Friday, December 20, 2013

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Sh’mot 5774-Pas De Deux

[Watch out. This one took a turn somewhere and went somewhere totally different than I thought it would. There, you are forewarned.]

Is it faulty logic? Is it blindness from gender bias?

Think about it. Why would Pharaoh order new born male Hebrew children killed? You want to control a population, you eliminate the women. No women, no babies. Was Pharaoh simply displaying an innate (however mistaken) gender bias?

Some commentators attempted to explain Pharaoh’s instructions as coming from his particular fears, as expressed in the Torah – a fear that the Hebrews would side with an invading power, and as everyone knew back then, only men were soldiers.

Sidebar: we can play a little game, and viewing the Exodus as a historical event, attempt to place it in Egyptian history. The typical placements are around 1450 or 1250 BCE. Yet according to the dynastical histories, Queen Ahotep I rallied her husband’s (and possibly brother) Pharaoh Seqenere Tao’s troops and my have been active in their defense of Thebes. She lived from 1560-1530, which puts it before the Pharaoh(s) of the Exodus. So women warriors might not have been an unknown. (Pharaoh Tao began the effort to drive the Hyksos out of Egypt. Josephus identifies the Hyksos with the Hebrews, though most modern scholarship rejects this notion. There are striking similarities between the Hyksos and the Hebrews. They did not follow Egyptian religion, they did not consider their Pharaohs to be g”ds, and they did not build great monuments. After six Hyksos Pharaohs, the Egyptians eventually drove the Hyksos out. The experience turned Egyptian culture highly xenophobic.) So timing would be everything, if we view the coming of Jacob and his family into a welcoming Egypt.  Timing matters, too, if we want to make some connection between the “montheistic” period of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1353-36 BCE?) and the Hebrews. Ah, for a time machine. Or not. There may be things we don’t want to really know.

So Jewish scholars reasoned that Pharaoh ordered the male Hebrew children killed to prevent them from growing up to be soldiers who might threaten Egypt. Nevertheless, not the most logical strategy. Kill the female children of the Hebrews, and the threat of both the Hebrew becoming too numerous and their males growing up to be soldiers to fight against Egypt disappears. Ah, but there’s that slave-owner logic. Kill all the female children, and eventually all your slaves die out and you have none. Kill the males, keep the females, and you can find ways to impregnate the Hebrew women and keep your slaves. So perhaps there is a dastardly, ugly logic to it all after all. Were the Pharaohs that smart and that evil, or were they just products of their testosterone, and didn’t see Hebrew female children as a threat?

Boy, nothing is ever as simple and obviously logical as it seems.  Very little in life presents just “a” and “b” options in a logic/decision-making tree. The law of unintended consequences raises its head whenever we don’t see or take into account all the variables. There I times I wonder if any attempt to find all the variables in a situation and factor them into the logic tree is a fools errand.

We can further muddy the waters. We can view unintended consequences through different lenses. We can view them as a product (or by-product) of humanity’s free will. We could also see unintended consequences as being the result of Divine interference. How do you factor that into a logic tree?

Oh wait a minute. Religion. Faith. These are attempts by humankind to factor the unknown, the not yet understood, the unexplainable, and more, into some sort of logical framework. We’ve abused the concept, unfortunately, by simply using it as an explanation for why things don’t always work as we expect them to work. Things didn’t go your way? G”d. You factored in everything you could think of and things still didn’t happen as expected? G”d. He/she did everything right and still died young? (Ineffable) G”d.

Sidebar: is G”d logical? Does logic matter to G”d? The Torah seems replete with questionable choices by G”d, choices that defy any logic. If we apply the “ineffable” standard we have to accept there may be a Divine logic to which we are not privy. Is logic merely a human construct? Is logic, like religion, part of the human attempt to understand the universe? Yes, it is true that as scientific knowledge increases, we sometimes discover an underlying logic we could not previously see. Proponents of religion and faith might make the exact same argument!

Now, we’re not there yet in the Torah, so I won’t get into the whole “direct intervention by G”d” stuff, or G”d’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. That really messes up the logic. In the end, would it have made much difference to the Torah’s narrative whether Pharaoh had ordered female instead of male (or both male and female) Hebrew children killed at birth? Well, one could argue that choosing to kill female children only would be problematic for the etiology of Moses. No need to hide him, put him in a basket, have him grow up privileged in Pharaoh’s palace, murder an overseer, run away, etc. Yet if G”d intended to choose Moses, G”d would surely have made it happen somehow. [Ooh-was it G”d perhaps that toyed with Pharaoh’s mind and made him choose to order only the male Hebrew children slain at birth? Oh what a tangled web. Causality is a bitch, ain’t it? Causality gets totally screwed when you introduce an omnipotent (or even semi-potent) G”d into the equation. Science doesn’t like that – and it shouldn’t. Theology, whatever you may think of it, is open to the idea of a less than omnipotent G”d, and such philosophies exist and not rejected out of hand by theologians.]

So here we are, yet again, at the intersection of science and religion. Funny how we keep coming back there.  The logical, scientific me continues to insist that, though science and faith can exist side by side, neither one can or should be used to help explain the other. Only with this safe distancing can we be true to both. Why is it, then, that there always seems to be a part of much that says the possibility exists that science (in some form we may not yet understand) and faith (in some form we may not yet understand) may just be different sides or aspects of the reality that is our universe (or perhaps what is beyond or even outside our own universe, is such a reality exists.)

My friends with stronger faith tell me I work too hard to try and explain and understand matters of faith from a logical perspective. My scientific friends tell me I work too hard to try and find connections between science and faith. (Ideas like “G”d as unified field theorem.”) Theology, as I mentioned earlier, is open to consideration of a less than omnipotent G”d and perhaps even the idea that G”d existed and was active at one time, but is no longer so. Science is perhaps less open to considering that not all things in the universe can be explained through science and/or logic. Einstein did criticize Quantum physics’ concept of entanglement by calling it “spukhafte Fernwirkung.”

I do hope and pray that both science and faith continue to be self-critical. (Is praying for science oxymoronic?) Three cheers for the scientists working to disprove (or improve)the “standard model.” Three cheers for the theologians working to disprove (or improve) religion’s equivalent of the “standard model.” Our society benefits from both, despite the claims of the Hitchens and Gladwells of the world. Here’s a possibly radical thought: I actually think science and faith may need each other. They are a balance, a necessary tension. The existence of one keeps the other on its toes. Of course, there is a time for both disciplines to go easy on the other. After all, no one wants to spend all their time on their toes – just ask any ballet dancer.

Ballet, and dance in general are, by the way,  wonderful examples of a mixture of science and faith. It takes physics (and not just biophysics) to make the body do what a dancer has to do. It takes faith for them to do it, and make it an art.

So, science and faith, go put on your pointe (toe) shoes and do a nice pas de deux and individual variations for a while, and then take them off and take it easy for a while in your slippers. May the dance never end.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2013 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Sh'mot 5773 - Wicked, Wonderful Moral Ambiguities
Sh'mot 5772 - Is Might Ever Right?
Sh'mot 5771 - Free Association IV
Sh'mot 5767-Logic & Metaphysics
Shemot 5766 - Free Association III
Shemot 5765-Why Us?
Shemot 5764-Uncomsumed-ness
Shemot 5763 - Free Association II
Shemot 5762-Little Ol' Me?
Shemot 5761-The Spice of Life
Shemot 5760-Tzaz Latzav, Tzav Latzav

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