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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Dec 8, 2004 / 25 Kislev, 5765

Soulless

By Rabbi Avi Shafran


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The Chanukkah story is merely a quaint tale about wars of antiquity, right? The battle for the soul of society continues


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It would seem a promising premise for story about Chelm, Jewish folklore's fabled town of the clueless. The resident philosopher sagely informs his fellow citizens that since he can't perceive his own face directly he must not have one. Besides, he explains to the townsfolk, as anyone can plainly see, what seems to be his face clearly resides in his mirror.


The Chelm tale idea is inspired not by hopeless simpletons but by celebrated scientists. Like Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom, the author of a new book, "Descartes' Baby," about, as its subtitle puts it, "what makes us human." In a New York Times op-ed, Professor Bloom lamented human beings' stubborn commitment to "dualism," the philosophical idea that people possess both physical and spiritual components. He pities those who, like his six-year-old son, insist on pretending that there is an "I" somehow separate from the physical cells of one's body and brain.


The boy's father, though, knows that his son's intuition is wrong. "The qualities of mental life that we associate with souls are purely corporeal," he asserts confidently. "They emerge from biochemical processes in the brain."


Joining the call to re-educate and enlighten the backward masses is Professor Bloom's admirer at Harvard, the gifted psychology professor Steven Pinker, who, in a newsmagazine essay of his own, mocks those who think of the brain as "a pocket PC for the soul, managing information at the behest of a ghostly user." Professor Pinker advises us to set aside such "childlike intuitions and traditional dogmas" and recognize that what we conceive of as the soul is nothing more than "the activity of the brain."


Or, as they might say back at the University of Chelm, since the soul seems perceptible only through the brain, the brain, perforce, must be the soul.


Sometimes, though, intuitions are right and interpretations of evidence (especially the lack of it) wrong. Scientists, after all, as the noted British psychologist H. J. Eyesenck famously observed, can be "just as ordinary, pig-headed and unreasonable as anybody else, and their unusually high intelligence only makes their prejudices all the more dangerous." Some, moreover, are prone to a perilous folly: the confidence — despite the long and what-should-be chastening history of science, littered with beliefs once coddled, then discarded — that they have, eureka, arrived at conclusive knowledge.

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Were the contemporary dualism debate merely academic, we might reasonably choose to ignore it. Unfortunately, though, the denial of humanity's specialness — the unmistakable ghost in the Bloom/Pinker philosophy-machine — is of all too formidable import.


The negation of the concept of a soul — the holy spark of the divine that was infused into the first man and that makes all his descendants special, requiring them to act in a special way — has had, and continues to have, deep repercussions in broader society.

The idea of the soul goes to the very heart of many a contemporary social issue. It directly influences society's attitudes regarding a universe of moral concerns, from animal rights to abortion; from the meaning of marriage to the treatment of the terminally ill.


In the absence of the concept of a human soul, there is simply nothing to justify considering humans inherently more worthy than animals, nothing to prevent us from casually terminating a yet-unborn life, nothing to prevent us from considering any "personal lifestyle" less proper than any other, nothing to prevent us from coldly ending the life of a patient in extremis. Indeed, employing our brains just a bit further, neither would we be justified to consider any insect our inferior, nor prevented from embracing unbridled immorality or wanton murder. Put succinctly, without affirmation of the soul, society is, in the word's deepest sense, soulless.

There is no escaping the fact; the game's zero-sum: Either humans are something qualitatively different from the rest of the biosphere, sublimated by their souls and the responsibilities that attend them; or they are not. And a society that chooses to believe the latter is a society where no person has any reason to aspire to anything beyond the gratification of the instincts or desires we share with the animal sphere. A world in denial of the soul might craft a utilitarian social contract. But right and wrong would have no meaning at all; for the individual, there would be only the cold calculus of biological survival and the pursuit of pleasure.

The notion is hardly novel, of course. Humanity has encountered "materialists" — those who see reality as limited entirely to the physical — on a number of occasions. Men bent on de-spiritualizing humanity's essence were the high priests of the Age of Reason and the glory days of Communism.


The very first "materialists," though, may well have been the ancient Greeks, who placed capricious gods where, today, some professors seek to ensconce nerves and synapses.


Hellas, focused as it was on reason and inquiry, produced unprecedented celebration of the physical world. Hundreds of years before the Common Era, Erastothenes calculated the earth's circumference to within one percent; Euclid conceived and developed geometry; Aristarchus proposed a heliocentric theory of the solar system. And the early Greeks' investigation of the physical world included as well, and prominently, the human being. But only as a physical specimen, essentially an animal.


Accordingly, much of Hellenist thought revolved around the belief that the enjoyment of life was the most worthwhile goal of man. The words "cynic," "epicurean," and "hedonist" all stem from Greek philosophical schools.


And so it followed almost logically that the culture that was Greece saw the Jewish focus on the divine as an affront. The Sabbath denied the unstopping nature of the physical world; circumcision implied that the body is imperfect; the Jewish calendar imparted holiness where there is only mundane periodicity; and modesty or any sort of limits on indulgence in physical pleasure were simply unnatural.


The Greeks had their "gods," of course, but they were diametric to holiness, modeled entirely on the worst examples of human beings, evidencing the basest of inclinations. And while Hellenist philosophers spoke of a "soul," they employed the word to refer only to what we would call the personality or intellect. The idea of a being "in the image of G-d, of a soul that can make choices and merit eternal existence, was utterly indigestible to the Greek world-view.


As it is indispensable to the Jewish one. With the passage of centuries and the example of those who lived the Jewish faith, humanity became heir to the earth-shattering idea that it is in fact special within creation, and charged with living as special; that our souls are eternal and what we do makes a difference.


Chanukah is when we focus on the crucial difference between the ideals that animated the Jewish people and those that embodied Hellenism. May the holiness that seeps into the world this year through the Chanukah candles of Jewish homes everywhere help counter the modern-day attempts to deny reality, and leave a more soulful world in its wake.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in uplifting articles. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. Comment by clicking here.

© 2004, Am Echad Resources