Monday, November 1, 2010

Dovid Kornreich's response to Q&A #2

Skeptitcher Rebbe said...
Dovid Kornreich: You stated this in your opening comments
"But when you are informed from a trustworthy source that this is in fact the will of the Creator of the Universe, you are morally bound to obey. No-one can demand of G-d that he must be allowed to continue living. What moral imperative can claim a free-undeserved gift? G-d can insist—at any moment-- that the time of the free gift of life that He has been generously providing is up. Our rational conclusion against the morality of human sacrifice must be temporarily put aside in favor of the truth of the situation at hand."
Your assumption is that G-d is the foundation of morality. If that was the case then G-d could command anything and then that would be moral. G-d could command people to eat humans alive, rape children, torture kittens and worship idols and then that according to your assumption would be moral. The absurdity in this is clear.
If you object to say that G-d could not say that then how so? You can't say because G-d is good and wouldn't command people to do evil things because that would mean G-d would be bound by a certain morality. If morality comes from G-d then G-d must be able to say all of the above commands and then they must be morally right. If that is not the case then G-ds commands are not the foundation of morality.
I think that you have completely ignored the central line which formed the basis of my argument:

"What moral imperative can claim an undeserved gift?"
This rhetorical question applies equally to God as it does to man. I am not asserting that God is the foundation of morality. Even from a priori concepts of morality without the Torah--which can be applied to God as well, God cannot be demanded of by man to extend an undeserved free gift.
Just as you cannot demand free gifts from other human beings.
Imagine you have an infinite supply of cash just lying around and you decide to give your son a stipend of $1,000 a month-- purely out of the kindness of your heart. You sign no contract and make no commitments to supply this monthly stipend indefinitely. Now one fine day, you decide enough free gifts. You abruptly stop the payments. Does your son have any moral claim on you to continue providing him with that stipend?
I dont think so.
In exactly the same way, I am making the observation that God owes no man "a right to life". Man certainly cannot decide to take away another mans life-- because he isnt supplying it! But God is supplying it--as a free, undeserved gift to us. And being in that position, God has the moral right to stop supplying it at any moment. Not because God is the foundation of what is moral, but simply because its His free gift to withhold at will.
So I agree that God cannot command torture of another human being unless it was morally deserved by the victim. But ending a human life (painlessly) is certainly within Gods moral capital to dictate.

You raise another point:

Thus I would question this statement in particular "No-one can demand of G-d that he must be allowed to continue living". Why not? No ones life is dependent on outside beings determination. Life has intrinsic worth, which is why things life murder and torture are wrong. G-d has no more right to take a life than anyone else.
I would dispute the assertion that "no ones life is dependent on outside beings determination". From the religious perspective, this is simply not true. If God created everything ex-nihilo, then all life is dependent on its creator's determination. Even if God is not the foundation of morality.
Indeed, what gives life its intrinsic worth? Where does this idea come from? Does this apply to animal life? Insect life? Vegetable life?
I think we can only assign inherent value to life on the basis of its creator's determination.
The secularist is completely without guidance regarding how to assign value and and how much value to life. And it has led to all kinds of animal rights movements which we all realize go to absurd extremes in their attempts to equate animal life with human life.

To your next comment:
Skeptitcher Rebbe said...
DK: To my above comment if I may: Would it not be better to say that G-d is a reflection of moral values rather than the creator of moral values? G-d can't make something right just by saying it is right, but rather G-d is always good which means that G-d will never command anything immoral. This can be compared to what is written in Devarim 13 "2. If there will arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of a dream, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 3. and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke to you happens, [and he] says, "Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us worship them,"" Even if there is information from a trustworthy source, so trustworthy that it makes accurate predictions and performs open miracles we still will reject it on the basis that it contradicts what G-d would ever ask for. Thus if we can determine that G-d would never ask for a child sacrifice since G-d is good and would never ask for something evil, such as a child sacrifice, then regardless of the convincing evidence produced by the trustworthy source aren't we compelled to reject that source?

Once you acknowledge that God as supplier of life is acting within his rights to end the free gift of life to any human being, then this command to Avraham becomes a moral command and is not evil in the slightest. Just as it is not evil to stop paying out free, undeserved, monthly stipends.

E-Man said...

So, now that Dovid specifically said he is not confined to believe that the world is only 5771 years old are you going to debate a new topic? Also, I am happy to hear that Dovid retracted from the view that Homosexuals should "theoretically" (whatever that means in this context) commit suicide. This is clearly contradicted by many sources explicitly.
I suspect that Mr. Pelta will not be able to find another opponent with which to debate the truth of Orthodox Judaism. This is because he has insisted that the opponent defend any position which Mr. Pelta determines to be normative to Orthodox Judaism--even if the opponent himself does not subscribe to that position. (This means even Rabbi Slifkin himself can be held to defend the position that the universe is only 5771 years old.) Quite an absurd condition for a debate if you ask me.

What "theoretically" means is להלכה ולא למעשה --this is common halachic terminology. Extensive training in Talmud accustoms one to take theoretical halachic positions constantly-- and defend them vigorously by mounting as much support as possible-- without being committed to them in practice whatsoever.

I agree that for those outside the beis midrash, it does seem peculiar to make such an elaborate, dramatic presentation of a halachic theory, but my goals were also to educate about the gravity of the behavior in terms of technical halacha. This explains the ultra- serious tone of the post.

Although Mr. Pelta found comments which misunderstood the thrust of my post, I find it quite noteworthy that all those comments come from sites which have a particular ax to grind against Orthodox Judaism and were predictably quite happy to find an opinion which they could portray as morally reprehensible.
If one will survey comments by other, disinterested parties, the picture becomes more balanced. I seem to be dangerous only in the minds of those who have a keen personal or ideological interest in portraying me as dangerous to the public.

By the way, E-man, where are the many explicit sources which contradict the theory? I would gladly add more to my list of two.

I wish to thank Baruch Pelta for giving me the opportunity to eliminate so much misinformation that has been going around the blogs for years and for being such a challenging debating opponent.

Anyone who wishes to further discuss any of the points raised in this debate is welcome to email me at: