Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I remember this story told by one of my rabbeim in cheder:
While doing mivtzoim, a bocher asks a yid if he'd like to put on tefillin. The yid says, "No, thank you. I'm an atheist." To which the bocher replies, "The god that you don't believe in, I don't believe in either."
The moral of the story is that if the atheist had a better understanding of the TRUE God, then there would be no possible way he could be a non-believer. I guess the rabbi thought he was pretty clever in spinning this tale, and as a kid I thought it was pretty clever too.

Well, rebbe, I was given a top-rate education about the TRUE nature of God and His universe, and yet I no longer believe. Now your story just sounds childish, not clever at all. But it's easy to indoctrinate children. I just don't get how rational adults are convinced by this bullshit all the time.


  1. This is how the story REALLY goes:
    The talmid goes to his rebbe and says: I can't do it anymore. I don't believe in anything. I have to become an apikorus.
    The rebbe thinks for a minute and then asks: how many years have you been learning more?
    Twelve, the talmid replies.
    Hah! says the rebbe. You don't know enough to call yourself a real apikoris.

    Acher knew what he was revolting again. Most people who go off the "derech" just think they do and revolt against it.

  2. Epicurus, what's your concept of God that you don't believe in?

  3. Yay! My first comments! Welcome.

    Mr. Ironheart: I've heard that version of the story too, same idea though. There can't REALLY be non-believers, they must just be too stupid or lazy to see the TRUTH, or they are hedonistic sinners.

    Spinoza: I don't believe in any gods. Not Zeus, not Thor, not Baal, not Hashem, not the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But I'm willing to change anyone of those beliefs when I see convincing evidence, until then they are just hypotheses.

  4. Have you studied the chabad philosophy/kabbalah at any level? I have not studied it in depth, but from what I read, I was impressed with their level of sophistication. I'm not saying it's true or not, but it is interesting. Their ideas of God is not the usual way most orthodox Jews understand it.

    Hatzlacha raba with your blog

  5. Thanks for the good wishes Spinoza!

    I studied chabad chassidus/kabbalah in lubavitch highschool and two years in lubavitch yeshiva after highscool. It may appear to be sophisticated because of all the volume and detail, but I found it to be extremely self-contradictory (even more so than gemara). And ultimately it's all pretty meaningless, since it's talking about worlds that (probably) don't even exist.

    My teachers tried to convince me that chassidus explains the ultimate meaning of life and the universe, but ultimately it boils down to this (ask a lubavitcher if you don't believe me):

    Q: Why do we and the universe exist?
    A: God wanted to have a dwelling place in a lowly realm ("Nisaveh hakadosh baruch hu lihiyos lo dira bitachtonim"), so he created the world and put Jews in it so they can make the world ready for God by doing mitzvos.
    Q: Why did God want to do this?
    A: It was a taivah (desire), and you can't question a taivah.

    Now, I don't pretend to know the "meaning of it all" (maybe there isn't one), but I definitely don't find the above explanation to be satisfactory. And anyway, it's all based on "revelation" without evidence, so why should I believe it to be true? I'd rather put my eggs in science's basket, and use reason and evidence to try to understand the universe.

    You are probably right that chabad's idea of god is a little different than most Jews, but when they say they have good philosophical reasons for their belief, I think they are just fooling themselves.

    If you want some really interesting ideas, I'd suggest studying modern science and philosophy (quantum physics and general relativity are full of truly astonishing ideas about nature, for example), and don't waste your time on the ridiculous ramblings of the kabbalists.

  6. 1) You can't generalize. Some non-believers are hedonists, some simply don't know what they're rebelling against and some do. There's nothing universal they have in common, no simple label for them.
    Having said that, it isn't God that's turned many of them off. Rather it's His representatives. A bad rebbe, a story about someone corrupt and frum in the paper, a bad experience at home, whatever it is one must distinguish between God and his less than perfect ambassadors.
    For example, that some Chabadniks are meshichist and nuts about it with their Yechi kippos and all. Doesn't mean the Rebbe was a nut, just that someone took their worship of him too far.
    2) There are many different ways of understanding God and why He created the universe. Chabad is just one of those days. Read Daas Tvunos or Halachic Man and you'll see completely different approaches to the question. All of it is premised on one thing: God being infinite is unknowable. Philosophic speculation is for our peace of mind, not a way to understand Him. For many, this is bothersome. They don't like the idea of something in the universe they can't understand or explain. Like scientists, they need everything to fit into a formula or paradigm.
    3) Science can tell you what's happening but it can't give you moral direction in life. Too many people ask it to and that's where the pseudo-religion of scientism comes from. But there's a difference. One is analyzing the data, the other is telling people how to behave based on personal interpretation of that data and in that regard scientism is no different that any other religion.

  7. Garnel,

    I agree with your first point. There are a multitude of reasons why people reject religion.

    I'm not really sure what you are saying in (2) and (3), but science is definitely different than religion, in that it is evidence-based. Also, I think a rational society can have morals without religion.

  8. In (2) I'm saying that since God is unknowable, Chabad's approach cannot be absolute or the only valid one. If you're searching for God, there are many ways to look.
    In (3) science is evidence based. ScientISM is not. It takes that evidence that it wishes and uses it to develop moral laws.
    For example, there are three possibilities about global warming:
    1) It's happening and it's humanity's fault
    2) It's hapening, and it's not our fault and there's not a thing we can do about it.
    3) It's not happening.
    Now there's good quality evidence for all three but followers of scientism ignore all data from the (2) and (3) and using the conclusions that lead to (1) they develop morals like which light bulb you can use and how evil the internal combustion engine is.
    A real scientist debates by stacking up his evidence against his detractors. A follower of scientism dismisses the evidence of anyone who disagrees with him because, well, because he's wrong!

  9. I'm not sure what scientism is, but I don't think anyone should pick and choose evidence to support their predetermined conclusions. Scientists are supposed to be willing to change their theories based on new evidence. The same can't be said of the religious.

    As for global warming, there seems to be a consensus in the scientific community that there is overwhelming evidence that global warming is real and man made.

  10. > I'm not sure what scientism is, but I don't think anyone should pick and choose evidence to support their predetermined conclusions.

    That's what scientism is, as opposed to science. Why do you think Al Gore refuses to allow questions when he speaks? Why does David Suzuki scream insults at people who demand proof for his assertions? Why do prominent science journals refuse to publish articles contradiciting global warming hypotheses?

    The only real consensus on global warming is within the global warming community. By ignoring or discounting the dissenters, they reach 100% agreement every time.

  11. Like I said, I don't think any reputable scientist should subscribe to such a view. If Al Gore and Davis Suzuki are indeed "scientismists" that's their problem, I'm not their defender.

    But the claim that science journals are persecuting global warming skeptics and ID creationists has been thoroughly discredited. It seems you are projecting religion's shortcomings onto science without any real evidence. This is an old worn out tactic.

  12. One thing I've only recently noticed is how much time Chabadniks in general spend attacking atheism. It puzzles me slightly because they seem to do so even when their is no one around to mekarev. It seems sometimes like Chabad and the Lubavitch in general go through a lot more effort than other frum groups to define themselves in a negative way. Hence the attacks on atheism, and on the Conservative, and on the Modern Orthodox, and on the goyim etc...

    There's a fascinating detail about this story. It seems almost like an inverse of the old atheist line to monotheists that the only difference between the monotheist and the atheist is that the atheist has decided to not believe in one additional deity.

    At to Garnel's remarks: I'm curious: How many years would be enough if 12 isn't enough. 20? 30? A lifetime? And why then shouldn't one spend a decade studying Hinduism. Maybe they are correct. And every single Christian denomination. And every single Buddhist denomination. Etc. Etc.

  13. "Scientists are supposed to be willing to change their theories based on new evidence. The same can't be said of the religious."

    Truth shouldn't change.

    According to science, Scientists have spent millions of years trying to understand the world. Have the gotten anywhere? You would think that today's research would build on the research that has been done over millenniums. Does it? No. Today's science only proves that what people thought years ago is completely wrong. So what's gonna happen in 100 years? Scientists then will be proving our theories wrong and making us out to be a bunch of fools.

    I'm not gonna give you the argument that "Torah hasn't changed for thousands of years, and that all of Torah being "discovered" today only supports what has been known for years, and that is proof that Torah is the ultimate truth", because you've heard all of that.

    But I will pose this question: How is science more true than anything else?