In Which Joey Tries to Stump Y'all

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JoeyKnothead
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In Which Joey Tries to Stump Y'all

Post #1

Post by JoeyKnothead »

It seems as if there's a tradition in the Jewish community where one is, for lack of a better phrase, able to and possibly encouraged to argue with God when one deems it necessary.

I wonder, and I understand your answer may rely on opinion or interpretation, but I've come to trust Jews'll be pretty upfront about it all...

If I argue with God and I'm wrong, do you think that's immediate cause for punishment, or at least God not being so proud about me?

If I argue and I'm wrong, but my heart's in the right place, is there some leeway on that?

The reason I ask is because if I were to concede to my Jewish leanings, I'd wanna know to what extent it may be acceptable to argue, for all the right reasons, with an entity that may well be so wise, but so able to cause some quite serious and extensive retribution (within the context of at least my understanding of the Jewish religion, and of course open to correction).

I don't seek to debate this issue near as much as I seek to understand the Jewish position, but if I must debate it in order to sort it out, I s'pose I must.

Full disclosure - as an atheist I can only attempt an understanding of this whole deal, and do not seek to disprove anything so much as I seek to understand the Jewish perspective.

I'll offer an example for analysis...

Say I felt "to my core" that an individual did something so wrong, so bad, so vile that I felt it necessary to kill them in order to "make it right with the universe (read God?)". Would the Jewish God take my sincere, deeply held conviction (where based, if in error, on my understanding of the Torah) in consideration if or when he reached a verdict in my case?

What if I just locked 'em up in my own little dungeon if the whole "kill him" deal is out of bounds?

And by the way, I'm not plotting or planning, or pushing some angle here, I'm just curious to know to what extent my "God-given" sense of right and wrong comes into play.
Some say it came from Memphis down in Tennessee
Or it drifted in from Georgia about 1953
Just as long as it's greasy, as long as it's fast
As long as it's pumpin' honey, it's gonna last

It's the hillbilly rock, beat it with a drum
Playin' them guitars like shootin' from a gun
Keepin' up the rhythm, steady as a clock
Doin' a little thing called the hillbilly rock
- Marty Stuart

cnorman18

Re: In Which Joey Tries to Stump Y'all

Post #2

Post by cnorman18 »

JoeyKnothead wrote:It seems as if there's a tradition in the Jewish community where one is, for lack of a better phrase, able to and possibly encouraged to argue with God when one deems it necessary.

I wonder, and I understand your answer may rely on opinion or interpretation, but I've come to trust Jews'll be pretty upfront about it all...
I can't speak for all Jews, but I'll give it my best shot.
If I argue with God and I'm wrong, do you think that's immediate cause for punishment, or at least God not being so proud about me?
Well, first, how would you determine that you're wrong?

We don't argue with God, exactly; we argue with each other, and with the tradition. God isn't taking an active part in the conversation, if you see what I mean.

In the situation you're describing, there are several possible outcomes; you might find it a learning opportunity, and learn something new; you might decide that the Jewish way is not for you, and leave the argument; or you might convince whoever it is you're arguing with that YOU are right, and contribute to the living tradition of Jewish teachings.

It's happened before, even in the Bible; consider the story of the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 27. They argued with God directly, through Moses (according to the tale -- as usual, the literal historicity does not matter; the point of the story does), and God admitted that THEY were right. The Law was changed to address cases like theirs. God can lose the argument, Q.E.D.
If I argue and I'm wrong, but my heart's in the right place, is there some leeway on that?
That reflects the Christian emphasis on "Judgment." That's not a concern of ours. The only True Judge is God, and we assume, if you like, that His judgment is perfect. In other words, only He would know if your "heart's in the right place." What leeway He would grant on that basis, no man can say. I guess it would depend on what that "right place" exactly is.
The reason I ask is because if I were to concede to my Jewish leanings, I'd wanna know to what extent it may be acceptable to argue, for all the right reasons, with an entity that may well be so wise, but so able to cause some quite serious and extensive retribution (within the context of at least my understanding of the Jewish religion, and of course open to correction).
Again; you don't get to argue directly with God when you're a Jew, any more than anyone else does. No one in the Jewish religion speaks for God -- outside of the Orthodox community, at least, which I wouldn't recommend in your case -- and we don't much concern ourselves with whether or how much or how we're going to be punished for our sins, errors, or what have you; and you're not going to be punished for THOUGHTS or BELIEFS at all -- again, that's a Christian idea. In the Jewish religion, you get to THINK what you like; what you DO is the important issue. Our job is to DO the best we can to be good people as we understand that, and leave the judgment and so on up to God.

If you're thinking about the Afterlife here, you should know that Jews don't think about that much; we regard that as unhealthy for all kinds of reasons, chiefly that being obsessed with Salvation and/or Hell distorts our perceptions of THIS life -- which is the focus, of course, of our religion. Few Jews believe in Hell, and many don't think that there is an Afterlife at all. Me, I don't profess to know. I trust God, and that's as far as I can go on that subject.
I don't seek to debate this issue near as much as I seek to understand the Jewish position, but if I must debate it in order to sort it out, I s'pose I must.
You're doing fine, from where I sit. No one's going to dump on you for not swallowing Jewish dogmas whole; in the first place, there aren't any. In the second place, you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing -- THINKING and TALKING about these things, without fear or favor. ARGUING is optional, but as you know, it's permitted and even encouraged. Doubts and questions are better dealt with openly than hidden away.
Full disclosure - as an atheist I can only attempt an understanding of this whole deal, and do not seek to disprove anything so much as I seek to understand the Jewish perspective.
Understood.

And being an atheist doesn't bar you from becoming a Jew. In the Reconstructionist movement, belief in God is optional, and the Humanistic Judaism movement is explicitly atheistic.
I'll offer an example for analysis...

Say I felt "to my core" that an individual did something so wrong, so bad, so vile that I felt it necessary to kill them in order to "make it right with the universe (read God?)". Would the Jewish God take my sincere, deeply held conviction (where based, if in error, on my understanding of the Torah) in consideration if or when he reached a verdict in my case?

What if I just locked 'em up in my own little dungeon if the whole "kill him" deal is out of bounds?

And by the way, I'm not plotting or planning, or pushing some angle here, I'm just curious to know to what extent my "God-given" sense of right and wrong comes into play.
Your "God-given sense of right and wrong" is all we have; that's all anyone has. You do the best you can, with or without the Torah, with or without the guidance of Tradition, and with or without emotional detachment and objective judgment. We are all human; we do the best we can, and that's all we can do. Judgment, again, is up to God and no one else, and there's no way to know in advance what that Judgment will be, or even if there is one, peace to Christians who believe otherwise.

Before you die, who do you think is going to tell you what that "verdict" is going to be? Do you see? We just do the best we can. Someone once said that the entire Jewish religion boils down to "BE GOOD"; and that means be good to the best of our ability and understanding -- and for its own sake, and not because some Policeman God is standing over us with a Heavenly lollipop or a Hellish spanking.

I hope this helps. The short version is pretty much "No easy answers; we have to figure this stuff out for ourselves. The tradition can help, but it only has a vote, not a veto."

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ThatGirlAgain
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Post #3

Post by ThatGirlAgain »

I am not Jewish so I will not attempt to make a coherent argument on this matter. But here is some interesting (IMO) reading somewhat related to the subject.

http://www.mishpacha.org/wrestling.shtml
https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/ ... sequence=1
Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.
- Bertrand Russell

cnorman18

Post #4

Post by cnorman18 »

ThatGirlAgain wrote:I am not Jewish so I will not attempt to make a coherent argument on this matter. But here is some interesting (IMO) reading somewhat related to the subject.

http://www.mishpacha.org/wrestling.shtml
https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/ ... sequence=1
Thank you! The first is excellent; I have no time at present to read the second, but it looks good too. Very helpful additions to the discussion, and I for one appreciate it.

ETA: You don't have to be Jewish to make an argument, coherent or not. All arguers are welcome...!

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JoeyKnothead
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Post #5

Post by JoeyKnothead »

Digesting.

Will reply here directly.
Some say it came from Memphis down in Tennessee
Or it drifted in from Georgia about 1953
Just as long as it's greasy, as long as it's fast
As long as it's pumpin' honey, it's gonna last

It's the hillbilly rock, beat it with a drum
Playin' them guitars like shootin' from a gun
Keepin' up the rhythm, steady as a clock
Doin' a little thing called the hillbilly rock
- Marty Stuart

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JoeyKnothead
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Post #6

Post by JoeyKnothead »

I 'preciate all the input and the data I gained from the links. There's some question now as to what constitutes a proper phrasing of challenges or questions or such, so I gotta chill for now until that gets sorted out.

Thanks again, I've gained much to think about.
Some say it came from Memphis down in Tennessee
Or it drifted in from Georgia about 1953
Just as long as it's greasy, as long as it's fast
As long as it's pumpin' honey, it's gonna last

It's the hillbilly rock, beat it with a drum
Playin' them guitars like shootin' from a gun
Keepin' up the rhythm, steady as a clock
Doin' a little thing called the hillbilly rock
- Marty Stuart

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JoeyKnothead
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Posts: 16718
Joined: Fri Jun 06, 2008 10:59 am
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Post #7

Post by JoeyKnothead »

I think I get it now.

Where the Torah is man's understanding of the situation, it's not near as much that I may argue with the god in question, but with that interpretation. (?)

So, If I say, "God's wrong about x", I'm essentially saying that if "God is wisdom(tm)", then it's the interpretation that's in error. (?)
cnorman18 wrote: In the situation you're describing, there are several possible outcomes; you might find it a learning opportunity, and learn something new; you might decide that the Jewish way is not for you, and leave the argument; or you might convince whoever it is you're arguing with that YOU are right, and contribute to the living tradition of Jewish teachings.
This seems to support my notions above. Where "Jews have it wrong", they're fine with me thinking such, I'm free to do so, and they're open to changing their own stance.

I find myself attracted to the Jewish way, while being repulsed at my understanding of the Jewish god. Maybe this inner struggle is exactly the sort of thing that's s'posed to occur.
Some say it came from Memphis down in Tennessee
Or it drifted in from Georgia about 1953
Just as long as it's greasy, as long as it's fast
As long as it's pumpin' honey, it's gonna last

It's the hillbilly rock, beat it with a drum
Playin' them guitars like shootin' from a gun
Keepin' up the rhythm, steady as a clock
Doin' a little thing called the hillbilly rock
- Marty Stuart

cnorman18

Post #8

Post by cnorman18 »

JoeyKnothead wrote:I think I get it now.

Where the Torah is man's understanding of the situation, it's not near as much that I may argue with the god in question, but with that interpretation. (?)

So, If I say, "God's wrong about x", I'm essentially saying that if "God is wisdom(tm)", then it's the interpretation that's in error. (?)
I see what you're getting at, but you're still trying to find some hard-and-fast formula for what God is and/or thinks in there when we don't know EITHER of those things; and you're still trying to find some AUTHORITY in the Hebrew Bible that it doesn't have, in that there must be one and only one "interpretation."

It just doesn't work like that for us. There can be, and are, MANY "interpretations" of any given passage of Scripture, that is, many situations or questions to which it may be applicable and from which something may be learned. Some of them are even contradictory, but remain true in those situations anyway.

It may not only be the "interpretation" that is wrong, too; we can't necessarily trust even the words of Scripture itself. I've written before on how some of the "massacre" narratives were most likely later fictions written for political purposes, for instance. You have to take that sort of possibility seriously, too. As my rabbi said, "If you see something in the Torah that you know to be wrong, there are two possibilities; either you do not understand the Torah properly, or the Torah is wrong." Overruling your own moral sense because "the Bible says so" isn't an option for Jews as it apparently is for some Christians.
cnorman18 wrote: In the situation you're describing, there are several possible outcomes; you might find it a learning opportunity, and learn something new; you might decide that the Jewish way is not for you, and leave the argument; or you might convince whoever it is you're arguing with that YOU are right, and contribute to the living tradition of Jewish teachings.
This seems to support my notions above. Where "Jews have it wrong", they're fine with me thinking such, I'm free to do so, and they're open to changing their own stance.

I find myself attracted to the Jewish way, while being repulsed at my understanding of the Jewish god. Maybe this inner struggle is exactly the sort of thing that's s'posed to occur.
No doubt. I doubt if Jacob thought much of God when He cheated and dislocated his hip as they wrestled...

See, that's another idea that it's hard for non-Jews to grasp; for us, God is often Adversary as much as Creator and King, and God is not always absolutely and unequivocally good. "Israel" means "struggles with God" -- because we have to. We are required to. Blindly and mindlessly accepting religious dogma, whether about theology or ethics, is forbidden to us. We are not only allowed to think and argue, even with God Himself -- we are commanded to, just as a human father commands his children to grow the &%@#!! up and stand on their own feet and think for themselves.

Anyone who wants easy answers and a smooth path better not come here. Judaism doesn't provide one. We even make it hard to get in the door; the whole conversion process is about making sure the convert understands what he's getting into, and that it's neither simple nor easy.

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ThatGirlAgain
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Post #9

Post by ThatGirlAgain »

cnorman18 wrote:
JoeyKnothead wrote:I think I get it now.

Where the Torah is man's understanding of the situation, it's not near as much that I may argue with the god in question, but with that interpretation. (?)

So, If I say, "God's wrong about x", I'm essentially saying that if "God is wisdom(tm)", then it's the interpretation that's in error. (?)
I see what you're getting at, but you're still trying to find some hard-and-fast formula for what God is and/or thinks in there when we don't know EITHER of those things; and you're still trying to find some AUTHORITY in the Hebrew Bible that it doesn't have, in that there must be one and only one "interpretation."

It just doesn't work like that for us. There can be, and are, MANY "interpretations" of any given passage of Scripture, that is, many situations or questions to which it may be applicable and from which something may be learned. Some of them are even contradictory, but remain true in those situations anyway.

It may not only be the "interpretation" that is wrong, too; we can't necessarily trust even the words of Scripture itself. I've written before on how some of the "massacre" narratives were most likely later fictions written for political purposes, for instance. You have to take that sort of possibility seriously, too. As my rabbi said, "If you see something in the Torah that you know to be wrong, there are two possibilities; either you do not understand the Torah properly, or the Torah is wrong." Overruling your own moral sense because "the Bible says so" isn't an option for Jews as it apparently is for some Christians.
cnorman18 wrote: In the situation you're describing, there are several possible outcomes; you might find it a learning opportunity, and learn something new; you might decide that the Jewish way is not for you, and leave the argument; or you might convince whoever it is you're arguing with that YOU are right, and contribute to the living tradition of Jewish teachings.
This seems to support my notions above. Where "Jews have it wrong", they're fine with me thinking such, I'm free to do so, and they're open to changing their own stance.

I find myself attracted to the Jewish way, while being repulsed at my understanding of the Jewish god. Maybe this inner struggle is exactly the sort of thing that's s'posed to occur.
No doubt. I doubt if Jacob thought much of God when He cheated and dislocated his hip as they wrestled...

See, that's another idea that it's hard for non-Jews to grasp; for us, God is often Adversary as much as Creator and King, and God is not always absolutely and unequivocally good. "Israel" means "struggles with God" -- because we have to. We are required to. Blindly and mindlessly accepting religious dogma, whether about theology or ethics, is forbidden to us. We are not only allowed to think and argue, even with God Himself -- we are commanded to, just as a human father commands his children to grow the &%@#!! up and stand on their own feet and think for themselves.

Anyone who wants easy answers and a smooth path better not come here. Judaism doesn't provide one. We even make it hard to get in the door; the whole conversion process is about making sure the convert understands what he's getting into, and that it's neither simple nor easy.
My $.02 again, this time with Annie’s (more or less) agreement.

In A History of God Karen Armstrong discusses the ongoing process of commentary on the Talmud and what it means.
The process continued as each generation of scholars began to comment in their turn on the Talmud and the exegesis of their predecessors. This legal contemplation is not as desiccated as outsiders tend to imagine. It was an endless meditation on the Word of God, the new Holy of Holies; each layer of exegesis represented the walls and courts of a new Temple, enshrining the presence of God among his people.

Yahweh had always been a transcendent deity, who directed human beings from above and without. The Rabbis made him intimately present within mankind and the smallest details of life. After the loss of the Temple and the harrowing experience of yet another exile, the Jews needed a God in their midst. The Rabbis did not construct any formal doctrines about God. Instead, they experienced him as an almost intangible presence.
…
So strong was their sense of presence that any official, objective doctrines would have been quite out of place…This very important rabbinic insight meant that God could not be described in a formula as though he were the same for everybody: he was essentially a subjective experience…To this day, theological ideas about God are private matters in Judaism and are not enforced by the establishment.
Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.
- Bertrand Russell

cnorman18

Post #10

Post by cnorman18 »

ThatGirlAgain wrote: My $.02 again, this time with Annie’s (more or less) agreement.

In A History of God Karen Armstrong discusses the ongoing process of commentary on the Talmud and what it means.
The process continued as each generation of scholars began to comment in their turn on the Talmud and the exegesis of their predecessors. This legal contemplation is not as desiccated as outsiders tend to imagine. It was an endless meditation on the Word of God, the new Holy of Holies; each layer of exegesis represented the walls and courts of a new Temple, enshrining the presence of God among his people.

Yahweh had always been a transcendent deity, who directed human beings from above and without. The Rabbis made him intimately present within mankind and the smallest details of life. After the loss of the Temple and the harrowing experience of yet another exile, the Jews needed a God in their midst. The Rabbis did not construct any formal doctrines about God. Instead, they experienced him as an almost intangible presence.
…
So strong was their sense of presence that any official, objective doctrines would have been quite out of place…This very important rabbinic insight meant that God could not be described in a formula as though he were the same for everybody: he was essentially a subjective experience…To this day, theological ideas about God are private matters in Judaism and are not enforced by the establishment.
Thank you, enormously. I like that very much; it's about as succinct and accurate an analysis as I have ever read.

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