Sunday, March 29, 2009

Response to Meir and Yehuda

Here are some response to other comments, with which I have changed the order.
Yehuda wrote:

It sounds as if you are saying there is no rational reason for you to take the rationalist approach but that is your choice. However, I also get the sense from your well reasoned arguments - especially in the "Challenge of Creation" - that your beliefs go beyond a chocolate/vanilla dichotomy. Could you clarify? Isn't the choice between Charedi and CO or MO more than just a predilection for a certain kind of community? You say that you can not think of an objective method to determine which way is correct. However, in you other writings you argue convincingly that that there is such a method: the responsible use of one's sense and intellect. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you.

The sentence in my essay to which you referred was one that I didn't write it precisely enough, but what I meant was specifically in reference to whether we should view God as using miracles or not, I can't see how to objectively determine this.

Meir said:
You write that you prefer the rationalist approach. Isn't more than "prefer"? Don't you really believe it to be true and the other approach untrue? I know it can't be proven. Many things can't be proven, including G-d. But you and I still believe G-d exists. We don't simply prefer the claims that He exists.

Yes, I believe it to be true. I think that many aspects of it can even be proven (at least to my own satisfaction!)

You write that the non-rationalist approach is good for many people. I understand where you're coming from, but can a society based on untruths really be okay in your mind? Believing that maggots grow spontaneously may result in a wonderful mode of life, but it is untrue. Do you feel comfortable saying that a society based on untruth is perfectly fine (however great the society is)?
I know some of the medieval rabbis (and Plato etc.) believed the masses can and should believe untruths. Is that your position as well? I understand this position, but I am slightly uncomfortable with it. You, on the other hand, seem to be sanguine about it.

I really am fine with the masses believing untruths. The question of whether an entire community should be this way is slightly more complicated; I am a little bothered by whether those individuals who are truth-seekers have a way to find the right niche for themselves, and by the fact that spiritual leaders may be insufficiently educated in theology etc. But every society has its problems and drawbacks; in light of this, overall I am still basically comfortable with the existence of such societies.


  1. "The question of whether an entire community should be this way is slightly more complicated":

    Here is a quote from an Haaretz article(8/5/05) titled "Only in America" by Micha Odenheimer regarding the idea that a community has layers of people, and that leadership has a challenge(and an obligation) to try to satisfy them all:

    "The leadership is aware that it is walking a tightrope," I was told by one Lakewood intellectual, whose shelves hold books on Biblical archaeology and the latest scientific theories. "There are many different layers to the Haredi community. Here in Lakewood you have a community with thousands of people but no TV, no radio, no free press, and no magazines. Some people are very sophisticated intellectually - for them that won't work. But other people need the insularity - they couldn't handle things that might undermine their faith. So how do you balance a sophisticated worldview with the need to keep things under wraps? This balancing act requires a certain amount of control, to protect the general public from harm. One result of this is that you don't have the checks and balances you need. It would be healthy for the Haredi world to have more freedom of press to check the unlimited power of the leadership. But a totally free press - you can't have it. So you have an official line, and reality, and they balance each other out."

    Another Lakewood scholar, who considers himself a moderate, told me that people like him have to learn to express themselves with caution. "There is a certain amount of intimidation. If you get a groundswell of people against you, calling you a kofer (a heretic), it can be a problem."

    Although Cross Current's Shira Schmidt("Western Wall and Disengagement" 8/11/05) wrote concerning the above article in general that " given Haaretz’s often anti-religious stance, this was an unusual piece; I wonder if others read it and thought it was fair and accurate", in the back of mind, I am suspicious that Haaretz invented these anonymous quotations. However, should these people actually exist(as I think is certainly possible), I would love to meet them !

  2. Won't be fooled againMarch 29, 2009 at 4:59 PM

    "I really am fine with the masses believing untruths."

    When I hear people say that it makes me want to punch them in the face. I didn't appreciate being lied to, I'm sure you wouldn't either. The truth is for everyone. Any system depends on people believing untruths deserve to die.

  3. I have much to say about the whole endeavor of trying to split Judaism intor/non rationalist categories, but first let me ask you a few questions in order to clarify:

    1. Was R' Sholmo Zalman Auerbach a rationalist (R) or a non rationalist (NR)?

    (Esp. in light of his acceptance of Rabennu Avrohom ben Horambam.)

    2. Was the Chazon Ish R or NR?

    3. Was Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky R or NR?

    (He famously brought the moon landing as a proof that the Rambam was wrong about the nature of the moon. See Emes L'Yaakov page 15 - new edition)

    If any of the above were either R or NR, do you have any proof that any of them held that the others were in a different haskafic camp?

    (I think it easily shown that all of the above held that they were in the same haskafic camp.)

    The Rambam (ASFAIK) did not believe in Kabbalah, correct? Did any of the above Gedolim not belive in Kabollah? Further, can you be a R and believe in kabollah?

    This has serious implications as I'm sure you know, since various halachos are based upon Kabbalalistic reasons.

    I'm sure that you see what I'm getting at here- this line that you seem to be drawing has never been done (at least in the way I understand that you are doing it) and it risks causing schisms in Kllal Yisroel where there is no need for them.

    If Chassidim and misnagdim united, I don't see the wisdom of creating new splits where there aren't any. Even if it a non violent split based on announced R and NR camps.

    There is much more to say on this topic but I'd like to hear your response to these few questions first.Perhaps I'm getting you wrong.

    Please clarify,


  4. Also, Rabbi Brown responded to your comments here:

    Any comments?

  5. "Won't Be Fooled Again" - Consider me punched.

    Louis - there is not a clear black-and-white division between rationalists and non-rationalists (I plan to write a post on this). However all those names you mention are in the non-rationalist camp, albeit some have sympathies/leanings towards the rationalist camp. I plan to address your other questions on a separate occasion. Suffice it to say that my goal is not to cause schism, but rather to avoid machlokes, as I explained in my essays. Good fences makes good neighbors.

    With regard to the response on Divrei Chaim - I'm glad to see that he is not as monolithic as I thought. However, many other people are! He says that RZ is legitimized by Rav Kook, and MO is legitimized by RYBS - but certainly most charedim would disagree! So the whole question of "what makes a legitimate derech" is more complicated than just saying "there has to be a gadol." And, even with that approach, how do you define a Gadol? What about Rav Kapach and the Dor Deyah school?

    Finally I find it funny that he delegitimizes me by saying that I lack haskamos from R. Schechter, R. Willig, etc., but I have to check with R. Gil Student if I can say why.

    I still hope to catch up with responding to the comments on the earlier posts.

  6. Thanks R Slifkin. I don't have time to write a complete response, so let me just ask about two more great figures:

    1. Was RSRH a R or NR?

    2. Is R A Lictenstein (who you may know venerated R SZ Auerbach) a R or a NR?

    BTW- If you haven;t seen it yet but R Brown continued his response to you here:

    (I have no affiliation with him, I just think he lays out the isues quite wel.)

  7. Thank you very much for your response to my two comments. It was very helpful. The idea of the masses believing (and even being taught) untruths still bothers me somewhat but I know that many philosophers ascribed to this idea and it does make sense to me to some extent.

    (The difference between the olden days and today is that some people nowadays grow up and realize they were being taught untruths, which I don't think was the case in the olden days when the masses didn't really have access to books or the larger society around them. This makes teaching untruths a little trickier.)

    Thank you very much again for clarifying your position regarding the two points I raised.


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