Friday, June 26, 2009

"Tone" or Approach?

When the first cherem on some of my books came out (signed by just four rabbonim), and the reasons for it were initially very unclear, there were all kinds of guesses as to what the problem was. At the time I had a meeting with about a dozen rabbonim in a certain city in the U.S. who were very disturbed by the situation. We all sat around the table and they attempted to guess what was going on and how to resolve it. The conclusion that they came to was that the problem was with the "tone" of my books and that it could be resolved by rewriting them in such a way as to fix the "tone."

As the fiasco grew ever larger, and Rav Elyashiv became involved, it became very clear that the objection to my books was primarily due to my quoting the position of Rambam and numerous others that in some cases Chazal made statements about the natural world that were incorrect. Most of the rabbonim to ban my books did not read them and many cannot even read English; they were not in a position to have been judging the tone. In any case, they made it clear, in their written statements and oral communications, that they were objecting to the shittah itself.

And yet, despite the completely unambiguous explanation of their position given by these rabbonim, many people continued to insist that the problem was not the essential content but rather the "tone." I was very puzzled by this, but I gradually figured out what was going on.

I started asking people, "Could you give me an example? Point to a specific sentence which has a problematic 'tone,' and suggest how it could be changed in such a way that the essential position remains the same."

Nobody ever gave a single example.

It seems to me that what was happening was as follows. All these people were subconsciously deeply uncomfortable with most or all of the following:

1) The idea that Chazal could be mistaken;
2) The idea that some of the phenomena described by Chazal, such as mud-mice, could be real;
3) The statement of the Rishonim that Chazal could be mistaken;
4) The idea that the Rishonim/ Acharonim could have been saying something heretical;
5) The idea that the Gedolim could be saying that the Rishonim/ Acharonim were wrong.

How could someone reconcile all these uncomfortable ideas? The solution was that instead of engaging with the sugyas, or the views of the Rishonim, or saying that the Gedolim were disputing the Rishonim, instead one could claim ambiguously that the problem was with the "tone." The Gedolim weren't disputing the Rishonim (despite their repeated insistence that they were!) - they were only disputing Slifkin's presentation.

All this is very clear in the comments made by Rabbi Seinfeld to the previous post. He repeatedly insists that the problem with my books is the "tone." However, it is also clear that he refuses to say that Chazal erred in science. Faced with Chazal's statement about mice growing from dirt, he would insist on saying "that we either don't understand Chazal, we don't know the science, or there has been an error in the transmission of Chazal's statement." He would refuse to adopt Rav Hirsch's conclusion, itself based on the position of countless Rishonim and Acharonim, that they were mistaken.

This is not an objection to "tone." It is an objection to the essential approach.

(In truth, anyone who considers the notion of Chazal’s scientific fallibility to be a genuinely problematic belief is obviously going to find the tone of such statements unacceptable; whereas someone who considers this belief perfectly legitimate, and certainly someone who maintains it himself, will have a very different opinion of the “tone.”)

An alternate solution to the cognitive dissonance engendered by the five factors listed above is to claim (as does Rabbi Seinfeld in the previous post, as an alternative theory) that the Gedolim's stance was "for the sake of a greater exigency, nothing to do with the truth of your claims" - despite the repeated insistence of the Gedolim that they do indeed dispute the truth of my claims! (note: his theory may well be true, in part, of some of them, but not of all of them.)

All this relates to an earlier post of mine about respecting people. I think that it demonstrates a lack of respect to misrepresent people's positions in order to make them more palatable. One should, at the very least, respect the Gedolim enough to accurately convey their position. The Gedolim object to my approach. Which is not my approach at all, but rather that of the rationalist-leaning Rishonim and Acharonim.

58 comments:

  1. Is implying that the Charedi Establishment are really members of the flat earth society (figuratively)a matter of tone or substance?

    ReplyDelete
  2. What, exactly, is your point?

    I don't need to imply anything. I will say it all straight.

    I do not believe that the Charedi Establishment believes in a flat earth.

    I do believe that they are against the rationalist approach and that they oppose some fundamental aspects of modern science.

    ReplyDelete
  3. In fact, Not Brisk, I have a question for you: Are you implying that the Rishonim had a skewed view of Chazal?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think Rabbi Slifkin's books' stated goal was ostensibly to present sources and analyze a number of different approaches. This technicaly wouldn't be ban-worthy. Many kosher books cite a wide range of sources, some of which are controversial. Ctation is not the problem in and of itself.

    But only the tone of Rabbi Slifkin's books conveyed WHICH APPROACH IN PARTICULAR was deemed to be superior to the others--the rationalist one. That is (rightly or wrongly), perceived as arrogant, and offensive to the traditional approaches which are subtley (or not too subtlely) dismissed in the process.

    Rabbi Slifkin doesn't come out anywhere explicitly in his books saying he is a rationalist and he is championing the rationalist approach to Torah and Science or Chazal (found in the rishonim) and thinks the other approaches aren't intellectually honest.
    Had he done that, they would just have banned it for the approach!
    But Rabbi Slifkin was more subtle than that and his approach only expressed itself in the tone within the books.

    ReplyDelete
  5. only the tone of Rabbi Slifkin's books conveyed WHICH APPROACH IN PARTICULAR was deemed to be superior to the others--the rationalist one.

    The "tone" did not convey that. The APPROACH conveyed it. I was absolutely explicit that I prefer the rationalist approach, and I gave reasons why.

    (Of course, it could be that people, such as the previous commentor, did not read that part!)

    that is (rightly or wrongly), perceived as arrogant, and offensive to the traditional approaches which are subtley (or not too subtlely) dismissed

    And yet stating that the approach of some Rishonim/Acharonim is kefirah is not considered to be arrogant or offensively dismissive towards them?

    ReplyDelete
  6. >>"The "tone" did not convey that. The APPROACH conveyed it. I was absolutely explicit that I prefer the rationalist approach, and I gave reasons why."


    But you came across as someone just offering alternatives. Not as a staunch advocate of one single approach. In the banned books, you always seem to be hedging and non-commital-- portraying yourself as an even-handed impartial judge. But the tone betrayed your rationalist bias.


    >>"And yet stating that the approach of some Rishonim/Acharonim is kefirah is not considered to be arrogant or offensively dismissive towards them?"

    No-one in that camp claims to pass his OWN judgment on these sources.
    They just claim (rightly or wrongly) to represent their mesorah which has rejected these opinions. I imagine they hold of by some kind of historical concensus which was arranged by the Hashgacha to have chareidim/mystical tradition dominate the "gedolim-class" of Klal Yisroel. That gives their mesorah an authority (to exclusion of others' mesorah) to say which opinions are acceptable today and which are no longer.

    To say an opinion is unacceptable today, yet the person who said it then was not a kofer, is exactly what was done to Rav Hillel II in the gemara about Moshiach.

    The fact that it was done to amoraim puts these rishonim/achronim in very good company and it is not insulting.
    And no single arrogant individual is doing it. The mesorah/hashgacha has done it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. But you came across as someone just offering alternatives. Not as a staunch advocate of one single approach

    I repeat: I was absolutely explicit that in several (not all!) cases, I prefer to say that Chazal were mistaken, and I gave the reasons why.

    the tone betrayed your rationalist bias.

    So was it the tone that they were objecting to or the rationalist approach? Obviously the latter, and I was explicit about using the latter, so "tone" has nothing to do with it. It's the approach!

    You seem to be confirming the point of this post. You keep insisting that it's the tone, even though the Gedolim very clearly object to the approach!

    No-one in that camp claims to pass his OWN judgment on these sources.
    They just claim (rightly or wrongly) to represent their mesorah which has rejected these opinions.


    Saying "this is a perverse view of Chazal" is giving an opinion. One may be following others, but one is still taking on that opinion.

    To say an opinion is unacceptable today, yet the person who said it then was not a kofer, is exactly what was done to Rav Hillel II in the gemara about Moshiach.

    Incorrect. The Gemara says "God have mercy on Hillel for saying such a thing."

    ReplyDelete
  8. The problem you’re facing is one of bias. If someone holds a particular belief for a long time, and it is an important part of how he views the world, he is not going to give it up simply because you present evidence that it’s not true. And especially if they have it on authority that they are right and you are wrong.

    It’s like, say, an anti-Semite who is presented with evidence that Jews aren’t evil.
    AS: Those Jews, living off society like parasites.
    You: Actually, Jews contribute to society in business and the professions.
    AS: Yeah, their money hungry. Always pushing out good Americans to make a buck.
    You: Jews are among the most charitable segments of society.
    AS: They only give to their own. They don’t care about anyone else.
    You: Jews contribute heavily to all charities, even non-Jewish ones.
    AS: Yeah, they buy influence to they can control lobby groups in the government.

    And so on, ad infinitum.

    You’re expecting people to be rational. People are not rational.

    Not having read all your books, I can’t speak to the “tone,” but I imagine what they would want to tone to be is one that implies that while some Rishonim took the approach Chazal could be mistaken, they didn’t really mean it that way. We can’t really understand what they meant, and if science contradicts Chazal either the science is wrong or Chazal were talking about a metaphysical phenomenon not open to investigation by those materialistic, myopic scientists who are incapable of seeing the ruchniyus in the world that is obvious to even the simplest frum yid.

    The problem with the tone is that you imply that you’re right.

    ReplyDelete
  9. >>>And yet stating that the approach of some Rishonim/Acharonim is kefirah is not considered to be arrogant or offensively dismissive towards them?<<<

    Rabbi Slifkin please stop. Please stop the juvenile way of arguing by saying "well they do it to."

    And stop arguing with a chip on your shoulder like everyone who disagrees with you wants to have your books burned & you put in Cherem.

    I in the past Emailed you Tone issues -- but you dismissed them.

    So to put it simply. You take the rationalist "approach." Fine. Many would not like you for that & some might ban the books. But many others wouldn't.

    You say rationalist is superior. Still fine.

    But when you don't give proper respect to the greats who took the other approach that is "tone."

    Usually one would write phrases like "afar ani tachas raglav" but it seems one could say differently than Rashi etc.

    You, on the other hand, confidently say your approach is superior. It is a lack of Derech Eretz for a young Rabbi to be so flippant about the other approach (which happens to be deeper than you give it credit).

    You are so confident in your approach that you don't even see it.


    Yes, I read every single one of your books cover to cover. Enjoy them, use them in classes, & gained from them.

    ReplyDelete
  10. May I interject:

    The bottom line is that a Jew must according to halacha. Our understanding of halacha is based on the words of Chazal and the subsequent commentaries of the Rishonim and Acharonim. Yes?

    If this is so, then it would seem to me that any attempt to claim Chazal erred in halachic reasoning would be heresy. After all, if we can't rely on them, who can we rely on?

    But if they were wrong about lice and the shape of the Earth, how exactly does that impact the practical halacha? I can't see it doing so. If this is true, then who cares? Even if they were wrong about certain scientific facts, the halacha still does not change.

    Finally, it's one thing to talk about Gedolim defending or critiquing earlier authorities. I wonder: If any of Chazal were to come back to life today and be shown a microscope, does anyone seriously believe he's refuse to look through it and discover bacteria, viruses, etc., in other words a whole new scientific understanding of the world?

    ReplyDelete
  11. R. Slifkin,

    FKM makes the following valid point :

    "[Rationalism] places the human mind at the center of his universe and allows the intellect to be the final arbiter of what is true and false....This approach to the world by definition undermines all external sources of authority...The hallmark of a traditionalist is his intellectual humility and heroic submission to the sources of ultimate truth which are external to him. He uses critical thinking as a vehicle to integrate them deeply into his heart and mind."

    The above is similar to the opinions cited in your Hakirah essay "Messianic Wonders and Skeptical Rationalists", which hold that the gemarah is directly objecting to giving reason and autonomy a greater role.

    As far as the Rambam(both his rationalism and his tone), the answer would be yeridas hadoros, and "they can do it, but not us"(the simple meaning of the phrase, not like RAF).

    Perhaps there is a balance. As I have been saying, I see the Science/Torah issue in a much larger context-- in the historical context of Haskalah, more fundamental faith issues, kiruv effectiveness,and post-Holocaust insularity.

    When taking the non-emunah peshutah approach, one might argue that of course one needs to adopt a rational approach of intellectual judging and autonomy. By defintion, "proving" Torah, dealing with faith and doubt requires an aspect of "intellectual judging"; otherwise, it's emunah peshutah!

    There can still be a balance in "tone", since one is a frum Jew. As an example, one is not supposed to say directly to a parent that "you erred in Halacha", but use a more indirect way. A non-biased scholar or scientist has no such ethical imperative.

    But the other end of the balance of being overly-deferential in the role of "us[ing] critical thinking as a vehicle to integrate them deeply into his heart and mind", one might say, is not using critical thinking--the opposite problem!

    Regarding "tone", try to get a hold of "Vistas from Mt. Moriah: A Scientist Views Judaism and the World (Gur Aryeh Institute, 1959), and see the presentation there.

    As I recall, the "balance" there is a perhaps a little more heavier in favor of R. Avroham b. Harambam and R. Shmuel Hannagid on Aggadah, instead of saying that "either yeshivish or non-yeshivish approaches may be correct". Would that also be a "tone" issue?

    (I belive it has a approbation from R. Breuer. The author does issue a disclaimer in an attachment that the opinions are not intended for yeshivah bachurim, and that the non-yeshivish opinions are less accepted, as I recall.)

    In R. Levy's current revised Science/Torah book, he emphasizes the need to have a deferential tone. I should also add that he used to speak frequently with R. Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l, according to a relative of mine.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "I do believe that they are against the rationalist approach "

    Maybe the people who reported your books to the gedolim felt like you were referring to their camp as IRrational.

    (That was only a possibility, not an accusation.)

    ReplyDelete
  13. "Nobody ever gave a single example."

    FWIW, I think this was one example someone gave of the "tone" issue(from "Why I am not following the ban"):

    "For example, I know that one of the signatories told several people that the particular issue which made him sign was my statement that "it is only Rabbi Akiva's statement about salamanders that is problematic." He felt that this was terribly disrespectful to Rabbi Akiva, implying that he is not a significant authority... I subsequently sent word of this to him - he refused to meet with me - and his response was that if he misunderstood it in this way, then other people are also likely to misunderstand it...

    ReplyDelete
  14. G*3 - Spot on.

    Yitzi -

    Please stop the juvenile way of arguing by saying "well they do it to."

    That's not what I'm saying. I am saying that the idea that they essentially object to saying that "the Rishonim were wrong" is proven incorrect.

    But when you don't give proper respect to the greats who took the other approach that is "tone." Usually one would write phrases like "afar ani tachas raglav" but it seems one could say differently than Rashi etc.

    Please read my post carefully. My point was not that there are no tone issues that they could object to; it is that the tone issues inherently boil down to the approach issues. When dealing with Chazal's statements about mud-mice, etc., the bottom line is that Rambam, Hirsch etc. say that Chazal's information was incorrect. I do not believe that this could be written in any way that would be acceptable to those who banned my books.

    Now, you bring up the point that there are people who would not ban my books, and are okay with the approach, but still would prefer a different tone. Yes, there may be a very small group of people who would like my books better if certain sentences were phrased differently. To this I have two responses:

    1) I think that this is offset by other readers, more important to my goals, who would be put off by the style you propose, and prefer my forthright style;

    2) There are not absolute standards for these things, it varies tremendously from culture to culture.

    It is a lack of Derech Eretz for a young Rabbi to be so flippant about the other approach

    Examples, please.

    ReplyDelete

  15. In R. Levy's current revised Science/Torah book, he emphasizes the need to have a deferential tone.


    While I have great respect for R. Dr. Levi, I have numerous objections to that book, which I may mention in a future post. Ironically, other people found the tone of his book very objectionable, and there were attempts to get it banned too!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Phil -
    Maybe the people who reported your books to the gedolim felt like you were referring to their camp as IRrational.

    No, I only discovered the term "rationalism" after the ban came out.

    Also, to my dismay, a lot of people are mixing up "rational" with "rationalist," and therefore "non-rationalist" with "irrational." Please read my post on the definition of rationalism. There is overlap in certain areas; I hope to clarify this in a future post.

    ReplyDelete
  17. "For example, I know that one of the signatories told several people that the particular issue which made him sign was my statement that "it is only Rabbi Akiva's statement about salamanders that is problematic." He felt that this was terribly disrespectful to Rabbi Akiva, implying that he is not a significant authority..."

    That was simply misunderstood. I did
    not mean to downplay the importance of Rabbi Akiva, as Rav Levine had thought; I was simply stating that instead of the original three problems, we were now down to only one.
    So I guess you could say that this is a case of one of the rabbonim who banned my books because of the tone - but the tone of a single sentence, which was actually misunderstood by him, is hardly something that one would want to provide as a justification.

    ReplyDelete
  18. To the Anonymous commentors - as I have mentioned repeatedly, I don't permit anonymous comments. Please use your real name, or if you are afraid to do so, use a pseudonym. And with regard to the substance of your comments - I suggest that you back them up with references.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I don't see where I implied that; whether in what I wrote or in my tone.

    Notice I said '(figuratively)'. The flat earth society is a group of primitive small minded people who choose to ignore facts.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Do you have a point to make, or are you just trolling to incite machlokes?

    ReplyDelete
  21. The view that Chazal 'trump' science can, generally, be portrayed in two ways. The Establishment will say that Chazal's view was superior, hence the 'trumper'.

    Does your tone make this clear? Does it explain that (and why)they view it to be superior?

    Or, does it take a different path. Something like this: a) The FACT is that the Scientific view is the truth b) Establishment ignores the truth.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I honestly do not understand what you are asking? What are the "two ways"? Are you asking about tone or content? Do you have a specific question/ objection about something I wrote, or are you just looking to start an argument?

    Why don't you try reading my books. Then if there is a specific point that you take issue with, you can refer to it.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I am sorry that you don't understand what I mean. Maybe someone else can explain.

    I don't understand why you repeatedly impugn my intentions.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Sorry if I am falsely impugning your intentions, but your very first comment seemed to be unnecessary incitement. Saying that I consider the CHaredi Establishment to be "the flat earth society," even figuratively, is using terminology to inflame a dispute. It would be like me asking you if you consider the Roshei Yeshivos of YU to be "goyim, figuratively speaking."

    ReplyDelete
  25. Nachum Klafter, MDJune 28, 2009 at 11:02 AM

    "To say an opinion is unacceptable today, yet the person who said it then was not a kofer, is exactly what was done to Rav Hillel II in the gemara about Moshiach."

    You are exactly wrong about this. the point of the gemara is that this statement was kefira even at the time it was said. It was never an acceptable opinion. He was in error the time he said it.

    Furthermore, this is completely inapplicable to the shittos of ga'onim and rishonim which have been well known for 800-1,100 years and which have NEVER been considered kefira including by the kabbalists.

    Finally, in matters of machshava where the metziyus of the universe is being debated you cannot "poskin" that one shitta is correct and the other is incorrect. I believe that witchcraft is and has always been false nonsense and stupidigy. I believe that the Rambam is correct (see Hilchos Avodas Kochavim U-Mazalos Chapter 11, end) and that Ramban is incorrect (see Perush Al HaTorah, Parshas Shoftim, 18:9-13; also see his HaSagos Al Sefer Ha Mitzvos, "Mitzvos She-Shakhach Oson Ha-Rav, Tamim Tihiyeh", and Ma'amar Toras HaShem Temima where he mentions the Ibn Ezra and the Rambam). But either kishuf is a real entity or it is false, and its veracity needs to be investigated scientifically. If the majority of "gedolim" vote that kishuf is real, it does not suddently become real. Then if in another generation they "vote" that it is false, it does not become false.

    The scientific ideas expressed by the Amoraim are either correct or incorrect. It doesn't matter how many gedolim think they are correct or incorrect. Their vote does not change reality. This is why both the Rambam (perush al ha-mishnayos, perek chelek) and the Ramban (Shaar Ha-Gemul) hold that there is no ultimate psak halakha in philosophical matters.

    ReplyDelete
  26. "Tone" is a code word for "secret agenda". Generally speaking, when someone doesn't like another's tone, the tone is thought to be communicating a secret agenda which says something beyond the words involved. Also, often "bad tone" of the speaker is addressing the secret agenda of the other. So you have a perceived battle [by at least by one of the two parties]where words address the stated agenda and tone addresses the secret agenda.

    When written...this becomes even more subjective than in oral communication. For example, do the words "oh boy" indicate joy, disappointment, surprise, fear and so on.

    I think this is why writers have different voices for different subjects. For example,a writer may drip with sarcasm when writing about chiropractic cures for childhood diseases but lavish good feelings of things-to-come when writing about the toothless hometown team.

    One of the things I like about R. Slifkin is that he is an energetic straight shooter. While we all operate on underlying assumptions about reality, it seems to me that R. Slifkin is continually trying to make his assumptions transparent to anyone interested enough to listen, read, and ask about it.

    It appears to me that this blog is one way R. Slifkin challenges himself to learn more about his and other people's underlying assumptions. I'm looking forward to future blogs as well as trips to the zoo and books.


    By the way...writing about tone...I learned early in my marriage about the importance of tone of voice. In his book on marriage, R. Pliskin writes some memorable pages on the matter. Anyhow, I made up the mnemonic phrase "use a tov TOV". That is a good Tone Of Voice [TOV]. It was an important mnemonic helper that allowed my wife and me to avoid misunderstandings about perceived hidden agendas. "Use a tov TOV".

    I'm off for a camping trip. I look forward to catching-up on the blog when I get back.

    ReplyDelete
  27. "I started asking people, "Could you give me an example? Point to a specific sentence which has a problematic 'tone,'"..."Nobody ever gave a single example."

    (Same caveat as before about this not being an accusation, but only a possibility)
    Maybe the tone problem they see is not in what you wrote, but in what you didn't write. Perhaps they were bothered by their feeling that you placed scientists on a high platform with nary a criticism. (It's been a while since I've read your books, so I can't remember how much you criticize the works of /usually atheistic/ evolutionists, etc.) So it appeared in their eyes that you favored them over the sages. They concluded from this lack of balance that you were taking an overall side, the wrong one.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Phil, I criticize scientists where I feel it is appropriate - certain atheist evolutionists I do criticize. But in any case, these rabbonim did not read the books in any great detail.

    Nevertheless there is some truth to what you write. Rav Mattisyahu Solomon objected that "I am making Torah fit in with science." What this really means is that I accept the truth from wherever it comes, following Rambam. This may be called "tone" by some people, but it is really approach, not tone.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Natan,

    Can you post your article that appear in the past issue of Hakira, it appear that no new issue is coming out, and the site is not being maintained. I don't think there is a Legal issue, as they post the articles in it's entirety once six months have past.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Mendy, the latest issue just went to press, so the previous issue should be appearing online soon.

    ReplyDelete
  31. You conceded (June 27, 2009 9:18 PM)that there were alternative tones that are more respectful.

    Yet, you fail to see how reasonable people can object to the tone.

    ReplyDelete
  32. If you read that comment carefully, you will see that I already answered that.

    ReplyDelete
  33. You stated that were countervailing benefits to the tone that you chose. You argued that those considerations offset the tone issue.

    IOW, it was a judgment call.

    Do you think that reasonable people can disagree with that judgment?

    ReplyDelete
  34. I said that the number of people who were bothered ONLY by the tone and NOT the content was minimal, and was offset by those who appreciated the tone. Those who are bothered by the content (which I suspect includes yourself) are obviously going to be bothered by the tone, but they are coming from a different world anyway so their opinion is irrelevant.

    I think that I am in a good position to judge regarding those who were bothered ONLY by tone, since (a) I get the most feedback, and (b) it's not just a matter of numbers, but also who my book is aimed at.
    But of course, others are free to disagree, and they may be correct.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Essentially you are saying:

    1) There are different tones.

    2) Some are more respectful than others

    3) You chose the one that is less respectful

    4) Only an individual who considers the alternatives respectful is in a position to decide that the tone you chose was disrepectul

    Next step

    5) Someone who thinks that all the tones are disrespectful is not capable of gauging the degrees of lack of respect between the various approaches

    or

    5)He/she can differentiate between the approaches, but is not in a position to say that the benefits don't override the detriments, because they don't adequately appreciate the benefits.

    You would also agree, that someone who fails to appreciate the detriments of a non respectful tone, is not in a position to make a cost/risk analysis since, on the flip side, he doesn't fully appreciate the risks.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I did not say any of points (2), (3), or (4). In which case point (5), if I could figure out what it even meant, probably doesn't follow.

    ReplyDelete
  37. "Those who are bothered by the content (which I suspect includes yourself) are obviously going to be bothered by the tone, but they are coming from a different world anyway so their opinion is irrelevant."

    What does that mean?

    (Now I know why I never go the job at the UN)

    ReplyDelete
  38. It means that obviously someone who feels that Chazal did not make any mistaken statements about the natural world is likely to find the tone of someone who does take that position to be inappropriate, as well as the position itself.

    ReplyDelete
  39. The ban originated when excerpts from your books were sent to many rabbis. Can you review those comments, (aside from any derogatory name-calling) to determine whether the issue was tone or substance?

    ReplyDelete
  40. Rabbi Slifkin, I'd be happy to give you examples of what I consider problematic 'tone' from the blog itself if you are interested. (I have not read your books in sometime and do not have access to them right now.)

    I would just note that I spoke to one of the Rabonim who gave an haskama to one of your books, who told me that when he saw another of your books he was bothered by the tone. Also I have it on good authority that a prominent Rav who was completely against the ban and a defender of yours was bothered by the tone as well, but didn't want to publicly say so as not to give the ban (which he considered terrible) any credence. So it would seem that there are people who are open to your approach and yet bothered by the way you say things.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Louis - are these rabbonim people who say that there is no such thing as a mud-mouse, and that Chazal believed the science of their era? Or are they reluctant to say that (however it is phrased)?

    ReplyDelete
  42. To elaborate - there are plenty of people who were against the ban for all kinds of reasons, and may even see my books as important, but they are NOT rationalists. Including some of those from whom I mistakenly sought haskamos.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Louis - I am more interested in examples from the books, but if you want to give examples from the website, fine.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Rabbi Slifkin -- you say the comment about Rabbi Akiva was misunderstood -- maybe.

    But I previously Emailed you a similar, but much more serious, example -- one which doesn't seem to be answerable in the same way.

    You write with regard to the Simaney kashrus -- something to the effect of "It is not the Torah that makes the claim -- it is only the rabbis in the Talmud" -- as if that minimizes the problem from an Orthodox perspective.

    That is disrespectful (at the least) to the pillars of the Mesorah on which Orthodox Judaism is based.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Do you mean this paragraph:

    "The argument of exclusivity therefore appears to be flawed. The Torah itself did not explicitly state that these are the only such animals in the world and it did not put its reputation at stake by listing them. It was only the Talmud which seemed to make the statement that it is an exclusive list. Later, we shall explore different ways of understanding this section of the Talmud."

    The word "only" here does not mean that the Talmud is less important. It means that one cannot claim that the Written Torah was putting its credibility on the line by saying that the list is exclusive, because the Written Torah makes no such claim. The point is not that the Oral Law is less important; the point is that one cannot incorporate it into a proof of the Torah's divinity for one who does not a priori accept the authority of the Oral Torah.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Rabbi Slifkin -- No not that paragraph (or maybe also that paragraph) -- but rather the one at the end of the book where you summarize the conclusions.

    There it does not come accross as merely pointing that it can't be used as "a proof of the Torah's divinity for one who does not a priori accept the authority of the Oral Torah" but rather that we shouldn't worry about it because it wasn't the Torah making the claim only Chazal.

    We, who DO "a priori accept the authority of the Oral Torah" should be very bothered if Chazal say that the Torah is making a claim that is untrue. There you make some points that maybe Chazal weren't actually making the claim -- but then go ahead & say that even if they were -- It isn't the Torah itself making the claim.

    Like I said I read every word of your books -- but am now going from memory. So I obviously might be a little off. But the "tone" problem exactly is that you weren't just claiming what you say in your comment -- but trying to minimize the actual import of the proof by saying it was only Chazal. That it what it came off as.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Do you mean this paragraph:

    With the current state of knowledge, the Torah’s list of animals that possess only one kosher sign does not appear to be an exhaustive list of all such animals in the world, and nor does the Torah claim it to be so. The Talmud does appear to make the problematic claim that it is an exhaustive list, but there are different ways of understanding the Talmud, according to which it is making no such claim.

    You say that "We, who DO 'a priori accept the authority of the Oral Torah' should be very bothered if Chazal say that the Torah is making a claim that is untrue."

    Right... but I don't think that Chazal are saying that.

    However, for arguments' sake, even if Chazal were saying a peshat in the Torah that was untrue, surely it would still be infinitely qualitatively less problematic than if God was saying something that was untrue!

    ReplyDelete
  48. >>>However, for arguments' sake, even if Chazal were saying a peshat in the Torah that was untrue, surely it would still be infinitely qualitatively less problematic than if God was saying something that was untrue!<<<

    It is always good to make progress & to get closer to the point.

    YES, it was that paragraph that you quote.

    But NO -- from an Orthodox perspective telling someone that don't worry -- God didn't err only Chazal -- is no comfort at all.

    The entire debate your book brought out was with regard to Non-halachic matters or Non agreed upon matters of Hashkafa where the Rambam writes that certain opinions are minority.

    On other issues Chazal could err in theory -- but it is irrelevant to us -- we must follow Chazal in action & though -- that is God's will (see Sefer HaChinuch).

    So for US to decide that Chazal erred on some Hashkafic issue -- we know better -- is saying Judaism is unreliable.

    Your differentiation between Torah & Talmud is similar to saying "It is not the Torah that says work on Shabbos refers to the 39 specific activities, Only the Talmud."

    Irrelevant.

    You catch yourself & add "but there are different ways of understanding the Talmud, according to which it is making no such claim" -- but your initial differentiation between Torah & Talmud is unnecessary & problematic.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Unfortunately you seem to be completely misunderstanding things.

    1) The background to the book is that many skeptics use this topic to prove that the Torah was not written by God. So IF I were to be showing that it is Chazal making an error, not God, that would be very significant.
    You say "from an Orthodox perspective telling someone that don't worry -- God didn't err only Chazal -- is no comfort at all." That depends which Orthodox perspective. Chassam Sofer, Rambam and others are explicit that many of Chazal's drashos were their own invention, were not received from Sinai, and are therefore subject to both disputation and refutation. You may not like that idea, but they do say it. And I know many people who would be much more at peace with Chazal making an error than with God making an error! But in any case, as it happens, I was not even saying any such thing. I don't believe that Chazal were making an error! I think that they were just misunderstood.

    2) I don't "catch myself" & add "but there are different ways of understanding the Talmud, according to which it is making no such claim" - this is a fundamental part of the book. And you have misunderstood the entire sentence - see the next point.

    3) You say that my "initial differentiation between Torah & Talmud is unnecessary & problematic." Actually it is a critical part of the book, because the whole kiruv proof rests on the Written Torah making a claim of exclusivity - "how could the author of the Torah be so bold as to say that these are the only such animals." It is vital to stress that the Written Torah makes no such claim. It doesn't make a difference if the Talmud is less important/divine, equally important/divine, or more important/divine than the Written Torah. Once the Written Torah makes no claim of exclusivity, and that claim is made in a different document, then the kiruv argument falls through.

    ReplyDelete
  50. >>>Chassam Sofer, Rambam and others are explicit that many of Chazal's drashos were their own invention, were not received from Sinai, and are therefore subject to both disputation and refutation. You may not like that idea, but they do say it.<<<

    1) That some hold that they were "their own invention" is no chidush at all.

    But Yilamdeinu Rabbeinu -- who says they "are therefore subject to both disputation and refutation" -- source & citation please. The Rambam explicitly says that nothing can be added, subtracted, or changed after the Chasimas HaGemara.

    2) With regards to your paragraph three.
    >>Once the Written Torah makes no claim of exclusivity, and that claim is made in a different document, then the kiruv argument falls through.<<

    You are correct that the 'Kiruv Argument" fails. No doubt.

    But was that the entire point of the book? That we shouldn't use the argument in the next Gateways/Discovery Seminar? Ok we won't. But is the statement -- not the proof -- true?

    I understand that one argument is that you believe them to be misunderstood.

    But if they were not misunderstood -- as "The Talmud does appear to make the problematic claim that it is an exhaustive list" then their statement is going out on a limb & it makes no difference that it is in another document. Chazal are saying that this is what the Torah is saying.

    In other words -- you are succesful in answering the "many skeptics use this topic to prove that the Torah was not written by God"

    But you jump from the frying pan into the fire -- or if you are happier with it not being God's mistake from the fire into the frying pan -- great, the skeptics have no proof that the Torah wasn't written by God -- they "only" have proof that Rabbinic Judaism is a fraud.

    The fact that they possibly could be understood differently & we misunderstood them is unsatisfactory.

    ReplyDelete
  51. But Yilamdeinu Rabbeinu -- who says they "are therefore subject to both disputation and refutation" -- source & citation please. The Rambam explicitly says that nothing can be added, subtracted, or changed after the Chasimas HaGemara.

    I am not talking about changing halachah. That is an entirely different topic. The question is whether a drashah can theoretically be incorrect. If it comes from man and not God, why not? This is how Rambam and Chassam Sofer account for machlokes in the Gemara. Anyway, there are plenty of sources for this. Ramban on the first pasuk of Tazria shows that Chazal's drashah is potentially refutable by Greek science; Maharsha on the machlokes in taanis about the source of rain; just off the top of my head. I am sure that I can find more.

    But, as stated, I didn't even take this approach in the book, as it wasn't necessary. Yes, if Chazal were saying that the list is globally exclusive, then we would have to rely on those sources, but in the book I did not even bring it up, as I do not believe that Chazal were saying that.

    I can see how you misunderstood things. BUt if anything, this exchange serves to show how the rabbonim (and critics in general) should meet with me to discuss things rather than forming judgments from their own (mis)understandings of my work.

    ReplyDelete
  52. A certain rabbi (Orthodox) came to our shul as a visiting scholar. His talk was about "mistaken customs." Our mora d'asra invited him. I thought the talk was extremely interesting. However, a "Rabbi N" in the community thought his talk was destructive. I guess maybe that talking about ONE mistaken custom, as a SIDE issue, would be okay with Rabbi N, even to a large group of baalebatim. But when the talk is FOCUSED on the one sensitive topic, that could be seen as the speaker WANTING his listeners to have less faith in our mesorah. Rabbi N may have sensed a "tone" of casting aspersions on those rabbis who perpetuated these customs.

    So, maybe when you asked, "Could you give me an example? Point to a specific sentence which has a problematic 'tone,'", it makes sense that no one can give /AN/ example. However, putting all your arguments TOGETHER (whether in one book, or scanning several books) can be seen, perhaps, as causing an overall tone of casting aspersions or overall doubts on some sages and/or rabbis.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Fair enough. But I still think that it's really an objection to the approach rather than merely the tone.

    ReplyDelete
  54. But Yilamdeinu Rabbeinu -- who says they "are therefore subject to both disputation and refutation" -- source & citation please.
    See Shmuel Hanagid in Mevo Hatalmud.

    והגדה היא כל פירוש שיבא בתלמוד על שום ענין שלא יהיה מצוה זו היא הגדה ואין לך ללמוד ממנה אלא מה שיעלה על הדעת. ויש לך לדעת שכל מה שקיימו חז"ל הלכה בעניין מצוה שהיא מפי משה רבינו עליו השלום שקבל מפי הגבורה אין לך להוסיף עליו ולא לגרוע ממנו. אבל מה שפירשו בפסוקים כל אחד כפי מה שנזדמן לו ומה שראה בדעתו ולפי מה שיעלה על הדעת מן הפירושים האלו לומדים אותם והשאר אין סומכין עליהם

    kol tuv,
    josh

    ReplyDelete
  55. "Fair enough. But I still think that it's really an objection to the approach rather than merely the tone."

    To tell the truth, I had intended to point out that it could be seen as a combination of the two.

    ReplyDelete
  56. You keep on referring to the rambam and chasam sofer, where are the rambam and chasam sofer?

    ReplyDelete
  57. Rambam is in the hakadamah to the Perush HaMishnah. Chassam Sofer is on the sugya of davar shebeminyan, I think it is Beitzah 6a.

    ReplyDelete
  58. I am joining this post late, but for what it's worth R. Slifkin I would add:

    "(6) That our current gedolim could require us to believe in things that appear to be manifestly absurd, based on the scientific progress that has occurred over the centuries, and also be willing to censor voices from within our mesorah that disagree with their position."

    I don't have to elaborate on the crisis of faith the above can engender.

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.