Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another Reformation of Judaism

To the Editor,
Five Towns Jewish Times


Rabbi Yair Hoffman claims
that there is a popular YouTube video that "makes light of the Gemorah in Yuma 28b" that the Avos fulfilled the entire Torah. In fact, the video was not addressing the Gemara, but rather one particular maximalist interpretation of the Gemara, which is that the Avos actually kept all the mitzvos as given on Sinai, such as writing a Sefer Torah. It was not mocking the minimalist interpretation, which explains the Gemara to mean that the Avos were outstanding people, in a way that today would be expressed by keeping the entire Torah. And while I cannot condone disrespect toward any Torah authority, it seems to me that Rabbi Hoffman's disrespect to Torah authorities is far more egregious.

Rabbi Hoffman himself acknowledges that various versions of the minimalist interpretation are proposed by Radak, Ramban, Ramah, Tosafos, Seforno, Chezkuni, Ibn Ezra, and R. Yosef Karo. To this list can be added Rambam (in Hilchos Melachim 9:1 and in his letter to R. Chasdai HaLevi) as well as Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam and Meiri (in his introduction to Pirkei Avos). Such a view was undoubtedly normative amongst the rationalist Rishonim of Sepharad, and it even had adherents beyond those circles. It is only Rashi and various Acharonim that Rabbi Hoffman reports as subscribing to the maximalist view (although the literalist rishon R. Moshe Taku could certainly also be added to the list). Rabbi Hoffman writes that "no less an authority than the Maharsha" interpreted the Gemara literally, but this is hardly surprising, as Maharsha was consistently a literalist, even with the fantastic stories in Bava Basra about Rabbah bar bar Chanah - which I presume Rabbi Hoffman would not interpret literally.

Astonishingly, despite the illustrious list of prominent Rishonim presenting the minimalist view, Rabbi Hoffman claims that "the overwhelming majority of Torah authorities, however, clearly and completely hold of the maximalist position, and this is the general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions." How on earth can he simply dismiss the views of so many prominent Rishonim as not even worthy of being taught in Torah institutions, and only suitable for an outreach context? This is an astonishing show of disrespect towards these Rishonim, coming not from some anonymous blogger on the internet, but from a prominent rabbi in a serious publication! Ironically, it is precisely this kind of delegitimization of the rationalist approach which leads to people reacting with anger and mockery.

Rabbi Hoffman claims that "an analysis of the video reveals that the agenda of the Youtube video producer was to push some of the left-of-center aspects of the Yeshiva University Hashkafa and to undermine the lessons taught in the more Yeshivish circles." I would say that an analysis of Rabbi Hoffman's article reveals that his agenda is to push the non-rationalist approach of certain Ashkenazi Rishonim and various Acharonim, and to undermine - indeed, to write out of history! - the more rationalist approach of many prominent Rishonim that is taught in centrist circles. Rabbi Hoffman's essay is a model of how the mesorah gets rewritten, and it is an appalling demonstration of disrespect towards those Rishonim.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Natan Slifkin
Ramat Bet Shemesh

(Note to my readers: Observe the similarities to the situation with the views of the Rishonim regarding Shiluach HaKein and Chazal's knowledge of science!

74 comments:

  1. That's aside from the fact that in the first sentence of his disclaimer, he calls these views "anti-torah"!!!

    Can't get more disrespectful towards those who hold those views than that.

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  2. I submitted the following to the 5TJT:

    I agree with R. Hoffman that one shouldn’t mock any Torah position, or one might add even any unsophisticated presentation of the “maximalist” position. Even on its own terms, mocking backfires, and instead of leading to “enlightening” the yeshiva world, it leads to charges of emulating the Makilim who engaged in such behavior. Further, as R. Slifkin recently noted in a post, “it’s always easier to knock things down than to build things up, and my mentors taught me that it is generally not the appropriate path in life”.

    One substantive issue not noted in R. Hoffman’s article is the position of R. Hirsch in the preface to Horev on Aggadah. There is debate about what R. Hirsch meant, with R. Elias interpreting it closer to the yeshivish position (see R. Danziger’s article in Summer 1996 Jewish Action); on the other hand, I’ve come across an article some time ago by R. Wolbe in Beer Yaakov Torah journal where he takes issue with the passage in Horev, thus understanding it not like R. Elias. The bottom line is that similar to the Hirschian position on Science and Torah, the Yeshivah World, which accepts R. Hirsch to an extent, would need to acknowledge another “minimalist”, one who lived closer to today’s times.

    Finally, the minimalist position is not only relevant for kiruv rechokim purposes as R. Hoffman notes, but like Science and Torah minimalism, is also relevant for anyone who is exposed to historical issues which the yeshivah world generally insulates people from. For such people, a more rational minimalist position takes off some of the pressure of what one is required to believe, though as above, mocking the yeshivah world and certainly Acharonim is wrong as well as counterproductive.

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  3. Wouldn't the minimalist position be far superior to the maximalist one in terms of intellectual honesty?

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  4. Jenny - The disclaimer was not written by Rabbi Hoffman; it was written by the editors of the paper. Also, I think you misunderstood them. They were not saying that the minimalist view was anti-Torah; they were saying that a mockery of gedolim was anti-Torah.

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  5. Also interesting is how minimalist criticism is even touchier regarding avos...

    A reminder that the ability of rabbinic empowerment in halachic judaism to feed on itself in perpetuity.

    i.e., i am right because someone wiser and older than me said so.... but only according to me.

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  6. For a newspaper that serves the nominally MO Five Towns community, the 5TJT is editorially very right-wing. The articles written by members of the community have a MO viewpoint, and the 5TJT has no problem publishing pictures of bas mitzvah parties, but the articles that have “Rabbi” in the byline are almost always Chareidi in worldview.

    Right from the start, it’s obvious R’ Hoffman missed the point of the video. It wasn’t making a serious argument, it was making fun of people who think that way. That the representation of the gemara may be a strawman is beside the point. At that, he doesn’t bother explaining why it’s a strawman, he just asserts it, then goes on to describe a maximalist position that is exactly like the one in the video.

    > The midlevel position is … that Avrohom’s Ruach HaKodesh did not extend to the point where he was aware of the future Mitzvos and future Rabbinic enactments. Rather, he derived them from sheer logic and the analysis of the behavior of the animal kingdom.

    So Avraham Avinu logically derived from nature the mitzvah of zachor es Amalek? And what would it mean to remember what Amalek did – a commandment to remember a historical event – “in a different form?”

    > The viewpoints of saintly Torah authorities should never ever be subjected to ridicule.

    On the contrary, any viewpoint that’s ridiculous should be ridiculed. This is a classic argument from authority.



    I’m not quite sure why, but I always find it a little weird when something from the blogosphere makes it into the offline world.

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  7. "> The viewpoints of saintly Torah authorities should never ever be subjected to ridicule.

    On the contrary, any viewpoint that’s ridiculous should be ridiculed. This is a classic argument from authority."

    G*3 - is this position you expressed a Torah position? See Rambam hilchot talmud torah 7:1. There is a big difference between strongly criticizing incorrect positions vs. ridiculing them. The halacha is pretty clear about not ridiculing.

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  8. 1) The passage in Horev is really important and I'm surprised Rabbi Slifkin has never mentioned it before. It really is quite explicit that aggadata represents the personal views of various rabbis and no Jew need accept them as truth.

    2) I know nothing about Rabbi Hoffman other than that he conducted an interview with Rav David bar Hayyim with respect. For that alone, I will give him a modicum of credit.

    3) Rabbi Slifkin, was this letter published? If not, I think posting it was a bad idea since the newspaper is probably much less likely to publish a letter to the editor if it has already been published online.

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  9. How do the sources interpret the Talmudic statement regarding Eiruv Tavshilin?

    Don't you agree that the youtube video was distasteful?

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  10. "and there can be little doubt that Rambam subscribed to the same view"

    What doubt? The Rambam wrote explicitly that the avos did NOT keep the Torah in his letter to R. Chasdai haLevi.

    http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/vl/rambamuvno/rambamuvno17.pdf

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  11. Thanks for the reference! (Page 15 of the PDF)

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  12. I think that Krumbagel is pointing out to those with exceptionally fantastical and grandiose views of Jewish history/theology exactly what they sound like to those of us seriously trying to figure out what they're talking about.
    Though it IS a form of mockery it is difficult in the clip [as in real life] to tell which point of view is mocking the fantastical view. In this venue of satire, it is the fantastical view mocking itself. The snarky comments of the rational person just point out that the "emperors wear no clothes" from a rational point of view.

    Most likely the dialogue is being criticized because it is effectively forcing the fantastical thinker to confront his/her cognitive dissonance.

    What could be bad about that? Isn't effectively exposing our weaknesses [even with snarky comments] what we hope people with other points of view will do with us? That's how we grow. It may make one angry at another person initially. But soon one realizes it is his own irrational thinking that has disappointed him. In this case the problem is "buying-in" to a completely ridiculous scenario because it was uttered by the lips of someone who got a semicha.
    Gary Goldwater

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  13. >For a newspaper that serves the nominally MO Five Towns community

    This isn't 1986. The Five Towns community (which also includes Far Rockaway) is also substantially yeshivish and lapsed yeshivish, not "nominally MO."

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  14. Yet it is hardly exclusively charedi. I just don't understand how a newspaper such as the 5TJT can print a column ordering everyone to follow charedi hashkafah.

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  15. By the way, R. David Guttman wrote a good post about the Avos and the Mitzvos, at http://yediah.blogspot.com/2007/11/did-patriarchs-avot-keep-whole-torah.html

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  16. @ Tom -

    Larry Gordon certainly did mean that the opinions were "anti-torah". you should re-read the introduction and see for yourself.

    That disclaimer is even worse than Hoffman's essay.

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  17. >Yet it is hardly exclusively charedi. I just don't understand how a newspaper such as the 5TJT can print a column ordering everyone to follow charedi hashkafah.

    Why not? It drums up a little conversation, more eyes see the ads.

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  18. Lawrence Kaplan Comments:

    The authenticity of the letter to Hsdai Halevi atteuibuted tothe Rambam is very doubtful. But why not simply quote Hilkhot Melakhim. The irony is that that t Rabbi Hoffman refers to the Kesef Mishneh on Hilkhot Melakhim, but not to Hilkhot Melakhim itself.

    Also Rabbi Hoffman critizces those who create strawman and then shoot them down? Like those who banned the works of Rabbi Slifkin?

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  19. >For a newspaper that serves the nominally MO Five Towns community

    > This isn't 1986. The Five Towns community (which also includes Far Rockaway) is also substantially yeshivish and lapsed yeshivish, not "nominally MO."

    The Five Towns IS nominally MO. That’s why the lapsed yeshivish young families move there. The middle-aged members of the community are still mostly MO.

    Far Rockaway has become very yeshivish over the last couple of decades, but it still doesn’t compare to Brooklyn or Lakewood. Still, I know a family who’s son’s went to Darchei Torah, the oldest one married a girl who wears pants, the youngest one is planning on spending the rest of his life in kollel, and both of them are following the community norms they grew up with.

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  20. This article seems to only appear online - on the website - and not in the print version of the newspaper. Maybe I'm missing something, but I cannot seem to find it in the print version of the paper which is the most widely read version of the publication. It is a free newspaper and is available at every kosher grocery store. It’s read by many families on Shabbos.

    If you go to the website, you'll see the print version of the paper available on the right hand side. Please let me know if you find the article in the print version:

    http://www.5tjt.com/

    Rabbi Slifkin, this was an excellent response! I WISH the article were in the print version of the paper, so that your response would be published in the print newspaper and be read by more of the Yeshivish "oiylam". Most Yeshivish families do not have internet access in their homes (the Gedolim said it's assur) and the newspaper website is not widely read by that population. The print newspaper is at almost every Yeshivish home every week.

    Btw – the term "Five Towns" has come to mean "The-Far-Rockaway-and-Five-Towns-community". "S" is correct in that the newspaper serves the Far Rockaway community which has turned into a primarily Yeshivish community. The Modern Orthodox community of the Five Towns is (unfortunately) becoming outnumbered by the Yeshivish community which is continually expanding. The paper is generally considered to be geared to the right. The community has another paper, "The Jewish Star" which is much more center and left and not afraid to tackle "controversial" issues.

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  21. I just don't understand how a newspaper such as the 5TJT can print a column ordering everyone to follow charedi hashkafah.

    Rabbi Slifkin - In the print version of the newspaper there is a front page weekly column by Rabbi Avi Shafran who represents the Agudah. Weekly he calls for following the chareidi hashkafah. As a matter of fact a couple of years ago he used to have a column in the more left/center-left Five Towns newspaper called "The Jewish Star". But the Agudah (Rabbi Shafran's employer) ordered him to stop writing for that paper, and he did. (Even though his column was independent of his job at the Agudah.) So, Rabbi Shafran who clearly takes orders from his employer (the Agudah) in his writings outside of his job as representative of the Agudah has a weekly front page column in the 5TJT. No RCA rabbi does. No YU rabbi does. Chareidi hashkafah is clearly what is promoted by the paper.

    Why is it surprising that front page writers in the paper who are chareidi rabbis would order everyone to follow their hashkafah?

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  22. That YouTube video is absolutely hilarious (and only slightly, slightly irreverent). I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't watched it yet.

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  23. Without a doubt this video is extremely offensive. The Slifkin debate video I had no problem with.

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  24. Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein just weighed in on this topic at http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2010/11/25/the-yeshiva-bochur-youtube-and-its-discontents/. It's a terrific piece, although I would quibble with the notion that those in fully insular communities should only be taught the maximalist approach. It's not like topics such as Chazal's knowledge of science; I don't see why the minimalist approach is in any way harmful.

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  25. Here is the comment that I just submitted to Cross-Currents:


    Rabbi Adlerstein, yasher koach on a superb article. If I may make some very minor quibbles:

    I am not sure why those in "hermetically sealed communities" should be prevented from studying the "minimalist" view of the Sephardic Rishonim. Unlike topics such as Chazal's knowledge of science, I don't see why this is something that would shake their emunah. Furthermore, how will they become Torah scholars, if they are forced to be ignorant of a major view amongst the Rishonim?

    But seeing as such an approach of banning the views of "non-yeshivish" Rishonim and Acharonim is proposed by Rabbi Hoffman on a large scale and even by yourself on a small scale, I don't know why you write that "it is difficult to believe that those with whom he is acquainted are simply unaware of just how many in our mesorah were not literalists," and that it is even more difficult to believe that they "have “paskened” that they are now to be considered beyond the pale." In light of the sentiments expressed by Rabbi Hoffman, it is all too easy to believe that there are rabbonim who are unaware of these views or want to write them out of history - even if such a position is "expletive deleted"! You say that "To take shitos of beloved rishonim and acharonim and ban them from use would be unparalleled in Torah history" - as we know, it unfortunately does have a parallel, about six years ago. And recently, I have documented effectively the same phenomenon (albeit not consciously occurring) with the views of the Rishonim concerning Shiluach HaKein and the discussions in the Gemara about astronomy.

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  26. Those of us reading the Five Towns Jewish Journal and Vos Iz Neias online, however, may need more weapons in our holster against the inevitable depredations of Amalek, whose modus operandi is the creation of safek, of doubt and uncertainty, in our minds. If we take the time to think, unlike the cartoon bochur of the video, Hashem will surely guide us to the proper insights from within Chazal.

    It could be that I am reading too much into Rav Alderstein's piece, but it sounds like an endorsement for RNS?

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  27. Well, he was my shadchan... and tomorrow is our anniversary...

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  28. "In fact, the video was not [making light of] the Gemara, but rather one particular maximalist interpretation of the Gemara, "

    Can we get a vote on this?

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  29. I know the guy who did it. No way was he making fun of Chazal.

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  30. "I am not sure why those in "hermetically sealed communities" should be prevented from studying the "minimalist" view of the Sephardic Rishonim. Unlike topics such as Chazal's knowledge of science, I don't see why this is something that would shake their emunah. Furthermore, how will they become Torah scholars, if they are forced to be ignorant of a major view amongst the Rishonim? "

    I get that teaching two approaches side by side might cause confusion - but why teach the maximalist one? Why not just teach the minimalist one? Kids aren't preprogrammed to think that the Avos kept the Torah as we do; it is something they are taught.

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  31. In my opinion this is a bombshell comment:

    "If people versed in Emunos V’Deos, Moreh Nevuchim et al (not to mention the works of figures like R Dovid Tzvi Hoffman and the Sridei Aish) are magidei shiur in American yeshivos, their identities are being hidden very well from the rest of us."

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  32. What ever happened to "Ein meshivin al hadrash?" The gemera in Yoma, in one discussion, makes a statement about the Avot's observance of the Mitzvot. The statement makes perfect sense in the context of that discussion, and sets forth a Hashkafik position that is appropriate in certain instances of debate. Why was there ever a trend to superimpose this statement onto the entirety of Jewish thought?

    Those who take such a statement literally remind of the silly story about the Vilna Gaon who was reported to have said that all TARYAG Mitzvot can be found in Bereishit 1:1. When challened to demonstrate where pidyon haben is contained in that pasuk, the GR"A replied "Ben Rishon Achar Shloshim Yom Tipadeh." But no other mitzvah recieved similar treatment in the story. But that's besides the point. The point of the story is to impart to us something of how amazed and awe inspired we should be by the Torah and how we should never stop plumbing its depths as there is always something new to discover therein.

    The same applies here. Clearly the Avot did not eat matzah on Pesach, did not read Esther on Purim and very well may have worn Shatnez clothing. Similarly, R. Yeshavev Hasofer did not ever pay keifel, even though Chazal, as reflected in the Kinah Arzei Halevanon, say that there was not a single precept of the Torah he did not fulfill. Such allegorical statements are not intended to be universalized since they cannot stand up to close scrutiny and were never intended to be hyper anazlyzed.

    It seems we give G-d, who is far more capable of precise speech than is man, more leeway and benefit of the doubt than we give ourselves. "Lo dibra Torah eleh k'lashon b'nei adam" is often used to explain problems in the text of the Torah, i.e. G-d's "perfect" word. Why are Chazal put on a higher pedastel and held to a higher standard?

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  33. I wonder why the video didn't point out that it is impossible for an individual to observe the entire torah since many mitzvos only apply to a specific person or group of people for example, kohanim, the kohain gadol, the king, the sanhedrin. Some apply under limited circumstances - did the avos return a stolen object? divorce their wives with a get? wipe out amalek? run to am ir miklat?

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  34. In an earlier post, I wrote: "Be that as it may, I still think that the videos don't just mock the yeshiva student, but mock the derech he gets from his rebbeim. At the very least, krum makes no effort to avoid this impression.

    Rabbi Adlerstein similarly writes: "My beef with the video is that it was predictable that some people would – quite inappropriately, I believe – see it as a swipe at the Avos, (or at Chazal? -- Pliny) or at those who choose to take the words of Chazal literally unless guided to an allegorical approach by a Torah giant of the past."

    I had added: "Now, you are usually very careful not to mock those you call anti-rationalists; rather, you politely show how you disagree with them (except, of course, with those who are dishonest), but it's still a valid part of our MEHsorah. Don't you wish Krum was more careful?

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  35. S. says - "why teach the maximalist one? Why not just teach the minimalist one? Kids aren't preprogrammed to think that the Avos kept the Torah as we do; it is something they are taught."

    Had the exact same thought myself. There are thousands of Rashis not taught to kids. Heck, there are complete books of Tanach not being taught. Setting this remarkably stragne rashi to the side for now would not harm any kid at all. By contrast, 30,000 + hits on youtube is proof positive that kids ARE negatively impacted by teaching this view as though it actually made sense.

    R. Hoffman's article is quite foolish, but I would not want to confer legitimaicy upon it by discussing it.

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  36. "why teach the maximalist one? Why not just teach the minimalist one? Kids aren't preprogrammed to think that the Avos kept the Torah as we do; it is something they are taught."

    Had the exact same thought myself. There are thousands of Rashis not taught to kids. Heck, there are complete books of Tanach not being taught. Setting this remarkably stragne rashi to the side for now would not harm any kid at all. By contrast, 30,000 + hits on youtube is proof positive that kids ARE negatively impacted by teaching this view as though it actually made sense.


    And here we arrive at the two primary reasons why this blog author's books were rightly banned:

    1) The inevitable delegitimization of the non-rationalist school and portrayal of Rashi as, basically, an anachronistic idiot.

    2) People with no Achrayus on education of future generation deciding to do away with the very core of Chinuch - growing up with an epistemology of Emunah and Emunas Chachamim.

    In his own honest assessment, would the blog author by now have been irreligious if not for his prior education to believe in the 13 principles of faith?

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  37. So the response to delegitimization of one school of thought (actually, respectful disagreement, not delegitimization) is to entirely delegitimize another school of thought by calling it kefirah and forbidding it?

    And how exactly do Rambam's and Rav Hirsch's views do away with emunas chachomim? Rav Hirsch writes that the FIRST thing a student needs to learn is that Chazal were experts in Torah, not science.

    In his own honest assessment, would the blog author by now have been irreligious if not for his prior education to believe in the 13 principles of faith?

    I don't know what that even means... are you asking if I would now be irreligious if I had not been brought up religious?
    I can tell you this - if I was taught that Judaism requires belief in the world being 6000 years old, and mice and salamanders spontaneously generating, then I would probably not be religious, along with many other people that I know.

    You say that the Gedolim acted out of concern for future generations... but they are not even in touch with what's going on this generation. And how would they be? People with science/Torah questions are not going to the Gedolim!

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  38. So the response to delegitimization of one school of thought (actually, respectful disagreement, not delegitimization) is to entirely delegitimize another school of thought by calling it kefirah and forbidding it?

    You have people here advocating burying (read - banning) Rashi's approach. That's what rationalists end up doing. In light of the education of children to Emunah through Rashi, I'd rather bury Rabbeinu Avraham than Rashi. Calling it kefirah is something I didn't justify here.

    And how exactly do Rambam's and Rav Hirsch's views do away with emunas chachomim? Rav Hirsch writes that the FIRST thing a student needs to learn is that Chazal were experts in Torah, not science.

    I agree. But my claim here is that your epistemological approach ultimately leads to rejecting Chazal (Rashi in this case, however we're but a step away from Chazal) as experts in Torah.

    I can tell you this - if I was taught that Judaism requires belief in the world being 6000 years old, and mice and salamanders spontaneously generating, then I would probably not be religious, along with many other people that I know.

    That isn't the point. The point is this - based on what YOU believe to be the scientific truths that research has yielded, and not raised to Emunah, would you have sided more with Daat Emet than with a religious Natan Slifkin advocate?

    You say that the Gedolim acted out of concern for future generations... but they are not even in touch with what's going on this generation. And how would they be? People with science/Torah questions are not going to the Gedolim!

    Really. Nobody ever came to Rav Matisyahu Salomon, Rav Aharon Schechter, or Reb Shmuel Kamenetzky with a science/Torah question?

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  39. your epistemological approach ultimately leads to rejecting Chazal

    Not MY epistemological approach. That of Rambam and many others.

    Now, you may be correct that when applied in the 21st century, this will lead to some people rejecting Chazal. But the anti-rationalist approach certainly leads to people rejecting Chazal!

    That isn't the point. The point is this - based on what YOU believe to be the scientific truths that research has yielded, and not raised to Emunah, would you have sided more with Daat Emet than with a religious Natan Slifkin advocate?

    Yes, it is the point. I don't know the answer to your question.

    Nobody ever came to Rav Matisyahu Salomon, Rav Aharon Schechter, or Reb Shmuel Kamenetzky with a science/Torah question?

    Ha! Not the people who are reading my books. Ironically, one of my biggest fans who was most helped by my books, learns in Chaim Berlin, but has never dared approach Rav Schecter with his questions. After watching Rav Schechter on YouTube, who can blame him?
    Rav Kamenetzky has a very little knowledge about people asking these questions, which is exactly why he wrote a haskamah to my books!

    Look, the Gedolim were told that my books drove kids off the derech. They have no idea of the reality of the situation. If you want to know the reality, look at the pages on my website which list the letters that I have received.

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  40. "In his own honest assessment, would the blog author by now have been irreligious if not for his prior education to believe in the 13 principles of faith?"

    The esteemed blog author, as well as each and every person, can answer that question for themselves, but personally, I have considered the possibility that the Rambam himself might have become an Apikores had he begun by studying Moreh Nevuchim at age five !

    Regarding educating children about the Ralbag's non-normative view on God's knowledge of future, volitional acts, Rabbi Adlerstein wrote on Cross Currents("Outside the Pale – Responding to Readers", December 21st, 2007):

    "But the construct[of "beyond the pale"] still is useful. Most importantly, it defines which values and concepts we wish to transmit to our children. At an appropriate age, it is fine that they should learn about the Ralbag. But our jobs as parents are different from the vocation of scholars. To our children, we pick the values we believe are the most important for their spiritual development, and stress them. We will emphasize some more than others. And we will communicate that the Ralbag’s view simply has no traction among anshei shelomeinu."

    The more intensive application of the emunah peshutah approach(emunah peshutah is not all or nothing; it would be inaccurate, for example, to divide it along Centrist vs. Yeshivish sociological lines)in insular communties insulates adults as well from certain intellectual conflict. As R. Daniel Eidensohn quoted a criticism of his "Daas Torah" from an educator:

    "He told me point blank - "you are a danger to klall Yisroel. You are going to cause confusion and doubt by telling people that there are multiple ways of understanding fundamental hashkofa issues"

    As above, the insular, emunah peshtah approach is a continum with variations, not all or nothing, and the extreme has its benefits. The issue is not a recent argument, but has been going on since the Maimondian controversy.

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  41. Not MY epistemological approach. That of Rambam and many others.

    Now, you may be correct that when applied in the 21st century, this will lead to some people rejecting Chazal. But the anti-rationalist approach certainly leads to people rejecting Chazal!


    If we're speaking of the 21st century, I don't have to go further than this blog to read of rejection of Rashi as a legitimate expositor of Torah, considering that he said something so obviously idiotic. Ask, say, Rav Hershel Schachter whether he thinks you can have a Rebbe who you think is an idiot. And here come Chazal next.
    Once you foray into that area, you're down for the count.

    I don't have so much of a problem with Rabbeinu Avraham, as I have a problem with advocacy of Rabbeinu Avraham based on education to Rambam's epistemology. Fear of harm from Rambam's epistemology is nothing new to the 21st century, and it wasn't even new when RSRH berated him for it, and the youth in his time were in bigger trouble than now.

    I don't know the answer to your question.

    Fair enough.

    Ha! Not the people who are reading my books.

    That follows.

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  42. Lawrence Kaplan Comments:

    In elementary school when students learn Humash with Rashi, they should be taugh the view of Rashi that the avot kept the entire torah. One would however think that High School students would learn Humash with at least Rashi and Ramban. They then should be taught both views, that of Rashi and that of the Ramban, side by side. I don't understand Rabbi Hoffman. Is he saying that students should not be taught the Ramban on the Humash? Ot should we skip this Ramban? Forget about Rashbam, Radak, ibn Ezra, and Seforno on the verse. And what of Hilkhot Melakhim? Should this basic text also not be taught???

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  43. >And here we arrive at the two primary reasons why this blog author's books were rightly banned:

    >1) The inevitable delegitimization of the non-rationalist school and portrayal of Rashi as, basically, an anachronistic idiot.

    To play devil's advocate and assume you are right - why is this any worse than the present alternative, which is the delegitimization of the rationalist school and the portrayal of the Rambam as, basically, a kofer?

    >2) People with no Achrayus on education of future generation deciding to do away with the very core of Chinuch - growing up with an epistemology of Emunah and Emunas Chachamim.

    I'm not a parent? I don't have hopes and dreams for future generations?

    >In his own honest assessment, would the blog author by now have been irreligious if not for his prior education to believe in the 13 principles of faith?

    You're asking if children need to be indoctrinated to be ma'aminim. Yes, they do. There's plenty of indoctrination in teaching Parasha, and kosher, and tefillin, and everything else that comes along with an Orthodox life. Saying Shema with your two your old is indoctrinating.

    To combine another comment:

    >You have people here advocating burying (read - banning) Rashi's approach. That's what rationalists end up doing. In light of the education of children to Emunah through Rashi, I'd rather bury Rabbeinu Avraham than Rashi. Calling it kefirah is something I didn't justify here.

    We all have opinions. You would rather and I would rather - that's an argument?

    I think the best approach is consistency. If there's a reason to privilege the arational approach, from another perspective there's a reason to privilege the rationalist approach.

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  44. What bothered me is the "missing vort" - i.e., did Yaakov Avinu say zecher or zeicher! :-) So I wrote a suggestion:

    http://rygb.blogspot.com/2010/11/follow-up-on-krumbagels-yeshiva-guy.html

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  45. "You have people here advocating burying (read - banning) Rashi's approach. That's what rationalists end up doing."

    No one here says "ban" Rashi, and only a fundamentalist could possibly have read that in the suggestions made here. [Kol Hapoisel bimumu poisel, etc.] Rather, the point is not to emphasize it. Let it be just another of the myriad aggadahs we dont emphasize. Simply another part of the grand tradition.

    "In light of the education of children to Emunah through Rashi, I'd rather bury Rabbeinu Avraham than Rashi."

    There you go again. Why do you see the world in such black and white terms? The idea is not to deny pride of place to Rashi, but to know what points to emphasize and what not to.

    And agav, you do realize 80% of Jews are not frum. Every single day there are Jews raised "through rashi" that are going off the derech, and it's getting worse. Sometimes time-honored traditions are great, but sometimes they are the root of serious problems.

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  46. >There you go again. Why do you see the world in such black and white terms? The idea is not to deny pride of place to Rashi, but to know what points to emphasize and what not to.

    Exactly. My 2 year old was talking about how Esav's neck turned as hard as marble for a week. Do you think his Morah taught him every Midrash on the parasha? I'm not even saying he shouldn't be taught this one, but you see the point is that we do make decisions which to emphasize and which to deemphasize. It has nothing to do with burying Rashi, although if you think about it, our yeshivas bury the fact that Rashi was a profound peshat exegete and expert grammarian. So even within Rashi there's lots of burying going on in the emunah school.

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  47. This citation from someone who would never be quoted in a yeshiva is quite appropriate, however. "When I was a child, I thought like a child, I believed like a child, I acted like a child - I was a child. When I grew older, I put away the childish things".

    Of course, no one suggests teaching children all the views and understandings that we have come to accept over the course of a lifetime. They don't have a fully developed mind, or the physical maturity and experience that we do. Some subjects are simply inappropriate for children - as are some views to be found in Rashi and other commentators. For example, why teach the Rashi that Adam had sex with all the other creatures in Gan Eden before concluding that none of them were a suitable mate. Why teach girls that Rivkah was 3 years old when she married? Not to teach such commentaries is clearly not the same as banning them. The same may hold true of teaching older children about how the avot literally kept the entire torah. It just leads to questions from students that a teacher is not typically equipped to answer well. The kind of answer that "brown bear" parrots is what will turn off a more thoughtful student.
    As it is, many Rashis aren't taught to younger students in yeshiva (or, perhaps, to any student) because they are too technical, i.e. dealing with some involved rules of dikduk. Akiva's argument, if he were to carry it to an extreme conclusion - as does "brown bear", would declare that such skipping is tantamount to banning.

    When a child shows sufficient maturity, he or she can be presented with the idea that there are differences in how religious people view things, and that we should be very careful about labeling views which have support from some great people as "outside the pale". While simplistic answers may suffice for small children, it can easily lead to serious religious problems later when they outgrow "childish things".

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  48. If the video ridicules a straw-man, (which it obviously does), then how could it possibly be disrespectful to the actual views of real gedolim or to the gedolim themselves?

    Somewhere out there there is a "straw-person" whose feelings are hurt by the video?

    The whole point of ridiculing a straw man is that it's showing people who have adopted this distorted view that it's not even the proper way to express the maximalist position and they have actually warped the maximalist position beyond recognition by the way they think about the issue. It ridicules those who actually think like the straw-man argument, not the real positions of our sages.

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  49. S. said...
    > You're asking if children need to be indoctrinated to be ma'aminim. Yes, they do.

    If that’s true, then I think the rationalists should just admit defeat. We generally don’t need to be indoctrinated to believe things that are rational.

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  50. I think there are a few paradoxes here. The "Charedi" principle that the Avot kept the Mitzvot Mamash is an exegetical principle that seemingly admits that the Torah is not historical. Paradoxically, the rationalist position seems to be predicated on the Torah's historicity.

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  51. When it comes to educating young, elementary age kids, all the rebbeim and morahs know that the fantastical stories hold their interest. "The Midrash Says" books for kids are a big hit. It's (l'havdil) Harry Potter with magical, supernatural and imaginative stories but in Torah contexts. And the kids eat it up because they are KIDS. But after they stop playing with their menchies, action figures and dolls, and they start thinking (despite all attempts to persuade them not to), they need answers which make sense to them. Apologetics and peer pressure only work temporarily. Brainwashing and indoctrination only go so far. When teenagers think that Torah is sounding like a bunch of Harry Potter fairy tales to them, they need things explained to them in a way that makes sense to them. Telling them that they HAVE to think a certain way or else they can’t be part of the club, will inevitably alienate whole handfuls of them. And that’s exactly what is happening.

    Akiva - What makes you think that the youth in Rav SR Hirsch’s time were in bigger trouble than the youth are in now? Nowadays the kids who go off the derech have no place to go, get into drugs, live on the street, join gangs, get themselves killed, kill themselves or become lifelong addicts. We have a close family friend who is an 18-year-old bochur learning in beis-medrash in Brooklyn and I've unfortunately heard way too much about what's going on in that city. The numbers and the facts would blow your mind.

    So why not be straight with kids when they're teenagers? Why not teach them as teenagers that the world, and Torah, is not black and white but has lots of variations of grey? Why not teach them "Eilu V'Elu" and "Shivim panim L'Torah" and let them choose a legitimate Torah path that makes the most sense to them? (Besides, learning that everything in life is not all black and white is a level of maturity which will only aid them in their lives as adults, especially in their marriages. It is a good lesson to learn at a young age, especially at a time when their thinking tends towards black and white. Getting them to stretch their minds around the concept of grey is good practice for their future as adults.) How many frum parents with kids that are off the derech would so much rather have kids that are shomer Shabbos and kashrus, even if they don’t wear black hats, or hats at all, but rather wear colored shirts, knitted yarmulkas and believe in evolution? I’ll tell you how many – ALL of them!

    Right now what is being told to teenagers is: "Our way or the highway." And teenagers from the best and frummest homes are filling up that highway off the derech in droves.

    Rav SR Hirsch may have been on to a derech that works. And so might Rabbi Slifkin. Negating it is saying goodbye to thousands of frum teenagers today, and who knows how many more tomorrow.

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  52. And so might Rabbi Slifkin. Negating it is saying goodbye to thousands of frum teenagers today, and who knows how many more tomorrow.

    Rabbi Slifkin is no Rabbi Hirsch. Rabbi Hirsch blasted Rambam's epistemology as, basically, being an unwitting precursor to Reform.

    It is clear that the skeptics who share Natan Slifkin's epistemology, who deny the nes of pach hashemen, those who light candles on chanukah with no thought for what Chazal of the Bavli believed, who, forget about whether the Avos kept the Torah - will allegorize the very existence of the Avos, will deny Yetzias Mitzrayim, who are empty Orthopraxers who live with no life, are both the ancestors and the progeny of Natan Slifkin's approach, and they will contribute more to the erosion of emunah than to its protection. Yes, that's an argument. But neither side will convince the other.

    I see what goes on in the non-Charedi circles in terms of girls and drugs and getting themselves in trouble. As bad as you think it is by the Charedi youth, it is worse tenfold by the non-Charedim, where violation of yehareg v'al yaavor is the norm. Because they have no Emunah.

    I believe in shades of gray. I believe in teaching Rabbeinu Avraham. But I do not believe in teaching Rabbeinu Avraham because Rashi, the Netziv, the Meshech Chochmah, the Parshas Derachim, the Chasam Sofer, the Maharsha, etc., were idiots. Natan Slifkin and his camp do. If he's going to take credit to "saving" people, he should take the fall for creating and providing succor for "frum" leitzanim.

    I've had my say. All the best.

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  53. Only an anti-rationalist, with no understanding of history, would think that the rationalist approach teaches that these figures were idiots.

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  54. >If that’s true, then I think the rationalists should just admit defeat. We generally don’t need to be indoctrinated to believe things that are rational.

    Of course we do. Education is indoctrination. We're good, rational Western people not only because we didn't grow up in, ich veis, Afghanistan. It's not like rational is the default and a kid raised in isolation in a vacuum will grow up speaking Hebrew (or Greek) and rational.

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  55. "But I do not believe in teaching Rabbeinu Avraham because Rashi, the Netziv, the Meshech Chochmah, the Parshas Derachim, the Chasam Sofer, the Maharsha, etc., were idiots."

    Something is wrong with you. Before you were making up words like "bury". Now it's "idiots".

    "Rabbi Slifkin is no Rabbi Hirsch."

    When Rabbi Hirsch was a young man, he was also no Rabbi Hirsch.

    "As bad as you think it is by the Charedi youth, it is worse tenfold by the non-Charedim."

    Afraid not. Both sides have drop outs. But when non-charedim leave, they still have an education and are still part of society. The charedim, however, preach "rak toirah". Thus, when you leave that, you are left with - literally - nothing.

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  56. >It is clear that the skeptics who share Natan Slifkin's epistemology, who deny the nes of pach hashemen, those who light candles on chanukah with no thought for what Chazal of the Bavli believed

    Good for you. You've already moved past the normal way this is approached, which is to not even realize and certainly not to acknowledge that this is "what Chazal of the Bavli believed." Why do you write this? Because you were pressured to be accurate by the other side, so you admitted and engaged the position as it really is - the view of the Bavli.

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  57. After reading many posts and comments on this website over the years, weighing the evidence for both sides - rationalist and super-rationalist (not irrational or non-rational, as there is much logical thought involved on their side as well, which many of us are unaware of), I've come to the conclusion that the other side, while they have many valid, logical points (which again many of us are unaware of) has one main point that stands out: over the past 100 or so years, there has been a change in perspective throughout the Torah world, where the kabbalistic and mystical shitos have become more widely accepted. This website and other publications and rabbeim etc. are trying to bring back the "rationalist" shitos, which have gradually become less popular over the past 100 or so years. That's my two-cents, and I think we need to seriously reconsider our own rational perspective of the situation, based on what I've said above.

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  58. >>>> Rabbi Slifkin is no Rabbi Hirsch.

    Akiva, you are right. Rabbi Slifkin is no Rabbi Hirsch. R. Slifkin probably has more knowledge now at his relatively young years than R. Hirsch (as great as he was) had accumulated in his entire life. And, as an aside, basically IMHO, the whole concept of “nitkatno hadorot”, as far as knowledge goes, is simply not true.

    And you are also right. Rationalism breeds, to varying degrees, skepticism for many, and even total dismissal of Judaism for some.

    But Rationalism has taken hold of the world and as well, the Jewish world. This delineates the crisis facing (traditional) Judaism. You don’t see it. Nor, do your so-called Gedolim. You’d rather live in a delusional fairy tale world and call it “emet”. Fine. It's certainly your right.

    But, most people in this day and age can’t. We seek truth, as best as can be humanly determined. And your fairy tale world is not it. And know, that despite our “rationalism”, many of us do love Yiddishkeit and some with a passion that is irrational. So, our approach is to work towards finding a reasonable reconciliation of these competing tensions, not to pretend they don’t exist.

    The ghettos came down in Europe 250 years ago and 70-80% of Jews left. Nowadays, your world is trying to build virtual ghettos. The Internet has assured that these will also fall. It can’t be stopped. So, if Judaism is to survive, its leaders (unless they don’t really care) should recognize this and be prepared to react as needed. Head in the sand won't cut it.

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  59. 1) To mock the view that the avos kept the mitzvos is to follow in the tradition of the Rambam who derisively mocked people who take midrashim literally. Is one not allowed to be a student of the Rambam?

    2) I don't know why we're all conceding that Rashi should be taught to children. Why is that? I don't see the value in teaching untruths to children -- for those of us who consider many of Rashi's positions to be untrue. Why not teach Rashbam? Incidentally, if I'm not mistaken, "Chumash & Rashi" is an entrenched Ashkenazic tradition, not a Sephardi one.

    3) To G3: Parents "indoctrinate" all the time. It's what parenting is about. Do you teach your child to say "thank you"? To help an old woman cross the street? To brush his teeth every night?

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  60. …who are empty Orthopraxers who live with no life…

    Severe judgment of Jews who are shomer shabbos, kashrus and taharas hamishpacha, who are frum and yet do not buy into all the ideas espoused by yeshivish culture, not only does not help your arguments, but repels scores of Jews from a legitimate frum derech.

    I've had my say. All the best.

    Perhaps you’ve had your say, but thousands of your teenagers are having theirs – they are speaking with their feet and leaving.

    It is no wonder why your “My way or the highway” attitude which negates legitimate derachim of Rishonim and places severe judgment on Jews living frum, Orthodox lives with all the sacrifices it entails, by saying they are “empty who live with no life” is not endearing to a large segment of your future - your children. Every year more of your teenagers are leaving a narrow, yeshivish version of Orthodoxy and you are giving them no other options of being frum. Or worse, you are telling them that other derachim of Orthodoxy which were good enough for esteemed Rishonim, are not considered to be frum at all. So they leave completely. When they are told they are considered “empty who live with no life” if they are not frum in the yeshivish way, their next stop is the completely unrestrictive and unobservant life of a non-Jew!

    Hatzlacha with that. You will need it.

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  61. One other question I would pose to Rabbi Hoffman. There is a big interest in the frum world today in “Kiruv Rechokim”. And Rabbi Hoffman mentions in his article allowing views of certain Rishonim to be taught for that purpose. What about “Kiruv Kerovim”? In the halachos of tzedakah, kerovim come before rechokim. How much more so it would apply in teaching a Torah derech that would keep frum kids (and adults) in whom the community has invested so much already, on a legitimate derech of frumkeit. Kiruv Kerovim should therefore come before Kiruv Rechokim. But not only is there no large scale effort in Kiruv Kerovim, but there seems to be doors slamming in the faces of those who, like Rabbi Slifkin, have made attempts in this direction.

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  62. There are a tremendous amount of "names" being thrown about without proper research. For example Rambam and Ramah.

    Lechem Mishna and Kesef Mishna to Rambam Hilchos Melochim 9 both understand the Rambam as holding the Avos kept the whole Torah. The Rambam there was refering to what was instituted as a chiyuv l'doros.

    Also, Rama in responsa 10 writes clearly that Avrohom kept the whole Torah, but not Yitzchok and on.

    There are many more misquotes being bandied about, but I don't have the time to correct them.

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  63. G*3 writes:
    If that’s true, then I think the rationalists should just admit defeat. We generally don’t need to be indoctrinated to believe things that are rational.

    Quite the contrary. We are born with the capacity for reason. But it requires much more training and practice than do prejudice, emotional attachment, groupthink and the force of habit. At best people are only rational about some things some of the time.

    Neurological research has shown that our brains are predisposed to reject information which contradicts previously held or emotionally comforting beliefs. We filter out that which does not fit our internal model of the world.

    Reason is hard, and clarity is often painful. Lazy thinking is easy and comforting. The fields of advertising and propaganda are based on these facts.

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  64. Right now what is being told to teenagers is: "Our way or the highway." And teenagers from the best and frummest homes are filling up that highway off the derech in droves.

    It's been happening for a long time. Alan Dershowitz for instance, grew up Frum attending YU High school.

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  65. This discussion of Rav Hirsch is terribly incorrect. Rav Hirsch wrote his "Nineteen Letters" and "Horeb" when he was 27. Whoever claims Rav Hirsch wasn't "Rav Hirsch" or didn't know very much when he was younger should please read those works.

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  66. Lawrence Kaplan Comments:

    Chaim: Be careful before you accuse others of misquotes. The Kesef Mishneh on Hilkhot Melakhim 9 does NOT say that the Rambam's view is that Avraham kept the entire Torah. (I think I know the basis sf your misreading, but don't want to speculate.) KM's comment about hiyyuv le-dorot is in connection with Adam being commanded not to eat meat, and has nothing to do with the Avot. I am writing with the Rambam and KM and LM in front of me.

    The Lehem Mishneh does offer a possible way of reading the Rambam as implying that the Avraham kept the entire Torah, but raises a very strong objection against such a reading.

    You have rather spectacularly misread both the KM and LM.

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  67. You’d rather live in a delusional fairy tale world and call it “emet”. Fine. It's certainly your right. But, most people in this day and age can’t. We seek truth, as best as can be humanly determined. And your fairy tale world is not it. And know, that despite our “rationalism”, many of us do love Yiddishkeit and some with a passion that is irrational. So, our approach is to work towards finding a reasonable reconciliation of these competing tensions, not to pretend they don’t exist.

    Elemir - Very well said! (As was the rest of your post.)

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  68. Check this column out about Kiruv Kerovim by Hoffman. Sounds like we missed the boat on where he is coming from.
    http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2005/12/re-inspired.html

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  69. >This discussion of Rav Hirsch is terribly incorrect. Rav Hirsch wrote his "Nineteen Letters" and "Horeb" when he was 27. Whoever claims Rav Hirsch wasn't "Rav Hirsch" or didn't know very much when he was younger should please read those works.

    I think the point is that 27 is a kid, kind of like Slifkin. I guess it is relevant if he stood behind his youthful work the rest of his life (and he did) but still, a 27 year old young rabbi passing judgment and attacking the Rambam is a lot more hubris than in a mature scholar.

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  70. S.,

    Many great rabbis in our mesorah were quite young when they wrote their first works. The Shach wrote his famous work when he was 25! My point was Rav Hirsch was clearly already a great man and very knowledgable at age 27. Read the "Nineteen Letters" and "Horeb" and tell me you disagree.

    (Incidentally, Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Madison was about the same age when he wrote most of the Constitution. These facts are humbling, but true.)

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  71. Rabbi Hoffman decries the use of a "strawman" to argue against the yeshivish world's position regarding the avos' observance of the Torah before it was given. The "strawman" of course refers to the "yeshiva guy" of Krumbagel's Youtube video. Rabbi Hoffman is right that arguing against a strawman fails to refute one's actual disputant, but Rabbi Hoffman fails to show that the yeshiva guy is in fact a straw man of the charedi rabbinate. Indeed, at the end of his op-ed, Rabbi Hoffman admits that the yeshiva guy does adequately represent the charedi position.

    The concept of the straw man refers to the logical fallacy of arguing not against an actual position, but against a facially similar (but logically more precarious) position. Even if you effectively argue against the straw man, you haven't beaten the true opponent. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man.

    Rabbi Hoffman calls the yeshiva guy the straw man. He starts off by explaining that there are at least three positions one could take, a maximalist, a minimalist, and an intermediate position (the "mid-level"). (I assume there could also be various gradations between the min and the max so "intermediate" could theoretically be broad and not refer to one specific position.) The yeshiva guy is clearly a maximalist, says Rabbi Hoffman. By titling him the "straw man," Rabbi Hoffman seems to be getting at the idea that the charedi world is not that extreme but is instead more nuanced and reasonable or rational. Just because the yeshiva guy's position might be ridiculed, the argument would go, don't port that over to the more justifiable charedi position.

    But then Rabbi Hoffman says this line (in boldface): The overwhelming majority of Torah authorities, however, clearly and completely hold of the maximalist position, and this is the general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions. So the yeshiva guy of the video isn't a straw man at all. His position IS the normative charedi position.

    Rabbi Hoffman may believe his position is correct, but he shouldn't be saying that Krumbagel is merely debating a straw man instead of Rabbi Hoffman.

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  72. >Many great rabbis in our mesorah were quite young when they wrote their first works.

    I know. But the reality is that no one considered Rav Hirsch a great man or a great authority at 27. He was considered a promising young man. When he abolished the saying of Kol Nidrei at 30, no one considered him a foremost posek who had the right to do it. He was a promising young man. We more or less evaluate him in the totality of his life. Since he eventually did great things, no one remembers or cares that he bit off more than most 27 years olds can chew, and since he didn't renounce the things he wrote or did in his youth we correctly conclude that he stood by them.

    Can you think of any 27 year old today who could *get away* with things like that? And surely there are promising young men today who are very knowledgable and will do great things and be great. I don't think the issue is the lack of promising 27 year olds or future greats.

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  73. Lawrence Kaplan comments:

    I note that Chaim has not responded to my refutation of his claim. Perhaps he is no longer following this post.

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  74. RABBI DEFENDS MESORA FROM PINK TALKING BEAR
    Maximalism and minimalism is really not the most interesting issue here. I think it is far more interesting and revealing (of what, I can imagine some answers) that Rabbi Yair Hoffman and others have taken to battling cartoon characters appearing on YouTube. He is quite literally boxing against shadows. Does he take up his pen against every video and blog that challenge or insult the mesora/rabbis/gedolim? This video must have touched a nerve somewhere for Rabbi Hoffman and the Gedolei HaPoskim. Why would they encourage him to defend the mesorah from two animated talking bears, especially when he readily admits that the bears represent shitos found in the mesora and "suitable for kiruv"? (Maybe the she-bear is a kiruv worker.)

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