17.12.14

I wanted to ask people in New York to go to the Mir Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway and tell them to print the classes of   Shmuel Berenbaum. Even if it is too hard to translate them at this point in Hebrew, still they should be made available to the general public because they are an important extension of the  path of Brisk.[They are in Yiddish]

The reason why this is important is thus:
Before Reb Chaim from Brisk people were worried about "How?" After Reb Chaim people became worried about "Why?"
Now today lots of people in Israel go into "yesodot"  (foundational reasons) for the arguments in the Talmud or between the rishonim in ways that are similar to Reb Chaim, but without rigorous logic.
And while I can see why people do not think this is important, because after all we have the books of Rav Shach and the disciples of Chaim from Brisk. We have the recently published books of Reb Moshe the Dibrot Moshe and Reb Aaron Kotler. But Reb Aaron was not doing what Brisk is doing. Nor is Reb Moshe. They are not dealing with "Why?"
For the general public let me try to make it clear what I am saying here.
When we look at the Rambam we generally see the first problem is to find from where he brings his laws. That can help to understand what he is saying. Without that his laws are often understood in ways opposite to what they mean in the Gemara itself as has been noted by the Beit Yoseph.
So now we know from where the law comes and we have some idea of why he might decide the law in that way. Though there could be dozens of ways. The first person to bring some logical rigor to the study of the Rambam was the mishna lamelch. And later the Or Sameach. But Reb Chaim Soloveitchik's Chidushei HaRambam is his Pieta, his 9th symphony. it is the first time the Jewish people were able to see the logical rigor inside Maimonides instead of just believing it is there. and that process was left incomplete so Shimon Shkop and Baruch Ber and Rav Eliezer Menachem Shach continued this process. It is this reason that Reb Shmuel Berenbaum is much more important to the Jewish people than is known. because he was not just a continuation of this brisk approach but also was very exacting in its application.


15.12.14

It is possible to learn through the entire Oral Law in a fairly easy way. First you need a clear idea of what is the Oral Law, that is the two Talmuds (Babylonian and Yerushalmi), the Tosephta, the Sifri and Sifra. One needs confidence in the idea that one needs in learning only to say the words and automatically he will understand.  And even if he does not understand right away he will understand when he reviews the materiel a second and a third time.
It is important not to get distracted from this so that at least once in your life you will have completed the entire Shas  [Talmud] with Rashi, Tosphot and the Maharsha. And the yerushalmi with the pnei Moshe and the other commentaries on the page, the Tosephta with the Chazon Yechezkeil, and the Sifri and Sifra.

Also   it is in fact important to come to Uman to say the ten psalms, and also for Rosh Hashanah. After all the world to come is an important issue--when one gets there that is. I mean who wants to burn in hell for eternity? Not me. So it is worthwhile to have a tzadik up there batting for your team.

So while Nachman is an important tzadik, it is necessary to learn in a Lithuanian yeshiva. Because the Torah is with the Geon from Vilna, and tikun of souls is by Nachman. These are two separate areas of value.
I think if possible it is best to try to do this learning in a Beit Midrash, or a Lithuanian yeshiva. But not an orthodox synagogue. If there is no Lithuainain  yeshiva then do it at home

14.12.14

  I have wanted to post a short story by Nachman from Uman that relates to the antimony of space as Kant saw it and also to Flatland by Abbott. And to a lot of other issues. To be brief: There were people in a group talking about the idea of a little that contains much. This gets involved but towards the end there is this tree that is above space. And the idea that the little that contains much is the in between state between space and above space. This to me has always seemed like a direct reference the  ideas of Flatland, the tree being above space meaning above our space but in some higher dimension.

  But it also occurred to me that it hints at an aspect of the Creator that is not in any space at all. He created space. The little that contains much seems to be a reference to the Banach Tarski paradox in reverse. That there is a way of cut the sun into little pieces in a way that it could fit into your suitcase.  

  I was thinking that with Kant there is no space in the first place. It is just a structure in the mind, a way of conceiving things. But I think with Jacob Fries space exists but it is a dinge an sich--a thing in itself which to me makes a lot more sense than the Kantian position. Also I should say I don't think Kant had to go a far as he did. he could easily have put space among the list of dinge an sich's.

  At any rate I just wanted to post this to spark people's interest. I am not saying I have an exact idea of what Nachman was getting at in his story. To me it seems clear he was referring in this story to multiple ideas all at once. First higher dimensional space. Then infinite dimensional space. And the the idea of intermediate levels between spaces [And  I don't know what that could mean.] And also to the idea of mappings between spaces- as in Category Theory. You see this idea in the tzadik being able to take people out of our world of Space Time and up to the tree. And this was also hinted at in another story of Nachman about the paths between worlds. 
I see that the Gra did hold from the Zohar, the Ari, and the Remak.
However the Zohar was never on my list of things to read in yeshiva. Nor was it even at the Mir yeshiva. But the writings of Isaac Luria were. And I had a high degree of confidence the validity of the Ari.
After I got married I spent time doing the writings of the Ari.
And in Israel I continued that learning.
There were things that cooled me off to the Kabalah. And I wanted to go into some of these things here while I have the chance. After all have a public forum is an awesome responsibility.
First of all the Zohar and the Ari and the Remak all build on the paradigm of the Middle Ages, a paradigm based on the Pre-Socratics. This I think I must have been vaguely aware of in yeshiva.
Of course, just a brief comparison between the Ari and the Pre Socratics will be enough to show that the Ari went infinitely beyond the available paradigm. Still it is a bit disconcerting.
But then the issue of the authorship of the Zohar also began to bother me.
And one day I saw what the Rambam wrote in one of his letters: "Just like one must not add or subtract to or from the Written Torah, so he can't add or subtract from the Oral Torah. And I began to think that in spite of how insightful the Kabalah is, it still is not in the category of the Oral and Written Law. The Zohar by all accounts was only revealed in 1260. the Oral and written law were known and accepted long before that. That is the Old Testament, the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, Tosephta, Sifri, and Sifra.  That is the sum total of the accepted oral explanation of the written law. And the Rambam says you must not add or subtract. But people can and do write later on explanations of that basic body of texts. The Rambam did so himself.
And the Ari did also. But that does not mean that that is higher, or can replace of Oral or Written Law.
And the Ari along with Nachman from Uman do provide deep insights in the meaning of the Oral and Written Torah. And that is good. But it is not the same thing as learning Torah.

I know this sounds harsh. But what I am suggesting is that Kabalah is dessert. It is not the main meal. And my mother never let me eat dessert before I had finished my plate. And I think the same logic would apply here.

So my suggestion is to learn and to finish the Oral and Written Law first and then do learn the Ari.
Now the Babylonian Talmud I would like people to finish with Tosphot and the Maharsha doing it fast. Say the words and go on.
But just to make it clear that is not the only thing on my agenda here. And I definitely have an agenda. That agenda is to get people to join the Boy Scouts or any group devoted to learning outdoor skills and team work. I have heard there is a Jewish version of this in NY. Next Musar. Because even the Boy scouts needs numinous reality. All morality needs a numinous core. So making Navardok Musar yeshivas all over the world is very important--and joining them also. The next things on my agenda is Math and Physics, ---learning them the same way as I mentioned above about Talmud. Say the words and go on. Simple as "Pi". And that I base on the Rambam. But I admit when the Rambam says  "Physics" he is talking about a wider category of natural science than modern physics. He at least means what we would call modern Chemistry. Maybe engineering also.  But it does not seem to me that he was thinking of Biology. If he had wanted to include that subject matter in the Mishna Torah or the Guide he could have, but he refrained. [He had the books of Aristotle that had that material along with the medical books of the Middle Ages.] So we have a fairly good idea of what he thought was an important part of a Torah education--the Oral and Written Law, Physics and Math.



















12.12.14

I see on Fesers blog that the Catholics are out in force defending Aquinas. And if I would be much into Aristotle then perhaps that would be more interesting to me. I had a few minor questions on Aristotle that indicated to me a more Platonic approach,-- this along the lines of Maimonides who treaded on a path between Plato and Aristotle. So I wonder why people have not done a similar amount of work on Maimonides.
 The major question I had on Aristotle that for better or worse put me back with Plato and then a modified Plato approach with Kant and Fries was the confusing issue for me of how Aristotle deals with universals.
I forget the exact question but I think it was along these lines: Substance is the essence. The essence is a universal. No universal is an substance. Maybe the scholastics have an answer for that but I simply have not the vast amount of time needed to get into Aquinas. [It is not my original question. I saw it either on the Stanford or Internet Encyclopedia. In any case after seeing it, it made sense to me to get back to a Platonic approach--or rather this middle approach between Aristotle and Plato--i.e Maimonides and Kant-Fries.


8.12.14

There are two places where it says not to bow down to false gods. One is in the Ten Commandments. That is a אזהרה a prohibition. Another place is in Deuteronomy 17 where it gives the punishment.
One for the prohibition and the other for the punishment.

Now  look at the Gemara in Sanhedrin 62. It wants to use the prohibition of "bowing" to tell us division of work. [That is: if one bows and sacrifices to an idol, he has to bring two sin offerings. He can't get by with just one.]

The context for this is this. R. Zakai said: One who bows and sacrifices and burns incense and pours a libation before an idol is liable only one goat. R Yochanan disagreed.. R Aba suggested this argument depends on an argument between "Tenaim" (sages of the Mishna). R. Josi said "fire"(don't lite a fire on the Sabbath day לא תבערו אש בכול מושבותיכם ביום השבת) is coming to tell us a fire on Shabat is only a prohibition a לאו. R. Natan said it comes to divide. R Aba suggests the same for idolatry. "Bowing" comes to divide to R Natan.

What I was confused about here until my learning partner set me straight was this. My question was: We need "bowing" for itself.
That is we already know that we could not learn bowing from anywhere else, so it has to tell us this. Sanhedrin 60b
But my partner said that is no question. The Gemara on 60b is referring to the punishment. Our Gemara is referring to the prohibition.

The Talmud on pg 60 simply meant that if it would not have written "bowing" in Deuteronomy, then we would not know its punishment. We would think it is a simple לאו--a prohibition.
What is  the idea of a Navardok yeshiva.
Navardok stressed trust in God and this seems to me to be an essential ingredient to making any yeshiva. Yeshivas today have just gotten too much into money, and not enough into Torah.
And to go into this I wanted to bring the argument between Rashi and Tosphot about "learning Torah lishma."
(Let me just clarify. "Learning Torah lishma" means not for an side purpose. It is learning Torah for its own sake. It is opposed to learning Torah either for money or honor or to argue.)

The issue that comes up between Rashi and Tosphot is the statement "Forever one should do a mitzvah not for its own sake because from that one will come to do it for its own sake." That is opposed to the other statement: "One who learns Torah not for its own sake it is better he should have been aborted. "
Rashi makes a difference between learning for honor and learning to argue

Tosphot (and clearly the Rambam and the son of the Rambam in his Musar book) reject this distinction.
But I wanted to say that just because someone is in a kollel does not mean they are learning for money.

At any rate, that last thing is only one issue--but an important one.  People nowadays commonly hide the fact that learning Torah is not a profession, because they are trying to squeeze money out of the State of Israel or some  naive secular Jew.

Navardok puts learning Torah in the proper light. That is to learn Torah and to trust that God will take care of everything else. This is the only way I can see learning as a kosher full time occupation.



And Navardok does provide some indication today of how to go about making yeshivas. The way Navardok yeshiva were always made. Go to some city. Find a Beit Midrash [study hall] (not a synogogue) and start learning Torah and don't ask help from anyone. Just do it yourself.

There are a few more issues I wanted to bring up. One is the issue of community. This seemed to be an integral part of New York Yeshivas. Anyone that was a part of any New York yeshiva was by definition one of "us." I dont know why this was the case. But it certainly was not the case for Lakewood. Nor for Yeshivas in Israel. I think that this goes to show my point about Navardok clearly. Because NY yeshivas were built along the lines I described above of trust in God. Lakewood constantly lies about learning Torah being a kosher profession. And In Israel yeshivas it is considered a profession even if they don't lie about if it is Kosher or not. They don't need to since the political parties are in the Kneset for the sole purpose of extracting money















6.12.14

  I had a few thoughts the idea of learning books of ethics. [It is after the Shabat from where I am writing now.] I mentioned that my first yeshiva was not a Musar (Ethics) yeshiva and the second one was. I really have no idea why the great yeshivas of Lithuanian at first decided not to have Musar (Ethics) as part of their curriculum and later adopted it.
But I can tell you from my own experience that Musar (Ethics) is a two edged sword.
The first most obvious thing to anyone that has even begun to look at Musar is that Kabalah is a major theme.  Starting from when Kabalah got to be known about and onward every book of musar is telling people to learn Kabalah even the Gra. Or rather especially the Gra.
You can't miss it.The Gra says things like it is the main purpose of a person's coming into this world. An in that he is just like Moshe Lutzato.
Other Musar books are constantly using the Kabalah to booster their arguments.
The Shelah, The Sefer Hachareidim, Yesod VeShoresh HaAvodah, the Nefesh Hachaim, the Pri Eitz Chaim of Moshe Lutzato, etc. All emphasize the Kabalah. To Yaakov Abichatzeira the Ari is simply "Rabainu." Not need for him even to tell you whom he means.

I could go on but in short I ask you to take my word for it that ever book of Ethics/Musar written after around 1500 emphases the learning of Kabalah --i.e the Zohar and then later the Remak and the Ari.
So I wonder how is it that you expect people to learn Musar and not notice this? You think they will just skip those parts?

Well to some degree  yes. That is exactly what the Musar movement expected.
And I mentioned a few times perhaps it would have been better to emphasize the Musar from the school of thought of Maimonides.. Be that as it may be, still the vast corpus of Musar book are one in emphasizing Kabalah. and not one says a word about the age of forty which the Rema brings about learning Philosophy, not kabalah.
So what am I all heated up about? Simply this: that in fact Kabalah can be problematic. It can be a problem for those that learn it and in fact are not ready. [That is people that have not yet finished the two Talmuds--Bavli and Yerushalmi, Sifi, Sifra, Tosephta, all the Misha and all the Braitot]. But worse are the people that are against learning kabalah and use their stance as imply that they are ready and their are so holy as to understand it. One way or the other, "We have a problem, Huston."
Of course none of the above subjects is anywhere as juicy as the Zohar and the Ari.
My own suggestion is in fact to do the order that the Gra said, first finish the Mishna and the two Talmuds and the Sifri, Sifra etc. But even then Kabalah tends to entice people into the Intermediate Zone. There is an aspect of danger.

It is not the same as learning some kind of advanced metaphysics.
But I do say that if you are interested in Kabalah at least make sure you are learning the authentic thing.
that is the Zohar, Ari, the Remak. Know that almost all Ashkenazic Kabalah is filled with themes and ideas that come from Shabatai Tzvi. And I would even go so far as to claim even energies from that movement.
.
So what if someone is interested in the "humanizing questions" of Allen Bloom.
 Certainly you don't get that from philosophy, or literature. But clearly the Talmud also simply does not address these issues. When it comes to what are we doing here it is hard to beat the Ari, Isaac Luria.
So my suggestion is in fact to do the homework--the preparation i suggested above and then by all means to get into the ari.

5.12.14

My question :  "I was wondering what your opinion is about the situation between Russia and the Ukraine. Do you think anyone should do anything about it, e.g. NATO or the USA.? Sanctions? War?"

 Answer from  KR :  "Russia violated a treaty it had signed with Britain and the U.S. securing the borders and sovereignty of the Ukraine. Also, the Ukraine is a member of the United Nations, which is supposed to protect members from invasion and conquest. The sanctions are hurting Russia a bit, but it is nowhere near enough. Ronald Reagan would have had the 82nd Airborne in Kiev the minute the Russians invaded the Crimea and the Ukraine asked for help. Obama is really doing nothing, even as Russian submarines operate in Swedish water and Russian bombers fly over Europe. Putin is simply getting away with behavior that has not been seen in Europe since Hitler's days."

My question: "Or anything at all? Those two eastern provinces of the Ukraine voted to be independent."

  KR : "Everyone knows that the votes were a fraud. The areas had already voted years ago not to be part of Russia -- votes taken without the presence of Russian troops, infiltrators, or threats and murders.
  Hitler had a more legitimate claim on the Sudetenland, or Danzig. But at least Britain and France (foolishly) agreed to let Hitler invade Czechoslovakia, while no one gave Putin the green light to start annexing the Ukraine -- unless Obama's passivity counts in that way."

After I wrote this I noticed that Putin has declared the borders of the Ukraine as sacrosanct. Well if actions follow words accordingly then there is not much to complain about. Lets see what the coming days tell.










I should mention my learning partner. I told to him the history of how Russia originally came to control the Ukraine. Two stages. The first was the Cossacks needed some alliance to repel the Polish lords. They eventually settled on appealing to Russia. That is they basically invited the Russians in. Later Catherine consolidated her rule over the Ukraine putting down some pogroms that occurred in the time of Nachman from Uman.
My learning partner says inviting the Russians is like inviting the Hell's Angels to your party to help you keep the neighbor's music down.

On the other hand Russia is the only one of the great powers preserving Western Civilization. And I have great respect for the amazing things they have accomplished. But still I am not happy about actions that seem to guarantee the commencement of WWIII.







I am not sure why belief in God is an issue. Everything has a cause. So unless there is a first cause then you would have an infinite regress. And then nothing could exist. Therefore there must be a first cause. Therefore God, the first cause, exists. QED.
Appendix: You could prove the second step that everything has a cause by noting that nothing can come from nothing.

You could go to Anselm and Godel also but this is for me a little more intuitive.

And it is certainly what Maimonides was thinking along with the Chovot Levavot.
But what I think bothers people is Theodicy. Also a desire to "sock it" to people that believe but are not nice. I don't have any problem with since I go with Schopenhauer and Job and God in the book of Job. [Not in that order.] But I do think that God turns towards people when people turn towards him. But He does not do so automatically.He does not love everyone. There is no reason to think he has any particular interest in human beings any more than a poor innocent bacteria. But when a person turns to Him in truth--then that awakens something.