Archive for July, 2015

For it is not alone nature around him that he (Man) must explain, — he himself must be explained together with it; he is part and parcel of nature, and to search himself is a task which he cannot avoid. But man becomes the greatest enigma even to himself, the more he reflects upon himself. It is true, it has been essayed to connect man very closely with similar beings; species of apes have been spoken of that are but very little different from man. It has been said, there are some species of apes appearing as sunk in profound sadness, as pervaded by a longing desire to be freed from that narrowed confinement; ’tis a contemplative sentiment that man attributes — merely attributes, indeed!— to the soul of an animal, when he regards and represents animal stupor as profound sadness. The distance between the most perfect animals and man himself will remain a gap that can never be filled. To draw a parallel, even only very distantly, between man who, despite his inconsiderable bodily strength, notwithstanding he is greatly inferior, with regard to corporeal attributes, to other animals which are more powerful and more adroit, has nevertheless become the lord of the earth, of the whole creation, who more and more subjects to himself everything in inanimate and animate nature; who accommodates himself to, and controls all places, conditions and circumstances: to draw even the most distant comparison between man and any one animal that lives secluded — remains fixed in the same state, is limited to a certain part of the world; that, without exercising the least influence upon the rest of creation, dies away and leaves no trace behind — such a comparison, it must be confessed, looks like the reasoning of a child that fondles — then throws away and destroys its own little mimic toys! No, man is of an entirely different genus. Man, who is bound to time and space like all other corporeal and earthly creatures; individual man, who is tied to a certain extent of soil, moves within a small particle of time, nevertheless, on the other hand, conquers time and space within him, can transpose himself into the most distant regions, can place the past before him, pre-suppose the future, has a conception of what is beyond the present. Such faculty cannot be the attribute of the body; the body is circumscribed by space and time, — nothing can proceed therefrom that conquers space and time. Let us pronounce the word which would not exist if the thing did not exist: it is the Spirit. Man has a spirit, a faculty within him which is connected with his body in so far as it moves, animates him, but which is still far more, because it impels him towards rational contemplation, opens for him an insight into objects which his physical vision is unable to perceive or to attract… For language, the most faithful reflector of the spirit, constitutes the connecting link between man’s inmost thoughts and the outer world ; language most decidedly distinguishes him from all other created beings — language, born, as it were, from inward clearness, renders, in its turn, thought intelligible, and gives it full and entire clearness… How ever far a single man may progress, he will nevertheless remain merely a part of mankind, mankind itself only a part of creation, and creation, in its turn, is but the work of a greater, higher Spirit.

          -Abraham Geiger, Judaism and its History, Lecture I: Of the Nature of Religion, pp. 10-14

Nature presents herself in a great variety of beings, according to classes and species, which, while disinct from each other, work together, and for each other, but are not transformed one into the other. Modern Natural Philosophy has ventured upon the bold step to examine the mystery, how beings of a higher order could grow out from those of a lower species; how higher organisms gradually developed themselves from the most inferior. Whether it will succeed to penetrate also into that mystery — whether such a transformation of one from another shall prove to be truth, is the office of naturalists to decide in the present or in future. But this much we see, that species do exist, that they do not change one into another, that they are and remain distinct from each other. The same Power which at the beginning created them — as is asserted, one out of the other — should necessarily continue the same process, should even this day create an animal from a plant and continuously perfect it to its higher organism. But the present world presents no such process; on the contrary, every species remains within its fixed limits, it continually begets individual beings of its own kind, but is not changed into another. Hence it is not a promoting, but ordering power that creates and preserves every kind in its individuality; not one that is blindly rushing forward without stopping, but which preserves nature as a whole, composed of different parts, so that it is unchangeable both as a whole and in its variety. Nature is arranged according to a fixed will, according to an independently ruling reason, and is preserved in this arrangement: the Universe is one system, held together by its great variety, composed of different parts, and yet forming one harmonious whole. This is wisdom, judicious and systematical order, so that even destructive powers present themselves as creative elements, producing new, nobler creations. This is the work of self-conscious Reason, — not that of a power propelling without a certain object in view. It is a bold word which an astronomer once uttered when he presented his work on astronomy to his monarch. The latter being astonished not to find God mentioned in the book, the former observed: ‘I need not that hypothesis.’ It is true, it was not necessary for him, in his explanation of the laws and their working, at the same time to state how they grew into existence, and who had fixed them everlasting and unchangeable; but what a man of profession may leave untouched, that a thinking man cannot avoid, he must seek a higher cause which creates according to rational principles.

          -Abraham Geiger (Founder of Reform Judaism), Judaism and its History, Lecture I: Of the Nature of Religion, pp. 8-10



From a letter by Samuel David Luzzatto, printed in a book in Hebrew titled “Karmey Shomeron,” on the topic of the “Samaritans” in Jewish history and literature.

Professor Luzzatto had become an expert in Syriac, the script of the ancient Samaritans, which was very similar to ancient Hebrew script. In this letter, he makes the case that the books of the Bible were originally written in this ancient Syriac script, then later adapted, based on an innovation of later Jewish scribes, to the “Assyrian” script in which our holy books are now written.

While this concept in itself is not novel, but actually is recorded in the Talmud, Luzzatto takes this one step further. According to Luzzatto, in transcribing the books of the Prophets from Syriac to Assyrian script, a number of errors crept into the text, based on the similarities between certain letters in Syriac script that became confused for one another. He uses this matrix to “correct” these errors and thereby explain a number of otherwise mysterious or inexplicable anomalies in these biblical books as we have them. Some in fact, are quite radical, and turn certain central Jewish traditions on their heads. But here and now is not the place to enumerate Luzzatto’s “edits,” nor do I endorse them, though I do find them interesting.

But what I really wanted to share here is Luzzatto’s defense of his strategy despite its seeming opposition to tradition. He pledges allegiance to Jewish tradition very powerfully and eloquently, stating that he only undertook these investigations to defend the Torah from its detractors among the Bible critics, Jew and non-Jew alike.

I wrote this explanation [of these biblical passages]… for my students over fifteen years ago, and from that time forward I made it known to the great wise men of the generation, so that perhaps they might find upright arguments to cast down my emendations and explanation, but they were unable. And even now, I do not proliferate this emendation to bring myself honor, but for the honor of the Torah and the truth of our faith, for after the opinions of Spinoza have spread throughout the world, and there have multiplied those who make themselves wise to prove the Torah false, and say Moses did not write it, rather that after a number of generations (once the stories had become distorted in the mouths of the masses) the stories were written in a book, I myself strove in all my writings… to put away and demolish these opinions, and to prove the antiquity of the text of our Torah, and the truth of the prophecy of our Prophets. I saw the need to make it known to the sly foxes (i.e. Bible critics), that while I am disgusted and abhorred by their counterfeit criticism, the upright and truthful criticism (i.e. analysis) has always been beloved to me, from my youth until this day. Even though I was not born upon the knees of the new German criticism (whose words I did not see or hear until I was twenty-eight years old), or on the contrary, because I was not born upon the knees of this counterfeit criticism, the purpose of which is only to ruin and destroy, and [whose perpetrators seek] only to increase their own prestige, rather I was born upon the knees of our Sages of blessed memory and Rashi and Rashbam, men of truth whose actions were truthful, who know their G-d is real, therefore they do not flatter him, therefore I merited that some hidden things have become revealed to me… and my faith in the antiquity of the Torah and the truth of the prophecy and the signs and the wonders is not because of an aversion to criticism, but because of honest criticism that seeks the truth and turns not away from anything, that is not shaken by the mockery of scoffers, and is not shamed by the scorn of the arrogant.


Until modern times, it was assumed that Hillel‘s Seven Rules were based solely on Aristotelian logic. But modern scholars have shown that in reality Hillel’s syllogisms were beyond those of his Greek masters, approximating the methods used in modern logic today. For instance, one of his rules, known as Binyan Abh (בנין אב), is almost identical to that of John Stuart Mill‘s “method of agreement.” Hillel’s Binyan Abh was used by rabbis to discover new laws of Scripture in much the same way that Mill’s method of agreement was used by scientists eighteen centuries later to discover new laws of nature.

          –Max I. Dimont, The Indestructible Jews, p. 122