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  • Title: Mayim
    Descriptive info: .. Welcome to Mayim - The home of open-minded Judaism.. At Mayim, our aim is to provide a forum for discussion of Judaism and Jewish issues.. We are unaffiliated to any external organisation and hope to develop an organic community of individuals who are interested in Judaism and committed to open-mindedness.. Any member of the public may submit a piece to be published online.. Jewish Thought.. A Replacement for Prayer.. Are there Really Codes in the Bible?.. An Atheist Reading of Religion.. Jewish Texts.. God, Man and Morality in the Akedah..  ...   of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.. Modern Orthodoxy's Ontological Predicament.. Reviews.. Who Wrote the Bible?, Richard Elliot Friedman.. God in Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel.. Back to the Sources, edited by Barry W.. Holtz.. A History of the Jews, Paul Johnson.. The Harlot by the Side of the Road, Jonathan Kirsch.. God - A Biography, Jack Miles.. Arab and Jew, David K.. Shipler.. Halakhic Man, Joseph B.. Soloveitchik.. As a Driven Leaf, Milton Steinberg.. Reading the Book, Burton L.. Visotzky.. Send us your writings! For submission information,.. click here.. Mayim, 2005..

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  • Title: Mayim - A Replacement for Prayer
    Descriptive info: No matter which sect you subscribe to, prayer takes on a central role in Jewish communal life.. Liturgy is an essential component of Shabbat, the festivals, mourning, and many other occasions marked by Judaism.. Jewish communities are built around the synagogue, whose espoused primary purpose is prayer.. The occasions of the year which see most Jews identify with their heritage are the high-holy days, which are prayer marathons par excellence.. Prayer means different things for different people.. Those with a legalistic bent see it as a fulfilment of a divine command or obligation - no less, and perhaps no more.. Strong theistic believers might perceive it as an opportunity to converse directly with a personal, sentient deity.. For those to whom community is of utmost importance, it might be understood simply as an arbitrary shared communal activity.. The spiritual, Eastern-thinking amongst us, could use it as a repetitive framework for meditation.. Prayer's longevity is testament to its relevance for many people in many ways.. However, there are some Jews to whom prayer holds little meaning and interest.. This need not be a reflection of a lack of committment to Jewish practice, learning or people.. It is simply that certain personal views the individual has might prevent them from being able to meaningfully participate in the ritual.. Let us outline some possible reasons why :.. Moral objections to parts of the standard liturgy.. In the Orthodox prayer book, such phrases as "Blessed are you.. that you did not make me a woman" (morning blessings) or "It is upon us to praise the master.. that he did not make us like the nations of the lands" (aleynu prayer) run counter to the prevailing taboos of sexism and racism, which the individual may justifiably subscribe to.. As a result, many of these passages have been removed by progressive strands in Judaism.. Uncertainty over historical assertions made within the prayers.. Examples include "You.. my master, resurrector of the dead" (amidah prayer) and "God.. who raised you from the land of Egypt" (morning pesukei d'zimrah).. An individual may feel that, in the face of uncertainty over the truth of these past or future events, they would rather not testify to their veracity.. Theological problems with prayer's form.. Jewish liturgy relies heavily on the assumption that there is a single, numinous, external, powerful, loving, compassionate, attentive, merciful, judgemental deity to whom our attention is directed.. If an individual is unsure, agnostic or even atheist about the existence of such a god, they may quite legitimately have little incentive to participate.. Practical issues.. Jewish prayer can be long, drawn out, slow, tiring, repetitive and hard to understand.. By building communal life around it, we may be erecting a large barrier between a vast number of Jews and meaningful Jewish existence.. In short, for a Jew without strong beliefs or habits, it is difficult to find a good  ...   providing for a bride, escorting the dead,.. concentration in prayer.. , bringing peace between an individual and his friend.. but the study of Torah is as against them all.. So, from a traditional point-of-view, we have grounds for placing study at the top of our list of priorities.. Although it would be dishonest to suggest that this passage recommends study to the exclusion of all other religious activies (although, incidentally, rabbis have grappled with precisely that question), it certainly can be used as justification for an innovative approach to the problem of prayer.. There must be more than a few Jews who would enjoy learning but not praying, since the problems mentioned above do not apply to the former (so long as it is undertaken critically, of course).. Let us take them in turn :.. Moral objections.. There are plenty of morally obscene passages in the Torah, Tanach and other Jewish works.. But the difference between simply reciting these and learning about them is that learning can be a critical, constructive process.. There is something we can learn from Joseph's arrogance or Pinchas' fundamentalism.. We can discuss and debate the rights and wrongs of the situation, and come away incensed by the actions of our ancestors while still having gained something in the process.. Historical uncertainty.. When studying a myth such as the Exodus from Egypt or the Revelation on Sinai, one can enter into a participative dialogue with the narrative without asserting its objective truth.. Instead of saying "this is what happened", we can ask "what does this teach us?", "where did it come from?", "did this happen?", "is it a good or bad thing?".. Theological problems.. Spending an hour discussing the verse "And the Lord passed before him and called out : Lord! Lord! a merciful and gracious god, slow to anger and of much kindness and truth, preserving kindness for thousands, elevating sin, transgression and iniquity - and he cleanses and yet does not cleanse - he counts the sin of fathers on sons, and on sons of sons, on the third generations and on the fourth generations" (Exodus 34:6-7) need in no way entail acquiescence to its coherence or truth.. Learning need not be long and drawn out, it can be as fast or as slow as you want, it most certainly is not repetitive, and can be tailored for anyone of any background.. The proposition is a simple one : where there is demand, there should be classes, discussion groups and open libraries available in parallel to prayer services.. Depending on which stance you take, this could either be seen as offering a way in to Jewish prayer, or a preferable substitute.. For the agnostic Jew with an enquiring mind and a curiosity about their heritage, it would encourage communal participation and personal development instead of either endless boredom or staying away.. Mayim.. , 2005..

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  • Title: Mayim - Are there Really Codes in the Bible?
    Descriptive info: Introduction.. Testing Hypotheses.. Focussing on the Question.. Equidistant Letter Sequences.. The Great Sages Experiment.. The Selection Process.. The Cities Experiment.. The Periodic Table Experiment.. Conclusion.. References.. Having witnessed the worldwide sensation and the continuing debate over the Bible Codes, it can be difficult to know who to believe and what to think.. On the one hand, the research is clearly sufficiently serious to merit debate and a slew of web sites, books and computer programs.. On the other, the proposition that the literal text of the five books of Moses contains predictions about the future seems utterly absurd.. According to Orthodox doctrine, the text of the Torah was revealed by God to Moses while the Israelites were wandering in the desert, before they arrived in Israel.. The Rabbis have been careful copying the text from generation to generation, so that the version Jews use today (the "Masoretic" text) is nearly identical to God's message for mankind, despite a few mistakes having crept in (minor differences have been found between Torahs in different parts of the world, and the Talmud itself alludes to there being more than one version).. From a modern academic viewpoint, a very different picture emerges.. By analysing the text several different narrative strands have been discovered, each with a particular theological and political viewpoint.. Many of the tales in the Torah are very similar to myths of the ancient Near East, of which records have been found predating the existence of any Jews.. The text was composed and finally redacted during the Second Temple period, so that no matter how accurate the transmission was, what was being transmitted was essentially the result of human efforts.. The power of the Bible Codes is in arbitrating between two alternative hypotheses which are related, but not identical, to those mentioned above.. Essentially, we set up two comprehensive and mutually exclusive propositions.. It will be important for further discussion to note the precise form of these :.. H0 : There is no supernatural phenomenon associated with the Masoretic Torah text.. H1 : There is some supernatural phenomenon associated with the Masoretic Torah text.. As with any statistical experiment, we begin by assuming the null hypothesis (H0).. We then examine the evidence in the face of this assumption, and calculate a p-value, where p is the probability that such evidence would be obtained if the null hypothesis is true.. The lower the value of p, the less likely it is that the evidence we have would have been obtained should H0 be true.. If the value of p gets low enough (just how low is a difficult question), we begin to suspect that H0 in fact is not true, and therefore H1 must be (since one or the other must be).. So a low value of p suggests the falsehood of H0.. However, p is.. not.. the probability that the null hypothesis is true, based on the evidence.. For example, the probability of a girl having eight fingers on her right hand is extremely low.. That does not mean that, if we find someone with eight fingers on their right hand, they must be a boy!.. Let us return to the Bible Codes.. Let us imagine that, by simply reading a passage backwards, we obtain, in order, an exact location and date of every earthquake that has taken place in the last 200 years.. If we assume H0, and examine this finding in that light, the p-value we obtain would be very small.. If a text has no supernatural phenomenon associated with it, it would not be able to predict future geological events with such precision.. (If you're thinking about various notions of transcendent prophecy / back-propagating quantum waves / time travel, etc.. , all these possibilities fall under H1).. What about if we assume H1? Well, it is difficult to assign any sort of probability to the evidence under this hypothesis.. If a text is somehow supernatural, we don't really quite know what to expect.. However, it seems clear that it would be more likely for there to be such hidden prophetic information; exactly how much is a matter for philosophical and theological speculation.. All we need realise is that, if a code with a low p-value under H0 were to be discovered, it should tilt the relative likelihood of the two hypotheses in our evaluation towards H1.. There are therefore two main questions to be answered with regards to the Bible Codes :.. What is the p-value of the available evidence under the assumption H0?.. If H0 is not true, what might this imply?.. The rest of this article will focus on the first question, since if the answer to that is not particularly interesting, the second question is unnecessary.. The basic medium for Bible Codes is through equidistant letter sequences.. Codes are discovered by taking, say, every 42nd letter from the text starting in a certain place for a certain number of letters, and forming a new word as a result.. The easiest way to do this is to write the text out in rows, with a certain number of letters in each row, and look for horizontal, vertical or diagonal sequences in this table.. For example, take the first section of the Torah, from the book of Bereshit (Genesis) :.. When God began to create heaven and earth --.. the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water --.. God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.. Now, we remove spaces and punctuation, and write the same text out in rows of 50 letters :.. Between the horizontal bars, you will see the Hebrew word Torah spelt out, at a skip distance of +50, starting at the 6th letter.. Neat, eh? It is this method of decoding the plain text which all Bible Code research relies on, first discovered by Rabbi Weissmandl before there were any computers.. However, such an example is not particularly relevant to the question in hand.. It was not found in a formal statistical experiment and therefore cannot give us any p-value with which to support or reject a proposition.. If you think that the example above is amazing enough and you're already convined, consider this : Bill Gates the Third, the owner of Microsoft, is the richest man in the world.. Convert BILLGATES to ASCII (computer code), add 3 (for the third), and you get 666.. Does this mean the richest man in the world is also the most dangerous?..  ...   accusations of cooking, and strengthen the evidence against hypothesis H0.. A victory for H1?.. Not so fast.. It was subsequently alleged that the data Gans had used for his cities experiment was also full of spelling errors and other flaws.. Around the end of April 1999, Gans made the following statement :.. As is known to many, I am in the process of redoing and confirming the cities experiment that I had done several years ago.. Several individuals informed me that the list of cities, as provided to me by Zvi Inbal, had many mistakes in them that were designed to make the results appear artificially significant.. I take such claims very seriously and decided to conduct a thorough investigation of every aspect of the city selections and spellings.. That investigation is extremely detailed and is not yet complete.. As a result, I will not make any public statement of the outcome of that investigation until my study is completed.. This unwillingness to speculate on an outcome of an investigation while it is still ongoing has prompted some people to interpret that as evidence that I am no longer convinced that the Torah codes phenomenon, as detailed in WRR, is a real phenomenon or that I no longer believe that the conclusions drawn from my original cities experiment are correct.. Let me then state in absolute terms that this is not true.. To date, I have not uncovered a single fact or even a hint that the list of cities that I was provided was manipulated in an attempt to make the results of the experiment appear significant when, in fact, they are not significant.. I have not uncovered a single fact that causes me to doubt that the conclusions drawn from the original cities experiment were accurate.. I have not seen any argument advanced by anybody which convinces me that either the WRR experiment or the cities experiment is not valid and truly statistically extremely significant.. Nevertheless, so as to be completely thorough and honest, I will not now claim that I have verified the cities experiment : there are still a few things left to check.. When my investigation will be completed, the results and all the details will be made public in an appropriate way, regardless of whether the results confirm the conclusions of the original cities experiment or not.. No further developments have been made public since this statement.. However, it seems that the data for the cities experiment was actually supplied by Zvi Inbal, who lectures on the codes for an Orthodox outreach organisation called Arachim (which is connected to Aish HaTorah).. He clearly might have a vested interest in cooking data.. Having seen and learnt all of the above, I decided to conduct an experiment of my own, and did so in collaboration with Brendan McKay, who has been a major character in debunking the Bible Code.. To avoid being dogged by difficulties over questionable data, we agreed on a simple experiment based on the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements.. All details of the experiment were discussed before it was carried out, and anyone is welcome to an archive of all the email correspondence as evidence for this.. We considered the possibility that there would be evidence in the text of Genesis of some supernatural phenomenon, which is 'meant' to be discovered, and made three inferences from this :.. the evidence contained would be relatively simple (c.. f.. Ockham's Razor).. the evidence would pertain to some universal knowledge.. the evidence would be in the same language as the text.. Therefore, if some phenomenon were to be discovered, we would be able to present it to the world in a form which they could appreciate and understand, without resorting to obscure historical and religious sources and methods.. Although evidence need not necessarily be of this form, a more obscure phenomenon might be subject to the criticism that has been levelled at other parties for their previous work.. A list of the Chemical Elements, in Hebrew, was obtained from the General Hebrew Encyclopaedia, 1989 Bulletin, page 462 (in Hebrew : enciklopedia ha'ivrit klalit, yedion 1989, daf 462).. This contained a table of every element with atomic numbers 1 to 107, and 109 (I do not know why 108 was omitted).. For each element, a Hebrew spelling was listed, plus the atomic symbol, atomic number, atomic mass (of most common form), and year of discovery (where known).. A cursory analysis of the Hebrew element names revealed that, for the majority, the name was a straight transliteration from the known English name, and most of these were at least 6 letters in length.. We agreed to perform our experiment on those elements whose names were specifically Hebrew in origin, because these were generally shorter (and therefore had more chance of being discovered as an equidistant letter sequence), and this is more in keeping with principle 3 above.. The experiment was designed to test whether the text of Genesis might indicate knowledge of the atomic number of those elements for which there is an original Hebrew name.. We suggested that such knowledge might be indicated by inserting these elements' names into the Genesis text at skip distances equal to their atomic number.. We would compare the number of occurrences at this distance with the number of occurrences at all distances 1 to 82 (82 is the highest atomic number of all the elements tested).. As a result of the test, no evidence was found to support the existence of knowledge of the atomic numbers of the chemical elements for which there were Hebrew names.. Furthermore, we found no evidence that these element names had been encoded at any short skip distance within the Genesis text.. The issue by no means closed, but for now we can reach the following conclusion :.. Based on the experiments performed so far and in consideration of their flaws, there is no significant statistical evidence for the existence of codes in the Masoretic Torah text which would indicate some supernatural phenomenon associated with it.. The Bible Code, Michael Drosnin.. Cracking the Bible Code, Jeffrey Satinover.. Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis, Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg, Statistical Science Vol.. 9, No.. 3.. Coincidence of Equidistant Letter Sequence Pairs in the Book of Genesis, Harold J.. Gans, unpublished.. The Torah Codes : Puzzle and Solution, Maya Bar-Hillel, Dror Bar-Natan, and Brendan McKay, Chance Vol.. 2, No.. 2.. Review of The Bible Code, Alex Lubotsky, Ha'aretz Sfarim, September 3, 1997.. Torah, Neviyim, Ketuvim, Jerusalem Koren Edition.. Tanakh - The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society.. Official defense of the Torah Codes.. (Doron Witztum).. Criticism of Torah Codes experiments.. (Brendan McKay).. Aish HaTorah.. Many other minor references to email messages, letters and articles were used..

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  • Title: Mayim - An Atheist Reading of Religion
    Descriptive info: It is a commonplace that the atheist has no use for religion of any kind.. If she believes that the physical world is all there is, there is no transcendent reality out there, perhaps even that life and the universe has no external purpose or meaning, what would the point be of participating in ritual, prayer or religious study?.. In fact, we can divide atheists into two types.. Both hold the same beliefs but respond to them differently.. The first type is not particularly bothered by the lack of purpose or deity.. They are happy to live life as it comes, pursuing goals which they view as determined by natural selection, never hoping for something greater.. For this type of individual, the only function religion can serve is as a cultural milieu - they recognise that there is some benefit in having shared practices with other people and as such are willing to engage, to some extent, in what there is on offer.. A second type of atheist lives in a state of what we might call existential angst.. Something about their personality yearns for precisely that meaning which they believe is not there.. They desperately wish to have an understanding, or perhaps a revelation, of something 'beyond' which can justify their day-to-day enterprise.. They shudder at the thought that, one day, all things will be as nought and that humanity, along with the rest of the universe, will end up frozen and lifeless.. It is this second type who has much benefit to gain from religion.. Let us paint the picture.. They, as a conscious being, are plainly out of place in the world.. The processes of nature have no right or wrong or purpose in view - they simply trudge along, finding low-energy states or ascending the evolutionary ladder.. Somewhere - somehow - as part of this utterly random process, human beings arose, with all of their dizzying variety of hopes, loves, morals and feelings.. What is a person in this state to do? They are like a fish out of water - totally alienated from the world around them, misplaced, stranded.. The only answer which I can see is, find other people in the same boat.. The only comfort accessible in the face  ...   any other group.. Close communities could still form for all sorts of other purposes, for example around civil issues, shared hobbies or interests.. Perhaps country-dwellers still have a sense of what it is like to sit round with people you've grown up with, doing nothing more than enjoying each other's company.. If you're looking for a community of people to go through life with, you could look elsewhere.. The key function of religion lies elsewhere.. Put simply, religion was, is, and always will be focussed around finding meaning in life, of the ultimate variety.. The history of religion is the history of people coming together to explain, respond to or worship some higher power.. From early animism to the most sophisticated theology, religion has been focussed on exactly that which the anxious atheist still strives for.. But can the atheist actually take religion seriously? I think the answer lies in the community of people she has found.. I don't think even the most open-minded atheist could feel comfortable praying with a group of strong believers, since they will feel a distinct lack of commonality of purpose.. But, put them together with other like-minded individuals and there is a real opportunity for a sense of community to arise.. Such a group of people can be open about their thoughts, feelings and aspirations.. They can take pleasure together in participating in ancient rituals as a means of coming to terms with their alienated status vis-a-vis the cosmos.. If there is no ultimate higher authority they have to answer to, nothing is stopping them from saying or doing things they don't necessarily agree with on an intellectual level.. Ultimately, such a community of atheists could find its place within the plurality of religious life.. For the open-minded believer, there is no challenge in confronting and opening up to the opposite.. Any sensitive religious person knows that the universe is an ambiguous place and can be legitimately interpreted as demonstrating a complete lack of design or purpose.. Common ground can be found in working together to improve the world as it is - one group feeling they are responding to the voice of God and the other that they are making things better in spite of the lack of the same..

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  • Title: Mayim - God, Man and Morality in the Akedah
    Descriptive info: Jewish morality in its simplistic form is based upon adherence to commandments from God.. Murder is wrong because God commanded it.. If He did not, we might have come to the same conclusion, but we also may well have not, thus the divine command is necessary to ensure an understanding of what is right and wrong.. A fundamental criticism of this approach comes from Kant.. Kant asserts that morality takes the form of adherence to the "categorical imperative", a sense of duty in doing the right thing.. He sees this imperative as existing in a metaphysical sense (from a modern perspective, we might call it a psychological constant).. Only in adherence to this innate morality for its own sake can man be truly moral.. To act in a moral way for fear of punishment or reproach is not to be genuinely moral; whatever its benefits for society, it is inferior to the pure morality he outlines.. I do not know whether such a categorical imperative exists.. However, it is essentially proveable that only in this form can morality exist at all.. The reason is simple.. If there is no innate human morality, right and wrong can only be instinctive and animalistic, i.. not moral in any real sense.. But what about a commandment from God? There are three reasons why one might do what God says.. One is for fear of the punishment that might otherwise ensue.. This is animalistic; a desire to avoid pain.. Second is due to desire of the pleasure which, if God is good, must arise through adhering to his law.. This too is animalistic; a desire for pleasure.. Third is because we genuinely wish to adhere to God's words since He is God, and therefore the source of good.. Surely this is non-animalistic, and yet non-Kantian? Alas, no - the decision by man to adhere to God's commandment because it is "good" already contains some judgement of value, in this case that what is "good" should be adhered to.. Thus we must still rely on some internal sense of ethics.. (Interestingly, Amalek represents a people who saw God's power, and yet continued to fight against it - such evil irrationalism may represent an absence of any humanity whatsoever.. ).. Kant's criticism comes to the fore in the case of the Akedah (Genesis 22:1-19).. Here, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son.. If innate morality exists within Abraham, he should have adhered to it, and in asking himself whether the divine command was to be followed or not, concluded that it was not since morality must override any divine command.. If it does not exist, and morality stems from divine command as the story might seem to suggest, then as we have demonstrated above, Abraham is not genuinely moral.. Furthermore, for today's adherents to Abrahamic religion, no morality exists at all since we have no verifiable indication that there is or ever was such a divine command.. Nonetheless, one could construct a contrary argument.. Perhaps Abraham's internal moral voice tells him to do the will of God (not an entirely non-Kantian proposition).. Ordinarily, the will of God will concur with normative morality, however any divine command is capable of overriding this, and it is in obeying that Abraham adheres to his version of the imperative.. But this is still unsatisfactory - how did Abraham know the voice was real? How can one distinguish between the voices of God and Satan, being that each could imitate the other? Surely the only basis on which to do so is some innate sense, so we are back where we started.. So it seems that either morality does not exist, or God is irrelevant, since we do not need Him to teach us morality.. God may exist, perhaps in the form of the imperative itself (Kant), but is not needed as the Bible would suggest to actually teach morality to man.. In answer to this, we can firstly take comfort in one traditional Jewish view that adherence to morality does indeed take precedence over adherence to God, by God's own pronouncement ("Would that they  ...   sense of right and wrong.. Without it, man is simply confused.. Despite an imminent divine command, man has no reason to obey, no reason to even fear the consequence of death with which he is threatened.. The snakes confuses, man responds, the fruit is eaten, man gets his first taste of the categorical imperative, and is sent out to apply it in the real world.. No sooner, man fails.. Cain slays Abel (Genesis 4:1-16).. What was wrong about what Cain did? There had not yet been a commandment not to murder; this in itself is enough call the traditional viewpoint into question.. God, cogniscent of what is about to happen, coaches Cain saying that the mere act of doing what is right can uplift (4:7).. He warns of the consequence of not doing so, yet reminds Cain that he has access to innate morality, and can prevail.. How does God respond when Cain fails? His criticism is not outright; he first causes Cain to see the weakness of his position.. Cain is forced to bring into question the entire basis of morality; in posing the question "Am I my brother's keeper?" (4:9), he contends utter non-responsilibity for one's fellow human.. Only then does God come forth in full power; "Your brother's blood cries out to me!" (4:10) - surely it cries out to you too? God does not kill Cain; he teaches him a lesson, causing Cain to fear for his own life (4:14).. If Cain can kill his brother, surely anyone can kill him?.. Abraham's learning process is the most dramatic.. Abraham did not err in the Akedah; his morality is simply not yet sufficiently developed, and he does not yet see that it can even counter the word of God Himself.. (Note : he definitely seems willing to apply it when there is not a direct command from God, in the case of Sodom.. Genesis 18:20-33) But does Abraham not simply obey at each point in the Akedah? What evidence is there for a learning of the imperative? The answer is simple.. God commands the sacrifice Himself, Abraham obeys (22:2).. Yet it is only an angel that stops him (22:11).. Why did Abraham not suspect that angel to be Satan, and push ahead with the sacrifice as before? Or at least why did he not demand that God himself appear to clarify the issue? (assuming he can tell the difference between God and an angel).. He does no such thing - once the angel cries out, Abraham learns.. Perhaps the angel is his own creation.. The imperative is brought into sharper focus, and there is no going back now he sees it.. "On the mountain of the Lord, there is vision.. " (22:14).. Subsequent verses present some challenge to this notion - no creative interpretation can alter the fact that Abraham is praised for not withholding his son from the Lord (22:16).. But one can view it as follows : Abraham portrayed merit in obeying the divine command, and he portrayed merit in coming to his eventual realisation that God demands non-adherence.. A lesser man would have refused God the sacrifice, and learnt nothing.. Because Abraham obeyed, his descendants shall be numerous and strong (22:17).. But there is a second half to God's blessing; that his descendants will be a blessing for all (22:18); on what merit does Abraham's role move from a particularist to a universalist one? Because Abraham obeyed, not only the original divine command, but innate morality which can supercede it.. Thus the power of recounting these ancient stories; they are the history (either real or imagined) of how man learned the difference between right and wrong, and a paradigm for us to do likewise.. And yet, modern history demonstrates that this understanding is by no means secured.. Why does God not return to teach us again? Several alternatives are possible, however each has the same implication : God will not teach us morality nowadays, and we must perceive it for ourselves.. Early Genesis is a prototype for God's dance with man, and in today's uncertainty, we continue to learn..

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  • Title: The Limits of Power
    Descriptive info: It has become a truism to say that the events of the last week have changed the world.. On everyone's lips is talk of a new evil that needs to be wiped out through a global war against terror.. In America, there is a newly-rediscovered unity, patriotism and willing for self-sacrifice, embodied best in Bush's jingoistic statements in New York made to a crowd shouting "U-S-A-U-S-A.. " Against that backdrop, some quieter voices are calling for restraint and greater self-criticism.. These refer to the inevitable 'collateral damage' that military action will bring to innocent lives and some even suggest an examination and subsequent addressing of the political issues which motivated the attacks.. In order to move beyond these positions, born either out of a primitive desire for revenge or equally blind appeasement, the main question that has to be asked is: What is in the best interests of the civilized world? And how can it be achieved?.. For any democractic country, the best interests of its citizens constitutes and defines the best interests of the country itself.. So the only sane answer can be: peace and security.. That exact same thing which Americans took almost entirely for granted until 8.. 58am on Tuesday, Eastern time.. And how can this be achieved? First, something must be done about those whose central ambition is to deny the privilege of security to the free world.. Assuming the American security establishment's analysis is correct, that entails the uprooting and destruction of Islamic (and any other) fundamentalist groups.. The fundamentalist has no desire to negotiate or compromise and, inasmuch as they believe their cause is worth dying for, it is entirely rational for them to commit suicidal terrorist acts.. Since most in the West believe their security is also a cause worth dying for, it is also entirely rational for our soldiers to risk their lives in the pursuit of these terrorists.. Putting morals aside, it's a simple fight for the death between two opposing and absolutely irreconcilable world views.. I hope the war can be won as quickly as possible, while our side still has the upper hand.. What of the collateral damage? To a significant extent, any government which knowingly harbours and, after the event, refuses to extradite terrorists, is also a guilty party.. So I would not shed too many tears if the Taliban's infrastructure is destroyed and they are driven from office.. Further, to a lesser extent, the population under such governments can also be held responsible since, one way or another, people choose their leaders.. But we cannot ignore the fact that, in Afghanistan for example, the choice was made after a prolonged, destructive war and under probable threat of death.. The most one can really say is that the population demonstrated a lack of moral consciousness in not demanding democracy through bloody revolution.. I wonder how many of us would pass that test.. So perhaps there is some validity to those who say that the whole bloodbath might be avoided by America withdrawing support from Israel, taking its troops out of Saudi Arabia, removing the sanctions and military activity against Iraq and ceasing to shore up undemocratic oppressive regimes in the Arab world.. Maybe America has an inability to see the world beyond terms of power and force and should (as a Buddhist might suggest) not further stoke the fires of conflict by retaliatory attack.. Perhaps terrorists might respond to reasoned argument, backed up by a display of genuine desire to understand and change.. The reason why this viewpoint is incorrect has nothing to do with religion, terrorism or fundamentalism.. It is naive and foolish simply because no organization or country ever gives up on anything unless it is forced to.. To do so is just not in the nature of things.. In the context of evolutionary theory, we can understand how forces of natural selection have honed individuals to act in self-interest.. Yet, the exact same logic applies to groups of individuals - both because they are composed of self-interested elements and because the same forces of natural selection also apply to them, on a collective level.. Even though suicidal terrorists seem to have a rather perverse view of self-interest, it is by no means incoherent - they are acting in the manner which they believe will earn them favour (and 70 virgins) in the world-to-come.. So while this argument makes it clear that terrorists must be fought to the death, it does not exactly exempt the United States from criticism.. Many times, American policy has sacrificed matters of principle at the altar of self-interest.. I need only recall Bush's recent withdrawal from the Kyoto environmental protocol, citing the economic difficulties it would cause.. This, despite the fact that the USA, with just a few percent of the world's population, generates 25% of all its pollution and has the strongest economy in the world.. In time, the failure of the world's governments to preserve the environment may kill more people than every conflict and war in history combined.. Therefore, it is not enough to view the USA as the good side and hope for its victory against the bad.. While this may be true with regard to terrorism, it is plainly false in many other respects.. To give America carte blanche to pursue its own self-interest may ultimately entail destruction for us all.. Is there any way in which a more long-term solution can be established for the woes of international relations? Are we doomed to have whichever country is strongest at any particular period define and shape the world around us?.. In a different realm, the conflict between the unbridled pursuit of self-interest and some kind of universal moral  ...   they wanted and dealt intermittedly with Islamic Jihad and Hamas, as suited by the political context.. Similarly, Israelis had no interest in giving the Palestinians respect or freedom and so continued building settlements and dragging their feet on withdrawals, for as long as America would let them.. As in almost every other conflict in history, both sides pursued their own self-interest to the maximum and had little care for the interests of their opponent.. Each could only gain leverage on the other by moving backwards - the intifada is simply the Palestinians taking away Israel's security in order to demand greater respect and freedom than the Israelis were willing to give.. Israel's response is to take away all the Palestinians' semblances of respect and freedom in order to demand back their own security.. Without a structure within which common interests can be shaped, it is easy to see the current conflict going nowhere.. Therefore, the only way out is for a settlement to be imposed from outside.. Ideally, by an incorruptible international court - in practise, by a mixture of America, Europe and the United Nations.. The wealthy landowners with a vested interest in stability are going to have to force the warring tribes into a deal.. While I wouldn't suggest this be carried by military means (for one thing, kill ratios in recent exercises suggest Israel's warplanes could down America's entire air force), it might be achievable by a combination of an economic carrot and a sanctions stick.. In fact, the stage has already been set - both sides have agreed to the Mitchell/Tenet Plan.. Let the international community demand each side keep to it, then deal with anyone who breaks their half of the deal.. This will probably play into Israel's hands, since it has a type of centralized military control which the Palestinians lack.. But instead of a Palestinian failure to achieve 'total quiet' being met by their wholesale condemnation, let the same world coalition that is now being formed against terror be used to target terrorists based within Palestinian jurisdiction.. And let them also target those settlers who carry out drive-by shootings or other violent acts on innocent civilians (that, after all, is what 'terror' is).. However, this still leaves open the question as to the nature of the final deal.. It seems this will also have to be imposed from the outside, on the basis of the various UN resolutions passed over the years.. While the United Nations is far from perfect, it constitutes the only framework within which there is any hope of a fair solution based on common ground.. The Palestinians understandably reject America as being too pro-Israel and the Europeans on their own simply don't have the necessary clout to force the sides together.. But I would draw one exception to the wholesale imposition of UN resolutions, namely regarding the Palestinian refugees.. This is first and foremost for practical reasons - there is simply no way that the resettlement of millions of Palestinian refugees within Israel's legal boundaries will lead to peaceful consequences, as the resolution in fact demands.. They will form either a destabilizing minority or an oppressive majority - one should not forget the civil war up to 1949 which led to the current mess.. Palestinian objections to the making of any exception to UN resolutions deserve a skeptical response - their refusal of the UN partition plan in 1947 led, through a near-inevitable series of causes and effects, to their current plight.. As one retired commander has said, "Once the war started, it was them or us that had to go.. " And it might serve to recall that the UN's form of democracy is not exactly balanced in Israel's favour, with dozens of Arabs or Muslim states unconditionally supporting the Palestinians and only America consistently at Israel's side.. Furthermore, the imposition of law and order has always taken significant account of the status quo - just as no landowner has moral justification for the ownership of their plot, no country has moral justification for its existence.. In each case, the map was drawn after a drawn-out conflict in which there is no such thing as primal ownership by divine or universal right (clearly, the religious beliefs of one side or another can have no role in the solution of a conflict.. ) If Israel were to let millions of Palestinians in, it would either cease to be democratic (solving nothing) or cease to be Israel - and the question as to whether it has a right to exist can be pointedly answered by highlighting the history of America, Australia or most countries in Europe.. Where there are humanistic considerations, let individual Palestinians come back within the Green Line - the rest can find homes in a new Palestinian state and receive suitable compensation for their material and emotional losses.. As for the Palestinian state to be formed, there should be no illusions as to its likely nature.. No Arab state in the world has a parliamentary democracy and one can expect Palestine to be no different.. While this should worry the international community as a whole, it should not worry Israel in particular.. The only way a Palestinian state could ever be stable is within the context of a new global anti-terror coalition, ensuring that rejectionist fundamentalist elements within Palestinian society will be driven out from without or within.. In that case, Israel will have little reason to fear, since a more conventional organized war carried out by the State of Palestine on Israel would be deterred for the exact same reason that Syria is holding its guns - fear of crushing defeat.. In other words, the rational pursuit of self-interest..

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  • Title: Mayim - Modern Orthodoxy's Ontological Predicament
    Descriptive info: When Modern Orthodox Jews are asked for a definition of their Jewish approach, they tend to give one of two answers.. The first, which we shall call the "squeeze" hypothesis, is that they are primarily Orthodox in the traditional sense.. It just so happens that Orthodoxy does not legislate over specific issues such as secular education, political thought or gender economic roles, and it is in these areas which they squeeze in as much modernity as possible, recognising many of its benefits.. The second, which we shall call the "fuzzy" hypothesis, is that they wholeheartedly embrace both Orthodoxy and modernity.. Each has a wide array of values which they admire, and together they provide the necessary elements for a comprehensive Jewish lifestyle.. I will argue that neither of these approaches is theoretically or practically coherent, resulting in the paralysis of what was once an exciting Jewish movement.. I will propose a new definition which provides a framework within which we can move forward.. If admitted openly, it could dispel some of the growing dysfunctionality in the Modern Orthodox community and build a platform from which its leaders can address the younger generation, deal with inter-denominational tensions, and create a strong, growing middle ground (especially in Israel).. The squeeze hypothesis relies on an assumption about the nature of Jewish law and its role.. It is a revisionist approach, perceiving the halacha (Jewish law) as a pristine legal system covering certain areas of life, and leaving others untouched.. However, such a hermetic delineation has little basis in Jewish history.. There has always been a complex interplay between legal rulings and communal norms, for example in the outlawing of slavery or heter iskoh (the leniency over lending with interest for commercial purposes).. Nonetheless, if one insists on making the distinction, anyone taking the halacha seriously today discovers an uncomfortable truth; while it might permit full participation in a modern economy, it leaves precious little room  ...   such a hard concept to embrace? Since when has compromise been anathema to the Jewish way? In Egypt? In Yavneh? In Oslo? Let us not confuse the occasional outpouring of zeal with an overall picture of our nation's history.. God Himself compromised with Adam, Cain, Abraham, Moses and many other characters in the Tanach, not to mention the entire Jewish people dozens of times.. The real reason why compromise is seen as taboo is that it begs the question : "If we are willing to compromise, what makes us different from Reform, Liberal, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Secular Humanist Jews?" The tragic reality is that Modern Orthodoxy ultimately defines itself with reference to, and as against, other strands within the plurality of Jewish communal life.. Perhaps a better question they should ask is : "If we are not willing to compromise, what makes us different from ultra-Orthodoxy?" A movement which seeks a place in the future of a people cannot be constrained by artifically-imposed political categorisations.. Is there any serious Jewish thinker or sect which is not seeking to bring the treasures of our heritage to individuals of the modern age? What exactly is the argument about? Has sensibility been undermined by banal tribalism?.. Constructing a coherent definition of Modern Orthodoxy entails appreciating four things : what is good about modernism, what is bad about modernity, what is good about tradition, but also what is bad about Orthodoxy.. Other strands within the Jewish world may choose to ignore one or more of these considerations, but as a movement struggling to define itself and underwrite its very existence, Modern Orthodoxy does so at its own peril.. Such a framework will unavoidably yield a plurality of approaches, some dissenting, but an ability to withstand and embrace the resultant tensions will reunite it firmly with the spirit of the Tanach (Bible), and create a dynamic, participative Jewish life that has some hope of recapturing its richness..

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  • Title: Mayim Reviews
    Descriptive info: Mayim Reviews.. (Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0060630353).. Richard Elliot Friedman is one of the foremost biblical scholars of the modern method; that is, analysing the text in the absence of any doctrine to attempt to uncover the identity, motives, and mindset of its authors.. This book is essentially an account of the Documentary Hypothesis, which posits four biblical authors (J, E, P, D) and one editor/redactor (R).. He outlines the logic behind the method, the history of the field, and the current viewpoint he holds about the identities of the authors of the five books of the Pentateuch and the early Prophets.. The book is both a gripping detective story, and a fascinating picture of the world that produced the Bible.. Although biblical criticism can be used as a weapon against religion, Friedman concludes by arguing that, in a broader sense, his work enables us to learn more from our foundational text, not less.. (Noonday Pr; ISBN: 0374513317).. Heschel's works are often described as the pinnacle of inspiring Jewish religious literature.. God in Search of Man, one of his two most important books, is a journey through the map of Heschel's Jewish faith.. The three sections entitled "God", "Revelation" and "Response" paint a rich, intense, compassionate vision of belief in the Jewish God and Torah.. However, this is no Bible-bashing barrage - Heschel blames religion for its own decline, accusing it in his opening words of having become "irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.. " There is little doubt that his approach largely succeeds in countering this.. Nonetheless, God in Search of Man is a difficult book to follow for those pursuing a purely rationalistic approach to the big questions.. Instead, one needs to take a step back, enter Heschel's world, and try to engage with his vision of what he believes must ultimately remain a matter of faith.. (Summit Books; ISBN: 0671605968).. Jewish texts, of course, started with the Bible, but they've moved on a long way since then.. There are commentaries on the Bible, commentaries on those commentaries, there's the Talmud (which is a commentary itself) and its commentaries, Jewish philosophy, mysticism (Kabbalah), Chasidic writings and the prayer book (Siddur) itself.. It is a somewhat grand ambition to hope to cover almost 3000 years of religious literature in a single volume, however Back to the Sources succeeds with style.. For each of ten categories of Jewish texts, a leading Jewish scholar gives a description of its content and context, and takes the reader through some detailed examples.. Each section is easy to follow but by no means over-simplified, and finishes with a near-encyclopaedic list of brief reviews of books the reader may wish to read to pursue the topic further.. Back to the Sources is a superb introduction to the millenial scope of Jewish literature, and is aimed both at individuals for whom the subject is new and anyone else wanting to fill in the gaps.. (HarperCollins; ISBN: 0060915331).. Paul Johnson, a Christian historian, writes in his prologue : "No people has ever insisted more firmly than the Jews that history has a purpose and humanity a destiny.. The Jews therefore stand right at the centre of the perennial attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose.. " In a sense, the rest of the book can be seen as a footnote to this grandiose introduction, viewing Jewish history as a microcosm or template for human history as a whole.. Johnson draws a comprehensive map, from the hazy beginnings with Abraham and the rest of Genesis' cast, through the development of legalistic religion, statehood, the priesthood, exile, the ghetto, emancipation, the Holocaust and modern-day Israel.. He elegantly combines a critical honesty with a sympathetic stance - indeed, he might be accused of being more pro-Jewish than the average Jew! A History of the Jews is informative, and reads like a gripping novel, and is to be recommended for Jew and non-Jew alike as a most accessible introduction to a 4000-year roller-coaster ride.. (Ballantine Books; ISBN: 0345418824).. In between pretty stories of family love,  ...   (Penguin USA; ISBN: 0140103767).. Subtitled "Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land", Arab and Jew is now over 10 years old, and as a guide to the macroscopic politics of the Palestinian-Israeli situation it is hopelessly out of date.. However, as a picture of the conflict on a personal level, it is likely to remain relevant for decades to come.. Shipler's approach is to portray the Palestinian and Israeli as mirror-images; both persecuted victims of history, unsure of the future, dogged by religious absolutism.. Shipler divides his pages between external analysis and personal accounts, brilliantly demonstrating how Arabs' and Jews' stereotypes of each other are so similar as to invite ridicule.. Arab and Jew is, above all, a sympathetic human portrayal of a complex, multi-faceted conflict, and will challenge any preconceptions the reader has, whichever side they take.. (Jewish Publication Society; ISBN: 0827603975).. It is often said that Rabbi Soloveitchik was the key defining force of the Modern Orthodox movement and reading Halakhic Man (or Ish HaHalakhah as it was called in its original Hebrew) one can see why.. Instead of appealing half-heartedly to tradition, he comes out guns a-blazing, using the full spectrum of modern philosophical vocabulary to describe the psyche of a Halakhic man.. For Soloveitchik, the Halakhah is a comprehensive rational system, defined and refined by the Talmudic method, which achieves its full force when taken out and applied to situations in the real world.. It is a framework which structures and preserves the religious outlook while guarding against overwhelming mystical experience, which he comes out decidedly against.. There is little question that the essay provides a strong defence of his own view on the world, however it is often questioned whether his erudite philosophical analysis is a genuine description of the reality of the Halakhic life.. Nonetheless, Halakhic Man remains a cogent apologetic and is a must-read for anyone who considers the Halakhah an important part of Jewish life.. (Behrman House; ISBN: 0874411033).. The Talmud contains several fascinating stories regarding the lives of some of its key characters; four Rabbis enter a "forest", one comes out mad, one dies, one comes out normal, and the other "tears up the leaves".. Milton Steinberg, a Conservative rabbi, took this story along with several others and weaved them together into a brilliant tale of life in ancient Judea after the destruction of the Second Temple and leading up to the Bar Kochba revolution.. The central character, Elisha ben Avuya, is a promising rabbi in the rabbinical court who cannot avoid becoming a heretic by his continued thoughts, reading and experiences.. This book achieves three ends - it provides an engaging, exciting portrayal of life in ancient Israel, it demystifies and simulataneously reinvigorates our historical perspective on rabbinical Judaism, and lastly it conflates the clash of culture and values between Greek rationalism and Jewish faith into a moving personal tale.. The book leaves thought-provoking questions regarding the limits of philosophy lingering in the mind.. (Schocken Books; ISBN: 0805210725).. There are many different approaches to reading the Bible ("the Book"), and Visotzky splits this entertaining and highly-accessible text between three of them, leaping from one to the other as he sees fit.. Firstly we read Biblical stories themselves, looking for hidden nuances, unusual phrases and things left unsaid, seeing what we can read between the lines.. Then we turn to the riches of the Jewish Midrashic tradition (which is Visotzky's specialism) and see what they made of these incongruities - it is refreshingly surprising to see the weird, wonderful and wacky ideas they came up with, often combined with a devotional or ethical message.. Lastly, we focus our criticism on these same rabbis, trying to understand what motivated them and what they were really trying to say.. This book is an excellent introduction to Biblical narrative and its interpretation (traditional or otherwise), yet is aimed squarely at readers with an unabashedly modern perspective.. Have you read any books of Jewish interest you'd like to review for us? Send a 150-200 word review to.. mayim@.. at this site..

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  • Title: Mayim - Submission
    Descriptive info: Mayim - Submission.. Articles submitted will be judged for inclusion on the basis of how well-written and well-argued they are, not because they agree or disagree with a particular point of view.. Here are some general guidelines which will help you :.. Try to keep the length under about 2000 words.. Avoid attacks on specific individuals or organisations.. Produce a balanced argument.. Make your article as widely-appealing  ...   a bad answer!.. By sending your piece to us, you give us permission to distribute it freely under the Mayim name (including email, fax, mail, Web).. We also may place it next to other material which disagrees with your point of view.. You may request that your submission is published anonymously.. Please submit your piece by email to.. We very much look forward to hearing from you..

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