Category Archives: Science

The importance of history in Jewish history

A work in progress

History of the Jews Graetz

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
― Michael Crichton

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
― George Orwell

Why is Jewish history important?

The Study of Jewish History in the Jewish Day School, Jon Bloomberg

The Importance of Remembering The best way to honor the memory of Holocaust victims is through Jewish continuity. By Lesli Koppelman Ross

Why is history important?

Why Study History? American Historical Association (AHA)

Why is the study of history important in Jewish history?

If one doesn’t respect the legitimacy of history, there’s no reason to believe in any part of the Jewish faith. If we don’t respect that our historical documents have a meaning, then:

  • there’s no difference between reading the Bible as a Jew, or as an evangelical Christian.
  • there’s no difference between approaching philosophy and science like a Jew – e.g. Maimonides – or like an atheist
  • there’s no reason to believe that the Holocaust happened, and neo-Nazi Holocaust denial would be an equally legitimate position
  • there’s no reason to deny anti-Semitic myths like the blood libel, or the Protocols of Elders of Zion.
  • there’s no reason to say “never again”

 

History confronted by deconstructionism

Bill Crouse writes

Postmodernism is characterized by fragmentation, indeterminacy, and a distrust of all universalizing (worldviews) and power structures (the establishment). It is a worldview that denies all worldviews (“stories”). In a nutshell, postmodernism says there are no universal truths valid for all people. Instead, individuals are locked into the limited perspective of their own race, gender or ethnic group…. the emphasis in this form of reading is never to learn the intended meaning of the author, but rather the subjective interpretation of the reader.

Deconstructionists argue that all writing is reducible to an arbitrary sequence of linguistic signs or words whose meanings have no relationship to the author’s intention or to the world outside the text.” Newsweek, 6/22/81

Objective reality cannot be known. There is no transcendence. The universe is a closed system. Reality is entirely subjective…. Language is a system constructed on the foundation of arbitrary symbols. That is, texts are collections of words and pictures (“signifiers”) that have no inherent meaning or connection to the objective world of things or objects (“signified”). Since language is the medium for communication, and since language constructions are unstable, interpretation is also uncertain. … since the meaning of words (“signifiers”) is derived from one’s social context, ultimate meaning likewise arises from one’s social context. Language can only convey cultural biases.

Consider this incredible description, from a deconstructionist literary critic..

“Until recently, an author was an unproblematic concept; an author was someone who wrote a book. Roland Barthes’ landmark essay, “The Death of Author,” however, demonstrates that an author is not simply a “person” but a socially and historically constituted subject. Following Marx’s crucial insight that it is history that makes man, and not, as Hegel supposed, man that makes history, Barthes emphasizes that an author does not exist prior to or outside of language. In other words, it is writing that makes an
author and not vice versa. “[T]he writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings […] in such a way as never to rest on any one of them” (146). Thus the author cannot claim any absolute authority over his or her text because, in some ways, he or she did not write it.”

Or how about this claim:

“To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing […] However. by refusing to assign a ‘secret,’ an ultimate meaning, to the text (and the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases–reason, science, law.”

Rebuttal to deconstructionism

Texts are written by people, and they have a certain meaning. Of course it is possible for people to read new meanings into a text, but that says nothing about what the  author actually intended – It is only a reflection of the mind of the reader.

consensus and reality

Dialogue between deconstructionism and a historian

> I couldn’t disagree with you more — and neither could the scholars of
> mysticism, as I read them. There are different ways of knowing; the
> linear logic of traditional “empirical” scholarship is only one.

I disagree. We should not dismiss empirical scholarship. If one does so, then one loses the ability to defend any position. On a another forum I was involved in a discussion about the textual origin of the Torah. Some people claimed that logical analysis was not applicable to studying the history of the Torah. In response, Prof. Jacob Love wrote a stunning rebuttal:

As a historian, I also have to deal with an almost constant barrage of claims that history is not based on science, that history can prove that things happened one way and the opposite simultaneously, that nothing can be proven about anything, etc.

Take a look at alt.revisionism (I long ago stopped) and you’ll see what I mean. There is a commonality between the logical framework of the Creationists [religious fundamentalist] and the Holocaust Deniers. And this logical framework extends to most fundamentalist religions. You have to decide whether I, as a historian, can use logical and scientific principles to conclude whether the Holocaust happened, whether a given document is a forgery or authentic, whether an anachronism betrays the true date of a document and apply those principles uniformly to all subject areas. Because if I cannot apply them to yours, how can I do so elsewhere?

> Peshat is not the only interpretive understanding of the Torah.

Well of course. Later readers can bring new interpretations to the text. My point is just this: One should not assume that later interpretations were the actual intent of the
original author, that’s all.

> I’m confused here. Was there one original text whose contents have
> been lost, in your opinion, or was there never one original text? As I
> understand modern Biblical scholarship, it espouses the latter idea,
> so the concept of an “original text” is pretty much irrelevant.

The answer depends on which book you are talking about. As you know, some books were written by one author, others were redacted together from a number of earlier sources. Even those books that were written by one author likely didn’t start off as a pristine text; various prophets may have written down their thoughts in their own words; their friends (or people who listened to their preaching) might have written down their own version of what they heard. It is highly unlikely that all the written material was kept intact. Just like today, in the past one could find different editions of different books, some with certain material that only appears in one edition, some editions with material deleted, etc. A good modern analog is the textual history of the stories of Howard Philips Lovecraft. He wrote his books as recently as 1930 – yet trying to find an authoritative text for any of his stories is difficult.

> Literary critics claim that the original text and the author’s intention is *irrelevant*.
> The central concept of the literary (more specifically, the structuralist and
> post-structuralist) critiques of Scripture is this: language has no inherent meaning.

If that was true, then how could you object to any of my replies? How can you claim such a priviliged position for your own letters? You keep writing posts which expect that readers understand your meaning – yet that isn’t how you feel about the writings of others.

How would you feel if people claimed that everything you wrote was irrelevent? Perhaps those people may be unable to understand what you wrote, and attribute unintended meanings to your words, but none of that changes the basic fact: You obviously do intend your words to have a certain meaning. Why else would you be taking time to write these letters?

You are falling into the same logical trap that all deconstructionists fall into: You dogmatically claim that that the intention of the author is unknowable and irrelevant, yet you demand that others read your own words according to your intent.

> we deny the ultimate equality of persons, because a privileged
> reading implies a privileged READER.

Saying that one can understand an author is a denial of equality? That’s neo-marxist ideology, not rational thinking.

=======================

References: How deconstructionism threatens history

The Importance of History by David Crabtree

Deconstructionism: The Postmodern Cult of Hermes

Have Deconstructionists Destroyed History?; Can We Know What Really Happened in the Past? Skeptic Magazine, Issue 4.4

“The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past ” Keith Windschuttle, Free Press, 1997

Deconstructing Deconstructionism – Dr. Tom Snyder 

“How to think about weird things: Critical thinking for a new age”  Theodore Schick, Jr. and Lewis Vaugn

Chapter 4: Relativism, Truth and Reality

Overcoming Veriphobia – Learning to Love Truth Again, Richard Bailey, British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Jun., 2001), pp. 159-172

Truth has had a hard time in much recent educational and social scientific writing. Veriphobia, the fear of truth, can be witnessed in the work of postmodernists, radical social constructivists, pragmatists, and others. Although it manifests itself in numerous ways, there remain certain frequently appearing symptoms, and these are examined in this paper. It is suggested that the veriphobic stance is inherently self-contradictory. It is also fatal for serious and meaningful research and inquiry.

References: How deconstructionism threatens science

The End of Science? By Theodore Schick Jr. Skeptical Inquirer Volume 21.2, March/April 1997

A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodern Myths About Science (Oxford University Press)

A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths About Science Noretta Koertge (online essay)

Fashionable Nonsense Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science, by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont

Fashionable Nonsense Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science – article and review

Are Truth Claims in Science Socially Constructed?, Kenell J. Touryan
PSCF 51 (June 1999): 102-107

“Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrel With Science”, Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt , Revised edition, 326 pages 1997, Johns Hopkins Univ Press.

References: Deconstruction

Against Deconstruction by John Martin Ellis

Debunking Deconstruction, Philosophy and Literature 13 (1989): 430-34. Denis Dutton

Frank Lentricchia, “Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic,” Lingua Fraca, September/October 1996, p.59-67

“Against Relativism: Philosophy of Science, Deconstruction, and Critical Theory”
Christopher Norris, 1997, Blackwell Pub.

Reclaiming Truth: Contribution to a Critique of Cultural Relativism
Christopher Norris, 1996, Duke University Press

“The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida” Seán Burke, 1998. Edinburgh Univ Press

“In contemporary thought, the death of the author has assumed a significance comparable only to the death of God in the nineteenth century, yet no clear statement of what is meant by this notion has emerged in critical theory. In this study, now extensively revised and updated, Sen Burke provides the first detailed explanation of anti-authorialism and shows how, even taken on its own terms, the attempt to abolish the author is fundamentally misguided and philosophically untenable. This second edition features a new section on Derrida and an epilogue dealing with the politics of authorship and issues of technology; and a fully updated bibliography.”

Advertisements

Opioids, pain control and suicide

I want to say a perhaps untimely word on being – on occasion – pro- proper medical use of opioids. Although there is a raging, deadly opioid crisis in the USA, it is due to a huge misuse of science and medicine, but not due to medicine itself.
 
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the official halakhic body of Conservative Judaism, published a teshuva on suicide and assisted suicide in the summer 1998 issue of “Conservative Judaism” Vol. L, No.4. The authors hold that there are cases – for instance some cancers, where we do need to proscribe very strong pain killing drugs.
 
The CJLS teshuva notes that suicide is forbidden by Jewish law: this includes assisted suicide. Yet there’s a trend of Americans and Europeans who are asking their friends/family to help kill themselves. As the Conservative teshuva points out, many people get sick, often with terminal illnesses, but most people don’t try and commit suicide. So why do some people ask for this? If we can find out, we should remove these reasons, so people don’t want to do this.
 
The author of the teshuva, Elliot Dorff, note that “those who commit suicide and those who aid others in doing so act out of a plethora of motives. Some of these reasons are less than noble, involving, for example, children’s desires to see Mom or Dad die with dispatch so as not to squander their inheritance on “futile” health care, or the desire of insurance companies to spend as little money as possible on the terminally ill.”
 
Some patients want to die because they are pain, but Rabbi Dorff points out that the proper response to pain is better pain control.
 
There is a new crisis in medical care of elderly and terminally ill patients : Many doctors are keeping such patients in perpetual, constant pain by refusing to grant them adequate pain killers. Some do this out of ignorance, others because they claim they want to avoid any possibility of the patient becoming a “drug addict”. Others claims that a good patient will grin-and-bear-it with the least amount of pain medication possible. The CJLS teshuva states that such reasoning is “bizarre”, and cruel. With today’s medications, there is no reason for people to be in perpetual torture.
 
The teshuva outlines theological reasons why Judaism is opposed to suicide. Another section discusses the social and economic forces that conspire to drive many people to this decision. Most importantly, the teshuva investigates the psychological reasons for the hopelessness felt by some patients.
 
It points out that “Physicians or others asked to assist in dying should recognize that people contemplating suicide are often alone, without anyone taking an interest in their continued living. Rather than assist the patient in dying, the proper response to such circumstances is to provide the patient with a group of people who clearly and repeatedly reaffirm their interest in the pateint’s continued life.”
 
“Requests to die, then, must be evaluated in the terms of degree of social support the patient has, for such requests are often withdrawn as soon as someone shows an interest in the patient staying alive. In this age of individualism and broken and scattered families, and in the antiseptic environment of hospitals where dying people usually find themselves, the mitzvah of visting the sick (bikkur Holim) becomes all the more crucial in sustaining the will to live”
 
None of this, of course, is to downplay the serious opiate crisis in the united states. It has affected even those close to me. I know that the producers of opiate drugs have engaged in unethical, possibly criminal activity, in pushing these drugs to doctors for the past 30 years, and doctors themselves pushed these drugs unwisely, helping create the current deadly crisis. So I just am noting that there is a legitimate medical role for such drugs, under clearly defined circumstances.
 
 
See
 
Elliot N. Dorff, “Assisted Suicide” YD 345.1997a
Statement on Assisted Suicide YD 345.1997b

Drinking and health

Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review Logo

No doubt that it is safe for most people to drink small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, and have moderate amounts of alcohol, more occasionally. But how much is a safe amount?

Alcoholism and other substance abuse issues certainly run in families, and people who know about this in their own family are wisely advised to avoid alcohol, or keenly monitor their drinking patterns. Some families have a history of certain diseases which alcohol can exacerbate, so the same caution is due here as well.  But what about people without high risk factors? For years medical studies have shown some small benefits of drinking wine, a few other studies showed small benefits from small amounts of any kind of alcohol. And we all know of family members or community members who had a drink every day, and lived well past 100.

For any person, too much alcohol at once can affect the brain, as such
(source of image unknown; corrections requested)

Alcohol and Brain

But a growing number of studies are showing that that for many people, there are increased health risks at lower levels of alcohol consumption that once thought. For instance:

=======

Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study

Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline, BMJ June 2017

Higher alcohol consumption over the 30 year follow-up was associated with increased odds of hippocampal atrophy in a dose dependent fashion. While those consuming over 30 units a week were at the highest risk compared with abstainers, even those drinking moderately (14-21 units/week) had three times the odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy. There was no protective effect of light drinking (1-<7 units/week) over abstinence. Higher alcohol use was also associated with differences in corpus callosum microstructure and faster decline in lexical fluency. No association was found with cross sectional cognitive performance or longitudinal changes in semantic fluency or word recall…. Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with adverse brain outcomes including hippocampal atrophy. These results support the recent reduction in alcohol guidance in the UK and question the current limits recommended in the US.

When reading such studies, we first ask, what is a “unit” of alcohol? In the UK we find this definition:

1 unit of alcohol = 10 millilitres (8 grams) of pure alcohol.

Typical drinks may contain 1–3 units of alcohol.

A ten ounce beer (300 ml) at 3.5% ABV contains about one unit;

A medium glass (175 ml) of 12% ABV wine has two units of alcohol

A small glass (50 ml) of sherry or port (20% ABV) contains about one unit.

Most whisky is 40% ABV.
In England, a single pub measure (25 ml) of whisky contains one unit.

A typical American miniature bottle is 50 ml -> 2 units.

A typical American pour at a bar is 2 ounces -> 60 ml -> 2.4 units

-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+

Possible health benefits of moderate whiskey consumption

http://coolmaterial.com/food-drink/health-benefits-whiskey/

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/alcohol-full-story/

moderate alcohol usage and increased antioxidant intake decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.

Odds of dementia are lower among adults who consumed moderate alcohol, rather than none at all

-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+–+

“There are small amounts of sugar in all whiskies. Scottish whiskies have some sugars dissolved from the oak cask and often some from optional caramel colouring (E150a). Total amount of sugars is quite low, usually well below 1 g/l, but in certain cases it is quite possible to reach a few grams per liter. The sweet aromas of whisky matured in refill bourbon or new oak casks mostly come from sweet aromatic vanillin and fruity esters, not from the sugars. However, sugars can have a significant role in the case of casks previously used for sweet wine or sweetened spirit….”

Sugars in Whiskey: whiskyscience.blogspot.com

“Whiskey is among the most diet-friendly alcoholic drinks there is, at least in terms of a calorie-to-booze ratio. A one and a half ounce shot of 86 proof whiskey contains just 105 calories. One 12-ounce bottle of craft beer that contains about the same amount of alcohol? You’re looking at double the calories….”

How many calories are in whiskey? The Whiskey Wash

-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+–+

Contents

Main page: Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog
Rum reviews
Page 6 whiskey reviews
Page 5 Irish whiskey special
Page 4 whiskey reviews
Page 3 Flavored whiskies, other spirits
Page 2 whiskey reviews
Page 1 whiskey reviews
Useful articles on whiskey 
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher? 

Reincarnation and pseudoscience

A few rabbis have been trying to tie together kabbalah, “scientific proof of reincarnation”, “scientific proof of the afterlife”, etc, like this one here.

alon-anava-planet-x

Rabbi Alon Anava, a proponent of educating people about the potential threat of Nibiru, said last week that the dwarf star some believe is poised to destroy two-thirds of the world’s population in anticipation of the End of Days is the cause of recent extreme weather events. End of Days blogger Menachem Robinson told Breaking Israel News that Nibiru will “make its closest approach” to earth within the next few weeks. Following a recent lecture about the arrival of Moshiach (Messiah), Rabbi Anava ascribed the dramatic uptick in monsoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and other extreme weather events to the approach of Nibiru…. According to Rabbi Anava, Nibiru is merely one End of Days scenario that God could potentially implement. “It’s one of the surprises Hashem (God) can pull out of His pocket. It might not do anything. There are clear prophecies talking about rocks of fire, but any bad prophecy can be reversed. HaKadosh Baruch Hu (The Holy One, Blessed Be He) prepared it. “You know how HaKadosh Baruch Hu did the flood in the time of Noach (Noah)?” Rabbi Anava asked his audience. “He moved one of the planets a little bit. That caused the flood to happen.

https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/75707/cataclysmic-star-nibiru-causing-extreme-weather-events-rabbi/#y3BtqurSkJgy3she.99

There is zero scientific proof of reincarnation of the afterlife. The smarter fundamentalist preachers know this, but believe that it is valid to lie in order to gain new adherents. The less smart ones… actually believe their own claims.

Kabbalah itself is problematic, but we see here what happens when they tie pseudo-science with Kabbalah – they end up aligning themselves with conspiracy theorists, about all sorts of topics.

When you see a preacher (of any faith) talk about “scientific proof” which doesn’t exist, that’s a red flag.

Here are some articles examining holes in the claims that reincarnation and the afterlife were scientifically proven.

Ian Stevenson: The Skeptic’s Dictionary
http://skepdic.com/stevenson.html

Also Book Review of “Children who remember previous lives, A question of reincarnation”
http://www.skepticreport.com/sr/?p=482

Smilodon’s Retreat: Analysis of claims about reincarnation
http://www.skepticink.com/smilodonsretreat/2014/01/18/reincarnation/

Geocentrism

While little known to most Jewish people today, many classical texts of rabbinic Judaism taught the ancient view that the Earth is the center of the universe, and that the Sun, other planets, and stars all revolve around the Earth. This idea is called geocentrism.  Ever since Copernicus in the 1400s, and especially since galileo in the 1500s, we have known that this idea is false.

universe

Geocentrism today is rejected by all non-Orthodox Jewish groups, and one would imagine most if not all of Modern Orthodoxy. However, some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) groups still teach geocentrism. Here are Chabad Lubavitch essays teaching that the earth is the center of the universe:

http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/letters/default_cdo/aid/2387635/jewish/In-Defense-of-Geocentrism.htm/mobile/false

http://www.meaningfullife.com/spiritual/revolution-planets/

http://theantitzemach.blogspot.com/2006/11/interview-with-prof-herman-branover.html?m=1

This belief can be found in other Hasidic and non-Hasidic Orthodox groups. According to the survey a large percent of college-attending Orthodox Jews believe that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the Sun and other planets revolve around us.

“Of particular interest was the item “Which is true? The Sun revolves around the Earth [or] the Earth revolves around the Sun (Figure 8). Only 22 of 173 answered that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Geocentrism is fast returning as a centrist Orthodox belief, so the paucity of geocentrists among these college students is a strong indication of their (relatively) modern Orthodox status”

“…The Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists is largest organization of its type with over 1500 members. Its website is http://www.aojs.org. Dr. Avi Rabinowitz, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from New York University, who defended geocentrism in “Geocentrism” in B’Or‑Ha’Torah Volume 5E 1986 spoke at its convention in August 19–21, 2005. See Rabinowitz’s article, Egocentrism & Geocentrism; Human Significance & Existential Despair; Fundamentalism and Skepticalism.”

http://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/orthodox-jews-and-science/

It has been scientifically proven that geocentrism is wrong in many ways. First, within our own solar system, it is our Sun which is the center: planets, comets and asteroids revolve around it. This is called heliocentrism. Secondly, our solar system is just one of a billion star systems in the Milky Way galaxy, all of which are slowly rotating around our galaxy’s center. Beyond that our galaxy is merely one of billions of other galaxies, most of which also contain billions of stars each.

Here is a well written article from Discover Magazine about why geocentrism is wrong, and the fundamental flaw in logic that geo centrists make

Geocentrism? Seriously? Discover Magazine

It is a common error to misunderstand Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Many people believe it proves that we can never prove that the earth goes around the Sun. Therefore the ancient statements in the Bible and Talmud implying that the earth is the center of the universe are still justified.

But this is wrong on two counts. One, it contains a fundamental misunderstanding of what choosing a frame of reference means. For further discussion of this point, see the link to the essay on Discover Magazine that I posted separately. Secondly, it’s not just a matter of choosing coordinate systems. We have direct observation evidence that it is the earth revolving around the Sun, and not the other way around.

These are subtle effects that were not measured until the 1800s, but they have been confirmed time and again. Direct measurement showing what is the center, and what is not, has been possible for close to 200 years now. This is a well written summary of the evidence for Heliocentrism: Is there a proof that the Earth moves? Ask An Astronomer

From the Union of Orthodox Congregations (Modern Orthodox), see book reviews on

New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought, By Jeremy Brown, Oxford University Press, and Torah, Chazal and Science, By Moshe Meiselman. Israel Bookshop Publications

https://www.ou.org/jewish_action/12/2014/new-science-torah/