Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Singularity and the soul

Singularity- an interesting concept that many science fiction writers have touched on in the past (and will probably continue to do so as people predict it coming ever closer). Probably the best science fiction story on the subject was written by Marc Stiegler called “The Gentle Seduction “ *. The concept is this: at some point in time the rate of scientific advancement is so fast as to become incomprehensible, with changes happening faster than they can be absorbed. One effect of this is the concept that eventually computers become so advanced as to be able to exceed the capabilities of our minds- or to extend them. The extension of this is eternal life through downloading the mind into a computer and continuing to live forever- either virtually or through various artificial bodies when physical interaction is desired. What got me thinking about this topic? A recent BBC documentary** (Ok originally screened in 2006 and recently rescreened…) that somebody mentioned discussing these ideas (I haven’t seen the actual documentary unfortunately)

Aside from the various aspects of how this would affect society, the economy and the job market- there seems to be another area that needs to be addressed- where does the soul fit in? Now, the one view of the soul is that it has three main components- ruach, neshamah and nefesh. The ruach is essentially the animating spirit common to all living things. It is basically the physical component of the soul and finite. The nefesh is the holy spark, the pure part that comes from God, the neshamah the combining influence- the part that is the “You”, the unique part of this life that grows, makes decisions and is needed to lift the physical to the spiritual.

So, what happens when our intellect is removed from the body? What happens to the soul? It would seem that the ruach at least would die. It is tied to the physical, and thus the removal of the physical means it, too, is removed. What about the higher parts? The neshamah is a link, a connection between the physical and the spiritual. If the physical ceases to be, does it? Is there a purpose in trying to perfect ourselves, overcome our limitations, when the limiting factor, the pull of the physical is removed? On the other hand- does the physical have to be the body as we know it? Is the lure of the physical, the challenge to move towards spirituality, as great once we are out of the physical body and embedded in the silicone heart of a machine? Is the neshamah dependant on a meat body, or on a connection into the physical creation of Hashem?

This question seems to be at the heart of this coming issue- is eternal life actually worthwhile? If we are rooted in the mundane and the physical- then the answer is yes. For those that believe this life is it, that death is oblivion and nullity, the answer is clear- continued existence must be preferred over being snuffed out. For those that do believe in an afterlife- the issue of what happens to the soul becomes paramount. If the world to come is where we actually want to be- then eternal life is actually a punishment. It denies us the movement into the realm that we are ultimately destined for. If the soul dies and the intellect continues to exist, is there any value to soulless living? Does spirituality die with the body, or does it continue as long as there is an intellect to interact with the world? (The question of spirituality and artificial intellects that may arise is a different can of worms to be opened in the future!)

Don’t look at me for the answers- questions such as these are going to require the contemplation and teshuvot from the Gedolei hador. But I open to the floor to you, any thoughts or comments on this?

* (Originally published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact magazine in August 1989)


July 24, 2008 Posted by | Other Torah, Random, Weekly Question/Issue | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Comments on blogs…

Maye I’m strange- but when i read somebody elses blog I recognise it as their private space and an invitation to interact with them. If I choose to comment on something, I keep it polite, I try to discuss what is relevant, and I don’t attack the blogger. But thats me, it seems that I am in a minority!

Yep, few comments appear here- mainly because I just refuse to let anti-semitic hate speech be blasted across my blog, do not appreciate personal attacks (and will not allow them), and the ones replete with swear words and containing nothing of substance- well, do I even need to mention they will not appear?

Heres a few simple rules for anyone wanting to post a comment here- no hate speech, not swearing, no missionising (this blog is unabashedly Jewish- you want to lecture about Christianity and posts reams out of Christian texts- do it elsewhere) and no lashon hara.

For those who are not aware what lashon hara is- it translates as evil speech and includes gossip, hate speech, lying deliberately trying to embarass people. If you are uncertain if a comment qualifies as lashon hara- then rather don’t post it.

So yep, my blog is low on comments – I’d rather have that than the meaningless one liners whose sole purpose seems to be to show off the commentators swearing prowess, proselytising and anti-Semitic rants. Do I want people to read and comment? Obviously- else why would I bother posting in this blog? Do I want to get into arguments over religion or respond to personal attacks against me? Nope- and as this is my personal space, and it is my decision what appears here, such comments and attempts to engage in flame wars or personal attacks are just not going to appear!

July 1, 2008 Posted by | Random | 2 Comments

Messianic Jews: Are they Jewish?

This is an oft asked question and one you repeated ad nauseum on forums like Yahoo! Answers.  The issue always seems to be: Are Jews that believe in Jesus still Jewish? Are so called “Jews for Jesus”, “messianic jews”, “Completed” Jews or one of the myriad other labels such groups use Jewish?  So, lets first investigate: who is a Jew?

From the Orthodox point of view it is very easily defined: If your mother was halachicly Jewish, you are Jewish. If you had an Orthodox conversion, you are Jewish.  That’s it.  The liberal movements vary from this (mostly in that they obviously accept conversions that are not acceptable to Orthodox) and Reform (and the other even more liberal movements) accept patrilineal descent though only combined with active participation in the Jewish community.

So, let us now assume that an individual who is actually Jewish by the Jewish definition joins one of the messianic movements (and please note, in the majority of these movements the number of people that are actually Jewish is only a small percentage of the total), what is his status?  Simply put, they are an apostate, they are outside of the Jewish community and are not considered part of the Jewish people.

But wait you cry- there is a concept in Judaism that once Jewish, either born or converted, you are always Jewish.  How can you deny this person their Jewishness?  Actually we, d on’t deny their Jewishness; note- above I said that they are outside of the Jewish community and people.  What practical ramifications does this have?

  • They cannot be a member of any Jewish communal organisation (including synagogues)
  • They are not counted towards the minyan (minimum number of people required for prayer)
  • They may not lead the congregation in prayer
  • They may not receive any honours in synagogue (such as being called to recite the blessings on the Torah, carry the Torah, wrap the Torah, open the ark, say communal blessings such as havdalah, lead the service etc)
  • They may not participate in any religious functions (such as weddings)
  • If they do not repent before they die, they may not be buried in a Jewish cemetary
  • If they do not repent before they die the Jewish laws of mourning do not apply to them and the Kaddish (prayer for the dead to help the soul of the deceased) is not said for them

So, what do we mean when we say that they do not loose their Jewishness?   It carries two connotations: one good, one bad.  On the good side: it means is that the path of repentance is always open to them. If they repent and return to Judaism, they are Jewish without the need for a conversion. There are some opinions that state they need to go to a mikveh, that is where it ends.  (Note: this is a modern ruling to be lenient based ont he fcat that the vats majority of Jews tricked into these movements are very uneducated in Judaism.  The Rema in Shulkhan Aruch requires them to appear before a Beis Din, formally renounce their other religion and then to go to Mikveh!).  On the bad side:  If they die before repenting they are judged by the heavenly court as appostate Jews.  This means that they are punished with Kares, their souls permanently cut off from G-d and the Jewish people.

In short, no Jew who believes in Jesus (or any other divine, prophetic or semi-divine figure outside of the beliefs of Judaism, or in any other religion at all for that matter) remains a member of the Jewish community or people. It is the one thing that all the movements within Judaism agree on, even when they often agree on very little else!

June 26, 2008 Posted by | Messianic, Random, Torah | , , | 14 Comments