Monday, December 13, 2010

Modern Orthodox Charedim

In the previous post, I listed seven principles of bias. Some people were apparently wondering what the point of all this is. There are two applications that I can think of.

One is that, when assessing someone's opinion, it is useful to know the extent to which they are biased. We often do not have time or expertise to explore and analyze issues for ourselves, and we must rely on others. And even if we are analyzing the issue ourselves, we may by relying on others to a certain degree. If we know them to be fundamentally biased, this should make us more cautious about relying upon what they say.

Another is that acknowledging the existence of fundamental bias in a person can help us avoid wasting time arguing with them. Even extremely powerful arguments and evidence will not sway them. They will continue to insist that they are being logical and reasonable and that they are objectively evaluating the evidence. But you can be sure that this is not the case, and you therefore need not waste time in a futile effort to get them to agree to your point of view.

This is why I was not interested in an extensive debate with Dr. Isaac Betech about evolution, and that is why I was not interested in continuing debate with Rabbi Saul Zucker last year on the topic of Rashi's corporealist beliefs (although someone else is in the process of writing a response and demonstrating how he has misrepresented his sources). It wasn't because I didn't have any further rebuttals in response to Rabbi Zucker (when Hakirah asked me for some, I easily provided them), but rather because I recognized that the debate would never end. Every Orthodox Jew is powerfully biased against the notion that Rashi was a corporealist. This is even more true with graduates of YBT, which stresses that the Maimonidean rationalist/ philosophical/ logical approach to emunah and theology is the correct, authentic and traditional approach, held by all great people in Jewish history. (Thus, YBT graduates claim that Rashi rejected the idea of magical objects, and that he did not believe in demons.) The bias of a YBT graduate such as Rabbi Zucker against Rashi being the antithesis of a Maimonidean is even greater than the bias possessed by ordinary frum Jews.

Furthermore, as noted previously, people who do not acknowledge their biases are more likely to be crippled by them. I reeled in shock when Rabbi Zucker, who freely admits that he does not believe that a corporealist could even be worthy of respect as a Torah scholar, claimed that with regard to the question of whether Rashi was a corporealist, he can "categorically state" that he has "no tendency that prevents an unprejudiced consideration of this question." !!!

Thus, compounding the issue of fundamental bias is an inability to even acknowledge its existence. As such, it was apparent that he would never find any arguments to be convincing, just as young-earth creationists never find any arguments for evolution to be convincing. And the same goes for many Orthodox Jews who were following the discussion.

It is very important to realize that fundamental bias, and the closed-mindedness that it engenders, is by no means endemic to Charedim alone. Plenty of card-carrying Modern Orthodox Jews also have fundamental bias in certain areas, and indeed it is to be expected. The fact of one being open-minded to evolution and scientific errors in the Gemara does not mean that one is objective or open-minded; it usually simply means that these are concepts that are normative in one's own social sphere and/or upbringing. An ability to be objective about the scientific validity of statements in the Gemara has no bearing whatsoever on one's ability to be objective about the scientific validity of statements in Tenach. When it comes to ideas that are not normative in Modern Orthodox circles, people can be as fundamentally biased and closed-minded as any flat-earther or young-earth creationist - and as with flat-earthers and young-earth creationists, they will insist that they are being logical and reasonable and objectively evaluating the evidence, and even denounce the closed-mindedness of those to their right. There is a correspondence in the most recent issue of Hakirah which illustrates this spectacularly, and I shall post it soon.

All this will become of particular relevance when I move on to the final part of the discussion about the firmament, which will happen any day/ week/ month now!

77 comments:

  1. "(Thus, YBT graduates claim that Rashi rejected the idea of magical objects...)"

    That's kind of funny. See the following:

    www.mesora.org/RashisMagic.html

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  2. Tom, great link! (Obviously I did not mean that EVERY YBT graduate makes this claim, rather that there are those who do.) Rabbi Zucker admits that Rashi believed in magic - which is really a no-brainer - but claims that Rashi did so not for the reasons that all the non-Jews believed in it, but rather as a scientific conclusion, in the same way that modern science is based on hypotheses, experimentation, trial and error, and observation. He argues that this follows from the starting premise that Rashi must have been a great logician and rationalist! And he even suggests that according to Rashi, the reason that kishuf is forbidden is that it lends itself to being viewed through the mystical approach! In other words, he is doing exactly what I describe in this post - reading the Maimonidean rationalist/ philosophical/ logical approach back into other great Torah scholars, due to his religious conviction that this is the correct and authentic Jewish approach.

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  3. So are you reading into Rashi the idea that he was a primitive, voodooist? And what is your "reading" based on?

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  4. Not a primitive voodoist (in the sense that you mean by the term). But certainly not a Spanish rationalist opposed to the mystical approach! Rashi's belief in magic was not at all like Ibn Ezra's belief in astrology or even Rashba's belief in amulets.

    Incidentally, Tom, I have to say that based on your commenting history on a number of topics, you are exactly the kind of Modern Orthodox Charedi that I am talking about in this post.

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  5. R' Skifkin,
    If the point of the debate was to convince your opponent, then I'd agree with you 100%. You're never convincing a fundamentalist they are wrong. But the point of a public debate (especially one that is recorded and placed online) is primarily that it gives you an opportunity to convince the audience, and empowers them to convince others with the arguments you lay out. Sure, some of the audience will have made up their mind already. But many will remain fairly open. A debate is an excellent opportunity to reach out to them.

    KT,
    Hillel

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  6. Hillel, you are absolutely correct. That's why it's worth having a limited number of back-and-forths. But only a limited number!

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  7. By the way, the funniest thing was when Rabbi Zucker claimed that his approach was superior to mine, because whereas I openly admitted to having a bias towards my prior published position, he does not have any biases except that towards truth! So he saw my frank admission of the existence of confirmation bias as a weakness on my part and proof I am less objective than him!

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  8. The only way your posts on Bias have any real meaning would be for you, Rabbi Slfkin, to tell us what your personal biases are.

    Reading your work (POST ban) it is clear to me that you have a number of biases that you don't seem to see or admit to.

    Please share with us what are your biases. i think your comments will be very enlightening.

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  9. Sure!

    I have biases towards Israel and Judaism, due to my upbringing.

    I have biases towards being an iconoclast - saying things that people see as controversial (but that I personally feel are absolutely true and legitimate).

    I have an unfortunate but inevitable bias against Charedim, due to my experiences with the ban on my works.

    And I'm sure that I have lots of other biases, of which I am unaware.

    On the other hand, I have demonstrated my ability to change my mind on issues of fundamental importance, even at great emotional cost and in contrast to prior published positions. And I have also demonstrated the ability to recognize relative advantages in my opponent's positions.

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  10. (By the way, I don't know why you said that I have biases that I don't seem to see or admit to. I've always been frank about my biases).

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  11. I feel that you're being way too harsh on Rabbi Zucker. Is it truly unreasonable to believe that great Torah scholars throughout our history, and certainly those as illustrious as Rashi, were somewhat critical in the establishment of their beliefs and did not simply adopt them on a whim?

    There is certainly no doubt that Rashi was a believer in demons and magic. However, I feel it is downright unfair to belittle Rabbi Zucker's view that he was critical and (at least from Rashi's perspective) logical when considering what to believe in and what not to.

    Don't forget that one of the greatest scientific minds we have ever known, Isaac Newton, was a believer in and practicing alchemist. Today, we all know that alchemy is not a true science. Was Newton not a rationalist? The fact is that there were many empirically demonstrable alchemical experiments which were very convincing in his time, even though they were ultimately misleading. The theoretical underpinnings of the [pseudo]science were well grounded and respected among leading scientists and rationalists of his era.

    The belief that elements could be transmutated from one form to another survived for a very long time. Newton believed in it, and it would be foolish to not regard him as a rationalist.

    It was not irrational to be an alchemist. Or to believe in an ether. Or to believe in an underlying metaphysical system which could be manipulated through various mechanisms (magic). It only becomes irrational to believe in such things after they become adequately refuted by solid empirical evidence (and not just by Aristotelian inductive thought experiments). Eventually, these various beliefs were empirically refuted... In the 19th and 20th centuries!

    Rashi lived in the 11th century. Newton lived in the 17th century. They were both geniuses who contributed greatly to their respective fields. They were both working with all of the knowledge available to them at the time, (much like Chazal, if I might add) and they can both be considered rationalists in this sense.

    (And no, I am not claiming that Rashi was epistemologically a rationalist.)

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  12. It's certainly true that believing in something false does not mean that one is not a rationalist. Ibn Ezra and astrology is a good example of this, as is Ramban and magic. But Rashi came from a fundamentally different culture and epistemology.

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  13. Rabbi Slifkin -

    Why does it matter that Rashi did or did not believe in "corporealism," magic, demons, and other phenomena that most modern Western societies have abandoned? What is at stake (for Jews, Judaism, Modern Orthodox Jews, other Orthodox Jews) in terms of belief, practice, behavior, etc.? Perhaps the/an answer to this question is self-evident to many readers, which may be why it is not asked. Please enlighten me!

    We should also recall that Rashi lived well before the discovery of microscopic entities, so he (and many other other learned medieval folks) needed to explain the reality that was visible to his eyes by using and referencing the terminology that he knew.

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  14. "By the way, the funniest thing was when Rabbi Zucker claimed that his approach was superior to mine, because whereas I openly admitted to having a bias towards my prior published position, he does not have any biases except that towards truth! So he saw my frank admission of the existence of confirmation bias as a weakness on my part and proof I am less objective than him!"

    I've gone through the entire debate between you and Rabbi Zucker, and I did not see one instance where Rabbi Zucker said anything like what you wrote above. Can you please provide a link to that alleged quote? In fact, Rabbi Zucker said that the whole issue of bias was a smokescreen and that the substantive points were the issue, not whether he or you or anyone else was biased.

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  15. George, I don't have the link, because I read and search comments via email. But here is the quote:

    "I can well understand Rabbi Slifkin's refusal to put up my post. Self-admitted bias to defending one's published position has consequences. An objective scholar has bias only toward truth -- not toward defending his own position." He continued to stress that he is objective and has no biases.

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  16. Why does it matter that Rashi did or did not believe in "corporealism," magic, demons, and other phenomena that most modern Western societies have abandoned? What is at stake (for Jews, Judaism, Modern Orthodox Jews, other Orthodox Jews) in terms of belief, practice, behavior, etc.? Perhaps the/an answer to this question is self-evident to many readers, which may be why it is not asked. Please enlighten me!

    First of all, it is a matter of correctly understanding Rashi's comments in many places. Surely this is of value?

    Second, accepting that prestigious Rishonim had views that many consider kefirah, forces us to re-evaluate the definition of kefirah - which I wrote about in my article "They Could Say It, We Cannot."

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  17. But no where does he say that his approach was superior to yours because of your self-admitted bias. He only says that he understands your refusal to post his comment because of your self-admitted bias. You accused him of saying that his approach was superior to yours because of your self-admitted bias - something he never said. Please be accurate!

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  18. Sorry George, I just meant that he claimed to have an advantage in not being biased as opposed to me who admits to being biased!

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  19. Elitzur - I don't know if the person who is writing the response wants me to mention his name at this stage. Rest assured that when it is published (and I don't know where that will be), I will publicize it.

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  20. >I feel that you're being way too harsh on Rabbi Zucker. Is it truly unreasonable to believe that great Torah scholars throughout our history, and certainly those as illustrious as Rashi, were somewhat critical in the establishment of their beliefs and did not simply adopt them on a whim?

    It is truly unreasonable to hold that ipso facto "a corporealist could [not] even be worthy of respect as a Torah scholar," since when the dust settles it is impossible that Rashi is not worthy of respect as a Torah scholar and therefore he has to be right about Rashi.

    This is even despite the Raavad's better testimony of the kind of things people believed at the time, in favor of his own view of what is a worthy thing to believe.

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  21. B”H
    Dear Natan
    You wrote:
    “This is why I was not interested in an extensive debate with Dr. Isaac Betech about evolution…”

    IB:
    I also agree that it has not to be an extensive debate; a multimedia presentation with all the scientific sources on screen helps a lot.
    I think 2 hours will be enough B”H to analyze the scientific proofs produced by evolutionists in the last 150 years.

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  22. Isaac, do you know why I reject your comments? Because you never actually say anything! You only ever make references to what you want to say, or what you have said, but there is never any actual content!

    If you have something to say about evolution, then write a book, an article, make a video, a Powerpoint presentation, whatever. I've never seen someone spend so much time writing so many words without ever actually saying anything!

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  23. Tom:
    So are you reading into Rashi the idea that he was a primitive, voodooist? And what is your "reading" based on?

    Natan Slifkin:
    Not a primitive voodoist (in the sense that you mean by the term). But certainly not a Spanish rationalist opposed to the mystical approach! Rashi's belief in magic was not at all like Ibn Ezra's belief in astrology or even Rashba's belief in amulets.

    I'm pretty sure that I don't understand this comment of yours, Rabbi Slifkin. Bottom line -- was Rashi's subscription to magic and amulets one that was voodooistic and mystical in nature, or scientific?

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  24. It certainly wasn't scientific. But I don't think that "voodooistic" and "mystical" are the correct antonyms.

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  25. Natan Slifkin:
    It certainly wasn't scientific. But I don't think that "voodooistic" and "mystical" are the correct antonyms.

    What are the correct antonyms?

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  26. "I feel that you're being way too harsh on Rabbi Zucker. Is it truly unreasonable to believe that great Torah scholars throughout our history, and certainly those as illustrious as Rashi, were somewhat critical in the establishment of their beliefs and did not simply adopt them on a whim?"

    S., could you clarify what you responded to this? Could not understand you. And on my own I'd say simply that beliefs are not established critically, even by intelligent people. Once something is deemed a matter of belief, it does not have to withstand critical scrutiny.

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  27. Malcolm - Rashi's belief in magic was presumably based on a combination of common knowledge together with faith in the simple truth of Scripture and Talmud.

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  28. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Re.: "Every Orthodox Jew is powerfully biased against the notion that Rashi was a corporealist."

    It seems to me that this is Ashkenazo-centric. For Sefardim Rashi is not necessarily even "on the map". Cf. Dr. Marc Shapiro's recent remarks at Seforim about the unfortunate term 'Super-Rabbi'.

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  29. R' Slifkin -

    It seems to me that you are taking the unreasonable position here. If there is a choice as to why Rashi accepted kishuf as real, one choice being that he thought that it was part of the world of natural order, the other that it was what the primitives thought magic to be - knowing Rashi's great wisdom from his vast works, it seems that the rational assumption is that Rashi operated based upon the first choice, not the second. Why would you say otherwise? And if your response is that that was the culture around him, there were two views in the culture around him - the rational one and the mystical one. Why do you insist that Rashi followed the mystical one?

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  30. I don't see a real problem with stating that Rashi accepted the idea of divine corporeality. He was not required to accept the 13 dogmas enunciated by the Rambam - even had he known of them. The Ra'avad did have access to the Rambam's principles and disagreed with the non-corporeality dogma by noting that some illustrious sages did believe in divine corporeality. Nor are the Rambam's logical arguments on the subject all that conclusive. While he believed that we can know what GOD isn't, the specifics are debatable. It is unwise to conclude on the basis of what we do know, things that we can't know. Not that I'm advocating a belief in a manifest deity, but that we are in no position to make such positive assertions. Hence, sages who held such a belief should not, ipso facto, be considered irrational - much less, kofrim.

    The ideological gulf between the Rambam's view of astrology, magic, and demons and those of other great sages does lie, it seems to me, in the question of looking at the world from a rational perspective. From that perspective, there is no basis, whatever, in assuming that distant stars have any effect on daily life on earth. I have yet to see any evidence of some kind of credible statistics on how the course of people's lives can be correlated with the year, month, day, and hour of birth. The belief in star influence is thus pure conjecture without any evidence. Magic is a bit different in that its practioners can appear to produce real effects that are merely illusions and trickery. Demonology could be excused because people attributed undesirable things they didn't understand to the action of some mythical or unseen creatures. Hence the old belief in magic and demons can't be simply assumed to be irrational.

    Newton was a mystic as well as a great mathematician and physicist. Unfortunately, his contribution to chemistry, if any, is unknown. He did, however, conduct many experiments and wasn't content to make conjectures. The distinction between elements and compounds wasn't known in his days, and his alchemical experiments should be considered to be based on erroneous assumptions rather than irrational.

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  31. Modern Orthodox non-chareidiDecember 14, 2010 at 2:11 AM

    I don't know if you mean your comments to come off this way, but at least to this reader, this is what you sound like:

    Naturally, the chareidim should be discounted from the viewpoint that I, Rabbi Slifkin, deem to be valid. But what about the modern Orthodox who don't agree with me? After all, modern Orthodox people are rational, "normal" people who, you would think, should agree with my positions. No worry, they're really "modern Orthodox chareidim." Basically, anyone who disagrees with me is somewhat of a chareidi.

    Do you realize how foolish this comes across?

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  32. "you are exactly the kind of Modern Orthodox Charedi that I am talking about in this post."

    So, what percentage of Modern Orthodox Charedim did you have in mind when you say "the kind of..."

    Then, what percentage of Modern Orthodox Charedim did you have in mind when you titled your post, stam, "Modern Orthodox Charedim"?

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  33. Tom said...
    R' Slifkin -
    It seems to me that you are taking the unreasonable position here.


    Tom, considering your consistent opposition to my "radical" ideas, it doesn't surprise me that it seems that way to you.

    If there is a choice as to why Rashi accepted kishuf as real, one choice being that he thought that it was part of the world of natural order, the other that it was what the primitives thought magic to be

    Those aren't the two alternatives being discussed.

    knowing Rashi's great wisdom from his vast works

    "Wisdom" is a vague term. Rashi had a particular TYPE of wisdom. And it wasn't of the rationalist kind.

    if your response is that that was the culture around him, there were two views in the culture around him - the rational one and the mystical one. Why do you insist that Rashi followed the mystical one?

    No, in Northern France in Rashi's time, the rationalist approach had not penetrated at all. See my post of a few weeks ago, where I quoted Prof. Grossman about how to the slight extent that Rashi was aware of the existence of philosophy, he opposed it: http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/11/scientific-and-philosophical-mistakes.html.

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  34. To "Modern Orthodox Non-Charedi" - If the positions that I were espousing were unique to me, and there were all kinds of people disagreeing with me, then your description of what I sound like would be correct. But since the reality is that these positions are completely normative in academic circles (including many Orthodox academics), and the only people disagreeing are those who consistently disagree with views that diverge from standard Orthodox views, your descriptions is inaccurate.

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  35. what percentage of Modern Orthodox Charedim did you have in mind when you titled your post, stam, "Modern Orthodox Charedim"?

    Eh? I didn't mean that ALL Modern Orthodox are this way!

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  36. Rabbi Slifkin,

    You mentioned "because whereas I openly admitted to having a bias towards my prior published position,"

    I'm not sure if I understand totally. Your bias is by virtue of the fact that you published this view in your own name, therefore you don't want to have to retract or be proven wrong publicly as a matter of pride?

    But, in reading what you write, you don't really strike me as the type of person that if you really were presented with powerful, conclusive, knockout-punch-type arguments against your position, using a few angles you hadn't seen or thought of before, or maybe a source you hadn't seen, that you would still refuse to change your view or admit you may have been wrong. Are you saying that this bias would cause you (in the above hypothetical situation where you find opposing arguments convincing against your opinion) to be in denial? And you would never admit that you hadn't fully exhausted the issue and may have been proven incorrect, under any circumstance? Or are you saying it's a bias that's more subtle than that?

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  37. "Eh? I didn't mean that ALL Modern Orthodox are this way!"

    Oh, I wasn't accusing you of doing that. At worst, I might be accusing you of choosing a title that might bias your readers. All I'm asking is, what percentage of people whom you classify as "modern Orthodox Charedim" (or people who consider themselves Modern Orthodox Charedim) have this major bias problem?

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  38. Student V - I certainly hope that I would retract from things I have published if proven wrong! And I hope that my history proves me capable of this. All I meant was that, in response to people claiming that I was claiming to be objective, I freely admit that, just like everyone, I am subject to confirmation bias. But I certainly try to overcome it!

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  39. what percentage of people whom you classify as "modern Orthodox Charedim" (or people who consider themselves Modern Orthodox Charedim) have this major bias problem?

    I have no idea. How should I know?

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  40. Rabbi Slifkin,

    In an earlier comment you refer to Prof. Grossman that Rashi did not know Philosophy and I therefore assume you are saying he was not a rationalist. Why can one not be a rationalist without knowing Aristotle, Plato et al? Cannot one be a rationalist just by natural intellectual curiosity, intelligence and rational, yes rational, deduction? One does not necessarily arrive at the same conclusion Rambam did based on his thorough knowledge of philosophy, but can we not imagine that had Rambam and Rashi met each would have accepted some of the concepts of the other based on their mutual particular information and conclusions?

    Is it further possible that Rashi, who had mastered Midrashim quite thoroughly as proven by his Pirush on Chumash, understood some of those concepts by osmosis from Chazal who used them without referring to them, he himself not realizing that he was influenced by the accursed philosophy?

    I am saying all this because although you may be right that Rashi believed in magic or in fact corporeality that does not make him into an anti rationalist. Rather I would argue that imagining Rashi, Ramban, Rashba etc... the ones labeled as mystical anti rationalist, in fact even closer to our time, the Gra would be transported to our time they would adapt their thinking, rationalist that they were, to the reality and knowledge humanity has garnered since.

    I therefore suggest that although Rabbi Zucker and the others who argue that Rashi was not a corporealist (and I personally have no opinion based on text but think he was one based on his milieu and rabbeinu Avraham in his Milchamot Hashem) may be textually incorrect, he was indeed not one in spirit. In other words had he been shown the arguments against it he would have agreed with Rambam.

    Unfortunately, because of the extreme fear of haskalah, a fear I believe has no place in our times anymore, our current "torah" leadership cannot accept such a position.

    I believe that a study of the correctness of my thesis that rishonim when shown errors in their thinking would change their minds and reread the texts to conform with the new knowledge, or whether the position that they would stubbornly maintain their position arguing that "chazal knew better" is correct, could yield some interesting conclusions.

    David g.

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  41. David - "rational" and "rationalist" are not the same thing. Also, I'm not sure why you think that Midrashim contain Greek philosophy. As to how Rashi would have reacted if he met Rambam - we can't know, but what we do know is that he was wholly opposed to philosophical pursuits.

    It's not a matter of "would Rishonim admit to their errors when proven wrong" - it's whether they would have accepted the epistemology of those claiming to prove them wrong.

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  42. By the way - you refer to Rashi having "mastered" Midrashim - the Spanish rationalists did not think that he had mastered them at all!

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  43. You may be interested in this page from the Postsript of the 2009 edition of Hartman/Pines regarding Rambam and Philosophy:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=1NBDLo2jI9IC&pg=PA317&dq=leibowitz+maimonides&hl=en&ei=5IIHTerTCIP58AaFg73nBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CDcQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false

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  44. The Rambam appears to have done the same thing when he claimed that books like "Shiur Komah" were not written by chazal, even though it appears that they were written by chazal. See G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition, where he shows the connections between chazal and the Heicholos literature.

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  45. david g.

    >I believe that a study of the correctness of my thesis that rishonim when shown errors in their thinking would change their minds and reread the texts to conform with the new knowledge, or whether the position that they would stubbornly maintain their position arguing that "chazal knew better" is correct, could yield some interesting conclusions.

    You might as well say that the Rambam would change his mind were he presented with better information. Wait, the kabbalists already did that.

    I think it's possible that many people when faced with different information and arguments would revise prior beliefs, but many wouldn't. Since we can't know who would, who wouldn't and which arguments and beliefs they'd accept, I think the best thing we can do is strive to understand everyone ke-feshuto, according to what they meant and intended, and not be afraid to disagree and adopt other positions to favor.

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  46. Further to my comment earlier that readers may be interested in the page from the Postsript of the 2009 edition of Hartman's book available on Google books: http://tinyurl.com/26ruyaf...

    I popped into a bookstore to look at the hardcopy book. This approachable 20'ish page Postscript nicely sums up the debate regarding how Rambam viewed Philosophy vis a vis the Mitzvot.

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  47. Back to the title of this blog post...

    If I were to blog about the topic of, say, arrogance in the Catholic community, and then give several examples, and then give the title of the post as simply "Catholics," what would you think of my attitude towards Catholics? Would it seem biased?

    And if you were to accuse me of painting all Catholics as arrogant, and I were to respond, "I didn't mean that ALL Catholics are this way!", how satisfied would you be with that answer?

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  48. S.

    >You might as well say that the Rambam would change his mind were he presented with better information.

    you are 100% correct. Rambam was aware of how tentative many of his ideas were.In the third chapter to part two of Mn introducing the Aristotelian concept of "thoughtful" spheres, he writes:

    THE theory of Aristotle in respect to the causes of the motion of the spheres led him to assume the existence of Intelligences.
    * Although this theory consists of assertions which cannot be proved, yet it is the least open to doubt, and is more systematic than any other* as has been stated by Alexander in the book called The Origin of the Universe. It includes maxims which are identical with those taught in Scripture, and it is to a still greater extent in harmony with doctrines contained in well-known genuine Midrashim, as will be explained by me. For this reason I will cite his views and his proofs, and collect from them what coincides with the teachings of Scripture, and agrees with the doctrine held by our Sages.

    The interest that I have in Rambam's views is not for the exact understanding he teaches on Metaphysics but rather on his approach to reading the scriptures and rabbinic texts so they conform to reality as he saw it. There is much to be learned from that on how we should deal with the reality as we know it.

    I believe that this applies to all Jewish theology and Halacha. We are bound by certain basic premises that originated in revelation and were transmitted through tradition, though at times lacking because of our circumstances, being human and in galut,and it is our task to translate them and make them relevant to us in our era and reality. All have one goal, trying to understand what our role is in HKBH's world.

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  49. BTW S.

    You of all people are very much aware of the famous Rashbam statement "pirushim hamitchadshim kol yom". Don't you think the same would apply in all areas? Do you restrict it only to textual analysis? I thinnk these people, based on the works they left us, were extremely curious intellectually and flexible in all areas including Halacha (e.g. Rabbeinu Tam).

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  50. Pliny:

    1) I didn't think for a second that people would read the title as referring to all MO. If I wrote about "MO Lawyers", would it mean that all MO are lawyers?

    2) I don't see "Charedi" as being an insult. Like I said, there's nothing wrong with having fundamental biases.

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  51. Tom - If you have a question for me, then email me. What are you afraid of?

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  52. David G.,

    My point was that we can't change their views based on our assumption of how they'd react to knew knowledge or paradigms which we would assume are relevant. Firstly, we all come with our own agenda - how are we machria when one wants to make the Rambam a JTS professor and another a Brisker maggid shiur? Secondly, there is very simply the danger of us losing what they actually do teach when we are so inventive in pursuing peshat that we introduce foreign elements into understanding what it is they believed and why. In addition, we don't know these people so intimately that we can predict how they'd react to newer information. To paraphrase Halivni's famous "the people I daven with" line, maybe there are factors other than/ in addition to pursuit of truth that some of these people would consider important and consider in revising their views.

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  53. "I didn't think for a second that people would read the title as referring to all MO. If I wrote about "MO Lawyers", would it mean that all MO are lawyers?"

    We are not communicating well. First, I didn't think you were talking about all MO. I thought you were suggesting that MOST Modern Orthodox Charedim (gotta include all three words in there as a group) have really bad biases.

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  54. David Guttmann,

    Re.: "[...] Rambam was aware of how tentative many of his ideas were. [etc.]"

    Thank you for mentioning that! One thing that texts do not, in general, report are the qualia of the speaker's conviction. Dogmatic conviction is not the same as dialectical conviction. (And TSBP is intrinsically, not accidentally, a dialectical undertaking.)

    My father, ע"ה, a Central European, used to say that Leibniz was the last man in history who could "know everything". Kal va-chomer for Rambam -- he was no mere doctrinaire Aristotelian, as so many Medievals were, even "Maimonidean" ones. (There were "Aristotelian" traditions that forbade the study of most of An. Post..) The challenge in grasping the Rambam's approach is in "reverse-engineering" which phenomena he was talking about. This is surprisingly hard even for something as recent as the 1920 Shapley-Curtis debate. It is very, very hard for Newton's Principia of 1686. I have found it is not, in general, impossible, for Rambam.

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  55. "the point of a public debate (especially one that is recorded and placed online) is primarily that it gives you an opportunity to convince the audience, and empowers them to convince others with the arguments you lay out. Sure, some of the audience will have made up their mind already. But many will remain fairly open. A debate is an excellent opportunity to reach out to them."

    If you agree with this statement, then would you be willing to have a live public debate with one (or more, maybe in a series of debates) of your opponents on the issue of Chazal's authority, dibra Torah, Rashi, etc.? I think that this would be very informative and beneficial. BTW, I am NOT suggesting a debate with Dr. Betech - I totally understand (and agree with) your position on that issue.

    Let me know, because if you agree, I would be glad to try to set it up.

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  56. R' Slifkin - I notice you did not respond to my last comment. Any thoughts?

    Also, did you get my email that I sent to you per your request?

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  57. The only live public debate that I would be interested in having is with those who condemned me from authority. In general, live public debates are not good ways of resolving complicated issues. Written debates are much better - and I think that I have already done those with all the topics that you mention. But if you have a specific proposal in mind, I'm open to hearing it.

    I replied to your email.

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  58. Lawrence Kaplan Comments:

    Simon: The Rambam in the original version of his Commentary on the Mishnah in his Hakdamah to Perek Halek makes mention of Shiur Komah and evidently accepted its authority and gave it a rationalist interpretation. In the Ms. of the Rambam's Commentary that line is blackened out. Only in a later Teshuvah does the Ramabam deny he ever believed Shiur Komah was authored by Hazal.

    Re the relationship betweeen the Heikhalot literature and Hazal. This is a greatly debated issue. Scholem is very far from being the last word on the subject.

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  59. "In general, live public debates are not good ways of resolving complicated issues. Written debates are much better..."

    While there is certainly great merit to written debates - the reader can review all the sources and reasoning at his/her leisure, having time to ponder and digest all the points - there is also great merit to a live public debate as well, particularly as it relates to issues that you yourself have raised. In various written debates you have stopped the discussion because you maintained that protracted debate is futile with an opponent who has a different epistemology from your own, or with an opponent whom you viewed as being biased and unwilling to recognize that bias. In a live public debate, there is no protracted debate - the time is predetermined. In addition, a live debate can cover material and arguments in one hour that it would take weeks, if not months, of back-and-forth "one paragraph at a time" written debate.

    My proposal is the following: if it is amenable to you, I will try to contact those people who have expressed differing opinions from your own on the topics I mentioned earlier (Chazal, dibra Torah, Rashi, etc.). A public debate would be held in a mutually convenient venue, and if admission is charged, I would propose that you take all the proceeds after expenses (custodial, etc.) are paid. (I don't know if any of the opponents make their living from public appearances the way that you do, so the proceeds should go to you). The debate protocols would be agreed upon in advance by both parties (how many "rounds," length of each round, who speaks/rebuts first/last, etc.). The entire debate will be filmed and posted on the web for those who did not get to attend live.

    Would you be interested in participating? I think this format would be extremely informative for a large audience.

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  60. Tom: You ignored the first sentence of Rabbi Slifkin's response to you. Why don't you take your proposal, say, to Rabbi Meiselman or Rabbi Wachtfogel, and see if one of them agrees. Then there would be something to talk about.

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  61. Anony - you ignored Rabbi Slifkin's last sentence.

    So, R' Slifkin, what do you say to my proposal?

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  62. Lawrence Kaplan comments:

    Tom: anony 5:27PM was I. My point was that even if in theory I would agree with you that such a debate as you propose would be valuable, given the vituperation and abuse Rabbi Slifkin has suffered at the hands of Haredi authorities, he is perfectly justified in only being interested in debating them. Let Rabbi Wachtfogel or Rabbi Meiseleman or Rabbi Feldman in open debate, confronting Rabbi Slifkin under the ground rules you suggest, explain and defend why they criticized and attacked him the way they did.

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  63. Lawrence Kaplan - That's fine, and I would be glad to try to contact them to suggest such a debate, ALONG WITH the others that I suggested (on Chazal, dibra Torah, Rashi, etc.). This is not an "either-or" proposition.

    R' Slifkin - I notice you are being awfully quiet on this issue. Any response?

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  64. I already answered you. The only live public debate that I would be interested in having is with those who condemned me from authority. If you have an alternate proposal, with a specific person and a specific topic, I would consider it on a case-by-case basis. You can email me with the person that you have in mind and the topic.

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  65. While I do not know any of the following individuals personally, I would be very willing to contact them to ask about the debate proposal that I suggested to you, on the following topics:

    On the topic of Chazal's authority, and how to view them - Rabbi Simcha Coffer

    On the topic of dibra Torah kilshon bnai adam - Rabbi Dovid Kornreich

    On the topic of Rashi and corporealism - Rabbi Saul Zucker

    Again, as I had suggested, the venue would be a mutually convenient one; the proceeds after expenses would go solely to you; the ground rules would be mutually agreed upon; the debates would be filmed and posted on the web.

    Please let me know if you agree to these suggestions. If you would prefer an individual different from the one(s) that I suggested for whatever reason, please let me know, and I'll be glad to contact him/her instead.

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  66. Of course, I should add that I would also be glad to contact the people that Lawrence Kaplan suggested for a debate as well on the issue that he and you mentioned.

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  67. I'd debate Rabbi Coffer on the topic of Chazal's authority in scientific matters, provided that (a) he appears as the official representative of Rav Miller, and (b) the venue is charedi.

    I'm not interested in debating Kornreich for reasons that I described at http://zootorah.com/controversy/fkm.html. And I already debated Rabbi Zucker in Hakirah; we wouldn't cover more ground in an oral debate than we already covered in writing. Besides, that topic is too technical for a popular debate, as well as beyond the conceptual grasp of most Orthodox Jews.

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  68. >Besides, that topic is too technical for a popular debate, as well as beyond the conceptual grasp of most Orthodox Jews.

    This is one of the most condescending, arrogant statements I have ever read. Thank God we are fortunate to have the wise RNS to enlighten us idiot Orthodox Jews!

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  69. Hey, I originally thought otherwise, and the reaction to my Hakirah article proved me wrong. And that was Hakirah - a very select group. Do you really think that most Orthodox Jews are open to the idea that Rashi was what they consider to be an apikorus? Of course they're not. But I'd be glad to be proven wrong.

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  70. So if people don't react to your article the way you want them to it must be because they can't handle it? Or it's beyond their conceptual grasp? Not because you may be wrong?!

    Again, wow!

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  71. No, I never said anything of the sort. If a non-Orthodox academic disagreed with me, then it wouldn't be because he couldn't handle it. And if an Orthodox Jew disagrees, then it's still possible that he could handle it, but he has discovered me to be mistaken. But there's a 95% likelihood that he is fundamentally closed to the idea from the outset.

    I'm surprised that you think that this is a chiddush. Haven't you read The Limits of Orthodox Theology, and seen the reaction? Most Jews have no idea that Rambam's principles were disputed.

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  72. A Truly Poshiter YidDecember 21, 2010 at 9:37 PM

    I've pretty much given up on this whole concept. Frankly, I havent got half a clue as to what you or any of the commentors are posting. In fact, I sat with my wife, who has a PhD in microbiology by the way, and we reread some of these posts with the associated commentary, and we both looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and gave each other a very puzzled look, then went to bed. I would venture to guess that most of us normal Orthodox Jews, and when I say normal I mean mainstream, yeshivish, not MO (which to me is a sham), black hat, Gedolei Yisroel respecting yidden, would probably react the very same way.
    I asked you before, and I don't think you posted it or didn't respond, what makes you think, in your what, 35, 40 years, that you are entitled to have such contradictory opinions published and publicly debated anyway? Is it some misguided American form of exercising freedom of speech? Because there is no such concept in Torah Judaism. Not all opinions are valid, and even less are worthy of being aired. Even if they are, in your less than humble opinion, "right". I have no idea how you became such an authority on nearly everything, including medicine, biology, zoology, philosophy, and the entire Torah with all its commentary. Either you're an ilui gadol, or a complete fake. All these high-falutin terms, names, etc, only serve to confound and confuse, and give a sense of reliability to an otherwise unfounded & unrecognized set of theories that our current leaders have either rejected, banned, or dismissed outright as kefira mamash.
    And I didn't appreciate the age comment either. I am 59, not 19.
    It may be true that you quote people, even Rabbis, who have delved into these issues before. It may be true that the Rambam would agree with most of what you say. Whether it is or not is not the point. Nor is souls residing in kidneys or brains or Rashi supposedly thinking God has a body, which I can guarantee you, NOBODY would verify in this Orthodox world.
    We have, in every generation, relied on our Gedolim, our UNIVERSALLY acknowledged Gedolim, to guide us and tell us how and what to think and do. That's how we live. That's how G-d set it up. It is has never been a subject for debate or criticism. Those that do criticize it, who say we are just blind stupid robots who follow a bunch of strangely dressed old men because we can't or won't think for ourselves, are missing the entire purpose and essence of this way of life called Torah Judaism.
    You call it not using the brain He gave us to its fullest. We call it limiting ourselves to what we can and can fathom, and not worrying about what we can't, and we know we can't because Chazal tell us so. The Torah tells us, "haniglaim lanu ulvaneinu". The things you discuss are not niglaim, and this is obvious because you have no clear resolution to your theories. To discuss things just to discuss them is akin to bitul Torah.
    (cont.)

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  73. A Truly Poshiter YidDecember 21, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    (cont) And look at the names you mention as supposed authorities or legitimate sources. You would honestly compare their opinions to those of a Rav Shteinman or a Rav Sheinberg, or any member of the Moetzes. Then have the gall to label those members as being in some kind of high-handed opinionated, self-aggrandizing club that only seeks to promote itself to the detriment of all other possible reasons and explanations for things? No, sir, you are categorically wrong, and I don't need any sources to back me up. Some things in life just are what they are, simply because they are. So all your episto-whatevers mean nothing in the long run. The Gedolei Yisroel are not dismissing you for any personal reasons, nor to protect their authority, because you can trust that you and the rationalists are not a threat at all to the status quo. The status quo exists because it is meant to exist. It is not for any of us to change or usurp it because we think we know better, or because we may have "discovered" some heretofore unpublished or unannounced way of understanding things.
    If G-d wants your opinion, He will give it to you, just like He did with the Gedolei Yisroel. When you are sitting on that dais, then you have permission to speak to the masses. Until then, daven, learn, and have a nice cholent on Shabbos. Leave the driving to the ones with licenses to drive.

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  74. The missing part said, for what it's worth, that most true Orthodox Jews, not MO, which I consider a sham, would have absolutely no clue what you all are talking about. I looked at this stuff again last night with my wife, who has a PhD in microbiology, and neither of us could make heads or tails out of most of it. Unknown people used as sources for unknown theories, espousing complete antithesis of Torah as we know it today, and for what purpose? To stir up the masses? To make people wonder about things they have no need to wonder about? Hanistarus l'Hashem Elokeinu. Not everything is up for discussion, like the Americanized version of freedom of speech leads you to think. There is no such concept in Torah Judaism. There are things you are not supposed to think about, and even more you are not supposed to talk about. It's not a free for all, and not everything your brains can imagine is fodder for your opinions or thoughts. What gives you the right to think you can challenge the opinions of the Gedolim? Because you think they are part of some cabal that excludes and eliminates independent thinking, because they banned your book? Did you ever think that just maybe they know better than you, or do you put yourself on the same level as a Rav Feldman because you have a brain too? You think maybe you are qualified to be a Rosh Yeshiva as well maybe? Nobody in this lifetime, in this Orthodox world, is going to give you the time of day when you say things like Rashi believed G-d has a body. Even if it is true, why do you think it has to be publicized? Do you think a Rav Shteinman doesn't know that Rashi thought this, if he did? Do you think saying it loud enough will do something positive? Like what? Show that even Chazal make mistakes? So what? To what end? Do you favor announcing that a Rabbi molested a child as well? We dont air our laundry for the world to see. Even our own shuttered world.

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  75. @a truly poshiter yid

    Wow!
    You have written some of the most idiotic nonsense i have ever read on the comments of this blog.

    So much of what you wrote is a TOTAL lie and i can write with confidence that some of what you wrote is unsupportable and in fact contradicts the words of some of the people you hold to be "Gedolim".

    What are you doing on the Internet anyhow?
    According to you "Gedolim" you should not be using the internet to go in this blog,also it is a big Bitul Torah,or do you leave learning Torah up to the "gedolim" too?(I mean it's not like us ordinary people should be learning it anywhay,The gemara? please!,have you seen the standards of Kashrut those Tanaim and Amoraim had,Appalling! One of them didn't even believe that Moshiach would come,Ch'Veshalom,They were MO at best and we all know that MO is a Sham...right?)

    incidentally do you use the screen name "Nate" when you comment on DovBear?
    just wanted to know,it's a hunch.
    If not,that means there are a lot more grandfathers with the maturity level of a teenager,who are married to microbiologists then i think is believable.

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  76. Here is some actual content to back up my earlier comment which ridiculed you and your ideas.

    --I would venture to guess that most of us normal Orthodox Jews, and when I say normal I mean mainstream, yeshivish, not MO (which to me is a sham), black hat, Gedolei Yisroel respecting yidden--
    You call all other Orthodox Jews a sham,something that shows you are not a Ben Torah,you also imply everyone outside of your narrow view of what is Kosher Judaism does not respect what you call "Gedolim".

    --I asked you before, and I don't think you posted it or didn't respond, what makes you think, in your what, 35, 40 years, that you are entitled to have such contradictory opinions published and publicly debated anyway?--

    What makes you think not?
    also,what do you mean by contradictory,did you mean controversial?

    --Is it some misguided American form of exercising freedom of speech? Because there is no such concept in Torah Judaism.--

    Huh?
    There is nothing American or misguided about R Slifkin's writings(except the language,maybe,being american that is).
    There is a concept called Torah discussion,have you heard of it?
    There is also this thing called Machloket,again did you know this exists in Judaism?
    How you make the comparison to Americanism or free speech is beyond me,but then again i am a sane individual.

    --I have no idea how you became such an authority on nearly everything, including medicine, biology, zoology, philosophy, and the entire Torah with all its commentary--
    Same way other people did,
    He studied.

    --Either you're an ilui gadol, or a complete fake.--
    What?
    Only two choices?
    Can't we settle for Talmid Chakham?

    --All these high-falutin terms, names, etc, only serve to confound and confuse,--
    Only to you and you Microbiologist wife,everyone else uses a dictionary when they don't understand a word and they don't go whining about it either.

    --and give a sense of reliability to an otherwise unfounded & unrecognized set of theories that our current leaders have either rejected, banned, or dismissed outright as kefira mamash.--
    Well Thank God it hasn't worked on you,for a couple of seconds there i thought you too had fallen to the Evil plot of brainwashing Jews into believing there is more then one Valid opinion,and that all valid Opinions should be respected.

    --We have, in every generation, relied on our Gedolim, our UNIVERSALLY acknowledged Gedolim,--

    Many of our rabbis were not Universally acknowledged and still aren't.

    -- That's how G-d set it up. It is has never been a subject for debate or criticism.--
    God did not set it up that way.
    It is the correct way If The Nation of Israel is a unified body and has Universally acknowledged leaders.
    We don't,unfortunately.
    So the next best thing was for everyone to listen to their own Rabbis of their own Towns and/or Countries.(classic example is Bavel and Israel,in Israel they carried the lulav on Shabath and they finished the Torah once every three years or something,unlike in bavel where they finished it once a year)
    This ensured that all the Jews who lived in a certain area together would to a great extent practice the same Judaism and hold similar standards of Halakha,Minhagim were also kept by location rather then family,so that everyone would get along.there were exceptions,but these would not interfere with others and therefore did not disrupt other Jews lives).
    continued++

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  77. Continuation:
    Then came along Sabtai Tzvi S'RY,
    people started to abandon their local rabbis when said local rabbis disagreed with the despicable Shabtai,many rabbi's actually ended up following Shabtai,Just so as not to lose their community,sad times.
    For years after Shabtai's Death,rabbi's who raised their hands in a Defensive Attack of the Holy Torah And the Way of Life it represented,waged a Uncompromising battle against the sabateans and their kind.
    Communities were split in half,Strife ann supicion was rampant,as the sabateans were essentially practicing another religion.
    Then came along Chasidut,people would not listen to their local Misnagdishe Rabbi,or on the other hand if the local Rabbi turned Chadishic the Misnagdim refused to listen to him.
    Ashkenaz was split in half.
    The reality of today.
    Chasidim don't agree with Misnagdim,but they are closing that gap by inventing a new movement called Chareidim(or some call it Heimish),which enables everyone to bond by being equally fundamentalist.
    Then there is the Sefardim(and the sefardim have their own internal groups,such as the syrians,yemenites,etc, MO,National religious,the list goes on.
    There are NO universally accepted "Gedolim",it does not exist.
    The closest we have come to that in recent history was probably the Chafetz Chaim,Rav Kook,Chazon Ish,and maybe the Baba sali.
    But that is only because they were universally accepted as Gedolei HaDor,nevetheless their Halakhic opinions were many times not agreed with,and sometimes their Hashkafa too.
    And if you try telling me that R Elyashiv does not hold R Kook in High esteem,boy,do i have info that will blow you away.

    --Then have the gall to label those members as being in some kind of high-handed opinionated, self-aggrandizing club that only seeks to promote itself to the detriment of all other possible reasons and explanations for things?--
    R Slifkin does no such thing.
    What current Chareidi leadership is doing is they are trying to consolidate complete control over their followers and distance them from anything which they think might even remotely affect their level of Religiosity.
    In the process they present an exteremely narrow Hashkafic view and dismiss all others as they believe that knowing anything else will confuse peoples minds,they don't trust the average Chareidi Jew to be able to deal with two opposing Hashkafic opinions,so they completely disqualify others and keep the one which is most fundamentalist,because fundamentalist followers are easier to control.
    Let me be clear,they are doing this out of caring for their followers and they truly believe that it is the best way forward,but others who are equally and sometimes more(sometimes less,who can Judge Giant talmidei Chakhamim?)Knoweldgable in Torah,Disagree.

    And you,Mr. Trully Poshiter Yid,are a fool and a Mevaze Talmidei Chachamim,You have Called all of MO a sham,this would include all the Huge MO Talmidei Chachamim,or to use Yeshivish,The MO "Gedolim".

    --If G-d wants your opinion, He will give it to you, just like He did with the Gedolei Yisroel--

    Are you implying that all these "Gedolim" have Ruach HaKodesh?
    Because R Elyashiv has denied he has Ruach Hakodesh,Are you calling this Giant of Torah a Liar?
    Or how about the time the RA'avad wanted everyone to follow his halakhic decision because he claimed he got it through Ruach HaKodesh,Guess what,his Colleagues,Huge Talmidei Chachamim,did not see it his way.

    The reality in Chareidi society today is that they have simply adopted the Hassidic model of having a Rebbe, and having total faith in his perfection.

    Don't think i agree with other things you wrote,i just think that i have shown the flaw in many of your arguments and i need not continue anymore.

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