Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Exotic Shofars and the Great Torah-Science Controversy

I am pleased to release a new, third edition of my essay Exotic Shofars: Halachic Considerations, which you can download here. The most significant addition from the first edition is the section concerning shofars from non-kosher animals, and the most significant addition from the second edition is the section on the "Great Shofar" which discusses the largest horns in the world.

A wise rabbi recently said to me that with regard to the great Torah-Science controversy, this essay does more for The Cause than all my citations of Rishonim and Acharonim with rationalist views. His reason was that, in the public eye, The Cause has become embodied in me (now there's a scary thought), and a non-controversial halachic essay on an intriguing topic of popular appeal will do much more than evidence that actually supports my views. If you agree, and if you support The Cause, please circulate this essay as widely as possible. (Although I must add that the later material concerning shofars from non-kosher animals might be considered controversial by some.)

Needless to say, gaining support for The Cause is not the reason why I researched and wrote this essay. I'm just wild about animals, in case you haven't noticed. But, notwithstanding that passion, I must admit that the creature in this picture even gives me the creeps. I only hung it on the wall in order to photograph it for the essay; I usually keep it hidden in a closet!


  1. I *warned* you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you *knew*, didn't you? Oh, it's just a harmless little *bunny*, isn't it?

  2. You have a real live (so to speak) stuffed trophy of a Jackalope? That's incredible! (Interestingly Wikipedia has a mundane explanation for a Jackelope, some bone growing disease - how boring.)

  3. >>> I'm just wild about animals, in case you haven't noticed.

    I wonder if you could do a post on pets.

    We have 2 dogs, actually my wife's choice. she's American and has always had dogs in the home.
    My father (modern chassidishe), coming from Europe, would say that having dogs is NOT a Jewish thing.

    Do you have any comment on this?

  4. I don't like comment threads to get off-topic... please see

  5. really liked how straightforward and clear this article was, always a pleasure.

  6. Still, in light of the fact that normative practice is not to use the special fully curved shofars used by the Yemenites, we should justify the common custom.


  7. That's a basic value in halachah - not saying that everyone has been doing the wrong thing for years. That's why there was an intense effort to justify eating turkey, when it dawned on everyone that there hadn't been a mesorah.

  8. "in the public eye, The Cause has become embodied in me (now there's a scary thought)"

    I enjoy your writing and obviously share your viewpoint (else I wouldnt be here) but - the cited statement above smacks of hubris, and worse, unwarranted hubris. You are not the the sole banner carrier for The Cause, not in reality nor in the eye of the public. You are merely one of a great many adherents of this new age of haskallah, fueled largely by the internet. Your personal case is noteworthy, to be sure, but not more so than the Making of a Godol fiasco, the Lipa Schmeltzer concert fiasco, and a whole host of others. The type of Torah you present was written long before you, and it was banned before you as well. [As a teenager I read Dr. Leo Levi's Sharei Talmud Torah, which - just like your case - was banned by some people and lauded by others.]

    In short, I dont think its true, but some people think you crave publicity, and statements like the one you wrote dont help your cause, and certainly not The Cause. [I understand you were citing some rabbi, but one doesnt cite things approvingly unless he believes it.]


  9. Thank you for your comments. By "The Cause" I did not refer to broader issues of haskalah, but rather to the Torah-Science issues. Even with this more limited topic, I certainly am not the sole banner carrier. What I meant to say was that due to the controversy, the legitimacy of believing in dinosaurs, evolution and the scientific fallibility of Chazal has, for many people, become linked to the personal merits and deficiencies of Natan Slifkin. For example, if I was caught robbing a bank, there would be many people who would say "Aha! You see, the Gedolim were right to ban his books! It really is kefirah to say that Chazal erred in science!" Whereas writing mainstream material has the effect of mainstreaming the Torah-science material.

  10. By the way, this works the other way, too. There are people who see the disgrace of Leib and Leib as evidence that the ban on my books was wrong and ipso facto that my books must be fine. Of course, one has nothing to do with the other!

  11. "In short, I dont think its true, but some people think you crave publicity..."

    Whether it's true or not, there is nothing wrong with craving publicity if it's for a worthy cause. For instance, I crave publicity for my website so that others can gain inspiration to live a responsible life, especially a Torah life. All the best.

  12. Are there other examples of דרך גדלתו referring to animals and not plants? If not, maybe that's why no one else mentions it.

  13. Anyone who would dismiss all of The Cause merely because one person (yourself, in your example) gets caught robbing a bank never really believed in the The Cause in the first place. Remember, most, if not all, people who share your viewpoint are also the types of people who read and explore and have not closed their minds to the world around them. Thus, most of us would NOT jump off the bandwagon merely because one individual gets caught in a scandal.

    Self confidence to believe in your viewpoint is vitally important, and it's great that you believe in your views. But when you come to believe you are the "eintziger" (ie, that the whole enterprise would fall apart if you stopped writing or got caught in a scnadal or whatever) t)hat turns into hubris.)

    Having said all that, I think your Toireh is great, I really enjoy it, and I hupe you have much continued success and hatzlacha for all your porjects, always!

  14. But isn't that what happened with Troppergate? There were people who took it as an indication that the Gedolim were wrong, even though it doesn't really have any bearing on it. I'm not saying that everyone reacts this way, or that everything depends on one person; just that there are a significant number of people whose opinion of an idea is affected by the nature of the person proposing it.

    But, to reiterate, when I spoke about The Cause being embodied in me, I didn't mean that the Torah/science cause is embodied solely in me; what I meant was that my writings on any given topic are judged not only by their merits, but also by other writings and aspects of me.

    But if anyone thinks that I relish this, they are mistaken. I hate the idea of my writings being judged on anything other than their merits, and I dislike being a public figure and find it unnerving.

  15. That's a basic value in halachah - not saying that everyone has been doing the wrong thing for years. That's why there was an intense effort to justify eating turkey, when it dawned on everyone that there hadn't been a mesorah.

    What I don't understand is why it's a basic value in halacha. It makes no sense to me. Something is either correct or incorrect. If a turkey isn't kosher because there's obviously ( to us ) no possibility of their being a legitimate mesoret since turkey's are native to North America then not even the Sanhedrin can vote to make it kosher, any more than they could vote to make a pig kosher.

    Now the case with the shofars may be different if there are multiple opinions in the Talmud as to what the actual requirement is. But ** if ** it's obvious that the Talmud requires the fully curved, non-straightened rams horn then who has the authority to change that requirement?

    What I'm saying is that grandfathering incorrect practices as opposed to saying plainly that previous generations where mistaken seems to be exactly the kind of intellectual dishonesty that you say pushed you away from the Charaidi world into the Academic world. It seems anti-rationalist on the one hand and undermines the integrity of our mesoret on the other hand.

  16. Robert, A bird without a Mesoret is also kosher as long as it is not one of the non-kosher birds (i.e. has the simanei Kashrut) requiring a Mesorah is an added stricture.
    Also in general we say that unlike science where there is an objective reality, in Halacha the decisions of the Baalei haMesorah determine the reality (of course they must use an honest analysis) for example see the dispute of Tanur shel achnai, and Rabban Gamliel and Rosh chodesh.

  17. Robert, your question is very good. Check out the last chapter of Sacred Monsters where I explain why halachah incorporates values other than just objective truth.

  18. Troppergate was not the cause of the dimunition in respect for what you refer to as Gedolim. To the contrary, that was merely one out of many. (I mentioned two others in my first post, and of course, your own affair is yet another example.) Thus, there is no comparison of his case to yours.

    Add to this the fact that the entire concept of "Gedolim" worship was always only a passing mirage to begin with. It was born out of unique period of time in America, post WWII, when the gap between the Yiddish speaking, European rabbonim crossing the ocean and the English speaking, American public school educated boys was truly cavernous. In such a world it was easy to preach the concept of Gedolim-as-Supermen, and naive, starry-eyed boys could accept it. The concept stopped working when those generations essentially died out, everyone started going to the same yeshivas, and the gap between professional roshei yeshivah and learned ballei battim became negligible. Thus, the dimunition of "Gedolim" worship was natural. It was merely hastened by the self-inflicted wounds of all the various incidents, all of which served only to underscore that the men called gedolim were not quite so great after all.

  19. It seems to me that the existence of a tradition on the consumption of a bird species is needed only if that species may be on the forbidden lists in the torah, or if the charcteristics of the bird is not known to the potential consumer. It aught not apply if expert opinion declares that species to exhibit none of the characteristics of a forbidden bird, as explicated in the talmud, and that the species could not have been included in the torah lists. The turkey is a new world bird unknown to Jews in biblical, talmudic, or medieval times. It makes little sense for the torah to have named such an unknown species since the name would convey no information. It is not a raptor, nor does it have the signs of an unkosher bird.

    Furthermore, turkey has been eaten by frum Jews for generations. One of the values in halacha is to justify the common practice of Observant Jews, if at all possible. This was certainly the attitude exhibited in the major halachic work at the turn of the 20th century, the Aruch Hashulchan. Unfortunately, in more recent times the tendency has been to favor more stringent views even if their justification is problematic. The doubling of volume shiurim is a prime example.

  20. Rabbi Slifkin,
    I have to say I disagree with you in the strongest possible terms.

    I think the guy hanging on your wall is hilarious. I wish I had one. If you don't like it, I wish you would send it to me.

  21. I have updated the file on with this newest revision. For anyone interested, one can buy a full-color print of the article from the above site. (Cost is only a printing fee, so it is profit-free)

  22. Here's the latest "horned bunny" making the rounds:


Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

Forget Ye and Fuentes, We Have Our Own Hitler Enthusiast

People are rightly up in arms about Kanye West's enthusiasm for Hitler and Trump's refusal to denounce Fuentes. The actions of both ...