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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
Another response to Mr. Goldstein Makovi, Mikhael Nov 12, 2008
Mr. Goldstein,

You mention that polytheists have by no means had less moral imperative than monotheists. This, however, I would question.

First, it has been noted countless times, that when a pagan wanted to do almost any given activity, he had a god at his disposal to justify. As Rabbi Hertz puts it, a god of high justice and morality could coexist with the god of the most depraved sensuality. With monotheism, there is at least no choosing between alternate imperatives.

(I saw with tremendous satisfaction that Berger (op. cit.) regards the Hertz Pentateuch, for all its shortcomings, as a noble and inspiring source for a truly elevated and edifying view of Judaism. I most wholeheartedly concur, if I may add Rabbi S. R. Hirsch thereto.)

Second, even if a pagan had imperatives, they often lacked moralities very critical to Judaism. Human sacrifice, temple prostitution, to name but a few examples, show that even paganism that included imperatives did not mean that the imperatives encompassed what Judaism would demand.

Obviously, every society has widely varying norms, and there is of course much to discuss about exactly what a gentile should have to profess. What if he professes not to murder or steal, but he still performs abortions and downloads music from the internet? Obviously, there is much to talk about. But I believe it clear that the kinds of gentiles that the
average American Jew meets, for example, are well within what could be considered a decent moral person, whatever the precise parameters.
Moreover, Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik, as brought by Berger (op. cit.) claims that a gentile is judged by the majority of his deeds, like any Jew, and that for the remainder he receives Gehinom. So as long as a given gentile is more than 50% righteous in terms of observing the Noahide laws, this would be enough. Rav Ahron has already exempted them from strict
monotheistic belief, as I have noted previously. I agree with you that there is a desideratum of literature on the subject, but I believe the
groundwork already exists, and I believe that at least Modern Orthodoxy is very much prepared to accept the premises and conclusions of this field. May it soon be that all of Orthodoxy follows in the paths of American, British, and German Modern/Neo-Orthodoxy.

I thank you for your essay, which clearly showed what Modern Orthodoxy is going up against in the traditional literature. The first step towards a
solution is acknowledging the problem, after all.

An aside: In the case of the Jewish and gentile shepherds who may be left for dead, you noted that the Jew in question was certainly a
monotheistic one, obviating an argument that only idolatrous gentiles and not monotheistic ones were included. However, following my (and Berger's and Henkin's) interpretation of the Meiri, the solution is simple: monotheistic or not, the Jews and gentiles in question were not moral ones, seeing as how they brazenly violated the laws of theft.
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Title Author Date
Another response to Mr. Goldstein Goldstein, David Nov 12, 2008
Dear Mr. Makovi,

The importance of accurateness in citing opinions of scholars – Jewish or not, rabbis, academics, or whoever – is not only ethical; quite simply, when a scholar X attributes some view to scholar Y, and check of the writings of scholar Y shows that he did not hold such view, this undermines the credibility of scholar Y. In the matters of Halakha, where the ultimate authority belongs to precedent, inaccurate portrayal of an existing precedent is quite detrimental to the credibility of the halakhic statement which that precedent is invoked to support. In my view, it is more productive – and more honest, of course – to present an extant opinion as it is, and if a further innovation is considered necessary, it should be supported by arguments in its favor, not by a misrepresented precedent. (I have to stress that I am not denying the possibility of extending the Meiri’s original view to non-monotheistic populations; I just think it is an innovation and should be acknowledged as such.)

I have not read Rabbi Berger’s essay (which had not yet been published when I wrote my piece on the Meiri), but it baffles me why he should be "reticent to allow non-Jews otherwise unlearned in Jewish racism to read the essay." This is not only questionable in the terms of intellectual honesty, but also a bad PR strategy. The anti-gentile statements from Jewish sources are widely circulated (e.g., on the Internet), and it is reasonable to assume that a non-Jew having a genuine interest in Judaism will encounter them sooner or later.

As for the strength of moral imperatives in monotheistic vs. polytheistic societies, I would suggest you to read the article by Rodney Stark, "Gods, Rituals and the Moral Order," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40 (2001): 619-636 [the full text of article is available for download at http://www.isreligion.org/publications/recent/stark.php]. This article is based on the World Values Surveys of 1990-1991. Although those surveys indicated quite different perceptions of moral norms in different societies around the world, a substantial majority of respondents from every country held the following actions to be immoral:
a) Buying something you know as stolen (Stolen Goods);
b) Failing to report damage you’ve done accidentally to a parked car (Hit/Run);
c) Taking the drug marijuana or hashish (Smoke Dope).

[to be continued]
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Title Author Date
Another response to Mr. Goldstein Goldstein, David Nov 12, 2008

Stark proceeded to check whether there is a correlation among the respondents between accepting the notion of the above actions as immoral and belief in some form of deity or supernatural force (of course, the specifics of belief differ from one country to another due to the particular religions professed therein). His findings are that a significant correlation between belief in the supernatural and acceptance of the above-mentioned moral views pertains only in those countries where the major religion(s) consider(s) the realm of the supernatural to be inhabited by a deity or deities deeply concerned with the moral behavior of humans. However, this category of religions includes also Hinduism, and whatever one’s understanding of Hindu theology, this religion is not normally perceived as monotheistic. And on the other hand, within Christianity, there is a distinction between Western (Catholic and Protestant) and Eastern (Orthodox) denominations in the degree of importance attached to moral behavior of the individual as a religious virtue, and concomitantly, the correlation between the belief in God and the acceptance of the above-mentioned moral norms is much higher in the Western denominations than in the Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Moreover, as said above, the perception of Stolen Goods, Hit/Run and Smoke Dope as immoral was shared by a large majority of respondents in every country checked in the surveys, including, e.g., Japan, where there is no significant correlation between this perception and belief in the supernatural. The major religions of Japan – Shintoism and Buddhism – admit the existence of many supernatural entities behaving more or less as independent personalities (which fits fairly well the category of polytheism), but do not see those entities as concerned to any significant degree with the moral life of humans. This appears to be a good example of moral norms shared by a society independently of a religious persuasion. Stark reports similar findings for China (PRC), but those are problematic because the profession of religious beliefs in China has deeply suffered from anti-religious campaigns run by the PRC government throughout its existence.


David Goldstein
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