On (Modern) Jewish Divorce and Mamzerut




Due to having some interest, instigated by a polemic, I had to research the issue of Jewish marriage vs Roman marriage, and just, in general, the (d)evolution of marriage to what we have today.

The Problem

(In layman’s terms.) Some rabbis complain that lots of young Jewish men and women end up bonking each other without proper authorization. What’s worse, it can happen that when the bonker and bonkee are — what they assume — divorced, in fact, they’re incorrect.

The latter seemingly exotic case can happen because Jewish religious divorce is only finalized when the husband gives a bill of divorce, termed “get” in Hebrew. But sometimes he refuses. What’s even worse, is that sometimes, when he refuses, the Jewish court adjudicating the case might either annul it unilaterally or issue a decree to coerce/force him to do so. However, because of a heated disagreement in Jewish Law (halakhah), such practices are very, very questionable and are considered by a non-trivial number of conservative, known and respected rabbis to be absolutely invalid, unless done in specific, very limited circumstances. In other words, for example, a wife wanting to divorce her husband on the basis of no longer being into him is not necessarily (certainly, not by all Jewish authorities) considered to be a sufficient basis to grant or compel divorce. Even claiming mistreatment might not be a sufficient grounds, according to a very conservative, Talmud-rooted approach.

Thus, it may end up happening that a woman might officially re-marry without ever actually properly divorcing, thinking that she is alright. If she ends up birthing another child, from another man, this child will probably be considered to be a mamzer. A mamzer is worse than a bastard – it’s a corruption of lineage to eternity, as they pass this status forever to their children and so on, and are limited in how they can form their own families.

One rabbi who is very vocal about this issue is R. David Eidensohn – a man of (I believe) good intent and knowledgeable of Jewish law. Here is one of his write-ups, among many. In short, his solution is “pilegesh” – which, in Tanakh, meant “concubine,” and which, he believes, is a secret key to unlocking a Jewish way to conduct, what the Romans termed, sine manu marriage – a marriage in which not only the man can divorce, but a woman was free to divorce also, i.e. there was bilateral divorce capability in sine manu marriage.

In other words, R Eidensohn wants and thinks of Judaism as allowing a true temporary marriage, a marriage with bilateral severability.

Sounds interesting. But, alas, he is wrong, as things presently stand.

Discussion and Possible Resolution

Despite of what one may tell you, the concept of marriage across polygynous pastoralist and agricultural societies was not too different. I was not so much interested in the issue of monogamy vs polygyny, but more about the guarantees and expectations that a man was getting by marrying a woman during the period spanning the Iron Age till medieval times – as compared to the situation today.

While Roman marriage seems explicitly more about the sense of woman as being a property, a lot of similar assumptions apply to Jewish marriage of that period, even though they are implicit. Roman “levels” of marriage are explicit about level of guardianship of the woman – which is the concept of “manus.”

In contrast, Exile Era (post 5th century to our time) Jewish marriage evolved to be not explicitly about control of the woman but more about reproduction and family vis-a-vis its communal standing – that is, absence of children, at least notionally, obviates marriage. Hence, why (though this didn’t happen in pre-Exile era Judaism), for example, a husband’s prolonged refusal or inability to sexually service his otherwise fertile wife is a halakhically legal reason for a Jewish court to compel him to divorce her.

But, in some sense, the notion of woman as a kind of property, or, more poetically put, of consecration is still there, in Judaism, despite all the modifications it has gone through over the last two millennia and the pretense of modern and postmodern “cool” rabbis who try to obfuscate Judaism via their kiruv propaganda. (To be fair, though, I think many of them sincerely believe their own stuff, which speaks of general ignorance and not a desire to lie. Sorry for the digression.)

“Propertization,” again, resides not so much in marriage per se, but in the concept of betrothal, or consecration – which, in Hebrew, is called “kidushin.” There is also the concept of “ketubah” – marriage contract – but the latter merely delineates and concretizes the expectations of kidushin, i.e. the financial and material exchanges that take place during transfers of wife into man’s domain, his support during the life together, and her transfer back (latter, in case of possible divorce). Looking closely at Tanakh (Pentateuch), for example, a man seducing or raping an unbetrothed virgin is, in effect, considered as him betrothing her by forced acquisition (any fine or money he is obligated to pay to her guardian/father is akin to paying a retroactive brideprice). You can see a hint here that marriage was implied by betrothal, and betrothal not implied by reproduction per se — since the fact of impregnation of the virgin was not even mentioned — but betrothal was implied by the sexual act itself — even if, as in Exodus 22:16–17, the father could “claw” his daughter back. Note though, that such “clawing back” was impossible in case of captured woman described in Deuteronomy 21:10-14, which describes a case of marriage-by-abduction (with some stipulations, likely added around the time of Priestly redaction). That is, according to the Mishna and earliest Talmud (pre-Exile era) it was either money or writ or force (and rape qualifies as the latter) which implied taking of ownership and, hence, marriage. This is as opposed to Exile mode Judaism, in which the Jewish court, not the father, can invalidate ownership even after recognizing the existence thereof — based on family-procreative and even purely social considerations.

So, as such, it is not Jewish marriage and Roman marriage that ought to be compared, but Jewish betrothal vs Roman marriage.

My research was done using Yerushalmi, Bavli, and Mishne Torah, and some online writings and books on Roman law and Jewish family law. Data is aggregated in the table above, a la Turchin’s “cliodynamics.”

A few important points first.

Tanakh era understanding of “pilegesh” must be distinguished from Talmudic-era’s. In the former, “pilegesh” is slavery of the woman in the context of reproduction. In the Talmud Yerushalmi’s terminology and discussion, the Sages decided to expand and generalize the term “pilegesh” to be rather about “freeing” the woman and her guardians, i.e. the father and the husband, from any material conditions of betrothal. However, contra to what Eidensohn et al want, the Sages kept the non-severability of betrothal coherent, as it had been since Tanakh’s time.

In the Tanakh the meaning of “pilegesh” implies concubinage, i.e. slave status of woman with no guarantees of full wifely treatment, other than the usual treatment accorded to all slaves plus whatever the whims of her master are. The Talmud generalizes the definition of “pilegesh” to stand for allowing a strong relaxation of husband’s responsibilities towards the wife, in the sense that he may not be required to support, feed or clothe her, beyond basic providence for all slaves (if she is one), and it does appear, or in fact is implied, that (if she’s not a slave) the woman can either have her own property separate from man’s, or be as rightful of a decision-maker when it comes to property that she brought into the marriage.

Both definitions are mutually consistent. Tanakhic and Talmudic “pilegesh” reduce to both mean the same thing when the woman is a non-Jewish slave — the woman can’t divorce and her status is lower than regular wife, materially. (In case of Jewish maidservant — the Talmud expects the owner to arrange for her to be properly married to either him or his son and, so, treat her like an actual daughter/wife.)

Originally, I erroneously believed that Talmudic pilegesh equated to Roman sine manu marriage, but I was incorrect. Pilegesh is still a cum manu marriage, including in Talmud, except that, again, the man is expected to neither take as great care of the woman nor delineate his obligations in contract. The reason for the erroneous assumption was that I trusted the write up of a rabbi with whom, albeit I agree on some other points, including the problem of invalid divorce and mamzerut, I cannot agree on treating “pilegesh” in the same way as sine manu marriage, sans additional lawmaking in that direction, lawmaking that is not possible in our age of Exile mode Judaism.

I will detail the above later, below. For now though, let’s go back to the table I attached.

In the table above it is obvious that, in terms to guarantees to the man, the case of pilegesh and regular wife are absolutely identical. In this post, we are concerned with the evolution of guarantees of marriage/betrothal solely from the point of view of man’s direct interests and, more importantly, the validity status of wife-induced divorce against husband’s consent.

The King’s case, in the table, is special, because he can contract and force all kinds of “betrothals,” ranging from traditional betrothal to the the type that allows mere sexual gratification without any offspring — or, rather, offspring that he is under no obligation from Heaven to be liable for or to own — kind of like having a “personal prostitute,” an oxymoron, but a possibility in this case. (Funny enough, in the latter case, the kids born out of this kind of relationship should be considered classical bastards, as in “born outside of main marriage,” and not as “illegal,” even though no “bastard” category exists in Talmud or even today’s Orthodox Judaism. The term “bastard” originally stood for exactly that: brood begotten of non-first wife, and was used by Catholic Church to discourage polygyny among the Germanics and the Celts, during the spread of that religion. The disparagement turned into notion of “illegality” as a later evolution of the term, when monogamy became commonplace and normative even for the elites.) For those who think that “personal prostitute” is too exotic to exist in reality, you are wrong. We have an actual historical illustration of “personal prostitute” in Sambandam “marriage,” in Kerala, India. It’s very likely that it evolved from something like a “permanent personal prostitute” belonging to a younger Brahmin son into a truly temporary arrangement, severable by both parties, and where the concept of “husband” is an ephemeral one, existing only to bestow nominal paternal status on the child. A noble/king might have more ability to prevent a woman from contracting a relationship with another man, but overall, any system like that done from generation to generation naturally devolves into matrifocality, matrilineality, and even polyandry: which is what Sambandam became. (Sorry for the digression into goy-land…)

I hope this gives more information on pilegesh marriage, as it was understood by Talmud. This is important, because many confuse Talmudic pilegesh with Tanakhic pilegesh. Tanakhic pilegesh means concubinage. Talmudic pilegesh is more general, and concubinage is merely its sub-type. When using Roman categories (which I, personally, prefer more), Talmud’s pilegesh still corresponds to cum manu marriage. Actually, pilagshut in Judeah was an even stronger form of cum manu marriage than in Rome. This is because, in Rome, due to enforcement of monogamy, children born in concubinium were not considered to be the father’s, but the mother’s. In Judeah, in contrast, children born of pilegesh were still fully the property of the father, together with the inheritance implications. The most important distinction between all these marriages and the modern marriage is the issue of custody of children, which I will describe in the concluding paragraphs.

After perusing Maimonides’s Mishne Torah and reading some other writeups, it is obvious that the confusion of Talmudic pilegesh with Tanakhic pilegesh has been occurring since at least the medieval period. I believe that one of the most glaring instances of this confusion is the case of Maimonides’s Mishne Torah. In it, Maimonides restricts pilegshut only to King (see Melachim uMilchamot, Chapter 4). He notes: “A commoner is forbidden to have a pilegesh [translated as “concubine”]. The only similar relationship is the union with a Hebrew maid servant after she has been designated by her master.” Basically, Maimonides believes that the only viable way for a loose obligation of a husband towards the woman is when she is either an actual Torah concubine (i.e. a slave) or a prostitute (which is forbidden to engage in, for a Jewish woman). But this is not how Talmud Yerushalmi looks at it, in Ketubot 5:2, pilegesh is just a case of lower wife – but the lower status comes from the husband’s lack of special financial responsibilities to her, and not from any lack of consecration of her to him. In other words, contra Rambam but according to the Sages of Mishna (not to be confused with Mishne Torah), the kidushin/consecration of pilegesh originates not from control over her by her master (e.g. King) but from the Heaven itself!

Tosefta, in support,  actually proceeds to give an example of a woman maintaining the husband as per her nuptial agreement. It’s not very clear whether it’s pilegesh or full wife, though it should be obvious, based on the Mishna rabbis’ mutually consistent statements that [same] kidushin exists in both, what the Sages are saying regarding the concept of kidushin itself. What is clear is that she’s unsuccessfully filing for divorce on grounds of financial hardship and even the husband concedes her words. The Sages re-affirm the nuptial agreement as binding (sans the husband’s bill of divorce), against her latest wishes. This is a really strong case in support of the supposition that betrothal/kidushin is quite binding on the woman and doesn’t depend on mere caprice of the woman’s heart.

Again, the fact that Mishna/Talmud rabbis never distinguish between the kidushin of wife and kidushin of pilegesh, means that whatever construction the later rabbis, including Maimonides and, especially, R. Eidensohn, made regarding temporality of pilegesh are rather artificial. Thus, the important issue here is that a pilegesh is still in, effectively, a full betrothal and, thus, if she wishes to divorce, still must go through the court and needs to depend on the husband issuing a get/bill of divorce (whether the rabbis compel the get or not depends on community, but from strict reading of halakhah, it is wrong to compel the husband). There is no way around it, according to the Scriptures (Tanakh, Mishna/Tosefta and Gemorah, i.e. Talmud) i.e. there is no way that Scriptures approve giving any right to either a pilegesh or wife to lawfully leave her husband on her own volition… Indeed, it appears that only through a new, not yet existing law regulating pilegesh can she escape the marriage — other than by committing adultery or being a rebellious wife (which might imply death or other unpleasantness).

Another interesting fact is that Talmud Bavli postulates that pilegesh has no kidushin — and maybe this is the reason for Maimonides’s and R. Eidensohn’s confusion. However, apparently, Rashi and others had a version of Bavli that, just like the Yerushalmi, said that pilegesh does have kidushin (though no ketuba). So, in light of extant Bavli, one might say that the case of kidushin is somewhat weakened. But when the discussion is about a binary quantity (yes or no), there’s no way to resolve it as “she has ¾ of a kidushin.” So, perhaps, given the weight of evidence, it’s just best to go with Yerushalmi (i.e. yes, there is kidushin). Hence, the problem of unilateral dissolvability of pilegesh still stands. The level of her consecration is still at the level of a regular wife, as Talmudic rabbis spoke of only one “kidushin” when comparing wife and pilegesh under single breath.

Therefore, it’s impossible for pilegshut to be considered a sine manu marriage type, which is what R. David Eidensohn and a few other contemporary rabbis seem to desperately want.

Potential Resolution?

Nonetheless, maybe there is a way out (in terms of making the arrangement more like a sine manu marriage). Pilegshut has always existed in the context of slavery – both practically and (other than in Talmud) theoretically. Other than the case of the “prestigious Torah scholar” given above, almost no woman would willingly concede to an arrangement in which she has at least the same amount of responsibility with reduced benefits and guarantees to herself and her offspring; and, of course the Torah scholar case is not a sine manu type marriage, so, as far as both the discussion above and the current settled law goes, the case is pretty settled.

So, let’s then consider whether the issue of enabling a female-driven divorce vis-à-vis a free pilegesh might be resolved in a rabbinical fashion, by a sort of construction that assumes innovative supporting legislation (also known as “chidush”). Consider a free man and a free woman who desire to move together and reproduce in a fashion that allows their offspring to be non-mamzerim and also allow the woman to lawfully leave her husband without needing his bill of divorce at the time of actual divorce. They might do as follows: the guardian of the woman sells his daughter into the man as maidservant, on the condition that, upon obtaining a certain sum of money, as redemption, the husband agrees to free her. The man buys the woman, then immediately marries her. Within a certain period, the former guardian pays the master/husband the agreed upon sum of money, thus redeeming her from her servitude. In the marriage contract it should also be stipulated that, upon being granted her freedom, she is free to leave the house of her husband and go back to her former guardian’s. If the redemption money is received before she gives birth, the children are born free and in her guardian’s house, and hence children are really hers. If the money is received after she gives birth, the children are husband’s, though are born of slave status and so, if girls, forbidden to marry a kohen. Either way, she can leave relationship on the volition of her former guardian, as scheduled per the prenuptial contract between former guardian and her husband, which secures the (conditional) get document automatically.

Of course, the arrangement described above comes with some caveats.

  • The Jewish religious legal framework would have to accept to expanding the scope of prenuptial arrangement/ketubah to include the “pre-emptive” bill of divorce, conditional on mutually agreed arrangements. This is the biggest if here. (Funny enough, R. Saul Lieberman, Z’T’L, from Conservative Judaism, back in the day when Conservative was truly conservative, proposed something kinda similar. I think that my proposal is legalistically better — as it preserves the spirit of Jewish husbands’ and fathers’ care for their daughters — if more cumbersome, and it has the side effect that priests/cohens would be strongly disincentivized from pursuing these kinds of temporary marriages — see below).
  • If the children are born as slave sons, even if freed thereafter, they will pass their “freed slave” status to their children (this might be an interesting legal issue to resolve, if the father is of priestly status — do those children then become equated in status to chalal, i.e. of defective priest?)
  • If the children are born as slave daughters, even if freed thereafter, they are not eligible to marry priests.
  • On a practical level, slavery (even if on paper) might be illegal in the jurisdiction where the pilegshut is conducted.
  • On a practical level, the rabbis might not accede to this construction for whatever reason, including completely made up ones. Of course.
  • Again, it’s pretty convoluted and, to an unfriendly, non-Jewish eye might appear rather silly, kind of like the way some Haredi men have to jump through hoops to conceive a child in vitro

All things taken together, this is a hypothetical scenario that requires some legislation to enable it.

Summary and Looking Forward:

It is important to consider various options that might allow a way out of this problem of invalid Jewish divorces, including bringing Torah-period pilagshut (plus some modern modifications), or something along the lines of Roman sine manu marriage, back. Unfortunately, it looks like this is a hard problem to solve without Judaism switching from Exile mode into Return mode and establishing proper legal institutions to make new religious legislation on marriage and divorce.

It is also possible that nothing needs to change, except that old Tanakhic and Talmudic ways need to be enforced, which includes not letting a woman re-marry without unforced bill of divorce from her current husband. This issue ought to be decided by men of high Jewish learning and authority, but who, alas, are either not existent or not given proper platform to make their lawmaking possible, in our current day and age (this requires a Jewish Sanhedrin).

Historically, tracing the evolution of Jewish marriage and divorce, we see that, roughly, Jewish marriage started out as a strongly cum manu marriage, where the husband owned his wife and children as special kinds of property. But the situation (legally speaking) began to change, certainly, as of medieval Judaism, where cum manu began to erode.

Today, de facto, children born to a father are not so much his but the State’s, via the mother as the trustee. Hence, modern Jewish marriage (including of those who are considered Orthodox), vis-à-vis its primary purpose – continuation of man’s lineage – is much closer to Roman contubernium – i.e. marriage of slaves – than to either Roman sine manu marriage or Jewish pilagshut (be it Tanakhic or Talmudic). The State, via its quasi-coordinated army of “public servants” — bureaucrats and paper pushers lacking disincentive in mostly anything other than their standing with their bosses — is the new Master.


On inherent failure of economics and game theoretic framework to describe human behavior


Game theory is not usually applicable to humans, beyond very limited scenarios, because there are always meta assumptions that do not hold or are ill-defined. Hence, economics models, including those based on game theory, are fundamentally limited (to what Nassim Nicholas Taleb terms “Mediocristan”). Consider the apparently simple thought experiment, the so-called “Newcomb paradox“.

My answer to the Newcomb paradox is this: try to understand whether the oracle is adversarial or friendly. Suppose, the answer is “adversarial.” In this case, I’d always choose two boxes, because I am convinced that an adversarial oracle does not have any special insight into my game, other than estimating likelihoods of my choices from purely game-theoretic principles that minimize its loss… However, if I determine that the oracle is a friendly one, I’d almost-always choose one box before the game commences.

As you can see, however, you cannot ask about the proper strategy without first conveying the next level *meta-information*: is the oracle friendly or is it adversarial?

Actually, even first-level meta information is not enough, which is why I used the ambiguous word “almost”. If the oracle is adversarial, the next level of info is to understand whether it’s specifically tuned into my brain right before I’m to utter my answer (hence, it will always be one step ahead of my “random” answer) and, more importantly, whether *it has a reputation to defend* (for if it keeps predicting incorrectly, it’s no longer an “oracle.”) In this case — if it really values its reputation/job — I might try to use an external device to produce *truer* randomness, ’cause I might like to play it a la “go big or go home.” On the other hand, if the oracle is friendly, then the next question to ask: is it friendly in the sense of my own well-being and/or the well-being of my family and/or community (because if I have, say, a gambling problem, it might want to not encourage it by giving me money to waste antisocially). Does it have a reputation to defend? (Hence, this dovetails with the question: am *I* friendly to *it* also? If yes, I dont want to cause it to mispredict). Also, going back to the adversarial oracle, the question of damage to me/family/community might also be asked, because the oracle might want to encourage my particular bad habit by giving me more money.

As you can see, we now entered the cultural domain. And this also implies communication of many agents — both in vertical (temporal) and horizontal (across living actors) domains, as well as other quirks.

As you can see, randomness exists on many levels.

Update: for those not seeing it, the “oracle” under discussion is the economist / IYI. Sure, we did expand the definition of “thought experiment” to beyond philosophy and immediate monetary value concerns, but this is exactly the reason why models, even when game-theoretic, are of rare applicability to humans and societies — especially, as a forward-looking, predictive tool for real-life policy-making in the economics sphere. Mathematical macro-models are mostly good as a tool for anthropology research, not much else. This is the nature of open-system realities that involve humans and their capacity for ever-changing meta-level considerations — especially, when weighed against a centralized authority mediated by institutionalized technocracy. So, centralized technocracy fans: despite the “rational” efficiency benefits of scale and misleading elegance of mechanistic thinking, ignore the above to your peril.

On Halakhic Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Infinity


Let’s begin our discussion from afar. As a reader of British philosopher Derek Parfit, I’ve come upon a list of his positions on various ethical dilemmas. In particular, there is the famous murderous trolley dilemma, in which the staunch utilitarian quite strongly (unusual for him, btw) asserts that the driver should choose to save the lives of 5 at the expense of 1.

What about Halakhah (Jewish Rabbinic law)? There is mathematical mnemonic device that is useful in understanding of what’s going on here: in Halakhah, certainly post-Mishnaic era, a life of one Jew is being notionally equated with infinity. Hence, a life of a sinful or stupid Jew ought not be less valuable than a tzadik’s or a Rebbe’s, if one considers trading the former’s life to save the latter. From that perspective, killing or causing death of a Jew to save another Jew is prohibited, and value judgments on life are non-trivial (whether it works out in practice is a different story).

However, we need to understand if there is anything equivalent in Talmud that discusses the proper course of action in a dilemma similar to the murderous trolley problem.

Question: should Jews give up a fellow criminal Jew if non-Jews demand it, under threat of extermination of the entire Jewish community hosting him?

Before I begin actually answering, let me just say that by “criminal Jew” I refer to a Jew who would be considered to be a transgressor of Halakhah, not some other nation’s law or foreign ruler’s opinion. This is actually a strong requirement, because I am considering cases for which even the Jews know that their fellow is guilty, not just the outside party.

Our first and main stop is Tosefta, Terumot 7:23 (R. Shimon’s opinion is the most honored one):

A group of [Jews] to whom gentiles say, “Give us one of you and we shall kill him, and if not, behold, we will kill all of them”; they should let themselves be killed and not deliver them one soul from Israel. But if they designated [the person] to them – for example, Sheva ben Bichri – they should give him to them and not let themselves be killed. Rabbi Yehuda said, “When do these words apply? In a case when he is [inside and they are] outside [a fortified city]; but in a case when he is inside and they are inside, since he will be killed and the [other Jews] will be killed, they should give him to them and not let themselves all be killed. And so did it state (II Samuel 20:22), ‘And the woman come to all of the people in her wisdom, etc.’ – she said to them, ‘Since he will be killed and you will be killed, give him to them and do not kill all of you.’” Rabbi Shimon [b Yohai] says, “So did she say [to them], ‘Anyone who rebels against the monarchy [of the House of David] is liable to [receive] the death penalty.’”

In this case R. Shimon implies that only the [legitimate] Jewish King has the right to demand the handing of the Halakhically guilty/evil Jew [Sheva ben Bichri] for execution. (Btw: the latter was handed to King’s men already executed.)

Now let’s move on, as this isn’t the end of the story. Talmud Yerushalmi, Terumot 8:4 describes a kind of sequel to this, as found in a debate between the next generation of sages: R Jochanan [b Nappaha] and his pupil-cum-famous-rabbi Resh Lakish (R Shim’on b Lakish). In this case, the issue is somewhat reformulated: gentiles encounter traveling party of Jews and demand handing out of a Jew or else they massacre the entire group. R Jochanan says, that request to hand out should be satisfied as long as it is for a named/particular individual (i.e. his opinion superficially seems to follow R Yehuda’s). However, Resh Lakish says: request should be satisfied *only* if the individual is someone like Sheva b Bichri, i.e. someone already deserving death penalty.

By the way, Resh Lakish was a mensch, but this a separate story altogether.

Here is the relevant passage I extracted from Talmud Yerushalmi, version translated by Neusner:

[IV:2 A] It is taught as a Tannaite statement: [As to] a group of men who were journeying on the road, who were met by gentiles, who said, “Give us one of your number that we may kill him, and if not, lo, we will kill all of you” — [B] let them kill all of them, but let them not give over to them a single Israelite [see M. 8:12]. [C] But if they singled one out, [D] such as they singled out Sheba the son of Bichri [2 Sam. 20] — [E] let them give him to them, that they not all be killed [T. Ter. 7:20]. [F] Said R. Simeon b. Laqish, “And that is the case if he is already subject to the death penalty as was Sheba the son of Bichri.” [G] R. Yohanan said, “That is the case even if he is not already subject to the death penalty as was Sheba the son of Bichri.”

But, likely added by later redactors, Talmud Yerushalmi Terumot 8:6 (46b) continues with an anecdote which, in essence, declares that if you give up even a named, Halakhically guilty fellow Jew, you are a despicable man, *even if* you acted in accordance with Terumot 8:4, Resh Lakish’s ruling.

In other words, while Halakhah normatively follows Resh Lakish and R Jochanan’s rulings, it still upholds R Shimon’s extreme principle as the righteous one: even if it’s a bad Jew who deserves the death penalty, you *don’t hand him out* to gentiles for killing, when they demand him, even under threat of complete massacre of your fellow community. If you, under such tremendous duress, do hand out the Halakhically guilty Jew, you are not trespassing Halakhah directly, but you are still committing a grave act.

Talmud Yerushalmi, was likely first assembled by R. Jochanan based on collected rulings of other rabbis, including of Resh Lakish. Let us now closely re-read R. Johanan’s opinion from Terumot 8:4 above: Jews, under deathly duress from gentiles, should not only hand a Halakhically guilty man like Sheva b Bichri, but even an innocent (Halakhically or otherwise) fellow Jew! Here R Johanan not only opines against R Shimon b Yohai and Resh Lakish’s rulings, but — upon attentive reading — he also neglected both R Judah’s clause on potential defense and presumption of the Halakhically guilty status of the surrendered Jew! From now on, any named Jew can be surrendered for survival of the rest…

Which way does post-Talmudic Halakhah lean? Does it support R Shimon’s or R Yehuda’s or Resh Lakish’s or R Jochanan’s opinion? Maimonides (Rambam) unequivocally leans on R Yehuda’s side, in his Mishne Torah, a compendium summarizing the Talmud. However, R Meiri, a rabbi from Catalan and a student of Rambam disagrees: his opinion follows R. Johanan’s.

So, in today’s world: is it acceptable to hand a guilty (whether by Halakhah or outside law) Jew to the gentile authorities, in case where dina d’malkhuta dina (the law of the land is the law) applies, in galut communities? If Talmud is considered Torah, it is not righteous to act this way. However, the unfortunate reality was that while the historical setting of Mishnah took place in close-to-autonomous Jewish communities, albeit under occupation of Judeah by Romans, such near-autonomy had started to become a rarity with the beginning of galut, especially after the Bar-Kokhba revolt . Hence, the newer reality imposed its own requirements. More concretely, this has to be decided on a case-by-case basis from within the galut communities themselves, and R Jochanan’s is the preferred ruling to follow.

For example: for “benevolent” America, contemporary R Fink considers dina d’malkhuta dina to extend all the way to capital cases, based on a few other preceding sources. That is, R. Jochanan’s and R. Meiri rulings are being upheld as the gold standard.

From my understanding, given the Halakhic sources I’ve outlined, and that Rambam, who lived in galut and, if not directly suffered, was much inconvenienced because of it, concurs with Resh Lakish and R Shimon b Yochai’s spirit — every effort should be made by good Jews to not give away one of their own, even in reality of galut. From Rambam’s perspective, blindly following dina d’malkhuta dina would be evil, if opportunity allows to save a fellow Jew without repercussions. More so, if he is Halakhically innocent.

Let’s now consider Halakhah as it is applicable to contemporary Israel: should Israeli Jews both on the level of community and level of government hand out a Halakhically guilty Jew to gentiles upon demand? Answer: certainly not — in either sovereign or even partly-occupied Israel: eg international extradition is Halakhically illegal. Furthermore, by Halakhah, killing an innocent gentile does not warrant death, which might lead to an interesting conundrum: if a Jew does kill one, in Israel, should his community hand him to the secular authorities, if he is likely to be either punished excessively or executed by secular court, which does not directly obey Halakhah and might have gentiles on the adjudicating panel? Here, the answer is also no: Jews living in Israeli communities should *not* hand their fellow Jew to higher authorities for execution/excessive punishment, even if the higher authorities are nominally Jewish.

Is there a pattern here? Can we completely resolve R. Yochanan ben Nappaha’s utilitarian stance with R. Simon b Yochai’s heroic one? Can we have one Halakhah with two seemingly conflicting decisions. Yes! As I’ve noted before, the debate between R. Judah and R. Simon b Yochai, which took place before or around the Bar Kokhba revolt, was presupposing a defensible Jewish community; in this case, a fortress inside a (semi-)independent Judeah at war. However, the debate between Resh Lakish and Jochanan b Nappaha took place later, after Jews were very much under control of Romans and no longer had own organized defense and a much reduced political autonomy. Moreover, the terms of debate are centered around a traveling Jewish party, a group of Jews “out in the wild.” Hence, the following is what resolves it:

When Jews live in foreign countries or at mercy of foreign rulers and authorities, the right decision to abide by is R. Jochanan b Nappaha’s.

When Jews live as part of autonomous community where they are politically and militarily independent, the right decision to abide by is R. Simon b Yochai’s.

What is the mnemonic for this? In case of possibility of real defense, in the context of sovereign State, Jews are at luxury to perform “calculations” with regards to infinity, where action that leads to killing of innocent Jew to save a few is meaningless, because the infinities add to the same quantity. Even when killing a Halakhically guilty Jew, the action of handing out the Jew (even his body!) to outsiders is threatening to Jewish sovereignty, and it is Jewish sovereignty that is being protected here, not Jewish life per se. The most salient argument here is this: since Jewish sovereignty is higher in value than a single Jewish life — here we are talking about the infinity of the power set of natural kind, which is a higher order infinity than infinity of natural kind (I’ll  delve into why/how this is so later) — killing and/or handing out even a Halakhically guilty Jew is forbidden. In case of no possibility of defense, outside of sovereign State, sacrificing many Jews to save one, even an innocent Jew, is akin to mass suicide. Calculations with regards to “infinity” suggest that the action to protect one Jew, i.e. going against “forces above,” is akin to active murder of all Jews, a graver sin than protection of that Jew.

To summarize:

According to Rabbis from Mishna, Talmud and Medieval times, when Jews live in the State of Israel, they should not give up one of their own, even under threat of death. Jews who live in galut must bear the evil of giving their own, in accordance with the doctrine of dina d’malkhuta dina.

And last but not least, the final verdict on the murderous trolley dilemma: according to Talmud’s sovereignty doctrine, one may not, under deliberation, actively divert the trolley to save five Jews at a cost of murdering another Jew. This doesn’t, however, say anything about an action done on an impulsive basis… After all, how many people can perform such calculations in their head if they see five people ahead and impulsively turn the wheel/flip a switch to avoid hitting them?! Hence, if the action is done impulsively, under duress of urgent circumstances, without timely awareness of the one (ultimately killed) Jew, then the doctrine of no-sovereignty/no-autonomy/limited-agency/”forces above”/”forces beyond own control” applies. In latter situation, such action might be forgiven, as decided on case-by-case basis in Jewish court.

Robin Hanson’s brain emulations


I’ve been reading Robin Hanson’s blog, “Overcoming Bias,” on and off for a few years now. Among other topics, he likes to write about the coming Age of Brain Emulations. Basically, the idea is that he (and I tend to agree here) thinks that general AI will not become a reality from first principles, that it will be easier, at least at some point, to simply emulate human brains in extremely powerful parallel hardware.

I think that the argument for and against possibility of general AI is a weaker version of the argument between two people on the opposite fences of the Newcomb paradox. General-AI-by-emulation is a form of perfect-cloning: but the more you think about how to perfect-clone someone, the more you realize how much you need to clone from-outside of that individual. Depending on game-theoretic criteria, i.e. is the predictor/general-AI mechanism adversarial or friendly, its behavior will be one or another. While some kind of an approximation to “intelligence” is viable, at least in certain context, the answer is very much dependent on both the designer’s intent and the limitations and trade offs imposed by fine-tuning to be a practical device. Just like a perfect oracle is both imaginable but not necessarily implementable, I cannot disprove that general AI is impossible, but neither can you prove that it is possible. My short take: it will always remain an error-prone approximation, limited in what it can be and do.

(Along with that assertion, by the way, my answer to the Newcomb paradox is to try to understand whether the oracle is adversarial or friendly. The default answer is “adversarial.” In this case, I’d always choose two boxes, because I am convinced that an adversarial oracle — unless it’s specifically tuned into my brain right before I’m to utter my answer — does not have any special insight into my game, other than estimating likelihoods of my choices from purely game-theoretic principles that minimize its loss… However, if I determine that the oracle is a friendly one, I’d almost-always choose one box before the game commences.)

Here is my longer take: although it’s impossible to prove within my lifetime, Hanson’s brain emulation (“em”) paradigm is not likely to be a near-term likelihood, certainly not even in this century, if at all. Even if something like this does happen in a few hundred years or millennia, these emulations will *not* completely displace humans and their cultures. The reasons are twofold.

The first reason I rely on in my thesis was best expressed by T.B. Lee. Basically, Lee’s argument is along the lines that computing em is of same or, possibly, even worse complexity than that of weather prediction: we might be able to predict weather, in some cases ahead to a few days. However, weather prognosis happens with sharply decreasing probabilities of correctness, as one measures the accuracy on ever finer space and bigger timescale basis — anything past a week or so is close to  being completely meaningless. Albeit Hanson tried to address it, I am not convinced: I think this is an extremely hard problem to solve.

Second reason, let me describe. Even if the above gets partially surmounted and that we figure out a way to make those ems to productively last for a few hours, the point of those devices is to make production as cheap as possible. At some point, however, consumption needs to happen. Short of burning the products, it is difficult to imagine who would be consuming, as the masses will be unemployed, and just a cost. This goes back into motivation: if no one is driving the devices (i.e. people die), these devices need to form a culture. This culture will need to be self-evolvable and constantly expanding. Since life is an open system, completely new challenges arise that require reaction and self-modification (see Gödel’s First Incompleteness Theorem and “Meta-Halakhah” by Moshe Koppel). Since (even superb) emulations are mere approximations/fuzzy algorithms of (human) biological systems, they will still need to interface with humans and human culture, with these both forming a “vital organ,” a blueprint for the necessary “update stage.” Whether the update stage happens every few decades or few millennia or even somehow continuously, in a pipelined fashion, it will still need to be happening…


So, no worries on my part: the apocalyptic scenario is unlikely to happen; people are not going to disappear, not even into the Matrix! However, what might happen is that certain people and certain cultures of people will disappear. The ones who do disappear will likely be, initially, from outside of the culture which first comes to possess such em technology and, later, from cultures where ems overtake humans completely, more likely due to latter’s nihilism rather than a Skynet-type scenario, thus stalling said cultures (as they again are mere mathematical models, golems).

Basically, because of the nature of em devices, they will clearly relegate human mental and physical activity towards more contemplative, abstract and longterm ones. It is quite likely that humans will, by that time, become both smarter and live much longer, due to our ability to repair our cell tissues and organella, like mitochondria, via genetic engineering, virotherapy, and proliferating stem cells directly. Quite possibly, humans in 10,000 years will be able to live longer than 200 years, maybe even thousands of years (will post on that separately), while staying more youthful in the process. Rigorously imagining the fulfilled human and, more importantly, societal potential that comes along with those types of outcomes is something that merits its own post.

For now, I conjure that humans in the next 10,000 years will mostly be mothers, fathers, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, artists, lawmakers, and higher level executives — as these processes require more concentration and long-term thinking and acting. For example, typical expensive cooperating em will only be needed for one day’s worth of labor, for household needs. There will probably be different gradations of these ems. Ones that run for approx. 6 seconds till decomposition/decoherence (for example, something that gets triggered to pick up vegetables from a counter) will be energetically the cheapest to emulate. There will be ones that will run for O(6 minutes)-till-decoherence, for mundane tasks like cleaning a desk. There would be ones that run for O(6 hours), for things that require composing and analyzing a tax return spreadsheet based on various other documents, for example.

If em is as hard as weather prediction, running for O(6 hours) in a coherent fashion might be orders of magnitude more expensive than coherently running for O(6 minutes). Hence, the human (and em, as bootstrapping-like device!) approach to em computing will probably be concentrated on ruthlessly weeding out opportunities for optimizing the time, space, and energy requirements thereof. There will likely be a lot of binning for said capabilities, based on variously competing requirements and necessitated compromises.

As ems become better engineered and cheaper over time, it’s possible that ems that affordably cohere for longer than a few minutes to a few hours might become a reality. When I say “affordably,” I’m comparing it with the price of human worker. It is possible that there would be ems that will cohere for weeks, if not months. The question here becomes: are they going to be cheaper to build/initialize and run than same human workers? Is human cognition based on human existence cheaper than the em one at a certain timespan bin? That is, are there any fundamental (practical) computational/physical limits to how cheap a cohering em can get? How needed will be an em that can cohere for a week but is 1000x more expensive than an em that can cohere for about 6 hours? Can most human menial and low-level work be compartmentalized into 6 hour bins? These are open questions, and they need to be addressed. For now, based on T.B. Lee’s writeup and the fact that biology has optimized the operation of cell machinery (including neurons) my bet is that it’s going to be very expensive to have something that emulates a capable human that’s runnable coherently for more than a few hours or days: as, increasingly, per-cell metabolism, mitosis, hormons etc modeling will all need to be factored in — in their finest details. Couple that with ability of humans to live coherently for many decades and, as noted above, with help of next-gen medicine, possibly even millennia — and we have our division of labor.

In the unlikely situation that ems become a danger, human societies that don’t take control of such beasts might suffer collapse. However, that is not a finality. By the time that this happens (if it happens) human cultures will splinter into many sub-cultures, with some being very spacially removed (being potentially even on different planets/worlds). This guarantees evolution choosing cultures in which physical-human-based cultures, being the inherently open, Universe-embedded systems that they are, will be selected for. In such viable cultures, ems will still be present, as they could be hugely beneficial for production, which is what would make them into sensible cultures also. However, the model of em-human interaction will be akin to a very cooperating peon-aristocracy relationship of yore, as I’ve described above. This way, golems should remain both a sensible and a viable proposition. By the way, in the very unlikely situation that destruction of humans is total, biological life will, still, always find a way, and this includes intelligent biological civilization — even if it originates in another planet/world. This is the nature of the Universe itself (see my penultimate two links there, if you’re impatient).

The other opportunity  for brain emulation might come from interfacing directly with living humans, as tissue augment, i.e the cyborg/Borg model. That, however, would require another post to discuss.

An intuition: why Godlikeness property is positive


In the last post I discussed how Chassidic panentheism can be justified in the style consistent with that of Spinoza. Today I want to add to that some notes and clarify a bit more.

While Godel’s proof of God’s existence with Anderson’s emendations is an inspiring, uplifting example of employment of modal logic for resolution of existential philosophical dilemmas, one might have difficulty agreeing with some of the axioms. Notably, in a later paper [1], Anderson himself, along with Gettings, revisits Axiom #3: namely, that Godlikeness, as conjunction of positive properties, is positive.

In other words, how can we be sure that existence of two positive properties taken together, in the same universe, cannot lead to a situation where one of the two properties actually negates the other, in some form or another? This is a very subtle but real argument. For example, maybe a perpetuating property in one domain, when it meets a perpetuating property from a different domain (assuming the former domain grows to meet/subsume the latter) is a rather negative property for the second domain. Here, “domain” does not necessarily need to be restricted to spatial, but can be logical or something even more general, something like what Parfit’s Selector operates in.

Basically, my goal in this post is to provide an intuition for why Axiom #3 holds. I think that here God’s modes a la Spinoza — though this time it is vis-a-vis the mode unfoldment — has as much explanatory power as in the problem of evil I discussed earlier, in the last post. Let’s give, again, same example, inspired by a post on Turchin’s blog “Clyodynamica” [2]. Consider the Aztecs and human sacrifice . Human sacrifice was a normative phenomenon, based on accepted custom. A powerful regional empire existed, where this was practiced openly. Let’s look at the later facts: the Aztec empire was defeated by a handful of Spaniards. “Weak tea” one might say, as the Spaniards had a lot of help from locals, disease, etc. This, however, while true, fails to look at the deeper mechanism: the Spaniards, when they where receiving an immense support from local tribes, had a strong political card to play: most people find human sacrifice scary, if not abhorrent, and while it might work temporarily as a scare and awe tactic, it will lose out to a less brutal framework, assuming the latter is part of a more technologically advanced civilization that possesses other, non-self-destructive uniting rituals and customs.

Here we see the outlines of the mechanism of positive properties undergoing selection before unfoldment of the next level of mode of God.

Going back to the example of Aztecs, it’s still possible to imagine a situation where evil triumphs, one can argue. In such a case, let’s imagine a highly brutal, sadistic civilization that somehow is lucky to prevail on a planet. My treatise here is that if sadism itself is a supporting property integral to its existence, the culture will either self-evolve in a rationalistic sense, when it tries to further itself, abandoning its sadism or, if not, it will be eventually conquered by beings from another sun system or, even more likely, a splinter society within its own domain, i.e. groups that don’t spend valuable energy on self-destructive behavior. This is easy to understand if one sees that life is not just a property of Earth, but trillions or more of other domains in the cosmos (for recall: fine-tuning for life is a positive, perpetuating property of our physical Universe).

While I cannot convince those who lack imagination, my goal here is to provide a sense that I think that a conjunction of positive properties is, indeed, eventually positive, for the reason that either the more positive property wins out by nullifying the second property or a third, as yet nonexistent, positive property emerges to compensate for the negative conjunction of the previous two.

When the winning combination of positive properties spreads itself universally across all domains within a universe (where universe does not necessarily have to consist of an actual universe but, rather, a sufficiently large domain) the next level of God’s mode unfolds within that universe. If another mode of God unfolds in either of two competing domains (if domain is sufficiently large),  a new type of object might emerge, for which either of these three properties might be applicable, further necessitating such conjunction (now of three properties) to become positive. In effect, I’m trying to say that either: 1) the previous properties (or even both) were not really positive, or 2) some objects within those domains are bound to perish to necessitate the conjunction to be positive.

In the worst possible case, the two domains annihilate each other (where “annihilation” refers to applicable properties or objects, in the most strict sense of the term), in which case other domains will evolve and expand to take their place. If the positive properties that take hold are different, then by definition, the previous two were not positive properties, an obvious contradiction. Hence, whatever properties were positive will still be manifested.

This, in essence, constitutes my argument in support of the intuition that Axiom #3 is correct: being Godlike (where Godlikeness is a conjunction of all positive properties) is a positive quality in itself, as viewed in timeless/infinite-time sense.

By the way, you can see above why “perpetuation” might be preceded by “object production” as positive property. Properties are objects, too. And properties that produce certain objects/properties (on the basic level, those that are valid and are not negated, by e.g. Russell’s paradox) are, obviously, perpetuating. Property of producing negating properties, including when they are conjuncted, is not a positive property. You can also see that mode unfoldment implies creation of new positive properties and new type of objects (objects arising from previous modes) on which those new properties operate.

Sometime, I also would like to discuss Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion, and why it is not correct to assert its repugnance, and moreover, why the hope of some modern philosophers (including Parfit) of divorcing “ethics” from religion is a misleading epistemic utopia.

[1] https://projecteuclid.org/download/pdf_1/euclid.lnl/1235417020

[2] http://peterturchin.com/blog/2016/04/08/is-human-sacrifice-functional-at-the-society-level/

On Gödel’s proof of God, rationalist basis of Judaism, and the problem of evil


Gödel’s proof of God’s existence [1][3] is based on Aquinas’s ontological argument, which, in turn, goes back all the way to Avicenna, both of whom were influenced by Aristotelian school. That proof needs to be studied in depth, before my subsequent arguments can be understood.

According to Anderson’s emendations [2] of Gödel’s proof of God’s existence, for modal collapse to not occur (i.e. in order to be able to say anything intelligible about what God is and isn’t), God only has to possess positive properties, and no other properties but good ones. This makes resolving the issue of existence of non-positive properties (e.g. evil) somewhat problematic, yet, as I shall show, not irresolvable.

I am here proposing to understand this issue from the point of view of God’s modalities (my own interpretation of Spinoza’s modes). In some sense, I am here going to end up becoming an apologetic for Chassidic version of panentheism, as the position is explained by Tzvi Freeman in his short essay [4].

But first thing first, let’s understand what “positive” qualities in Gödel’s proof (with or without aforementioned emendations) really mean. Let’s, for the moment, first imagine ourselves as devil’s advocates. It is quite possible to say that “positive” is actually “negative,” and to say, in effect, that God is a Grand Sadist.

This being stated, the above exercise was not to prove that nihilistic perspective is valid, but to illustrate that it is logically sound to invert the “positive” with “negative” and, thus, substitute any other emotionally appealing or repugnant quality into the syntax of the proof, while retaining the proof’s strength.

But if both “positive” and “negative” perspectives are valid, is there a perspective that is still intuitively plausible, while remaining maximally neutral emotionally? Yes, there is. I call upon rationalism and empiricism as my guiding light, and will rely upon scientifically and philosophically sound reasoning to state the following: “positive” should mean, at its most basic, “perpetuating.”

As Derek Parfit has argued in his “Why anything? Why this?” essay [5][6], the reason our Universe is the way it is is because it possesses certain qualities that make said existence physically most likely. Naturally, it is perfectly reasonable to imagine all kinds of universes and parallel many-world universes with all kinds of set ups. The very fact that this very Universe of ours exists, is a testament to the fact that certain physical laws and arrangements that are inherent parts of it are what made it possible and, not insignificantly, sustainable/perpetuating. Perhaps, non-symmetric/non-reversible “time” itself “began” as something “selected” out of yet another meta-Selector, as carrying some property that is beyond most people’s (including my own) comprehension.

I’d argue, maybe other universes physically exist also, even at this very moment, some of which are disconnected from ours yet still real. However, along Parfit’s thought, their number is likely finite, as it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine a process of evolutionary-like selection, where universes with “faulty” set-ups/”physical DNA” either collapse or are utterly stagnant dead-ends or are even actively “consumed” by other, more vigorous universes, if the latter are connected to them. This would certainly constrain the amount of universes that are possibly existent.

Further, even without invoking physics, we can see that, on one hand, our universe is “fine-tuned” for emergence of life and, on the other hand, there are objective mathematical properties that are independent of everything, such as properties of prime numbers, that make our Universe, respectively, special and ordinary — and simultaneously at that.

Thus, the notion of “perpetuating property” from Parfit’s and evolutionary perspective, is a sound one for any existing Universe, and hence God, to possess.

This notion of perpetuation gives us the ability to reconcile evolution with theology and Gödel’s proof. Unfortunately, it does not further postulate anything emotionally warm or teleological about either God or His Universe in which we find ourselves. Sure, this allows us to be consistent with Parfit, Spinoza [7] and others. But Parfit’s Selector is not anthropomorphic entity and is not necessarily teleological. Hence, this still leaves with question: is teleology nullified?

In fact, teleology is not nullified. To understand it, we have to go back to Parfit and his evolution-like theory of pro-perpetuation Selector. As has been mentioned, it is perfectly clear, from our vantage point, that our Universe makes life possible. This universe possesses certain qualities/properties that, so far at least, perpetuated the universes that possessed them. But not only that, due to those same properties, there came to exist islands of space that contained life, e.g. our very own planet Earth.

More tellingly, animated life is not some completely unlikely occurrence in our fine-tuned universe. Rather, according to a paper by Jeremy England, given certain localized conditions, animated life is inevitable [8][9], i.e. necessary.

The arrival of biological life as necessary outcome, entails that our Universe operates on properties that are not only perpetuating, but also life-sustaining.

While it is clear that not all that is physically perpetuating is life-sustaining, the fact that life-sustaining properties eventually emerge from certain perpetuating properties is an important, fascinating observation. Furthermore, we must notice that, while physical laws/properties are descriptive, biological laws are both fuzzy-descriptive and prescriptive. We can see that with emergence of animated life, teleology is necessarily emergent. This does not contradict Parfit, and it does not begin to go against Spinoza — quite yet, at least.

The next step in biological evolution of life on Earth was emergence of hominids and, eventually, humans. The emergence of humans, however, cannot be separated from emergence of human societies. And it is here that life-sustaining properties are leading to emergence of classically Gödelian/Aquinasian good/positive properties.

But goodness/positivity are no longer descriptive properties. Goodness, while it can be described, is rather a prescriptive property. Goodness are human-society maximizing properties, and it consists, essentially, of societal laws and the demands on humans imposed by their group’s customs, be they primitive or complex.

But if human laws are goodness, isn’t there an evolution (more precisely co-evolution) of these laws and societies that live under those laws, that lead to some societies being more vital than others, where vitality also includes both conquest and cultural transmission? Immense literature has been written on the subject, but Martin Nowak, Peter Turchin, Ara Norenzayan, Joseph Heinrich, and J.D. Unwin are definitely a few researchers who soundly resonate with my thoughts.

I will not burden you with exposition of their thoughts and impressive research, but will expedite my answer here: it is a resounding yes. Evolution operates not just at the level of individuals, but also at the level of groups and cultures.

Therefore, the next stage of human evolution has led to the emergence of properties that are not only perpetuating, life-sustaining, and good, but also of properties that are Godly. And it is now that teleology truly emerges and Spinoza’s anti-teleologic approach is subsumed.

The direction in which humans (or, to be more precise: Jews) are evolving (possibly, not quite there but ought to get to) is not as via being separate atomized individuals or even just members of a community: they are builders of, to use an anthropomorphic expression figuratively, “body of Ha-Shem.”

But an important issue is still unresolved: if physical Universe is part of God, and humans are “building” God, are those two different Gods? The answer is an unequivocal no. And the way to understand it is via modality and unfolding.

To extend Parfit, God begins by containing a non-teleologic Selector while also being the Selected(s), and Rejected(s) (due to that Being’s Infinitude). The universes being selected for contain perpetuating properties. The next steps are those properties that are life-giving. The next step are properties that are good. The next step are properties that are Godly.

God has different modalities, and they are enclosed within each other. The most primitive, most original modality, at least one that’s comprehensible to me, is one that operates non-teleologically: via physical and chemical laws, be they quantum-statistical or classical — one can look at it as blind “Will,” to use Schopenhauerian term, but it’s important to emphasize its blind, non-teleological character. The more evolved, much more rare modality, operates via life-sustaining laws of biology, where proto-teleology begins to emerge, but it’s all still a mostly-blind “Will.” The further upgrade in God’s modality is emergence of good/positive properties, which marks beginning of strongly prescriptive human laws and a considerable strengthening in teleology.

The beginning of true teleology might (symbolically) be linked with the act of Creation described in Genesis (kind of the “embryonic stage” of God’s teleological modality). After the Creation, the next fundamental event (again, symbolically) might be marked with the Covenant between the Jews and God, the first formalization of Halakhah. It can also be metaphorically equated with the emergence of Godly teleology from its “childhood “and constraining, soliciting the sons and daughters of Israel into their Godly Obligations. It was the very first bar/bat mitzvah, i.e. that fateful day in Sinai, when they became the very first “sons and daughters of mitzvot”. This important event marks the beginning of God’s modality that operates on properties that are not only perpetuating, life-sustaining, and good — but also Godly.

Modalities, thus, help solve the issue that only-the-positive properties are admissible in Gödel’s proof, after Anderson’s emendations are introduced into it. The issue of existence of evil is now explained by it being of a more primitive  modality than the higher modality of goodness and, of course, Godliness. Evil has often happened via physically perpetuating properties exhibited by God’s more basic modality – a.k.a. “acts of God/nature”. However, sometimes “life-sustaining” modality can be a source of evil, via, say, an attack by another human/human group or an animal.

One can even try to argue about borderline cases, as certainly, evil can be expressed in different ways. For example, Aztecs were sacrificing humans. It is evil in our eyes, but their laws and customs considered it to be good, and they had an actual society. In this case, we are in position of being touched by Godliness, and our logic goes beyond goodness: it is about Godliness. Indeed, once God unfolds a new modality, the standards for evil become wider. They are, hopefully, not going to go down, but it’s not something that should be taken for granted: after all, Judaism is all about Halakhah and conforming human and societal action — it’s about doing (via following mitzvot), and not just believing. This explanation is in line with Maimonides’s [10] “The Guide for the Perplexed.” The difference is in emphasis: I emphasize culture (focusing on Torah-based cultures as blueprint for correctness/evolutionary success), aggregates (including of intellectual beings vis-a-vis their societies) and unfolding Godly modalities, while Maimonides emphasizes the individual, his life, and his intellect, together with his culturally (Torah) mediated virtues that assist in survival.

And as you can also see now, I’ve recreated something akin to Chassidic panentheism together with tzimtzum without resorting to Lurianic Kabbalah (which, by the way, some rational Rabbis of Medieval epoch counted as utter fabrication) — on rational-empirical basis, in tradition of Aristotle, Avicenna, Maimonides etc.

[1] http://math.stackexchange.com/questions/248548/g%C3%B6dels-ontological-proof-how-does-it-work
[2] http://page.mi.fu-berlin.de/cbenzmueller/papers/B15.pdf
[3] https://github.com/FormalTheology/GoedelGod/blob/master/Papers/2015/AISSQ/02-BenzmuellerWoltzenlogelPaleo-AISSQ2015.pdf
[4] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/512437/jewish/How-Is-Chassidic-Thought-Distinct-from-Pantheism.htm
[5] http://www.lrb.co.uk/v20/n02/derek-parfit/why-anything-why-this
[6] http://www.lrb.co.uk/v20/n03/derek-parfit/why-anything-why-this
[7] http://www.ghandchi.com/406-SpinozaEng.htm
[8] https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

[9] http://nautil.us/issue/20/creativity/the-strange-inevitability-of-evolution


Amorites and Yamnaya: parallels


When I finished my previous post on Funnelbeaker hunter-gatherers, I became inspired to write more. So, here are my thoughts.

To me, the situation regarding the hunter-gatherers from Europe, their cultural absorption of skill set and technology from Anatolian farmers, mirrors the situation in the Middle East, with what happened with regards to the Amorite invasions of late 3rd to early 2nd millennia BC.

First thing first: It seems likely that, what gave rise to the “circum-Arabian nomadic pastoral complex” (CANPC) happened very similarly: it was the Afro-Asiatic hunter-gatherers’ interaction with first Anatolian farmers that allowed them to develop into herders post-6000 BC.

I will now advance an even bolder theory of mine (inspired by my father’s book): akin to the Yamnaya, sans the horse, the late Bronze Age Canaanites were, in fact, a merger (albeit a very violent one) between two cultures: Anatolian-derived farmers who came into the area of Transjordan around 3300 BC and the first Semitic tribes who invaded around 2100 BC, to found “House of Joseph,” or what came to be known later as the Northern Israelites. Well ok, the farmers, technically, returned, because their Natufian ancestors lived there well before that, leaving due to climactic changes. The Semitic invaders were a northern branch of the CANPC, a branch that before 2100 BC was thriving in the area around Harran (this locale is most likely the Israelites’ origin, according to Igor Lipovsky’s book: “Israel and Judah: How Two People Became One”).

The farmers who came into Canaan around 3300 BC, were most likely related to either Hurrians or Hattians or even a combination of the two (as I’ve promised earlier, I still intend to post on these two, plus proto-Hurrian connection with Yamnaya via Maykop). Along, these settlers were bringing their gods (the famous Anatolian-derived, Hatti/Minoan weather-god symbolized by bull; what was later Semitized into “Baal”), metallurgy and, yes, sedentary farming. Most intriguingly, in addition to the above two, they were bringing with them fortified-wall building tech, as is attested by archaeological evidence of first Canaan towns. This fact makes me suspect that at least a non-trivial component of these farmers was actually Hurrian/Urkeshian, and that they have had experience with proto-Indo-European Yamnaya, either directly or via interaction via their brethren in Maykop. Possibly, some of them were either pushed out of Urkesh or were from even more northerly locations, all the way in the steppe areas bordering North Caucusus, as after 3400 BC these areas were undergoing aridization and increased military pressures from Yamnaya culture people.

The Amorite tribes who invaded Canaan a bit after 2200 BC (coinciding with the 4.2 kiloyear event) where, essentially warring, nomadic shepherds from Northwest Mesopotamia and even further west, . Interestingly, their invasions of Canaan, Akkad and Babylon are concurrent with the establishment of the Early Helladic III period in the Mycenae, a time of arrival of Indo-Europeans into latter and the beginning of takeover of what was then Minoan-like civilization in the Peloponnese.  This  suggests that major changes were afoot, and peoples, especially nomadic ones, were experiencing unique circumstances that pushed them into forming large scale alliances, to make migration into less-arid zones possible. These Northwest-Mesopotamian herders were bringing with them their gods: mainly, what is known as El/Adad/Amurru. What else were they bringing: warrior spirit and a uniquely nomadic-pastoralist group cohesion.

Contrary to some literature, the Canaanites suffered most of the destruction not from the climactic change, but from the violent invasion of Semitic barbarians (at the time they were).

Nonetheless, it’s highly possible that pockets of farmers in Canaan remained and intermarried with the herders, who started ruling them. We know that the latter situation took place in Sumer/Akkad.

This brings to mind Maykop: Greg Cochran links the myth of Æsir–Vanir War to the steppe, Samara-derived people conquering North Caucasian farmers to form Maykop culture (which gave rise to and culturally influenced Yamnaya). Well, similar happened circa 2150 BC in Canaan and Akkad, more than a millennium after the Maykop collision: just like the Yamnaya went on to become proto-Indo-Europeans, the southwestern branch of the expansion of Amorites came to form the kernel of proto-Israelites: culturally and genetically.

I don’t claim that these processes were identical, but this post’s goal is about underscoring the fact that a parallel between the two is real, nonetheless.

Remark: I mentioned only Northern “House of Joseph.” The Southerners, what came to be known as “House of Jacob” (per Igor Lipovsky), arrived a couple of centuries later, circa 19th century. They were close Amorite relatives of northern tribes, and occupied the lands in Southern Canaan. Their escape and invasion is most likely due to Indo-European proto-Hittite groups beginning to establish themselves in Anatolia, including pastures around Harran.