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A Jewish view of hurricanes

Whenever there is a major natural catastrophe that causes widespread death and destruction and harms innocent people, that is the cue for religious leaders to come out of the woodwork to trot out arguments that seek to counter the natural conclusion of any reasonable person that there is either no god or that the deity is a cruel and evil one.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the intense rain that caused flooding, Moshe Sokolow, professor of Jewish education at Yeshiva University, gives it a shot, arguing that rain, in whatever quantity, is a blessing and the fault is that we humans have in our arrogance either chosen to live in the wrong places or have not made adequate precautions to deal with high water.

This is definitely better than those religious leaders who claim that hurricanes are god’s punishment for the sexual sins that they obsess about, but still not a great argument. Telling people that it’s their own damn fault for stupidly living in the wrong places and not properly anticipating such weather, and not to go complaining to god when they get hammered by it, seems hardly reassuring that there exists a god who cares about them.

Comments

  1. Forbidden Snowflake says

    arguing that rain, in whatever quantity, is a blessing and the fault is that we humans have in our arrogance either chosen to live in the wrong places or have not made adequate precautions to deal with high water.

    So, we either were too arrogant and didn’t take enough heed of nature, or we weren’t arrogant enough and didn’t do all we could to bend nature to our will?

  2. says

    arguing that rain, in whatever quantity, is a blessing and the fault is that we humans have in our arrogance either chosen to live in the wrong places or have not made adequate precautions to deal with high water.

    Oh, I see. So God was just trying to bless the people who lived in Noah’s time, but they had the arrogance to live on the Earth’s surface and not build giant boats.

  3. stonyground says

    I can’t provide precise details because I am quoting from memory, but I recall that several hundred years ago, an earthquake in Portugal wiped out lots of churches while leaving various dens of iniquity unscathed. This, as I seem to recall, caused a crisis of faith among the devout. Presumably the same kind of bullshit, that we are hearing now, was used back then to bring the sheep back into the fold. Hopefully 21st century believers are a little more cynical and streetwise and less likely to swallow such nonsense.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    What kind of argument does Prof. S. make about attacks from violently dispossessed local populations?

  5. mnb0 says

    Obviously those places where enough but not too much rains fall. Ie blame the victims.
    That’s why I disagree with MS. I don’t see why this argument is any better than blaming the gays.

  6. aziraphale says

    The Rabbi quotes:

    “They said: The sky falls in once every 1656 years, as evidenced by the flood. Let us build something to prop it up.”

    The reference is to the Tower of Babel. On the one hand, that’s a fascinating idea. I would love to know where they got the number from. On the other hand, it’s more confirmation that they thought the sky was solid and not very far away.

  7. Mickey Blake says

    How awesome to follow a random G+ link to an FTB article, and find out it was written by my former physics prof! Dr. Singham, I don’t know if you remember me, but I was in your Honors E&M class in spring of 1995. I probably hugged you at some point, ‘cuz I’m like that.

    You’re the reason I still get twitchy every time I see some document rendered in the TeX default font! :)

  8. jamessweet says

    I was going to make the same point as smrnda: There really isn’t anywhere you can live where you will be immune to natural disasters. Granted, some places are probably “safer” than others in this narrow regard — I live in upstate NY, where we do get serious snow storms, and even, every decade or so a serious ice storm, both of which do kill a few people (mostly traffic accidents, and sometimes the elderly and/or homeless from the cold), but we’re hardly in a major earthquake zone or anything. But nevertheless, there will be SOME natural disasters pretty much everywhere.

  9. Corvus illustris says

    ” … rain, in whatever quantity, is a blessing ,,, “
    The body is in NYC, but the mind is in a rather dry part of western Asia.

  10. says

    Moshe Sokolow, professor of Jewish education at Yeshiva University, gives it a shot, arguing that rain, in whatever quantity, is a blessing and the fault is that we humans have in our arrogance either chosen to live in the wrong places or have not made adequate precautions to deal with high water.

    I assume this idiot puts on warm clothes in the winter, and eats and sleeps indoors.

  11. says

    I can’t provide precise details because I am quoting from memory, but I recall that several hundred years ago, an earthquake in Portugal wiped out lots of churches while leaving various dens of iniquity unscathed.

    The earthquake in Portugal had severe aftershocks among enlightenment philosophers. Rousseau wrote a piece that was similar in foolishness to Moshe Sokolow’s, arguing that, if man lived in a state of nature and harmony, such events would not happen. Voltaire fired back with the observation that “having gone to the effort to learn how to walk erect, I prefer not to crawl about on all fours as Mr Rousseau urges.”* It was an important exchange because Voltaire’s final shot in the paper-based blog war was his masterpiece play, Candide. In Candide, Voltaire injects Liebniz in the role of Professor Pangloss, who specializes in explaining why everything is for the best. Like everything Voltaire did, it’s brilliant, cutting, and funny. So all the people in Portugal died that Voltaire would have something to make us laugh about.

    (* I did not look up the exact quote; do not use what I quoted from memory)

  12. Rodney Nelson says

    Voltaire’s Candide is a novel, not a play.

    In the 1950s Lillian Hellman wrote a comic operetta based on Candide, with music by Hershy Kay (contrary to popular belief, Leonard Bernstein only wrote the overture). The play received mixed critical reviews and was a commercial flop.

  13. Corvus illustris says

    So Cunegonde’s “Glitter and be Gay” (which of course occurs in the overture, along with other material from the body of the operetta) is due to Hershy Kay? IIR the “popular belief” correctly: Kay did write additional numbers for a revival, but for the original version he was primarily an orchestrator.

    IMHO Voltaire was rather unfair to Leibniz, who (among other things) invented nonstandard analysis before its time.

  14. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    I actually think the Rabbi is spot on.

    My hometown, Marietta, Ohio, used to exposed to annual floods before the Ohio and Muskingham rivers were semi-tamed. People in Marietta generally had the good sense to build above the flood plane.

    Since Climate Change can be expected to make flood situations like recent event more common, we need to start moving to higher ground or, take a page from the Dutch and start building dikes.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff
    Have Coffee Will Write

  15. Mano Singham says

    Hi Mickey,

    Nice to hear from you! I am always glad to hear from former students and hear what they are are up to.

    Ah, the good old TeX days…!

  16. Tim says

    I agree — fundamentally — with Jeff.

    My issue arises from the good Rabbi’s conclusion. I felt a physical jolt of disconnection when I read his final paragraph. His final paragraph — with the exception of the first sentence, which IMHO was heartless. Please explain the ‘blessing’ to someone who had a loved one die in the storm — could have been written by a secular humanist or an atheist or a Buddhist, for that matter.

    I find nothing specifically religious about the concluding paragraph. Nor does the Rabbi connect any of the religious discussion that precedes the final paragraph with the conclusions he draws in his final paragraph. He could have preceded the final paragraph with instructions on any topic –how to cook a pizza; or a discussion on training hunting dogs.

    Further, the conclusions he draws are weak. He merely points out options; I would have preferred him to take a stand on his choices.

    I write this somewhat lengthy response not simply to rail at the impoverished essay of a East Coast Rabbi, but rather to point out a disturbing trend I see in religious writings: using disconnected religious writings to supposedly ‘support’ a straight-forward logical argument. (Perhaps some astute atheist has already named this phenomena?). Something like the following (oversimplified somewhat):

    God built the garden of Eden.
    Joshua marched around the walls of Jericho.
    Jesus fed a multitude of people with a few loaves of bread and fish.
    If your surgeon recommends surgery, it is probably a good idea to have it done.

    Anyone else notice this type of writing? I’d be curious to hear.

    Pardon the length of my post.

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