Monday, November 29, 2010

Puzzled at Passaic

Although I have visited the United States on countless occasions, I am not American. And I've never been to Passaic, except for one quick stop to visit an old friend. Nevertheless, my understanding is that while Passaic is a somewhat yeshivish neighborhood, it's no Lakewood or Boro Park. The Passaic Torah Institute advertises itself as "a yeshiva for working people... many, if not most, did not have the chance to be nurtured in Yeshivos growing up."

I'd wager that many of these people believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago, however they reconcile it with Torah. I'd also wager that many of them would follow Rav Hirsch in rejecting the existence of spontaneously generating mice. And I'll bet that many of them heard about the notorious ban on my books, and were greatly distressed by it.

I was therefore greatly puzzled to discover that the Passaic Torah Institute, for its Chanukah party this Wednesday, has as its guest speaker none other than Rabbi Reuven Schmeltzer!

Rabbi Reuven Schmeltzer was one of the main zealots behind the ban of my books, along with Rabbi Leib Pinter and Rabbi Leib Tropper. It was he who marked up various pages from the books, jotting down comments describing me as a “thoroughly evil person,” “idiot,” “shaygetz,” “low-life,” “animal,” and “sick man,” and sent copies of these notes to various Gedolei Torah to obtain their signatures on the ban. And it was Rabbi Schmeltzer who authored the infamous work Chaim B'Emunasam, in which he actually had the gall to edit the words of Rambam - deleting and re-arranging words - in order to completely distort Rambam's positions. The goal of Rabbi Schmeltzer's work is to show that anyone who denies the truth of any statement in the Gemara about the natural world is a heretic who should be put to death by any means possible. (You can read my critique of Chaim B'Emunasam at http://zootorah.com/controversy/chaim.html.)

How can such a person be honored as a guest speaker in a place like Passaic? And how is it that nobody is protesting? I did write to the heads of the PTI, but I did not hear back from them. Is it that people do not know what kind of a person Rabbi Schmeltzer is, or is it that they don't care?

71 comments:

  1. I bet it's that they just don't know what kind of person he is. Nor do they much care to find out. The controversy over your works is a major even in modern Jewish life. But it's not something people think about every day unless they have any direct involvement. I doubt people have given his opinions about you and other issues (however wrong and misguided) all that much thought.

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  2. Ditto to what Ari said. PTI is heavy on the mystical, and announcements related to RS are given with reverential flourishes regarding his relationship to R Shapiro. I would not be at all surprised if your remarks are disregarded.

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  3. since these people are frum they don't mind hearing how great te sages are without thinking too much into it

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  4. Many of these folks either come recommended by someone who learned under them in yeshiva ages ago or my exposure to on-line shiurim. No one does a background check and voila, they show up.
    It is a weakness of the MO community that they don't have a group of roving speakers like the UO do. It limits MO shuls when they want to bring in a dynamic speaker.

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  5. Passaic *is* pretty yeshivish. He's a perfect fit.

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  6. Passaic is populated by many BTs who would like nothing better than to make their own identity vanish and melt into the frum world to ensure that their kids are labeled as 100% kosher FFB (which they think means being non-rational). It is truly a sad situation. Most are scared to make any kind of decisions for themselves, especially in matters of Torah and Chinuch, but it's true for general decisions also. They are like am-haaretz-chassidim without a rebbe. Judaism here in Passaic is reduced to a children s club for baalei batim. Small minds in a small town. We have feel-good sermons disguised as shuirim, ladies group therapy disguised as tehillim readings, and right-wing christianity disguised as frumkeit.

    You'd lose the wager, I think that most of Passaic does not believe there were dinosaurs millions of years ago -- because they think that they are not supposed to believe it, and they want to believe exactly what they are told to believe. By those with good yichus.

    The situation is so distressing. Just look at PTI itself -- a place for rootless BTs desperate to be accepted -- probably why half of them became frum in the first place.

    They might not lynch you here in Passaic, but you are intellectual, and the intellect is something basically abhorrent and antithetical to the frumkeit they want to be part of.

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  7. I don't know why you think just because the community is a working community, or at leasts welcomes working folks, it qualifies as a rationalist community.
    The right-wing, close-minded, outlook is widespread and expanding. It can be found in Landers, YU, and I'd venture to say in most of the Yeshivos that MO kids go to in Israel.
    People can be rational in one aspect of their life (i.e. college, work) and be totally irrational in another aspect.
    There's no surprise on my part. In fact I'm surprised you're willing to make a wager about any community, let alone a "Yeshivish" one.
    Neal

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  8. But these people did not grow up yeshivish. They became frum before 2004 i.e. they were told that it's okay to accept modern science. And now they're happy to listen to someone who declares them to be heretics?

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  9. Rav Moshe Shapiro is famous among many who became frum at places like Orh Somayach and Machon Shlomo as being "their rabbi's rabbi". Same with those who became frum through the extemely popular books by R' Akiva Tatz. As such, Rav Moshe Shapiro commands a tremendous amount of respect among American BT's, especially those of the Yeshivish persuasion. In fact, so many Yeshivish kiruv rabbis advertize their relationship with Rav Moshe that it's become a cliche.

    My close friends who attended Machon Shlomo simply *adore* R' Moshe Shapiro, and I have annoyed them at times by hinting that I might not share their unqualified enthusiasm.

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  10. _They became frum before 2004 i.e. they were told that it's okay to accept modern science._

    I became frum before 2004, and before there were Slifkin books available. I read a lot of Avigdor Miller, who was uncompromising in his rejection of science, with fundamentalist claims like carbon dating's being unreliable.

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  11. "But these people did not grow up yeshivish. They became frum before 2004 i.e. they were told that it's okay to accept modern science. And now they're happy to listen to someone who declares them to be heretics?"
    First off, they probably don't know he said that.
    Secondly, people are willing to listen to anything a Rabbi says no matter how outrageous. Someone can accept modern science and still listen to a person like this talk because they don't put the two together.
    Unless people posses intellectual curiosity they can believe and listen to almost anything. Unfortunately most people, whether they're in YU, Harvard, Penn, or BMG, lack intellectual curiosity.
    Neal

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  12. While ‘Passaic Resident’ correctly wrote that Passaic is populated by many BTs who would like nothing better than to make their own identity vanish and melt into the frum world that is somewhat of an overstatement. Passaic has many YU, Aish and Machon Shlomo (just to name a few) alumna that do not have such a weltanschauung.

    In addition, there are plenty of rationalist FFB’s in Passaic. To state that Passaic is completely a BT town is incorrect.

    There are shiurim at Aguda and Bais Yosef (both coincidently run by YU Roshei Yeshiva) where intellectual honesty is encouraged, and rationalist hashkafa is encouraged. Not to say that is not the case in other shuls, they are those ones I know about from having lived there, and knowing people still there.

    With that, with all due respect Rabbi Slifkin, there are those in Passaic (and elsewhere) that feel your lack of academic (i.e., formal) scientific schooling (i.e., no academic degree from an advanced institution) is such that while they agree with much of what you say, feel that those lackings mean you will be relegated to the current state of where you are.

    Since you don’t know Passaic, you should know that PTI is a small institution. As of late, many, if not most of the students are retirees. These students are very sincere, and really do want to learn. I doubt most of the current PTI students even know who Rabbi Schmeltzer is, let alone can read his sefer in Ivrit.

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  13. Can you advertize an e-mail for those who wish to write to the Institute?

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  14. your lack of academic (i.e., formal) scientific schooling (i.e., no academic degree from an advanced institution)

    I never understood that. Why would I need to be a scientists to say that the universe is billions of years old, and that mice don't spontaneously generate? Do they think that scientists don't agree with that?

    Can you advertize an e-mail for those who wish to write to the Institute?

    http://www.ptiweb.org/contact.html

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  15. >>>Why would I need to be a scientists to say that the universe is billions of years old,

    You don’t :)

    But if you want to write on the topic as an authoritative expert and author, you do require such a degree.

    While you and Dr. Gerald Schroeder may often have similar conclusions, the fact that he has a doctorate from MIT makes a world of difference.

    I don’t need smicha to write on religious thought. But those with smicha and especially those with advanced smichas, will be received in a much different light than those that do not.

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  16. Reconciling Torah with science requires expertise in Torah, not science - unless you are saying that the science is all wrong.

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  17. >>>>Reconciling Torah with science requires expertise in Torah, not science - unless you are saying that the science is all wrong.

    Aha, that is where we do not see eye to eye.

    I see it as requiring expertise in both.

    I think that is why articles from someone like Dr. Avi Zivotofsky are so well received.

    He has smicha and an advanced degree. While one may not agree with his outcome, there is on doubt he is an expert in the halacha and science.

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  18. >i.e. they were told that it's okay to accept modern science

    Accepting modern science means you get vaccinated and take antibiotics when you're sick. That's all it ever meant, even before 2004.

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  19. He has a degree in neuroscience!

    I don't get why I would need a degree to say that the world is billions of years old any more than a Rav writing a sefer on medical halachah would need to be a doctor to say that the heart circulates blood around the body.

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  20. Thats not a question at all. They're part of the yeshivish world, so why would they care if some of his views are more extreme? They don't get upset by such things. R' Schmelczer himself is an employee of Touro/Landers/Ohr HaChaim.
    The moderate yeshivish world may not hold of such extreme views, but they're not against them.

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  21. Think about it this way R. Slifkin: If you were critiquing science, even if you made powerful arguments, people would write you off because you do not have an advanced degree. Scientists and science have a lot of ethos power, and in order for your opinion to be meaningful in regards to science (wether in support or critique) you would need that same level of ethos. Generally speaking, an "academic degree from an advanced institution" supplies that ethos.

    Note: This is only for ethos, and is inapplicable to logos. The strength of your arguments would probably be determined by logos, but people's acceptance of it would be based on ethos.

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  22. Think about it this way R. Slifkin: If you were critiquing science, even if you made powerful arguments, people would write you off because you do not have an advanced degree. Scientists and science have a lot of ethos power, and in order for your opinion to be meaningful in regards to science (wether in support or critique) you would need that same level of ethos. Generally speaking, an "academic degree from an advanced institution" supplies that ethos.

    Note: This is only for ethos, and is inapplicable to logos. The strength of your arguments would probably be determined by logos, but people's acceptance of it would be based on ethos.

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  23. While you and Dr. Gerald Schroeder may often have similar conclusions, the fact that he has a doctorate from MIT makes a world of difference.

    Interesting example, using a physicist whose ideas regarding Torah/science reconciliation are laughable. Referencing Schroeder is no different from referencing Behe in attempting to show that there are scientists who argue against evolution. Show me a significant number of academics in relevant fields that agree with them and I'll take their ideas more seriously.

    A doctorate from MIT is irrelevant when one is blinded by a need to reconcile a theological document with scientific consensus.

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  24. Rabbi Slifkin,

    You say: "I don't get why I would need a degree to say that the world is billions of years old any more than a Rav writing a sefer on medical halachah would need to be a doctor to say that the heart circulates blood around the body."

    I, for one, don't think it's at all about degrees. In a lifetime of mingling with physicists I've never heard one of them justify an assertion by referring to the asserter's Ph.D., institution of employment, Nobel Prize, etc., etc. (But I have heard that it occasionally happens.)

    But it is of the essence to distinguish between (1) believing in an assertion on the authority of some, or even all, scientists, and (2) believing in an assertion because it participates in a theory which you are yourself able to accredit on the basis of your intimate familiarity with the pertinent phenomena (Einstein: "Einfühlung in die Erfahrung)". It is only through beliefs of type (2) by which the scientist can judge, say, what's more or less relevant among the observational data, or what a significant future experiment might be.

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  25. It's probably an inferiority complex.

    Especially because of "many, if not most, did not have the chance to be nurtured in Yeshivos growing up" they are made to feel particularly beholden to "daas toyrah" and if the big haredi rebbes say it's a big rav, then it's a big rav. 'Who am I as a non-yeshiva-nurtured guy to question the big ravs.'

    I think it's something along those lines (not that I would take that attitude, but I've seen it amongst many unfortunately).

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  26. I think that is why articles from someone like Dr. Avi Zivotofsky are so well received.

    Articles by Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, you mean.

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  27. Rabbi, aren't you working towards a degree? It would help you tremendously to get a PhD with regards to being more accepted by the scholarly community. Also, maybe more MO shuls would invite you to speak because you would be a Rabbi Doctor and we MOs love Rabbi Doctors.

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  28. While I agree that Passaic is described accurately in the comments (yeshivish bent, large BT population, little serious intellectual thought), I'll defend the community as inclusive and generally welcoming. No one will be ostracized for believing that dinosaurs existed (or, for that matter, wearing colored clothing). Females who do not cover their hair exist and are accepted as part of the community (although there is a sense that they are marching to the beat of a different drummer).

    In a sense it's possible that the rabbi was engaged to speak more because the community lacks any sense of discrimination between the proper and the improper ("hey! It's all Torah!"), rather than because of any special anti-Slifkin statement.

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  29. E-Man - I'm doing a PhD in Jewish history. I haven't had a problem with getting accepted in the MO world, and somehow I don't think that a PhD in Jewish history will make me more acceptable to the yeshivishe crowd!

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  30. You don't need a degree. You do need authoritative footnotes and show that you've studied the opposing point of view while demonstrating why you disagree with it, again based on your footnotes.
    Why, you could fill a book with that kind of stuff!

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  31. The fact is that Rabbi Singer, who founded and heads Passaic's PTI is a negligible figure in the "Velt." Even assuming he subscribes tot he rationalist view of Torah (and I have no idea how he holds on these subjects), he is entirely powerless to ever go against the yeshivish grain. He has neither the money to back him up, nor the personal clout. He's a nice man, a ba'al middot tovot, someone who has learned a goodly amount of Torah in his days and simply wants to share that which he has learned with others. I don't think great significance can be attached to who his balle batim engage as a guest speaker.

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  32. There are two ways to apply advanced degrees to Judaism:

    1) Using one's expertise to illuminate the "pshat" of Torah - history, practices, concepts, etc.

    2) Using one's expertise as "credentials" to lend legitimacy to religious positions. (i.e. If they know so much about X in the scientific domain, they must also be right about Y in the religious domain.)

    The first is lishma, the second is a ruse, pure smoke and mirrors.

    To me, a layperson who is after the truth is far more interesting and worth listening to than a PhD with a pre-scripted agenda (whether that agenda is traditionalist or rationalist).

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  33. "...Passaic community as inclusive and generally welcoming. No one will be ostracized..."

    It's inclusive if you join the herd. It's as inclusive as Judaism itself, or, say, the Mickey Mouse club. You can join if you want. Especially if you send your kids to the right school and don't believe in dinosaurs and throw in a few baruch hashems. But is a community "generally welcoming" because it is not generally unwelcoming? "No one here will be ostracized..." -- openly -- but likewise there is no sense of kavod, no hierarchy, it's all Toyrah as per an earlier comment, it's all good. Or maybe it's all bad. But who's to say? Very few stand up and say anything. No one is criticized or judged because most don't seem to be able or to want to think critically. They don't believe they have a right or an obligation to do so.

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  34. Rabbi Slifkin, I just heard about this rationalist thing last week, and printed out much of it and read it over Shabbos.
    The only question I have is what practical difference does any of it make? Dinosaurs, firmaments, even Kabbalah is all irrelevant to daily living. Unless you're some kind of hermit philosopher living on a mountain top in Tibet with nothing to do but ponder these things.
    It seems to me that most frum Yidden, the poshiter Yid, wants to know if his tefillin are kosher, and what time is licht bentching, not the age of the universe.
    Whether or not we say that Chazal were infallible in their statements is nothing but bases for machlokes that serves no purpose, it is not l'shem shamayim at all.
    Even the whole argument about that video on the Avos is nonsensical at best. A friend of mine whom I showed your articles to said that the point of all the divrei Chazal is not the thickness of the rekia or the size of the livyoson, but the messages and learning behind the statements and stories. Maybe they are true, maybe not. Most of the yeshivaleit I know want to know if there's enough meat and kishke in the cholent to go around, not the size of a brontosaurus.
    If you want to stop all the banning and controversy surrounding your writings, I suggest you stop. You're not going to change the way Yeshivas teach, or the content thereof.

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  35. Yes, how could Passaic possibly allow someone to speak who disagrees with you? Outrageous!

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  36. ...said that the point of all the divrei Chazal is not the thickness of the rekia or the size of the livyoson, but the messages and learning behind the statements

    That's possibly true about livyoson, but not at all true about the rakia.

    If you want to stop all the banning and controversy surrounding your writings, I suggest you stop.

    Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that.

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  37. Yes, how could Passaic possibly allow someone to speak who disagrees with you? Outrageous!

    Er, Bob, you appear to have entirely misunderstood the post.

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  38. "The only question I have is what practical difference does any of it make? Dinosaurs, firmaments, even Kabbalah is all irrelevant ...
    It seems to me that most frum Yidden, the poshiter Yid, wants to know if his tefillin are kosher, and what time is licht bentching, not the age of the universe."

    Um. It made a difference to the Creator, didn't it? You want a relationship with that Creator, don't you? It seems to me that not giving a crap about what the Creator made in His world is not very conducive to having a relationship with Him. The seal of Hashem is Emes, but obviously you are speaking about the type of "Poshiter" yid who doesn't really care about that, who holds that everything is irrelevant ("Maybe they are true, maybe not.), who is really only interested in himself, in being okay in his own eyes, in an incredibly smug, self-satisfied, conceited way, so he can discharge his obligations and live in his ignorance-induced bliss, eating his cholent. It's not surprising that neither of the two examples you chose for Mr. Poshiter Yid were mitzvos bein adam l'chavero. Those are usually the first to go the way of the dinosaurs when everything outside of one's own well-being becomes irrelevant.

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  39. @ Anonymous 10:26 PM

    If you want to stop all the banning and controversy surrounding your writings, I suggest you stop.

    I hope for your sake that they do not ban kishke and cholent!

    Seriously, of course there is a place to "just do it" without getting into a philosophical discourse. But there is also a segment of the "velt" which is interested in the truth of things, and all the cholent in the world doesn't make the rewriting of Jewish intellectual history taste any better!

    Point being, R. Slifkin's work may not be your work, but that doesn't mean it's not important work. In fact I'd say it's serious mesirut nefesh on behalf of Torah and Klal Yisrael.

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  40. I'm not saying it's not important, guys. Of course everything God did and does is important. But there is certainly a continuum of importance, which is established by how everyone else relates to it, not by some official posting on a shul bulletin board.
    Something tells me that if one were to announce from the bimah of every shul and every bais medrash in the world, that there is definitely some kind of solid dome over the universe, that it won't amount to a hill of beans to anyone sitting there learning. They would probably have a good laugh, say nu, veiter in the Gemara, and that would be it. So, it seems silly to me for someone to continue this distribe about a dome or a dinosaur in light of how much it would be valued by today's world of learning. Perhaps in the upper echelons of kabbalistic experts it may serve some purpose, but for the average yeshiva or kollel guy, it doesn't.
    That doesn't make any of them self-centered, nor does it detract from bein adom l'chaveiro at all. They are just simply not going to spend a lot of time and energy on these esoteric matters.
    And from a practical standpoint, ask yourself if you'd rather have a Rav who is a baki in kashrus, shatnez, and inyanei niddah, or one who knows how old the universe is.

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  41. There are plenty of yidden who go beyond the call of duty in midos and bein adom l'chaveiro as well, and still don't really spend much time wondering about dinosaurs and firmaments. Don't assume that just because they don't think about these things that they are selfish malcontents who are only concerned with cholent. The fact is, one is not able in today's world to become versed in everything. So we pick and chose. I feel pretty confident that dinosaurs don't rank high on the list of priorities when all is said and done.
    For the few Hawkings and Einsteins in the world, Rabbi Slifkin makes good chew toys. For the rest of us, I'm pretty sure it gets dismissed as tiflus.
    Like Matthew Harrison Brady said in "Inherit the Wind", "I don't think about things that I don't think about."

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  42. Without taking a position on R' Schmeltzer's place in heaven, I have the following comment.

    Let's suppose that R' Schmeltzer is really a tzadik, and everything he did was lshem shamayim, and it is possible - stretching the imagination, but possible - to judge everything he did favorably. Do you agree that you, as an involved party at the core of the controversy, are in no position to accurately assess whether or not he might be a real tzadik?

    Perhaps not. Now we have a members of a community with no beef in this dispute that are welcoming him to speak to them on Torah topics. Maybe they know that you think he is evil, but it seems to them that it isn't necessarily so, and they stick with their original assessment of his relative Gadlus. Why should you condemn them for this?

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  43. A long Time Passaic ResidentNovember 30, 2010 at 2:35 AM

    I am long time Passaic Resident. Passaic is a right wing working community. This may confuse you since such things don’t really exist in Eretz Yisroel. The "left" of Passaic is generally the very right wing of YU. The right wing of Passaic represents a broad spectrum of the American Litvish yeshivot. There is almost no Chasidish representation in the community. I would estimate that about 20% of the community is Baale Teshuva. The vast majority of which are quite comfortable with themselves and are not at all afraid to make decisions.

    Typical speakers at Passaic Torah Institute, other than Rabbi Shmeltzer, have been Rabbi Belsky, Rabbi Heineman (a former classmate of Rabbi Singer, the Rav of PTI) and others of the same Hashkafic viewpoint. Rav Matisyahu Solomon speaks every other week at a different schul and Rav Aaron Feldman spoke at a schul dinner this past weekend. Although Rav Moshe Shapiro has never spoken in Passaic, he has a strong following in Passaic and so people are quite anxious to hear Rabbi Shmeltzer who is close with Rav Moshe. As one commenter pointed out, I think your assumptions about Passaic hashkafa are wrong. The vast majority are in closer alignment with Lakewood. Kids in Passaic don’t play with dinosaur toys.
    The person identifying himself as “Passaic Resident” is clearly a bit bitter about the community. This is actually not so uncommon among what little left wing elements exist in Passaic. They are, after all, seriously outnumbered and the modern community is not growing. This is only logical since there are really no modern schools in Passaic. A young modern couple is better off living in Teaneck where they have a broad range of educational choices.

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  44. You are banging your head against a brick wall. Maybe the wall breaks first, but I wouldn't bet on it.

    Doris Lessing wrote a wonderful short story about aliens visiting San Francisco, warning of a big earthquake that will kill many people, and advising people to leave the city.

    The aliens are quite surprised when _nothing happens_. They go on TV, deliver their message, and many people believe them. But hardly anyone leaves the city.

    They figure out that humans have very peculiar minds. We are able to hold _two contradictory ideas at the same time_.

    I'm sure that many people believe (outside the yeshiva) that the Earth is old, and dinosaurs are extinct. But the same people also believe (inside the yeshiva) that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs either (a) never existed, or (b) Chazal knew about them, and that you are a heretic for teaching otherwise.

    You are hoping for logic, rationality, and independent thinking from the haredi community? A community which bases its daily life on following "authority", past and present?

    I won't hold my breath until that happens.

    Charles Cohen
    Richmond, BC, Canada

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  45. Garnel Ironheart said (way above):

    It is a weakness of the MO community that they don't have a group of roving speakers like the UO do. It limits MO shuls when they want to bring in a dynamic speaker.

    What about, for example, the YU Speakers Bureau? I'm sure you wouldn't call them all MO, but certainly some of them are, and many are rationalist.

    Another possibility would be this rabbi, but I'm not sure if you can call him MO.

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  46. I have lived in Passaic for 26 years. A sociologist would have to do a major study to fully explain what has happened. So as not to go on too long I will send in several posts. Feel free to edit, or to use or not use as you want.

    In the 70's, Passaic was a dying Jewish community. Because of relatively inexpensive housing, a group of young people moved in. Half were yeshivish; the other half were MO. The lives of the modern revolved around the local day school and the 3 shuls; the yeshivish, the local Lakewood-type yeshiva gedola

    Everyone got along, until...

    the yeshivish could not stand davening in the then current shuls. They wanted a yeshivish davening, no talking, and a yeshivish rav who did NOT come from YU. So. Bais Torah U'Tefilla (BTU) was formed. Yeshiva educated FFBs were firmly in charge. Some BTs started to move in. Since they all came from Ohr Somaich or Neve, they davened at BTU. But the heavy machloket didn't start out yet..

    to be continud

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  47. "But these people did not grow up yeshivish. They became frum before 2004 i.e. they were told that it's okay to accept modern science."

    Over and over again, you keep over inflating yourself. The Charedim [or the ones in question] were just as ignorant and small minded before your books as they were afterwards. That's why R. Aryeh Carmel's work was banned, for example. The only thing that changed is that the internet made the world a much smaller place. That is why the charedim came out against your book, not because of anything intrinsically different about your contributions.

    Your work is absolutely great and very necessary, but, to use one of your own topics, the world does not revolve around you.

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  48. As someone that became observant in 2004, I think the answer has something to do with the fact that a lot of the people doing kiruv are traditional charedi, and BT's view those that brought them back to Yiddishkite as the paradigm of what it means to be "all in." Many BTs (perhaps like some of those in Passaic) therefore believe that shedding all vestiges of their secular upbringing represents their level of dedication to the Torah world. A component of this identity replacement is that they feel driven to accept non-rational explanations for things. It makes them feel good, because they feel totally invested in their new lifestyle when they do. My hope for those BTs is that they replace their drive to be a part of a particular community with a drive for truth and coming close to G-d.

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  49. Do you agree that you, as an involved party at the core of the controversy, are in no position to accurately assess whether or not he might be a real tzadik?

    Sure! But you can read Chaim B'Emunasam and judge for yourself.

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  50. Could it be that Rabbi HG, who also teaches there and is likely a Rav Moshe follower, suggested bringing in Schmelcer and is not aware of Schmelcer's tactics in the Slifkin affair ?

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  51. Part one - yes. Part two - not likely.

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  52. Re: Anonymous's 2 comments at:
    November 29, 2010 11:35 PM; and,
    November 29, 2010 11:41 PM

    Assuming you're not being ironic, don't you "get" how alien these remarks are to Talmudic Judaism.

    Of what value is being baki to be makpid on "kashrus, shatnez, and inyanei niddah" beyond that which is required; if there is no learning in the deeper sense.

    If you want to be a Jew who just does "na'aseh ve'nishma" -- fine, but you don't get extra points for being makpid in ignorance.

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  53. I think the first long "Passaic Resident" post had a lot of truth to it, though I would spin it differently, via my own story. (I'm also a Passaic resident, for 3.5 years now.)

    I first started taking interest in Judaism in 1999, coming from an Episcopal background. Soon after I did, a close friend from high school started getting more serious about observance as well. She had gone to Schecter and public HS, and was from an O-affiliated family which I would characterize as not fully observant. Her sibling had already become fully observant.

    In trying to find a legitimate path for myself, I looked mostly to the right, as I figured I had the best chance at finding emes in an isolationist setting ("keeping the faith" and all that). My friend took a more evolutionary course, going to an Ivy-league university, participating in Jewish life there, but not (as far as I could tell) making any major modifications in world view.

    I found and still find it very difficult to discern what is legitimate and what is not. Who am I to decide? The call of ignoring the right-wing soapboxers and accepting academic JS, YU, etc. isn't so easy to make. If not for RSRH, I don't think I would have been able to let myself open up to those ideas, after hearing e.g. the shmuessin of R' Elzas about the "breath of unfresh air" (in his words) that is AJS. Not to say that RSRH advocates AJS, but that's for another post.

    There are lots of BT here who have come through or into contact with haredi kiruv efforts, and been entranced with RMShapiro's Torah, etc., and are probably too turned on by it, or too scared by the thought of embracing deadly falsehood, to look in "our" directions. Or at least I was. Indeed, I don't see any leaders in Passaic empowering academic JS or TIDE/Torah uMadda worldviews, although there is a splendid little chabura which is currently investigating the Kuzari and RYhL with a lot of AJS thrown in.

    My gut feeling, though, is that I'm still better off here with the Right trappings, than in a different community with the Left trappings. Limited experience though.

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  54. P.S. I'll also volunteer that Passaic is more complex in makeup than some of the posts would make one believe. There's a little of everything here, though the left is under-represented for sure. I would, however, say that PTI is definitely a haven for aspiring yeshivish BTs, and I think is expressly set up to be just that.

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  55. My personal opinion is that to begin to understand the actions of people in the frum world you need to look at it from sociological and psychological perspectives. I’m not fluent in those areas, but there are those that are, and maybe you could gain some insight from them. Samuel Heilman, a sociologist, wrote a book not long ago called “Sliding To The Right – The contest for the future of American Jewish Orthodoxy” which I bought but have not had a chance to read yet. He might have some answers about why the frum world cares less about intellectual honesty, and more about the Goldbergs next door. I’m guessing it has something to do with a sense of community, going along with the crowd, and not having the strength, time, or fortitude to fight the status quo.

    The Amish (in the general area of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA) have a relatively small percentage drop-out rate. They allow older teenagers to “go out into the world” and check it out if they want. Some of them like the outside world and don’t go home, but MOST go back home to the Amish way of life, which is much more extreme than Lakewood or any Yeshivish life is. I think it’s about safety, security, familiarity, community, social acceptance, and other such things that motivate humans. But people are different and their motivations differ as well. Some, like the Anonymous chulent-and-kishka-concerned-commenter above have no problems checking their minds in at the door and never going back to claim them. Others require intellectual stimulation and can’t help but think. Similarly with regard to why there is no longer an outcry about the Slifkin Controversy or a push to call out those who acted wrongly towards you.

    The bottom line is, we, the greater Orthodox communities, are part of clubs, and herds, and it takes a lot to stand up and change the system. Most of us do not have the time, strength, resources or ability to do so, even if we have the interest. The rest just don’t care (like the anonymous-chulent-kishka-commenter).

    But just because there is no push now to change the system and to call out the fact that the emperor has no clothes, does not mean that it is not important, and does not mean that your work is not building a foundation for a time when the edifice and house of cards being built comes crumbling down, and people will be searching for some solid, rational Torah to hold on to which can be reconciled with modern life.

    I also disagree with the comments about your needing advanced degrees in science. You are not making scientific claims that are not common; you are making Torah claims that are not currently popular. Therefore, you need smicha and to prove yourself to be knowledgeable in Torah. Saying the world is round, the sun does not revolve around the earth, and that dinosaurs existed does not require scientific PhDs. Talmidei chachamim did not have multiple academic degrees over the centuries to prove their worthiness of discussing Torah principles. Like they say in math class – show your work – backup all your claims (as you do now) and your work will stand on its own two feet. (I would also suggest that when there is input from those on this blog, or questions that come up here, add those clarifications into your essays when you publish them in book form.)

    Why one frum neighborhood or shul (among many others) is going along with the current trend and honoring the emperor with no clothes can only be answered by studying the sociology and psychology of the natives. You might very well be ahead of your time Rabbi Slifkin, and your work now may first be the basis for helping large segments of Jews reconcile their Judaism in 100 years from now. And it’s entirely possible that it will not be regarded by a majority of Jews as important during your lifetime. Either way, your work is tremendously worthwhile (notwithstanding the fact that it doesn’t add anything to the actual kishka or chulent on Shabbos) and I hope you have enough supporters here to agree and validate how important it is.

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  56. Having lived in passaic(really passaic park) at the time of "the changes" I can tell you there was an older SHRINKING orthodox community, a young israel that was growing but not dramatically and a concern that the community might face the same fate as Newark in the late 60's. The Yeshiva/kollel opened in the mid 70's and the availability of large relatively inexpensive old homes made the rest history.
    Kt
    Joel Rich

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  57. Anonymous November 29, 2010 11:41 PM said:

    For the few Hawkings and Einsteins in the world, Rabbi Slifkin makes good chew toys. For the rest of us, I'm pretty sure it gets dismissed as tiflus.


    You really don't get it. A shomor mitzvot lifestyle lives and dies on the credibility of the Mesorah.

    If Rabbi's tell me that a belief in XYZ is required to be Frum, and XYZ is something that is easily shown to be not true by anyone with a modicum of intelligence and curiosity, then it calls the whole Mesorah into question. And this goes way beyond the Science / Torah issue. It also applies to Halacha, where a Rabbi says XYZ ( which happens to be very difficult or unpleasant for you as an individual )is d'oryta from Sinai and then you find out it's nothing but a modern Chumrah. Honesty and intellectual integrity in both Haskafa and Halacha are key to upholding our Mesorah and keeping thinking people observant, especially when they find observance or some aspect of it difficult. Personally, if it weren't for the Rationalist strain of Judaism and the integrity of people like Rabbi Slifkin ( and the many others like him ) I would have already lost hope of finding a shomer mitzvot mode of observance I can live with. I'm still looking, and I'm not sure I'll find it - but at least I've got hope.

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  58. A shomor mitzvot lifestyle lives and dies on the credibility of the Mesorah.

    I must say that I am not at all convinced that that is true. But that will have to wait for another time; I intensely dislike it when comment threads go off-topic (which is why I reject many comments).

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  59. (But I must thank you for your kind words about me!)

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  60. Natan Slifkin said:

    I must say that I am not at all convinced that that is true. But that will have to wait for another time; I intensely dislike it when comment threads go off-topic (which is why I reject many comments).


    I'd be very interested ( maybe in another post ) in reading in-depth your thoughts on this subject.

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  61. I don't understand the people claiming that your lack of a degree matters. The right wing sector is happy to believe Rabbis on very complicated matters despite even the most basic elements of training in a given field. On the left side, people will read someone skeptically, but if they make a good argument with sources to back it up, it wouldn't be outright rejected. Not that having a PhD doesn't help.

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  62. Regarding academic credentials, there is relevant comment in the current (Dec 9) NY Review of Books, as follows:

    "Chernow is an outstanding member of the new breed of popular historians who dominate narrative history-writing in the United States today. Independent scholars such as Chernow, David McCullough, Walter Isaacson, Jon Meacham, Thomas Fleming, Stacy Schiff, Richard Brookhiser, David O. Stewart, James Grant, Eric Jay Dolin, Barnet Schecter, and others do not have Ph.D.s in history and possess no academic appointment. They are not engaged in the conversations and debates that academic historians have with one another, and they write their history not for academic historians but for educated general readers interested in history. This gap between popular and academic historians has probably existed since the beginning of scientific history-writing at the end of the nineteenth century, but it has considerably widened over the past half-century or so. During the 1950s academic historians with Ph.D.s and university appointments, such as Richard Hofstadter, Samuel Eliot Morison, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Allan Nevins, Eric F. Goldman, Daniel Boorstin, and C. Vann Woodward, wrote simultaneously for both their fellow academicians and educated general readers.

    This is normally no longer possible. Academic historians now write almost exclusively for one another and focus on the issues and debates within the discipline. Their limited readership—many history monographs sell fewer than a thousand copies—is not due principally to poor writing, as is usually thought; it is due instead to the kinds of specialized problems these monographs are trying to solve. Since, like papers in physics or chemistry, these books focus on narrow subjects and build upon one another, their writers usually presume that readers will have read the earlier books on the same subject; that is, they will possess some prior specialized knowledge that will enable them to participate in the conversations and debates that historians have among themselves. This is why most historical monographs are often difficult for general readers to read; new or innocent readers often have to educate themselves in the historiography of the subject before they can begin to make sense of many of these monographs.

    So advising academic historians that they have to write more stimulating prose if they want to enlarge their readership misses the point. It is not heavy and difficult prose that limits their readers; it is rather the specialized subjects they choose to write about and their conception of their readership as fellow historians engaged in an accumulative science."

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/dec/09/real-washington-last/

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  63. If I had to guess (knowing almost nothing about Passaic), I would say that just like many other communities in and near NY, Passaic is experiencing an inexorable pull to the right.

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  64. The point of a PhD is to certify one as qualified to conduct independent research for granting agencies (DARPA, NIH, NSF ect..). The knowledge one obtains when receiving their doctorate is highly goal oriented and direct. Thoughts to broader scientific subjects are important but the details require far to much time that can be better spent in a lab doing research for a thesis.

    If Rav Slifkin was to publish papers in Cell and make claims that wold revolutionize our views on apoptosis his conclusions may be deemed more reliable if he had a PhD in cell bio.

    As Rav Slifkin is taking common biological and torah knowledge that is only revolutionary because he is making concurrent observations that both the science and the torah can be seen as equally valid what is the problem with his not having a PhD?

    Better yet what should his field of research be to study both fields? I do realize we are all going interdisciplinary but this is a far stretch.

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  65. Although I have lived in Passaic since I got married over 13 years ago, my comment is not about Passaic, per se, but how we deal with issues like these.

    PTI, and its (minimal) staff are very l'shaim shamayim, and it is an important part of the mosaic that is the very unique and special community of Passaic. But it is only one part (and not a large one, by any stretch), and doesn't represent the whole community. Therefore, for starters, this blog should have been titled "Puzzled (at) [by] PTI" or perhaps (if PTI has no recognition value but Passaic does) "Puzzled by Passaic's PTI." I can assure you, though that the community at large wasn't consulted (likely it was the idea of one staff member who didn't understand the depths of the issue, or the suggestion of someone who might have, made to someone who doesn't).

    More importantly, though, is that I am disappointed that you have fallen into the trap of rejecting the whole person based on some of his shortcomings. I understand how personal this is, and it may be unfair to ask/expect you to look at it from a distance when you were/are so profoundly affected by RS. But that just means you can be a better example of not dismissing the whole person for being wrong (even very wrong) about something.

    I agree that twisting the words of a source calls all of his teachings into question, and anyone aware of the issue will likely do that (no, I'm not going to hear him speak). I'm pretty confident, though, that he was asked to speak because PTI thought that he would inspire and inform, not because he is pushing a certain RW Chareidi agenda.

    The last thing we want to do is promote dismissing people in their entirety due to disagreements (even vehement ones) in one area. Should those that dismiss evolution dismiss your essay on the different shofros? Should those that allow or accept evolution dismiss every Torah thought from an anti-evolution rabbi?

    No one is right about everything. If being wrong means we can't contribute positive things, there will be no one left to try accomplishing anything worthwhile.

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  66. In terms of halakhic Judaism, someone who knowingly distorts the Torah (and associated sources) basically pasuls himself as a so-called rabbi, correct? I was given this impression by my rabbi but didn't ask for sources or get into a detailed discussion. Could someone clarify?

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  67. Dov - you make some excellent points. I would just like to make two rejoinders. One is that to say that Schmeltzer is "very wrong" about something is, I think, an understatement; we are talking about deliberately changing the words of the Rishonim and writing off their entire approach as heresy. Second is that it's not just a matter of what Schmeltzer did to me, or even of what kind of rabbi he is. Rather, I was perplexed at how people who (I thought, possibly mistakenly) accept modern science and Maimonidean/Hirschian type views are listening to a guest speaker who has declared them all heretics and worthy of the death penalty.

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  68. Mark: I would be inclined to say influx from rather than pull to the right; only been here 3.5 years though.

    Dov: good characterization of PTI and its motives.

    "Rather, I was perplexed at how people who (I thought, possibly mistakenly) accept modern science and Maimonidean/Hirschian type views"

    Yes, I would say definitely not WRT Rambam/RSRH as far as PTI is concerned. Rabbi Singer is explicitly of the "scientists push evolution to permit hedonism" school. Background: I daven at and learn in a Gemara seder at PTI, and feel out of place at most other functions.

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  69. R' Natan Slifkin - Rather, I was perplexed at how people who (I thought, possibly mistakenly) accept modern science and Maimonidean/Hirschian type views are listening to a guest speaker who has declared them all heretics and worthy of the death penalty.

    It is potentially MUCH worse than this! Listening to an opinion you disagree with, even one you strongly disagree with, isn't generally a problem. However, in this case, giving the speech may be a big problem.

    Since it is assur to teach Torah to an heretic, the organizers of the event may be transgressing the lav of Lifnei Iver by representing themselves as something they are not (per opinion of R' Schmeltzer) and causing him to teach Torah to people that he considers to be heretics.

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  70. R' Schmeltzer is known for many more things than the controversy over your works. His speaking at PTI is not inherently a universal communal endorsement of his values, or his endorsing theirs, any more than R' Mattisyahu Solomon's speaking at a Breuer's dinner (as happened several years ago: a very surreal event for me) inherently means that he and the institution completely agree.

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  71. He's back in Passaic tonight. Rabbi Slifkin, are you still in the NY area?
    If not, what do you recommend we do? Heckle? Picket? Throw tomatoes?

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