Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rav Kook and Evolution, and much more!

There is an absolute gem of a post over at the Seforim Blog by Dr. Marc Shapiro. It discusses the newly released writings of Rav Kook concerning evolution and the historicity (or ahistoricity) of the early parts of the Torah, and the views of various Rishonim on such topics as the scientific accuracy of various prophecies, the lifespans in the Torah, and the general idea of the Torah communicating theological messages that are cloaked in then-contemporary beliefs. Make sure to read the footnotes too!


  1. Fantastic article. As important as the discussion of science, history, et al is, I think is the most important quote in there:

    The upshot of this passage is that some (much?) of what passes for piety today is really nothing more than a corrupted religiosity.

    The idea that the "masses" had a "natural morality" which surpasses that of the learned class is simple astounding.

  2. Amazing article. I can't wait for "the Gedolim" to put Rav Kook in cherem too!

    As for the comment on the masses, this is no chidush to anyone from "the old country". They were the Jewish "middle class" between the scholars who had intellectualized Judaism beyond recognition and the assimilated haskalah folks who rejected it all. They had a natural piety and connection to God through simple faith. Halevai we'd have more of that today.

  3. "I can't wait for "the Gedolim" to put Rav Kook in cherem too!"

    For all practical purposes they already did that a long time ago. Rav Kook and his writings and his followers have been "chazir treif" in the Litvishe black-hat world since during his lifetime...

    Rav Slifkin keeps himself in very good company :-) Keep up the good work!

  4. No accusations of forgery yet? (Asked wryly.)

  5. There was a ban on Orot, and it included Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld's (RYCS) signature. I heard it said that RYCS never actually signed the ban, but rather the zealots placed his signature on it without proper authority. Nonetheless, RYCS never objected as that would be tantamount to an endorsement of Orot. Given the two options (passive consent to the ban or active endorsement), he chose the former option.

    I would appreciate it if someone knowledgeable on this history could confirm or deny the above. I have no source other than a memory of a shiur from 15 years ago by Rav Joel Zeff.

  6. "..I can't wait for "the Gedolim" to put Rav Kook in cherem too!.."

    As noted, that has already occurred, at least in an operational sense. An interesting recent vignette capturing the ostracism of r. kook was also recounted in a seforim blog note some time back ( which reviewed the author’s travails in facilitating a commemorative publication of his great grandfather’s (the dor r’vii) halokhic novellae, in the face of opposition to inclusion of mention of his close friendship with r. kook.

    I was also recently informed - to my surprise since I’m not all that familiar with the organization - that Ohr Someach institutions in Israel enthusiastically participate in such denigration of r. kook. I’m told teaching staff is monitored to ensure that no mention of r kook (or RYBS) pollute the classroom. I hadn’t realized that Ohr Someach was just another charedi group-think outpost.

  7. "I heard it said..."
    "I was also recently informed..."
    "I’m told..."

    I must say that I'm getting a little tired of the hearsay in the comments at this site.

  8. As an Alum, I can tell you that Ohr Somayach's staff is black-hat all the way. "Chardei group-think outpost" is a little extreme, but only a little. I am 100% not surprised they are anti-Rav Kook. It is still a very diverse student body, though.

  9. "I must say that I'm getting a little tired of the hearsay in the comments at this site. "

    Of course everything in the charedi community is hearsay, since the "gedolim" are not in the habit of substantiating their opinions. (In Brisk, you can't even record a shiur!) This works well; you can tell different things to different people, deny what becomes unpopular, and never have to have a real reason for anything you say.

  10. Mechy - I have a friend who's also a recent alumnus. Ohr Somayach is deceptive. They trick the kids into thinking they aren't exactly that, but by their second year they start being open about it.

  11. Avi, I found it hard to seriously consider what you had to say after you used the word "everything."

    R' Slifkin, maybe you should do a post on the rationalist understanding of 'motzei shem ra.' I look forward to reading it with Jon and Avi.

  12. "Avi, I found it hard to seriously consider what you had to say after you used the word "everything.""

    That's too bad, but it is practically everything. How about you do a little research. Take all controversial opinions of the "gedolim" in recent years (following the signatures in just a few bans can easily get you an n=100). Then find their written explanations. If it isn't everything it's a miyut sheenoh matzui.

    "R' Slifkin, maybe you should do a post on the rationalist understanding of 'motzei shem ra.' I look forward to reading it with Jon and Avi.""

    As do I. Here we can explore the concept of toeles as it applies to characterizing the gedolim. They've terribly mismanaged the community, and it's only getting worse. Instead of dealing with the problem we're only encouraged to prostrate ourselves before them. Coincidentally, this is R' Kook's point, the hamon am is, in many respects, better able to determine what's right than the gedolim, and that's certainly the case today.

    (Agav, no one has a problem with motzei shem rah in yeshiva when discussing good old "JB," R' Kook, etc. (or even publicly calling norman lamm a soney yisrael), but point out faults in charedi gedolim and it's a serious halachic problem.)

  13. Here's to fertile cross-talk between you and Mark Shapiro. I hope there are others who work in earnest on the issues you both concern yourselves with.

    As an aside, it seems the current tractate in the Daf Yomi (Horayos) contains content that is relevant to current notions of (for all practical purposes) infallibility of chazal, as well as modern day gedolim.

  14. The rabbanim at Ohr Somayach are individuals and have varying private beliefs and opinions. This isn't a phenomenon just found in Ohr Somayach - my children's day schools and yeshivos have the same issues with their rebbe's who are expected to present a uniform hashkafic front, although certainly in private there may be points here or there, some even substantive, where the rebbe may be more liberal than the institution which he represents.

    I'm sure that Rabbi Slifkin himself could point to former colleagues from Ohr Somayach who are likely sympathetic but unwilling to jeopardize their parnassa by getting involved in the machlokes. (Of course, being the fine person that he is, Rabbi Slifkin would never "out" such individuals!)

  15. Actually Rav Herschel Shcachter pointed out that even the sanhedrin can be mistaken as evidenced by the korban chatat for the chachamim, and that's in psak

  16. I was not able to locate the article by Dr. Shapiro "Is there a hiyyuv to believe Rashbi wrote the Zohar" does anyone have a link?


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