Monday, August 24, 2009

Interlude: "Does anyone take this sefer seriously at all?"

In the comments to the previous post, Reuven Meir asked the following question:

R. Slifkin, from your posts so far, it seems to me this "sefer" you are responding to is so poorly researched and even deceptive that I do not understand why you are taking the time to even respond!
Does anyone take this sefer seriously at all?

Reuven Meir asks a good question. As shown in the last few posts, and as I will continue to demonstrate in the next ten posts (and I could write many more if I had the stomach for it), this sefer denies the existence of an entire school of thought in the history of Torah scholarship, ignores inconvenient writings of the Rishonim and Acharonim or dismisses them as forgeries or as having been written only for kiruv, and it even edits and rearranges the words of the Rishonim to make them conform with its ideology. Can anyone take it seriously?!

The unfortunate answer to this question is yes.

First of all, the Gedolim of the charedi world who wrote long, effusive haskamos to this work apparently take it seriously, and certainly give the impression that they do. That alone is cause for grave concern.

Second, one can find this book recommended by the moderator at Frumteens.com. While the Frumteens moderator is not someone that I would take seriously, there are many impressionable teenagers who do take him seriously.

Third, and most troubling to me, is that there are many yeshivos and seminaries which cater to the non-charedi community but which employ teachers who are devoted disciples of Rav Moshe Shapiro and the other Gedolim who endorsed this book. Derech/Ohr Somayach, Toras Shraga, Darchei Binah and Michlala come to mind, but there are many others; even Gruss and NCSY employ such people! There is no doubt that these teachers take this book seriously. They could easily recommend it to their students, but even without that, the approach in this book informs and reflects their outlook. It never ceases to amaze me that people who are passionate supporters of the rationalist approach do not realize that when they send their sons and daughters to yeshivah and seminary, they are being taught by people who consider the rationalist approach to be unacceptable and even heretical, and they may well absorb this attitude. You can look at all the information given by the schools in Israel listed at YU's website and you will not see a hint of this, but it doesn't take much research to make it clear that this is a real possibility. It doesn't concern me if charedim educate charedim in this way, but it does concern me when they educate non-charedim in this way.

So, yes, there is a real danger of people taking Sefer Chaim B'Emunasam seriously, and that is why its grievous perversions of Jewish intellectual history must be exposed and denounced.

18 comments:

  1. .אדם-אברהם קAugust 24, 2009 at 6:13 AM

    "It doesn't concern me if charedim educate charedim in this way, but it does concern me when they educate non-charedim in this way."

    R. Slifkin,

    I suspect that this sentiment is a reflection of your objective assessment that there is probably not much you can do about the fact that parts of the chareidi velt are being educated in this manner... however it is not to say that you are insularly solely concerned with the benefit and welfare of non-chareidim who unknowingly come under their sway. I presume that as a man concerned with the truth and rabbinic intellectual honesty that this is something you would condemn even if this sefer posed a danger to chareidim alone - please correct me if I am wrong.

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  2. I am not sure that it does pose a danger to charedim. Please read my thoughts in these essays:

    http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/InDefenseOfMyOpponents.pdf

    http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/InDefenseOfMyOpponentsPostscript.pdf

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  3. .אדם-אברהם קAugust 24, 2009 at 7:19 AM

    Thank you,

    I have read the two recommended essays and understand that you affirm that there are legitimate grounds for the divide between rationalist Orthodoxy and traditionalist Orthodoxy. You further grant that each camp is entitled by right to choose an educational framework that is most suited for the needs of the respective communities. So just to clarify, is it then your position that deception and dishonesty are generally pardonable as integral components of Chareidi socialization/education?

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  4. Quoting the Frumteens Moderator,

    " Its objective is to show that there is ONE mesorah (see the haskama) on this topic, and that unfortunately, the spiritual poison that the Maskilim have planted with their deviant ideas has had free reign to spread like a virus and, in some cases, has even penetrated the walls of the Bais HaMedrash."

    The Frumteens Moderator considers anything else than the ONE mesorah to be "Maskilic".

    While many(eg, R. Aryeh Carmell) would say that other mesorahs exist on Scinece/Torah and are NOT "maskilic", once the Frumteens moderator mentions it, I would love to see answers to actual "maskilic" thought.

    I would love to see a book that devlops maskilic history very well, but then offers a refutation, or at least deals with such history head-on with a *partial* refutation.

    There are also easier issues, which are "sensitive", but which should be dealt with in a sophisticated manner. For example, the issue of Rabbinic authority, bans and rabbinical mistakes, responses to certain criticism of Tzniyus/sexuality approaches of the frum community(eg, some of Hella Winston's writings), the need for a fair sociology of the contemporarty charedi community.

    My message to the Fumteens Moderator, who is indeed to be congratulated for his empathic work with Frum Teens(even if one disagrees with some of his hashkafos), is that indeed "Maskilic" issues and organizations(eg,Daat Emet) of all types need to be dealt with.

    Part of what comes out of the Science/Torah bans and the concommitant phenomenon of blogs was that Kiruv needs to be dealt with in a sophisticated manner. People are different, but for some people, one can not hide from "haskalah". Complain all you want about it, but it needs to be dealt with in a *sophisticated* manner.

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  5. Can R. Slifkin also comment on these quote, relevant to the issue of One Mesorah. Is there a way to understand this in a positive manner?

    1)From R. Eidensohn's blog(12/4/08):

    “Finally let me mention my experience with writing and publishing my sefer Daas Torah. When I first started working on it I consulted a [an educator]. He told me point blank – “you are a danger to klall Yisroel. You are going to cause confusion and doubt by telling people that there are multiple ways of understanding fundamental hashkofa issues.”

    2) R. Berel Wein wrote in The Jeruslaem Post(11/4/05):

    “As a reaction to Graetz and his followers and to the secular Zionist movement that purposely negated all the past Jewish history of Jewish accomplishments in the Exile, the religious Jewish world began to construct its own works of history...It allowed for no unpleasant details and no human deviations and/or failings from exemplary pious behavior. Great disputes within the religious Jewish world were ignored or whitewashed.”

    3) From an article titled "Only in America" by Micha Odenheimer regarding the idea that a community has layers of people, and that leadership has a challenge 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."

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  6. So just to clarify, is it then your position that deception and dishonesty are generally pardonable as integral components of Chareidi socialization/education?

    That sounds pretty drastic... But Ramam himself has the idea of neccessary yet false beliefs for the masses. (The problem is when even the scholars subscribe to these beliefs!)
    My basic point is that I am not going to condemn an educational approach which is done for good reason and produces good results, even if it is not the one that I would choose.

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  7. “you are a danger to klall Yisroel. You are going to cause confusion and doubt by telling people that there are multiple ways of understanding fundamental hashkofa issues.”

    That's an overstatement. It's a danger to some people, but a boon to others.

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  8. "That sounds pretty drastic... But Ramam himself has the idea of neccessary yet false beliefs for the masses. (The problem is when even the scholars subscribe to these beliefs!)"

    Question is also if it will work in the long run.

    R. Aryeh Carmell touched on this when discussing RSRH on Science/Torah in the essay on your website.

    See following link from Edah Journal, quoting Emily Zola:

    "In his famous essay J’accuse, Emile Zola issued a warning that echoes
    true today even more than when he wrote it over a century ago:

    When truth is buried in the earth, it accumulates there, and assumes so mighty an explosive power that, on the day it bursts forth, it hurls everything into the air. We shall see if they [the suppressers of truth] have not just made preparations for the most resounding of disasters yet to come.

    We live in an age where the cover-up no longer works and truth cannot be suppressed. Some years ago in Israel, one bedats [rabbinical court for supervising kashrut] threatened to remove its supervision from some yogurt treat when the company began decorating the
    containers with pictures of dinosaurs. The campaign to remove the offensive design received wide coverage in the media and, by the time the decorative dinosaurs
    were removed, the attendant publicity ensured that everyone – including those the bedats wished to shelter from such dangerous ideas – had learned about these prehistoric creatures.

    The lesson is clear: history and science will not disappear for our religious convenience or comfort, and we cannot hide or protect our children from a truth that cries out from even our yogurt containers. Educationally, then, it would be a grave error to
    let others, less committed than ourselves, expose our children to the problematic or controversial issues of Jewish history."

    http://www.edah.org/backend/JournalArticle/helfland2_1.pdf

    2) See attached poster from Badatz on HaGaon that it is not worth to study the history of Chasidim/Misnagdim if it will affect emunah peshuta("sh'alul l'hazik u'lifgom etc.").

    http://seforim.blogspot.com/2006/08/bedatz-bans-hagaon.html

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  9. "That's an overstatement. It's a danger to some people, but a boon to others."

    Out of fairness to the educator, people do exaggaterate when talking privately(or even in e mails), or at least are not as careful when speaking publicly.

    R. David Holtzer discussed his book on the Rav on Motzoie Shabbos(should be up on Zev Brenner website). The second addition will have part of RYBS's comments on R. Kook edited out(gasp!). The issue is that in private discussion, people let their hair down a little, so to speak.

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  10. My comments here generally tend to be critical. However in this case, while I have not read the book in question, it seems to me that it's not even a question that you are correct here.

    In fact, I have spoken to other Talmedei Chachomim who have looked at this book (as well as his previous essay on this subject) and they have told me that they think that his approach is "nuts", "outrageous", "wild" etc..

    But therein lies the rub, doesn't it? What bothers me here (and is one of my recurring themes in my criticism of your approach) is that you continue to divide people into "charedi" vs "people who are passionate supporters of the rationalist approach" or variations on this theme. The Talmedei Chachomim mentioned above would, at least according to some of the criteria you have given as to who is a "rationalist", be considered charedi, even very charedi. For example, they most certainly be "biased" as to whether or not Rashi was a corporealist and whether or not Prof Shapiro's take on the Ikkarim is correct. Nevertheless, they consider as valid the approach of RABH with regard to Sci/Torah and, as I said, they were appalled by the distortions in such shitos.

    I'm pretty confident that people like R Belsky (charedi, no?) would be appalled by this book as well.

    You once wrote in a comment here that you don't consider R Shlomo Zalman as rationalist. Do you have a doubt that he wouldn't be appalled by this book?

    So I ask again, what makes someone a rationalist vs charedi? To me, the answer to that question is far more complicated that you make it out to be.

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  11. "So, yes, there is a real danger of people taking Sefer Chaim B'Emunasam seriously, and that is why its grievous perversions of Jewish intellectual history must be exposed and denounced."

    Now if only you can get a haredi insider, one who can't be so easily dismissed as you*, to do this exposing and denouncing, it might have a more pronounced effect.

    * That was not a statement about /you/, R' Slifkin, it was a statement about people who would rashly deny anything you say.

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  12. R. Slifkin,

    You said: "But Ramam himself has the idea of neccessary yet false beliefs".

    An interesting typo - surely a rationalist like you would not quote Ramam (the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l) on matters like this...

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  13. Is this sefer translated into english? I hope not because I think ti would be very dangerous to the BT world...

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  14. "Complain all you want about it, but it needs to be dealt with in a *sophisticated* manner."

    it will be, don't worry.

    "Does anyone take this sefer seriously at all?"

    no, but they take it more serious then the books of NS and thats all that counts.

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  15. I have spoken to other Talmedei Chachomim who have looked at this book... and they have told me that they think that his approach is "nuts"... The Talmedei Chachomim mentioned above would, at least according to some of the criteria you have given as to who is a "rationalist", be considered charedi, even very charedi...
    So I ask again, what makes someone a rationalist vs charedi?


    Every rationalist holds of the view of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam. But not everyone who holds of the view of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam is a rationalist. That's a minor step in the direction of rationalism.

    But there's something even more basic here. You don't have to be a rationalist to notice, and be disgusted with, the utter distortion of the Rishonim!

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  16. > necessary yet false beliefs for the masses…
    > My basic point is that I am not going to condemn an educational approach which is done for good reason and produces good results, even if it is not the one that I would choose.

    Isn’t this saying that the ends justify the means? It is okay to deliberately misrepresent history because it will keep people from being confused and ensure that they stay on the derech, even if they are doing so on false pretenses? And how to reconcile the Truth of Torah with lies spread in the name of Torah? Finally, anyone who talks about “the masses” marks themselves as elitist. What separates those who decide what information is disseminated from the masses they’re seeking to protect? How arrogant to assume that they can deal with the information and are competent to reach their own conclusions, but “the masses” are incapable of doing the same.

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  17. I have to concur with those who oppose this black/white distinction between 'rationalists' and 'haredim', or whatever. In reality, no one at all makes decisions with more than a few percent of 'rational' thought, usually just the icing on the cake of emotions, biases, desires, etc. And on the other hand, painting the 'haredi' community as a bunch of no-nothing anti-intellectuals is false to the point of being slanderous. In my opinion the haredi world is more precisely defined by its concern for at least some kind of separation from the general society, which by all opinions in the frum world today, is extremely corrupt in many ways, and that is why I personally stay among the haredim despite all the disagreements I have with them. The MO world, in my opinion, is just too sure of its ability to mingle and absorb freely from general society without danger. Of course, this kind of separation does lead to the absurdities of books like "Chaim b'Emunosom" (recommended by Frumteens as showing "how and why their understanding of science is vastly superior to the scientists'"!!!), but the answer to this absurdity is not to just assimilate totally into the mess of Western society today.

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  18. I really appreciate this journal and that i can positive promote this journal to others in my circle.

    Files Tube UK proxy

    ReplyDelete

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