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Posts Tagged ‘argument’

Atheist Chic

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

I suppose I should begin by explaining why I bothered to read the book The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Bantam, 2006). Dawkins is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, and a zealot with a mission: to wipe out religious belief of all sorts. The God Delusion is his call to arms.

My reading of the book was largely in response to a triple dare made by a friend, Dr. M., a true Zionist Israeli, an outspoken Jewish patriot, and someone who describes himself as a militant agnostic. Dr. M. has long found it incomprehensible – indeed, a downright insult to his intelligence – that a nice educated fella like myself does not share his staunch agnosticism.

With a mixture of pity and annoyance, Dr. M. has been trying to enlighten me. Convinced that no one could read Dawkins and come away unpersuaded, he sent me the book and challenged me to read it.

The God Delusion – not to be confused with The Dawkins Delusion, an attack on Dawkins co-written by Alistair McGrath, a molecular biologist also from Oxford University – is one of a growing genre of books designed to market militant atheism to the reading public. (A recent entry that has sold rather briskly is God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, who used to be a left-wing Israel basher and is now a quasi-right-wing Israel basher.)

“Promulgating atheism,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “has become a lucrative business.” Los Angeles-based radio host and popular columnist Dennis Prager recently wrote, “In my opinion the arguments put forth [in such books] are far more emotional than intellectual, and even secular liberal journals have written devastating reviews of the Hitchens and Dawkins books. The secular indoctrination of a generation that has grown into adulthood is bearing fruit.”

* * * * *

What exactly is Dawkins’s thesis and why is his book a bestseller?

Dawkins pushes his atheist arguments by setting up the weakest straw men he can find and then toppling them over. He briefly argues with Thomas Aquinas, but chooses most of his other sparring partners from among the dullest, most evil, and least sophisticated he can find. This is all a bit like claiming that if some foolish or unscrupulous people happen to believe the world is round, that in itself proves it is flat.

A more serious book would deal with the subject in a deeper manner, rather than with caricatures of its theological/ideological opponents. Dawkins often resorts to crude mockery of “believers.” His writing style is hysterical, demagogic and at times juvenile. He tends to respond to claims he dislikes by barking out “That’s an argument?”

Dawkins’s general theme is that God’s existence cannot be scientifically “proved” or even probabilistically established by using mathematical rules of likelihood. He then leaps to the “inference” that if one cannot prove scientifically that God exists, well, then, He must not exist. Much of the book is an attempt to establish as a given that belief in God is delusional, often by discrediting individual believers and specific religious groups or organizations.

Before he became arguably the leading academic advocate of atheism, Dawkins was best known for his books on popularized genetics. Dawkins invented the rather silly concept of “memes,” which holds that pop tunes and cultural fads spread in similar fashion to genetic traits, via a process of mutation and “natural selection.” I guess that explains hip-hop music, something no one would attribute to any Deity.

As it turns out, when Dawkins writes about “religion,” he, like many similar writers, really means Western Christianity. He has at most a shallow passing familiarity with Islam and Judaism, and knows virtually nothing at all about other religions. His ideas about “Bible believers” are really all about fundamentalist Christians; he seems to have never met a Jewish biblical authority or scholar.

(Hitchens is little better; he spends a significant amount of time attacking the biblical pronouncement of an eye for an eye, apparently unaware that Judaism has always interpreted that as meaning the monetary value of losing an eye.)

Dawkins is at his best when he attacks the “scientific gaps” arguments made by some who argue that God must exist because humans cannot explain various mysteries of the universe, first and foremost the Big Bang itself. Dawkins argues that if scientists have been unable to explain this or that scientific mystery, one should be cautious about leaping to the conclusion that they will never be scientifically explained.

Many rabbis would agree: Insisting that acknowledgment of God’s existence depends upon unsolved “gaps” in science is to make God a hostage to the pace of scientific advance. Too many things previously believed to be unsolvable have by now been solved, starting with genetics. But Dawkins’s real problem appears when he claims that if scientists have indeedexplained many scientific mysteries, it somehow proves that God is a delusion.

To sum up his overly long and at times tedious book, these are Dawkins’s main points:

·  The existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like all others and must be subject to scientific testing. If God cannot be proven to exist, no proof that He does not exist is even needed. It just follows.

·  Religion has nothing useful to teach about science (though one must not conclude the inverse). Creationists and those who have conducted experiments seeking empirical demonstration of the power of prayer are to be scorned.

·  Religious scientists really are not so; they are really atheists for whom God and nature are synonyms. (Never mind that many of them wouldcompletely disagree.)

·  Religious believers are too easily offended when people challenge their beliefs. (Hardly a serious argument against belief itself, especially from someone who takes offense at any criticism of atheism).

·  Groups of religious believers are involved in bad things, like violence and political suppression. Some clergymen have engaged in sexual misconduct. Therefore God must not exist.

·  The “God of the Old Testament” (or, more correctly, the caricature of that God with which Dawkins is familiar) is nasty and hysterical and ultimately a petty invention. All religions (especially monotheism) foster fanaticism. Therefore God must not exist.

Dawkins pooh-poohs the “primary cause” arguments (“everything must have a cause and so the first cause must be God”), but is left with little besides “things just get caused” in a natural world that is full of random noise.

The entire universe just popped out of a space the size of a pinhead for no reason at all (which is the Big Bang theory as science now understand it), certainly no thanks to God. Multiple or sequential universes, for which no evidence actually exists, would neither prove nor disprove God, but Dawkins keeps insisting they disprove God’s existence.

While Dawkins properly dismisses those who say “If you cannot explain something, God must be the explanation,” he is infatuated with the no less fatuous idea that if you cannot explain God’s agenda/behavior/character, He must not exist.

Dawkins often contradicts himself. Lots of eminent scientists do not believe in God, writes Dawkins, somewhat mysteriously counting Einstein among them. Atheism is legitimate because the U.S. founding fathers were atheists, he adds. (Actually, not one of them was.)

At the same time, however, he goes to great lengths to dismiss those who argue for God’s existence on the grounds that nearly all humans in all countries believe in at least one. That proves nothing, he insists – it’s just an “anthropic principle” argument. In other words, sometimes “theological proof by straw poll” is acceptable and sometimes it is not.

Dawkins wants moral principles to be based on something other than religion or the Bible, but is not sure what should replace them other than his own personal moral preferences. His “atheists are moral too” mantra would not hold up well to empirical testing (there would be too many communists in the sample). His social science pronouncements are surprisingly thin (indeed, he seems never to have studied social science). He uses dime-store anthropology in his chapter – the book’s weakest – on the development of religion among humans.

To “prove” his point that theology is not needed to foster morality, he cites some secular alternatives to the Ten Commandments taken from an atheist website: “Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice”; “Always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.” Yawn.

He then adds some original “commandments” of his own, like “Enjoy your own sex life (so long as it damages nobody else)”; “Value the future on a timescale longer than your own” and “Do not indoctrinate your children.” No shofar blowing or mountain in flames here. We can just envision the little Dawkins children, if there are any, asking their anti-indoctrination daddy why he forbids them to read the Bible.

* * * * *

I suspect Dawkins and his copycats have been induced to turn out these Three Cheers for Atheism books by the growing popularity of the Intelligent Design school of thought: In recent years, a minority set of thinkers about evolution has emerged, including some serious scientists. Intelligent Design’s main argument is that there are holes in the theory of evolution, things that cannot be explained by classical Darwinian biology. Commentary magazine has run several articles promoting their point of view.

The conclusion of Intelligent Design advocates is that only some form of “intelligence” imposed on random evolution can explain life on earth. Most biologists dismiss the argument, and opponents have filed a series of court petitions to prohibit its being mentioned in schools, even as a minority, dissident point of view.

The more zealous opponents of Intelligent Design unfairly denounce it as “creationism,” or academic window dressing to biblical literalism, and as an unconstitutional attempt to impose religious fundamentalism on schoolchildren. Attacks on Intelligent Design often are hysterical and ad hominem in nature, and attempts to recruit the courts as classroom censors sometimes seem like Scopes monkey trials in reverse.

While liberal Jewish organizations have generally denounced Intelligent Design and have backed and aided attempts to ban it from the classroom, the Orthodox response has been less than uniform. Rabbi Avi Shafran, for example, while affirming that Jews respect science and scientific inquiry, sees the attempt to use the courts to suppress Intelligent Design as anti-scientific, amounting to an attempt to impose a pseudo-religion of Randomness.

Israeli Rabbi Natan Slifkin, who writes about science and theology, has been critical of Intelligent Design because it attempts to prove God’s presence through the existence of the “scientific gaps” mentioned earlier. Slifkin argues instead that Judaism more properly should see proof of God and His presence in the parts of the universe that have been understood and explained; that is, in the miracles of mundane and ordinary life.

While some haredi rabbis have denounced Slifkin’s writings – mainly for his suggesting that the Talmudic sages were not infallible on matters of science – a number of Modern and Centrist Orthodox rabbis have praised his work.

Meanwhile, like so many other haters of religion, Dawkins repeatedly tries to set up an artificial contest between theology and science, demanding that readers concede that each and every scientific discovery amounts to an additional nail in the coffin of religious belief (or religious “superstition,” in his terminology).

Dawkins would have problems with a recent survey which found that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of professors at American colleges confirm they believe in God. I recently attended a lecture at the Technion by Nobel Prize winner Robert Aumann. His entire lecture consisted of citations from Maimonides and the Talmud.

All of which leaves me wondering how Dawkins would deal with Sir Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics. With the arguable exception of Einstein, Newton contributed more to science than any other human. But Newton had a deep belief in a personal God and even something of an affinity for Hebrew scholarship.

Incidentally, if Dawkins and some of his more zealous followers were to have their way, Sir Isaac himself would today be prohibited from teaching science in any public school.

In an exhibit of some of his scientific papers now on display at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, there is one on which Newton had evidently written in his own hand the Hebrew phrase “Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va’ed” – the verse from Ezekiel we repeat during the recitation of the Shema prayer. (The page can be viewed at www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/871781.html.)

The English translation of the verse transcribed by the giant of science reads: “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity.”

Dawkins and his ilk must pity the poor, primitive, deluded Isaac Newton.

Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

Ahmadinejad And The Liberalism Of Fools

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

      Last month the impotence of the world Jewish community was on display for all to see. For all the talk of how the Jews control the media, the banks, and the American government, a man whose declared intention it is to wipe Israel off the map was treated as an international dignitary in the city that contains more Jews than any other on earth.
 
      President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran not only spoke at the UN – from the very podium used just a few hours before by the leader of the free world – he was also invited to hold forth as a visiting statesman by the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations. So now the world Jewish community must contend with the sad truth that sixty years after the Holocaust a man can declare himself the new exterminator of the Jews and still be treated with respect.
 
      As I watched the Ahmadinejad media circus fly through town – his face adorning the cover of Time magazine, his soft-glove interview with Brian Williams of NBC News, The New York Times’s front page coverage of his cool demeanor at the Council on Foreign Relations – I could not help but wonder whether a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, whose declared intention it was to wipe out all traces of black life in the United States, might similarly be feted as a bona fide leader.
 
      During the years of apartheid, South Africa was subject to comprehensive international sanctions for its disgraceful and sinful segregation of the black population. It would have been unthinkable for President P.W. Botha, the last great symbol of the white regime, to be feted as an international celebrity in New York City. Had he been invited to lecture the world from the rostrum of the United Nations about the perils of the black menace in Africa, not only the African-American community but all decent Americans would have objected to his rancid presence. And yet Ahmadinejad of Iran calls not for the isolation of the State of Israel but its utter destruction – and is given Western rostrums from which he can spew his hatred.
 
      All this is done, of course, in the name of freedom of expression. The argument goes that the best way to change evil is to engage in a dialogue with it: If only Ahmadinejad would be exposed to reason he might be won over; if only we could logically point out to him the error of his ways and the insensitivity of his remarks, he would never utter them again.
 
      But tolerating the intolerable is the liberalism of fools and gives a safe haven to evil in a world that is sorely embattled.
 
      Would the Council on Foreign Relations invite a speaker who denied that slavery ever took place in the United States? Would Kofi Annan break bread with any world leader who claimed that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was a hoax perpetrated by Africans on the white population in order to curry sympathy?
 
      Allowing Ahmadinejad to debate the Holocaust with serious scholars in front of the world’s cameras is akin to Harvard University inviting those “scholars” who argue that the Apollo missions to the moon never took place – the whole thing was an American government hoax designed to scare the Russians.
 
      The Holocaust is the most documented crime in the history of the world. The Council on Foreign Relations allowing a denier a platform is the same as allowing a serious discussion on whether the moon is made of green cheese.
 
      Thanks to Ahmadinejad’s visit, a man previously regarded as a dangerous kook was granted the legitimacy not only of prestigious platforms but of reasoned dialogue and debate.
 
      There are good reasons why it is pointless to argue with certain individuals, and one of the best is that terrible horrors can be justified in the name of reason. Hitler always maintained that he was a rationalist standing fast against the irrational tenets of religion. So, while religion argued for the mystical idea of the infinite value of every human being, regardless of natural ability, Hitler euthanized German’s helpless because, rationally, in a state challenged with limited resources, hospital beds and medicines should be given to those who might one day improve. The mentally infirm would only take and never give back and thus were a threat to the healthy population.
 
      Would any of us have debated the question with Hitler? Or would we have chosen to simply condemn his barbarity and inhumanity? There are conversations that can simply never be had.
 
      As a marital counselor I have listened to husbands who justify beating their wives. “She continuously provokes me.” “She had an affair.” Should I debate the subject with them? Or is engaging in a debate already a concession that maybe they have a point? Rather, we must tell a husband in the strongest, most condemnatory tone that there is no pretext ever for hitting one’s wife. One can divorce one’s wife, and one can admonish one’s wife. But lifting a hand is an act of unforgivable cruelty.
 
      Stalin argued that sheer national necessity compelled him to modernize Russia and collectivize farms in the 1930′s, even though the resulting famine led to the deaths of some 25 million people. Pol Pot killed one in three Cambodians because of the necessity of “reeducating” them. When it comes to rational dialogue, every argument has a counter-argument. And that’s why certain values can never be debated. There is good reason why there is a commandment, rather than argument, not to murder.
 
      All this bespeaks an increasing willingness on the part of the world to stomach evil and its progenitors. From a Hamas terrorist government increasingly accepted by the Western powers to a Hizbullah terrorist organization viewed as a legitimate representative of the Lebanese people, it is becoming tragically clear that that the world is prepared to stomach those whose declared objective it is to maim, dismember, and destroy innocent civilians.
 

      Yes, tolerance is important. But tolerating the intolerable and forgiving the unforgivable is the surest way to empower evil.

 

      Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s newest book is “Parenting With Fire: Lighting Up the Family with Passion and Inspiration.” The new season of “Shalom in the Home” on TLC, which he hosts, begins on October 16. His website is www.shmuley.com.

Iranian Power, Israeli Preemption And The Middle East ‘Peace Process’

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

This article was written by Professor Beres exactly 10 years ago, January 1996. Today, with Iran less than two years away from a marked capacity to use nuclear weapons against Israel, one conclusion is clear: The author’s preemption argument should have been heeded much earlier.

(Conclusion)

In calculating the Iranian threat to national survival, Israeli strategists will have to consider both enemy capabilities and enemy intentions. Yet, because such threat components are never entirely discrete, but rather interdependent, interpenetrating and interactive, these strategists will have to look closely at all pertinent relationships. Here they will need to understand that: (1) capabilities affect intentions; (2) intentions affect capabilities; and (3) the combined effects of capabilities and intentions may be synergistic, producing policy outcomes that are greatly accelerated or even more than the simple sum of these effects.

For the moment, there are many in Israel who would maintain that Teheran’s unconventional capabilities remain problematic and that this Islamic regime’s actual interest in attacking Israel is certainly very low. Yet, over the next few years, that country’s ongoing development of chemical/biological/nuclear weapons could be substantial, creating conditions wherein a first-strike against Israel could be construed as perfectly rational. Whether correct or incorrect in its calculations, an Iranian leadership that believes it can strike Israel with impunity or near impunity – i.e., that it can preemptively destroy Israel’s nuclear retaliatory capacity – could be strongly motivated to undertake such a strike. Such motivation, of course, would be heightened to the extent that Iran remained confident about Jerusalem’s own reluctance to preempt, a reluctance – as we have already seen – that is likely an integral feature of the so-called Middle East Peace Process.

Iranian capabilities, therefore, could affect, possibly even determine, Iranian intentions. The Iranian threat to Israel might, however, originate differently. In this scenario, Iran’s intentions toward the Jewish State, irremediably hostile and perhaps even authentically genocidal, could hasten Teheran’s development of unconventional military capabilities. Here, representing genuinely far-reaching international hatreds rather than mere bluster and propagandistic bravado, Iranian diatribes against Israel would accelerate dramatically the production/deployment of extraordinarily destructive forces, weapons and postures. What has been described now are circumstances where Iranian intentions could affect, possibly even determine, Iranian capabilities.

What if Iran’s intentions toward Israel were not irremediably hostile or genocidal? What if its public bombast were not an expression of genuinely belligerent motivations, but a position designed entirely for political consumption? The short answer to these questions is that such shallow and contrived intentions would not impact Iranian capabilties,vis- a-vis Israel. But, upon reflection, it is altogether likely that even inauthentic expressions of intent could, over time, become authentic, that repeated again and again over many years, such expressions could become self-fulfilling. For those who might doubt such a transformation, one where Iranian leaders would begin to believe their own rhetoric in spite of themselves – incrementally and unwittingly – one need only recall the history of the Cold War. It would, therefore, be premature for Israel to draw comfort from the argument that Iranian intentions are effectively harmless. Such intentions could impact Iranian capabilities decisively over time.

The most complex relationships between Iranian capabilities and intentions, and potentially the most consequential to Israeli security, survival, and power, concern synergy. The issue here is not whether, or to what extent, one threat component affects the other, but instead how certain of their various combinations might: (a) produce an ongoing series of interactions that moves relentlessly toward war; or (b) produce a wholly new effect, an effect of which neither capability nor intention is individually capable.

An example of (a) would be an Iranian “bolt-from-the- blue” attack against Israel that is launched only because of the particularly synergistic way in which capabilities and intentions feed upon each other. In the fashion of a human pathology that is hastened by the interactive effects of two individually potent carcinogens, e.g., alcohol and tobacco, such an attack (metaphorically, a pathogenic intrusion into the Israeli “organism”) would be speeded up and perhaps even made possible because of the specific way in which “carcinogenic” capabilities and intentions continuously transform and enlarge each other.

An example of (b) would be an Iranian attack against Israel – bolt-from-the-blue or product of escalation, conventional or unconventional – that would not otherwise even have taken place. This example is plausible to the extent that one believes Iran would never strike first against Israel, irrespective of Iran’s singular intentions and capabilities, unless these two threat components were judged mutually reinforcing. Returning to our metaphor, the pathogenic intrusion into the Israeli “organism” in this example would produce a distinctly different “disease,” one that could not have been produced independently by either individual “carcinogen,” and one that could be either more or less injurious than the other synergistic outcome.

Let us now explore further the pertinent constraints codified in the Oslo accords. Should Iran recognize the inhibitions on Israeli preemptive action that stem from these accords, that Islamic enemy state could calculate as follows: As our (Iranian) nuclearization will be less threatened by Israeli preeemptive attack because of Israel’s adherence to diplomatic agreements, we (Iran) should expand our unconventional capabilities – especially our nuclear weapons capabilities – as quickly as practicable. Such a calculation could also enlarge Iranian intentions to attack Israel and might even make cost-effective hostile actions by Iran that would not otherwise have been possible.

What if the Oslo accords should lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, an outcome that seems indisputable so long as Israel continues with its suicidal plans for territorial surrender? Here, it is altogether probable that Israel’s loss of strategic depth would be recognized by Iran as a significant liability for Israel. Such recognition, in turn, could heat up Iranian intentions against Israel, occasioning an accelerated search for capabilities and consequently a heightened risk of war initiated from Teheran.

Israel, of course, might forsee such Iranian calaculations and seek to compensate for the loss of territories in a number of different ways. Jerusalem, for example, could decide to take its bomb out of the “basement,” as a deterrence-enhancing measure, and/or it could accept a heightened willingness to launch preemptive strikes against enemy (including Iran) hard targets. Made aware of such Israeli intentions, intentions that would accrue from Israel’s new vulnerabilities, Iran could respond in a more or less parallel fashion, preparing more openly for nuclearization and/or for first-strike attacks against the Jewish State.

There is one last point of real consequence. Should Israel ever conclude that an act of anticipatory self-defense is needed against Iranian military assets, it may still resist this act because of world public opinion. If, however, Israel began immediately to alert the world to Iran’s aggressive intentions against Israel and its growing nuclear capabilities, the Jewish State might not be self-deterred from launching a life-saving preemption. Israel, therefore, should cease immediately its general, counterproductive silence on Iran, and should remind the world, instead, of Teheran’s commitment, in word and deed, to destroy the Jewish State. Such a reminder would not be propagandistic, to be sure, but rather a prudent and entirely honest component of reasonable self-defense.

Israel thus faces a unique dual-preemption imperative. It must, in effect, preempt its own military preemption of Iranian mass-destruction assets with a far-reaching public-relations preemption of expected global condemnation. Unless the second preemption action precedes the first, and does so in a timely and convincing fashion, the defensive destruction of Teheran’s developing nuclear weapons capacity would elicit uniformly negative reactions all over the world. For Israel, constrained by the Oslo accords, preemption is already very problematic and power, therefore, is already diminishing. Recalling Sun-Tzu, leaders of the Jewish State must bear in mind: “One who knows when he can fight, and when he cannot fight, will be victorious.”

Copyright The Jewish Press, February 10, 2006. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Strategic and Military Affairs Columnist for The Jewish Press. He is also Chair of “Project Daniel.”

Tenafly, New Jersey Eruv Controversy

Friday, December 7th, 2001

In a brief filed with the United States Court of Appeals in the crucial case involving an eruv in Tenafly, New Jersey, Nathan Lewin, Orthodox Jewry's foremost constitutional litigation lawyer, presented an important argument that will, if successful, insulate all eruvim in the United States against similar constitutional attack. The Tenafly Council ordered Cablevision to remove 183 plastic strips that the Eruv Association had attached to utility poles to be used as “lechis,” which are necessary to complete an eruv. Many reportedly had reason to believe, from the debate that had preceded the order of removal, that Tenafly was simply trying to keep Orthodox Jews out of the town. But all the Council members swore that they had no anti-Orthodox bias ? which would have meant that their action against the eruv was a violation of the Constitution ? and the federal judge believed them.

The Eruv Association is appealing the decision, mainly on the ground that the judge's conclusion as to the issue of the Council-members' motives was wrong. That is a difficult argument to make because appellate courts usually accept “findings of fact” by trial judges. However, Mr. Lewin ? who represents attorney Chaim Book, a plaintiff in the case and the primary force behind the establishment of the eruv ? has presented an ingenious argument that does not depend on whether the Councilmembers lied under oath.

There are thousands of identical plastic strips on utility poles in Tenafly that are used to transmit telephone calls and cable television. If those plastic strips are allowed and even encouraged by Tenafly, how can the Town refuse to allow 183 of the same plastic strips only because they are part of an eruv? Prohibiting the innocuous act of attaching plastic strips to utility poles when they are part of a religious observance while encouraging plastic strips useful for television reception is, according to Mr. Lewin, what violates the Constitution, not the allegedly bad motives of Tenafly's elected officials. And, says Mr. Lewin, the plastic strips are also “symbolic religious speech.” Since Tenafly has allowed orange ribbons on its poles to protest a public-school policy and for “lost-dog” notices, it may not discriminate against a symbol of the eruv.

These sorts of creative arguments ? which appear to us as eminently correct and which should carry the day for the Tenafly eruv ? are what have made Nat Lewin renowned in the American Orthodox Jewish community.

When Religion Comes Between Husband And Wife

Wednesday, July 11th, 2001

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

Last year, I read your book, “The Committed Life,” and ever since, nothing has been quite the same for me. I don’t even know where to begin… everything is so convoluted and confused in my mind. I will try to be as brief as possible. I really don’t want to burden you with my problems, but I need guidance, so I guess I should start at the beginning.

My husband and I were married six years ago, and we have one child, a four year old little boy who is the joy of our lives. We both come from Reform backgrounds, although I think that my parents are even more secular than my husband’s parents. We had X-mas trees and Easter eggs, but, to be fair, we also had a seder and went to Temple on the High Holidays.

Bobby and I met in graduate school. We both studied at Wharton, and after two years of keeping company, we were married and settled in Dallas, Texas. Religion and G-d were never a part of the equation of our lives and although, as I said, our families went to synagogue on the holidays, we even gave that up, because we saw it as pointless and hypocritical. But then, two years ago, from nowhere, I was hit by a major trauma. At a routine examination, my doctor found a lump which he told me looked suspicious, and as you can imagine, I became somewhat hysterical. Among the people I called in my time of trouble was an old school friend who lives in New York and attends your Tuesday night classes at Kehillath Jeshurun. To give me strength and hope, she sent me your book, “The Committed Life?” as a gift.

At first, I resisted reading it and put it aside. I couldn’t imagine that it would have a message for me. But then, on the night before I was scheduled for surgery, I had difficulty sleeping and I picked it up. From the moment I started to read, I couldn’t put it down. I cried, I laughed, I identified with your stories – but most important, I felt an awakening in my heart, a yearning for G-d, a desire to connect with the Jewish people. The next morning, on my way to the hospital, I shared my feelings with my husband, and he attributed them to my condition.

“It’s not the book,” he insisted. “You’re just very vulnerable right now. Anything will get to you.”

In vain did I try to convince him that, while it was true that I was vulnerable, the truths that emerged from your book were unrelated to my vulnerability. But there was no talking to him, so I gave up. For the first time in my life, I prayed to G-d. I didn’t know any Hebrew prayers, but your chapter on prayer had such an impact on me that I just cried and beseeched G-d to help me, and I just know that He was listening.

The procedure was successful – the growth was removed and it was not malignant! I know that this was an open miracle. Prior to surgery, I had consulted three physicians who all seemed to feel that the tumor was cause for concern. My husband however, feels that we were just lucky, and all this talk about G-d and miracles is a lot of poppycock, without substance.

When I came home from the hospital, I knew that I could not go back to my old way of life. I asked the friend who gave me your book to get me some literature on Judaism, and she did, and she also sent me your Torah tapes, as well as your articles from The Jewish Press which, by the way, I love. They keep me going from week to week. And thus began my journey back to G-d. But I am in a very lonely and painful predicament. As my relationship with G-d intensifies, my relationship with my husband is dissolving. My husband refuses to join me on this journey, and what is worse, he has the support of my parents and in-laws as well. I feel like the ‘odd man out.’ I would like to keep Shabbos, but how? For my husband, Friday night is a time to play cards, watch TV, or go out for dinner and a movie.

To make things even more complicated, he loves seafood and mockingly told me that if G-d measures people by whether they eat shrimp or salmon, it’s pretty sad.

Our little boy is four years old. I would love to enroll him in some sort of Jewish program, but again, Bobby refuses to hear of it. He wants him to go to a private, but secular school. I am truly tormented, Rebbetzin. I know that G-d saved me. I feel it with such intensity, yet I cannot make my husband understand. I have tried to get him to read your book, but he categorically refuses to as much as look at it. “I wouldn’t waste my time reading that stuff,” he says.

Our marriage is definitely in jeopardy. We are fighting more than ever before. My husband says if that’s what religion does to a marriage, who needs it. I have tried to reason with him in a cool logical manner, but that hasn’t worked either. His favorite argument is that when we were married, we were not religious, and I have no right to change horses mid-stream. “I didn’t bargain for a religious woman, and I’ll be damned if I will agree to all this craziness,” he argues.

When he goes on one of these harangues, I don’t quite know how to answer him. I sense that he is wrong, but what do I say? In all honesty, I sometimes think there is some validity to his argument. After all, it is true that I wasn’t religious when we were married, and it’s understandable that he resents being pushed into a different life style. So you see, Rebbetzin, I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Should I get a divorce and break up my home, or should I stay married and abandon my commitment to Judaism? In either case, it’s a no-win situation. I know how very busy you are, but I hope that you will be able to answer this letter through your column. Perhaps if my husband sees the story in print, it will make an impression on him.

Many thanks for having taken the time to read my letter.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/when-religion-comes-between-husband-and-wife/2001/07/11/

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