Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tu B'Shevat Reflections: Can Judaism and Environmentalism Co-Exist?


Under normal circumstances, I would consider the effort by liberal Jews to shove Judaism into secular environmentalism to be intellectually dishonest. In the words of Norman Podhoretz, they believe in the “Torah of liberalism” rather than the Torah of Judaism. Their feeble effort to distort the truth by cherry-picking few texts [usually out of context] is mendacious at best, and at worst, is a morally repugnant form of presenting one’s views. However, one has to seriously take King Solomon’s advice (Proverbs 3:6) when he says that you shall “acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will smooth your paths.” What exactly does that mean? According to Metzudos, “In all that you do [own emphasis added], know HaShem. Create a ‘mindset’ that the purpose of whatever you do is the fulfillment of G-d’s will. Then He will direct your path and you will succeed.” I can direct this in general terms towards Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews alike. For the Orthodox, this means that living in His ways is not excluded to ritual, i.e., the only indicators of a good Jew are if you keep kosher or Shabbos. For the non-Orthodox, this means that your private life is not severed from your public life, i.e., what I do in synagogue stays in synagogue. Everything you do, from what you eat or wear to how you conduct business or interpersonal relations, is for His will. As we will discover shortly, environmentalism is no exception.

Man’s Nature

Approaching this from a secular approach, in my view, is a poor idea. As the saying goes, “business is business.” Torah recognizes that man has a tendency to give into its yetzer hara (Genesis 8:22), although man has the ability to overcome it (ibid. 4:7). As Adam Smith postulates in his book A Wealth of Nations, we are greatly persuaded by our self-interest, which means that in this scenario that the only way one can succeed at being environmentally sound is to infuse it with the incentive that the “invisible hand” provides in the free market. If you need any proof of that theory, look no further than the last Copenhagen conference about the supposed global warming issue. Notice how China and India, the two nations that are emitting more carbon than any other nations because of economic growth, are choosing economic development over environmental concerns. In its present state, choosing the environment over the economy is irrational. The top priority in the secular world is that self-interest, and an impetus for responsibility for one’s fellow man is, at best, secondary. In order to find any sense of personal responsibility towards others, one needs to take a more G-dly look at it.

Going back to the Garden of Eden, we see two seemingly contradictory sides of man. First, we are told in Genesis 1:28 to “be fruitful and multiply, and subdue it [the land].” G-d commands us that we have dominion of the earth. On the other hand, He tells us to “till and keep it,” denoting stewardship of the planet. We are simultaneously told to domineer and protect the land. Rather than view these two divine mandates as dichotomous, we should view them as a duality. “For my sake was the world made (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).” Being created in His image, the universe was created for man. Man is meant to use the natural resources that G-d has provided. It does not mean that we exploit those resources to the point where we are left with nothing. This was the realization that Adam made in Genesis 2. As R. Soloveitchik, z”tl, pointed out in The Lonely Man of Faith, “He encounters the universe in all its colorfulness, splendor, and grandeur, and studies it with the naïveté, awe, and admiration of the child who seeks the unusual and wonderful in every ordinary thing and event.”  In order to figure out how these two aspects of man's nature become attuned with one another, one first has to look at Jewish law and how it handles the interaction with nature, with specific regard to the prohibition of b'al tashchit, or wanton destruction. 

Jewish Law and Environmentalism

For taking place in a nomadic, agricultural society, it amazes me that amongst other values that Judaism purports, one of those messages happens to be environmental.  As week look at these concepts, we need to keep in mind what the Midrash has to say about our responsibility to the environment:

“When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”
 -Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13

The Torah tells us to create green belts around cities (Numbers 35:4).  Leviticus 19:19 prohibits grafting diverse seeds and cross-breeding animals, thereby showing respect for biodiversity.  Deuteronomy 23:12 deals with issues of waste disposal, i.e., public sanitation issues.  Although the Baba Batra primarily deals with property rights, it still has thourough discussions on air, water, and noise pollution.  In terms of strict exploitation, we are even supposed to give animals, as well as the land, a rest during Shabbos. Speaking of giving the land a rest, we have laws of shemita, which is when a Jew gives the land a year’s rest once every seven years.  This translates into "thou shall not cause soil erosion." 

There are other laws highlighted here, but I really want to focus on Ba’al taschit, not committing wanton destruction, because it is the impetus most cited by Jewish environmentalists.  It is based on Deuteronomy 20:19-20 that states that one is to be so careful as to not destroy an enemy’s fruit tree during a time of war. The Sefer Ha Chaniuch (529) expounds on this concept, and says that a righteous person would not even consider destroying a mustard seed because such destruction is considered wicked.  If we are supposed to show such attentiveness to something as tiny as a mustard seed, we should have a similar awareness towards the rest of limited resources.  But that still doesn't give us a clear heading as to how we should view our role with nature and how we go about using natural resources.  The Chatam Sofer, upon analyzing Bava Kamma 92a, is trying to figure out whether it is halachically acceptable to fell a tree in order to build a house.  In the larger scheme of things, this is what he conlcudes:

As long as he is not certain that the gain from cutting down the tree is greater than the value of the fruit it bears he is forbidden to cut it down and there is a danger as well, even in a case which is there is a doubt as to the value. This is my opinion. But if he stands to profit, even if only to build houses, which, in our time and place is a more important need than date palms, there is no doubt that it is permitted; however, if the tree can be uprooted with some soil and replanted at another site it is forbidden to cut down the tree. This is my humble opinion.

Quoting Sviva Israel, this is what has to be conluded about the nature of B'al Taschit: The prohibition of Bal Tashchit is not based on the idea that it is forbidden for me to waste resources; rather on the idea that every object in the world has a fundamental right to continue to exist as it is. God created nature, and, in principle, He wishes for it to remain as it was created, without being destroyed or moved, and it is this idea that implies that destruction of natural resources is prohibited without ample justification. When is such destruction justified? When it is done for a useful purpose. In other words, it is not the case that nature is a resource available to me, and if I destroy it I am wasting one of my resources, and therefore I am not allowed to destroy these resources without adequate reason. Instead the idea is that I am permitted to use natural resources, just like I am permitted to use animals for food and clothing. However, fundamentally nature should remain in its pristine state. The use of any natural resource must take into account the entire balance of rights - man’s needs and nature’s rights [own emphasis added]."

What This Means for Us in the Twenty-First Century

As stated above, we are meant to balance our needs with the right of nature to exist in its original state of being.  This means that environmentalism has to fit within Judaism, not the other way around.  One of the purposes of Shabbat, as stated by R. Samuel Dresner in his work The Sabbath, is to be at peace [and rest] with nature.  If Shabbat has been considered by the Sages to be a "taste of the World to Come," surely we must consider our ideal relationship with nature not to be strictly exploitative, but rather harmonious.

As Rabbi Yossi Ives states, Jews need to be at the forefront of this issue.  If we are supposed to be אור לגוים (a light unto nations), then we should act like it.  As Rabbi Ives states, he is dismayed that G-d-fearing Jews are not discussing the issues at hand.  This is not something that should be left for the Left because they will complain how we really shouldn't use any resources and how we should consider ourselves "just another species of animal."  They will bring neither balance nor moderation to the issue, which is why I respect the Jewish response precisely because it does.  The Torah teaches us to create social harmony by being servants of Hashem, which I have outlined in regards to environmentalism. 

In short, we have an imperative to be environemntally conscious.  Although COEJL is not a bad source, I would highly recommend Canfei Nesharim primarily for the reason that it deals with environmental issues from the lens of Torah, rather than secular thought.  Whether it is over-consumption, water contamination, or energy shortages, I hope that we all can find well-balanced solutions to environmental issues.

Democrats Pressure Israel and the State of Anti-Semitism

I came across this bit of news late this past week.  According to Haaretz, there are 54 lawmakers that are urging Obama to put pressure on Netanyahu--pressure to let up on Gazan border controls.  These Congressmen gripe because "we're punishing the collective [i.e., the Gazans] because of the few [i.e., Hamas]."  What these Congressmen forget is that Gaza voted for Hamas, and that just about everybody over there is, at the very least, an anti-Semite, and at the most, a Hamas supporter.  Knowing that Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, has a bias towards the Left, I noticed that they forgot one important fact about this news: all 54 Congressmen are Democrats!

First of all, why should Israel have to let up on border control?  You have a group people who call for the extermination of the Jewish people.  These border controls are a form of self-defense.  Any other nation defending their borders as such is a necessary precaution.  When Israel does it, it's apartheid!  Maybe "Palestine" should get some sovereignty so they wouldn't have to be so dependent on Israel "closing its borders."  Maybe they should vote in a new party.  [Side note--that won't work, it's only an electoral democracy, not a liberal one.  For those of you who don't know, a liberal democracy is an electoral democracy that happens to protect civil rights]  Maybe they should stop hating their Jewish neighbors.  This article, entitled Middle East needs bridges, not walls, shows the poor mentality of those on the Left.  "Bibi builds walls.  Israel isn't for peace."  You know how much land Israel has tried to give to appease these jihadists?!  That's a matter of picking up a history book, something I know that the pro-Palestinian factions have not done, nor will ever do, just because Israel would have to be presented in a positive light.  Historically speaking, Israel has tried again and again to appease Arabs by offering them a state.  They don't want to hear any of it because it's easier to have a scapegoat than to fix your own problems. 

This brings me to my second point, which is that all fifty-four of the Congressmen were Democrats!  One would think that the "Religious Right" in this country would be the ones with the issue becuase "Jews have forsaken Jesus."  Wrong!  You can describe right-winged Christians with other adjectives, but anti-Semitic isn't one of them.  The truth is that anti-Semitism in the West comes overwhelmingly from the Left.  If you don't count just about every single Muslim (I give the Sufis a pass, as well as a few Sunnis and Shi'ites) in the West, it would essentially be a Leftist phenomenon.  KKK and neo-Nazis, you might say.  Well, there are only about 50,000 in America, so they can be ignored.  And if you are Jewish and worried, buy a gun!  We Jews outnumber them more than 100 to 1.  That might be problematic for many Jews because they're exceptionally liberal.  If you actually wanted to learn from Nazi Germany, you would buy a gun because that is one of the first rights they took away.  The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is just a great example of how a couple hundred rag-tag Jews with some basic weaponry can hold off the Nazi army, one of the most advanced at the time, for nearly a month.  But I digress.  It is amazing how much anti-Semitism has shifted from a right-winged to left-winged phenomenon.  Universities, being the bastions for liberalism that they are, teach their students how to be "anti-Israel" or "anti-Zionist," being careful not to explicitly say they hate the Jewish people.  The academics in their ivory tower are the ones constantly calling for boycotts of Israel.  To the Left, Israel represents the establishment, which is why they view Zionism as a form of colonialism.  Israel being compared to Nazi in Leftist circles is no longer something done behind closed doors--it is something that has become mainstream.  As Chief Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, the reason why Israel has become a cause célèbre [for the Left] is because it is presented as the fight for human rights, whereas Israel represents [for those on the Left] racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide and crimes against humanity, all of which are clearly fallacious charges.  Another theory I have come across is that Israel represents the success of capitalism, whereas the "Palestinians" represent the proletariat who need "social justice" (i.e., land re-distriubtion on an international level.....Leftists taking something that isn't theirs and distributing it to somebody else....I sense a theme here) delivered by punishing Israel and returning the land to the Palestinians, although they have no real claim to the land.  In short, Israel is a global personification that which the Left despises--earning what you have worked for, entrepreneurship, a growing capitalist economy, nationalism, free speech, self-defense, take your pick! 

This sort of behavior cannot be accepted.  As for the fifty-four Congressmen, if they happen to be your Congressmen, give them a call and tell them to back off of Israel.  Although this is a step in the right direction, fighting anti-Semitism won't be that simple.  Going back to the Sacks article, we are truly dealing with the most irrational and widely-spread negative sentiment.  It will take both the Jewish people continuing to present a positive image, as well as allies who sympathize with Israel's predicament.  By putting up the fight to eradicate this needless hatred, we help usher in an age in which peace, rather than hatred, dominates.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What's With the Black Robes?: A Jewish Look at Modesty and Clothing

I was reading a Chabad article on this very topic: Why do they wear black robes?  One of the answers is to be inner-directed rather than being directed by "external norms."  I find that to be hypocritical because it is the same exact thing when people of the Goth subculture say they're non-conformist, but at the same time are conforming within their own niche.  The author states that they are not worried about the dictates of fashion, but within the Haredi community, wearing black robes is the dictate of fashion.  The minhag (custom) of wearing black is relatively new because I can tell you right now that Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) was not walking around in the desert for forty years with a black robe on.  This custom actually comes from an edict from 18th-century Ashkenazi rabbis because if they were wearing a "plain color" such as black, it wouldn't arouse envy amongst their non-Jewish neighbors.  It's that simple--it was a practical measure in attempts to mitigate the anti-Semitism they were facing.  Needless to say, the notion that wearing black robes is the ultimate Jewish expression took on a life of its own.

What is modest dress for a Jewish man?  For starters, a man needs to wear tzitzit on the corners of his garment (Numbers 15:38).  A man cannot wear women's clothing (Deuteronomy 22:5), and vice versa.  This is merely a matter of what is written in the first five books of Moses.  Wearing a kippah, although one of the most famous of Jewish practices, ironically enough has the least amount of halachic backing.  As a matter of fact, a man such as the Vilna Gaon takes issue with calling it a requirement.  Many, however, see the kippah as a universal minhag of a binding nature.  Aside from head covering, we have to look at other texts to see what is considered "modest."  Orach Chaim (2:3) states that you must be dressed in a dignified manner.  We have to keep in mind since we are created in His image, we should dress with that sort of dignity.  The Talmud (Berachot 62b) states that when King David showed the slightest irreverence for King Saul's clothing, he was punished.  Dress, like everything else, should be conducted in a distinguished manner because we are, after all, doing everything for His sake.

For a man, dressing modestly seems easy.  Wear tzitzit, don't wear shatnez, wear man's clothing (as opposed to women's clothing), keep your head covered, and wear clothing with dignity.  Wearing different colors are not an issue because our ancestors wore different colors (Hint, hint, Joseph wore a "technicolor dream coat").  As long as you're not wearing it to imitate your non-Jewish neighbor (See discussion on Thanskgiving and imitating non-Jews), it is acceptable to wear anything you buy at your local department store.  There is one area of clothing that we have not discussed yet, and this is whether it is acceptable for a man to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts.  For those of you who have not noticed, Haredim do not wear shorts, and very few will be wearing short-sleeved shirts.  Natrually, they will state that any man who does is dressing immodestly.  But is he?  Let's take a look at a Jewish text.  The Mishnah Beruah (75:2) states that the minimum standard for a female to be modestly dressed is to have the upper arm covered and to be covered from the knee downward.  In the Orthodox community, tzniut (modesty) is much more emphasized with the women because the belief is that women are more likely to tempt men.  Just look at the fact that the concept of kol isha exists, yet there is no prohibition of a woman listening to a man's voice.  As a result, the Orthodox community is more strict with how women dress than how men dress.  There is a halachic inference that can be made.  In the name of R. Ishmael, the principle of מקל וחמר applies.  Essentially, מקל וחמר states that an inference can be made from a lenient law to strict law, and vice versa.  For example, your child's bedtime during the week is 9:30 because "it's a school night."  On the weekend, one can infer that the child can stay up a little later, such as 10:30 or 11:30, because "it's the weekend."  Although clothing has nothing to do with bedtime, the principle still applies.  If a women's modesty is considered more strict and worth guarding than that of a man's, surely a man's minimum requirements cannot exceed that of a woman's.  In short, if a woman's minimum requirement is to have the upper arm covered, as well as be covered from the knee downward, the man's halachic expectation cannot go beyond her's.  Therefore, it is permissible for a man to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts.

Conclusion: From a minimalist perspective, there is nothing wrong with wearing shorts or short-sleeved shirts.  If you like wearing a black robe all the time, that is your perogative.  It certainly does not constitute as immodest dress.  However, do not tell me that my dress is immodest because halachically speaking, it isn't.  During the normal week, I choose to dress modestly.  For Shabbos and Yom Tov, I elevate my dress to a nice suit and a tie because I want to be able to elevate as much as possible for a chag, thereby showing reverence for a special occassion.  This is a preferential approach that is, as I already stated, within the dictates of proper attire.  As long as one keeps modest attire as a part of their self-presentation, what you wear beyond that is your choice, and I'll respect it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Inefficacies of Government Spending

The numbers are in for the government’s 2009 fiscal year, and it’s not a pretty picture. The 2009 deficit was $1,417,121, which is nearly $1T more than last year’s deficit! Although 3.5 of those months were technically still part of the Bush administration, a great bulk of that spending can easily be attributed to the Obama administration. This is important to realize, especially considering that yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the stimulus package. Ron Paul wrote an article highlighting that classic Reagan quote of “Government is not the solution; it’s the problem.” I wholeheartedly agree with Congressman Paul when he says that we have a loose monetary policy, and the Obama administration is living proof of that. Stimulus packages, company bailouts, Cash for Clunkers--these are all programs that have directly caused this rising debt, sluggish economic recovery, as well as unemployment rates that would make Europeans blush. 

The argument that there is some form of utopian governmental power structure that works more efficiently than the private sector is a myth.  You hear this from Communist apologists all the time.  "Well, Mao's Great Leap Forward was a bit off, but if he did it in such and such a way, it would have been a paradise."  I have news for proponents of Big Government--anything can work in theory because when scenarios are put in theoretical situations, factors can be manipulated to make the ideology work.  The biggest obstacle for those enamored with Big Government is reality.  People think that government can have a multiplier effect that is greater than one are severely misguided because history proves the contrary.  When we give our money to the government, the multiplier effect is always considerably less than one.  Social Security is a fine example because solvency issues arise.  The Social Security Administration already predicted the collapse of Social Security by 2042 if nothing is done.  The only active options the government would have are raise taxes or lower benefits, neither of which would be viable, especially if you're a politician worrying about votes.  Giving Americans the choice to put it in low-risk bonds, which would provide approximately a 5.5% rate of return, is much better than what the government offers.  Let's say someone came up to you and said they had two investment options.  The first one would most likely give you a negative rate of return, although there's a slight chance that the rate of return would be 0%.  The second option is low-risk, "play it safe," but it still provides you with a solid 5.5% rate of return.  Anyone who is sane enough to choose the retirement nest egg that would provide with more money would choose the second one [i.e., private investment].  The reason why we don't do that is because government coerces us to choose the less viable option. 

Government and environmentalism is no better.  Although I don't give into global warming hysteria, let's say for argument's sake that they are right.  When government interferes with a carbon tax, it provides two cents of social benefit, which is just another way of saying that the government has a multiplier effect of 0.2!  I can go on and on with example of government inefficiencies, but it's safe to say that they exist.  The only way that government can come even close to competing with the private sector is to either enact such ridiculous legislation where the private sector cannot do its job or take so much taxpayer dollars to fallaciously inflate their success rate.  Why is it that every time you go to the DMV, the person you deal with at the counter is a miserable human being?  Because they have no incentive to provide good service.  For starters, in many sectors, such as the DMV, government has a monopoly.  Monopolies have no incentive to improve their businesses because there is no competition.  A lack of competition stifles innovation and progress.  That is why from a greater historical perspective, government creates problems rather than solves them.  This was something that our Founding Fathers realized over two centuries ago.  If a bunch of "ignorant, slave-holding, racists WASP's" [notice the sarcasm!] can figure out this simple principle, I think we can do it as well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that"

I'm aware that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was a week ago, but this is just how far I am on my blogging.  I still found it important to blog on this topic, which is why I finished this posting.

This Martin Luther King quote was the inspiration for my alma mater's MLK celebration when they decided to bring Rev. Wanda Washington from the United Church of Christ to speak and elaborate on it.  [FYI: In the Christian world, UCC is about as far to the Left as one can go, which is why it's not all that big of a surprise that she would be the only kind, i.e. of the liberal liberal variety, of clergy that Lawrence would ever sponsor]  The topic of the speech was "hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."  This was an MLK quote, and she spoke about how to go about that.  I will avoid elaborating on her usage of social justice, which is just another way of saying "Big Government, socialist policies that only exacerbate the very problems they try to solve."  If you want to read how the Left has perverted the very notion of "social justice" by invoking His name for Leftist, anti-Biblical ideas, just read this article by Michael Novak. What I really would like to focus on is the quote itself and Rev. Washington's interpretation of it.

There are two points of her speech I would like to focus on.  The first is, as best expressed by the Beatles, "All you need is love."  The second point I would like to bring up is "accept people just the way they are." 

The first is love alone will heal this world.  Anger can never be an acceptable response because "it's too ugly."  Under normal circumstances, I would agree. Anger, particularly when it is uncontrolled and untamed, as well as coupled with hatred, is moshighly destructive.  It's why Cain murdered Abel, and why Simeon and Levi justified murdering Shechem and his entire town (Genesis 34:25-26).  The Sages say that "When one becomes rageful, G-d becomes of no consequence to him (Nedarim 22b)."  Furthermore, love is also an important force within Torah.  We are commanded to love G-d (Deut. 6:5), to love our neighbor (Lev. 19:18), and no less than on thirty-six occasions, we are commanded to love the stranger.  In normal situations, love is the default and anger should be avoided.

However, when the anger is controlled and channelled into something known as moral outrage, it becomes much more justifiable.  Just a few Biblical examples: HaShem gets angry at Balaam for using his gift of prophecy for evil (Number 22:22).  Moses was "angry" at those who spoke slander (Numbers 16:15).  Isaiah was morally outraged at those who mistreated the poor (Isaiah 3:14-15).  HaShem is furious at King Solomon for building idols in Israel (I Kings 11:9).  Rabbi Benjamin Blech briefly explains why anger is sometimes justifiable.  The Torah is about love.  HaShem teaches us to love and focus on that attribute.  If we are truly supposed to love love, and to walk in His ways by showing loving-kindness, we cannot tolerate evil.  As a matter of fact, we are supposed to be such beacons of love and hope that we are supposed to hate evil and injustice because it is so anathematic to Torah.  Why? Such evil cannot be drawn out with love; only an eradication of such evil is the antidote.

The second point I found to be against Jewish teachings is "you're fine just the way you are."  For those of you who think that the Bible is solely about this touchy-feely version of love are sorely misguided.  First of all, Leviticus 19:18 ultimately teaches us that the verse of "love thy neighbor" is about doing acts of loving-kindness.  Second, the verse right before it (i.e., 19:17) teaches us to rebuke our neighbor. Love without rebuke is flabby at best.  This is so hard for many Americans to imagine, let alone actualize, because rebuking is "politically incorrect" because by doing so, you're "intolerant."  Let's say that you have a relative you care about that is partaking in a self-destructive habit, such as gambling or snorting crack.  Would you honestly just sit there and say, "Oh, he's fine just the way he is, and doesn't need to change?"  I don't think so!  If you honestly cared about him, you wouldn't stand idly by his blood (ibid, 19:16).  You would intervene.  You would get him into rehab and make sure he recovers.  The same applies for anybody you care about who is doing something wrong.  Torah teaches that we are meant to overcome our evil inclination (Genesis 4:7) in order to walk in His ways (Deut. 11:22, 28:9).  The fact that we are not automatically inclined to do good (Genesis 8:21) means that we have to improve ourselves through mussar, or character trait development.  Wisdom, kindness, compassion, discipline, and many other traits all need to be cultivated and always can use improvement, even if they are seemingly in "tip-top shape."  G-d wants us to constantly participate in self-improvement as a way of becoming closer to Him. If you think you're fine just the way you are, you never reach the full potential that G-d had intended for you.

Conclusion:  Love is important in Jewish thought, but embracing everybody "as is" is not kosher.  Being able to rebuke is an essential facet of true love, as is knowing where to draw the line with evil.  Without these elements, you have underminded the very love you claim to embrace.  My hope is that people learn about rebuke and intolerance of evil so they may better learn how to love others in life.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Week of January 17 Hodgepodge

-As if Scott Brown taking Ted Kennedy's seat wasn't enough.  The Democrats tried to pass the Senate version through the House this week in attempts to shove something down America's throat, but failed miserably.  Their plans for an ambitious health care overhaul have been officially thwarted, and at this point, I couldn't be happier.

-Air America filed bankruptcy.  I guess Leftist programming only works best when you force it upon the American people in the form of PBS.  Good riddens to bad trash!

-Former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton writes about the latest controversy between Google and China.  I am one for amicable relations in that region in the world, especially considering the fact China is an economic rising power with the world's largest military.  If China wants to promote liberal democracy throughout its lands, then fine, I have no problem with making occasional concessions that don't throw the balance of power out of whack.  However, when you continue in your authoritarian ways to the extent where your economic freedoms have declined even further from last year, issues arise in foreign policy.  But I do thank Google for having a pair.  Maybe the Obama administration can follow suit.    

-For once, I can say I am impressed with CNN.  Earlier this week, CNN was impressed with the fact that Israel was the only nation to set up a hospital in Haiti. Again, I continue to give Israel kudos for always being the first ones on the scene when humanitarian aid in moments of crisis is needed.

-A great victory for the First Amendment took place this week in the Supreme Court when they struck down the McCain-Feingold law severly limiting campaign contributions.  When a law requires any group of two or more people who raise $5,000 for the purposes of making a political statement to be ambushed by a blizzard of federal regulations subject to fines, you have to wonder what McCain-Feingold was really about.  With this advancement of freedom of speech, particularly during elections, people will be able to freely voice their frustrations against the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress this upcoming November.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jesus Didn't Die for My Sins

I got into an argument today with a Christian about Jesus this past Sunday, specifically with regards to whether Jesus vicariously atoned for my sins by sacrificing his blood. Obviously, I don’t think he died for my sins, or anyone else’s for that matter. If Jesus did indeed die for my sins, it would negate any need for me to act in a moral and virtuous manner because if I’m forgiven, why bother being nice to people? That moralistic qualm set aside, there is no way that Jesus could have died for anybody’s sin, and here's why.

1) When there was a Temple, sacrificing blood only applied to unintentional sin (Numbers 15:27, Leviticus 4:27, 5:14, 5:17).

2) If Jesus did indeed replace the sacrificial system by way of spilling his blood, any offering I find described in the Torah should have a blood sacrifice.  But look, how wrong can a man be? Any animal sacrifice, whether it's an elevation offering or peace offering (that sounds ironic--a peace offering with sacrificing an animal, but I digress) has to have the blood completely drained because blood consumption is forbidden (Lev. 7:26-27, 17:10-14). In cases of theft, fraud, or lying to someone about a loan, they are required to fully compensate plus add a fifth to the principal (Lev. 5:21-26).  Anyone who intentionally commits idolatry is cut off from the people Israel (Numbers 15:30-31) and cannot repent.  Poor people were able to make flour offerings (Lev. 5:12-13) in cases of denying testimony (5:1), contaminating holy things (5:2-3), and false or unkept oaths (5:4).  Aaron made atonement with incense (Numbers 17:11-13).  Jewelry was used as a sacrifice (Numbers 31:50).  Even Isaiah (6:6-7) took a live coal to himself to atone! The fact that not all sins in the sacrificial system require blood sacrifice means that blood sacrifice was not the only way to atone.

3) In all reality, whether or not the sin was intentional is a moot point.  In the sacrificial system, any flesh-based sacrifice was done with animals only.  Human sacrifice is abhorent in Jewish practice.  The most notable story of this abhorrence is the Akeidah, or the binding of Isaac.  At the end, a ram was replaced (Genesis 22:13) with Isaac.  In Deuteronomy 12:30-31, HaShem states how He finds human sacrifice abhorrent, and He re-iterates this point in Jeremiah 19:4-6 and Psalm 106:37-38.  If HaShem clearly states that human sacrifice is wrong, why would it all of a sudden be acceptable?

4) As Maimonides points out in Guide for the Perplexed (III, xxxii), animal sacrifice was a severly limited practice that the Israelites from which they were meant to be weaned.  As we already laid out, animal sacrifice, and more specifically blood sacrifice, was limited in context.  The practice is also limited in place, i.e., it can only be practiced at Beit Mikdash (Deut. 12:13, 26) in Jerusalem.  It is also limiting in the sense that only Kohanim (High Priests) were allowed to officiate as priests for the sacrifices.  Prayer and repentance, on the other hand, can be done by anbody at anytime, anywhere (well, almost anywhere....filthy places or houses of idol worship, for instance, are no-nos).  I would like to point something out with regards to the limitation of place.  Leviticus 17:11 states that any blood sacrifice would need to be done on the altar [in Beit Mikdash].  Since Jesus' blood was never sprinkled on the altar, Jesus' death could not have been an act of universal atonement.

5) I'm sure this Biblical reference is going to shock some people, but according to Jeremiah (7:22-23), who was a prophet (i.e., G-d spoke through him), He never commanded us to perform sacrifices:

כִּי לֹא-דִבַּרְתִּי אֶת-אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם, וְלֹא צִוִּיתִים, בְּיוֹם הוציא (הוֹצִיאִי) אוֹתָם, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם--עַל-דִּבְרֵי עוֹלָה, וָזָבַח. כִּי אִם-אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה צִוִּיתִי אוֹתָם לֵאמֹר, שִׁמְעוּ בְקוֹלִי--וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים, וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ-לִי לְעָם; וַהֲלַכְתֶּם, בְּכָל-הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, לְמַעַן, יִיטַב לָכֶם.

For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.

6) Vicarious atonement does not exist in Judaism.  Moses tried this after the Golden Calf incident (Exodus 32:32-35), and HaShem said that each person is responsible for their own sin.  Upon reading Ezekiel 18, it is quite clear that each individual is responsible for his own transgressions, as it is said, "the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon them and the wickedness of the wicked person shall be upon them (ver. 20)."  Jeremiah (31:30) said that each man will die for his own iniquity.  Isaiah (55:7) and Ezekiel (18:21-23), both prophets, argued in the same vain.  Plus, if you read II Chronicles 7:14, you will see that it says, "[I]f my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  Notice how there is nothing about needing to make a sacrifice--teshuva more than suffices!

7) Atonement was not solely obtained through sacrifices, whether that would be blood, animals, or other objects.  Prayer and repentance have very much have been a part of Jewish practice since Biblical times.  We learn this from the Golden Calf incident, as well as from the Books of Jonah (3:10) and Esther (9:3). When we look at the story of King David and Batsheva, Nathan points out (2 Samuel 12:13) that as soon as David made his statement of repentance, HaShem forgave him.  What these examples illustrate is that atonement was acquired without a drop of blood.

8) When the Jews are in exile, we cannot rely on sacrifices for two reasons.  The first is because, like I previously explained, the only place that one can perform a sacrifice is in the Temple.  We have not had one for nearly two millennia.  The second reason comes from Hosea (3:4-5) when he prophesied that the Jews would be in exile for quite some time before the Messianic era, they would be without the sacrificial system.  Furthermore, passages such as I Kings 8:44-52 and Jeremiah 29:12-14 inform us that without a Temple, our prayers take the place of sacrifices.  Hosea 14:3 is also a verse that illustrates that prayer replaced sacrifices, but I want to reflect on this one momentarily because there is an important grammatical nuance that Christians mistranslate:

קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים, וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל-יְהוָה; אִמְרוּ אֵלָיו, כָּל-תִּשָּׂא עָו‍ֹן וְקַח-טוֹב, וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים, שְׂפָתֵינוּ.
Take words with you and return to HaShem; say to Him, 'May You forgive all iniquity and accept good [intentions], and let our lips substitute for bulls [own emphasis added]."

That phrase I emphasized, "let our lips substitute for bulls," is important because when Christians translate it, they mistranslate it as "that we may offer the fruit of our lips."  The reason why this is important is that פרי (fruit) is very similar to פר (bull).  The problem is that the plural for פרי refers to fruit, is פריות, not פָרִים because פרי is a feminine word, whereas פר is masculine. [For those of you who don't know, the Hebrew nouns have two plural endings: ות- is for feminine nouns, and ים- for masculine nouns]  The grammatical rules dictate that the proper translation of פָרִים is indeed "bulls."  Plus, from a contextual standpoint, the only time that [the first] fruit was sacrificed was during Sukkot, which is a holiday of thanksgiving, not one of atonement.  Although this grammatical nuance seems insignificant, Christians actually have a stake in this mistranslation.  When  mistranslated as "fruit," it hides the fact the real meaning of the text, which is that prayer substitutes sacrifice during the exile period.  What this means is that Jesus' supposed vicarious atonement cannot cover all of our sins because HaShem already stated that prayer and repentance are the path of atonement during this specific time period (i.e., the exile of the Jewish people, also known as 70 C.E. to present).

Conclusion: Based on Biblical analysis what the Tanach tells us about atonement, there is no way that Jesus could have possibly died for anybody's sins.  Christians will go to their "New" Testament to find a citation, but you cannot use that to find this supposed fulfillment because the claim of Christianity is that Jesus' blood sacrifice fulfilled the Tanach. The fact that no such criterion exists in the Tanach already dismisses Christian claims.  Plus, this claim goes against everything that the Tanach teaches us about repentance, forgiveness, and personal responsibility.  Judaism is highly democratic in the sense that everybody has the ability to ask for His forgiveness and return to His ways.  The ability to ask forgiveness for one's iniquities and make a resolute effort not to transgress again is very much engrained in Tanach.  May people realize the wonder of teshuva so we can herald the coming of Moshiach!    

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

G-d Bless Massachussets

I am SO happy of the Senate election results in Massachussets!  Republican candidate Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley 52 to 47.  First and foremost, I would like to say that I am thrilled that Massachussets is sick of playing politics as usual.  One of the most blue states in America set its politicking aside because they already know how bad government-run health care is in their own state.

Tonight was not just "another election."  Tonight was a victory for economic freedom.  What has been prevented is an overall take-over of our say in our health care decisions, which, if you think about it, covers quite a lot.  Even with economic common sense taken into consideration, it even goes beyond that.  This has been yet another election showing the people's frustrations and dissapointments (that might be an understatement, but let's go with that for now) of the Democratic Party, and particularly Obama.  It is a sign that in all likelihood, the Democrats in Congress are going to lose a substantial amount of seats.  But if the GOP wants to take advantage of this in the long-run, they will need to listen to the angst of the Tea Party Movement.  The average American is sick and tired of Big Government, and many of us want to see change.  If the Republican Party can return to its values of less government and lower taxation, we would see an era of Republican-dominated government for at least the next four presidential terms.  But the Republicans first need to stop playing politics like usual before there can be real hope and change in America.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Earthquake in Haiti and the Dignity of Man

This past Tuesday, an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale devestated Haiti with massive loss of life.  I pray for those whose lives were lost, and for the families who lost loved ones in this natural disaster.  Looking for how the Jewish community reacted to this tragedy was interesting.  The American Jewish World Service, amongst many other Jewish organizations, came to the rescue with relief funds.  Israel was even one of the first nations on the scene to help out.  What was disconcerting was the Orthodox reaction, or lack thereof, to what is going on in Haiti. 

One of the negative stereotypes of Jewish people is that "they keep to themselves" or "they only care about their kind."  It's sad to say that there are some Jews, most notably from Hardeim communities, that feel this way about people who are not Jewish.  The Orthodox Union did not put out any statement [of prayer] whatsoever.  I was surprised to see that even an organization such as Uri L'Tzedek, an Orthodox organization for social justice, didn't even issue anything on the matter.  Chabad's attempt to respond was weak.  They only seemed concerned about getting kosher food to a select few (i.e., observant Jews), thereby perpetuating a steretoype that does not even apply to a grand majority of Jews.  There are millions going through devestating times, and you're worried about getting kosher few to a select few?!

Why should I be getting so uptight about this?  After all, I'm a libertarian who believes a [Haredi] Jew has the right to donate to whatever organization he'd like.  It is his right as an American citizen.  But that's not what I'm disputing.  I'm disputing the "us versus them" mentality that is primarily, but not exclusively, in the Orthodox community (especially the further to the Right you go).  These are the sort of people that won't acknowledge, let alone socialize with, a non-Jew. It makes me flinch so much because it is so anathematic to Jewish teachings.  In spite of what some might believe, Judaism believes in the inherent dignity of man and that being "created in His image" (Genesis 1:26) means that everyone, Jewish or not, should be treated respectfully.  Just a few examples from Jewish literature:

1) Genesis 1:26 states that Adam was created in His image.  This citation gives us plenty of insight.  This verse doesn't sway many in the frum community.  Texts, such as the Chassidic one entitled Tanya, states that only Jews have to deal with having their animal soul fight with their G-dly, implying that people who are not Jewish don't have a G-dly soul.  [Side note: I took a class at a Chabad about this text, and when non-Jews were brought up, I was told that "we don't have to worry about that because it's not of significance"....enough said]  Even with their meager attempts at spiritual elitism, they have an important fact to contend with: the Bible states that being created in His image began with Adam.  The fact that the concept of a neshama (soul) began with Adam is telling because Adam was not Jewish.  Chronologically speaking, the declaration that each individual is unique and has infinite value because he was created in His image was declared long before there were even a Jewish people to speak of.  If G-d had wanted to say that the Jewish people were superior to everyone else, He would have made such a declaration to Abraham, not Adam.  The fact that it was made to include the entirety of humanity, we cannot view this spiritual haughtiness as valid.

2) Midrash (Sanhedrin 4:5) states that Adam was created first and alone was because nobody could come and say that "my ancestor is better than yours."  We are all descended from the same man, and because of that, we are all related.  That fact is another important biblical point that ties us together.

3) Leviticus 19:18 states that "you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself."  There two sides to this discussion: one is that your neighbor is someone in the general vicinity, and the other is that neighbor refers to your fellow Jew.  The proponents for the former would argue that because we live in a multicultural world, our definition of neighbor has changed with the times.  The proponents for the latter say, "nope!" because all of our neighbors were Jews, and that's the mentality we have to maintain, even in the Diaspora.  For argument's sake, let's say that Leviticus 19:18 only applies with "fellow Jews."  Even if you try to justify not socializing or even talking to a non-Jew based on that reading, you're still commanded to love a non-Jew.  I'm sure many are figuring out how I came up with that one.  Here's how I came up with it:

כְּאֶזְרָח מִכֶּם יִהְיֶה לָכֶם הַגֵּר הַגָּר אִתְּכֶם, וְאָהַבְתָּ לוֹ כָּמוֹךָ--כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.
"The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."           -Leviticus 19:34   

Interesting--this verse resides within the same chapter as "love thy neighbor."  Having grown up in a non-Jewish home, having my entire family not be Jewish, as well as most of my friends, it's strange to think of them as strangers.  But for those of you who aren't really keen on viewing non-Jewish as neighbors, i.e., viewing them as strangers, you're still commanded to love him.  I'm sure that the next response is, "Steve, גֵּר means convert, not stranger."  That's the interesting thing about Hebrew, like any other language.  A word can have more than one meaning, and based on context, we have to figure out which meaning works best.  So let's presume that in this verse, it means convert.  "The convert that dwells amongst you, you shall love him as yourself; for ye were converts in the land of Egypt."  Did that not make sense to you either?  That's the point!  That would be because "stranger is the correct definition in this verse.  It doesn't matter how you view someone, stranger, neighbor, family, or friend, you are still commanded by the Torah to love them. 

4) HaShem emphasizes His love for all of humanity, and this concept is well-played out in the book of Jonah.  The story of Nineveh, who were pagans, is so important.  It teaches about repentence and that HaShem cares about all humans.  "You cared about that plant, which appeared overnight.  And should I not care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not yet know their right hand from their left " (Jonah 4:10-11).   This story of pagans repenting is so essential that it's part of the Yom Kippur service. 

5) The righteous of all nations, not just the Jewish one, have a share in the World to Come (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:2). 

Needless to say, HaShem cares about all of His children.  When many are suffering in anguish, much like this earthquake we are talking about, we cannot just ignore it because "it's not a Jewish problem."  News flash: loving people is a Jewish issue!  Our hearts should be pouring out to these people like our hearts did with the Mumbai terrorist attack about a year ago.  I was relieved to read an article from Aish, an Orthodox organization, about Israel and Haiti.  I do like the fact that they pointed out that Israel has a stellar record when it comes to providing humanitarian aid, and that this incident was no exception. What was most intriguing was their response as to why Israel is so eager and responsive when it comes to humanitarian aid.  The answer: Torah!  Who is our role model for developing such empathy?  Moshe Rabbeinu, also known as Moses.  It wasn't enough for him to intercede when a non-Jew was treating a Jew badly (Exodus 2:11), or when two Jews were quarreling  (ibid 2:13).  It was the third test, the dispute between the Midian daughters and the harrassers depicted in Exodus 17.  Rabbi Benjamin Blech describes it as such:

He [Moshe Rabbeinu] was now in a foreign land. Neither the offending bullies nor the harassed maidens had any relationship to him. He knew not the victims or the assailants. Simply put, what was happening before him had no personal connection to his life -- other than the fact that fellow human beings were in danger and he was in a position to help. The third and final test was the one that we are faced with every time a situation arises when it is not our family, our people or our nation is threatened but only other human beings with whom we share but one thing -- our common creation in the image of G-d.  It was because Moses passed this final test of his character that he became our greatest hero. It is with this characteristic that he must also serve as our ultimate role model.

It was not enough for Moses to stop injustice against a Jew or a quarrel amongst two Jews.  His true test was caring for two parties of non-Jews that he didn't even know.  Passing this test was what merited him to lead the Jewish people.  His compassion for others reached people outside of his niche.  Moses realized that in order to be great, you have to realize that every man is good because he is created in His image.  And to actualize that in lives, we cannot just do nothing.  As R. Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference. In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible."  If the Jewish people possess the character traits of being merciful, modest and performing deeds of kindness (Yevamot 79a), we need to be able to transcend nationalistic borders and reach out to those in Haiti because when a fellow human being is in distress, can we really turn a blind eye and still think of ourselves as pious, or even ethically sound?  That is why I urge people to donate tzedakah, whether that would be to the American Jewish World Services' relief fund or to Red Cross.  A contribution will not only help out those in need, but also help Jews fulfill their mandate to be a light unto nations.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

We Already Have Government-Run Healthcare

People kvetch that it's unfair to use scare tactics to compare Congress' current healthcare bill to healthcare in Canada or Britain.  They say that the economic landscapes are different and that comparing those nations to America is not analagous.  Apparently, they have never taken a course on Comparative Politics. 

But for argument's sake, let's suppose that it's improper to make that leap.  You don't even have to look as far as Britain or Canada to know that government-run healthcare is a failure.  We already have it here in the United States, and it's called Medicare.  This socialist pet project has racked up so much debt.  Even a liberal publication such as the New York Times published that Medicare will run out in 2017.  Talking about insolvency!  This entitlement spending has already been a drain on the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.  If you need more proof that the American government cannot manage healthcare, take a look at Massachussets!  The only thing their government-run healthcare program has caused is costs that accelerate faster than the national average, longer waits, and limits on consumer choice, much like our friends to the North.  If we continue trying to solve these problems by simply throwing money at it in hopes that it will alleviate economic woes, we will drive this country so far into the ground where economic freedom will only be a distant dream for future generations.           

Friday, January 1, 2010

Shatnez and Chukim

For those of you who don't know, shatnez (שעטנז) is the mixture of wool and linen, which, according to Jewish law, is forbidden (Deut. 21:11).  Aish HaTorah has provided a nice description of the prohibition.  What caught my eye in this article is the description for the reasoning of the law:

The Torah does not explain the reason for shatnez, and it is categorized as a chok -- a law whose logic is not evident. The Torah has many such laws; we do not know why pork is forbidden, for example. And the prohibition of shatnez is equally strong.

A law whose logic is not evident.  A chok (the plural form being chukkim) is something that "transcends rational reason," something that is not within our grasp.  Many have taken chukkim to be an essential part of serving HaShem, including Rashi.  Some things are to be "taken on faith," rather than knowing an explicit reason.  I find the entire notion of chukkim to be intellectually dissatisfying.  If HaShem created the Torah as a blueprint for life, surely there has to be some purpose to it.  Does the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 44:1) not say that the purpose of the mitzvot is to refine humanity?  Fortunately, I am not the only Jew struggling with the notion of chukkim.  As a matter of fact, Rambam confronts it in the Guide for the Perplexed (III, xxvi):

As theologians are divided on the question whether the actions of HaShem are the result of His wisdom, or only of His will without being intended for any purpose whatosever, so they are also divided as regards [to] the object of the commandments which HaShem gave us.  Some of them hold that the commandments have no object at all; and are only dictated by HaShem's will...All of us, the common people as well as the scholars, believe that there is a reason for every precept, althouth there are reasons of which they ways of His wisdom are incomprehensible...but our Sages generally do not think that such precepts [chukkim] have no cause whatever, and serve no purpose; for this would lead us to assume that His actions are purposless.  On the contrary, they hold that even these ordinances have a cause, and are certainly intended for some use, although it is not known to us, owing either to the deficiency of our knowledge or the weakness of our own intellect.         

Rambam states something important here: the notion of a chok is nonsensical.  "Because HaShem said so" is not Jewish thinking, according to Rambam.  If HaShem is considered benevolent by giving us these mitzvot, you can't say "it's good for you because it's good for you."  That tautology doesn't work for the all-knowing, most highly perceptive Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe.  The people of Aish, of course, try to retort the concept with another reason for chukkim:

The power of a chock is as follows: If the reasons for all the mitzvot were as obvious as "don't murder" or "don't steal," then a person could go through life without developing a relationship with God. How so? Just as there are many fine, upstanding people who don't murder -- not because they believe in God, but simply because they understand that it's wrong -- we might likewise observe mitzvot simply because they "make sense."

Rather than trying to cultivate a sense of obeisance towards HaShem, now we have another reason for chukkim presented: if there were a reason for every law, there would be no point to connect with HaShem.  Again, we are dealing with nonsensical notions because those who think this way forget that loving HaShem is also a mitzvah (Deut. 6:5).  If we go with Maimonidean rationalism, there must be a reason for this mitzvah, too.  Therefore, I have adequately proven that Jewish thinking shows that we need to use our minds to ascertain the answers to these questions.

I did so a couple weeks ago with the supposed chok of kashrut.  I was able to use my intellect to find reasons in the spiritual, medical, nationalisticmoralistic, and ethical realms.  If I were able to find answers with something as allegedly mysterious as kashrut, let's see if it can be done with shatnez.

1) Maimonides believed that Jews don't mix these two fabrics is because it would be an imitation of Canaanite customs (Lev. 20:23).  This reasoning falls short because, as we'll explore shortly, this was the very mixture worn by Kohanim during Temple services.

2) The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah) goes back to the Cain and Abel story.  Abel brought wool as an offering, where as Cain brought flax.  This mixture caused a dispute between the two brothers, and caused Abel to lose his life, which is why we should not bring such evil upon us.

3) Modern apologists opine that "the law was based on scientific reasoning, as while wool absorbs water and shrinks, linen is water resistant, which they argue would cause mixtures to present a problem in relation to perspiration, and hence hygiene; material scientists do not consider this a problem - including a proportion of linen would help woolen garments retain their shape while wet, and the proportion could be kept low enough to not cause water absorption issues."

4) Another interesting insight is that linen was a product produced in the Nile Valley, whereas the Israelites were infamous for sheepherding, which meant flax.  A mixture of the two, Egyptian and Jewish respectively, is a lesson for us to maintain our Jewish distinctiveness and identity, rather than consort [i.e., intertwine] with blatantly non-Jewish sources.

5) The Sefer Ha-Chiniuch states that "it is forbidden to mix wool and linen together is because it destroys the spiritual fabric of the universe. This can be explained as follows: Each and every thing on earth, except for man, has its own spiritual force that influences it. When some of these earthly items are mixed together, they cause their spiritual counterparts to become entangled. Once entangled, they cannot perform their tasks as originally designed, thusly destroying the spiritual fabric of the universe."

6) There is one important fact that we have to consider: the כהן גדול (High Priest) wore a mixture of wool and linen (Exodus 39:29).  If the High Priest wore such a mixture, maybe its prohibition is not because it's terrible.  Quite the contrary!  It could very well be that because some mixtures, such as shatnez, are too wonderful for us to handle, which is why only someone such as reputable as the High Priest could handle it.

7) Another theory is that we are not to "tinker with nature."  Some things in nature have their distinct roles, much like Sefer HaChaniuch opined.  Interbreeding animals is forbidden (Lev. 19:19), as planting fields with mixed seeds (ibid). G-d created everything, and, when G-d was finished, everything was complete, finished, perfect.  It is supposedly a metaphorical slap in the face to HaShem to tinker with natural materials.

8) The Zohar states that shatnez is really an acronym for שטן עז, which means "Satan is strong," which means that an evil spirit is lurking when you combine these two fabrics.  (See Reason #2)

Some reasons are not as strong as others.  Some topics, such as this one, have not been thoroughly as contemplated as kashrut.  Whether the reasons provided are sufficient are up to you.  It is very well possible that the reason could be staring us in front of the face and we don't see it.  It could very well be that some rabbi in the not-too-distant future might find the underlying reason.  Even if we don't find the reason, it neither negates that a reason for this prohibition exists nor that there is divinity to the decree.  We should continue to use the divine intellect that HaShem gave us to find out how this prohibited mixture benefits us.