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Posts Tagged ‘Maimonides’
Forget Moses’s impassioned plea to the Israelites concerning their choices among the many blessings and curses that God reportedly set before them as they were about to cross the Jordan river into their promised land. (See Deut. 11:26-28, 30:15, 19.) Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne claims we have no ability to choose freely among alternatives. According to Coyne, “we couldn’t have had that V8, and Robert Frost couldn’t have taken the other road.” Presumably, the Israelites in the story had not much choice either.
Coyne argues that the free will we sense when we make a decision, the feeling that we are choosing among available alternatives, does not exist. In reality, he contends, our conduct is predetermined by physics. This result follows, he says, because our brains and bodies, the “vehicles that make ‘choices,’ are composed of molecules, and the arrangement of those molecules is entirely determined by (our) genes and (our) environment.” The decisions we think we make are, in his opinion, merely “the result from molecular-based electrical impulses and chemical substances transmitted from one brain cell to another.” read more
That the age of robots is coming, and soon, seems indisputable. For some, though, achievements to date in mobility, dexterity and intelligence (discussed in a prior post), may be as unsettling as they are amazing. Surely future developments will be disruptive and challenging in a wide variety of circumstances, many of which cannot even be anticipated.
How will the Jewish community react when an artificial entity is created that not only looks human, but is thoroughly versed in all things Jewish? Will the Jewdroid’s presence be too much to bear or is Judaism’s tent big enough to hold him too? Shall we reject the Jewdroid whose existence is unprecedented or shall we welcome the stranger? What assumptions and values shall inform us? Let’s look at some objections to a proposed Jewdroid.
The first, and most trivial argument, is that based on appearance: the droid does not “look Jewish.” A similar objection was raised against the Bulbas at William Tenn’s imagined interstellar Neo-Zionist convention. Whether coming from Jews or non-Jews, that line assumes that there is such a thing as a Jewish “look.” Whether there ever was a “look” is doubtful, but today any argument based on a presumed Jewish look involving a distinctive set of physical traits shared by all Jews is not only obnoxious, it is contrary to the evidence of the varieties of contemporary Jewry. In the world in which we live, Jews come in many shades, shapes and sizes, each with a wide range of physical features. Why, there are even Ginger Jews! Looks alone cannot compel a conclusion that our Jewdroid either can or cannot be Jewish. Our droid could come in any hue and be a Jew. read more
Let’s start at the very beginning. It is, as Oscar Hammerstein once wrote, a very good place to start. Let’s go to the biblical book of Genesis, or, more specifically, to the Hebrew text of it, known as B’reishit, and look at the first four verses. Let’s start with the first word in the first verse, b’reishit. The last letter of b’reishit is the Hebrew letter tav. Now let’s look for the letter which is fifty letters away from that tav. Let’s repeat that process two more times, each time skipping forty-nine letters and seeking the next letter that is fifty letters away from the one we just found. If you count carefully, when you reach the third letter in the second word of the fifth verse in B’reishit, the four Hebrew letters you find in this sequence are tav, vav, resh and hey. Together, in that order, they spell Torah, the first five books of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.
Congratulations! You have just uncovered a hidden Bible code, one formed by an equidistant letter sequence, or ELS. Skeptics can repeat the exercise, and get the same result, as the beginning of the next book in the Hebrew Bible, the book of Exodus, known in Hebrew as Sh’mot. Find the first tav in the first verse of Sh’mot (it’s at the end of the second word) and the next three letters each 50 letters apart. Again, if you are careful, you should find the sequence tav, vav, resh and hey, or Torah.
Too simple? A mere coincidence, you say? Wait, there’s more. read more
From time to time, like when an itch just needs to be scratched or a roiling cauldron must overflow, essays are written and debates ensue over the question of whether there is a conflict between Judaism and science. The direct answer to the question depends to a considerable degree on how one defines Judaism, and to a lesser degree on how one defines science. But discussions about the topic, even from Jewish perspectives, often miss that basic point.
Recently Moment Magazine asked nine rabbis the following question: “In what ways, if any, do science and Judaism conflict?” The rabbis were apparently selected as representative of, though not necessarily representatives of, various orientations and denominations. Moment even ordered their responses as if there were a spectrum of Jewish thought from Independent to Humanist, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, Orthodox, and, ultimately, Chabad. (Parenthetically, whether this means that Moment believes that Reform is at the center of Jewish opinion is unknown.) The rabbis’ responses are illustrative of the problem inherent in these kinds of discussions. read more
That different Jews have disparate views is not news. What is news is when most Jews agree on a particular idea or approach. And so it is with the curious consensus of Jews on abortion.
In mid-2012, the Public Religion Research Institute (“PRRI”) published its findings from a 2012 survey of Jewish values (the “Jewish Values Survey”). The survey sought to measure the opinions of American Jews on a wide variety of political and economic issues, both domestic and foreign, as well as with respect to certain religious beliefs and practices. Some of those opinions were analyzed internally by Jewish denomination and externally by comparison to those of other faith or ethnic groups.
While Jews varied considerably in their views of a wide range of topics, on one – abortion – they were not only reasonably cohesive in their attitude, but strikingly different from other groups. Given the emphasis in the Jewish tradition on valuing life, on equating the preservation of one life with the preservation of a world and, conversely, the destruction of one life as the destruction of the world (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5), this result, on its face, seems as anomalous as it is clear. read more
Credit: NASA AS8-14-2383
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Maimonides, also known by the acronym Rambam, lived just over eight hundred years ago (1138-1204 CE). He never saw the planet Earth as astronaut William Anders did on December 24, 1968 when module pilot Anders took the now iconic photograph above while flying over the lunar surface during the first manned orbit of the Moon. We do not know if Maimonides even imagined such a sight.
Credit: NASA/JPL P41508
The picture above shows Earth with the Moon in the background. This scene was captured by the Galileo Orbiter on December 16, 1992 at a distance of almost four million miles from our home planet. Maimonides never had the opportunity to see Earth and Moon from this perspective either.
Credit: NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team and A. Riess (STSci). PRC2003-24.
Living some four hundred years before Nicolaus Copernicus considered the nature of the solar system and Galileo Galilei fashioned his first telescope, Maimonides did not realize that the Earth circled the Sun, and not the other way around as was commonly understood in his day. Nor could he have known that the Sun was but one medium sized star in a rather unremarkable galaxy known as the Milky Way which spans 100,000 light years and is similar in size and shape to the spiral galaxy NGC 3370 shown above in a picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Similarly, he would not have known either that our galaxy consisted of a few hundred billion stars, give or take, or that the Milky Way was but one of perhaps a hundred billion galaxies, give or take, in the visible universe. See Tyson and Goldsmith, Origins (W.W. Norton, 2005), at 27, 150. read more
In two prior posts, we have reviewed Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s strange claim in The Science of God (“TSOG”) (Rev. Ed. 2009) that billions of years of cosmic evolution and six biblical days of creation actually occurred simultaneously. With his self-imposed standard of not bending the Bible to science or science to the Bible in mind, we have analyzed how objective Schroeder actually was with respect to the Bible and science. In both instances, we have found Schroeder’s work sorely lacking. He has failed to meet his own standard and other more objective ones as well. read more
The literal accuracy of the biblical description of the origin of the cosmos and of life itself has been the subject of controversy and reinterpretation for millennia. Even before recent scientific discoveries made the story of a six-day creation simply untenable as fact, many Jewish scholars, among others, readily acknowledged that the opening chapters of the Bible do not reflect a true portrayal of historic creation. (See, Post 10/11/11.)
Today that view has achieved a sort of consensus. With respect to B’reishit (Genesis), the Reform movement’s latest commentary asserts that the Bible “has a great deal to tell about God’s relationship to the world and about human beings and their destiny,” but concedes that the opening chapters are “unscientific, antiquated myths” that may be approached “in the same manner as one approaches poetry.” (Plaut, The Torah, rev. ed. (2005), at 6.) Etz Hayim, the Torah commentary published by the Conservative movement (2001) holds similarly: “The opening chapters of Genesis are not a scientific account of the origins of the universe. The Torah is a book of morality, not cosmology.” (At 3, emphasis supplied.) The Chumash (The Stone Edition)(1993), published as part of the more traditional Art Scroll series, accepts Rashi’s understanding that Torah starts with Creation in order to establish God’s supremacy, but acknowledges that “the Torah is not a history book . . . .” [All year citations are CE, unless otherwise noted.] read more