Monday, October 26, 2009

A Miracle for a Rationalist



Baruch Shehechiyanu Vekiymanu Vehigiyanu Lazman Hazeh!

(Baruch Hashem, mother and baby girl are both doing well.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In Case You Haven't Seen This Yet...



Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, giving a pro-Israeli testimony at the UN Human Right Council's special session on the Goldstone Commission's Report on Operation Cast Lead. When most of the world is against us, it's refreshing to see someone who is still willing to say it as it is. And rationalists can wonder at the fact that the most compassionate army in the history of warfare can be condemned more than all other armies put together.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My Daughter's Parashah Picture

So my daughter, age 6 1/2, comes home from her Chardal school with a parashah picture for Bereishis, depicting Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden. Now, I'm not going to start making trouble about the real meaning of the story, because the pshat level has meaning and the real meaning is not suited to a six-year-old. But what bothered me intensely was how they depicted Adam. He was wearing some kind of kapotteh (even though the picture was pre-sin), a huge kippah (even though he was not Jewish), he had a long beard (even though he's supposed to be only 20 years old) and he had long chassidishe peyos!

I don't like it. But on the other hand, I don't think that it's good from a chinnuch perspective for me to be disagreeing with her teachers or her school's education materials.

What do you think?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Arguing with the Gadol HaDor

Rabbi Leib Tropper, of kanno'us and EJF fame, has a blog in which he recently wrote that it is forbidden to challenge the halachic ruling of a Posek HaDor who is alive. He quotes the Yaavetz as his source, presumably referring to Teshuvos Yaavetz 1:5. It's a very long teshuvah but I can't see where the Yaavetz says such a thing (in fact, the Yaavetz very much stresses the importance of not honoring people over the perceived truth of Torah), nor do I find it easy to imagine that he could say such a thing. Rav Moshe Feinstein certainly did not believe this; his teshuvah on this topic is a must-read and you can download it here.

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.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Maimonides on Reward and Punishment


Menachem Kellner is the author of some absolutely fascinating books on Rambam. I plan to review one of them, Must a Jew Believe Anything? on this website. In the meanwhile, I asked Professor Kellner if he can make the appendix, which deals with Rambam's views on reward and punishment, available for free, and he kindly consented. You can download it here, and you can buy the book here. Happy reading, and Chag Sameach!

When Rabbis Don't Quack

In the all-time most-read post on this blog, When Rabbis Quack , I criticized an as-yet unpublished work on alternative medicine which fea...