Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Mystique of Silence

There are many differences between the Gedolim who banned my books and myself. In this post, I would like to draw attention to a difference that is usually overlooked.

The issues that I deal with in my books and lectures are very, very challenging. However, I nevertheless confront them. But that is not all. I also take questions and objections, from anyone and everyone, in public, and I virtually always respond to them (and in the rare cases where I do not, I explain why I am not doing so). In my lectures, anyone can challenge me with a question; my e-mail address is well known and I receive thousands of questions (apologies if I haven't gotten back to you yet, but I have a bit of a backlog), and I now also have a blog where virtually anyone can post questions and challenges, and they don't even need to give their name. (But I must say that it does bother me when people do not use their real name and pose questions to me; I consider it lacking in derech eretz.)

The Gedolim, on the other hand, do not openly discuss these difficult topics in any detail. (Ever heard any of them discuss the dirt-mouse?) They are largely inaccessible, and they certainly do not take questions in an open forum. When Bnei Yeshurun in Teaneck hosted the "Gedolim visit the Modern Orthodox" event, all the questions were pre-screened. Rav Shineberg was at a question-and-answer event in London a few years ago, but when a girl politely asked some questions relating to the ban on my books, he simply refused to respond. These Gedolim don't have email (except for Rav Aharon Feldman) and they don't have websites.

The only three of the Gedolim who ever spoke up at length in public with their views on the issues with my books were Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rav Aharon Feldman and Rav Aaron Schechter. Rav Sternbuch's essay had people begging me to take it off my website on the grounds that it made it look him foolish. Rav Feldman's essay was so full of holes that three different people fisked it. Rav Shechter's speech, which has already received an unbelievable 5865 views on YouTube, earned scorn and ridicule. For my part, I am very glad that these Gedolim spoke up at length. When the Gedolim gave no elaboration for their position, people can and do hypothesize that there are some deep and profound reasons. Their defenders make up whatever reason appears most rational to them and present it with conviction as being THE reason. Thus, a number of talmidim of Rav Moshe Shapiro gave their explanations of his position to me, all insisting that they were correct, and all giving mutually exclusive explanations. But when the Gedolim actually give their reasons, people can see for themselves how flawed they are. (Personally I think that my own defense of the Gedolim was by far the most effective.) Still, even these three rabbonim do not publicly take questions on these issues.

All this probably serves to explain why the Gedolim generally don't speak up with their reasons. Once reasons are given, they can be subject to evaluation. When rabbis in authority positions keep silent, they are able to preserve an aura of mystery, and this allows the faithful to maintain their faith in their leaders. It's much, much more challenging to actually explain and defend your positions. But I think that accountability is extremely important, especially for people in positions of leadership. Rav Moshe Feinstein has a wonderful preface to Iggros Moshe where he explains why he is publishing the reasons for his rulings. I can understand that there are arguments in favor of rabbinic leaders not having to explain themselves, but I think that in most cases, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

67 comments:

  1. You're 100 percent right. I don't necessarily have a problem when rabbis referred to as gedolim don't respond to specific criticisms, but I think one cannot be defined as a great rabbi or leader while ignoring the main issues affecting most of the Jewish world.

    R.S.R. Hirsch addressed the problems in his day through his newspaper and writings. I don't think he responded to every letter to the editor but he dealt with the burning issues of the day. That's the mark of a leader.

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  2. Wow, I had not read Rav Sternbuch's essay before. I kept reading it, thinking I had gotten to the absolute bottom and then it would drop out again.

    I think there may be another reason why the Gedolim have generally remained not reachable and have not responded much: The method of thinking is that the people criticizing them are either heretic or ignoramuses. If you think everyone who disagrees on this issues is either an apikores or an am haaretz then it shouldn't be that surprising if one isn't going to bother responding much.

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  3. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I just watched Rav Schechter's speech and I disagree with you. I think he was trying to convey the same message Rav Kook conveyed to his student who was disturbed by evolution. The basic point is Hashem does not want us to dwell on these things -- that the point of Judaism and the Torah has little to do with exactly how or when the world was created.

    Please read the letter of Rav Kook where it is clear that he is disturbed that his student is so disturbed and caught up on the creation question.

    I'm not saying I agree with Rav Schechter 100%, but I think he was pretty convincing in telling his listeners: "Stop getting so hooked on this issue. That's not our job or purpose in life."

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  4. I got halfway through the first essay before I gave up. I’m not sure whether to laugh or be saddened. Its written by someone who clearly has no idea what science is or how it works. He believes that “scientists” are an evil cabal out to seduce ehrlicher yidden away from their emunah in Hashem, and yet desperately seek the approval of frum Jews. These are the people who are making decisions for the frum community? If they care at all about Jews, even frum Jews, outside the walls of their yeshivos, this isn’t helping.

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  5. "This attitude [of scientists] is the reason why today there are astounding advances in science such
    as space travel and many other things that we benefit in our daily lives — while at the
    same time many suffer from terrible illnesses. The negative consequence of not being
    guided by the Torah, is that man is totally dominated by his lusts like the animals and he
    is even worse. His animalistic behavior has resulted in the HIV-Aids epidemic. There are
    other illnesses which have been caused by the lack of satisfaction and meaning in life.
    "

    Wow.

    I wonder what causes diabetes, Asperger's and influenza epidemics.

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  6. Yehuda, are we watching the same speech? Did you see how angry Rabbi Shechter got? He seems to not a) be convinced that he has the age of the world correct but b) seems to be actively angry with anyone who tries to investigate the matter. Then there's his amazingly ridiculous bike analogy. Shechter's speech is the most reasonable of the three responses the Rabbi Slifkin referenced above, but that's only because the other two are even more off the wall.

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  7. Your post is, in my opinion, laughable. You "open yourself" to criticism??? People who do not share your "epistemological framework" are not welcome in your discussion to criticize you. People who do share your epistemological framework but who, in your eyes, are biased but don't admit to their bias are not welcome in your discussion to criticize you. People who don't have these "biases" but who ask really powerful kushyos against you are greeted with questions about which yeshiva they attended. Basically, what you have effectively done is excluded anyone from the discussion who does not agree with you, and then you congratulate yourself for being "open" unlike the gedolim. Methinks the emperor has no clothes, Rabbi Slifkin.

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  8. On the contrary. Everyone is welcome to criticize me. I'm just not willing to enter into extended discussion with people with whom it is pointless. And I am always willing to explain and prove why it is pointless, rather than just asserting it.

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  9. I just watched Rav Schechter's speech and I disagree with you. I think he was trying to convey the same message Rav Kook conveyed to his student who was disturbed by evolution. The basic point is Hashem does not want us to dwell on these things -- that the point of Judaism and the Torah has little to do with exactly how or when the world was created.

    Yehuda,

    There are many, many people today for whom Rav Kook's advice is woefully inadequate and who would not become shomer mitzvos without satisfactory answers to the questions that R. Slifkin deals with.

    Rav Shechter was preaching to the choir in a way. R. Slifkin is addressing a crowd for whom Rav Shechter's advice will simply keep them away from Yiddishkeit.

    Is it better that Jews should be eating treifus, being mechalel shabbos and not wearing tefillin?!

    Different approaches work for different people which is why you have different styles for being mekareiv people. Some are turned on by chassidus, some need the Aish approach, etc.

    Why should well educated non-frum Jews raised in the West simply accept Chazal. Do you accept spontaneous generation of lice? Does anybody? Can you tell the potential baal teshuva that Chazal were right and if you think otherwise, just suspend your intellectual faculties on this point?

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  10. "Rav Moshe Feinstein has a wonderful preface to Iggros Moshe where he explains why he is publishing the reasons for his rulings."

    R' Moshe only published his works in hebrew and gave instructions that it not be transilated. So I suppose you can say the same thing in regard to R' Moshe. He was suppressing questions from the ignorant people who could not follow what he was saying in hebrew.

    Bottom line, nobody who takes themself seriously like a hekeler, someone who ridicules them just to poke holes in what they are saying. The issues of the day only become issues of the day because people get all excited and hung up on them. For the most part people could live their lives perfectly fine without knowing the answers to every question. In fact, ignorance is often bliss for the masses of people who just want to live unquestioned lives.

    Once you open the flood gates to questions the questions never end. We are living in a post moderist world where certainty has been thrown out the window. Nothing is real. The reason for religion is to give meaning and purpose in people's lives.

    The goal of the Rabbanim is to keep Postmoderism as far away from people as possible. If that means banning a few books that seem to lead people that way they will do so, no matter how Kosher the books happen to be.

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  11. Shalom, Cherry HillOctober 8, 2009 at 6:00 PM

    To Child – ish

    A maxim that I learned a long time ago is that there is no ‘stupid’ or ‘bad’ question—at least not if it’s a real question. I’m sure that many people have friends or acquaintances like a coworker of mine whose family was traditional,
    and who asked a Hebrew Sunday School teacher about how the Torah says the world is 5000 years old when science says billions of years. He was shut down, and never took religion very seriously afterwards, and is now married to a non Jew.

    I loved getting questions like that when I taught Hebrew school, because it was an indication that the kids were using their brains, and could then be engaged in a
    real conversation.

    You write that “For the most part people could live their lives perfectly fine without knowing the answers to every question”—that’s true, but when they *do* have a
    question it must be answered honestly, or you merely raise suspicions that you don’t know, don’t care, and don’t have a clue. Saying ‘I don’t know’ is OK, but saying that it’s a stupd/heretical/obnoxious/irrelevant question isn’t.

    You write “The goal of the Rabbanim is to keep Postmoderism as far away from people as possible.” Maybe so, but I seem to recall that Hashem’s ways are those of Emet. Is it true that ‘Moshe emet ve’Torato emet’ or is that just a nice song for
    Simchat Torah?

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  12. To quote Prof. Marc Shapiro: "By making a case without traditional halakhic sources it is impossible for an opponent to marshal contrary halakhic arguments. A ruling could be opposed, but not refuted." I think this quotation is directly relevant in the present case.

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  13. Natan

    Abraham brought the idea of monotheism into the world at a time when everyone else believed in Idolotry. Yet today the belief in Idolotry is a thing of the past in Western Civilization. One hundred years ago no one believed in an expanding universe. Yet nowadays almost everyone believes that there was a "creation". So I don't think we can easily dismiss the rabbis for not jumping on the current evolution/universe dating bandwagon.

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  14. HaIvri - while I would have plenty to say about whether there is reason to skeptical about modern science, that is not the point of this post. The point is not whether they are justified in opposing modern cosmology. The point is that they do not explain their objections to my books in any detail, nor explain their own positions on such matters.

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  15. When every decision one makes is automatically correct because it's "Daas Torah", why does one feel any need to justify them?

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  16. Moshe David Tokayer,

    I love Rabbi Slifkin's book and, no, I don't believe in spontaneous generation. My conetention was that Rabbi Schechter had a valid point in regards to man's purpose on earth.

    In the letter I referred to, Rav Kook gave his student an answer in which he said that evolution could well be true. However, after giving him the answer Rav Kook clearly is disturbed that his student is spending so much time on the issue.

    So, no, I think people need to have books like Rabbi Slifkin's (I know they were very helpful to me), but I also think we can learn partially from Rabbi Schechter that most people should not be spending so much time on this topic.

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  17. Shalom, Cherry Hill: "Moshe Emes ViToraso Emes" is very true. However, the whole idea of postmodernism is that there is not Emes. Nothing can be proven to be "true." The only real questions that are heretical to be asked are those without strong answers to the unending questions that culminate in the answer "there is no emes." There are no stupid or dumb questions, there are questions that don't have valid answers for everyone, and it is the job of the "Gadol" to protect the integrity of the system, and not necessarily answer all the unanswerable questions.

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  18. "When every decision one makes is automatically correct because it's "Daas Torah", why does one feel any need to justify them?"

    It didn't stop the Igros Moshe

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  19. Yirmiahu, that's the point! R. Moshe Feinstein did not believe in the contemporary concept of Daas Torah. He is famously reported as having said that Daas Torah means quoting what the Torah literature actually says.

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  20. again, for Childאיש:

    Maybe "most people" don't need answers to questions. But most children do! Especially smart children.

    Here is Richard Feynman (from "What Do You Care What Other People Think?") describing the experience that made him stop going to hebrew school.
    ---------------------
    The actual crisis came when I was eleven or twelve. The rabbi was telling us a story about the Spanish Inquisition, in which the Jews suffered terrible tortures. He told us about a particular individual whose name was Ruth, exactly what she was supposed to have done, what the arguments were in her favor and against her—the whole thing, as if it had all been documented by a court reporter. And I was just an innocent kid, listening to all this stuff and believing it was a true commentary, because the rabbi had never indicated otherwise.

    At the end, the rabbi described how Ruth was dying in prison: "And she thought, while she was dying"—blah, blah.

    That was a shock to me. After the lesson was over, I went up to him and said, "How did they know what she thought when she was dying?"

    He says, "Well, of course, in order to explain more vividly how the Jews suffered, we made up the story of Ruth. It wasn't a real individual."

    That was too much for me. I felt terribly deceived: I wanted the straight story—not fixed up by somebody else— so I could decide for myself what it meant. But it was difficult for me to argue with adults. All I could do was get tears in my eyes. I started to cry, I was so upset.

    He said, "What's the matter?"

    I tried to explain. "I've been listening to all these stories, and now I don't know, of all the things you told me, which were true, and which were not true! I don't know what to do with everything that I've learned!" I was trying to explain that I was losing everything at the moment, because I was no longer sure of the data, so to speak. Here I had been struggling to understand all these miracles, and now—well, it solved a lot of miracles, all right! But I was unhappy.

    The rabbi said, "If it is so traumatic for you, why do you come to Sunday school?"

    "Because my parents make me."

    I never talked to my parents about it, and I never found out whether the rabbi communicated with them or not, but my parents never made me go again. And it was just before I was supposed to get confirmed as a believer.

    Anyway, that crisis resolved my difficulty rather rapidly, in favor of the theory that all the miracles were stories made up to help people understand things "more vividly," even if they conflicted with natural phenomena. But I thought nature itself was so interesting that I didn't want it distorted like that. And so I gradually came to disbelieve the whole religion.

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  21. I am reminded of the famous Torah agadata of the fox trying to convince the fish to get out of the water [i.e. the Jew to leave Torah]. http://scheinerman.net/judaism/stories/fox-fish.html

    These guys are in communities that narrowly define the river and broadly define the fox.

    The questions I think are "river" questions, they think are "fox" questions.


    Gary Goldwater

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  22. "Maybe "most people" don't need answers to questions. But most children do! Especially smart children.

    Here is Richard Feynman (from "What Do You Care What Other People Think?") describing the experience that made him stop going to hebrew school. "


    While I agree with you that it is true that children need answers, and that lack of answers can turn people off of Judaism, I think that this particular story actually demonstrates the opposite point.

    Here, in response to the question about how we know what Ruth was thinking as she died, the Rabbi was forthright and told over this bit of "heresy". He admitted that the particular story was a composite. And that opened the doors to the questioning of the entire religion. Which is strange, because no one had really presented as entirely historical. Well, the rabbi had done so without forethought, but he readily told his student that it was historical fiction to illustrate what they were going through.

    what if he had told the student not to question? Feynman may still have gone off the derech; but this is not what happened here.

    indeed, had the rabbi told him that how dare he ask this, and that this was written via ruach hakodesh, as Chazal answer regarding how Mordechai and Esther knew the thoughts of all the Jews, this would not have opened up the particular breach.

    similarly for the idea that Iyov Lo Haya veLo Nivra.

    On the other hand, of course you are right that the rabbi did not engage him once he formulated the question about all the nissim. Though that rabbi might not have been equipped to answer it; and even if he had, it seems like these questions and disbelief was already extensive, and Feynman had already found his "out". It is not necessarily possible to persuade, and there is not necessarily the same likelihood for someone who grew up with the religious convictions and just has a few questions.

    kt,
    josh

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  23. Shalom, Cherry HillOctober 9, 2009 at 5:32 PM

    Hi, Child- ish,

    While post modernism holds that there is no ‘emet’, most people
    who ask these questions (in my limited experience) are looking
    for answers, not sophisticated debaters looking to score points. In fact, if you answer most (or at least many) of these people in an
    open and honest way, they respond well. Even if they never become
    religious or entirely agree, they can at least respect the fact that one can believe in Torah and still be rational.

    The problem is that hese ‘Gedolim’ don’t attempt to treat those who have real questions with respect or tolerance, thereby driving them away—perhaps placing ‘michshol lifnei eever’. Telling people who already have questions not to have questions is not ‘protecting the integrity’ of anything. In fact,
    it demonstrates a lack of integrity. I saw the Rav Schecter tape—it was ugly. If he didn’t want to deal with the question, he could have quietly said that
    he didn’t think about those issues because it seemed unproductive to him, but other Rabbis like those at Aish HaTorah do deal with them, and one should address them with those issues.

    Best wishes,
    Shalom

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  24. > Can you tell the potential baal teshuva that Chazal were right and if you think otherwise, just suspend your intellectual faculties on this point?

    If you can't tell it to a Baal Teshuva, then it probably should not be told to anyone. Either its true or it isn't.

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  25. "Ever heard any of them discuss the dirt-mouse?"

    Rabbi Leiman does, and he's gadol enough in my book. :-)

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  26. > The problem is that hese ‘Gedolim’ don’t attempt to treat those who have real questions with respect or tolerance

    Real questions? They don’t even believe that there is such a thing. Haven’t you heard the famous line (I forget who said it) that the questions are really answers? In their minds the only reason anyone ever questions basic hashkafa is because he is looking for an excuse to give in to his yetzer hara and live a hefker life, indulging every whim in a hedonistic orgy.

    R’ Slifkin, it occurs to me that this may well be why your books were banned. Once you acknowledge that rational inquiry has a place in religion, you open everything up to questions. Ultimately, religion comes down to faith, and rational inquiry will not by itself provide a reason to adhere to a religion. Since we know that there are no questions, only answers/excuses, rational inquiry will ultimately lead to giving in to the yetzer hara. The corollary is that one who has faith has no need to inquire.

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  27. In their minds the only reason anyone ever questions basic hashkafa is because he is looking for an excuse to give in to his yetzer hara and live a hefker life, indulging every whim in a hedonistic orgy.

    What's especially weird about this is that it assumes a dichotomy of Orthodox Judaism (and probably a very specific kind) vs. total materialism. It almost seems as though these Rabbis have never heard of any other religion, or any other approach to halachic Judaism. Can't they conceive that there are people who very much want to live a spiritual, Orthodox Jewish life, and that part of that is actually believing something that makes sense to them?

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  28. "R’ Slifkin, it occurs to me that this may well be why your books were banned. Once you acknowledge that rational inquiry has a place in religion, you open everything up to questions. Ultimately, religion comes down to faith, and rational inquiry will not by itself provide a reason to adhere to a religion"

    There is perhaps a difference between Chinuch and answering individuals questions:

    Here is a quote from the blogger Bari, regarding the Rav zt'l, quoting R. Zeigler and R. Shmuel Kamentesky:

    1) "I believe that the Rav's primary reason for not writing about these subjects (i.e. intellectual challenges to Judaism, such as Biblical criticism, evolution, etc.) was that he simply did not regard them as the most important issues or the main problems facing Judaism in the modern world. The main arena of combat, in his opinion, was the soul, not the mind. We saw that the Rav believed that the G-d-experience lies at the core of faith, and the role of the intellect is only a posteriori - it is both ancillary and subsequent to the faith-experience. Therefore, there is no point in addressing questions of the intellect before one establishes within himself an experiential basis of faith."

    2) "When I called Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky Shlit"a regarding what he thought I should tell my students regarding Torah and Science issues, the first words out of his mouth were "Mir hobben nisht kein kashyes" ("We don't have any questions"). Cynics may say that this means that questions are off limits. They'd be wrong. What it means is that the resevoirs of Emunah in the veracity of the Torah are so deep, as a result of decades of sensing the harmony between the body and soul, the mundane and Divine, the congruence of a Torah lifestyle with our cognizance of our core being, that they drown the potential destruction of Emunah any particular question may bring to bear."

    3) Rabbi Yair Spolter writes in the JO(linked below):

    "Thirdly, creating a strong basis of emuna in young children requires teaching them to experience G-d as a reality. By doing so, we are instilling a belief that runs deeper than any intellectual understanding. Encouraging youth to challenge this reality can run contrary to the development of emuna as "second nature" (emuna peshuta). ***According to our mesora, it is only after a strong foundation is established that intellectual exploration of any sort is in place.***"

    http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/PYes/ArticleDetails.cfm?Book_ID=416&ThisGroup_ID=272&Type=Article

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  29. Shalom Cherry Hill wrote: "The problem is that these ‘Gedolim’ don’t attempt to treat those who have real questions with respect or tolerance, thereby driving them away"

    Any comments, Rabbi Slifkin, about this sort of generalization/insult posted on your site?

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  30. If "these Gedolim" is a reference to the Gedolim who condemned my books (which it presumably is), then isn't it a simple observation of the facts? I don't think that he's referring to Rav Shlomo Fisher or Rav Hershel Shechter.

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  31. The Torah world has tried to rise to the challenge of teaching emunah through classic texts, such as Ramban on Devarim, Kuzari, etc(actually R. Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz did the same, and was ahead of us today in what he taught). In that vein, there are programs such as Project Chazon. Similarly, there is the Kiruv movement, which has been successful in convincing secular Jews to see the truth and beauty in Torah.

    One fundamental question is whether the current method of dealing with questions, including charedi kiruv can be considered "chakirah" of the rishonim, or is it still a deeper form of "emunah peshutah"(emunah peshutah requires depth as well, as R. Wolbe writes in Alie Shur II)?

    If you define "chakirah" as directly confronting challenges of faith and inevitably confronting doubt, that would mean that you would have to confront Maskilic issues directly and in depth. I am not expert on this, but I think that there is a difference between an Aish Hatorah Seminar and quoting secular historians to the multitudes of frum Jews, and refuting them, in whole or even in part(note that Aish does have interesting lectures on archeology).

    Nevertheless, just because today's Kiruv may or may not be "chakirah" of the Rishonim doesn't mean that it doesn't have value and is not intellectually satisfying for many.

    On the other hand, the opposite is true, and we should appreciate the intellectual honesty of people who have questions not answered by contemporary kiruv presentations; such people should be encouraged for their honesty. This is also an issue of individuality: ksheim shein partzufeim shavos kach ein deisim shavos.

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  32. > Cynics may say that this means that questions are off limits. They'd be wrong.

    I humbly submit that in my experience and that of many people I’ve discussed this with, the cynics are right.

    > What it means is that the resevoirs of Emunah in the veracity of the Torah are so deep, as a result of decades of sensing the harmony between the body and soul, the mundane and Divine, the congruence of a Torah lifestyle with our cognizance of our core being, that they drown the potential destruction of Emunah any particular question may bring to bear."

    This makes it sound like emunah is based on empirical evidence. But its no such thing. To paraphrase, we believe in Torah because we have a feeling that our belief about our soul is correct, because our belief that there are aspects of the Divine in the mundane lead us to see aspects of the Divine in the mundane, and because having been socialized in the Torah lifestyle the Torah forms the core of our attitudes towards everything and therefore its values are congruent with our core attitudes and sense of ourselves. These are all circular, and boil down to, “We believe because we believe what we were taught to believe and so we believe.”

    > Thirdly, creating a strong basis of emuna in young children requires teaching them to experience G-d as a reality. By doing so, we are instilling a belief that runs deeper than any intellectual understanding.

    Many young children are taught to believe that Santa brings them presents, and this forms part of their experiential reality. This belief ‘runs deeper than any intellectual understanding’ and many hold onto this belief even when logical absurdities are pointed out to them. Most kids lose the belief when peers make fun of them for holding it. That kids naturally accept what adults tell them is a practical but somewhat immoral justification for indoctrination in a tradition.

    > Encouraging youth to challenge this reality can run contrary to the development of emuna as "second nature" (emuna peshuta). ***According to our mesora, it is only after a strong foundation is established that intellectual exploration of any sort is in place.***"

    Here is the real point. Questions are only allowed WITHIN a given framework. You can question why Hashem wants us to do something, you can question how the mesorah was passed down, but heaven help the kid who points out logical inconsistencies or worse, questions the omnipotence or omnibenevolence (never mind the existence) of God. And these days, the omnipotence and infallibility of the gedolim.

    We are indoctrinated to think this way, that the authority is always right and we haven’t even the faculties to ask meaningful questions. Its never “The gemara doesn’t make sense,” always, “I don’t understand the gemara.”

    We believe because we believe because we believe. Heaven forbid that we might teach our children critical thinking skills. They might start coming up with terutzim for why they can throw off the ol hatorah and indulge their base urges.

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  33. R. Slifkin wrote previously that that,

    "I can understand that there are arguments in favor of rabbinic leaders not having to explain themselves, but I think that in most cases, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits."

    Note, that sometimes Rabbonim do not feel appropriate to cite sources; here is a link from the Serach Ez blog regarding "Yoetzet", regarding follow up by a Rav to an article that was written in the 5TJT without quoting sources.

    http://serandez.blogspot.com/2009/03/r-feitman-on-yoatzot-halacha-second.html

    "1. I purposely did not cite sources.

    Much of Torah decision-making and Hashkafah positions are more related to the essence of the Torah and elemental issues than to a particular footnote. It is famous that Poskim treated the "Yirah Li" ("I believe") of the Rosh as a stronger statement than when he sourced his P'sak. There is a famous story to this effect as well with Rav Chaim Soloveitchik and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodjenski. As a matter of fact, Rav Soloveitchik ZTL used this method in responding to Ben Gurion's famous "Who is a Jew?" query. He chose to answer succinctly and with almost no sources jointly with Rav Chaim Heller. The point he was making was
    • a. There is no need for us both to respond since this is basic and there is only one Torah;
    • b. This does not require lengthy analysis or pilpul. It is self-evident-poshut. "

    (Nonwithstanding the above, to condemn someone's writings, there obviously must be a meeting, because of due process. Even if one argues that a mere meeting would be granting legitimacy to views once holds to be beyond the pale, still, there should be a process worked out where an author gets a fair hearing and representation with the concern of not "granting legitimacy" also worked out; eg, the gedolim can appoint a neutral third party to hear both sides).

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  34. Shalom, Cherry HillOctober 13, 2009 at 5:39 AM

    To Alex,

    If you care to look at the context, it's clear that I am refering to those, like Rav Shechter whom I referenced in the following sentances, who speak and write in a dismissive and insulting manner. Perhaps you would care to comment on those specific examples? It seems to me that R' Slifkin has documented in great detail a number of cases which touched him personally. Another example that you can look into is Rabbi Kaminetsky's experience in writing his book 'The Making of A Godol'-- there's an audio file of him descirbing it on the YU Torah website. I don't believe that all Chareidi Rabbis act that way, but those who do are committing a Chillul Hashem.

    Of course, you can simply ignore the topic by focusing on what you don't like about those who raise the issue.

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  35. "Questions are only allowed WITHIN a given framework."

    I agree. A ninth-grade rebbe is certainly not equipped to debate a young, budding Maskil in front of the whole class.

    "Its never “The gemara doesn’t make sense,” always, “I don’t understand the gemara.”

    I agree it's not pure free-inquiry, but showing respect for Amoraim has a basis in faith(this also touches on the "tone" issue regarding how to deal with Science/Chazal issues).

    My point was to try to identify the greatest amount of free-inquiry you can have while still remaining a believer in Torah(in the Rishonim's time that was "Chakirah").

    There are different levels today:

    1) Pure faith, as say, one may learn in a Cheder as a child

    2) Project Chazon, which deals with questions publicly for FFB kids in an *indirect* way

    3) Contemporary Kiruv Seminars for secular people

    4) Dealing with Maskilic questions in depth, such as publishing scholarly articles which can be critiqued and debated in a wide forum

    As a difference between # 3 and # 4, compare a summary of R. Shimon Schwab quoted in a Hakirah article, versus a "Ask the Rabbi":

    "In a 1962 essay Rabbi S. Schwab found this discrepancy a “truly vexing problem” and wrote that the historical chronological dating:

    “can hardly be doubted for they appear to be the result of painstaking research by hundreds of scholars and are borne out by profound erudition and by ever increasing authoritative evidence...we are compelled to admit that the Bayis Sheni must have existed for no less than 586 years.”

    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%203%20Epstein.pdf

    http://www.asktherabbi.org/DisplayQuestion.asp?ID=1883

    I am no expert on the Bayis Sheni issue, but I note that R. Schwab at least develops and acknowledges the severity of the question and did research, and is more scholarly. "Ask the Rabbi" gives a basic answer(nothing wrong with that for many people).

    Back to your point, I agree that the movement to allow more questions in public, Charedi educational settings might have limits and not be pure, free-inquiry. Nevertheless, one should welcome as much openneess as possible, IMO.

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  36. Shalom, Cherry HillOctober 13, 2009 at 10:36 AM

    To G*3

    Regarding your point about the argument about the feeling of harmony of soul and Torah being a circular argument at its core--- I agree that it often is. I imagine that there are people of all stripes, all religions, political beliefs, and so on, who put their brain and soul on ‘cruise control’ and stick to the track that they happen to find themselves on. Even so, that doesn’t mean that Torah isn’t true, and that following it doesn’t bring a great benefit to our soul, because that is what we are created to do. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and just because the clock is broken doesn’t mean that it isn’t actually noon at a given time as the clock indicates. Likewise, even though some religious Jews act in a way that I think is terribly wrong, it doesn’t mean that the imperfect messenger invalidates the message.

    Your ‘Santa Claus’ example is clever, and apt, BUT…. every parent knows that the story will not stand up to adult scrutiny because they know that they are fooling their children for benign reasons. While we cannot prove G-d, we can demonstrate that belief in Him can be rational as well as passionate and intuitive. I deliberately tried to give my children a deep love for Hashem with such devices as ‘Shabbos parties’ and so on when they were small, the fun of lighting Channukah candles, singing, and so on. However, as they got older I built upon that base with reason, discussion, and so on. Every question is a good question, and reason can support our love for Him, and I can make the decision to not let my imperfect understanding of some issues get in the way of what I believe. I can try to broaden my knowledge and deepen my understanding where possible, but I have no problem saying that whether I succeed or not, Ani Ma’amin. After all, who can truly fully understand the human condition, the environment, economics, and so on, but we all decide on what basic world view to hold.

    Best wishes.

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  37. 2) "When I called Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky Shlit"a regarding what he thought I should tell my students regarding Torah and Science issues, the first words out of his mouth were "Mir hobben nisht kein kashyes" ("We don't have any questions"). Cynics may say that this means that questions are off limits. They'd be wrong. What it means is that the resevoirs of Emunah in the veracity of the Torah are so deep, as a result of decades of sensing the harmony between the body and soul, the mundane and Divine, the congruence of a Torah lifestyle with our cognizance of our core being, that they drown the potential destruction of Emunah any particular question may bring to bear."

    Logically, this should mean that we should have no fear at all of intellectually investigating any questions that we have. Why does everyone think that it means the opposite?

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  38. I humbly submit that in my experience and that of many people I’ve discussed this with, the cynics are right.

    My experience as well.


    These are all circular, and boil down to, “We believe because we believe what we were taught to believe and so we believe.”

    This, on the other hand, is overdoing it. Of course, there is a basic philosophic/psychological question of nature vs. nurture, but probably no one really asserts that it is all nurture. You can't indoctrinate someone in a worldview which doesn't at least minimally resonate with his/her inner reality, unless the person is really incapable of thinking.

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  39. Shalom Cherry Hill wrote: "If you care to look at the context, it's clear that I am refering to those, like Rav Shechter whom I referenced in the following sentances, who speak and write in a dismissive and insulting manner."

    I looked at the context very carefully. I think you're now changing your tune. You wrote: "The problem is that hese ‘Gedolim’ don’t attempt to treat those who have real questions with respect or tolerance, .... Telling people who already have questions not to have questions is not ‘protecting the integrity’ of anything."

    "These" Gedolim do not do what you charge them of doing. Maybe one did; the others simply give unsatisfactory answers. (I found it irritating the way you said, "I don't believe that all Chareidi Rabbis act that way.")

    Also, when you wrote, "you can simply ignore the topic by focusing on what you don't like about those who raise the issue." -- I can assure you that I'm not ignoring the topic, but I /did/ focus on the sub-par way you wrote about it.

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  40. Shadesof said...
    > I agree. A ninth-grade rebbe is certainly not equipped to debate a young, budding Maskil in front of the whole class.

    “I don’t know” is an acceptable, and honest, answer.

    > My point was to try to identify the greatest amount of free-inquiry you can have while still remaining a believer in Torah(in the Rishonim's time that was "Chakirah").

    Do you realize what you’re saying? This implies that if someone is allowed to pursue investigation into hashkafa unchecked, he will inevitably lose his belief in the Torah. I don’t know whether or not this is actually true, but the very fact its phrased that way is interesting.

    It also leads into the sticky issue of dictating what one is “allowed” to believe, as if belief is a deliberate choice and can be turned on and off at will. This may tie into the idea that those who question basic hashkafa are choosing not to believe so that they can give in to their tievos.

    Shalom, Cherry Hill said...
    > Even so, that doesn’t mean that Torah isn’t true,
    Sure, pointing out the fallacy of one argument hardly qualifies as a refutation of Judaism. But it does mean that those feelings of harmony are not valid justification for those beliefs. That’s all.

    > I can try to broaden my knowledge and deepen my understanding where possible, but I have no problem saying that whether I succeed or not, Ani Ma’amin.

    Argument from faith. Which is fine, as long as its recognized for what it is.

    > After all, who can truly fully understand the human condition, the environment, economics, and so on, but we all decide on what basic world view to hold.

    Argument from ignorance. We don’t understand how all this works, therefore God.

    Anyway, this is really off topic.

    ephraim said...
    > Of course, there is a basic philosophic/psychological question of nature vs. nurture, but probably no one really asserts that it is all nurture. You can't indoctrinate someone in a worldview which doesn't at least minimally resonate with his/her inner reality, unless the person is really incapable of thinking.

    Nature/nurture is relevant only in regard to personality and development of psychiatric disorders. “Worldview” is completely the product of socialization and learning. Now, given that worldviews and societies are developed by humans, and all humans have the same basic structures, it is hardly surprising that these constructs “resonate with our inner reality.”

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  41. G*3

    >Real questions? They don’t even believe that there is such a thing. Haven’t you heard the famous line (I forget who said it) that the questions are really answers? In their minds the only reason anyone ever questions basic hashkafa is because he is looking for an excuse to give in to his yetzer hara and live a hefker life, indulging every whim in a hedonistic orgy.

    Well spoken.

    I sometimes almost get the sense that the thinking goes something along the following lines: there's absolute certainty that there are excellent answers, better than the questions by far, for any challenge. So it's almost seen as a waste of time to get around to them. Why not cut out the middle man and learn another Tosafos?

    I'm reminded of an exchange that centered around the term "absolute truth" in the Reinman/ Hirsch book. Both parties appeared fairly surprised that the other was apparently unable to conceive of there being absolute truth, or there *not* being absolute truth. It was one big communication gap.

    Similarly, the people with the questions aren't already convinced at the outset that there are absolutely truthful answers, while those who are convinced just see the challenge as a distraction.

    Ephraim,

    >It almost seems as though these Rabbis have never heard of any other religion, or any other approach to halachic Judaism. Can't they conceive that there are people who very much want to live a spiritual, Orthodox Jewish life, and that part of that is actually believing something that makes sense to them?

    You're right that they may be lacking in empathy, but I'm pretty sure that they *can* conceive that there are people who very much want to live a spiritual, Orthodox Jewish life, and that part of that is actually believing something that makes sense to them. Why? Because they are those people; or they believe they are those people. It makes perfect sense to them. The lack of empathy or imagination or whatever you'd call it, is in not really getting why it wouldn't make perfect sense to everyone else.

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  42. Shalom, Cherry HillOctober 14, 2009 at 9:05 PM

    To Alex,

    If you looked at the context carefully, then I must conclude that your sight is clouded by either a partisan bias or some other impediment. As to your claim
    That ‘maybe one’ ‘gadol’ treated people with real questions with a lack of respect tolerance… halevai! Was Rabbi Kaminetzky treated with respect and tolerance
    (and he wasn’t even questioning anyone—he was just relating historical facts that they didn’t like)? How about Rabbi Slifkin? How about the way that Rabbi Reinman was forced to cancel his book tour with Ammiel Hirsh? Was Rabbi Druckman treated with respect by the Chareidim who disagreed with his ideas about giyur? How about Rabbi Amsalem, after news about his views on conversion? The list is long…..

    Regarding you irritation…may I suggest balmex? Luckily, my ego is strong enough to survive your low opinion of my writing.

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  43. Shalom, Cherry HillOctober 14, 2009 at 9:05 PM

    Hi, G*3

    S- > After all, who can truly fully understand the human condition, the environment, economics, and so on, but we all decide on what basic world view to hold.

    G*3- Argument from ignorance. We don’t understand how all this works, therefore God.

    S- Not at all. My point is that since *everyone* lacks complete understanding in *all* topics, but we still decide to adopt a basic worldview, the decision to believe in G-d despite not having all the answers is no less rational than any other belief. One can believe that capitalism/socialism/communism is the best economic model despite not understanding every nuance of economics, and one can believe/disbelieve in G-d despite not understanding every issue also.

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  44. "Do you realize what you’re saying? This implies that if someone is allowed to pursue investigation into hashkafa unchecked, he will inevitably lose his belief in the Torah"

    I didn't realize that I implied that, but let's go back to the Rambam in Avodah Zarah(translation from R. Carmy's article in TUM Journal 2):

    "Any thought which leads a human being to uproot one of the principles of the Torah, we are enjoined not to take it upon our heart, and we should not divert our minds to such, and dwell [upon it] and be drawn after the thoughts of the heart. This is because man's understanding is slight, and not all minds can attain truth thoroughly. If a man is drawn after the thoughts of his heart he may destroy the world as a result of his limited understanding. How? At times he will rove after idolatry. At times he will think about God being one: maybe it is so, maybe it isn't. What is above, what is below, what is before, what is after. And sometimes about prophecy: maybe it is true, maybe it isn't. And sometimes about the Torah: maybe it is from Heaven, maybe it is not. And he does not know the categories by which he should judge [ha-middot she-yadin bahen] in order to know truth thoroughly; hence he is liable to deviate into minut. "

    The Rambam clearly implies that there are answers for any question, but, " not all minds can attain truth thoroughly", and " he does not know the categories by which he should judge in order to know truth thoroughly".

    Indeed the Rambam wrote the Moreh to deal with such questions. One can further question, however, what the Rambam would have done with today's questions, some of which are of a different type than those in the Moreh.

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  45. (Continued)

    While an individual may be proscribed from studying heresy to satisfy his curiosity, obviously as a *community*, Orthodox representatives can not say to any non-Orthodox scholar, "we are not thinking about your questions", because of the Rambam in Avodah Zarah!

    There is an organization in Israel which attempts to bombard Israeli Charedim with questions about faith that they can not handle. They ask the following general question about Charedie education (in realty the question is not only on "Charedim"):

    "If the "Divine truth" is in the pocket of the Charedi, why are they so afraid to teach their students Biblical criticism, the results of archeological research, and to teach them whether their faith passes the test of reasonable critique?"

    Getting back to the Rambam, there are answers for all questions, but there is what to fear from free inquiry because a person may draw wrong conclusions. However, the Jewish community should validate and have an attitude of openness towards those who honestly ask questions just as the Rambam wrote the Moraeh, lest one conclude, as the above-mentioned organization does, that we are afraid of questions as a community.

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  46. Here is a positive approach to questions from an article by Rabbi Max Weinman:

    "Regarding your feeling of being uncomfortable with something. You never have to accept something that makes you uncomfortable in the way you mean it[see original question about Avroham not looking at Sarah untill before Mitzrayim]. Always try to articulate what is bothering you. That’s part of Machkim es Rabo, one of the 48 Things from the 6th Chapter, 6th Mishna of Pirkey Avot. You may have an obligation to say, “I’m not clear on what this means.” “I find this hard to understand.” And you should badger teachers and Rabbis until someone can explain it to you in a way that sits right with you. However, many great sages had questions that made them “uncomfortable” for years. We don’t always get an answer, but we go to the grave trying."

    http://www.beyondbt.com/2009/06/17/what-must-one-believe/

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  47. Shalom, Cherry Hill said...
    > Not at all. My point is that since *everyone* lacks complete understanding in *all* topics, but we still decide to adopt a basic worldview, the decision to believe in G-d despite not having all the answers is no less rational than any other belief.

    Still an argument from ignorance. The best you can do with this line of reasoning is to say that we have insufficient data to come to a valid conclusion regarding God, and therefore we don’t know. One may certainly choose to believe in God without conclusive evidence, but that is faith. Saying that we don’t know, therefore it is as rational as anything else is not true. The most rational approach is to look to the evidence and just say we don’t know.

    > One can believe that capitalism/socialism/communism is the best economic model despite not understanding every nuance of economics

    That would be a personal opinion, not an expert analysis of competing economic models. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we should recognize that people’s opinions are often wrong.

    shadesofgray.gray said...
    > Getting back to the Rambam, there are answers for all questions, but there is what to fear from free inquiry because a person may draw wrong conclusions.

    So there are answers, we just shouldn’t go looking for them because our puny minds may come to the wrong conclusions – the wrong conclusions being defined as anything that disagrees with Torah precepts. This is assuming what you are trying to prove. Given that the Torah is right, then it follows that anything that shows it is false is wrong. But we haven’t established that the Torah is right, except for the Rambam’s assurance that there are answers for all of our questions (answers that he tells us not to look for). And we should just take the Rambam’s word for this?

    > However, the Jewish community should validate and have an attitude of openness towards those who honestly ask questions just as the Rambam wrote the Moraeh,

    Yes, they should, though I would leave out the modifier “honestly.” 1) Who gets to decide if a question is “honest” or is an excuse? Especially given the belief that all non-trivial hashkafa questions are really excuses? 2) Questions stand on their own, regardless of the motivation of the one asking. A good question is a good question.

    > lest one conclude, as the above-mentioned organization does, that we are afraid of questions as a community.

    They’re wrong?

    The quote from R’ Weinman is a nice take on questioning, but based on the url that follows it, it seems that it was meant for ballei teshiva. There is a common perception in the frum community that it is okay for a baal teshuva to ask questions, but someone raised frum shouldn’t. Nisht paas. I also find the last bit of the url, “what-must-one-believe,” to be odd, as per my comment above about belief not actually being subject to an act of will.

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  48. You're right that they may be lacking in empathy, but I'm pretty sure that they *can* conceive that there are people who very much want to live a spiritual, Orthodox Jewish life, and that part of that is actually believing something that makes sense to them. Why? Because they are those people; or they believe they are those people. It makes perfect sense to them.

    Does it really make perfect sense to them that the Torah, read on anything near a literal level, describes the history of the world in a way which is completely false according to the solidly proven evidence we have today? (I'm intentionally not using the words 'science' or 'scientists' which, as mentioned, conjure up in some people's minds some evil group of atheists who are "out to get us". We're talking about evidence which is pretty much in everyone's grasp if they just are interested.)
    Does it really make perfect sense to them that the Gemara is full of statements about the physical world which are just plain wrong or extremely primitive, as anyone can see today? (Again, no need to refer to any elite group of 'scientists').
    If these things seem "perfectly sensible" to these Rabbis, then they aren't living in the real world.
    BTW, I finally got around to hearing Rav Aharon Schecter's talk, and it is a classic example where the 'tone' is everything. Out of a 12-minute speech, there is maybe 10 seconds of actual content, and if he would have expressed it without shouting, making fists, and generally insulting the listeners, it might even be rather compatible with what RNS writes in his books. Basically, as far as I could tell, if he says anything relevant, it is that there may be (!) good questions, and we may not (!) know the answers, but that there are deeper levels of understanding to the Torah. (Of course, what these "deeper levels" may be is a subject which is open to controversy, but the basic direction is reasonable.) Why do these Rabbis think that yelling at people is the way to popularize Torah?

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  49. I was 'Anonymous' at 10:19, if anyone is interested.

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  50. "Why do these Rabbis think that yelling at people is the way to popularize Torah?"

    Ephraim, again with the "these"? Do you ALWAYS generalize? (smirk)

    Besides, you need not equate "raising one's voice in a lecture" with "yelling at people."

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  51. Ephraim, I get the impression that some in the right wing chareidi camp implicitly reject empiricism as a valid epistemology. According to this view, the only way we know anything is based on what’s written in Torah sources. It is a given that the Torah is the source of all knowledge, and that the Torah is always correct. Therefore if we come across something that contradicts the Torah, it is automatically wrong.

    So the gemara is right, and the evidence of our senses are not to be trusted.

    > If these things seem "perfectly sensible" to these Rabbis, then they aren't living in the real world.

    That’s the main downside of their point of view. Of course, they would say that they are the ones living in the real world, and we are all living in an olam shel sheker. Unfortunately for them, one has to start out already believing that to be true in order for it to be plausible.

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  52. Of course ya gotta remember that there is the whole concept of Chok, which was designed not to be questioned.

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  53. Shalom, Cherry HillOctober 16, 2009 at 5:49 PM

    G*3 “One may certainly choose to believe in God without conclusive evidence, but that is faith. Saying that we don’t know, therefore it is as rational as anything else is not true. The most rational approach is to look to the evidence and just say we don’t know.”

    Why is just saying ‘we don’t know’ any more rational than saying ‘we don’t know, but choose to believe’? After all, if one can rationally explain their belief (understanding that this doesn’t prove that it’s right), and further, that belief brings them benefits such as peace of mind, a feeling of self worth, or what have you, why is that less rational than what might (at least for them) be a less fulfilling feeling of uncertainty? After all, what is rational for me (because of my circumstances) might be irrational for you (because of your different circumstances)

    S- One can believe that capitalism/socialism/communism is the best economic model despite not understanding every nuance of economics

    G*3 - That would be a personal opinion, not an expert analysis of competing economic models. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we should recognize that people’s opinions are often wrong.

    Shalom- True, but what is ‘expert analysis’ other than the personal opinion of someone who (hopefully) has more information and expertise—but is also limited in knowledge? After all, look at the ‘experts’ on the environment who wrote volumes about the danger of ‘global cooling’ back in the 70s and 80s, then the danger of ‘global warming’ in the last several years, and now it’s been quiet because it’s actually been getting cooler now. Likewise, look at the ‘experts’ on the economy and investments, where few mutual fund managers even match the market over time.

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  54. You listed 3 gedolim who have published or spoken in public against your work. While his credentials as a "gadol" may be a point of discussion, Rabbi moshe Meiselman is certainly a talmid chahcham and quite knowledgable secularly (granted his degree is in math yet he has had a collegiate level education in natural sciences). I know that you consulted him in preparation of at least one of your books and that he took offense to the acknowledgement as it appearedtaht he agreed with your work. He also spoke in a semi-public format criticizing your work to which you responded.
    I understand that he was in the midst of writing (either alone or collaborating with Rabbi Gottlieb) a book length discussion on science and faith. Have you heard any update as to if/when that work will be available. im sure you will critique it then.

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  55. >Does it really make perfect sense to them that the Torah, read on anything near a literal level, describes the history of the world in a way which is completely false according to the solidly proven evidence we have today?

    Yes, it really does. I was once such a person, so I can speak with some authority. Trust me, in that mindset it all makes perfect sense. Torah is not only true without question, but it is lightyears, ridculously many lightyears ahead of any other possible discipline or kind of thinking. Yes, it *really* makes perfect sense to them.

    >Does it really make perfect sense to them that the Gemara is full of statements about the physical world which are just plain wrong or extremely primitive, as anyone can see today?

    Yes.

    >If these things seem "perfectly sensible" to these Rabbis, then they aren't living in the real world.

    So they're not. Big deal. What's your point?

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  56. So the gemara is right, and the evidence of our senses are not to be trusted.

    Don't we read the Gemara with our eyes?

    Alex,

    You are right, I was generalizing in a way which is not justified based on only this one example. However, I do have many more examples, both personal and general, most prominently, of course, the original ban of Rabbi Slifkin's works which was far more intense than just shouting when asked a question. (And yes, Rabbi Schechter does 'yell' at the questioner in the video.)

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  57. Rabbi moshe Meiselman is certainly a talmid chahcham and quite knowledgable secularly

    Can a person who believes that the world is 5770 years old be rated as "quite knowledgeable secularly"? I can see room for disagreement on that.

    Have you heard any update as to if/when that work will be available.

    I heard that it's in the reviewing process, and I also heard a rumor that Feldheim turned it down (smart move on their part!)

    im sure you will critique it then.

    Yes, of course. I also have some predictions for the book:

    It won't discuss the mud-mouse.

    It won't discuss prehistoric man and ancient humans.

    It won't quote the comments of Rav Hirsch on evolution and on Chazal/science.

    It won't mention the comments of R. Lampronti on kinnim, Maharam Schick on Pesachim 94b or Rav Herzog on bereishis/chazal.

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  58. So they're not. Big deal. What's your point?


    What's your point?

    You sound pretty cynical and burnt-out, and that's too bad, because I personally think that there's a lot of good to be found even among the people who seem the most narrow-minded about emunah issues. Probably most of their absolutist ideas just stem from an insecurity and fear, and we could all gain if we could convince them to work to bring Judaism into the real world.

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  59. Can a person who believes that the world is 5770 years old be rated as "quite knowledgeable secularly"? I can see room for disagreement on that.


    Of course he's very knowledgeable; he just has weird ideas.

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  60. > Why is just saying ‘we don’t know’ any more rational than saying ‘we don’t know, but choose to believe’? After all, if one can rationally explain their belief (understanding that this doesn’t prove that it’s right), and further, that belief brings them benefits such as peace of mind, a feeling of self worth, or what have you,

    If you’re saying, “I understand that there’s no evidence to support my belief, but I believe in spite of that due to these other pragmatic reasons,” then I agree, that’s rational.

    The problem is when people try to use the lack of conclusive evidence to equivocate belief and lack of belief. There are lots of things that we lack conclusive evidence for one way or the other, like bigfoot. Yet most people would agree that it is more rational to assume that bigfoot does not exist until they are shown conclusive evidence that it does. When it comes to religion, some people try to claim that the lack of evidence means that belief is as valid as assuming not until proven.

    To use the bigfoot example again, that we don’t have conclusive evidence regarding its existence does not make it equally valid to assume that bigfoot does exist or to assume that he doesn’t exist. We assume he doesn’t until proven otherwise. The same standard should be applied to religious beliefs. If one accepts that, but chooses to believe despite that, that’s fine, but that’s called faith.

    > True, but what is ‘expert analysis’ other than the personal opinion of someone who (hopefully) has more information and expertise—but is also limited in knowledge?

    You’re right, and I’ll say even better. If even expert opinion can be and often is wrong, then the layman’s opinion can be expected to be wrong even more often. That people choose to do things and accept points of view despite not being able to know that they are right is an unfortunate necessity, as we need to in order to function in the uncertainty of the real world. That this is necessary should not be taken as justification for accepting something without evidence, and we should look at all of out positions as tentative and contingent on gathering further evidence and re-evaluating the position based on that evidence.

    > Likewise, look at the ‘experts’ on the economy and investments, where few mutual fund managers even match the market over time.

    The stockmarket is a particularly bad example of an “expert,” as studies have shown that expert stockbrokers do no better than amateurs.

    ephraim said...
    > Probably most of their absolutist ideas just stem from an insecurity and fear,

    They say exactly the same thing about people who disagree with them. I don’t think either they or you are right. They aren’t insecure. They sincerely believe that they are correct, and that their position is unassailable. They don’t think they have anything to fear from the silly scientists.

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  61. Shalom, Cherry HillOctober 19, 2009 at 5:48 AM

    To G*3,

    I think that we both agree that everyone should be a bit more humble in their beliefs, because while some of us can discuss them more rationally than others, and can analyze more deeply than others, none of us has a direct line to 'THE TRUTH'.

    Best wishes...

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  62. They say exactly the same thing about people who disagree with them. I don’t think either they or you are right.


    And I think we're both right. Everyone is insecure; everyone is looking for some kind of certainty or even a chance of it. Whenever you see someone get so emotional (like Rav Schechter) about a belief, you know they are insecure.


    They aren’t insecure. They sincerely believe that they are correct, and that their position is unassailable. They don’t think they have anything to fear from the silly scientists.


    Then why do they run away from the questions and curse out anyone who is interested in them?

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  63. > I think that we both agree that everyone should be a bit more humble in their beliefs, because while some of us can discuss them more rationally than others, and can analyze more deeply than others, none of us has a direct line to 'THE TRUTH'.

    Amen

    > why do they run away from the questions and curse out anyone who is interested in them?

    Maybe because the culture labels such questions evil, and so they find the questions offensive? Maybe its for dramatic effect, because they don’t trust the “masses” to be intelligent enough to respond to anything but emotional appeals? Or maybe your right. Its hard to say what’s going on inside someone else’s head without ever having met them.

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  64. Maybe its for dramatic effect, because they don’t trust the “masses” to be intelligent enough to respond to anything but emotional appeals?


    Probably the biggest obstacle in the way of any kind of 'rational' approach to religion is the simple fact that the 'masses' really do exist, and they really are just as dumb as advertised. Talk to some of them sometime, and you'll see. (Of course, every one of us likes to think that we don't belong...)

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  65. I didn’t know that. I have to think about it (hope this comment isn’t lack of derech eretz) the convention in the blogosphere is to allow anonymous comments and I do hope you realize no lack of derech eretz is intended. I ask your forgiveness, and possibly your indulgence for continuing. Are we sinning against you if you allow such comments but take them as a lack of derech eretz toward you?

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  66. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I asked R' Shmuel Irons, Rosh Kollel of the Detroit Kollel how it was that he's cited the same sources as you have on the age of the universe, in a public lecture on Shavuot, from the amud, and he's the Rosh Kollel and your books get put in cherem.

    Rabbi Irons laughed and said, "Some people have mazal".

    Of course Rabbi Irons is very wise as well as very smart. He once told me that it's a big problem when a talmid chacham says something that makes himself look foolish.

    So it's clear to me that there are people within the community who can see things as they really are.

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  67. I asked R' Shmuel Irons, Rosh Kollel of the Detroit Kollel how it was that he's cited the same sources as you have on the age of the universe, in a public lecture on Shavuot, from the amud, and he's the Rosh Kollel and your books get put in cherem.

    Rabbi Irons laughed and said, "Some people have mazal".


    Right, Rabbi Slifkin has the mazal to become a world-renowned figure who is probably more 'successful' by any standard measure than any stam Rosh Kollel.

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