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. . . unfortunately there are no data for the Very Beginning. . . . Only God knows what happened at the Very Beginning (and so far She hasn't let on).
-Leon Lederman

Archive for the ‘Social Sciences’ Category

The Torah and Tachlis of Violence with Firearms: Ethics and Evidence

Sunday, November 12, 2017 @ 02:11 PM
posted by Roger Price

 

 

 

WARNING: This is serious stuff. Human life is at stake. If you are looking for confirmation of preconceived narratives, stop. You probably will not find that here. If you are looking for solutions in slogan form or less than 750 words, stop. You surely will not find that here. We will go ten times farther than that. And this is not a discussion about some utopian ideal. It concerns the world in which we actually live, with the government and law we have and human nature as it is. If you will not deal with reality or ambiguity, stop. You will be annoyed here. If you are not interested in facts that define a problem or evidence that may offer a solution, again, please stop. Otherwise you will be disappointed and unhappy. If anyone is left, thanks in advance for considering this essay. 

 

These days in the United States we see and hear much violence associated with firearms. Sometime it erupts in a mass shooting at a college or an elementary school, a church or a Jewish Community Center, a nightclub or, as it did most recently, an outdoor concert.  Sometimes it comes with the steady staccato of an attack by one gang banger attempting to snuff out another. Sometimes it comes by way of a single bullet, the shooter and the shot being the same person. However it manifests itself, the sadness that follows is palpable.  Our hearts are broken at the loss of life, of what might have been, of possibilities foreclosed permanently. And we are angry, too – angry at the perpetrator and angry about the conditions that permitted if not caused a person to become so hateful or so self-righteous or so desirous of notoriety or so callous or so full of despair that s/he acted to take a human life.

When such violence strikes, to the extent its senses and sensibilities have not been numbed, the Jewish community here has not been shy.  With sermons and articles and resolutions and more, it has spoken — loudly, passionately and repeatedly. But it has not spoken uniformly, much less always wisely.  There is in the Jewish community, as there is in the nation as a whole, a variety of viewpoints. The question before us is whether our tradition can offer both Torah and tachlis, that is both instruction grounded in Jewish values and ideas that are also practical and productive. read more

An Ark is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Friday, July 29, 2016 @ 02:07 PM
posted by Roger Price

Credit: Ark Encounter

Ark Encounter is a theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky that invites you to “witness history,” to participate in a “life-sized Noah’s Ark experience” and to “be amazed,” all for the single day price of $40 per adult and $28 for children over 5 years of age. Seniors get a discount. Parking pass not included. Combination rates are available if you also want to go to Ark Encounter’s “sister attraction,” the Creation Museum, just north in Petersburg, Kentucky.

The underlying premise of the Ark Museum is that beside “the Cross, the Ark of Noah is one of the greatest reminders we have of salvation.” The reference, of course, is to the biblical story of a massive, worldwide encompassing flood which destroyed all human and other land based animal life on Earth, save that of a man named Noah, his family and such animals as he was able to collect and maintain on an enormous ship, the Ark, which rode the flooded seas for an extended period. (See generally, Gen. 6:9-9:29.) Ark Encounter considers the story of Noah’s Ark to be “true,” that is, an “historical account recorded for us in the Bible.”

For young earth creationists, like the proponents of Ark Encounter, history dates back to, and only to, about 6000 years ago, when, they believe, God created heaven and earth. Based on the genealogies in Genesis, the flood began when Noah was 600 years old, in the year 1656 AC (After Creation). Following the reckoning of Irish Archbishop James Ussher in the 17th Century as to the date of creation, this equates to 2348 BCE (Before the Common Era). The traditional Jewish calculation of the date of creation is somewhat different, occurring 3761/3760 years before the start of the Common Era, with the flood commencing 1656 years later, or about 2105 BCE. read more

The Myth and Function of the Passover Plagues

Tuesday, April 19, 2016 @ 04:04 PM
posted by Roger Price

Passover is a wonderful holiday. It is a time to gather together with family and friends. It provides an opportunity to reconnect with the millennia old line of the Jewish People. On Passover, we reach back through the mists of time to the myths of our national origin. We seek to find lessons from the distant past which might guide us in our present.

The highlight of the festival is the reading of a story from the Haggadah, literally meaning “the story.” The story tells of the enslavement of ancient Israelites in the land of Egypt and their release from bondage following a series of ten calamities, commonly understood as plagues, which devastated Egypt.  Those plagues, in the order of the story in the Book of Exodus are blood, frogs, lice, insects, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the death of the Egyptian firstborn. (See Ex. 7:14-12:30.)

Today that core story, and its centuries of embellishments, is read, sung and discussed throughout the Passover seder (a ritual meal, literally “order”). All along the way we are requested to, challenged to, even required to ask questions, to probe into the meaning of the story. The whole exercise is quite dramatic, sometimes even including costumes and choreography. No wonder Passover is an incredibly popular Jewish holiday, with more Jews participating in a seder than fasting on the traditional holiest of holy days, Yom Kippur.

The Passover story is so powerful that its magic has not been dimmed by the increasing recognition that the premise of the story lacks a solid historical foundation. The Hebrew Bible states that six hundred thousand Israelites males, formerly slaves, along with woman, children and others left Egypt as part of a national exodus. (Ex. 12:37.) According to the traditional timetable, this mass migration occurred near the beginning of the thirteenth century B.C.E. As has been discussed here and elsewhere, however, that idea has been largely rejected.  read more

Paleoanthropology in Genesis

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 @ 05:12 PM
posted by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

According to the Bible, God commanded Homo Sapiens to “fill up planet Earth” (Gen. 1:28), and as a species we have most certainly done that. But what motivated prehistoric mankind to spread out throughout the entire world, in the evolutionary rapid time of less than 60-80,000 years?  

Homo Erectus originated somewhere in East Africa almost two million years ago, and then slowly spread out to inhabit South Africa, the southern parts of Europe (Spain and Italy), the Caucasus, India, China, and Indonesia over the next million years. Homo Sapiens reached Indonesia and Australia within 40-50,000 years of its exodus from Africa. New research by a paleoanthropologist at the University of York suggests that moral and emotional reasons, especially betrayals of personal and communal trust, are the best way to understanding the rapid spread of our own species around the world.  read more

Ginger Jews

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 @ 02:04 PM
posted by Roger Price

Last year, about two hundred red haired Israeli Jews gathered for a conference at Kibbutz Gezer in Israel. While that is a nice size group, there were, apparently, many hundreds who were interested in attending, but unable to do so. Those who attended the conference shared stories, sang a popular children’s song called “I am a Redhead,” and reportedly had a good time. Gezer, by the way, is Hebrew for carrot.

And then there is Stav Shaffir, the not even thirty year old Member of the Knesset whose hair is vibrant red. Stav, by the way, is Hebrew for Autumn.

There is even Hebrew slang for redheads: gingi (Jeenji) for a male and gingit (Jeenjit) for a female, both Hebraicized corruptions of the English ginger.

What’s with Jews and red hair? read more

Is This Really the Torah God Gave Moses at Sinai?

Thursday, December 18, 2014 @ 12:12 PM
posted by Roger Price

The Torah is the foundational text of the Jewish People. Initially, it asserts a pre-history and a purpose of the ancient Judahite kingdom to which contemporary Jews trace their emotional and often actual genetic origin, setting forth the kingdom’s legends and lore, its poetry and prose, its customs and commitments.

But the Torah is more than the purported history contained in it. When its contents were reduced to writing, text trumped tradition as the source of both political and religious authority in the Judahite world. (See generally, Schniedewind, How the Bible Became a Book (Cambridge 2004) at 91-117.)The result initiated nothing less than a textual revolution.

Moreover, in the words of Israeli writer Amoz Oz and his daughter historian Fania Oz-Sulzberger, a “lineage of literacy” followed.  (See Jews and Words (Yale 2012) at 15.) Transmitted over millennia and eliciting commentary which itself then begot more commentary, the written Torah has bound and continues to bind the Jewish People together over space and across time as they read it, study it, participate in its interpretation and organic growth and act out its lessons. Here, the Torah has served, and continues to serve, as trans-national and trans-generational glue. read more

The Genome and Souls of Ashkenazi Jews

Friday, September 12, 2014 @ 02:09 PM
posted by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

   The Ashkenazi Jewish population is a genetic isolate gene pool almost equally close to European and Middle Eastern groups according to a highly detailed genetic study published in Nature Communications on September 9, 2014. The report is a high-depth analysis of the sequencing of 128 complete genomes of Ashkenazi Jews controls compared with European complete genome samples from 26 Flemish people from Belgium.

Reconstruction of recent Ashkenazi Jewish history from such genetic segments confirms a recent bottleneck of merely 300-400 individuals living in Central Europe, 25-32 generations ago, in the 13th-15th centuries (1200-1400). This bottleneck was the result of wide spread massacres of Jews in the Rhine Valley during the first three crusades; and additional massacres of Jews who were blamed by European Christians for causing the Bubonic Plague (1328-1351) which killed a third of the population in Europe (and almost half in urban areas). read more

Why Did Homo Sapiens Become Gentler?

Friday, August 22, 2014 @ 01:08 PM
posted by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Although, based on the news media, it is difficult to believe that Homo Sapiens (“HS”) have become biologically gentler, an apparent reduction in testosterone about 50-60,000 years ago led to human personalities becoming gentler and human faces becoming more feminine, according to a new study based on measurements of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls. This led people to have gentler personalities and to great advances in art and tool making.

The study, published in the August 2014 issue of the journal Current Anthropology, found that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming. The study’s lead author, Robert Cieri, said: The modern human behaviors of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament resulting from having a little less testosterone in action.  read more

The Conflict over Whether Judaism and Science Conflict

Thursday, January 30, 2014 @ 01:01 PM
posted by Roger Price

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

Jewish Sociology: Chicken Little, Chicken Soup and the Reform Moment

Thursday, December 26, 2013 @ 05:12 PM
posted by Roger Price

Almost half a century ago, a cover story in Look Magazine described “The Vanishing American Jew.” Extrapolating from demographic trends on intermarriage, birth rates and generational assimilation, the author predicted that the Jewish community in America would blend in and disappear before the end of the century.

One year later, 1965, the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations in North America, invited Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to speak. This was the first time that Heschel had been invited to address the GA. Among other things, Heschel reportedly urged that two words be banned from future dialog: survey and survival.

These events are important to remember a half century later as the Jewish American community seeks to digest the meaning of the data collected by the Pew Research Center in its recent study of Jewish Americans (the “Pew Portrait”).  The study has been criticized here and elsewhere on its methodology.  But with rare exception, nobody doubts the importance and value of the data collected by Pew. Yet, informative as the data are regarding the state of the Jewish American community, as telling are the many and diverse responses to the Portrait. In just a few short months, Pew has become a sort of Rorschach test. read more