Sunday, March 7, 2010

R. Yaakov b. Chananel Skili on Kidneys

Here is a quote from R. Yaakov b. Chananel Skili (Spain-Israel-Iraq, 14th century), a disciple of Rashba, about kidneys. It's from Toras HaMincha, Derashah 74 for parashas Ki Tavo. If someone has the time and inclination to translate it, please do so! For a similar view, see Drashos Ibn Shuib to parashas Emor, p. 284.

ענין העצה והחכמה והשמחה המיוחסת לכליות
ועל ידי מה הוא מעורר אותי זאת ההתעוררות, על ידי הכליות, שהכליות יועצות ומחכימות. וכן הוא אומר (איוב לח לו) מי שת בטוחות חכמה, (תהלים נא ח) הן אמת חפצת בטוחות, והן הכליות שהן טוחות בחלב (ר"ה כו א). וכת' (משלי כג טז) ישמח לבי גם אני ותעלוזנה כליותי, הרי שלמה גדול חכמי הטבע והמחקר תלה השמחה בכליות כמו בלב. וכן בדוד הוא אומר (תהלים ז י) ובוחן לבות וכליות, (שם כו ב) בחנני ה' ונסני צרפה כליותי ולבי. וכן בירמיה הוא אומר (ירמיה יז י) אני ה' חוקר לב בוחן כליות ולתת לאיש כדרכיו כפרי מעלליו, ואומר (שם יא כ) וה' צבקות שופט צדק בוחן כליות ולב וגו'. הרי אנו למדים מכל אלו המקראות שהכליות יש להם כח לידע ולהודיע, וגם חלק להם בבינה כדרך שיש בלב, שהרי הקישן יחד.
והוצרכתי להביא כל זה מפני ששמעתי לקצת מבני עמנו קטני אמונה שתופסין על רז"ל שאמרו (ברכות סא א) כליות יועצות, והיו אומרים שאין כח בכליות להבין וליעץ אלא כמו שיש במעי התחתון. והנה למדנו מדברי הנביאים וגם מדברי שלמה דכת' ביה ותרב חכמת שלמה וגו', שהיה חכם בחכמת הטבע ובחכמת המחקר, וגם ממענה השם לאיוב, שהכליות כלי החכמה כמו הלב.
וגם דוד הודיענו שיש בהן כח להודיע לאדם עתידות, וכאשר ייסר איש את בנו הם מיסרות האדם להודיעו הדרך אשר ילך בה דכת' (תהלים טז ז) אף לילות יסרוני כליותי, ולא עוד אלא שהקיש מוסר ועצתם למוסר השם ית' ולעצתו, שהשם ית' יעץ ויסר קודם מעשה והם מיסרים ומיעצים בשעת מעשה, והכל משפע החכמה העליונה.
וכשהוא ית' חפץ באדם ורוצה להודיעו שהוא הולך על דרך לא טוב או בדרך ישר, הוא משפיע מכח החכמה בכליותיו לעוררו וליעצו על הדרך אשר ילך בה, ועל כן קראו ירמיה ע"ה גדול העצה, שכל העצות הן מאתו ית' והוא מגדיל עצה ומפליא התושיה תחלה וסוף, כדי להדריך אדם בדרך ישר לא יכשל בה, אם ישמע לעצת השם ית' הנה שכרו אתו ופעולתו לפניו ואם לאו ימנע מרשעים אורם, או יגלגל ויסבב סיבות ועלילות להפרע ממנו בעולם הזה לדעתו ושלא לדעתו הה"ד ורב העליליה, שמרבה עלילות וסיבות לנקותו ולטהרו מעוונו ביסורין או בדבר אחר, הכל כפי מה שחייבה חכמתו, כי הוא חשב מחשבות לבלתי ידח ממנו נדח דכת' גדול העצה ורב העליליה.

40 comments:

  1. from Wikipedia:

    Gut feeling

    A gut feeling, or gut reaction, is a visceral emotional reaction to something, and often one of uneasiness. Gut feelings are generally regarded as not modulated by conscious thought. (For a discussion regarding the brain-gut connection, please see Irritable Bowel Syndrome, as well as literature discussing the physiologic manifestations of emotions i.e. neuroendocrine gastrointestinal physiology). Gut feelings come from within, what your brain tells you to do. It also allow you to make a decision based on what your "gut" tells you to do.
    The phrase "gut feeling" may also be used as a short-hand term for an individual's "common sense" perception of what is considered "the right thing to do"; such as: helping an injured passerby, avoiding dark alleys and generally acting in accordance with instinctive feelings about a given situation. It can also refer to simple common knowledge phrases which are true no matter when said, such as "Water is wet", "Fire is hot", or to ideas that an individual intuitively regards as true, without proof (see "Truthiness" for examples).
    Gut feelings, like all reflexive unconscious comparisons, can be re-programmed by practice or experience.

    The cause of IBS is unknown, but several hypotheses have been proposed. The risk of developing IBS increases sixfold after acute gastrointestinal infection. Post-infection, further risk factors are young age, prolonged fever, anxiety, and depression.[23]. Publications suggesting the role of brain-gut "axis" appeared in the 1990s, such as a study entitled Brain-gut response to stress and cholinergic stimulation in IBS published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in 1993.[24] A 1997 study published in Gut magazine suggested that IBS was associated with a "derailing of the brain-gut axis."[25] Psychological factors may be important in the etiology of IBS [22].

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  2. Zohar, I usually don't post comments that don't actually make a point. What is your point?

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  3. Sorry, I thought the point was evident. There is such a thing as a "gut feeling", and while the brain undoubtedly is the true seat of the intellect (not the heart!), it would be a mistake to ignore the holistic nature of the human body and discount the guts completely. That is, some elements of what we may associate with cognitive function may in fact be distributed there.

    One could argue that the subconscious mind sends signals to the conscious mind through the guts. The perception that this message originates from the guts themselves is quite natural, and perhaps not inaccurate.

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  4. (1) But that is not what the pesukim or Chazal are saying.

    (2) The kidneys are not the gut.

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  5. My intention is not to justify Hazal, or the verses, only to point out that they might not be too far off.

    True, technically the kidneys are not guts, but "guts" could be used in a generic sense which would include them.

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  6. It's silly to speculate where thoughts and feeling don't come from, as science has no clue, where they do come from.

    Just a question, if the function of the kidney, filtering toxins from the blood, contributes to better and clear thought, shouldn't that be considered the kidney's doing, whether it is done actually done by the kidney, or in absence of functioning kidneys, by a dialysis machine?

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  7. Of course we can say where thoughts and feelings don't come from! For example, we know that they don't come from the fingers, since people without fingers can think just fine. And we know that the kidneys do not give good and evil counsel, since people without kidneys are not significantly lacking counsel, and people who donate/lose a kidney do not suddenly become good or evil.

    if the function of the kidney, filtering toxins from the blood, contributes to better and clear thought, shouldn't that be considered the kidney's doing, whether it is done actually done by the kidney, or in absence of functioning kidneys, by a dialysis machine?

    For the umpteenth time - we are not speaking about some vague and very minor contribution to cognitive processes - we are talking about the kidneys giving good and evil counsel, and being the organs that Hashem checks when He wants to judge us. There is no mention of the brain, just the kidneys. If a person is on dialysis, does Hashem judge him by inspecting the dialysis machine?

    I will not post any more comments from people who act oblivious to this point or ignoring it! It's just wasting everyone's time.

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  8. Once again, I don't understand the whole kerfuffle over this.

    A person can be "broken hearted" without the actual organ falling to pieces. A person can have a "gut feeling" without the gut actual doing anything to contribute to that feeling.

    Ribono shel olam, weren't Chazal allowed to make allegoric statements?

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  9. Garnel, I only let your comment go up because I like you.

    NOW READ THE DARN POST!!!

    (not this one, the previous one)

    ;-)

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  10. I as a good point on another blog about this topic. This idea that the the kidneys advice is based in the Torah, itself. In parshas vayikra it is writtenוְהִקְרִיב מִזֶּבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים אִשֶּׁה לַיקֹוָק חֶלְבּוֹ הָאַלְיָה תְמִימָה לְעֻמַּת הֶעָצֶה יְסִירֶנָּה וְאֶת הַחֵלֶב הַמְכַסֶּה אֶת הַקֶּרֶב וְאֵת כָּל הַחֵלֶב אֲשֶׁר עַל הַקֶּרֶב
    You can clearly see that the Torah goes out of it's way to call the kidney 'eitza', instead of klayos. Nobody would argue that there is faulty science in the pesukim of the Torah!

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  11. Of course there is faulty science in the Torah! The world being created in six days! The existence of a firmament! The dew descending! Hares bringing up the cud!
    That is the whole point of dibra Torah k'lashon bnei Adam, as explained by Rav Hirsch etc. The Torah speaks according to the language of man - it packages its timeless truths according to the intellectual framework of those that received it.

    As it happens, though, the passuk that you mention is NOT calling the kidneys eitzah, at least not according to pshat. That is the derush of the Gemara. The peshat is "spine" - note that the word is atzeh, not eitzah. It's strange that Rashi presents it as the peshat, because nobody else does - from Onkelos through to Artscroll!

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  12. Actually, I only used the phrase "faulty science" because you did. A better phrase would be "inaccurate descriptions of the physical universe." According to many Rishonim, the Torah also includes inaccurate descriptions of theology, in order to cater to the generation that received it.

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  13. "It's strange that Rashi presents it as the peshat, because nobody else does - from Onkelos through to Artscroll!"

    The Rashbam, who religiously stick to pshat, learn like Rashi that it is refering to klayos.

    Ibn Ezra is silent as to what organ it is, he only says it's place is known.

    The rest of the meforshim in the mikros gedolos don't explain either way, that's a far cry from 'everyone'.

    (targom yonoson associates it with the kidney too, but I'm not sure I'm translating right)

    Where does Hirsch talk about dibra torah?

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  14. "According to many Rishonim, the Torah also includes inaccurate descriptions of theology, in order to cater to the generation that received it."

    But isn't the Torah timeless? Was the Torah not given to all future generations too?

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  15. Just to clarify my previous request. Where does Hirsch say this in regard to the Torah, not Mishna or Gemara, and where does Hirsch define the term dibra Torah, as such?

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  16. While I appreciate your point that the gemara seems to want us to accept these functions of the organs in a literal fashion, it would seem there is still enough vagueness in the statement to challenge that strict literalist view.
    Saying the kidneys "advise" is an example. Exactly what advise do they give? Whether to follow the yezter tov vs the yezter horo or whether to pick the chicken or the fish for dinner?
    Another example is the function attributes to the lung. Although their understanding of physiology was different that ours, Chazal certainly knew much about basic anatomy. People drowned back then, commonly enough for them to know that getting fluids into your lung was not something those lungs particularily appreciated or could do something about. Is it possible that this function is not meant in a literal fashion. In addition, the statement that the nose [causes] wakefulness is another example. Chazal were certainly aware people breathed when they were asleep, sometimes quite violently if ill. Thus i would suggest that one cannot simply say that these are simple literal descriptions of organ function.

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  17. Martin, thanks for pointing out the Rashbam. But I am not sure that he is translating atzeh as "advice-giving organ" - rather, he seems to be saying that the atzeh means kidneys, and the connection is explained via the drashah.

    Ibn Ezra appears to be consciously rejecting any linkage of atzeh with eitzah.

    All modern translations render the word as "spine" or suchlike.

    But just to reiterate, I have no problem with atzeh meaning "advice-giving organ" - it would be no different from the Torah speaking about six days of creation, a firmament, dew descending, hares bringing up the cud, and eagles/vultures carrying their young.

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  18. Hirsch is in Collected Writings vol. 7 p. 57. See too Zion Ukshi, “The Torah Speaks Like the Language of Men – The Development of the Expression and its Nature” (Hebrew). Derech Efrata 9-10 (5761) p. 39-59.

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  19. "According to many Rishonim, the Torah also includes inaccurate descriptions of theology, in order to cater to the generation that received it."

    But isn't the Torah timeless? Was the Torah not given to all future generations too?


    The Torah is binding for all generations. But in terms of the way that it transmits its values and teachings, many Rishonim and Acharonim explain that the Torah had to accommodate the generation that received it, in various ways. A much more extreme example would be Rambam's controversial explanation of offerings.

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  20. While I appreciate your point that the gemara seems to want us to accept these functions of the organs in a literal fashion, it would seem there is still enough vagueness in the statement to challenge that strict literalist view.

    Don't mix up questions with a basis for rendering the text entirely non-literal.

    Saying the kidneys "advise" is an example. Exactly what advise do they give? Whether to follow the yezter tov vs the yezter horo or whether to pick the chicken or the fish for dinner?

    The Gemara explains what advice they give. But even if we were not to know, this isn't a basis for saying that it's not literal.

    People drowned back then, commonly enough for them to know that getting fluids into your lung was not something those lungs particularily appreciated or could do something about.

    How do you know that they associated drowning with the lungs being flooded? Besides, the Gemara doesn't specify which fluids the lungs absorb or how. The human body absorbs fluids, but it doesn't mean that it can't drown!

    In addition, the statement that the nose [causes] wakefulness is another example. Chazal were certainly aware people breathed when they were asleep, sometimes quite violently if ill.

    The idea was that staying awake can be done via spices, or that certain scents trigger waking up.

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  21. For those who claim scientific support for the idea that Chazal believed the kidneys to have some sort of minor accessory role to decision making:

    מדרש תהילים מזמור יד
    למנצח לדוד אמר נבל. זה שאמר הכתוב (ירמיה יז, י) אני ה' חוקר לב בוחן כליות. למה הזכיר את הלב ואת הכליות מכל האיברים. אלא, העינים הולכות אחר הלב, והאזנים ומאתים וארבעים ושמונה איברים שבאדם, כולם הולכים אחר הלב. והכליות יועצות את הלב והלב גומר. לפיכך אינו מזכיר אלא הלב והכליות בלבד, והקב"ה חוקר את הלב ובוחן את הכליות.

    Note that the brain is excluded here from ANY role in determining our actions!

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  22. Tibor, please email me, and I'll explain how to get your comment posted.

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  23. http://www.princeton.edu/~cggross/Neuroscientist_95-1.pdf

    A very interesting article about Aristotle's ideas on the seat of the mind. He famously stressed the role of the heart over that of the brain. His doing so is even more interesting in light of the fact that there were notable predecessors, such as the Hippocratic physicians and Plato, who stressed the role of the brain.

    The article also notes parenthetically that the general idea that the seat of intelligence and emotion was held in many earlier cultures such as the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Babylonian.

    These ma'marei chazal on the organs most likely reflected how the local experts of the time understood the link between mind and anatomy.

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  24. "...and eagles/vultures carrying their young."

    Did you forget what you posted on your other site?

    http://zootorah.blogspot.com/2009/05/on-eagles-wings.html

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  25. While I realize that the medicine is incorrect, still the multiple reference to God as "Bochen k'layot" (Examiner of kidneys) made the yamim noraim davening the first year after I had surgery on my kidney to remover a renal cell carcinoma particularly meaningful (so did the fact that the doctors discovered this presymptomatic tumor by what could be called chance although I prefer to think of hashgocha pratit). I knew well the payyetan was not comparing God to a nephrologist, but was referring to ancient anatomical ideas. However, emotionally, it didn't matter.

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  26. I am writing to express my profound sadness and disappointment. I was introduced to your website by a friend who, knowing that I have a strong interest in the intersect of Torah and worldly knowledge, told me that I could expect an open and honest discussion, mostly free of rancor and prejudices. I think that in my comments I have stuck to the guidelines that my friend mentioned - open, honest, with respect and dignity, but probing and questioning. In my last comments I asked, very sincerely, for a response to what I believe is a serious, real issue, one presented on another blog. That other blog contained language that was indeed rancorous and so I edited those parts out when I quoted it. What remained - what I did quote - I thought to be a serious issue that calls for an honest response. You chose not to post it, asking me instead to contact you privately to adjust the comment, so that it could ultimately be posted. I responded by asking you to edit it in whatever way you thought reasonable. You have ignored the issue subsequent to that point. What can I say? I thought that this website was dedicated to open and honest discussion, meaningful give and take. Sadly, it appears that I was mistaken, since "political sensitivities" dictate what can and cannot be part of the discussion. If I was inappropriate in any of my comments, I apologize - but I have to say that after reviewing them numerous times, I don't see it at all. Please don't ask me again to contact you privately - the whole attractiveness of this entire discussion was that it could be subject to the scrutiny of the readers to get their meaningful contributions. You have lost a sincere and well-meaning reader here; I cannot participate in, nor even bring myself to read, the blog of someone who has reacted in this way. I am sorry for the state of affairs that has led you to act in such a manner. As a representative of the rationalist approach, you have, in my opinion, missed a critical mark. And for that I am sorry for all of us. Farewell, and good luck in the future.

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  27. Tibor, did you not read my post of several days ago about the difficulties of running this blog? I most certainly plan to address your question, but it takes time, and I have very little of that to devote to this.

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  28. Actually, to be honest, Tibor, I think your comment is a bit of a chutzpah. You come on this website, do not give your name even though I request it, pose a very sensitive question, expect me to put my name and reputation on the line to answer it, and then claim that I am acting inappropriately for failing to respond. I made it clear several times that I consider it rude when anonymous people demand that I, who am not anonymous and who is a subject of constant attack, publicly (and immediately) answer their questions on sensitive matters.

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  29. Simcha KoenigsburgMarch 9, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    "You come on this website, do not give your name even though I request it..."

    Rabbi Slifkin,

    With all due respect, this is a bit disingenuous. You invoke the "name" issue only when confronted with something that you find uncomfortable, never when things are going smoothly. Ma nafshach - either demand that everyone provide a name always, or don't get huffy when someone doesn't provide it when things don't go so smoothly.

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  30. Why on earth is it disingenuous? I made my policy and reasons clear. I run this website which many people gain from, which takes a lot of my time, and which I do not get paid for. If people want to post comments that contribute to its smooth running and don't require input from me, great, and I will forgo them posting their name. But if people are attacking me, challenging me, requesting/demanding my time, or asking me a sensitive question for which my answer will likely give fodder to those who attack me, why shouldn't I insist that they give their name if they want to be posted on my website?!

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  31. Simcha KoenigsburgMarch 9, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    It's hard to respond to this in a thoughtful way without knowing the sensitive question involved, but since you asked, I will try to respond. I looked at all of Tibor's questions and comments again and could not find anything "attacking" "challenging" (in a negative way) or disrespectful. There are only two points, therefore, that are relevant as to your last comment: your time, fodder for attack by others. As to your time, I cannot see any difference between taking time to answer Tibor's question versus taking time to answer the questions or comments of others, which you have had time to do. (If it requires a longer time to do so then perhaps a comment on your part saying that you received the question and need time to formulate a meaningful answer would have prevented all of this). As to fodder for attack, please...your entire post itself gives others fodder to attack you. Is this issue any worse? Again, I say all of this without knowing the specifics, so I am "shooting a bit in the dark" here. But overall it appears to me that in this case the questioner did seem sincere and just wanted to discuss the issues in a comprehensive and meaningful way. In this one man's opinion, your reaction was a bit defensive and visceral.

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  32. Number one, you didn't see the comment that I didn't post.

    Number two, even though I think Tibor was pretty sincere, I thought that his final comment, which I did post, was rude, for reasons that I explained. Hence my reaction.

    As for the time, the other comments that I responded to required very little concentration.

    Honestly, I'm tempted to listen to those who say that I shouldn't allow any comments.

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  33. By the way, simultaneously to all this, there are two people emailing me with questions/ challenges and demanding that I answer them.

    Does this happen in other fields?

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  34. Simcha KoenigsburgMarch 9, 2010 at 8:56 PM

    I have a very simple solution. Tell everyone that you will devote one hour (or whatever time period that is appropriate) per day online responding to self-selected posts (of your choice); all others can be posted but will go unanswered. Who knows? Maybe other readers will pick up the slack and respond "on your behalf." You have allowed yourself to get into this mess by feeling the need to respond to anything that is a challenge. You can leave some things alone. M'shtorbt nit fun a kushya.

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  35. One hour? ROTFL!

    But I'm not interested in posting other comments and letting them go unanswered. This website is a voice for rationalist Judaism, as I understand it, which is a very endangered species. There are lots of people out there who object to my approach and who will post comments criticizing or attacking it. I want my website to be a voice for myself and like-minded people, not for them. And I have made it clear several times that this is the policy, and people shouldn't expect or insist that their comment be posted. They can open their own blog!

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  36. Simcha KoenigsburgMarch 9, 2010 at 9:09 PM

    "There are lots of people out there who object to my approach and who will post comments criticizing or attacking it. I want my website to be a voice for myself and like-minded people, not for them."

    I thought that the objective was to critically discuss the issues, flesh them out, subject them to critique, refine, and emerge with a better idea than when the discussion began. You seem to be saying here that this website is more like a "club" for like minded people to pat each other on the back for agreeing with a unified approach. Do you really mean that? If you are presented with "criticisms and attacks" as long as they are respectful and dignified, don't they help to improve, refine, or correct your theories and claims?

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  37. Occasionally, they do. But as far as I am concerned, there is not enough of that to warrant letting them all be posted.
    Nor is this blog for "like minded people to pat each other on the back." It's for like-minded people to discuss the issues and learn from other like-minded people. I keep on saying that non-like-minded people should stay away, but they don't listen!

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  38. It seems to me that Simcha is insincere and playing with you.

    Hey, Simcha! What is your general opinion of the ideas that Rabbi Slifkin expresses on this website? I suspect it isn't positive. If so, limit your arguments to the merits of Rabbi Slifkin's ideas, not to his justifiable editing criteria.

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  39. please, simcha k., stop harrassing the rabbi. if you see you are getting excited responses wait till the next day before continuing and think things over. the rabbi does many people a favor by maintaining the blog and well intending people (and otherwise) who are too bothersome will cause those who appreciate what he does to lose out. at the risk of stating the obvious, he is under no obligation to cooperate with anyone and everyone who participates here.

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  40. Simcha KoenigsburgMarch 14, 2010 at 2:33 AM

    "Hey, Simcha! What is your general opinion of the ideas that Rabbi Slifkin expresses on this website? I suspect it isn't positive."

    You suspect incorrectly. I enthusiastically agree with much of what he writes, and I strongly disagree with some of what he writes. Your reaction to my comments - reducing the entire issue to whether or not the reader agrees with Rabbi Slifkin or not - is very telling as to the objectivity of your response.

    "stop harrassing the rabbi. if you see you are getting excited responses wait till the next day before continuing and think things over."

    Again, a very interesting response. Please point out to me - and to the general readership here - where I was "harassing the rabbi." I made some critical observations, and offered some suggestions. Where is the harassment? And what did I write that suggests in any way that I was "getting excited" over any of the responses. It seems to me that according to you, if people respectfully disagree with your (and Rabbi Slifkin's position) then that means they are "getting excited." Where is the objectivity in the discussion here? Can't people offer thought-through criticisms with dignity and not be challenged as being harassers and excitable?! Are your comments here the hallmark of a rationalist position? Really?

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