Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Do frum self-help books contain ancient Torah wisdom - or pop psychology?

The following is an excerpt from Strictly Kosher Reading  page 50- 51 by Dr. Yoel Finkelman. It is truly required reading by any chareidi Jew who wants to understand the relationship between Torah and general culture as manifest in popular English language chareidi literature. This is related to the previous post of whether there is a Torah Psychotherapy?    [A longer selection of the book was posted on Seforim Blog]
Conclusion - Update 8/16/13 It is apparent from the comments to this post is that there is no such thing as Torah Psychology or Torah Therapy that was given at Sinai. There are psychological insights which are found in our Tradition which can be used in therapy - but they don't constitue a program of therapy. A psychology or therapy based primarily or exclusive on Torah sources might be desirable - but it doesn't exist at present and it clearly is not part of our Tradition from Sinai.
Lawrence Kelemen's parenting guide, To Kindle a Soul, for example,  claims in the subtitle to contain "ancient wisdom." "At the foot of a  mountain in the Sinai desert, the Creator of the universe directly re­vealed His profound wisdom to approximately three million people ....  Those present received ... a comprehensive guide for raising great human  beings." The book attempts to describe "this ancient, Torah approach to  education" which is "more comprehensive and effective ... than any of the  schools of child psychology I studied at university." Kelemen describes  the "significant" differences between these supposedly "ancient traditions" and the practices of contemporary parents."

"Yet Kelemen's parenting approach fits neatly within late twentieth­  century American parenting discourse, and it differs significantly from  that of pre-modern Jewish sources. Kelemen combines an American  religious-right critique of supposedly decadent American family life  with a child-centered parenting approach advocated by endless Ameri­can mass-market parenting guides in the 1990s. Criticism of American  materialism and permissiveness; advocacy of limiting the mother's time at work; polemics against spanking; emphasis on good nutrition, proper  sleep time, and bedtime routine; concerns about the adverse impact of  television viewing; claims to provide a "system" for raising moral children; and advocacy of "quality-time" for empathy and close communica­tion between parents and children, all characterized American experts'  suggestions to worried middle-class parents at the end of the twentieth  century. Even Kelemen's claim that his approach derives from the Bible follows the pattern of American religious parenting guides. Indeed, the  book's unstated assumptions - that parenting is a full-time endeavor,  and that parents should actively monitor their children's moment­  by-moment lives - typify experts' advice and popular assumptions in  America during the so-called "century of the child."

Not only does Kelemen's approach match that of contemporary  parenting experts, but it differs from traditional Jewish sources on the  topic. While a complete history of Jewish approaches to children and  family has yet to be written, it is enough in this context to note that  traditional Jewish literature speaks of childhood and parenting in spotty  and unsystematic ways, scattered in works focused on other topics. This  reflects a historical past in which families were considerably less child centered than they are today, and parents learned how to parent more by imitation, instinct, face-to-face conversation, and osmosis than from  the written word of experts. Pre-modern Jews did not write parenting  manuals since they assumed that knowing how to parent was an intui­tive or natural thing.

Take the example of Kelemen's approach to corporal punishment and  spanking. This is a particularly important example because traditional  sources do say quite a bit on the topic, and what they do say clashes rather  dramatically with the approach of contemporary Haredi parenting literature. Kelemen polemicizes against corporal punishment of children, and  even harsh verbal reprimands. Instead - reflecting both contemporary  notions of individual autonomy and the voluntary nature of modern  religious commitments, which make it difficult to coerce people into reli­gious conformity - he insists that parents should calmly explain to their  children what is proper and improper. Parents should then serve as living  role models of the proper, hoping thereby to help children come to their  own appreciation of and identification with the parents' values.[...]


  1. The parallels between "kosher" thought and general society is not a new one. I wonder if there is more self awareness now then there was in the past.
    Joel Rich

    1. exactly what i thought when i read this post. ברוך שכיוונתי

  2. "Kelemen polemicizes against corporal punishment of children, and even harsh verbal reprimands. Instead - reflecting both contemporary notions of individual autonomy and the voluntary nature of modern religious commitments, which make it difficult to coerce people into reli­gious conformity - he insists that parents should calmly explain to their children what is proper and improper. Parents should then serve as living role models of the proper, hoping thereby to help children come to their own appreciation of and identification with the parents' values."

    I agree. This is such a radical departure from Shlomo HaMelech's advice of, "Chanoch l'naar al pi dacho."

    When I said I agree, I was being sarcastic. Seriously, how familiar with "ancient sources" is this author? The Sefer, "Chovos HaTalmidim" also endorses this concept of teaching our children to want to be frum on their own by setting an example and being role models. I guess this sefer is also too modern.

    1. It is nice that you found a source - but clearly the view of the majority of sources is not in agreement with modern psychology - as Rav Dessler emphatically states.

    2. What does this mean, modern parenting is treif?

    3. I think the Chovos Hatalmidim is being misquoted. He doesn't set out to minimize ANY teachings that Chazal said, as he clearly states in the end of his introduction that:

      ואת שאר פרטי החנוך יחפשו המלמדים והאבות בתורתנו הקדושה וימצאו את כל הנחוץ להם, כי לא חדשות באנו לחדש ח"ו, תורתנו נצחית היא ועד לנצח מורה היא לנו את הדרך אשר נעלה בה אל ה'.....

      I think his goal is to STRESS certain aspects of Torah True Philosophy that are often neglected.

      He stresses the importance of an EMOTIVE Judaism.

      His Seforim happen to have been my starting point for the limited research I've been able to do on Torah Psychology.

    4. No it is just be misrepresented by saying that it is the approach that was taught at Sinai.

      It may or may not be the approach that works best - but my issue is why he is labeling these things as ancient wisdom from Sinai?

    5. I don't mean this in a disparaging way, but Keleman is in the kiruv business. He has to flavor everything he says as being special knowledge that Judaism taught him, and if you want to be smart you also should learn "ancient wisdom from Sinai." People that aren't religious think that the best thing the Torah has to offer is a myth about the splitting of the sea that obviously isn't true. Keleman and other kiruv Rabbis are giving people their first idea that something useful was given at Sinai.

      But you're right, why stretch the truth so far?

  3. What difference does it make if "self-help books contain ancient Torah wisdom - or pop psychology?". The one and only reason these books get published to begin with is to make money. If no money was to be made these books would never ever be printed.

  4. Kelemen is one of those BT Rabbis, with great secular qualifications. He was a ski-ing instructor, which in Aish type discourse, makes him an authority on everything.

    1. Sorry Eddie - your reductionist dismisalla totally misses the issue. He happens to be a very popular Torah lecturer and therapist. This book in particular was a major best seller because he claimed to be showing that modern research shows that the Torah way is the best.

      The problem is that what he claims is the Torah or Mesorah approach simply isn't.

    2. He went to Harvard. In my experience of Harvard types, it means he is very bright and probably knows how to work hard.
      Since Kelemen was a ski instructor (thanks, Eddie), I assume he is also well co-ordinated and good at special relationships.

    3. I guess you are right on this one - was an ad hominem rather than a critique of the book in question.

  5. I thought this was going to be a continuation of your post on 12 Steps, as there is a lot of literature -- much of it from R/Dr A Twersky claiming traditional sources for 12 Step ideas.

    R' Wolbe in Zeri'ah uNeti'ah (I forgot the title of the English translation of his parenting book) discusses why spanking no longer works, and uses traditional sources to justify a change in methodology. To R' Wolbe, it's not that western notions of autonomy and self-confidence are a given as part of the ideal, but that they are an unavoidable part of today's reality. If you try to raise a child based on ideas that won't fit the rest of the world he lives in, it will fail. So, you can't use the stick anymore -- it will more likely produce rebelliong than compliance. And you already pointed us to RSW's article on the contrast in worldview between Torah (as seen from a Tenu'as haMussar angle) and psychology. So we have some reason to believe RSW would take effort to avoid accidentally adopting the psychotherapist's worldview. (Even if his knowledge of that worldview may have been a bit stale even for 1982.)

    RLKeleman is a talmid of RSW's, so to RLK, it is part of his received mesorah.

    To my mind, there is a bigger problem with those self-help books parading as Torah other than methodology, or even whether any pop-psychology conflicts with traditional Torah-based perspectives about the human condition on the existential, rather than culture-dependent, level. The goal is all wrong. Self help is learning the tools to become the person you wish you were. Mussar is learning who is the person HQBH made you to be, and applying tools -- even if the same tools -- to become that person.

    Thus these self-help books join many kiruv programs in reducing Torah to "al menas leqabel peras". Torah is made into tool for becoming happy and successful, reduced to a handmaiden in a religion of self-worship.

    1. Good point about self-worship - which is the what I think Rav Wolbe said about frumkeit.

      simple question - how do you reconcile the apparent contradiction between the mussar approach of Rav Dessler - where subjugation is critical to personality development and Rav Wolbe who rejects corporal punishment because even a child less than 13 is likely to rebel?

    2. Excellent point about the difference between self-help and mussar.

      I do have defer on the statement that "these self-help books join many kiruv programs in reducing Torah to "al menas leqabel peras". Torah is made into tool for becoming happy and successful, reduced to a handmaiden in a religion of self-worship", though.

      Don't Chazal tell us מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה?

      I think that the bigger issue is really that we grow up without even being aware of the לשמה altogether or of having any inking about how to obtain it.

    3. DT: Some of it is environmental differences -- mid-20th cent and late 20th cent are in some ways very different. Some of is it simply two people with different opinions about how to best deal with the 20th cent style.

      Ploni: As you started sayingm "Mitokh shelo lishmah bah lishmah" is only if you are trying to get to lishmah. (The Gra says this explicitly in Even Sheleimah.) There is no magic fix if you aren't actually trying to get holier.

      This isn't quite the same thing as R' Wolbe's description of "frumkeit". Frumkeit is an instinct to be holier. So I get caught up in the Chumrah of the Month Club not because I am serving Hashem, but because I need to be holier. It's all about me, but not the way self-help is all about me being who I want to be. The frum person treats his Shabbos guest like his tefillin or esrog -- a cheftzah shel mitzvah (an object for the mitzvah) and not as a fellow child of HQBH. The baal tzedaqah who is unhappy when someone else supports a cause he believes in, because he cares more about having a chance to give tzedaqah than in seeing Hashem's Plan fulfilled. There is no ideal, plan or vision to his observance, just a hunger to try something to make himself feel a little holier; and because of that lack of vision, it won't actually bring satisfaction or holiness.

    4. Micha, this description of frumkeit is precisely the problem I see in halachic Judaism. It is a kind of regimen that creates clones of Asperger like people, where everything is objectified without any deeper meaning.

    5. You do realize that R' Wolbe's whole point is that frumkeit stands in contrast to what G-d intended when He set up Halachic Judaism, right?

      So, if you don't like what passes for halachic Judaism among most O Jews today (and if you read my essay in our host's 1st book on abuse, you'd realize I agree), then you have no complaint the thing RSW is describing. Join a group of Benei Aliyah (to use the term Mussarists used for themselves and Chassidus). Dr Alan Brill recently posted on his blog a survey of several such new groups (I would take a look at and R' Itamar Schwartz's material), and of course there is the Mussar RSW himself espoused.

    6. Yes, that is what I meant. i.e. one can get lost in the whole concept of fulfilling rules, measurements etc. And this goes back to the earlier post about being Normal. There is an old joke about someone who speaks to a shrink because he is Normal, and it is very difficult to adjust to it.

  6. The question is whether R Keleman is altering
    jewish tradition or is applying it to new circumstances. Rav Volbe opposed corporal punishment presumably not because of modern thought but because of modern conditions.

    -ben dov

    1. Of course Rav Wolbe's opposition to corporal punishment was because of modern thought. I believe he was familiar with the basics of modern phsychotherapy (he was well read and occasionally cites his non-Jewish sources - but don't ask me to find the quote just now).
      To be blunt, without Dr Spock I doubt Rav Wolbe would have had his opinion (though I don't know for sure that he read Spock). And just as Dr. Spock's methodology was and is held by many to be ineffective, so too there are many in the Torah world who reject Rav Wolbe's approach for the same reason.
      And what do you mean by "Jewish tradition is applying it to new circumstances"? Which parts of the Gemara can we ignore or reject if they don't fit modern circumstances? I'm not disagreeing with you, but at what point does it become a 'new' approach? How much of the original do I have to replace before I have a new bicycle?
      Chanoch le-na'ar gives me the option to do whatever is best for the child. Yet the Gemara gives specific ways in which to do that (e.g. hitting the child - even if he is studying). In most areas of Judaism we follow the Gemara, not Tanach. Can you explain why rejecting the Gemara is still considered traditional?
      Regardless of my (or your) view on corporal punishment, the view that invalidates hitting children can only be considered traditional by side-stepping the Gemara (saying that Chazal were not speaking about modern conditions). That is theologically dangerous, even if educationally sound (perhaps).

    2. Rabbi Sedley very cogent summary of the problem. Regarding Rav Wolbe and modern Psychology - see his optimistic view of the joining of psychology and Torah wisdom here

      It seems clear from this that Rav Wolbe did not think that there was a unique Torah psychology/therapy.

    3. The question is whether R' Wolbe's parenting approach was following Dr Spock, or rather in a world where Dr Benjamin Spock et al changed the norm, and a world in which Dr Spock's advice made sense, produced a generation where "al pi darko" doesn't include "coseikh shivto, sonei biteno -- he who spares the rod hates his child" (Mishlei 13:24). At least not in any literal sense of "shivto". The notion that it means leadership is given some decent support by RSW and others. E.g. the second half of the pasuq, "ve'ohavo sicharo musar -- the one who loves him rents him (?) correction", sets up a contrast with rebuke, not punishment. But in any case, we're looking at traditional interpretation, not original intent.

      But it doesn't mean we believe Dr Spock had keener insight into producing holy children than Shelomo haMelekh or than the gemara did. It's not like we're claiming that had we started "sparing the rod" 2000 years ago, they would have had more success producing even holier descendants than they had.

      Is it that theologically different than Ashkenazim choosing Aba Shaul's advice over the main thread of tradition and requiring chalitza rather than preferring or even allowing yibum? There too both are halachically available options, and we said that due to cultural changes, we are picking one that the vast majority of Chazal wouldn't have, because today that's the path to less sin. Actually here it's easier, as the matter isn't halachic -- there is no legal preference to hit your kid, it's advice.

      The question is whether
      1- the overlap in topic between psychology and religion means that emunas chakhamim applies to their parenting advice (of course, for certain values of belief in daas Torah, that question doesn't even start)

      2- even if it does apply to their parenting advice, does saying "but the situation changed" present a theological problem, a lese majeste, the way contextualing a law (making an umdenah) risks when it limits current application of old findings

      3- when are umdenos part of the halachic process, and when are they the slippery slope to Conservative Jewish Law?

      I think the theological problem is limited to #3, and that's not our case.

    4. A serious issue in understanding Rav Wolbe is the rationale he gives for not using corporal punishment. He says that the gemora tells us not to hit an older children because of lifnei ivair - he might hit back. He says that concern now applies in modern times also with younger children.

      Rav Dessler would clearly hold that by not hitting children we fail to teach them proper respect and subjugation - and that is why they hit back. Furthermore it is not really clear that the average child will hit back.

      However the basic point is that Rav Wolbe does not deny the educational value of hitting - he just adds that it can lead to causing the child to rebel. Whether that is true should be amenable to empirical verification.

      However, why should we water down our traditional education because of the sofek that it might cause rebelling when it is clear that not using hitting produces a certainty that the child will not be trained with traditional respect?

    5. Rabbi Sedley, you ask the not simple question when suspending a Jewish teaching is "creating a new bicycle." I can't answer on one foot or two, but there are numerous examples of suspending Jewish teachings because of changing times. Yibum is better than chalitza, but not today. The Gemara in Arachin says we have lost the ability to rebuke, a mitzva deoraisa! Chazon Ish says leaving heretics in the ditch does not apply today. These examples I attribute to change of metzius rather than disagreement with traditional wisdom.

      Regarding Rav Volbe, I do not seek to cover up his exposure to secular thought or the possibility that he was influenced. But I don't think the case is as clear cut as you make it to be. Even assuming he got parenting ideas from psychology (no slam dunk), he could have objectively as possible decided Torah wisdom demands the same in our time. No proof of a new bicycle.

      ben dov

    6. DT: Only if we understand R' Wolbe as giving a rationale, rather than giving a halachic justification for something he advocates for other reasons. IOW, it is clear that he "does not deny the educational value of hitting", or that his central argument isn't about effectiveness but about religious correctness? What I said in prior comments would be true whether he really doesn't deny it, or (as I focused on) if he doesn't deny it in principle, but does deny that it will teach today's typical child much. And perhaps he would add a "ba'avonoseinu harabbim".

      If we take the given line of reasoning as his primary ratinale for advocating change, then his basis is halachic -- lifnei iveir "trumps" aggadic preferences.

      REED in general believes in educational policy that sacrifices the bottom of the bell curve. Often quoted is MmE III pg 353, where he notes that in Lithuania they followed a different educational program than in Frankfurt. While Frankfurt produced meticulously observant balebatim, in Lithuania it was felt that the gemara's observation that 1,000 go in to learning for one great to emerge was advise. And thus the Lithuanian system produced the great posqim, even though it turned off a percentage of them. I am wondering if his disregard for the minority who would take corporeal punishment as an attack is of the same piece.

      But I also think that someone who wrote in inter-war period and someone who published in 1995 weren't talking about the same kind of population. It could well be that an ignorable minority in the grandparents' generation was too large for the same person to ignore in the grandchildrens'.

    7. Micha:

      Another point to add to the discussion - What if we assume that times HAVE indeed changed, and that x% children of children react negatively to CP, but on the other hand we also agree that x% will never change bad habits once they are ingrained, which is the Rabeinu Yonah's rationale FOR CP - would the latter argument cancel out the former?

      Concerning your question "the overlap in topic between psychology and religion means that emunas chakhamim applies to their parenting advice"?

      An additional perspective: The מנחת יצחק ח"ג סוס"י ק"ה learns that the fathers right of CP flows from the din of the Terumas Hadeshen quoted in the Rema בחו"מ ס' תכ"א סי"ג that מי שהוא תחת רשותו ורואה בו שהוא עושה דבר עבירה רשאי להכותו ולייסרו כדי להפרישו מאיסור ואין צריך להביאו לבית דין - the father basically has the din of bais din and is obligated לאפרושי מאיסורא - however he sees fit.

      If so, it could be argued that no emunas chachomim exists - the father is the sole final decision maker.

  7. Like so many other things, I think that the debate over corporal punishment of children, and even harsh verbal reprimands is being politicized.
    The precepts of critical thinking obligate us to examine BOTH sides of the issue.

    Based on how Lazer quotes Kelemen, which I believe is an approach also shared by many other contemporary "heimishe" parenting experts, here are our options:

    Option #1: "calmly explain to their children what is proper and improper", and to "serve as living role models of the proper, hoping thereby to help children come to their own appreciation of and identification with the parents' values".

    Option #2: Use "corporal punishment of children", and "harsh verbal reprimands"

    Why in the world would ANYONE opt for option #2, when he could just as well choose option #1??

    Furthermore, why would Chazal opt for #2. Even if we assume that times have changed and that what once worked no longer works, the burning question remains: WHERE THEY BARBARIANS INTENT ON INFLICTED PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL PAIN? Where was THEIR mercy? Even if option #2 WORKED, whey didn't they rather use the kindler, gentler option #1???

    The answer is clearly stated in the Rishonim. According to them, option #1 DOESN'T WORK.

    Here's what the Rabeinu Yona says on the Pasuk in Mishlei 22-6: חנוך לנער על פי דרכו:
    ועל כן נתחייבנו בתוכחת הנער, כי אין כח כלי שכלו שלם והטבע נמצא בו ואין לו תוכחת מנפשו, ואם ירגיל טבעו בפועל ובהנהגה, כאשר יגיע לזמן שלמות שכלו ילאה להשיב ההרגל אחור ולתקן טבעו, על כן נתחייבו האב והאם לעזרו בשכלם ולתקן טבעו בימי הנערות קודם שישלוט עליו ההרגל. והשנית כי בזמן הגידלו והוא בזמן הנערות יוכל לתקן טבעו יותר.

    A synopsis: Youngster's intellect isn't well developed, and his natural tendencies pull him in the wrong direction. If we allow his tendencies to become habit-forming he will find it extremely difficult to change, even when his intellect does finally become developed.

    What solution do contemporary "heimishe" parenting experts offer to the Rabeinu Yonah's dilemma? I'm not aware of any. They simply believe that "that's all that we can do".

    Chazal definitely didn't propose using ONLY punishment. I believe that the EMOTIVE Judaism of the CH and the Chovos Hatalmidim was a BIG part of the mix.

    BTW, I think that this is another case of what DT noted as "Torah principles of what constitutes proper education or the ideal marriage clearly are inconsistent - not only with modern secular values but also that of the vast majority of Orthodox Jews".

  8. And whether or not modern conditions have indeed changed so much is, I believe, still an open question.

    The inexcusable part is that many therapists FORCE the change, by indoctrinating otherwise naive Chassidic and Yeshivishe children that would otherwise not have been so "enlightened" by telling them that corporal punishment, and harsh verbal reprimands IS abuse, and that they should ignore any such efforts at discipline.

    The end result is that tendencies become habit-forming and are then extremely difficult to change.

  9. Whether that is true should be amenable to empirical verification
    Which is of course what sociologists in theory have been doing since Durkheim (a rabbis son of course)
    Joel Rich

  10. 1) R Wolbe has a letter about Psychologists in Igros U'michtavim volume 2. He doesn't like them very much.

    2) Has anyone contacted/confronted R Keleman about this? Dr Finkelman's book came out a few years ago and seforim blog posted this months ago.

  11. R Keleman is far from the only one - I think it's pretty "mainstream" even in the "Heimishe" communities.

    You can see that Dr. Sorotzkin ( a well known therapist in Brooklyn) is VERY STRIDENT about these things. I wonder what HE would say to Dr. Finkelman's book.

    Dr Sorotzkin is @

  12. Following along on the theme of Torah Based (TB) Psychology, I think that this discussion about what constitutes TB parenting can have some very serious repercussions.
    Picture this scenario: A husband and wife have a difference of opinion concerning what constitutes TB parenting. The husband uses "reasonable" corporal punishment and the wife believes in the R' Keleman type.
    Things get acrimonious and the wife takes the children and moves out (I imagine that there were also some other things going on). She finds a Rov that agrees with her that the father is abusive. The husband's Rov backs the father. (See run by the Aberbacks from Toronto for a list of dozens of such Rabbonim).
    Let's see - What might the Halacha be:
    A) The mother is a מורדת since she left and took the children, with no Halachic justification.
    B) The wife is justified, since according to R' Keleman and others the "contemporary" Torah way is the kinder, gentler approach.
    C) This is a מחלוקות L'Halacha, and possibly 1-the father has the last word on chinuch, as B"M 59. seems to say, or 2-that Gemara is (also) no longer relevant and today both parents share parenting duties equally, and if so??
    I believe this - or similar - scenarios, are becoming more and more frequent.....

  13. A psychology or therapy based primarily or exclusive on Torah sources might be desirable - but it doesn't exist at present and it clearly is not part of our Tradition from Sinai.
    Or perhaps there are multiple "Torah" approaches - instead of assuming chazal spoke in one voice, perhaps there are multiple voices on the issue.
    Joel Rich

    1. Ben Franklin wrote a journaling plan for working on 13 virtues. Check it out here and compare it to the plan in Sefer Cheshbon haNefesh, here. And Cheshbon haNefesh was written by R Mendel Satanover (Leffin), a maskil of Mendelsohnn's. None of that history prevented R' Yisrael Salanter from falling in love with the book and raising the funds to have it republished. On can even trace the evolution from the list of 13 Virtues Franklin starts with to R' Lefin's 13 suggested middos to the 13 Middos the Torah Temimah says mussarists attributed to RYS. I did so, here.

      There is a short essay in Michtav meiEliyahu that appears to be an adaptation of the Readers Digest condensation of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People", turned into a toolset for "ma'avir al midosav" (not standing on your rights as an end in itself to others' detriment) complete with a one-clause explanation as to why such borrowing is appropriate. According to R' Dessler, borrowing their tools for our ends is fine if we're aware of the difference in goals.

      Perhaps the same could be said here.

  14. DT writes: Conclusion - It is apparent from the comments to this post is that there is no such thing as Torah Psychology or Torah Therapy that was given at Sinai...

    DT: Please excuse my insolence, but for the life of me I can't seem to figure out either exactly WHAT your conclusion is or which blog comments made your conclusion so "apparent".

    Are you trying to differentiate between Torah "given at Sinai" vs. "our Tradition" – alluding that the Hashkafic texts of the Rishonim are not "given at Sinai"? I think that would be a rash statement to make – even in MO circles. They just fell into misuse, perhaps analogous to the Mitzvoh of Tefillin in the times of the Sma"g.

    Are you trying to differentiate between "insights…which can be used" vs. "a program of therapy"? I tried to figure out which comments address that, and only found Yoel on Aug 15 at 7:20? Is that all? If so, how about looking at SUCCESS RATES rather than splitting hairs?

    Back to the comments: Comfortably Numb – a self proclaimed psychology undergraduate – at August 14, 2013 at 2:12 AM admits that "nobody is claiming … even 50% cure rate in psychology", and as Observer at August 15, 2013 at 2:09 AM points out " how do you know that Torah can't work at least as often"? So whether we're dealing with "insights" or "programs of therapy" – our INSIGHTS could very well be working as well, or better, than secular PROGRAMS OF THERAPY.

    Another "elephant in the room" is the well researched issue of OVERDIAGNOSIS. The fellow IN CHARGE of writing the DSM IV – Allen Frances – wrote a best seller "Saving Normal" decrying this problem. The guy who WOTE THE BOOK FOR DIAGNOSIS is basically saying that's his book is being GROSSLY misused, and that many perfectly normal people are being misdiagnosed as mentally ill. I would think that this not insignificant number of clients SURELY have a good chance of responding to Torah "insights".

    Please don't let your conditioning get in the way of your intellect. Don't draw brash conclusions based on non-existent comments.

    1. Mr Plony,

      I did not claim to a a Psy undergrad, but I have taken some Psy courses at under, and post-Grad levels.

      Still waiting for evidence of a TBP - is there and TBP DMS for example? Or is that just yetzer tov vs yetzer hara?

  15. What's the big deal if "A psychology or therapy based primarily or exclusive on Torah sources might be desirable - but it doesn't exist at present"?

    Why can't we just adapt the good parts of the religious therapies that non-Jewish theologians use?

    1. Excellent question from Confused. This is based on the overall struggle against secular knowledge. There is a certain ideology that secular studies are treif, and that Rabbonim should be consulted for everything. The famous comments of Maimonides "accept the truth from wherever it comes" thus contradicts the anti-secularists view. As a matter of fact, Maimonides adapted a lot of Aristotelian ideas, including the Golden mean, into Jewish thought. Kuzari, however, claimed there was Jewish science going back all the way to Biblical era. So the same debate perhaps is valid today.

    2. I don't think Comfortably Numb understood my question. I'm asking that we use RELIGIOUS therapies - not secular ones!

    3. "Confused" would be less confused if he realised that "Comfortably Numb" is Eddie.


  16. The book actually explains that modern American psychology is becoming more like the traditional approaches we find mi Sinai. That is Rabbi Kelemen's point in To Kindle a Soul! To say there isn't a comprehensive educational system within Torah because it isn't codified is a misnomer - that itself is the style of the Gemora, and can't be used as an argument to say that therefore Chazal had no framework for education, and that it was something assumed to be endemic. There are many gemoras that have clear educational goals, with deep explanations that are not at first glance clear. Listen to Rabbi Kelemen's shiurim on education - he nukes the claim that chazal "assumed that knowing how to parent was an intui­tive or natural thing." The gemara doesn't tell me what I would naturally know - and so why does it say, I believe in Tainas, that the teacher who is blessed is the one who would bring his students to the fish pond until they could receive from him. Excuse me - where do you find such a model in modern education? It isn't the Resource Room. Such behavior was out of the box then, and it's out of the box now.

  17. It does not appear that R. Kelemen has any professional credentials or accredidation as a "therapist." Check out his time at Harvard. It was in a seminar/independent study framework, with no degree involved.One needs to decide if people providing "therapy based on (their understanding of) Torah," with no "professional" training or affiliations is good for the Jews of bad for the Jews. And there doesn't seem to be a consensus among Rav Volbe's closest talmidim about R. Kelemen's understanding of the mesorah.

  18. For those who are interested, Rav Shalom Arush has an interested book out (in English and Hebrew) on childrearing, which is worth reading.

  19. 'It does not appear that R. Kelemen has any professional credentials or accredidation as a "therapist." Check out his time at Harvard. It was in a seminar/independent study framework, with no degree involved.'

    I wonder if you could provide a source for this? I am a little confused about what his secular educational background actually is. I have read of an undergrad degree in literature and more than a decade's worth of 'research in the Middle East'. It is said (or suggested) that his post-grad studies were through Harvard. I can't find any information as to what this research was about. I assume that studying Torah at an Israeli yeshiva does not count as 'research in the Middle East'.

    In his argument about how we can know the torah is true, he mentions academic research he did concerning the revelation traditions of different cults and religions. His argument is essentially the same as the famous Kuzari argument, buffed up with additional info (or misinfo - ?). Did he co-incidentally fall into this line of reasoning and thus arrive at orthodox Judaism??

    I have also seen him referred to as a 'Professor of Education' and as teaching Medieval and Modern philosophy at Neve Yerushalayim. I was at Neve in 1997 (took his mechina 'course' more than once and some of his other classes) and remember nothing that was at all commensurate with philosophy as taught as an academic subject. He does teach what they call Hashkafah - philosophy as a general outlook. I also see references to him as a therapist, but can find no actual qualifications.

    I do know that he is a very popular and influential speaker, but i am confused about all this and hope someone can please clarify!

    1. If he has no degree from Harvard, then it means he sat in, in a few classes or was a ski instructor there.

      He may be a "professor" in a Sem, but that means he was appointed as a lecturer there, and that's it. A Professor has different meaning in the USA than it does in UK and Europe.
      In America, a regular professor is a lecturer. A full professor is head of a department or has a Chair. In UK, only a full Professor has that title. So it can be misleading.

      As for the so-called Kuzari argument, and various other proofs, these are problematic. What if a real Philosopher (as opposed to someone who read a few haskofo books) shows these arguments to false? Then what, do we lose our emunah?

      The Torah codes, for example, were touted as proofs, until they were pointed out to be flawed, eg statistically, and that similar codes can be found in secular or treif books eg koran, NT).

      Our emunah is that we were brought out of Mitzrayim by Divine Miracle, and that the Torah was given on Sinai. Unfortunately, there have not been Neviim or open miracles for us for a few thousand years, so we have to look for philosophical type proofs - it is like a tonic to keep us going, until Nevuah is restored. I once suggested that the restoration of the Jewish people in Israel is a miracle, and a Rav said that even this , chas v'shalom, could be reversible.

      The problem with teaching philosophy is also prominent in Yeshivas. For example, R Cardozo was teaching real philosophy in a Yeshiva, and was kicked out for this reason. Reminds me of the woody allen joke, where he was employed as a token Jew in a goyisher law firm, and was kicked out because he took off too many Jewish holidays.

    2. Wikipedia asserts that he has an undergraduate degree

      "Kelemen was awarded his undergraduate degree at U.C.L.A. and did graduate studies at Harvard. He began his professional career as a downhill skiing instructor, served as the news director and anchorman for a California radio station, and then traveled to the Middle East to conduct 12 years of post graduate field research. For the past 5 years his weekend seminars have electrified parents, teachers, and university students across North and South America, Europe and the Middle East."

    3. Belief based on codes has its flaws, but no -- they were NOT found in other books nor was the model invalidated. In fact, the problem is the model is insufficiently well defined to be invalidated. Or validated.

      The disproofs based on other books are (in every case I saw) finding interesting word pairs in those books. Not pre-selecting a list of such pairs and then seeing how many are found. It's the same difference as between flipping a coin 50 times and getting 48 heads (statiscally weird) and flipping a coin 100 times and pointing to the 48 times you got heads (unsurprising) -- and then saying the two are the same.

      As I said, it's not clearly defined math being paraded in front of people who can't keep up with the discussion either way, and "blinding them with science".

    4. The original journal that published the statistical research, published a 'solution' a few years later when some statisticians decided to replicate the experiment and realised that the original methodology had been flawed. The names of the 'Great Rabbis' chosen had been selected based on what would give statistically significant results. All these Rabbis went by a variety of monikers, acronyms etc, so there was plenty of wiggle room.

    5. Daas Torah, I did see The Wikipedia article but it leaves most of my questions unanswered.

      Eddie, thanks for clearing up the 'professor' confusion. I was unaware of the American use.

      The Kuzari argument does not have all that much weight and is not original to him which is why I am puzzled by the way he is characterized as an academic in the first place.

      Rabbi Gottlieb's arguments do not stand up to scrutiny either but there is no confusion or obfuscation about his credentials.

      I agree that there is no rational basis for faith.

    6. Gollum, yes... Someone did show that there were errors in the list of names and yahrzeits. But you must have missed the part where Witztum and Rips redid the the experiment with the corrected list and the results were further from the statistical model. The problem is more in the impossibility of validating or invalidating the statistical model, particularly since the letter sequence of the Torah isn't a random variable to begin with.

      I think that while I might be agreeing with your intent in "there is no rational basis for faith", I disagree with the actual statement. There is no philosophical argument upon which one can base their religious beliefs. That idea is as old as the Kuzari (1:!3, 63), older than the Rambam's attempt to do just that in the majority of the 2nd section of the Moreh Nevuchim. However, there are other rational bases than philosophical proof.

    7. This line of conversation is off-topic with the original post so I am not going to pursue it much further.

      You are right: I did not follow on to Witzum and Rips response. As far as I understood it was not shown that there were 'errors' in the original list, but rather that the list had been very deliberately formulated in order to show what seemed (to someone unaware of the deliberate manipulation) to be statistically remarkable results. I am not sure then what you mean by a 'corrected list'. With the same amount of wiggle room Witzum and Rips had given themselves, similar results could be found using other, more mundane texts.

      Witzum and Rips were not open about the way that they formulated the list, and to those who do not know the various conventions of names and monikers in Judaism, nor Hebrew, the results seemed impressive.

      'the Torah isn't a random variable to begin with.'

      I'm not trained in statistics, so I'm not sure what this means, but there were questions, in any case about whether the Torah had remained letter for letter unchanged for so long. Apparently there are discussions in the talmud itself in which Rabbis claim that there have been variances. If you like I can find not the essays detailing all this.

      Again, apologies to Daat Torah for taking the discussion so off track. I was searching for information about R. Kelemen's academic background when I arrived at this article wondering whether anyone would have more info! TKS

    8. Not to leave things in the air, here are the sources for anyone interested:

      'There is a common belief in the general community to the effect that many mathematicians, statisticians, and other scientists consider the claims to be credible. This belief is incorrect. On the contrary, the almost unanimous opinion of those in the scientific world who have studied the question is that the theory is without foundation.
      The signatories to this letter have themselves examined the evidence and found it entirely unconvincing.'

      And, further info, at:

    9. Actually, a statistician who came into the fray believing, Prof Aumann (the frum Nobel Laureate game theoretician) does not share that opinion. As I said, he concludes that it's not a verifiable piece of statistics, and therefore "convincing" ends up translating to "fits with what I already believed". Dr Aumann's words: "During the years of the committee’s work, I became convinced that the data is too complex and ambiguous, and its analysis involves too many judgment calls, to allow reaching meaningful scientific conclusions." So all the Cal Tech petition shows is that you can find statisticians who do not believe in Torah miSinai to sign a paper.

      Much the way you can predict the results of a biblical archeology dig based on the religious stance of the researcher when he is placed in charge of it. The history of digs at Yericho alone proves that point.

      In any case, we're overly belaboring the details of an example neither of us think is significant. So I'll move on to another point you made...

      "[T]here were questions, in any case about whether the Torah had remained letter for letter unchanged for so long." That wouldn't really be relevant either, unless we were Tzeduqim, Xians or Qaraim. It would be more amazing if we validated the results of the halachic process atop the original text than the original text alone. Picture if Bible Codes proved that Hashem intended us in the days of computation to have a version of the Torah decided by majority vote of found copies!

    10. As to your first point, the petition very clearly states:

      'Among the signatories below are some who believe that the Torah was divinely written. We see no conflict between that belief and the opinion we have expressed above.'

      It says this right above the actual signatures.

      Furthermore, the piece that you quote from Dr Aumann:

      'the data is too complex and ambiguous, and its analysis involves too many judgment calls, to allow reaching meaningful scientific conclusions.'

      is, in all relevant ways, the same conclusion as the others reached.

      The force of the codes inhered in them carrying scientifically meaningful conclusions; and it is certainly conveyed that they have such meaning when they are used for kiruv purposes. If they are merely a gematria-like phenomenon, let them be taught that way to those who find significance in such things rather than to manipulate skeptical people into believing in divine authorship.

      I find it strange that you think that mathematics, statistics and archaeology can only confirm the hypothesis with which the professional starts out with. The academic sciences use various mechanisms to try prevent bias distortion and other such problems. This is the whole point of control groups, peer reviews and what-not.The orthodox world seems to often use scientific research when it serves their purpose and to become radical skeptics of it when it does not.

      Let me see if I understand your last point. You agree (its not controversial) that the current Koren text is not identical with what tradition claims to having been given by God at Sinai. But, given that halakha is said to be the voice of the living god, that codes found in the text that is considered halakhic now, are still relevant. (Is the Koren text the only one considered Halakhic?)

      Its an interesting idea I would have to think about but it is worth noticing that if the codes were statistically relevant, the non-historicity of the text would still make the argument less clear-cut. And, its significance still ultimately rests on the statistics being scientifically significant in the first place..

    11. Re-reading your comment I see I didn't quite grasp your point. You mean that were the codes found to be scientifically meaningful in the very same text that Rabbinic decision has made halakhic, that it would not only give reason to believe in the divine authorship of the written torah but also in the divine operations involved in the making of halakhic decisions.

      The argument, though interesting does sound a little suspect to me. It would have to, at the very least, be formulated more carefully! If there were more reason to believe in the statistical significance of the codes then further work in this direction would indeed be warranted.

  20. Oh, and I also see this description of him:

    'Harvard graduate, Rabbi Kelemen is a world expert on comparative religion...'

    on the following site:

    Education, psychology, philosophy and comparative religion are significantly different disciplines in academia though they do have some overlap.

  21. One further resource, written by a Professor of Bible at Bar Ilan University:

    Of relevance here is the section on the 'the opinion of the Torah greats throughout the generations on the historical accuracy of the Torah text',

    And also, of 'Means of persuasion aimed at the Charedi-religious community'.

    1. Gollum, thanks for that link, I was about to post it myself, but then saw you already did.

      Note also the comments of the very brave Chatam Sofer.

      Regarding the alleged qualifications of RLK, this is not credible evidence, and it contradicts what the other claims make.

      It is very easy to play Chinese whispers. The person who wrote on that very unprofessional website, probably misunderstood what was claimed about him elsewhere, assuming he is a Harvard graduate.

      This raises a further question - is it "apikorsus" to disprove an argument brought by a Rabbi, whether a kiruv one or otherwise? I think not. I think it is important to strive for Emet regardless of who you upset - in the yeshiva world.

      Now, I wish to make a claim which may upset people, but I do it l'shem Shamayaim. Religiosity is not always concurrent with truth or even the pursuit of truth. Religiosity can be based on personal experience, emotion, guilt, ego etc etc.

      An example is the Messianism of Habad. This was an exemplary Orthodox group, until this mystical messianism broke out. I had a discussion with R' Becher at the time, since a few years earlier I refused to accept his, and R' Shach's criticism of Habad (before the Messianic campaign came out in the open). So being close to a group, an having emotional ties can also blind us to logical thought. What R' Becher said was that all false messianic movements followed a similar pattern, the leader dies or converts, and the followers are in denial.

      Another issue is that some academics who become BTs and Rabbis, they lose their critical ability - so they use tricks, and dishonest methods, to prove and justify their beliefs, whereas in their former profession, they would not be able to get away with it.

      When I was an undergraduate student, I asked Rabbi Dr Sacks, who recently retired as Chief rabbi of England, whether, as a philosopher, he had any proofs of the veracity of the Torah. he said he didn't.

      there is also considerable problems in the Dogma of talmud and orthodoxy. For example, The Talmud (and Rambam) state that anyone who says that Moses wrote even one word or line of the Torah from his own mind, is an apikores (heretic). However, Abbaye, in Mesechet megillah, makes this very claim!

      R' Weinberg who was Rosh Yeshiva at Ner Yisroel, also wrote a book on faith, and pointed out that Maimonides claimed that the Torah hasn't changed, knowing full well that it has.

      So all these various "proofs" and dogmas, you have to take with a pinch of salt.

  22. 'When I was an undergraduate student, I asked Rabbi Dr Sacks, who recently retired as Chief rabbi of England, whether, as a philosopher, he had any proofs of the veracity of the Torah. he said he didn't.'

    The word 'proofs' is misleading. The real question is whether there are rational grounds for belief. No-one is asking for 'proof' and very few claim to have it.

    But aside from that I'm not sure I understand the gist of your point: is it that if someone like R.Sacks cannot provide reasonable grounds, then reasonable grounds cannot exist? Or that if he thinks there is no 'proof', then there can't be 'proof'?

    That sounds awfully close to the worship of idols!


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