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July 18, 2007



"There is no time in history in which philosophy has been been more amenable to the thought of homo religiosus."

(The first line of R' Soloveitchik's "Halachic Mind" - though I have misquoted it somewhat, I don't have it in front of me.)


Ah, just found it on Amazon:

"It would be difficult to distinguish any epoch in the history of philosophy more amenable to the meditating homo religiosus than that of today."


>They all are stuck in mid 19th century.

18th, you mean. The 19th century rationalists were themselves stuck in the 18th.


Incidentally, the maddening thing about postmodernism is that it must actually equate rationalism and enlightenment as a truth too. Saying that rationalism is passe because postmodernism recognizes truth as something depending on the point of view is not postmodern: postmodernism must acknowledge rationalism as equally valid as any other view.


That is the problem. Postmodernism undercuts rationalism. But postmodernism also undercuts itself. As a result, I wonder if we can actually learn anything from postmodernism, or if it is really just an admission of defeat and withdrawal from the quest for knowledge.


Thank you all.

That is the point - let's stop talking about proofs and start sharing experiences.

I agree that postmodernism is destructive of everything including itself. However, this is because it does not aim to establish the "truth", so it does not care that it cannot do so. It does not believe in Truth, only in description of experience or in establishing political conditions that minimize friction and conflict.


But postmodernism denies not only "universal" truth but also "local" truth, i.e. the possibility of mutually intelligible discourse and debate between two people, on any subject. Thus it does not even allow for accurate description of experience, and if followed consistently would not make political recommendations. (See for example "Can the Subaltern Speak" by Gayatri Spivak)


> sophisticated orthoprax practitioners of self delusion.

Who could that be?

Anyway, all you are really saying is let's go PoMo. And why do you say that? Because using normal rational lines of investigation hasn't given you the results you want. It's totally bogus.


All people believe in what others believe. Post-modernism at least recognizes this fact. I can't prove to you that rationalism is the only valid way to perceive the world. I can, however, point out that no one believes so anymore.

ben yisachar

XGH - your two-year transformation from Slifkin defender, Godol-basher into an orthopraxic cynic, with your Torah and mitzvos hanging by a thread (I would never want to write an insurance policy on your family's frumkeit, either), has been awesome to witness. Right out of some Agadita or Medrash. Makes me re-think some of my own anti-Gedolim issues.

Let's just hope the Chareidi press never get hold of your saga - they'll have on their hands one strong argument for emunas chachomim.

OTOH you have an opportunity to do teshuva from a very deep and powerful place. May Hashem give you the strength to do what you have to do.

Gut shabbos


Comment by Avakesh elsewhere: " The only way to deal with scientism contra religion is to bypass it. Orthodoxy must construct a mystical. post-modernist theology that moves us away from the rational and out of the field of battle. Once the commitment to Torah Judaism becomes, personal and based on existentialist choice, we can come back and deal with scientific evidence - pretty effectively, I would say, because we will no longer be threatened by it."

Could you please elaborate on what this "mystical, post-modernist theology" might be like? Do you mean to say a version of OJ that does not refer to ontological beliefs, only existential ones? If so how does this fit with the OJ that the rishonim and achronim believed in?

Further more, if Yidishkeit is simply based on a "personal and based on existentialist choice", then by what right do we demand of our children to follow it's strictures?


You ask a very sensible question; however, it comes from the idea being so radical and innovative that it is hard to accept.

I do not advocate that we abandon all rationality but that we stop thinking exclusively in terms of it. Sharing between people then becomes a deeper mode of communication that includes rational discourse but also utilizes experiential language, poetry, language of feeling, song and inspiration imagism. I attempt to do so on my blog but I alone will not complete, perhaps will not even properly begin this work. Once the idea is fleshed out with real world examples, once it no longer appears so novel, it will, I am sure, define religious language andinteraction very well. A lot of chassidic experience and structure is well suited for experiential lifestyle, and we can start from there. Relating to children in the langauge of the totality of personal expereince is, I think, much better chinuch than the language of do's and dont's.

For a great man who tried to travel this path see my post, http://www.avakesh.com/2007/06/an_interesting_.html


Comment from Chardal and my response

Thank you for the post. With your permission I will post it in your name. Basically I agree with everything you say here, but the importnat point for me is the liberation from the rational in order to be able to explore inner simensions of ruchinios. After all, Ruach is the level of the neshama that is deeper than rational. - avakesh

-----Original Message-----
From: Chareidi Leumi
To: [email protected]
Sent: Wed, 25 Jul 2007 1:38 pm

I tried to post this to your "skeptics go away" post but for some reason it will not go through:

Great post. I often disagree with you but I think you are right on with this one.

>"It would be difficult to distinguish any epoch in the history of philosophy more amenable to the meditating homo religiosus than that of today."

Yes, but he was saying this in order to push a non-mystical pluralistic approach to epistemology. I don't think its a position that can be sustained by most. The Rav had the strength to do it, however.

>That is the problem. Postmodernism undercuts rationalism. But postmodernism also undercuts itself.

It only undercuts itself in the realm of the rational! Its a tautology that can not be escaped but your statement implies a pre-existing acceptance of rationality as the final arbiter of Truth. In fact, a tautology can only exist within reason.

I believe that the solution is a more moderate post-modernism. The fact is that modernism simply does not work. It does not work for Theists, and for that matter, it does not work for Atheists. Those who don't delude themselves that they are still living in the 19th century recognize this regardless of their personal bias towards belief or dis-belief.

I say moderate because extreme post-modernism does not really work either. For anyone who wants to read a great work on a Jewish approach to moderate post-modernism, I would recommend Prof. Ish-Shalom's doctorate on Rav Kook.


I am curious as to how you distinguish between "explor[ing] inner dimensions of ruchinios" and the commercialized, feel-good "spirituality" which passes for religion these days. Which spiritual experiences are real, and which are just self-indulgence?

Personally, I try to grade my spiritual experiences based on the moral improvement I see in myself as a result of them. I think that can be justified according to a certain (perhaps cynical) rational paradigm. But in a postmodern world, any such judgment would seem to be untenable.


Dear Ariel, You ask a very important question.

First, while accepting primacy of experience in inner life weakens the attraction of the rational argument, it does not require giving up persuasion. One can still psersuade by an appeal to the inner person, the feeling, emotion, moral sense, and that deeper dimension that we call Ruach and Neshoma.

Along with discarding reason as the supreme arbiter, comes willingness to hear the inner voice. The soul of a person who has done basic housecleaning and has, at least, learned how to identify self-interest and internal bias, is a pretty good guide as to what is genuine. It is, of course, frightening to let go "objective reason" and to rely on intuition and sense: however, it is also profoundly liberating. As in any discipline, having a mentor, or a partner (a wife works well for this purpose) to tell you what you fail to see, is definitely an asset.

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