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Critique of Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Creationism

The Art of ID Stuntmen

Faith vs Reason

Anthropic Principle

Autopsy of the Bible code

Science and Religion

Historical Notes


Serious Notions with a Smile


Letter Serial Correlation

Mark Perakh's Web Site


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Title Author Date
Applying Meiri's shita to today's atheists Makovi, Mikhael Oct 08, 2008
Mr.(?) Goldstein,

You note in your article that Meiri's shita is problematic to apply to today, for his criteria (belief in creation, providence, and repentance)
are not prevalent amongst today's atheists. Your suggested suggestion is that Orthodox Jews start treating gentiles properly, and halakhic
justification will follow. I will not dispute your recommendation for Orthodox Jews to so behave, but I question whether we cannot in the
meantime come up with a favorable halakhic reasoning. Viz.:

It seems to me that we have a right to disagree with Meiri on what constitutes "religion". For Professor Moshe Halbertam's article in the Edah
Journal (p. 19) notes, "The Me'iri differed from his predecessors in how he ranked one possessed of religion and one possessed of wisdom, yet he
derived the concept of religion and its essential nature from the philosophical tradition that preceded him". In other words, Meiri's concept of "religion", and the fact that one possessing said "religion" is to be
treated differently by halacha, are two different independent matters. Thus, we need not necessarily follow Meiri on both - the former is borrowed by Meiri from the ibn Tibbons following Maimonidean tradition, and it is the latter that is in fact Meiri's own unique innovation. Therefore, we ought to be entitled to follow a different definition of "religion" (and thus differ with Meiri according to the ibn Tibbons follow Maimonidean philosophy - we are certainly not inclined to follow scholastic philosophy,
and all the less are we beholden to it!) and yet retain Meiri's own innovation that one possessing of "religion" is to be regarded specially. We simply need to define "religion" differently.

to be continued
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Title Author Date
Applying Meiri's shita to today's atheists Makovi, Mikhael Oct 08, 2008
Indeed, Meiri himself gives us basis for even the atheists being considered "religious" - Halbertam p. 20 n42 says, "The Me'iri, as noted, associates the category [of non-religious, who do not believe in creation, providence, and repentance] with ancient nations, rather than with the philosopher [who even in Meiri's day did not believe in those three beliefs]; for, in his view, the philosopher recognizes that the masses need religion and the philosopher himself is disciplined by internally generated moral commands, rather than by fear of religion." In other words, Meiri's requirements for belief in those three in order to be considered religious, did not apply to the scholastic philosopher, for although he in truth doubted those three, he instead had philosophic justification for morality. Thus, Meiri seems to
grant that "religion" is not the only way to be "religious", and why should we not accord to today's atheists what Meiri himself accorded to the philosophers of his day? Meiri's requirement for belief in creation, providence, and repentance, might actually be, in Maimonidean terminology, a "necessary belief" rather than an "obligatory belief", meaning that the belief is required not because it is actually intrinsically true per se, but rather, because it is pragmatically necessary for this belief - in our case, these beliefs lead to moral behavior, but for someone enlightened who can reach the desired end without recourse to the "necessary belief", then this belief is not necessary.

to be continued
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Title Author Date
Applying Meiri's shita to today's atheists Makovi, Mikhael Oct 08, 2008
Rabbis Isidore Epstein (in his "Judaism" (Penguin Books) p. 140-something) and Rabbi J. H. Hertz (in his Chumash, and in Affirmations of Judaism under "Religious Tolerance") both say that the Prophets denounced idolatry NOT
because it is "false theology", but rather because it is "false morality"; i.e., not for what they believed, but instead for what they did. Rabbi Epstein further says that the first Noachide command does not mandate strict monotheism of the Jewish sort, but rather that it forbids gross sensuous idolatrous worship. He explicitly says that a dualist or trinitarian would count as a monotheist, as long as he believes in a binding moral imperative, unlike the polytheists, who could appeal to any
number of deities and authorities for approval of whatever course they had chosen.

This, then, would be our definition of "religious" - one who, for any reason at all, believes in some sort of binding moral imperative, and is thus "concerned with sin" as Meiri puts it. Meiri required belief (in
creation, providence, and repentance) in order to be "religious", but only because he felt these were "necessary beliefs" to guarantee moral behavior. Today, we see that one can certainly be moral without these beliefs. Why
should we not treat today's atheist's like Meiri's philosophers, for whom license was granted to be disbelievers, since they were nevertheless moral?

Polytheists today could be reasoned similarly.

Thus, ample grounds exist to apply Meiri today. Either we classify today's atheists as philosophers, or we simply disagree with Meiri's
Tibbonide definition of "religious" but retain Meiri's own notion that being "religious" makes a halakhic difference. It shouldn't take too much effort to do all this. Indeed, Modern Orthodox authors have been appealing to Meiri for support without concern for Meiri's metaphysical definition of "religious". Perhaps they were simply ignorant of Meiri's thesis, but
perhaps they were actually fully cognizant of it, but knew that its particulars were irrelevant.

Mikha'el Makovi
Seminary student at Yeshivat Machon Meir, Jerusalem
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Title Author Date
Applying Meiri's shita to today's atheists Goldstein, David Oct 08, 2008
Dear Mikha'el,

What you suggest is a possible Halakhic development, which, as you admit, relies only partially on Meiri's opinion -- viz., it accepts Meiri's view that gentiles "restricted by the ways of religions" should be treated, in
matters of what we may term civil and criminal law, the same way as Jews, and it modifies Meiri's definition of who falls into the category of people "restricted by the ways of religions." However, I have two reservations
about this:
1) Although I would like this approach to be adopted formally in Halakhic verdicts, it should not be presented as "the opinion of Meiri" pure and simple, which it is not.
2) It is by no means clear, historically, that adherents of polytheistic religions have been less bound by moral imperatives than the adherents of monotheistic creeds (however exactly we define the boundaries of monotheism). There is no lack of examples of adherents of monotheistic religions appealing "to any number of... authorities for approval of whatever course they had chosen."
What is true is that each society (and how to define that, is a separate and a complicated question; suffice it to say that religion is not the only criterion) has its own set of moral norms, which are subject to change with the change of time and circumstances. The question, then, may become: what are the moral norms which people should profess (or deserve being assumed to profess) in order to be treated the same way, in matters of civil and criminal law, as Halakhically-observant Jews? However, asking the question this way would lead the discussion too far from the conceptual framework commonly shaping Orthodox Jewish discourse. This framework divides the world, "by default," into Jews and Gentiles; if sub-divisions are admitted
(e.g., "normative" vs. "non-normative" Jews), they are formulated in the terms of compliance with the religious norms of traditional Judaism. From discourse proceeding along these lines, it is hard to expect a consideration of moral norms of different societies, Jewish and gentile, in terms independent of the concepts of the divine prevalent in those societies.


David Goldstein
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