Monday, May 28, 2012

The Tragedy of Faith (updated)

            As an atheist in yeshiva, I tend to get into some interesting conversations about seemingly anything and everything. In the course of the discussions regarding belief in God and keeping to the orthodox religion there are to arguments that I keep hearing to which I can’t help feeling sad and hurt that humanity is in this state. Sadly, however the more I hear these I am slowly moving from pity to frustration.
            The first of these is in the respect given to the “virtue” and “gift” of simply believing (emunah p’shutah). The sad thing is that I hear this from people who are intelligent and rational and nonetheless yearn for this simple faith. Rather than follow their own logic they prefer to struggle with their own thoughts just to maintain some level of faith. It hurts me to see people in this state. To see people whose mind is telling them that two plus two is four yet wish themselves to see it as five because this is what their culture demands of them is saddening.
            Why do people consider faith a virtue? Why is believing in something notwithstanding the lack of evidence to support it, and some times in the face of contrary evidence viewed as a virtue!?!?
            In my experience, to the extent that a person is willing to think critically, to just that extent he can be saved from following foolish and sometimes wicked ideas. As much as people criticize Hitler for being an atheist (which he was not), a big part of the blame must go to the believing sheep of a people that followed him. Just as no critical thinker could possibly go along with his bizarre pseudoscience of racial superiority, no critical thinker could follow such absurd ideas as the ones religion claims either. The one thing in which we have advanced above all other animals is our critical thinking skills, and yet some people throw it away in exchange for the cheap comfort of religion. I find it maddening. Belief cannot give you real knowledge about the world; it cannot give you any usable information. I find it ironic that these people use phones, medicines, airplanes, and GPS, yet shun the thought process that made it possible.
            The other claim I have been getting is that even if Judaism were all false, it is still a preferable worldview to the secular existentialist. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. First of all, lying to yourself should never be forgivable let alone preferable. Secondly, it is a horrid, pathetic, and restrictive way of thinking in its own right and especially when compared to reality, the comfort of delusion cannot compare to the amazement of knowledge.
Last night I sat by a meal at a friend of mine, and for dessert he served cherry pie and fruit. As my host started saying a nice piece of torah regarding why the Jews were asleep during the giving of the torah I stared at my piece of watermelon. I noticed that it these white things going through it which resembled veins. As I further marveled at the similarity between various life forms, I realized that the watermelon on my plate was a (very) distant cousin of mine, the watermelon and I share a common ancestor. How mind-blowingly amazing is that!? How can that compare to what my host was discussing? To take that back a step further, the silver spoon with which I was eating the watermelon and I also have something in common. We are both made of heavy elements and that means that we were cooked up in a star.
This feeling of oneness with everything that is based on facts is infinitely more preferable to me than the schismatic view that Judaism takes. From a Jewish perspective, there is me, and everything else is (to quote the Ramchal) means to which I can attain reward in the next world. How pathetic is that?
It gets even worse, as a Jew you must believe that you are inherently and fundamentally a different species from all other species. A Jew walks down the street knowing that he is different from the goyim around him, he thinks differently than the goyim around him, he feels differently than the goyim around him, he lives and dies differently than the goyim around him. How much human solidarity gets lost here? How many opportunities for true human connection get lost over this self-imposed ghetto? Instead, I can look around and see how much I have in common with the regular American, the Chinese, the African American, the Italian, and the Arab. Consequently, I can learn so much more about people, I stop believing the xenophobic fear I was raised with, I am more comfortable in my world.
Furthermore if accept the facts of evolution as opposed to the false idea that God created us, I suddenly view our future quite differently. As a believer in the Torah, you must accept that we are the greatest living creature that could ever be, we are perfect, and created in God’s image. I however, understand that we are just a product of evolution. While I cannot say that being human is that bad, it is rather good actually, I can dream though of what we will evolve to over the next few million, or billion years. If we evolved from amoebas in the short time span of this planet, can you imagine where we will be in the future? I do not view the past as perfect, I do not view the knowledge that we gained in the past, or the present for that matter as perfect. Rather I can dream about a future species that will have evolved from humans that will be as similar to us as we are to the amoeba and will be capable of so much more. The possibilities are endless, and to think that I am a part of this process is TRULY awe-inspiring.

Friday, May 25, 2012

2 Pieces of Poetry


When a piece of music does not lift you up
But grounds you
When it does not give you your dreams
But rather wakes you up
When it does not show you a whole new world
But a new side to the old one
You will then know 
that YOU are the true artist
And your world is your greatest masterpiece

A good poem makes you want to look up
A good book makes you want to close it
A good song makes you want to unplug
A good artist does not drag you in
She sets you free


Tiny people never see
Afraid to think, never free

See the world, look around
smell the scents, hear the sounds

this life is, the only one
dead in the end, so have some fun
take it in, its all for you
no great god, will help you through

this is why, I don’t believe
I disdain words, That just deceive

No proof of god, Has yet been found
But you don’t mind, And think its sound

To believe in things, Like angels, gods
In reality is, Against all odds

Here comes science, Sets you free
A clearer world, You now can see

True or false, Is verified
By evidence, Not men who died

Close your eyes, And you can see
The darkness of, Reality

But open them, If just a crack
You too will see, And won’t go back.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Ode to Epicurus

            This past shabbos, my Rosh Yeshivah gave his weekly schmooze. This week the topics were the internet and apikorsus, with a reference to its founder, Epicurus. Epicurus was a name I had heard before but did not know much about, and obviously never heard about him in a good light. Never one to take peoples word for it I started reading up on him and was astounded with what I found.
            Before I discuss what I found I would like to bring to the forefront the attitude that Judaism has to the followers of such a despicable philosophy. It starts with a gemara (avodah zara 26) which discusses the value of a non-jewish life and whether it should be saved. It says that you should not throw a non jew down a well (to kill him) but you should not save him either, since he might be a murderer. However an apikorus not only should you not save him, but you should throw him down as well. Now you may say that that is a gemara and that is not the halacha (jewish law) however the rambam (Maimonides) rules (hilchos rotzeach chapter 4 halacha 10)
“minin i.e.  anyone who transgresses jewish law to spite god (a level of faith I never attained)…and apikorsin…it is a mitzvah to kill them. If you can kill them by sword (the preferred method of killing heretics, any old stoning just won’t work) in public you should (if that’s not possible, don’t worry there is a contingency plan). If not you should make up stories about them until the public will rise up and kill them (sneaky bastard! But he does have it down pat). Or (I guess this is for those with no imagination, not so uncommon in orthodox judaism) if you see one drowning in a well and there is a ladder in the well you should hasten and remove it (and like a good Mafioso he will teach you just what to say) and say to him ‘I am removing this ladder to help my son down from the roof’”
He seems not to worry about the pain and suffering he will cause to the poor soul who did nothing more than a thoughtcrime. At least I’m sure he will have some sympathy for his poor family. Wrong again. Here he is again discussing the laws of mourning (hilchos avel chapter 1 halacha 11) regarding the death of an apikores,
“Their brothers and other relatives should dress in white (even if it’s past labor day) eat, drink, and be happy for one of the enemies of god has died”
Maybe the rambam has been hanging out with Muslim fundamentalists for too long; he did live in the arab countries. Here is the Ramah, he lived in Europe in the 1500’s (shulchan aroch yoreh deah simin 158 seif 2) discussing the shulchan aruchs ruling as to regarding the killing of an apikores
“see what I wrote in choshen mishpat siman 425 that anyone who tries to assimilate with the non-jews is equivalent to someone who sins to spite god and therefore is lowered (thrown in to a well to kill him) and should not be saved”
So anyone who tries to assimilate is viewed as bad as those terrible apikorsim, wow. So what does it take to become one? You surly must kill babies, rape children, or torture sick people. No. As usual there are a few opinions including someone who disgraces the holidays (we take partying very seriously), and one who consistently transgresses one commandment. The most prevalent opinion however is one who embarrasses torah scholars, notice no one says it means those who embarrass nice people, good hearted people, charitable people, but torah scholars. That’s it. For that you deserve to be put to death by any means possible.
So who is this Epicurus, founder of this terrible movement, apikorsus?
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher lived in the third century BCE in a time of great turmoil and tried to teach people how to be happy. He was a student of Democritus (founder of atomic theory) and a sort of hedonist. What do I mean by sort of hedonist? Well, he felt that life was to be lived for pleasure, but he did not mean the live fast, die young, sex, drugs, rock n roll sort. He was more interested in prolonged pleasure not the fast intense sort, he was interested in sustainable pleasure. To him the goal of life was what he called ataraxia; meaning to have a peaceful mind, to be relaxed, the closest term I can think of is chilled out. To him three things maximized a person’s pleasure in life: friends, freedom, and constant analysis of one’s life.
Pleasure that mattered to him was pleasure that could go on as long as you wanted, not kind that came crashing to an end causing even more pain. He advocated the pleasure of music, long walks, philosophical discussions, things that caused the maximum amount of pleasure with the least pain. Sounds to me like a most logical idea.
The lengths he went to procure what he called “freedom” were quite amazing, and what is even more amazing is that eventually there were entire epicurean communities living in his ways. He moved away from the city lived a very simple life, he once wrote to a friend to please send him some cheese so that he may have a “feast”. He realized that to live you need only a bare minimum “The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity”. One of his greatest values was friendship “Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship”.
In his time most people believed in the Greek gods, they were fickle and insecure ones indeed. Punishing for any small thing, and smiting on a level that would give Yahweh inferiority complex. In addition to the gods there were a plethora of demons and all amounts of other nonsense that terrified people and haunted their lives. They were scared about life in this world and the next. This kind of fear can really mess with your happiness and was an unnecessary distraction in this short life we have. As a student of Democritus, Epicurus believed in atomic theory and that all we are is atoms. With this understanding he knew that there is no reason to fear death “Death is nothing to us; for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us”. He was an advocator of scientific materialism and the happiness it brings “It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he doesn't know the nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure”.
I haven’t been able to go through all the points of his philosophy here, but I hope I have given you at least a taste. Epicurus seems to me to be a logical man who put forth some ideas that I hold very dear, and truly give my life meaning. Music and scientific curiosity are for me, the greatest treasure life can offer, and in true epicurean style they cost almost nothing. Freedom is a fickle thing; I have come to the opinion that freedom is an action, not a state of being. Nonetheless I still applaud what he did in order to be self sufficient and free from the mental and emotional shackles which society and culture place on us.
I don’t care why the rabbonim were so scared of him, maybe it was the freedom, and maybe it was the natural worldview, either way I have found in him a new perspective on life that I shall never forget. I can now say that I am a proud apikorus.

Friday, May 11, 2012

sex abuse in the jewish community

        this may twentieth, thousands of jews will meet in citi field to hear about, and hear solutions to, the "problem" of the internet. the consensus among rabbis (even those who are not attending) is that the internet is detrimental and harmful to the jewish community, and is a leading cause of religous jews leaving judaism. with all the noise and hullabaloo about the "problem", there seems to be a sort of newtonian reaction toit that is rapidly growing and gaining widespread fame with a rally of their own dubbed "The Internet is NOT the Problem". they contend that the REAL problem is sex abuse in jewish community and its history of covering it up. this has raised a shitsorm, from the internet to the mainstream media about these little known facts.

         as someone who grew up in the hassidic community of bobov it was no news to me that this was going on, it was also of little surprise that the community was covering it up. i know it sounds messed up but to me, this was the status quo and i didnt really see any hope for change on the horizon. what shocked and horrified me however, was that the secular, popularly elected, uninvolved legal system was helping them out. 

        the new york times wrote an article which plainly said that the brooklyn district attorney, joe hynes cowered to pressure from the jewish community and allowing no reports of child molestation to be brought before the court system unless the rabbis decided it was ok. recently thankfully pressure from sane human beings mounted he cracked down and arrested 95 people, who of course were not arrested until then im assuming because the rabbis didnt ok it. after all this, after the arrests, to the horror of new yorkers and sane moral and just human beings everywhere, he still refused to make their names public. how does this happen? what happened to justice being blind? what happened to all are equal in the eyes of the law? what happened to the sex offenders public registry? what happened to safety? what gives some fucking rabbi the right to dictate our justice system? who gave them the keys? its like giving the mullahs in iraq and afghanistan the right to say who can be tried as a terrorist and who cant. no wonder this has been going on unchecked for years.

        this is a horrible crime against our community, humanity, and our justice system. this cannot go on. this must be stopped. we must demand (and it sounds absurd that we even have to demand it) that all sex abuse cases be treated equally, we must demand that there be no more cover ups, we must demand full discosure to the public, we must ensure that those who do report these cases are protected, we must stand together as moral and sane human beings and demand that rabbis not be allowed to stop the wheels of justice.

        on a final note i would like to say that in my opinion, the reason that so many jews are leaving their religion, is that they simply dont give a fuck for the nonexistent robes that everyone else claims the emperor is wearing. if the internet is causing anyone to leave its because of the information available online. because now they can hear both sides of the debate and realize that one side sounds quite silly. its because they can speak with an ex muslim or ex christian and see how much they have in common. its because the internet finally levels the playing ground for all opinions and they can be judged based on their own merit. its because the internet is for the first time giving them the freedom to learn all that their censorship obsessed culture never allowed them.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

why i am not scared of dying

        As a child, I would look forward to the summer when I would go upstate to camp. It was a time to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and the constant overbearing human presence that occupied every inch of it. It was a time to get lost in the woods and see the world for what it truly was. I loved every aspect of it, the smell of the trees, the sounds of the birds and bugs, the simple chaotic beauty of the forest. I felt truly at home. The true magic however came once the sun went down and the stars would come out of hiding to reveal the true grandeur of nature. I would sit there and just stare at them, transfixed like it was some cosmic lightshow that I couldn’t peel my eyes from. From the Milky Way to shooting stars, from planets to the seemingly infinite number of stars, I knew them all. I knew their names, when they would show up, and were they would be. The unobstructed night sky is truly the greatest motion picture of all time.
            As I grew older and stopped going to camp, it could be expected that I would forget about them like I forgot so many other parts of camp. Instead however my obsession with them grew, but instead of being content with just looking at them and knowing their names I want to know what they are? Where did they come from? How long do they last for? Can we go to them? Do they affect my life? Or are they just a curiosity?
I now know that around 14.5 billion years ago the big bang occurred. An immensely hot and infinitely small point of pure energy exploded and expanded. For the next three hundred thousand years there was nothing that we can even call matter. Once the first atoms of matter formed, consisting mostly of just hydrogen, it just swirled around with no discernible form for millions of years. Eventually however, the force of gravity due to small inconsistencies in the density of the matter started to pull it together. As matter started gathering into denser and denser lumps the atoms started to fuse, igniting and releasing huge amounts of energy. It was the age of the first stars and the universe was a mere three hundred million years old. Those first stars lived fast and died young, collapsing into supermassive black holes and it was around one of these that our milky way first took form.
Let us fast forward through the ten billion years or so during which our galaxy grew by eating all its surrounding neighbors and growing to its current size of 120,000 light years across. Billions of stars were formed and died and in their dying breath spewed out huge clouds containing all the heavy elements past hydrogen they had created, and then one day from one of these clouds our sun was born. Some of this dust and dirt in this cloud however, never made it into the sun but kept swirling about it like a huge disc. This dirt coalesced into larger lumps of material which stabilized them into nice elliptical orbits around their star.
For the next 1.2 billion years our solar system developed, dead and silent without a sign of life. The first life was something we probably would barely consider alive if we saw it, but it was from these humble beginnings on the relatively small planet we call earth that we arose. The simplest one celled life first formed in the oceans and they were the kings of the universe, its most complex life form for some 1.8 billion years. As life continued to evolve it discovered all sorts of things like eyes, mouths, hands, feet, sex, noses, ears, hunting, fruit, herds, and it kept getting bigger, more sophisticated and more complex. Somewhere between 200,000 and 600,000 years ago (14.5 billion years or so after the big bang) the first of our species, Homo sapiens, evolved from the earlier primates. This led to a whole new form of living that involved social interaction, language, the seeking and preservation of knowledge for its own sake, art, music, and for the first time we had a creature that was conscious of its own mortality.
In 1988 (around 14.5 billion years after the big bang) for the first time ever in the history of the universe, I was born. I had not existed for any of the above mentioned events, and for that entire time it had not bothered me at all that I did not exist. Even by the smallest estimate the universe will still be around for at least another 14.5 billion years. If I am like every other living species that ever lived, for the next (at least) 14.5 billion years I will not exist either. I do not see why this should bother me at all.

a bit about myself

Hi internet, this is my first blog ever so i would like to take a minute to introduce myself. I am 23 years old and i learn in yeshiva, i like music, nature, gemorah, poetry, computers, physics, puzzles, exploring, and foreign languages. I am also an atheist. As you can imagine this gives me quite an interesting perspective on life. I enjoy yeshivah life, the friendships/camaraderie, the chavrusa system, the intellectual debates, and the community feel. I cannot however bring myself to believe in this nonsense called religion. I started this blog because i have been told time and time again that i have a unique mind and that no one in the world thinks anything like me. I think however, that as part of  being human no one thinks like anyone else, i just choose to accentuate that aspect of being human a little more then most

I chose to name my blog "musings of a discordian yeshiva bochur" because i feel it sums up an aspect of me quite well. I am a yeshiva bochur (and enjoy it) however my attitude towards religion is that i treat all of them like i do discordianism, meaning they have some good ideas but on the whole are just pretty funny and can really get you up shits creek if you take them seriously.

for more on discordianism check out

to read the principia discordia check out

for a real discordian view on discordianism

you can follow me on twitter


and on facebook 

seems enough for one day

a gut vuch