Monday, October 25, 2010

Rebuttal by Baruch Pelta

Dovid sarcastically makes the following observation: “Baruch has enjoyed my hospitality and the hospitality of many Orthodox Jews over the years-- all our irrational/immoral beliefs notwithstanding. Rest assured that in real life, your average Orthodox Jew is quite harmless.” I hope this conversation doesn’t devolve from here, but I’m afraid that it is my moral duty to point out that Dovid and people like him really are quite dangerous. Dovid wrote a blog post in April of 2009 which asserted that failing change therapy or the ability to be celibate, the homosexual should commit suicide (after consulting a “genuinely Orthodox rabbi” and a “good frum therapist” of course). A month ago, Dovid found some rishonim who disagree and now notes that his proposal isn’t “universally sanctioned.” Dovid’s an educator. He works for Yeshivat Ohr Somayach as a rebbe there. He teaches teenagers just out of high school. Parents send their children to this institution and pay it money without knowing about these sorts of rabbis. Before considering the Orthodox educational options, I encourage you – as Dovid properly and rightly did – to open your mind and research.

Parallel to Dovid’s offer, I should note that anybody who is considering Orthodox Judaism or seriously considering leaving Orthodox Judaism may email me at and I will help as I can. If you truly wish to engage in research on the issues and do a proper search for truth, it is your duty to yourself to independently research any claims you might hear from rabbis such as Dovid; if you’re in touch with a rabbi, you should be in touch with somebody who has read up on these claims on the other side. If it is a philosophical claim, somebody who has read a bit of this philosophy; if it is a claim about the Bible, a Bible expert. If you truly think Orthodox Judaism is the right religion at that point, then I can only agree to disagree. I say this as somebody who decided to become Orthodox in the middle of the North Georgia Mountains and originally with absolutely no support; I stayed in for about 5 years. I understand how rational it can seem to the person looking for something.

Now back to the debate. Dovid claims that Rabbi Gottlieb has presented superior evidence for the veracity for Judaism. I do hope Gottlieb will publish his argument for academia someday (as university theologians Allister Mcgrath, John Haught, and Richard Swinburne publish their Christian apologetics), so we can see how it will stand up to scrutiny from other university philosophers as well. If we are as open-minded as Dovid would like us to be, surely the argument has nothing to fear from philosophical scrutiny from Ivy League minds; it will convince even in the face of any opposition (as Dovid hopes to convince you of Young Earth Creationism in the face of scientific opposition). But anyhow I think the argument’s pretty weak. I suggest readers who actually find Gottlieb’s arguments convincing read through Gottlieb’s book and then read doctoral student Larry Tanner’s refutation.

Anyways, at the end of everything, I don’t see how Dovid has addressed my question. What Einstein believed regarding Quantum Theory doesn’t address the creationist argument that the universe began approximately a thousand years after the Sumerians (according to historians, anyway) invented glue. We don’t know that the universe is older than six thousand years old through one philosophical idea or through one scientific estimate. We know it through many independent and reliable methods of understanding our universe. All of them coincide to present a picture of the universe which is quite old.

The 17th century rabbi Yaakov Reischer was as skeptical of non-Torah knowledge as Dovid is. And so, as late as the 17th century, Reischer noted that the nations of the world could not be relied on for their knowledge since after all, the “primary aspect of their words are built upon the idea that the world is like a ball, against the implications of the sugya of our Shas” [Rabbi Josh Waxman’s translation]. Rabbi Reischer’s belief in Torah, like Dovid’s, was absolutely sincere, leading him to believe as late as the 17th century that the world was flat; I have no doubt who he would support in this debate.