Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Fifth Anniversay

Five years ago today, three days before Yom Yippur, I received the infamous phone call from Bnei Brak telling me that I had until the end of the day to retract three of my books and publicly apologize or face scandal and humiliation. There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then! I have learned so much about theology, Jewish history and sociology.

I was looking back at my emails and here's one that I sent to R. Gil Student that day. There are some aspects of it that today are quite amusing!

Hi Gil,


No, I haven’t been put in cherem. But three of my books have! By some rabbanim, mostly in Israel, that I had never even heard of. Apparently this has been brewing for a while. The letters speak of the terrible kefirah in my books, and give an example, that I speak of the world being millions of years old... My Rav told me to tell them that it is absolutely ossur to condemn someone without meeting them and discussing it with them. If they'll show me where I wrote something wrong, of course I'll change it, my website is full of corrections to my books. On the other hand, with regard to things such as the "heresy" of saying that the world is millions of years old, I might be able to show them some sources that might change their mind (Rav Aryeh Carmell was making efforts to phone them). But 3 of them refused to meet with me (actually one initially agreed but then later mysteriously changed his mind), and the fourth is so far unreachable by phone. One of the letters stated that the rabbanim who gave haskamos to the books have retracted them. So I called them all up to check, and it was absolutely not true! None of them had retracted their haskamos, nor will they do so! I couldn't believe what a lie they wrote. I told them and they said they would take that line out. It might have been better left in, to later expose them.

I'm told that there are some really driven kana'im behind this, apparently the same team that went after Making of A Godol. Most rabbanim have been telling me to pretty much ignore it and just do some limited damage control. I discussed it with R' Shmuel Kamenetzky and he said to ignore it, but that a letter from R' Wolbe might help. So I contacted a close talmid of Rav Wolbe, only to be told that Rav Wolbe has been senile for a while and is now being manipulated.... what a sad world.

Anyway, I would really appreciate it if you didn't blog this. (a), I don't really want all the publicity yet. (b), it makes the charedi world look extremely foolish, or evil, - again! If at some stage you do decide to blog it, I would appreciate it if you would discuss the text with me first. All my rebbe'im said that it should be allowed to just blow over.

Kol tuv,

PS Please keep this email in strict confidence, ok?


  1. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    Your experience reminds me of many issues that my wife has; she runs a business and deals with Frum Jews, non religious Jews, and gentiles. With some exceptions, the more religious Jews tend to be the least considerate in most categories. The way that you were (and are) so publicly insulted and wronged is far worse than what she deals with, but it seems to have the same root causes.

    I don't know why this is, perhaps because of an attitude of 'bishvil li nivrah ha'olam' combined with a lack of emphasis on 'mussar' relative to the attention given to every possible nuance to hilchot Shabbat, Kashrut, and so on. In any case, your case, and that of R' Kamenetzky, demonstrates that there is a severe problem in the Chareidi community. Whether one agrees or disagrees with you, to handle the situation as they did shows incredible sin'at chinam.

    Best wishes for a chatimah tovah

  2. Yea...Blow Over. Have a good shabbos and a Gmar Chasima Tova.

  3. you should be zoche to anniversies of unmitigatedly happy occasiona

    good shabbos, gmar chasima tova and an easy fast to you and readers

  4. The approach of your book's banners raises the question: if you can't live your Jewish life in the real world, are you living a real Jewish life?

    I think the answer is "yes". But I think we're not doing the future of Judaism too much good if we have to make efforts to isolate Judaism from well known biological and cosmogenic realities. mention the concept of "millions" of years where, at least in the US, we would use the term "billions". Is there a difference between what we call a "billion" [10 to the 9th power] and what 10 to the 9th power is called elsewhere?

    Gary Goldwater

  5. Anonymous:
    See this webpage about the difference between American and British "billion" (a thousand million vs. a million million).

    kol tuv,

  6. In England and France, I think, 10**9 is called a "milliard", and 10**12 is called a "billion". R' Slifkin is originally from England.

    (can you tell I still think somewhat in FORTRAN)?

  7. Actually, I was only using the word "millions" because that is the word that Rav Shiner used in his letter.

  8. "Whether one agrees or disagrees with you, to handle the situation as they did shows incredible sin'at chinam."

    This brings to mind that today, Erev Yom Kippur, is exactly 59 months after Rav Elyashiv's decision to support Sharon's "disengagement" from Gaza. Because of "Pikuach Nefesh". As Netanyahu said it at the UN, it brought us an Iran-based terror base 50 kilometers from Tel Aviv. With the newest imported weaponry, this city is now within Hsmas reach. So much for Pikuach Nefesh. It is pretty clear where the truth is not. May this be a confort for who are prosecuted for writing books of heresy. G'mar Chatima Tova.

  9. Reb Nosson,

    May you and yours have a g'mar chasima tova, a wonderful new year full of health and happiness and may we all be zoche to the seeing the prophecy fulfilled:

    כֹּה אָמַר ה' צְבָ-אוֹת צוֹם הָרְבִיעִי וְצוֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי וְצוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְצוֹם הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה לְבֵית יְהוּדָה לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְמֹעֲדִים טוֹבִים
    וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבו

  10. I love the last line of Rabbi Slifkin's e-mail. "All my rebbeim say it should be allowed to blow over." Right. The naivete is touching. It would be funny were it not so sad. Now, alas, we know that the "gedolim" and their "askanim" can play hardball with the best--or is it the worst?-of them.

    lawrence kaplan

  11. Happy Anniversary!

    May your rationalist teachings save as many Jews as possible from abandonment of a Judaism which they view as excessively non-irrational.

    May you also begin to see the wisdom of applying rationalism to the halachic realm as well.

    May you and your family have a great new year!

  12. Off by one day: National Banned Books Week is from September 26- October 3 this year.

  13. I didn't mean "non-irrational", I meant "non-rational" or "irrational"


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