Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Judaism and Existentialism

Existentialist philosophy says that existence comes before essence. A person creates their own purpose for existence, and what you become and how you develop yourself is your essence. Existentialists such as Camus and Taylor compare the uselessness of life to that of the Greek mythological character Sisyphus. The myth goes that Sisyphus was punished by the gods, to spend eternity (literally, he would never die) trying to accomplish one task, roll a rock to the top of the hill. Every time Sisyphus would get the rock to the top, it would roll right down the hill. Camus and Taylor say that all life is like Sisyphus. Completely pointless. Sisyphus is "the absurd hero" because he recognizes the uselessness of his existence, but he accepts it.
I always wonder what the purpose of life is. Everytime I hear a Jewish discussion "on the purpose of life" I often have a hard time agreeing with the points being made. For example, the number one thing every speaker and/or Rabbi will discuss while giving such a speech is that the purpose of life is to "serve Hashem" through mitzvahs. They say that Hashem does not perform open miracles, therefore our job is to put the "effort" in so that the miracles don't appear so open. I also, often hear, that the purpose to life is to do mitvah's, because it makes Hashem happy and fulfilling mitzvah's makes us good people. I have a problem with both reasons.
The first, "effort for miracles", is a problem, because Hashem could easily make homeless people find money. I don't understand how my giving charity makes it any less "miraculous" than if the homeless person finds $100 and then buys himself a shower(as in pay someone to let him use it), a new sweater and pants, as investments in finding a new job, and then FINDING the new job. Then with the theory of "mitvoh's make Hashem happy because then we're good people," I ask, what about mitvah's such as baking challah? How does baking challah make us better people? In the old days(I can see them claiming) that we were good wives/daughters, because we had fresh bread, but nowadays, the mitzvoh has absolutely no relation to how good we are as people. So what is the purpose of life?
I don't think G-d wants us to know. Or maybe there really is no purpose. How do we know that Hashem didn't really just create the world "for fun" and the purpose of mitzvahs is to tame us? I'm a 100% beleiver in G-d, so don't think I'm a heretic, I'm not questioning His existence, I'm just questioning why He created us.
Any ideas?

22 comments:

flatbush gal said...

you've chartered into unknown waters.

Jessica said...

The other day I was at a wedding. My husband was dancing with the chosson and his friend came back from dancing to get a drink of water. (I wasn't dancing because I didn't know the kallah all the well and had done my one dance of the evening when I'm in that situation -- oh, and it was mixed seating, just so a guy coming to my table doesn't get confusing). Anyway, he was making some small talk and said, "You're a philosophy major, right?" I nodded my head. Then he said, "So, what is the meaning of life?" I just looked at him for a second than said, "A better question is, is there a meaning of life?"

I think I asked the question more in jest, but you do make a good point. I don't think there really is any way for us to know if G-d really has a reason for us here. I can't imagine though that G-d is so bored and just put us here for His entertainment, but then again... He's G-d. We don't really know that much about Him.

Rabban Gamliel said...

If every thing would come to people without effort it would be a world in which people would not rise higher so easily or in the same way and to the same heights. As far as Challah it's a symbol. Since when don't symbols affect us? As for the meaning of life G-d gave us the sense of value. This is a question for us not Him. He's only happy for us to do mitzvahs in the sense of telling us we must do mitzvahs and the value they should have for us. The Rambam did not believe G-d really has feelings. They are euphemisms describing his actions.

frumskeptic said...

"If every thing would come to people without effort it would be a world in which people would not rise higher so easily or in the same way and to the same heights."

I'm not sure what you're alluding to, but if it's to the giving charity over FINDING the money, then all I have to say, is that either way, the guy has to put in HIS effort to spend the $100 wisely and not waste it on alcohol. Whether or not he finds the money or not, he still has to put the investment/effort into himself.

Orthoprax said...

Something I sometimes say is that everyone is an existentialist, just some people haven't realized it yet.

Clearly the human condition is an absurd one since we don't really know how we came here, what we ought to do while we are here, and what, if anything, happens when we leave this place. But to fall into the trap of existential meaninglessness is a terrible destination.

If you believe in God - or at least the proposal that the universe is not mere accident - then how or why we are here isn't as important as the key recognition that our existence is not without meaning. That alone is encouragement enough to seek out meaning by better understanding ourselves, our environment, and ultimately our relationship with the transcendent.

In one sense, I would say that the true ultimate meaning isn't that important since it may never be clear to us, but we can each recognize that we've been given the great gift of life and that we ought to make the effort to demonstrate that we were worthy of bestowal. Living uprightly, being constructive, hopefully leaving the world a little better than the way it was when we came into it - these are the personal goals of mankind.

Rabban Gamliel said...

"I'm not sure what you're alluding to, but if it's to the giving charity over FINDING the money, then all I have to say, is that either way, the guy has to put in HIS effort to spend the $100 wisely and not waste it on alcohol. Whether or not he finds the money or not, he still has to put the investment/effort into himself."

How easily can he grow if he is getting his money no matter what as opposed to him earning it or at least seeing the kindness of others in helping him? Where would this Divinely given money allways come from? How can he as easily know how to restrain himself if he can never be poor because the money will come from heaven? I see a very disturbing trend amongst many blog skeptics of having views on what Judaism claims that are at the very least not the mainstream in Judaism. Being skeptical of a strawman is something for everybody. See for instance what the Rambam and others said. Then certain questions would not be asked not because of censorship but because they don't apply to a serious view of Judaism.

frumskeptic said...

"Where would this Divinely given money allways come from?"

Are you kidding? Many, many, many times when a person receives charity, he feels it is OWED to him. therefore, he would probably be less likely to do something good with the money than if he were to find it. and most likely will see the "kindness" in others as more of a Robin Hood scenerio...accept that Hashem forces the rich to pay for the poor.

frumskeptic said...

"I see a very disturbing trend amongst many blog skeptics of having views on what Judaism claims that are at the very least not the mainstream in Judaism"

Any "claim" I made about Judaism, are claims I had heard at shuirim, from many different people, and so I'm sure I didn't "misunderstand" anything.

frumskeptic said...

"Then certain questions would not be asked not because of censorship but because they don't apply to a serious view of Judaism."

Actually, Judaism encourages questioning everything, therefore every question applies. In the Gemara they discussed how we would daven in a "flying box", and that was ages before the concept of a plane was even considered. How then, could they have possibly viewed it as a "serious" view of Judaism? Because EVERY skeptic has to be considered, because if he weren't then our religion would be based on faith. And we know Judaism is not supposed to be faith based.
but maybe thats just a "claim" I'm making ?

Orthoprax said...

Flying box, eh? Do you have the source so I can look it up?

mlevin said...

It's not a flying box, but a flying room. It was discussed in refernce to a kohen and cemetary. So, it was decided that even if Kohen is in a flying room, all enclosed in like in a box, he is still not allowed to be over a cemetary.

Orthoprax said...

Oh, you guys really disappointed me. Eruvin 30b, an ohel zaruk is not a "flying room" it's just a transportable tent, as Rashi says, like a tent on a wagen.

The concept is _applied_ towards airplanes in modern Halacha but that wasn't what the Talmudic rabbis were even thinking about.

Orthoprax said...

Oh, I take it back, looks like there are other places, like Nazir 55, where they actually discuss a thrown ohel zaruk.

Still, it's not like the floating room that I thought it was.

Rabban Gamliel said...

frumskeptic said...
"I see a very disturbing trend amongst many blog skeptics of having views on what Judaism claims that are at the very least not the mainstream in Judaism"

Any "claim" I made about Judaism, are claims I had heard at shuirim, from many different people, and so I'm sure I didn't "misunderstand" anything."

But either you are taking metaphors as literal and/or are being told at least historically not the most mainstream views amongst famous rabbis.

"Are you kidding? Many, many, many times when a person receives charity, he feels it is OWED to him. therefore, he would probably be less likely to do something good with the money than if he were to find it. and most likely will see the "kindness" in others as more of a Robin Hood scenerio...accept that Hashem forces the rich to pay for the poor."

If he just finds the money he's not going to be better with it then seeing the kindness of others at work for him. People win the lottery and waste the money. If people have charity they see people be concerned for them and it will most of the time have a positive impact. Further your scenario was of people always having money from heaven. Certainly then gratitude would be challenging. Too many people would see it as coming to them.

Rabban Gamliel said...

If you are really are in search of the truth you won't mind losing on the charity argument. Most people taking charity do not relish it. You're going to be a lawyer. You have to see people as they are not as you want them to be in the abstract in order to win an argument for now. As a lawyer you will have to defend people with realism and represent realistic pictures of personalities and motives and reactions. You’re saying things now as a mature lawer you may regret as you will deal with real people.

frumskeptic said...

orthoprax: I know the burden of proof is on me, but I really did hear that it was a flying room. I'll have to look into it. but just for now, since I admit, I may be wrong. I can think of another example, but the point would still be the same.

Rabban: I think the problem is that I was misunderstood. I never implied that the would be recievin charity on a continuous basis. I just meant that one time, he should invest it, and hope he gets a job, or the investment value rises. (though that may be too long term for someone who is "homeless")

also, I never said I wanted to be a lawyer. I unfortunately, have no idea what I want to be. And I only have one semester left of college, and I'm still "undecided"

frumskeptic said...

I know plenty of people, who discourage getting legally married, but are only married by "chupa" because they want the welfare. They feel it is owed to them. Thats lack of pride, and an under appreciation of the "kindness" of others.

I went to a "kiruv" school. Some girls came in with the latest model cellphones, they wore brand name clothing, yet the EXPECTED to be on scholarship. like they were OWED it or something
One girl in particular, her father was a cab driver, they lied on the application that he made only $16,000 a year, so that they can get scholarship. She paid $200/month. and complained that was to much.. you think they appreciated the kindess? NO, they expected it.
Same girl, babysit crazy hours. She would work almost everynight per week, cash. and her parents wouldnt let her open a bank account, because they were worried that when it was time to apply for college she wouldn't qualify for financial aid. And she's not the only girl i know like that. She's just the one I'm close to, that admitted so many details.

Orthoprax said...

FS,

"I can think of another example, but the point would still be the same."

Maybe, but I don't think those hypothetical conditions have anything to do with skepticism one way or the other. Such scenarios in Gemara were not meant to be taken as literal cases to be ruled on, but as a means to explore the underlying principles of an idea.

In this case, by Nazir 55, Rebbi Yosi bar Rebbi Yehudah seems to have made two contradictory remarks about the transfer of tumah and enclosed moving spaces. He says that a person inside of an ohel zaruk stays tahur over tamei ground, yet he has also said that a thrown box of keilim over a dead body makes them tamei. So what's the deal?

The explanation according to Tosfos is that an object in flight cannot be an ohel and therefore is not a barrier to tumah (hence the case of a thrown tent), but if the ohel zaruk is carried on something then it's still an ohel and is a barrier.

The point was to explore the technical status of an "ohel zaruk," not just a skeptical question.

I think whomever you heard it from gave you a short version and not one that involves the technical aspects of the cases.

frumskeptic said...

"yet he has also said that a thrown box of keilim over a dead body makes them tamei. "

And throwing a box of keilim over a dead body is not a hypothetical situation?

Orthoprax said...

"And throwing a box of keilim over a dead body is not a hypothetical situation?"

Most probably it is, though I actually don't know. What of it? If it is then it only strengthens my point that the Talmudic rabbis posit scenarios just to see how they reflect on other legal issues - though I'd have to study the history in detail to see why Rebbi Yosi said such a thing in the first place.

Ike said...

Hey you baby... the thinking girl...

for u the purpose is kitchen work and serving jersey boys...

p.s. whats ure number

Anonymous said...

Tikun Olam