Thursday, September 3, 2009

Summary

Rewriting Jewish Intellectual History: A Review of Sefer Chaim Be’Emunasom

Part 14: Summary

Historically, there have been several approaches to various statements of Chazal that are apparently scientifically incorrect. Some have asserted that such statements are all nevertheless literally, physically true (aside from there being deeper layers of meaning). Some have interpreted them allegorically. Many have stated that they are indeed simply incorrect. And Maharal innovated the approach that such statements are literally true, but at a metaphysical level. R. Schmeltzer makes the staggering assertion that the last approach is the only legitimate approach and is historically the only one to have existed!

The fundamental message of Chaim B’Emunasam, repeated again and again and again, is that it is obligatory to accept the truth of all the words of Chazal, whether in halachah, aggadah or science, and that this is historically the only legitimate mesorah. Yet while Chaim B’Emunasam includes countless citations from Maharal and Ramchal, there are virtually no citations from the Geonim and few from the Rishonim. Critical sources from prominent authorities that refute R. Schmeltzer’s perspective are either ignored or selectively quoted in such a way as to pervert their meaning. The implicit bizayon towards many of the most prominent Rishonim and Acharonim, categorizing their approach as being heretical, is shockingly offensive.

In the introduction, on p. 17, R. Schmeltzer claims that “the book is nothing other than a compilation of sources which represent the mesorah.” This is false on two counts. First is that he adds in plenty of his own material and editorial comments on the sources that he brings. Second, and more egregiously, is that he is not providing quotes which represent the mesorah, but rather engaging in selective quoting, suppression, distortion, and manipulation of the numerous sources which do not fit with his view.

If the mesorah is defined as the acceptable view regarding these issues in the Charedi yeshivah world today, then it is perhaps correct to state that this book is a presentation of the mesorah. But if the mesorah is defined as the collective views of the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim over the ages – which is how this book claims to present it – then it is not a presentation of the mesorah; it is a gross perversion of it. The fact that this book contains glowing endorsements from several prominent rabbanim, who describe it as presenting a “fundamental principle of faith” from “virtually every possible perspective” and insist that there is no other mesorah, is exceedingly disturbing.

(After Shabbos I will post a PDF with the complete critique.)

17 comments:

  1. If the Gedolim of our days are effectively infallible, after centuries of Yeridat HaDorot, Kal v'Chomer Chazal were infallible. Conversely, if Chazal were already not infallible, what will be with our leaders?

    Infallibility of man is a construction of a weakness of mind. A weakness that looks desperately for something tangible to hold onto. A weakness that always was the breeding ground for Avodah Zarah.

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  2. >>"But if the mesorah is defined as the collective views of the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim over the ages – which is how this book claims to present it –"

    For the last time, Rabbi Slifkin, I respectfully request that you please post a scan of the relevant page which substantiates your above assessment of what this book is claiming to be.

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  3. Isaac, this is the fundamental purpose of the book! See the first post. The whole point of the book is that there is no other authentic viewpoint, only "a few aberrant sources" that are either forgeries or shouldn't be thought about.

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  4. @Moshe Raphael: "Infallibility of man is a construction of a weakness of mind. A weakness that looks desperately for something tangible to hold onto."

    Well, at least Hashem is still infallible, right?

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  5. I don't own, nor have access to the book.
    Scanned page, please.

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  6. Isaac, I'm not going to scan hundreds of pages for you! Besides, looking back at all your comments, it's pretty clear that you're merely seeking any way to delegitimize my critique. The weird thing is that in this case, in order to criticize me, you are making a claim that R. Schmeltzer himself would hotly dispute! He would certainly not claim that his sefer is merely trying to present one legitimate approach amongst many others!

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  7. Find a library:
    http://www.worldcat.org/libraries

    Ask them to request this book:
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/339534938&referer=brief_results

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  8. Wow. We could label him The Anti-Sliffkin.

    Like that old Superman-Bizarro thing from the Superfriends back in the 1970's....

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  9. >>"The weird thing is that in this case, in order to criticize me, you are making a claim that R. Schmeltzer himself would hotly dispute!"

    I see that this time you did not read my comment carefully.
    I do not see the slightest criticism of you in what I wrote. I simply asked for direct substantiation of your claims.
    If you cannot provide the lines where the book claims what you say it claims, then I'm afraid the book is merely guilty of "offensive tone."


    >>"He would certainly not claim that his sefer is merely trying to present one legitimate approach amongst many others!"

    Neither am I. I trust your word that R' Schmeltzer is certainly trying to establish the ONLY correct approach and is deligitimizing yours.

    But my question is where does the book claim that he is also representing "the collective views of Geonim, Rishonim and Achronim over the ages"? You made this assertion; please substantiate it.
    I would think this is a very reasonable and non-threatening request.

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  10. Isaac, I have no problem whatsoever with the tone of this book. I don't find it offensive in the least. The problem is the content.

    It's perfectly obvious that the book is claiming to present the collective views of Geonim, Rishonim and Achronim over the ages. Not that it means to categorically list every single statement that has ever been uttered; but that it claims to comprehensively cover authentic traditional approaches throughout history. That's why it takes pains to address sources that might seem to indicate otherwise, and either distort them or write them off as forgeries. And when it comes to the statements of the Acharonim, he simply ignores those who do not fit in with his worldview and implies that they do not exist.

    What do you claim as being the alternative? That R. Schmeltzer concedes that there have been other authentic approaches in recent history?!

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  11. >>"but that it claims to comprehensively cover authentic traditional approaches throughout history."

    Now you are backtracking. You previously asserted (numerous times) that this book claims to represent "the collective views of the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim over the ages".

    Now you revise that to:
    "it claims to comprehensively cover authentic traditional approaches throughout history."

    This is the crucial difference between revisionism (your accusation) and rejectionism.
    Every source the book ignores is ignored PRECISELY because it is NOT DEEMED authentic in his school of thought!
    He is not obligated to cite and identify each and every "non-authentic" source. That is not the point of the book.

    I would understand quite well if the book gives a few examples simply as a model of how to deal with the rest. Not to imply that it is exhaustive.

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  12. >>"What do you claim as being the alternative? That R. Schmeltzer concedes that there have been other authentic approaches in recent history?!"

    This clearly shows me that you have not understood a single comment that I have posted in this series.

    Be well Rabbi Slifkin. I don't have very much to add on this topic.

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  13. I have not backtracked in the least.

    He claims that the collective views of the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim ARE one and the same. Divergent views are either distorted, dismissed as forgeries, or, when all else fails, not cited and claimed to be views that "one should not think about."

    When ten Rishonim give their opinion on a sugya, and nine learn it one way and one learns it differently, how can one cite only the lone view and claim it to represent the sole traditional and legitimate approach and the view that reflects the approach of the Rishonim?!
    There has to be some criteria for "authentic" other than "I agree with it"!

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  14. >>"There has to be some criteria for "authentic" other than "I agree with it"!"

    Of course there is (for him):
    It has become the dominant position within the towering Torah authority figures of the current generation.
    (I.e. today's "gedolim")
    Divine Providence has confered legitimacy to the approach that becomes dominant in the highest levels of Torah scholarship in each generation.
    It fits into their whole "Daas Torah" theology.

    I'm surprised that you, a keen observer of this world, fails to pick up on this concept.

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  15. Okay, fine, it makes no difference. So any Rishon or Acharon who agrees with the Charedi Gedolim that he approves of is authentic, and any that doesn't is not?!

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  16. >>"Okay, fine, it makes no difference."

    I think it makes a significant difference and it reveals a certain bias on your part.
    You say authenticity follows his personal views. I am telling you that it is the dominant view of today's top Torah sages.
    You are making it personal, he is pointing out the hand of Providence for this generation.

    Look, Rabbi Slifkin, I'm not defending it. I just object to your mis-characterization of it as being dishonest revisionism.
    It's simply rejectionism.

    R' Schmeltzer does in fact posses "a mesorah" for this type of deligitimaztion. It's not much different than the kabbalistic revolution centuries ago which effectively delegitimized the rationalist approach from that moment on-- due to what they believe was the Providential hand in Jewish history.

    You are trying your hand at a revival of rationalism, and they are resisting that revival and are trying to "nail the coffin on it" so to speak.
    This is all very obvious to me.

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  17. I understand what you are saying, but I was using the word "authentic" with reference to his choice of which Rishonim to quote. I'm fine with someone believing that Judaism should be defined by today's Torah leaders, but rewriting history is a different matter.

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