
On one hand, there is no need to understand technology. How many people in the world do not know what electricity is and how it works? How many people do not know how the internal combustion engine works? And how about computers?
Technology just is there for us to us. It is a commodity. It is a service. And it has always been like that. Different people know different things. Some know electricity; some know how to refine good wine. And we all consume the goods these people produce. So, what does it matter if some guys do not know how a car or an elevator works. They get on the car and they drive. They get on the elevator and get to the floor then need to. A lot of VERY intelligent people do not know many details of today’s technological tools; and not for that they are out of touch with today’s reality.
On the other hand, what the students where looking for, was to understand applied science. They wanted to find additional ways to comment on the contents of the Talmud.
The Talmud is hardly a close book. It has room for comments. But the comments need to be worth while.
The Talmud touches on many scientific items; from Mathematics, though Physics and Astronomy. Well before Copernicus and Columbus presented earth being round, Rabbis commented on the Talmud that because GOD said something in particular, earth must be round. And of course, all other comments regarding the topic followed.
The Talmud commented on medicine, on politics and political systems, and much more. But it is true that it has not seen any new comments for years. And the “holy grail” of Talmudic studies is to come up with some new comment, or new angle, or new understanding of something either written on the Talmud or the Tora.
Most likely, the students becoming aware of Feynman’s fame, expected him to shed light on some topic and provide them with the fuel to “beat” the rabbis … not just their teachers, but THE TEACHERS. They were trying to use new time sensitive knowledge because they very much understood their time. I can only imagine their disappointment when somebody like Dr. Feynman tried to “trick” them and corner them with trivial mundane matters as how electricity works.
Basically, Feynman was talking about simple Mechanics, while the students were talking about Quantum Mechanics and String Theory.
November 5, 2006
For the last few months I have been thinking about the Messiah and what it means. As a Jew I think of the first coming, but Christians expect the second coming – Jesus being the first coming. Plenty of questions come to mind: Are we ready? What are we to expect? What will happen to my children? What will happen to me? Now … I watched a lot of TV when I was young and read many fantasy books as well as mythology and theology; so my idea of the Messiah is a reconstruction force that comes after all was destroyed. And that worries me.
Mel Gibson a few month ago got drunk and decided to go for a spin in PCH in Malibu. To his delight – not – he was stopped by a police officer and was charged with a DUI and arrested. In the process of being arrested he use some colorful and negative words to describe Jews. Needless to say his publicist had to paddle long and hard to undo the damage. At the end, Gibson came out and explained that it was not really how he truly felt but his upbringing was confusing with regards to the topic of Judaism – his father is a well known anti-Semite and denier of the Holocaust. He offered to meet with Jewish representatives to begin the healing.
In any case; I had already been thinking about the Messiah, the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Palestinians, Israel, Ossama Bin Laden and all the bad things that happen in the world. Most of all, I have been thinking about my kids, Jared and Sidney. What kind of a world am I leaving for them? Here I am, working, making money, traveling for work and not being with them, focused on their financial future; but is really that what I should be working towards?
I used to argue with my father about the world he was leaving to me and of course my position at the time was in favor of peace, the environment, people, well being, doves flying free, children being fed. Today my reality is different but I still feel consternation when I think of people in some places being exposed to the horrors of this world. And that includes Jews around the world. Jews through out the ages. Jews marching to the gas chambers. Jews being killed by missiles and the retaliation the comes after the missile attacks.
The whole thing shames me.
Do I agree what Israel did in Lebanon this last summer was the right actions to take after Hessbolah killed and took those soldiers?
A hard question to answer. In principle I am not sure I agree, but as Jews we have to protect ourselves from the evil of this world. I am not saying there is no evil within the Jewish community, there is, what I am saying is that there are better ways of doing what was done as well as more effective. But Israel has to do what is necessary to preserve the Jewish land and from that point of view, I agree with any actions that are aligned with the protection not only of Israel, but of the Jewish people around the world.
When is it all going to end and we can get down to creating and living together in peace and prosperity rather than continuing with this cycle of never-ending and escalating violence? There are too many economical interests for it to continue. Ahhh … you though that Bin Ladden and his friends, of Gaddafi or the Iranians are committed to Jihad for the love of God they have? No, just like the Crusades or the initial Jihad, or any such wars like these, including re-conquering Cannan in Biblical time, are all for the money. For the economical gains obtained from the conflicts. In some case the economic gain has to do with carving a piece of land to settle down and prosper; in others, the massive conquest of large territories and in other yet, the brokers of war, they make gains by the commerce that war also is.
The real problem is that there are people that believe this idiots when the proclaim war for the grace of God, or to defend the faith, or to protect the holly lands of our forefathers. The people that get brain-washed with the beliefs of extremism are peons for the merchants of death that profit from their misguided actions.
Going back to Mel Gibson … so I came up with an idea: If he really wants the healing to begin, then we should form an organization that preaches world peace by meeting and discussing with people in some for of the current focal places of violence. Who better than Mel Gibson? A declared anti-Semite.
The idea is for him to join me and help me convince a bunch of other well known people to create this organization and to travel to places like Iran, or Afghanistan, of Pakistan and talk to the Taleban, talk to Hamass or Hessbolah, or the Palestinians and try to find out a peaceful solution. But the target of talks is not governments, but people. I want to go and talk to the people. I want to explain to them what it means to be a Jew, and somebody else to explain what it means to be a Christian or a Buddhist. And in turn, I want to understand what it means to be a Muslim.
Peace will not be obtained from Sheik Hassan, or Ossama bin Laden. They are the merchants of death. Peace will only be obtained when people overcome the grip their so called leaders have on them, when we challenge authority and when we talk to one another as people, people with the same fears and wills, people with the same likes and dislikes, people that are the same and people that are different.
When we come together as people is when we will have peace and maybe is then when the Messiah would have already come.
October 31, 2006
When I was 13 years old I try to observe Yiom Kipur. I did to some extent … I did not eat, but drank. Which according to Judaism, it is OK; you do what you can. However, I did not go to temple or prayed. To be honest, I do not remember much about how I felt.
Last year I had all intentions of observing Yiom Kipur, but I did not realize the dates and booked a business trip during the ten days between Rosh A-Shana and Yiom Kipur inclusive. So I missed it. My wife took the kids to temple but that was it.
This year I had decided to be here and be a part of it.
Rosh A-Shana fell on a Saturday and the kids have Soccer on Saturdays. So we attended the family service on Sunday. The Rabbi was not too happy with me, but did not complain TOO much since I had my checkbook with me. Still, however, he showed his displease and disappointment openly.
Now … for Kol Nidre I was there. Not first row and center – I rather blend and not stand up on gatherings of this type – but there nonetheless. I do not remember ever attending Kol Nidre before. It was nice.
The next day, I was back at temple at 8:45 AM to attend Yiom Kipur services. Bright eye and bushy tail. I had no idea what to expect.
The service started with an explanation of the day’s schedule and some stories about the day and what it meant. We then got to the readings and praying only to be “interrupted” by another sermon or story. The day progressed one story at a time, one sermon at a time and prayer at a time.
Before the main sermon I was called to hold the Torah and sat holding the Torah throughout the sermon and Iskohr – the prayer remembering the departed. After Iskohr the Cantor sang a song that made me cry. It was a song that bridged grandfather and grandchildren. I miss my father a great deal and it is very upsetting to me that he is not around to be with my children, to see them and to see me, how I have become a man. I have been angry at my father from even before he died. The song helped me come to terms with my father illness and with his dead. I can not say that it is all in the past; I still hold some of the anger, but I have definitely began to let go. Thank you Shmuli.
The service continued until the first start came out.
Now that I am 40, how did I feel? I still do not fully appreciate how I felt and need to review the day and what went through my mind, but one thing I can say is that I am proud of being a Jew. A group of us gathered at temple like many have done during the last thousands of years and worship in a time immemorial fashion, very much like other had done in the past. I felt a part of something eternal, a part of a people that have faced extermination throughout the ages and yet, we remain and our executioners do not. And I felt my father next to me.
December 31, 2005
Some people celebrate the new year and some people do not.
My wife for example, celebrates the new year, but she feels that she does not need to ring it in. In other words: There is no need to stay awake until midnight.
I do not celebrate the new year. To me, it is just another day. There is nothing special about December 31st, or for that matter, Rosh A-Shana (the Jewish new year).
At home we do a dinner with just us, my kids, my wife, the dog and I and after the meal we do something small. Some confetti is thrown up as part of the celebration and we do a toast wishing each other well and that is it. I go back to the computer, where you can find me (like right at this moment) doing some research, typing on my Wiki, doing some programming, etc. My kids, go back to watch TV or read or play until bedtime and my wife, goes back to playing video games or reading news on the net or just surfing the web.
Other people are at parties, or “freezing” in Las Vegas or NYC or go to concerts, etc. It is all good.
Growing up, my family would participate in the generic celebration. We would all go to a party, or have a party at home. Or if there was nothing, after the toast we would all go to our respective awaiting parties. New year eve was most likely spent at our house in the country club – CISSAB – and since it was during summer, the weather was rather nice.
I remember those days with kindness, but even then, the whole thing made not much of an impression on me. New year has always been just another day to me.
December 20, 2005
I grew up on a VERY anti-religious family. Actually, I would say that my family was more than anti-religious, it was anti-religion. My grandfather was a socialist European Jew that decided to leave Europe because not only of the persecutions, but because he felt that equality would never be so for anybody, let along a Jew, in Europe.
His first step was the US, Ellis Island. He was there nearly a week, in transit and left on the first ship to Cuba. “To be treated like cattle, I should go back to Europe”.
He did not last long in Cuba. Too many swartzes (black people). Not too socialist an attitude if you ask me. First ship leaving for Argentina, the guy was aboard.
Apparently, my grandmother told me, they were in their honeymoon.
They landed in Argentina in 1918 just before the end of WWI and settle down in the neighborhood of Mataderos in Buenos Aires, and as a shoemaker he prospered. He and a few others well-to-do “grandfathers” founded a jewish school so kids could have a jewish education and learn about the ritch jewish traditions. But, the school was not to teach or even mention religious topics. The name of the school was Sholem Aleijem, named after the famed writer. Later it merged with another school, Bialik, another famed writer.
I attended Sholem Aleijem-Bialik for grammar school, and true to its founders, religion was not prevalent. The school was exceedingly secular. In the morning we were taught the same curriculum as public schools in Spanish. After lunch we were taught in Yiddish and Hebrew. Jewish history, from Abraham, through the Holocaust and the creation of Israel. We also studied Hebrew and the basic textbook was the Tanakh, which consists if the Torah, Neviim and Hujtuviim. In other words, the Old Testament. But again, it was not the study of a religious text, but a vehicle to learn Hebew.
At home, we celebrated all the holidays: Rosj Ashana, Yiom Kipur, Sucot, Purim, etc. Oddly enough, we found a way to celebrate them in a secular way. More in terms of maintaining an identity and traditions, than a religious believe system. We were Jews because of 5700+ years of history, because of 2000 of living in a Diaspora, because we survived the Nazis, NOT but because we believed in Ashem (God) and followed the Torah. As a matter of fact, we did not.
My father had a more relaxed attitude than my grandfather with respect of religion. He single handed supported two synagogues in Mataderos. Once a month he would drive to them – I would normally accompany him – and give the rabbi at each sinagoge an envelope with money. Both of the rabbis were very old. The same scene repeated every month: My father would knock on the synagogue’s door and the rabbi would come out. He would ask my father if he wanted to come in for tea. My father would refuse politely. He would then hand over the evelope with money. The rabbi would take a pick and thank my father profusely. My father would get back in the car and we would drive off.
Usually shortly after we would have dinner at my grandfather’s who would have asked if my father gave money to the synagogues. Of course my father answer positively which would elicit a one hour monologue from my grandfather insulting the rabbis and all religious figures of all times. I have to clarify: My grandfather was a socialist. He hated the communists more than religious people.
I would get into long debates with my father about the existence of god. He, of course denied even the remote possibility that there is a god. To him it made no sense. When given the option to be Barmitzba my father declined. To him it was a waste of time.
My Father, when asked why he gave money and supported the synagogues, he would answer: As a Jew, I need to put my believes aside and make sure that a proper place of worship is available ALWAYS to those who need it.
One synagogue I understand, but two, not more than 10 blocks apart?
So, these were my experiences growing up. I spend a fair amount of time trying to find an answer to the question of god’s existence. Finally, at about 15, I decided that it did not exist. At around 22 I decided that even considering the existence of god was such a waste of time that I even stopped asking the question and if asked, I would defend the non-existence posture to almost violence.
Instead, for any sort of spiritual relief I turned to meditation, in particular Tibetan Buddhist meditation. For many years I meditated every day between 1 to 3 hours. Around 1994 I started meditating less and less and by 1995 I had completely stopped.
Fast forward to October 2004. I somehow found myself lost and unhappy. A very close and good friend of mine told me:”Fabian, when I think of you these days, I imagine a wet chick that is being pissed on”. I felt that way too. I had dug a hole and climbed down it and did not know or want to know how to climb back out. Needless to say, it was not fun. Fishing, which had been my emotional and spiritual escape was not cutting it and fly-fishing, my passion, was a bother.
Life has some interesting turns. I ended up having a business meeting at a synagogue with a very religious Jew from Chabad. Probably the last place anybody could have ever found me. The meeting went well; it lasted way longer than we anticipated. In following up meetings I found myself more comfortable with the surroundings and finally was asked if I wanted to wrap Tefilim. I initially politely refused, but later thought better and accepted.
Leading to this point I had try to find my center again in an attempt to feel better and happier. The only way I knew how to do it, was by meditation; but the more I tried, the less I could achieve any meditative modality or state which frustrated me even more, providing a negative feedback mechanism.
When I wrapped Tefilims I almost immediately went into meditation. Here I was, doing something not only I did not believe in, but was EXCEEDINGLY against and in the house of the “enemy” and I was meditating. It could not be so. It was coincidental, or so I thought. I tried to meditate again with out the Tefilim and no cigar. Then I tried with Tefilim and … meditation. I decided that I would take the “easy” way and meditate by wraping Tefilim and reading the Shma and Amidah from a Sidur. In other words, I would engage in a daily religious ritual. I do that every day, excpey for Shabat and Sunday.
Over time I realized that my believes had changed. I was no so sure I did not believe in god. Or that indeed, I needed to believe in order to feel better. And I did begin to feel better, almost instantly. I had drawn a line in the dirt separating me from the “faithful” and once I removed it I not only felt better but learned new things. I began to engage in arguments again regarding the Torah and the stories. About the meaning of life and our purpose on eath. I felt alive again.
My position today is: “I have a hard time believing in god. I also have an equal hard time not believing in god”
The important thing is that there is no more lines and I am open to possibilities.
My father died in September 1997 after many years of suffering from Alzheimer’s. Before he lost the use of his mind he confided in me and told me: ”If I were to do it all over again, I would be a religious Jew. Life would be easier and more rewarding”
December 17, 2005
Mao said: “Religion is the opium of the masses”.
I agree. Opium has been around for a long time and has been a part of many cultures in a ritualistic way.
And, what is wrong with feeling good anyway!!!!!
December 15, 2005
According to Josef Gorowitch, the Lubbabiche Rebbe said that we live in a work of actions. What does that mean? It means that our action define who we are and how we live. So if you loose faith or stop believing then you should practice your “traditions” like a robot. And by doing them you will get back your faith.
I am not sure I agree in its entirety. Yes, you are the part you act. And you act who you are. If you are a good person, you will act well. You will perform “Mitzbahs” – follow the commandments and/or good deeds – as a fact of your daily life. Conversely, if you are not a good person, you will act devilishly.
What part of our behavior is nature and what part nurture. What part has to do with necessity and survival. What part has to do with intellect.
But religion and faith, how are they related to behavior. How can robotic action, mindless activity with out a deep heartfelt believe or at least understanding can lead you to faith. To me, without an intellectual commitment to an activity or action, without a comprehension of the subject matter and a buy-in into it, no faith can be achieve. Some people have the ability to believe in what they act. I have to understand before I act.