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The Introduction part 1

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 24, 2007


Reading Glasses

The Introduction to the Book is written by Eliezer Goldman.

I admit that I have difficulties getting all the finer points in Goldman’s Introduction to the Thinking of Leibowitz – I am not too familiar with the thinking of Kant on factual and normative. But I understand the meaning of the words, thanks to Dictionary.com!

Philosophy
In philosophy, normative is usually contrasted with positive (i.e. descriptive) or explanatory when describing types of theories, beliefs, or propositions. Descriptive (or constative”) statements are falsifiable statements that attempt to describe reality. Normative statements, on the other hand, affirm how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, which actions are right or wrong. It is only with David Hume in the 18th century that philosophers began to take cognizance of the logical difference between normative and descriptive statements and thinking, although Socrates had emphatically established it more than two thousand years before. There are several schools of thought regarding the status of normative statements and whether they can be rationally discussed or defended. Among these schools are the tradition of practical reason extending from Aristotle through Kant to Habermas, which asserts that they can, and the tradition of emotivism, which maintains that they are merely expressions of emotions and have no rational content. Normative statements and norms, as well as their meanings, are an integral part of human life. They are fundamental for prioritizing goals and organizing and planning thought, belief, emotion and action and are the basis of much ethical and political discourse.

You get that? I kind of do – normative is what we decide is the rule about something – regardless of whether it’s facts or not.

“Ultimately all normative obligations and value-imputations are dependent upon personal decision. A valuation may, of course, be justified in terms of already recognized values, but one’s ultimate values cannot be the subject of rational argument. Their validity for a person results from decision, not from recognition. Since Leibowitz regards religion as an exclusively normative domain and denies that Scripture was intended to be a body of information, this is as true of religious commitment as it is of all other basic life-values. Factual knowledge may be forced upon us by experience. There is nothing to compel one into acceptance of any ultimate value-commitments, including that of religious faith.” (introduction pp xiv-xv)

So religious faith is a choice. Well, I believed that already – though I wouldn’t have said it like that – I usually say it like this: “the existence of G-d cannot be proved nor disproved, so any belief based on the existence of G-d must be a matter of Faith.”

So what is religious faith according to Leibowitz? Leibowitz is Jewish (or was, as he died in 1994) so he is speaking about Judaism. To Leibowitz religious faith is the “Commitment to observance of Halakha as worshipful service of G-d”.

I like this – because it carries a thought I have had, often in discussion with more liberal Jews who complain about the rigidness of the Orthodox: “If it hadn’t been for the rigidness of the Orthodox there would have been no Judaism for you to claim!” Observance of the Mitzvot is the core of Judaism and what it means to be Jewish – in essence that is what makes one Jewish, and that observance is what has kept both the Jewish People and Judaism alive for more than 3000 years.

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5 Responses to “The Introduction part 1”

  1. Mobius said

    I usually say it like this: “the existence of G-d cannot be proved nor disproved, so any belief based on the existence of G-d must be a matter of Faith.”

    I would even put the existence of G-d aside. For Leibowitz, it’s a given: There is a G-d. What’s more apropos is not the question of G-d’s existence, but rather the question of G-d’s will. To modify your statement: Neither “the will of G-d” or “that which G-d desires from us” can be proved or disproved. Any belief in a particular understanding of G-d’s will is merely a subjective interpretation in which we invest our faith. It is, as Robert Anton Wilson called it, a perceptual gamble. The question here, I expect, will ultimately be “for which interpretation of G-d’s will are you willing to risk, not only your own life, but the lives of young Jewish soldiers?”

    To Leibowitz religious faith is the “Commitment to observance of Halakha as worshipful service of G-d”.

    And with that you should keep in mind that Leibowitz was a Litvak. While we see eye to eye on Jewish ethics, his approach to Jewish observance does not suit the needs of every Jew.

    “If it hadn’t been for the rigidness of the Orthodox there would have been no Judaism for you to claim!”

    Eh, that’s only part of the equation. What’s enabled Judaism to survive for so long is the breadth of its diversity. Our saving grace is that there have forever been both religious and secular emanations of Jewish culture, and a constant flux of movement between the two; that there were always people both entering and leaving the fold; that there were those in the yeshivas and those at the theater; that there were those who were Left-wing and those who were Right-wing — that’s what’s made Judaism durable. It’s like a tension bridge, the two ends pushing against each other keeping the bridge standing. Lose one end, and the structure collapses. We need both to make up the whole.

    Note from the Admin: – I moved this comment from “So I begin...” so the comment appears with the article it is commenting on. /Dov

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  2. “To modify your statement: Neither “the will of G-d” or “that which G-d desires from us” can be proved or disproved.”

    Agreed – I spend much time discussing with Gentile agnostics or Xtian fundamentalists to whom the existence of G-d seem to be at times almost an obssession, so my formulation stems from those discussion – but I agree that from an Observant Jewish point the existence of G-d is not an issue. It really cannot be an issue, since the Brit is between G-d and Israel – it’s absurd to discuss the existence of one party to an agreement.

    “The question here, I expect, will ultimately be “for which interpretation of G-d’s will are you willing to risk, not only your own life, but the lives of young Jewish soldiers?””

    Yes. I would think that this is also where the matter of ethics enter – not necessarily for Leibowitz, but for many others. Nevertheless, it is a matter of decision. Based on our interpretation of “the will of G-d” we have to decide where we draw the line.

    I am not sure if this idea fits here – but I was thinking yesterday that the “Borders of the Land” have always to some extent been dependent on the willingness of the People to comply with the Law. From that point of view only Avraham could lay claim to all of it 😀

    “And with that you should keep in mind that Leibowitz was a Litvak. While we see eye to eye on Jewish ethics, his approach to Jewish observance does not suit the needs of every Jew.”

    I admit I had to look up “Litvak” – only to realize that I do indeed know what THAT is 😀

    Yet also Leibowitz admits this, as he does acknowledge that the “opposition” to the Mitnagged movement is to be considered observant, yet even if he seem to think that they “attach” matters to expression and motives, that he disagrees with – which to me is good news as I am one of those “heretical” individuals, who firmly believe in the need for Observance, but arrive at the idea from another angle than Leibowitz does.

    I cannot but feel that “we will do and we will hear/understand”, is very much in sync with Leibowitz – and can also be applied to secular Judaism – so many Jews pratice Jewish Tradition and the Mitzvot without placing a religious value on this – they do it simply because they are Jews, and that is what Jews have done “always”. It might not be Observance that would satisfy Leibowitz, but it does put them inside the Pale. For whatever it’s worth in this context – the 12 step idea of “Fake it till you make it” – is an expression of exactly that.

    Another thought that pops up while reading Leibowitz is the saying that “one who keeps the Torah but have no belief in G-d, for him it is as if he actually believes in G-d…” My Jewish education is sorely lacking, so I cannot give you a source.

    “If it hadn’t been for the rigidness of the Orthodox there would have been no Judaism for you to claim!”

    “Eh, that’s only part of the equation. What’s enabled Judaism to survive for so long is the breadth of its diversity. Our saving grace is that there have forever been both religious and secular emanations of Jewish culture, and a constant flux of movement between the two; that there were always people both entering and leaving the fold; that there were those in the yeshivas and those at the theater; that there were those who were Left-wing and those who were Right-wing — that’s what’s made Judaism durable. It’s like a tension bridge, the two ends pushing against each other keeping the bridge standing. Lose one end, and the structure collapses. We need both to make up the whole.”

    Agreed. The idea you present is self-evident to me – but it is not to those who choose to rag on the Traditional Jews who sport peyess and tzitzit and eat glatt kosher. They [the raggers] very often feel that they represent a Truer and more palatable Judaism, and that the Orthodox represent something we should leave behind as archaic and rigid, or at least that is the impression I have gotten from those I have encountered in discussions.

    As I am Non-Traditional Observant, or “unaffiliated”, I have often met criticism because I choose to be Observant as much as I can under my current circumstances – people somehow feel that because I chose Judaism, I shouldn’t necessarily choose the entire megillah. People seem not to understand the reasons or even the motivations for such a choice.

    I am pretty sure that I and Leibowitz will never agree on the matter Oral Torah – but just because I reverse the order of importance on Oral and Written Torah, it really doesn’t mean I do not agree with Oral Torah. I think that might be a solution to the problem of secular implementation into a Society.

    But I am forestalling the discussion. This is really a matter for coming posts 😀
    Edited for a mistaken identification.

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  3. Mobius said

    i fear you might waste your time with this text if you examine it with the lens of “showing up the raggers.” you needn’t waste your time trying to convince non-believers with rational proofs for the existence of g-d nor the value of torah. you need only lead by righteous example and through the merit of your deeds, you shall kindle a flame in their hearts.

    and by that i mean, read this book for you and where you’re at in your relationship with g-d. don’t read it for where they’re at in their relationships or lack thereof.

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  4. “i fear you might waste your time with this text if you examine it with the lens of “showing up the raggers.”

    I am reading it with the lens of one who has been looking for water in the desert and finally come a cross an oasis.

    I am busy sorting the “information” (and this discussion) into “categories” I recognize from within as either prior experiences or prior thoughts, so I can indeed let it effect my relationship with G-d.

    Edit August 18 2007:

    It really doesn’t matter for what reason I am reading this book, or with what in mind I read it – the baggage I bring to this reading is there, regardless of what I want or attempt in my reading – besides – for me, past experiences with “raggers” are of importance, since this book is providing me with intellectual tools to deal with those experiences. To read this book, and comment on it is as much a matter of healing those past experiences as it is to gain a personal bearing on my relationship with G-d. To not use this book to heal what needs healing, also within me, would be a betrayal not only of myself, but of the idea Leibowitz beings through his book.

    I find it patronizing that you, for whatever reason, choose to attempt to separate my past experiences from my relationship with G-d. I am a whole person, and as such I stand before G-d, warts and all, just as much as you do.

    I also find it interesting that you for some reason decided not to comment further – it is almost as if you desired to patronize me. That is of course your prerogative – but I do wonder at your motives for commenting (or enter into discussion) if you are not going to “finish what you started” – your loss. You are welcome to it.

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  5. […] on Jewish ethics, his approach to Jewish observance does not suit the needs of every Jew.” (Mobius July 25th, 2007 at 9:32 am) My […]

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