Neurosciences, the Talmud and the Soul

« First page of the Talmud »

One can consult the latest research in Neurosciences on consciousness: many interesting hypothesis are tested, but there is never a word about the soul. Total absence of the idea, even. Is soul a blind spot of techno-sciences? One may suppose that the soul, by her very nature, escapes all scientific investigation, she is out of reach, absolutely. She can’t be looked at, with a simply « objective », « materialistic » gaze.

By contrast, the Talmud is more prolific on the subject, and teaches several things about the human soul: she has been called « Light »; she « fills » and « nourishes » the whole body; she « sees » but cannot be seen; she is « pure »; she resides in a « very secret place »; she is « weak ».

It’s a good start. But let’s review these Talmudic determinations of the soul.

The soul is named « Light ».

« The Holy One, blessed be He, said, ‘The soul I have given you is called Light, and I have warned you concerning the lights. If you heed these warnings, so much the better; if not, beware! I will take your souls’. » i

Light is only the third of God’s « creations », right after heaven and earth. But there is an important nuance. Heaven and earth were definitely « created ». « In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. » ii

But « light » was not « created », literally speaking. Rather, it came right out of the word of God: « God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. » iv

Moreover, it seems that from the start, light worked better, as a creation: « God saw that the light was good. » v God did not say that the heaven or the earth were « good ».

Light, therefore, was the first of the divine creations to be called « good ».

Hence, maybe, its extraordinary success as a metaphor. Light became the prototype of life (of men): « Life was the light of men »vi. And, by extension, it also became the prototype of their soul, as the Talmud indicates. If life is the light of men, the soul is the light of life.

This explains why, later on, we will see a deep connection between light and truth: « He who does the truth comes to the light »vii.

The Hebrew word for « light » is אור, « or ». The word אור means « light, radiance, sun, fire, flame », but also, by extension, « happiness ».

« Or », אור, is maybe the true name, the true nature of the soul.

The soul fills and nourishes the body, sees, is pure, and resides in a very secret place.

We learn all this in the Berakhot treaty:

« R. Chimi b. Okba asked: ‘How can I understand? Bless the LORD, my soul: let all my womb bless his name. (Ps 103:1)? (…) What was David thinking when he said five timesviii Bless the LORD, my soul?

– [He was thinking ] of the Holy One, blessed be He, and to the soul. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the whole world, so the soul fills the whole body; the Holy One, blessed be He, sees and is not visible, and likewise the soul sees but cannot be seen; the soul nourishes the whole body, just as the Holy One, blessed be He, nourishes the whole world; the Holy One, blessed be He, is pure, the soul also; like the Holy One, blessed be He, the soul resides in a very secret place. It is good that the one who possesses these five attributes should come to glorify the One who possesses these five attributes. » ix

This text teaches us that the soul has five attributes. These five attributes are based on the hypothesis of a « likeness » or « resemblance » between the soul and the « Holy One ».

The soul fills the whole body and nourishes it. But then what happens when a part of the body becomes detached from it? Does a piece of the soul leave as a result? No, the soul is indivisible. What is called « body » takes its name only from the presence of the soul that envelops and fills it. If the body dies and decomposes, it just means that the soul has gone. Not the other way around.

The soul sees. It is not, of course, through the eyes of the body. It is all about seeing what cannot be seen, which is beyond all vision. The soul sees but she does not see herself. This comes from the fact that she is of the same essence as the divine word that said « Let there be light ». One cannot see such a word, nor can one hear it, one can only read it.

The soul is pure. But then evil does not reach her? No. Evil does not attain her essence. It can only veil or darken her light. Evil can be compared to thick, uncomfortable clothes, heavy armor, or rubbish thrown on the skin, or a hard gangue hiding the brilliance of an even harder diamond.

The soul resides in a very secret place. This statement should be made known to the specialists of neurosciences. The first Russian cosmonauts famously reported, after their return to earth, that they had not found God in space. Nor is there much chance that the soul can be detected by positron emission tomography or other techniques of imagery. This makes it necessary to imagine a structure of the universe that is much more complex (by many orders of magnitude) than the one that « modern », positivist science is trying to defend.

The soul is weak.

The soul is « weak », as evidenced by the fact that she « falters » when she hears even a single word from her Creator. « R. Joshua b. Levi said: Every word spoken by the Holy One, blessed be he, made the souls of Israel faint, for it is said, My soul fainted when he spoke to me (Cant. 5:6). But when a first word had been spoken and the soul had gone out, how could she listen to a second word? He made the dew fall that was destined to raise the dead in the future, and it raised them up. » x

There are even more serious arguments. The soul is weak in its very essence, because she « floats ».

« [In Heaven] are also the breaths and souls of those who are to be created, for it is said before me the breaths float, and the souls which I have made (Is. 57:16); and the dew that will serve the Holy One, blessed be he, to raise the dead. » xi

The quotation from Isaiah in this excerpt from the Talmud, however, lends itself to other interpretations, and translations…

The word « float » here translates the Hebrew יַעֲטוֹף: « to cover oneself; to be weak ».

With this more faithful sense, one reads: « Thus says He who is high and exalted, whose dwelling is eternal and whose name is holy: ‘I am high and holy in my dwelling place, but I am with the contrite and humiliated man, to revive the humiliated spirits, to revive the contrite hearts. For I do not want to accuse constantly or always be angry, for before me would weaken the spirit and those souls I created.  » (Is. 57:15-16)

Another translation (by the Jerusalem Bible) chooses to translate יַעֲטוֹף as « to die out »:

« Sublime and holy is my throne! But it is also in the contrite and humble hearts, to vivify the spirit of the humble, to revive the hearts of the afflicted. No; I don’t want to argue without respite, to be angry all the time, because the spirit would eventually die out in front of me, with these souls that I myself have created. »

So, is the soul « floating », « weak » or threatened to « die out »?

All this together, for sure. Fortunately, Isaiah brings us good news.

The souls of the humble and the afflicted will be enlivened, revived.

It is the souls of the proud who risk to die out.

I would like to conclude here, with yet another metaphor, due to the Psalmist:

« My soul is in me like a child, like a little child against its mother. » xii


i Aggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Shabbat 31b. §51. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.168.

iiGen. 1.1

iiiGen. 1.2

ivGen. 1.3

vGen. 1.4

viJn 1.4

viiJn 3.21

viiiIn Psalm 103, David says three times, Bless the LORD my soul (Ps 103:1, 2 and 22), once bless the LORD, you his angels (103:20), once bless the LORD, you his hosts (Ps 103:21), once bless the LORD, you all his creatures (Ps 103:22). However, David says twice more Bless the LORD, my soul in Psalm 104:1, « My soul, bless the LORD! O LORD my God, you are infinitely great! « and « Bless, my soul, YHVH, hallelujah! « Ps 104:35.

ixAggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Berakhot 10a. §85. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1982, p. 69-70.

xAggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Shabbat 88b. §136. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.207.

xi Aggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Haguiga 12b, § 31. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.580.

xiiPs. 131,2

2 réflexions sur “Neurosciences, the Talmud and the Soul

  1. How to learn the Talmud. The discipline of learning halachot to define the k’vanna of any given Mishna… To thereafter affix that specific Mishna to an equally specific blessing within the language of the Shemone Esrei tefilla… Those 13 middle blessings, in their turn, they affix to a specific tohor midda דאורייתא. Herein explains the Gemara of ברכות which instructs: make your tefillot from a fixed מקום\location. Tefilla, a matter of the heart not the location where one happens to stand! Therefore the word מקום refers to the Name of HaShem.

    Obviously a person who dedicates middot in the mitzva of tefilla requires k’vanna; as do all positive time oriented mitzvot within the תרי”ג commandments. Learning the Talmud qualifies as a positive time oriented commandment. Hence just as the Gemara learns the k’vanna of Mishnaot; so too Mishnaot learn the k’vanna of ברכות within the Shemone Esrei. And the Amida therein dedicates through tefilla the 13 Oral Torah\Torah Sh’Baal Peh tohor middot which Moshe the prophet orally heard at Horev, on Yom Kippur – 40 days after the sin of the golden calf, wherein Israel cried unto Aaron: Moshe has died! Who will teach us the rest of the Torah revelation?! [Important to recall, when Moshe ascended Sinai, Israel had only accepted the opening two commandments of the Torah revelation!].

    Concrete rabbinic halachic middot function as antonyms to abstract דאורייתא tohor middot synonyms. The concept ‘atheist praise HaShem’ serves as my interpretation of the Baal HaTanya’s concept of ‘bital’, wherein a person strives to make his LARGE I, as found in all belief systems, into a small i.


  2. The k’vanna of the Rif’s halachic commentary to ראש השנה

    Power, tends to cause leaders to make toxic assumptions, and even worse political decisions. Power, brings the collapse and destruction of empires. Nothing more contains the expression of power that the use of a nations’ military. The military “invests” the lives, it gambles the life of the youth of a particular generation. The British empire, after exhausting the youth of an entire generation, never recovered from the disaster of the first world war. The 2nd European general Civil War permanently knocked Europe from its perch as the elite of the 1st world Great Powers.

    G’lut Jewry, prior to the Rambam Civil War, enjoyed no such expressions of power. Stateless Jewish refugee populations scattered in isolated tiny communities across Western Europe and North Africa – Sephardic Jews within Arab and Muslim countries – struggled with anti-power. Anti-power: the expression of political leadership which gambles the lives of the youth of a particular “class”, the extension of which includes more than one generation, which encourages assimilation to the dominant cultures and customs of host societies and civilizations, by our OWN leaders. Stateless refugee populations usually lack the ability to project the Will of military power.

    Yasser Arafat, the collapsed empires of Europe simply adore. A stubble faced refugee pretended to project power; in 1974, a year after the latest Arab defeat before Israeli arms, Arafat addressed the UN sporting a holster. The leader of the PLO declared: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” Yet, in point of fact, anti-power plagues the Arab refugee youth scattered across the Middle East and the world.

    Post 1948 Arab refugee populations, despite being Arabs, remain to this day in Apartheid refugee camps. They live in Apartheid refugee camps in countries scattered across the Middle East. Yet European propaganda, those disgraced & collapsed empires, they promote a rhetoric ‘blood libel’ against Israel. These trash barbarian hypocrites accuse Israel of practicing racial Apartheid. European governments arm the youth of Arab refugee populations with weapons, their political agenda promotes Arab hatred of the Jewish State in the Middle East. The UN excludes Israel as a member of the Middle East community of nations.

    Nothing shocked and surprised the fallen empires of Europe more than the victory of Israeli arms in the first and second Israeli wars of Independence – the 1948 and 1967 wars. Just 3 years after defeated France regained its national Independence, Israel and India witnessed the collapse of the British empire. The Sétif massacre in May 1945 served as the foundation of the Agerian revolt against the French empire. France too sacrificed their youth upon the altar of the First World War. The 5th of Wilson’s 14 points for peace, many ‘aalimath‘ (guardians, transmitters, and interpreters of religious knowledge in Islam) perceived Wilson’s opinion as applicable to themselves. It read: “A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.” Many Algerians, and not just Germans, abhorred the final results of the Paris Peace Conference.

    The leader of France, de Gaulle, lacked the power to oppose Jewish Independence in 1948. But the founder of the 5th Republic and author of the new French Constitution, 2 years before his death, adamantly opposed the Israeli victory of Independence in the 1967 Six Day War. France, no friend of the Jewish State, having witnessed the collapse of their African empire, co-authored UN Resolution 242 in an effort to negate the growing Israeli nation state. From then to today EU and Russian governments have pursued a united foreign policy rhetoric propaganda which favors the dismantlement of the Jewish state – ‘piece by peace’.

    Even at the height of the ‘Cold War’, the hostile Johnson Administration, sought to extend the US empire to both Vietnam and the Middle East, it too favored a 2 State Solution, despite the fact that no Arab state of Palestine had ever existed in history. It too challenged the unification of Israeli rule over Jerusalem, despite the fact that President Truman condemned the illegal nationalization, by the king of Jordan, of the territories of Samaria in 1948. In 1967, suddenly Washington wanted to restore the prewar status quo, a situation wherein Israel held weak and easily invaded borders. To this day, Western cartographers rhetoric propaganda fantasize Samaria as the ‘occupied West Bank’; conveniently oblivious to the fact that Britain, as the mandate government of “Palestine” separated mandate “Jordan” at the Jordan river in that dying empires attempt to “contain” the Jewish state.

    The Truman Administration, set the US military foreign agenda upon the two feet of the Marshal Plan and the Containment Policy; foreign aid in exchange for US military bases, and determining the borders of foreign countries like Korea, Vietnam, and Israel. Western Great Power attempts to shape and determine the borders of nation states did not limit itself to the Treaty of Versailles mockery. European powers fight wars, the racial Will of narcissistic megalomania European leadership, generation to generation, the pornographic military power of empires – to draw up and determine the national borders of foreign countries, not adjacent to their own borders.

    The British empire divided India from Pakistan. The Allies likewise divided Korea and Vietnam into 4 separate countries. The Allied victors previously broke up the Austria-Hungary and Ottoman empires. Determination of the borders of nation states has shaped ‘Great Power’ politics throughout history. And herein lay the root of destruction for ‘Great Power’ projection of its empires upon lessor states; like the division of China into spheres of influence – late in 19th century. All successful military campaigns require assured supply routes. The horrid barbarism exemplified by the SS during Operation Barbarossa, guaranteed that Ukrainians would attack German supply lines. The Nazis surrendered at Stalingrad due to their incompetent inability to resupply their invasion forces.

    Empires invest huge capital resources to attain military superiority. A strong Air Force for example: great when an army employs the tactics of ‘Shock & Awe’. But over time, the enemy learns the ‘habits’ of invading soldiery. The Vietnamese knew at what times the B-52s would drop their bombs. The tactic of ‘Shock & Awe’ lost a lot of its shine and glimmer.

    Confronted by ‘Peoples’ War guerrilla tactics – which effectively countered US static military dogmatism – ‘Peoples War’ rhetoric propaganda encouraged and promoted domestic American opposition to the war. Pictures of Hanoi Jane Fonda – operating a ‘Charlie’ anti-air craft gun – disgraced home front America. Americans expressed an irate growing opposition to US imperialism; they despised both Johnson and the corrupt industrial military complex. That hated fool did not run for re-election in 1968; disgraceful political assassinations defined American politics during that election cycle. Fragging Officers destroyed military order within the ranks. Drug addicted soldiers, turned back to the United States totally humiliated.

    Corruption within the US military industrial monopoly resulted in more expensive yet inferior weapons reaching the front. America as an empire suffered total military defeat, as witnessed in the US withdrawal from chaotic Hanoi under Nixon; that President did not complete his term of Office with honor. Huge deficits defined all post war governments in Washington; America transformed itself into a debtor nation, which owed billions to foreign governments from Britain, an ally, to China, a mortal enemy. After Germany lost its war of imperialism, it too owed billions to enemy countries. Which caused inflation to undermine the confidence of the German people in the ability of the Weimar Republic to maintain both the economy, and stable rule.

    US imperialism fought the Korean, Vietnam, Iraqi, and Afghanistan Wars. All these countries shared long borders with countries hostile to US strategic and tactical interests. A defining quality of US generals, they loathe to send US soldiers to invade neighboring countries. Despite Nixon’s attempts to bomb Vietnamese supply routes, air superiority has its limitations. To curtail a supply route requires troops on the ground. Johnson used the excuse of an attack by whales on a US destroyer to justify his illegal invasion of Vietnam. Nixon could not pull a similar false flag stunt to excuse the invasion of Cambodia and Laos. American military adventures abroad began a repeating series of defeats which include Iraq and Afghanistan. All these military defeats share the common denominator, US military forces failed to conquer and control enemy supply lines.

    How does this assessment logically infer to the disastrous error made by the Rambam code? That code, like Hanoi Jane, divided and disgraced assimilated g’lut Jewry. Just as bureaucratic corruption in the industrial military complex produced a marked inferiority of US weapons systems during the Vietnam war and thereafter, Jewish exiles lost our ability to correctly study the Talmud; the latter defines and establishes classic Judean culture and customs that prevailed prior to the Jewish exile from Roman “Palestine”. G’lut Jewry lost all knowledge that avodat HaShem requires the dedication of tohor middot, דאורייתא ודרבנן. G’lut Jewry abandoned the Cohen nation tohor status & identity. Generations of Jewish youth assimilated and embraced foreign cultures and customs, and thereafter became lost to the Jewish people. Especially after the Muslim invasions of Spain, and the resultant rediscovery of ancient Greek philosophy; which had earlier provoked a Jewish Civil War during the times of the Maccabees.

    This long introduction introduces Part ll of the Rif commentary to ראש השנה. Yom HaDin upon the Brit judges the t’shuva which our People dedicate and commit unto HaShem. Yidden have returned, we rule our oath brit homelands. Can we make the Torah the Written Constitution of our Republic? Can we establish lateral Common Law courtrooms modeled after the small and Great Sanhedrin Federal Court system? Herein defines the k’vanna of the tefillot dedicated unto HaShem on the Yom Tov, and how this author explains the k’vanna of the Rif’s halachic commentary to the Talmud, specifically the Gemara of ראש השנה.


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