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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
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
Related Articles: A Lonely Champion of Tolerance

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
Related Articles: A Lonely Champion of Tolerance