Monday, November 8, 2010

The Dangers of False Inspiration

This past week, the popular magazine Mishpachah included Kolmus, their journal of Torah thought. This particular issue of Kolmus was dedicated to the topic of science in general, but with a particular focus on astronomy and cosmology. The editor writes in the introduction that whereas science evolves, Torah is immutable, and the articles in the journal present examples of how "some of the 'revelations' of modern science have actually been around for centuries, known only to those who study our Torah."

Predictably, the journal includes nothing of the sort. There is some very useful information in the journal, and some discussion that comes as a breath of fresh air to find in such a publication, but the alleged examples of how modern science was known to Chazal are woefully wrong. As with the alleged examples of this phenomenon offered by Rav Aharon Feldman, all the examples given in Kulmus are either things that were known throughout the ancient world, things that Chazal did not actually say but are instead being "stuck in" the Gemara, or things that are not actually true. The examples are produced by selective citations of the Gemara, selective choices of which Rishonim and Acharonim to quote, selective citations from within the chosen Rishonim and Acharonim, as well as misunderstandings of Torah, science, and history.

But the question is, should I be publicly discussing and analyzing such things? Many people would object to it. Why does it matter if Kolmus makes these mistakes? Isn't it beneficial for people to be inspired? What good will come of showing the journal to be mistaken, and what could possibly be the motive for destructive criticism?

I have a lot of sympathy for such objections. 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. Too many blogs simply become places for people to vent. I know several unfortunate souls who were bothered by intellectual errors and distortions that they saw in various places, decided to set people straight, and simply became consumed by negativity. It destroyed them, and their relationships with other people. This is something that I always fear will happen to me; indeed, some people believe that it already has.

Furthermore, personally (and I know that many readers will disagree with me on this), I do not believe in telling the truth at any cost. As Chazal said, "Educate the child according to his way" - and that applies to adults, too. Not every truth is going to be helpful for everyone. Generally speaking, I don't object to people being falsely inspired, if that inspiration helps them lead better lives.

On the other hand, there are some opposing factors, especially in this case. First of all, I'm not kidding myself about my relative lack of influence. In contrast to the many thousands of readers of Mishpachah, there are only a few hundred readers of this website, and many of them are people who are in any case already skeptical of this sort of thing and turned off by it.

Second, educating everyone to believe that Chazal were scientific geniuses way ahead of their time is going to cause problems when people encounter statements in the Gemara that simply can't be reconciled with modern science. The subsequent emunah crisis becomes much greater.

Third, we live in an era of great hostility towards those who follow the rationalist approach of the Rishonim in these matters. Spreading the idea that Chazal, in their pronouncements about the natural world, were millennia ahead of their time, assists the campaign of those who condemn the rationalist approach.

Fourth, I think that in general, such shtick is simply the wrong approach to take for inspiring people. Classically, Judaism sought inspiration in the wonders of nature, in God's guidance of the Jewish People over history and in our daily lives, in the moral wisdom of the Torah, not in shtick such as claiming modern science to be found in the Gemara.

There is one final reason why I want to address this topic, and it is something that I will have to be somewhat vague about for now. There are a number of extremely difficult intellectual challenges for Orthodox Jews that have not yet been widely dealt with in a satisfactory manner. I have some thoughts on how to effectively deal with these topics, but there is much groundwork that needs to first be laid. A proper understanding of Chazal's discussions concerning astronomy and cosmology is crucial to this discussion, and the myths and falsehoods perpetrated by Kolmus need to be corrected.

I am inclined, therefore, to cautiously proceed with discussing the errors in Kolmus. But, as always, I am open to hearing what others have to say.


  1. I agree with the point that such false claims are a threat because at some point or another people are confronted with evidence disproving statements of hazal. For that reason I don't think this is a matter of "truth at any cost", rather it is still a very pragmatic issue. I think that forums like this ought to exert maximum effort against these false explanations of media outlets like Mishpaha, because the false claims can only lead to disappointment and crises of faith in the long run. True, there are some people so cloistered that they wont be hurt by that and will continue to benefit from the falsehood, but those people wouldn't listen to forums like this anyway, so there really is nothing lost.

  2. > whereas science evolves, Torah is immutable

    It’s funny how the (supposed) unchanging nature of the Torah is pointed to as a strength. Refusing to admit when you’re wrong is not the same thing as being right.

    > Generally speaking, I don't object to people being falsely inspired, if that inspiration helps them lead better lives.

    Much too subjective, and somewhat paternalistic. I would rather know the truth than have someone else decide what constitutes a “better life” for me and feed me lies to “help” me lead that life.

    On a halachic note, isn’t lying to strengthen someone’s emunah a mitzvah sheboh b’aveirah? And that’s assuming that strengthening other people’s emunah is a mitzvah. If it’s not, then we’re just left with the aveirah.

    Personally I object on moral rather than halachic grounds, but I assume that those who would be interested in strengthening emunah would also care about the halachic ramifications of lying.

  3. Another excellent post, R' Slifkin. It seems fitting to repeat a question I asked in the deja vu comments section.

    __R' Slifkin, you have again presented a good argument that there are very poor arguments in trying to reconcile modern scientific knowledge and the Bible/Talmud. However, I'm not sure you've answered the question (on your blog, at least) whether there are any good arguments in this regard. I mean, do you think that the Scriptures indeed demonstrate a piece of knowledge here or there that would not be discovered by science until thousands of years later?__

    Kindly don't give frivolous (though admittedly funny --thanks, Gary--) examples such as the knowledge of young people's body heat, a la King David's young body-warmer, Avishag.

  4. The "Big Lie" was the greatest and most powerful weapon for evil in the twentieth century. Lie often enough and loudly enough, repeat your lies and half-truths in every possible forum and format, and it will give you the power to realize your agenda. Even if millions and millions of people have to pay for your agenda with their freedom and their lives.

    Now, in the 21st century, things have at once changed but remain ironically the same. Many "big lies" encounter a powerful backlash enabled by the immediate transparency wrought by the internet. People like you can use that transparency to fight evil.

    But even in the internet age some big lies survive, and even prosper enough to conquer the world. Sometimes they succeed because they are simply so incredibly big, and such a huge part of the world has backed them for so long, that they overwhelm the internet itself. Case in point: The international demonization of the State of Israel and the denial of its right and duty to defend the lives of its citizens.

    But sometimes "big lies" succeed today in societies that are authoritarian and to some degree isolated from that great global transparency. Case in point: you. While there are all kinds of falsehoods that circulate throughout the Jewish world, no part of that world has the authoritarian power and isolationist protection and a built-in "thought police" to keep its citizens in line like the charedi world. Yes, there are some cracks in that armor, but it is still quite strong.

    In that world, you must behave in very specific ways, remain within very specific boundaries, talk only to very specific people (and never talk seriously to certain others), read only specific Torah books (other Torah books may be "questionable"), dress in exactly one way, and especially only accept the opinions of very specific people as the "correct" way for Bnei Torah.

    If you don't do all of this, then something is wrong with you. If you ask certain kinds of questions or even raise certain possibilities in your yeshivah study, or if you dare to mention ideas in the name of the the wrong people, you risk severe social censure that has real-life consequences, and in some cases you even risk cherem.

    Your website is an effective weapon against the charedi "big lie," which beyond anything else causes severe human suffering for many wonderful Torah Jews. Mishpachah/Kolmus would never have published Rav Feldman on this topic had it not been for the pressure that you created. The unmentioned controversy (with you) is felt by the readers, who have learned how to read between the lines much as Russian readers of Pravda once did.

    Ultimately, however, it is better to build than to attack, even when the attack it more than warranted, and even when it may force an occasional breath of fresh air into the charedi public sphere. Building means continuing your Zoo Torah tours and getting them to become ever more popular attractions (including for amenable charedim). Train people to give them if you don't have the time. Give them in Hebrew too, or train Israelis to do so.

    Building means taking part in positive academic scholarship that examines the place science and general culture throughout the history of rabbinic Judaism, and eventually results in books and articles and movies that will present the truth in such a powerful way that your ideas will be forced back into the charedi world as fully legitimate options (just as they were ten years ago).

    May the Ribbono Shel Olam grant you success.

  5. I think you should go ahead, mainly for reason three. The hostility must be confronted.

  6. A problem that I find with the Kolmos approach is that it entangles itself in logical impossibilities and improbabilities.

    Just to give some off-the-top of my head examples. The article comes with a side bar presumably demonstrating that Chazal had a knowledge of astronomy that was correct and unique to them. Yet the article quotes the Ramchal as stating that Chazal did not concern themselves that their statements of astronomy were incorrect, since they were interested in delivering a hidden, inner message. The article also quotes an authority who in turn cites Chazal's saying that they are wrong and the gentile scientists are correct. If Chazal were always correct, how could they doubt themselves? (This authority then says that in fact Chazal were correct.)

    Besides that, if one has additional knowledge of Chazal's statements on astronomy, one knows that they did not always make astronomically correct statements and that, furthermore, they disagreed with each other. Whereas one can say "both are the words of the living God" regarding statements within Torah discussion, one cannot do that with two statements that are in conflict over a description of physical reality.

    And in addition if one has a knowledge of astronomical history, one knows (as R. Slifkin points out), that there were many theories floating around amidst the gentile scientists, and that Chazal's various opinions seemingly reflect those theories.

    Therefore, such an article is asking the reader to believe in impossibilities and gross improbabilities when it claims or implies a claim of perfect knowledge of Chazal.

    It reminds me of R. D. Laing's book, Sanity, Madness and the Family, in which he demonstrates how some unhealthy families engage in a complex system of double-think, double-messages and the like, which keeps at least one member of the family in a permanent state of confusion (and, in that case, anguish).

  7. You sound like Morpheus. The red pill or the blue pill...

  8. If a particular bogus "medical" treatment causes true healing via what is known as the placebo effect, must we disclose to the patient the true nature of the treatment knowing that it will undo the palliative effect of the treatment? Teleology vs ontology.

    I would go for the red pill, but many would say that is foolish.

  9. Go for it!

    This is your mission-to present the rationalist approacvh. Those who are not interested in such an approach, oppose it, or can not hear it-almost all of them will look elsewhere for wisdom in any case.

  10. Your sensitivity to tampering with others' inspiration is a good thing, and your speaking up about the patent falseness of those things people are inspired by is ALSO a good thing.

    We degrade Chazal by making them into demigods who know all and never err. And we degrade fellow Jews (as well as Torah) by allowing such ideas to go unchallenged.

    To me what is much more "inspiring" is Chazal's wisdom to DEFER when faced with a better argument, e.g. all the instances of hadar beh ("he retracted") in the Gemara. Shouldn't this alone refute any allegations of omniscience?

    The irony is that the same great flexibility and intellectual rigor which inspire people about Chazal are precisely what scares others! It implies that dynamic knowledge is higher than a static emuna.

    But all this can be said with respect and adinut. Mitigating fiery emet with empathic shalom is indeed a "rational" approach! It is to wish people well, not harm. It is offering a hand, not condemnation. And it gets people to open up to listen rather than put up defenses.

  11. If given the choice, I would rather see you publish more books and articles on Rationalist Judaism as a valid halachic and Torah derech which is part of our mesorah, as opposed to taking down the fallacies being promoted in the name of Torah. That would be my order of priority.

    The reason is because those who are disillusioned with the false scientific claims and other problematic issues in the frum world, have plenty of material to work with.

    You said it best yourself when you wrote: “… educating everyone to believe that Chazal were scientific geniuses way ahead of their time is going to cause problems when people encounter statements in the Gemara that simply can't be reconciled with modern science. The subsequent emunah crisis becomes much greater.”

    I think there is more of a need to help the very many of those with the "subsequent emunah crisis" - and that is where your work can help. Your work at continuing to show how Rationalist Judaism is a valid, halachically sound derech which is part of our mesorah can do more to help Klal Yisrael and Judaism (especially for those who have a crisis of emunah), than your attempts at taking down the fallacies promoted by others.

    In terms of priorities, I would put as secondary your showing the errors in Kolmus. You have too much to offer in the way of providing an Orthodox derech for those who have already come to see the problems. Your talents and skills can be put to better use, and in that way you can help to inspire Orthodoxy in the ways in which you said: "Classically, Judaism sought inspiration in the wonders of nature, in God's guidance of the Jewish People over history and in our daily lives, in the moral wisdom of the Torah..."

  12. It's very simple, I read this blog (and your books) because it's important for me to know what you have to say on these issues.

    Nobody is forcing this on the Mishpacha crowd. Their spiritual welfare is not at issue here.

  13. It's not only the spiritual welfare of the Mishpachah crowd that I'm worried about - I'm also worried about my own!

  14. You crossed that Rubicon a long time ago. :)

  15. I wasn't referring to hashkafic views. I was referring to whether it is spiritually healthy to spend time criticizing others.

  16. I think criticism is healthy - you are not criticizing the people themselves, rather their views. This is part of the academic way of learning: criticizing veiws that you think are false by bringing proofs to their falsity and by bringing support to your ideas. It is important to write your ideas and bring proofs to them, while at the same time you critique those opinions you feel are false and bring proofs to back yourself up. The point is to spread the truth - if that is your point. However if your point is to make people better people as far as their midot then it doesn't make a difference and it is just a waste of your time. One person can be stubborn and not except the truth that the earth is round for religious reasons, however, would never think of stealing, whereas another who is academically and intellectually truthful can be a terrible person who is capable of doing such a thing. I thought your fight was about the truth - proving that you're right and that they are wrong and that they are not being intellectually honest. And as far as those who would have an emunah problem, you already wrote your books and gave them another derech - now it's about spreading the truth.

  17. First don't discount your reach or influence. As a Jewish blogger, I am astounded by the reach and feedback I get on material I publish. "A few hundred" a day is thousands a month and tens of thousands a year, at least. This doesn't mention those that pass it along, other ways of reading (such as blogging consolidation sites like and so forth. Your reach may be 4 times your site stats.

    I agree with you on the Kolmus articles. I expected to find some interesting info helping to reconcile some current science with the Gemora, I found fluff that my teenagers gagged on.

    The questions aren't going away and the isolationism is failing. Go ask some of those teenagers on the street in RBS why they're there and you WILL get some answers of "Torah is shtuss, it doesn't make any sense, what the Gedolim are saying is a joke, etc".

    If the Emes of Torah can't stand next to the Big Bang, Quantum Theory, and the Dinosaur Bones in the museum of history then it's not going to survive in the current marketplace of ideas.

    When these questions arise with my children, I'm looking for good answers. And (very) unfortunately I'm not finding them from the traditional gedolim.

    So where am I to look?

    That's why we need your work.

  18. Your motive is not criticism. Your motive is telling the truth about science and the torah.

    As such, you have been forced into a debate. The Mishpachach article is aimed foursquare at your arguments. If you leave it without a reply, some inquiring minds will be left without your expertise and therefore, seriously uninformed. I hope you will rejoinder.

    It is the anti-rationalists who have conjured up a monolithic mesorah which puts all dissent into the camp of torah enemies.

    For all the reasons you first felt that it was important to express your views it is important to offer a rejoinder to the article.

  19. A curious feature in that article is its description of Galileo--which is so strange that I wondered at it from the beginning. And now I begin to think--although perhaps bizarrely--that it might be a swipe at R. Slifkin.

    Galileo is presented as a brilliant scientist. But we are told that his principle sin in the eyes of the church lay not in his discoveries or his deductions from them but in "the mocking attitude [his writing] took to his opponents."

    And we are told of his trial, where he is alleged to have said, "and yet it moves."

    All of this would lead the reader to think well of Galileo, who dared oppose the Catholic Church and the pope--entities that receive no great sympathy in chareidi circles.

    Yet the passage on Galileo concludes: "In subsequent generations, Galileo was depicted as a persecuted martyr, a truth-seeking man of science who single-handedly waged war against the forces of darkness and ignorance. But Galileo's true enemy, far more vicious than the philosophy of geocentrism, was his own egocentrism."

    Was part of the article where evidence for Galileo's alleged egocentrism is given ineptly deleted? Does the author believe that anyone who stands up for what he thinks is right, or expresses himself "mockingly" and "cynically"--even against the Catholic Church--is an egotist? Or could it be, in an article that constantly skirts the issues that R. Slifkin has done so much to publicize, the author means his words to refer to R. Slifkin, who has been criticized for his "tone" and disrespect of authority as much as for the content of his words?


  20. Perhaps it is best to try to hear their side and find a way to defend them (without, of course, making them look ignorant or illogical), rather than strike them down without giving them a chance. Maybe we are missing something, and they see something true that we do not? Peoples emuna are so fragile nowadays it is best to leave these things be unless a chilul hashem results from silence on these matters - maybe a chilul hashem will result from speaking against it! Who knows, that's why inaction, silence in this case, could be better than action, unless a qualified rav/posek advises to speak out against it, but in a smooth and respectful way, judging favorably of course.

  21. If the Emes of Torah can't stand next to the Big Bang, Quantum Theory, and the Dinosaur Bones in the museum of history then it's not going to survive in the current marketplace of ideas.

    Bingo! This was a point made by R'YBS over and over again in support of his approach to both Torah and secular education. We can pull the blinds down and pretend that the outside world doesn't exist, or we can confront it with the timeless Torah - Kach mkublani mbeit avi abba- Keep fighting the good fight, and know HKB"H has our back.

    Joel Rich

  22. If you truly meant everything that you wrote, I would suggest that you take the following approach: Write an article/essay/book that states that there are many people who see Chazal's statements regarding science to be always correct, and at times - years or centuries ahead of scientific thought. For people who accept this view and are inspired by it - great! There are others, however, who see statements of Chazal that they feel are incompatible with scientific truths; they feel that Chazal made mistakes, and this can sometimes present a challenge of faith to these people. For those people, I have the following answers and approaches to reconcile their faith with an approach to Torat Emet....

    This way, you don't create a new crisis of faith for those who accept Chazal as is. At the same time you answer the challenges to those who do not accept Chazal as is. It's a "win-win" - of course this is true only if you meant what you said - that you are not out to destroy - that you are not out to prove to anyone who will listen that you are right and "they" are wrong (which at any event, would be futile, since "they" feel that they are right and you are wrong). And in the end, you may be truly correct, or they may be truly correct. By taking the approach that I suggest, you allow for everyone to be strong in their faith. (It would be great if the chareidim took this approach too, but just because they don't or wouldn't, doesn't mean you shouldn't).

  23. Yaakov:
    I didn't see the Mishpacha article, but I have read in secular sources that Galileo was noted for a certain lack of tact in dealing with his opponents, irrespective of the power of their position, and that this did, in fact, lead to some of his problems.

  24. The ignorance of the ancient world is an important point, that should be distinguished from the belief that chazal were infallible. So many of our brothers have zero exposure to anything other than the babylonian talmud. Such people often believe statements of chazal are unique to them, utterly ignorant that many of chazal's views or opinions were in vogue for hundreds of years before them. The Babylonian Talmud is not even particularly old, as these things go. Kind of pathetic if you think of it, or even if you dont think of it.

  25. I really feel that the whole subject is irrelevant: it's a pretty sad state of affairs when someone's belief in the Torah is strengthened by scientific facts found in the gemora. This sounds like believing in a Rebbe because he allegedly performs miracles. That should not be the basis of anyone's emunah.

  26. Pliny,
    Thanks for the appreciation. Tanach's "scientific" insights are so embedded that one doesn't notice them unless one thinks of what people hearing the stories [at the times they were originally presented] would make of them.

    In this regard, from the first words of Bereisheet, we see that the forces of nature are not considered independent, autonomous dieties. All the forces described...sun, the upper waters [representing Ba'al the cloud riding god], lower waters [Yam, the sea god], plant gods, animal dieties, etc, etc, etc.....[it never stops throughout Tanach] are described as specifically NOT being independent, autonomous dieties. They are all subsidiary to HaShem Tzivot, the eternal master of the forces. But even there, there is a difference from the classic pantheon with El Elyon or Zeus etc... as the top god. In the Tanach, these forces do not compete with each other or take independent action. Tanach represents a profound collapse of the pantheon which, I think, is a MAJOR "scientific" step. Indeed, from Isaiah 40 and on, there are statements about there being NO other forces than HaShem [that I can remember].

    Science is a developing process. For example the shape of the earth was [with notable exceptions] thought to be flat, then spherical, then oblate, then with flat, depressed, & rising features approximating an oblate spheroid etc.

    Technically, I guess one could say that with each step, the previous step was "wrong". But, it may just be a stage of understanding that is not current due to new theories that better describe the data.

    The fact that people now seek to find out "laws" of nature rather than appeal to the gods individually in their competitions is a profoundly important step forward in the foundations of science. & the fact that [for example] Shlomo, who first made the Beis HaMikdash, also made a temple to these nature gods or that the prophets are continually chastising the people for appealing to independent forces with their sacrifices, statues, and trees show how amazingly difficult it was to bring this into the standard point of view. This revolution was anything but trivial.

    Gary Goldwater

  27. R' Natan, one of the endearing things about you is your willingness to engage in public self-examination and to see the others' viewpoint. As long as you retain those qualities and don't resort to knee-jerk general criticism, mockery and easy put-downs, then you needn't be concerned about speaking the truth as you see it. As you, yourself, have stated, this blog in not a venue currently read by many - particularly, the impressionable young in the Hareidi world. Those who are interested in broadening their horizons are already aware that the greater world doesn't see things as their rebbe'im do, and should be able to handle the information imparted here.

    I haven't read that Mishpacha supplement, but I doubt that I would agree with any of its premises. The idea that torah is superior to science because it is supposedly unchanging, whereas scientific knowledge evolves, is specious. True the text doesn't change and GOD's understanding of it is unchanging. However, we aren't privy to that understanding. Instead, we have largely human interpretations that do evolve with time - witness the continuous growth of torah commentary.

    There is much to say about the supposed infallibility of the talmudic sages and other traditional luminaries. I'll await your input, however.

  28. The addenda are most relevant, in my opinion, especially point 3 - The rationalist bent is basically deemed kefira, and it is false arguments like the ones you refer to in the intro which bolster the rejection of rational approach to Judaism and bolster the 'kefira-labeling.' For that reason alone, it is enough for me that these type of fake arguments need to be combated, and the fact that mostly rationalist-inclined people are the ones reading this, and you reach very few people relative to the masses reading hamodia, this only puts it over the top.

    I can't tell you what to do because you are the one who faces the personal fallout (including some of those spiteful bloggers who devote websites to supposedly "refuting" you), but I think it would be very important work to combat the antiscientific fraudulent "inspiration-through-sheker."

  29. Shlomo, who first made the Beis HaMikdash, also made a temple to these nature gods

    Gary, first time I've heard this. Could you point me to a specific primary source?

  30. My maggid shiur, who is a grandson of Rav Yaakov z'l, once told an anecdote that is relevant here.

    A non-observant Jew got caught up with imminent messianism and was exuberant about it. For whatever reason, he turned to Rav Yaakov for advise on the matter. Rav Yaakov counseled the man to go home and forget about it. He declined to proffer and advice about increasing his religious observance.

    After the man left, Rav Yaakov's son asked him to clarify. This man was prepared accept practically anything. Rav Yaakov answered that this man's entire emunah was caught up in a false belief. In the end, he will come to realize that and when that happens he will be bitter and cynical about any life style changes that he took on. It is better that he should maintain a positive albeit weak connection with Judaism.

  31. Rabbi Slifkin,

    1) I agree there needs to be a balance between criticizing others and being constructive. There are a few absolutely wonderful lines in a Peretz story about this: about a bachur who could prove everyone else a fool but had nothing himself to contribute. The rabbi told him: There are two parts of Torah -- aseh and lo sa'aseh. You only have one part of Torah. To prove his point, the rabbi told the bachur to say something of his own. He couldn't.

    All that being said, I think your books are pretty constructive. Many of your essays are as well. So right now I don't see you as being overly critical.

    2) I'm not sure what project you're referring to. My two "problems/questions" concern biblical criticism and the origins of Torah shebe'al peh. I have never seen a book written by a rabbi on either of these topics and would welcome one. However, I realize that "lo hamlacha ligmor" and that these two issues might be outside your field of interest.

  32. Dear Robert,
    See I Kings 11:6-11
    and I Kings 23:13-14
    for examples.

    Gary Goldwater

  33. dlz writes: "it's a pretty sad state of affairs when someone's belief in the Torah is strengthened by scientific facts found in the gemora. This sounds like believing in a Rebbe because he allegedly performs miracles. That should not be the basis of anyone's emunah."

    There's a big difference between having one's belief in the Torah strengthened by scientific verifications of the gemorah and having these scientific verifications being the basis of one's emunah.

  34. Yaacov said...
    > Galileo is presented as a brilliant scientist. But we are told that his principle sin in the eyes of the church lay not in his discoveries or his deductions from them but in "the mocking attitude [his writing] took to his opponents."

    The Church, in general, supported scientific study. It was opposed to publicizing ideas that ran counter to doctrine. Galileo kept his ideas to himself until a friend of his became pope. He thought he could then do as he pleased. When the Church authorities told him stop publicizing his controversial ideas, he published a pamphlet with a character named Simplico that was an obvious stand-in for the pope. It was only after he publicly called the pope an idiot that Galileo was arrested by the Church and forced to retract his published work.

    I don’t think that suggesting Chazal had the same limitations as everyone else in regard to their knowledge of science is on quite the same level as publicly calling the leader of your religion an idiot.

    dlz said...
    > it's a pretty sad state of affairs when someone's belief in the Torah is strengthened by scientific facts found in the gemora.… That should not be the basis of anyone's emunah.

    I’m curious, what should be the basis of emunah? I would think that a rationalist would welcome concrete proof of the superiority of the amoraim. Unfortunately it doesn’t exist, but if it did, what would be wrong with using it as part of the basis for believing in Judaism?

  35. "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."

    "I wasn't referring to hashkafic views. I was referring to whether it is spiritually healthy to spend time criticizing others"

    I agree with this concern and I think about it myself. It is based on a principle, that the outer, superficial part of an action can be more influential than the intention(eg, Ohr Hachaim regarding Ihr Hanidachas makes this point; the Animal Connection, parethetically, is that Iggros Moshe quotes it regarding killing bugs).

    On the other hand, I belive that the strength of the ban is based, and goes hand in hand, with the success of the insular approach to deal with science and Torah issues, and critiquing the "science proof" approach used in kiruv, is ultimately weaking the ability to ban your books.

    On the other hand, there is a limit when the "means" of knocking down opposition are not justified. One might use the same argument in the previous paragraph to argue that the ability to ban your books is also based on the ability to shelter people from genuine kefirah; after all, no one banned R. Hirsch's approach in his times to Science/Chazal, because then genuine Kefirah and secularism was strong then, and people needed this approach. However, it would be wrong to spread to Mishpacha readership, genuine Haskalah in order to argue against the ban of your book(though I personally hold that the existence of real kefirah is *indeed* a reason why R. Hirsch's approach is needed) !

    Due to the conflicting concerns, however one expresses them, I would take counsel in this matter from someone I trusted.

  36. Gary Goldwater said: "& the fact that [for example] Shlomo, who first made the Beis HaMikdash, also made a temple to these nature gods or that..."

    Shlomo made a "temple" to nature gods?


  37. Rabbi Slifkin wrote:

    "Second, educating everyone to believe that Chazal were scientific geniuses way ahead of their time is going to cause problems when people encounter statements in the Gemara that simply can't be reconciled with modern science. The subsequent emunah crisis becomes much greater."

    How true!

    Dear Robert & Ari,
    My 2nd cite was off.

    See 1st Kings 11:6-11
    and 2nd Kings 23:13-14
    for examples.

    I apologize,
    Gary Goldwater

  39. I don't see any reason why it would not be correct to share your vision about truth for the benefit of the readers.

    Why don't you let them decide to publish your constructive criticism?

  40. Cheski, it doesn't seem that R' Slifkin ever mentioned writing a letter to Mishpacha or Kolmus.

  41. Rabbi Slifkin, here are some useful links on Galileo and his relationship with the Church. Suffice it to say, it was complex and nuanced-and he did have a big ego.

    KT, Ariel Segal

    Lecture (FYI, by a Jesuit astronomer)

    More thought by Maurice Finocchiaro

  42. Oops. Revised lecture link about Galileo:

  43. A twist on this post could be titled "The Dangers of Questionable Inspiration" and could offer the following example:

    Every tragedy has its "miracle stories" that follow it. I never know how many are real and how many are "stretches". In the above link, there's an inspiring story, set to nice music, that connects the 9-11 terror attack and the Sbarro terror attack. Michoel Pruzhansky is the singer.

    The thing is, I like the melody so much that I almost don't care if the story is true. Almost.


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