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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gone where?

During one of my recent bouts of sleep deprivation I followed a link from a certain Portuguese insomniac I know, and read through the end notes on a blog called 'Cancer, Baby'. 

I say 'end notes' because they weren't posts per se, but rather brief updates left by a friend of the blogger... short Post-Its® written in rapid succession, with the final note - consisting of only 29 words - simultaneously lifting this blogger's veil of anonymity and placing the shrouds upon her newly still form:

"My phone just rang. It was cancerbaby's husband. "I guess you know why I'm calling," he said.

She died this morning.

She was thirty-three.

Her name was Jessica."

I had not even known this woman existed until she was gone, but while reading through her archives in the wee hours of a sleepless morning I was moved by the outpouring of prayers and support she had received throughout her well-documented battle with cancer... and by the outpouring of grief expressed by her readers when the battle was ultimately lost.

I'm a big believer in the power of communal prayer.  I saw with my own eyes how a neighbor's son - a young IDF officer who the doctors had given zero chance of surviving his battle wounds - was brought back to a full rich life by the power of people's prayers.

Your prayers.

So you can understand how I began to take for granted that if only enough people would get together and say 'pretty please with sugar on top', G-d would have no choice but to answer prayers offered by such a determined mob.

What I failed to realize is the old truth that although He always answers our prayers... sometimes the answer is 'no'.

While reading through the comments on that final entry, I was moved by a poem that one of cancerbaby's readers had left.  I found out later that it was was written by an Anglican Bishop who lived and died a century ago... something that should have instantly made it of no interest to an Orthodox Jew living in Israel.  Yet for the past few nights while I've played hide-and-go-seek with the sandman, I've repeatedly been drawn back to that poem in cancerbaby's comments.

I finally did a search and found out a bit about the poet... and located the text of his beautiful, non-sectarian take on death:

        WHAT IS DYING?

I am standing on the sea shore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object
of beauty and I stand
and watch her until at last she
fades on the horizon.

Then someone at my side says
"There she has gone" -
gone where?
Gone from my sight - that is all.
She is just as large in the mast,
hull and spars as she was
when she left my side. The
diminished size and total loss
of sight is in me and not in her,
and just at that moment when
someone by my side says
"She's gone" others on a distant
shore take up
the glad shout -
"There she comes!"

Bishop Brent
Bishop of the Philippines
1862 - 1929

While this is a beautiful and moving poem... it is the small phrase 'gone where' that kept drawing me back.  My religion has countless volumes written on how to conduct oneself in this life, but is strangely laconic (one might even say intentionally vague) on the specifics of what happens... next.

'Gone where?', indeed.


Posted by David Bogner on May 17, 2006 | Permalink


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I admit to more than a passing curiosity about the afterlife. As David points out today while discussing a poem about dying (in the post from which I stole this title) While this is a beautiful and moving poem... it... [Read More]

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gone where...good question. hopefully sitting, and "getting a tan" so to speak from the Lord's presence. just sitting and takin' it in.

Posted by: Tonny | May 17, 2006 1:00:43 AM

I just wanted to point out that although it may seem that G-d said No to your prayer it does not mean that it went unanswered. Here is a story that illustrates that point.

Posted by: Jewish Blogmierster | May 17, 2006 1:11:13 AM

This has always mystified me about Jews. Including my wife. The Torah is replete with references to life after death. Though this life is not described in depth there are many hints and glimpses given.

And yet Jews say thier religion does not cover this subject. Many Jews have told me they do not believe in life after death as well. I guess they do not believe the Torah is God's word.

Would you care to offer me an explanation?

Posted by: Scott | May 17, 2006 1:31:16 AM

ive always been told that jews dont talk about where... its about the here, and the where is beyond our comprehension at the moment. well find out when we get there.

on a different note... youve been commented on in my last entry, if you want to swing by my journal

Posted by: Lisa- the other one | May 17, 2006 2:19:04 AM

On the one hand, that's beautiful and thought provoking. On the other hand, trazodone 50 mg at bedtime is safe and frequently effective.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 17, 2006 2:21:48 AM

David: for some reason the quote from Cancer, Baby's site brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing.


While I'm not an expert on this, I'll try to give a very brief take on things.

The Torah (in this case meaning the Five Books of Moses) does *not* say very much at all about 'life after death'. Oh, if you look carefully enough, you might find some hints of it, but there's nothing explicit, nor do the 'hints' even come close to explain the *nature* of this life.

Even much of the early prophetics books were mum on the issue, instead focusing on refining one's deeds in *this* world for material rewards. You begin to get more allusions to a 'life after death' and even a possible resurrection of the dead in messianic times (though still far from clear) in later prophetic writings, though the references are still exceedingly vague on how things will work out.

Rabbinic literature has been much more voluble on the subject, of course. Some might argue that these (and even the later prophetic interpretations) were borrowed ideas from other religions, though of course Orthodox Jews do not believe such lines of reasoning (for the most part; let's not get into a lengthy discussion on how much we should or need to believe).

But even the Talmud is not very clear on what an afterlife would entail. Certainly not the binary choice of heaven or hell presented in some other religions ('Gehennah' is more of a purgatory, and Western concepts of heaven have little to do with my understanding of Judaism's concept of an afterlife), but rabbinic writings were more concerned with what one should do in this world to improve one's standing in the afterlife, rather than specifics of how the afterlife is.

Later sources get into more details, but much of this is only enlightened speculation. The Rambam (Maimonides, 12th century) actually discusses messianic times and resurrection of the dead at some length (as do a number of other medieval commentators; he's merely the greatest of the major contributors to Jewish thought from that time), but even his discussions just skirt the edge of making definitive statements about an afterlife.

So, to sum up: While there are some recent sources (especially in Chassidic writings) that make more claims about an afterlife, Judaism isn't very sure about much other than that one likely exists in some form, and that we should live our lives as if our standing (or entry into) in an afterlife is dependent on our behavior.

Hence, David was saying that Judaism is 'laconic on the specifics' of what happens. Most religious Jews would agree that there *is* an afterlife... but what it consists of? Now, that's a tougher question. To be honest, I find that stance to be oddly refreshing. A religion that claims to KNOW what happens after death makes me awfully suspicious... and Judaism is far too pragmatic to get caught in that trap. It acknowledges that there is some afterlife, but chooses not to speculate on it details; rather, the religion focuses on what we do in *this* life, and figures that we'll find out about the rest in due time, eh?


Posted by: matlabfreak | May 17, 2006 2:39:07 AM

A beautiful poem.

I don't know about afterlife, try not to think about it that much. However, the idea that death is a complete equalizer and that it's the end... is disturbing.

Posted by: Irina | May 17, 2006 3:29:02 AM


Thanks. Actually your explanation fairly describes schollarly and orthodox Christian thinking as well. We do not claim to know much at all of just WHAT the afterlife will be like ... only that we will be in God's presence and be transformed somehow so as to be able to stand in that presence. Something Moses tells us is possible for no mortal man to do.

Personally I do not ever ponder what the next life will be like because I recognize that my puny present consciousness could not possibly concieve what such a reality could be.

Long before I chose which religion to follow I was possessed of a strong suspicion that consciousness is eternal. I spent many years of searching out which World Religion had the better handle on Truth. To my mind Judaism lays claim to the most logical and least fantasy oriented of all religions. Because I have an a priori assumption that God is quite old and any human contact with him would have been ancient by our measures ... for me, Judaism contains God's communications to man while claiming exclusivity as well.

I just took a detour from modern Jews as regards The Messiah.

I guess I've just been talking to the wrong Jews as regards my original question as most have denied any belief in eternal life or an after-life.

PS: I was using Torah to describe the whole of what Christians call The Old Testament. This is admissable according to some dictionaries I have consulted.

Posted by: Scott | May 17, 2006 3:34:17 AM

For what I find to be an excellent article about the Biblical view of "gone where" - read this:


And for a more humorous take (but maybe just as deep), there's this Pearls Before Swine:


I recently had a discussion about "gone where" with someone who suffered a loss. My idea was something like this. When it comes to objects in the 3 dimensions of space, we know that even when something is not in our sight, it still exists. Infants develop this understanding around 8-9 months, and it is called "object permanence":


Now what about time? We tend to view time as separate from space, but we do often refer to it as a "fourth dimension". Saying "I'm 20 minutes away from the office" is comparable to saying "I'm ten miles away from the office."

Usually we view our place in time as a point on a line - we only are aware of "now". But if we try to view time as a line, to realize that things (and people) exist even when they're not here "now", to gain "object permanence in time" - then we are aware that no one is really "gone", no more than a rattle taken away from a baby.

I think this idea is quite consistent with Jewish thought, but I've probably written too much already to show how. If you're interested in what I've gathered over the years, let me know.

Posted by: Dave | May 17, 2006 7:36:05 AM

Regarding the lack of interest in what comes after:

I have always thought that that is one of the greatest parts of Judaism. That rather than concentrating on some mystical hereafter, and doing unspeakable acts in this world, that instead we are instructed to make the best of this world, and leave what comes after up to God.

If only the rest of the world would stop justifying their actions for something illusive and concentrate on making the current world we live in a better place.

Also, David, you said: I found out later that it was was written by an Anglican Bishop who lived and died a century ago... something that should have instantly made it of no interest to an Orthodox Jew living in Israel.

And I say: ??? Surely you have outgrown that old canard that they taught FFB's like us in yeshiva day school that only Jews have anything worthwhile to say.


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | May 17, 2006 8:17:02 AM


*shrugs* Although I try to stay up on comparitive theology, I've never gotten into Orthodox Christian thought on afterlife to any appreciable degree.

One distinction that I see on how the two faiths approach things (I could be wrong):

In Christianity, it seems like much of the theology is aimed at the afterlife, and the anticipation and preparation of the faithful for it (regardless of what it is, exactly).

While some rabbinic literature *does* take on this tone, most of the earlier work and texts (and, in fact, the entire modern legal structure) treats the afterlife as essentially *irrelevant* to how a Jew should conduct him/herself. The rules may have incentives or punishments or reasons, but fundamentally they are treated as the guiding principles of our lives just Because They Are. As such, the Jewish view of the afterlife has always been 'well, yeah, it's there, but it doesn't even MATTER what it's like, our job is to do things right now and we'll see what happens in the future.'

I think this might be what causes the rather cavalier attitude you've seen in many of your Jewish friends. Some could argue that a belief in an afterlife is not even remotely required for central Jewish theology. Even among those who do believe it to be a necessary component of central Jewish faith recognize that it is not the FOCUS of our attention or beliefs, but rather part of the context.

*shrugs* I'm probably doing a terrible job of explaining it... and more important, I've probably insulted most of the Christian world with my rather bald reading of things... and half of the Jewish world, too. So please take everything I say with a whole shaker full of salt.

Posted by: matlabfreak | May 17, 2006 8:30:16 AM

What I failed to realize is the old truth that although He always answers our prayers... sometimes the answer is 'no'.

I very much dislike answers like this. I don't platitudes like G-d doesn't give you more than you can handle.

I just can't buy into it. Ani Maamin. I believe, I really do but there is something about those statements that just rubs me the wrong way.

Posted by: Jack | May 17, 2006 9:20:57 AM

jack-so you dont believe.

david, good good poem. for it to have been more complete, the ship would have been merely visiting this island of the author for some business trip (but alas many have forgotten the purpose) and they are now going back home.

happy sailing everyone :)

Posted by: the sabra | May 17, 2006 9:33:40 AM

jack-so you dont believe.

No, it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. I can believe in G-d, but I don't have to accept everything that people say in order to be a believer.

It would be a dull world if we all agreed.

Posted by: Jack | May 17, 2006 10:01:00 AM

I'm with Jack - complex life questions are almost never answered by pithy phrases - it cheapens the depth of both the pain involved and the questioning. That doesn't mean that there isn't truth in these phrases, but some things can't be reduced to a one-liner.

Posted by: westbankmama | May 17, 2006 11:04:05 AM

Tonny... When I think about places in the world to come where it's warm enough to get a tan, it isn't usually a comforting thought. :-)

Jewish Blogmiester... I appreciate you sending me the link, but there is more troubling stuff about that story than there is comfort. First of all it would be highly unusual (even unethical) for a doctor to withhold medical information about a terminal illness from an adult patient yet reveal it to a minor child. Also, there is the conflict between the statements that previous prayers had been unanswered and the supposition that ALL prayers are answered in some way. I tend to shy away from what I think of as 'Eichlers Stories' (because there are always many of them on display at that venerable Jewish Bookstore) because they try to oversimplify complex concepts with glurge and made-up stories.

Scott... You've answered your own question. 'hints and glimpses' are a far cry from the loving sledgehammer with which the Torah imparts our system of beliefs. Anything important in the scriptures is generally stated quite clearly... often multiple times for emphasis. As another commenter said, that we don't know isn't an indication that there is no afterlife/world to come... only that it isn't a necessary component of our responsibility to this life.

Lisa (the other one)... I think most wise people would shy away from open discussions of topics about which they have little information. The World to come/afterlife would qualify as such a topic (at least as far as Jews are concerned). This doesn't stop people from wondering, though. As to your post... Yes, I saw it and had wanted to respond with a huge thank you but you don't allow comments from non-LiveJouranl users. :-(

Doctor Bean... Is that your professional opinion or is that just the avid blog reader trying to get me back to writing about spitting coffee and eating gravy? :-)

Matlabfreak... You're welcome. I don't often link to or quote from other sites (this is why I call myself a journaler and not a blogger), but when something makes me think or touches me deeply I try to pass it on. I appreciate you offering your knowledge to Scott (and the rest of us). I wasn't equipped to offer so detailed a response to a perfectly valid question.

Irina... On the contrary... I find the fact that all lives (no matter how rich, poor, good, bad) are all headed towards a common point of departure that favors nobody. What happens afterwards is another story.

Scott... As someone who came to observance later in life I agree with you that Judaism offers a very rational approach to theology. This is one reason I tend to get very uncomfortable with some aspects of the ultra-religious community that gets very wrapped up in mysticism and interpretive extrapolation to figure out what happens next.

Dave... Thanks for the links. I'll gladly eat lunch at my desk in order to follow up on them.

Yehudah... My statement wasn't meant to imply an automatic rejection of statements simply because they issue from non-Jewish clergy. I was simply suggesting that when looking for answers on so sensitive a theological topic, a Jew could be forgiven for passing over a statement from an Anglican Bishop.

Jack... One of the central beliefs in Judaism is of an all knowing all powerful Creator who was, and always will be, intimately involved in every aspect of the world He created. There are only two ways to explain tragedy/death in a world where G-d exists: Either He can't intercede... or He won't. Books like 'When bad things happen to good people' make the case that in some respects G-d is limited in what He can do. This is contrary to the idea of omnipotence and omniscience... and I have trouble accepting it. Therefore I chose to believe that sometimes His answer is simply 'no'.

The Sabra... I think it is unfair to say that someone doesn't believe based solely on a statement that they are bothered by a particular expression. This is especially true when the person goes out of his way to remove all doubt with the statement 'Ani Ma'amin'. One of the wonderful things about Judaism is that we don't have anything like the Inquisition (or it's present incarnation the 'Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith'). This isn't meant to insult the Catholic Church or its practitioners... but I have always been far more comfortable with Judaism freedom to express doubts and question human interpretations of the scriptures.

Westbankmama... I really wasn't trying to be trite. I was simply trying to express my belief that G-d can do everything... but sometimes chooses not to do anything. Jack has every right to be bothered by anything I say here... I knew what he meant.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 17, 2006 11:31:31 AM

For a compelling look on "Gone where?" Try a quick read, Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss.

Posted by: Oceanguy | May 17, 2006 1:43:19 PM

Either He can't intercede... or He won't

I think that for me it falls into a question of free will.

G-d could do more but tends not to because that would impinge upon our ability to make our own choices about how to live.

I don't have time to leave a long answer right now, but when I think about many of the things that happen it is hard to imagine it otherwise.

Kosovo, Rwanda, Iraq, September 11th. These are dates/places where you can bet that people prayed hard, that they begged for help and I just can't believe that G-d completely ignored them.

The free will thing kicks in here. It may not be the height of logic, but that is part of faith. Sometimes you just have to believe.

Posted by: Jack | May 17, 2006 3:48:51 PM

Thank you for posting this. This is one of the areas of Judaism that I'm just now learning about.

One of the resources my rabbi recommended is MyJewishLearning.com. It has a series of articles about the Jewish belief in the afterlife. it is very vague for the most part about what the afterlife would be like. But I find that reassuring. One of the statements that I read echoes one of the other commentors that we are more concerened about who we should live our lifes. That we cannot know what the afterlife is like. That since all of us, Jew and non-Jew alike, are made in the Divine Image, a part of us will seek out G-d when we die.

One of the articles stated that if other religions focused more on the now instead of the later, peace would be forthcoming.

I am just starting to discuss this with my rabbi. But it seems to make more sense to concentrate on where we are at rather than what awaits after we've died.

I'm still thinking about what I've read. At first I was perplexed by the Mourner's Kaddish. Coming from a Catholic background, the prayers at time of death focused on the life to come. The Mourner's Kaddish asks for peace for those who are mourning, Israel, and the whole world.

I see the beauty of that. And it is comforting. As are the Psalms, which even before I started my return home(as I call it), I read in times of trouble in my life.

I've been practicing the Mourner's Kaddish. This year will be the first time I'll stand with the other mourner's in my congregation on my father's Yahrzeit. It's beautiful and still concentrates on the now, asking for peace for those who are in mourning.

Posted by: seawitch | May 17, 2006 3:55:55 PM

I think the interchange between Scott and Matlabfreak is fascinating, I wish they could go into it in more depth. I do think that Scotts statement " only that we will be in God's presence and be transformed somehow so as to be able to stand in that presence" is in fact incredibly descriptive and definitive.
At the risk of drawing fire from those far better educated than me, I always felt that Jews focused less on the afterlife because the most important thing was to follow the mitzvot and that in following them correctly could in fact make the world a perfect place, "Kingdom of G-d" if you will. Thus a "reward" in the afterlife would be irrelevant.
Of course that would mean that as a non-Orthodox Jew I am in fact ruining the party. Sorry.

Posted by: lisoosh | May 17, 2006 5:58:01 PM

scott, matlabfreak, seawitch, lisoosh, and anyone else...in my jewish philosophy class in the yeshiva i go to, we have dealt with this topic somewhat (the class is mostly a Rambam-based class, but we have done other people too). it is an argument between the Rambam and Ramban. i dont remember it very well, but i do remember that the Ramban brings a medrash (i guess the best way to explain what this is, is statement by a tanna (rabbi from about 200 bce - 130 ce. my dates arent so correct, but its around there. R Yehuda HaNasi, who codified the Mishna, was the last one) that is not regarding the laws, ie. as opposed to the misha, which are statements by tannas, but are regarding law. usually. and most medrashim (plural) are not supposed to be taken literally, they all have a message) about what R' Yeshoshu'a HaLevi saw when he "went" into Gehenom (compound word from Gei Ben Hinom, the valley of Ben Hinom. its right outside the old city).

the Gemara says that in heaven, the righteous people (which, if you're in heaven, by definition, i would think, you are righteous) sit there, taking in the Glory of God. and sit and learn Torah all "day." i think.

now about the whole afterlife-and-not-focusing-on-death thing, my rabbi taught me that, really, yes, Judaism isnt really so focused on what comes after, because, when we die, what happens? our soul leaves our body. our body stays here, but our souls go up to heaven (maybe after a stint in Gehenom so after that, we would be able to go to Heaven) and take in the Glory of God, the Ultimateness Goodness. So really, its not dying, its another life. so those who identify with their souls, dying (i guess) is actually great, because finally they get to be close to God, closer than he has ever been. although, of course, one should not kill themselves, one should do as much as he can down here. and so one who identifies themself with their body, dying is not good at all. i mean, they're leaving this world, who they are, its not good, all the worldy pleasures they cant have anymore. but if they indentify themselves with their soul, its all good, getting closer to God.

Jews do care, we do believe in heaven and hell (not exactly, i dont think, like the christians do, but the general idea is the same), but we dont focus on it--we try to focus and where we are right now, ie. earth, and try to do as much good as possible.

i havent put this in the best way possible, and i dont even know clsoe to everything on this topic, and i hope i have given over this information correctly.

Posted by: Tonny | May 17, 2006 7:50:58 PM

its been changed, so if you want to comment, you are more than welcome to

Posted by: Lisa- the other one | May 17, 2006 7:57:30 PM

As hard as this is to believe [ ;-) ] I hate getting into an involved discussion on someone else's site. Of course I don't have and don't want my own site. This subject is however the most important focus of my life and has been for forty years.

I simply have to believe in God. There is absolutely no option for me. I may be riddled with doubt regarding myself and my worth or worthiness for the unknowable creator but it is impossible in every sense of the word for the universe to have created itself so I must seek.

One way I look at the Torah (all of it) is as one long story or play. Since I believe God communicated it to man I feel that it can be understood on many levels. Man was created on a very high level. A creature we cannot understand or hardly relate to. A creature created for fellowship with his creator. (Genesis) We have since fallen to this state we find ourselves in now. We've been like this for a long time and yet God sent Moses and all the prophets to correct and change us.

Surely God has a destiny for us and this world is a life of testing and pennance. We must all finally pay the ultimate price for sin. Death. It appears to be very important that we work on ourselves in this life and we allow God to work on us. What else can the Torah be about? Yes we should try and make the world a better place but I don't see the message clearly in God's Word that that is our highest goal.

This world will pass away as it must be cleansed and remade. Seems to me the goal is to return to God's original purpose for man. ( and even that may have only been a starting place) A purpose we know little about except that in our original state we walked and talked with our Lord. The original Garden was destroyed. If we ever find ourselves there again it will not be in a utopia of man's creation that God finally deigns to visit. It will be a new creation of His choosing. Not ours.

This is not something I have imagined. To me it is the logical message of God's Word. It is the best, if over simplified, grasp of the central message of the Torah that the mind God gave me can come up with.

Just one more small aside: Is it not interesting that still ... in this modern world where we think we have advanced SO much ... where we look aback on the ancients as ignorant savages ... that there still exists a hidden force that wants to kill every Jew? (if you can't detect said hidden force you are not looking)

Posted by: Scott | May 17, 2006 8:19:17 PM

Scott - I don't mean to offend, but I find your view incredibly depressing, as if there is nothing for you to savour in this world, you are just waiting for the next.
I am also confused by your description of death - how can it be a punishment for sin if it leads to a higher level of existence?

Posted by: lisoosh | May 17, 2006 9:11:48 PM

That's ok Lisoosh. I understand that many modern folks think they have outgrown the Bible and that it is an outdated understanding of man's position in the universe and our relationship to God and his Law and purposes. I just take it at face value.

Posted by: Scott | May 17, 2006 9:34:55 PM

Oh you've read her, you've read her! I am so happy you read her.

I noticed the poem as well. What I don't understand is why being Orthodox automatically means you are not allowed or ready to take in beauty in all its forms and denominations. Unless that was a joke?

Posted by: Lioness | May 17, 2006 9:40:28 PM

scott..."Surely God has a destiny for us and this world is a life of testing and pennance. We must all finally pay the ultimate price for sin. Death. "

death isnt necessarily a punishment for sin. the Gemara relates that there have been a few people throught history (i would think all of them are jews, but for some reason i think there is one person who wasnt) who had no sins at all. i remember 2 of them are Yishai, King Dovid's father, and Binyamin, Yaakov's son. if i remember correctly, its because the earth isnt ideal, it's Up There (wherever that is), as i said before, taking in the Glory of God. it is, of course, sometimes (or most times?) a punishment for death, but not necessarily.

Posted by: Tonny | May 17, 2006 9:43:23 PM

Obviously, opinions differ. Nonetheless, I took some personal solace from this entry and the Bishop's poem. Thank you. Your entry came at a most opportune time.

Posted by: aliyah06 | May 17, 2006 9:51:04 PM

Oceanguy... I'll have to pick that up. I seem to have a lot more reading time on my hands lately what with not sleeping and all. BTW, thank you for the link on your site.

Jack... You make my point. Free will is ours, but G-d also has free will and can cause or prevent anything from happening that He chooses.

Seawitch... You should pay more attention to some of the commenters than to your host (me). I'm just a seeker like yourself. :-) BTW, the mourners Kaddish doesn't say anything about death or mourning but rather is simply speaking about the greatness of G-d.

Lisoosh... no, but as a lefty Jew you are definitely ruining the party. [ducking and running] ;-)

Scott... yes, it is a bit hard to fathom. :-) As to your basic assumption about the world having been created as opposed to coming about naturally, I once read a great story: Basically it said that if you take a complicated watch apart and put the parts in a paper bag... you can shake it for millions of years and the parts will never come together to form a watch. The world and everything in it is far more complicated than a simple watch... which kind makes you think.

Scott & Lisoosh... I would remind you that we are all basically arguing over how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin. Until we take the old dirt nap, were all just blowing smoke.

Lioness... I didn't mean to imply it wouldn't be allowed. I think we just tend to have a mental 'off switch' that gets clicked when we encounter something way outside our realm of experiences. On a very simple level it is like when I'm thumbing through a magazine and see an ad for feminine products (tampons, etc.). This ad isn't speaking to me so my mental switch clicks off until I see something more engaging. On a theological level, as a Jew I tend to switch off when I hear or read a Christian talking about what comes after death. It isn't that I'm not allowed to listen or read... it's just that the Christian view of the afterlife has just as little to do with me as the Kotex ad. Obviously I am quite glad I read Bishop Brent's thoughts on dying and death.

Aliyah06... Like I said to Scott and Lisoosh. We're all just arguing over how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin. I'm glad you enjoyed the post but hope the timeliness wasn't because of a personal loss.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 17, 2006 10:10:11 PM

Jack... You make my point. Free will is ours, but G-d also has free will and can cause or prevent anything from happening that He chooses.

That is one way of looking at it.

Posted by: Jack | May 17, 2006 11:09:46 PM

Scott - I didn't say that it was outdated at all, nor do I believe it to be irrelevant. I just read it differently. Oh and I don't read the New Testament.

Posted by: lisoosh | May 18, 2006 12:32:09 AM


Do *not* get me started on the Blind Watchmaker argument. Emergent complexity is not that hard to explain, much as Behe would disagree with me (granted, Behe is referring specifically to irreducible complexity as it pertains to life, but it's the same idea). I'm always exceedingly suspicious of 'proofs' for creation - most are motivated by a presupposition that divine intervention was required, which colors all of the subsequent evidence.

Personally, I am much more satisfied by a world that I can understand... and I think that there's something much more powerful in faith that is not based on shaky 'evidence' or lines of reasoning... such faith is independent of whether or not irreducible complexity is a good argument.

*sighs* Sorry, that's the bioengineer in me.


Thanks for sharing your views... can't say I agree with them all, but they're certainly illuminating. As you said, though, this probably isn't the place for an in-depth discussion of this kinda stuff. *smiles*


Posted by: matlabfreak | May 18, 2006 12:51:13 AM

At the risk of issuing another irritating platitude (not that there's anything wrong with finding platitudes irritating), I would like to add: "We should be thankful that G-d is not a vending machine we can manipulate by offering Him the proper coin (prayer)." Things may seem senseless at times, but how truly pointless would life be if it served no purpose greater than getting our own way?

Posted by: Bob | May 18, 2006 12:56:25 AM

My bad, as you'd say (or not), I thought you meant in general. As in, if it comes from another denomination you will tune off, not just regarding death and the afterlife. Tnx for explaining, it didn't sound a lot like you.

Posted by: Lioness | May 18, 2006 3:52:53 AM


I realized that about the Mourner's Kaddish. That's one of the things I find comforting about it. It also asks for G-ds peace to be bestowed upon us. But the main thing is that it is said by all mourners during services. I'm not articulating what I feel very well. But there is comfort in the words and there is comfort in saying it with others.

Posted by: seawitch | May 18, 2006 5:38:49 AM

Heh, the Mourner's Kaddish actually didn't used to be said by mourners, either (or, at least, it wasn't mentioned that they said it until relatively recently - 700-800 years ago). But that's a whole 'nother discussion. *smiles*

Posted by: matlabfreak | May 18, 2006 7:42:31 AM

Jack... Yup, just one of many.

Matlabfreak... OK, OK [holds hands up] I promise not to go there. :-)

Bob... if He was a vending machine we could manipulate by offering Him the proper coin, we'd all move to Vegas and spend our days in front of the slots. :-)

Lioness... Not much sounds like me lately. You'll have to make allowances... :-)

Seawitch... Which brings us back to the power of communal prayer.

Matlabfreak... You're just a wealth of handy information, aren't you? :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 18, 2006 2:04:47 PM

But Treppenwitz -- we are standing in front of the slots!

Posted by: Bob | May 18, 2006 9:13:07 PM

Thanks for the link Treppenwitz.
A very moving blog.
So moving in fact, that
I noticed some people were asking for an historical record of this blog.
I made one. Its 1053 pages long, Jessica was a prolific writer.
The link for her permanent PDF of her webblog is here:

Keep up you blog writing, David, you produce such interesting reading.
What a beautiful poem 'What is Dying' is.

Shalom Aaron

Posted by: aaron | May 19, 2006 3:02:16 AM

jack and david-if the statement is from the chachomim (gemara?) then disagreeing with it is considered...not believing. no? whats the whole deal with bnei yisrael believing in hashem and moshe His servant?
mitzvah d'rabbanan vs from the torah.
torah sh'bichtav vs baal peh.

im not saying hes a kofer (CHAS VESHOLOM) and 'non believer' (NOT AT ALL). only, to believe is to believe it all..to accept it all...to do it all..

if i believe hashem created the world but didnt take us out of egypt, do i believe?

(i am basing this all on the almost certain assumption that it was the chachomim of years ago that said 'hashem doesn't give you what you cant handle' and its not from david..with all due respect of course..)

Posted by: the sabra | May 19, 2006 9:35:11 PM

and no comment about my editing of the poem? ;)

Posted by: the sabra | May 19, 2006 9:36:07 PM

sabra -

Uhm, things are a bit more complicated than that. For example, there is plenty of stuff in the gemara that might be called 'superstition'. The gemara discusses 'treatments' for various medical conditions that are laughable. Is it being a kofer to reject these?

...if you answered yes, then you believe that the Rambam is a kofer.

The decisions of the Chachamim are considered inviolable only concerning matters of halacha... there are valid disagreements on matters of hashkafah, and LOTS of room on matters of... uhm... the world. (ie, science, medicine, etc.) If you took every single saying of the chachamim literally, then you'd be stuck with dozens of mutually exclusive statements (things like 'blah k'neged kol hatorah' or 'blah gets you an assured place in olam haba', etc.).

So, point is... we should pay attention to what the chachamim say, but non-halachic statements are not necessarily ones that we need to wholly believe as The Truth. There are many valid hashkafic ways to view Judaism.


Posted by: matlabfreak | May 23, 2006 4:39:10 AM

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