Sunday, January 31, 2010

Faith, Science and Orthodoxy

Here is a fascinating essay by Professor Menachem Kellner. His books Must a Jew Believe Anything? and Maimonides' Confrontation with Mysticism are also must-reads.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What On Earth Is Going On Here?

Last week, Rabbi Dovid Ribiat, in a 5TJT interview, stated that the reason why no condemnation of Tropper has occurred is that there is not sufficient evidence of wrongdoing; but "once there is incontrovertible evidence, appropriate measures will be taken." Today, Rabbi Avi Shafran emphasized that he is only "allegedly" guilty.

Am I missing something here? Didn't Rabbi Tropper release a public statement several weeks ago to Vos Iz Neias in which he admitted his guilt? It stated as follows:

Rabbi Leib Tropper’s response to recent allegations has been delayed until now in deference to his legal counsel.
Events of recent weeks have caused Rabbi Tropper great anguish, in particular given his recognition that the high standard of ethics in the Jewish community is one of its most treasured principles.
He wishes to express his regret for the turmoil caused by his departure from the Eternal Jewish Family organization and for what has appeared to be conduct not within our significant laws of modesty. Rabbi Tropper now looks forward to a return to both his studies and time with his loving family, as well as to personal introspection. He thanks those outside his closest circle of friends for respecting his privacy.


So why all this talk about how his guilt is not confirmed, and that's why no action has been taken?

Finally, and more importantly, here is a comment that I submitted seven hours ago but which has not yet been posted:

Rabbi Shafran, thank you for attempting to address the readers’ concerns. But with all due respect, you seem to have missed the point of many of the criticisms. People aren’t just asking why the Gedolim did not condemn the rabbi concerned. They are also criticizing the Gedolim themselves for endorsing him and his organization which were both highly questionable even beforehand, and in light of the revelations needs to have all its past operations seriously re-evaluated. On Cross-Currents itself, Rabbi Adlerstein wrote an excellent article pointing to some of the problems; the Badatz and the Conference of European Rabbis has also not been silent. Furthermore, there is criticism of the Gedolim for there being no visible attempt whatsoever to address any aspect of this situation after the revelations, which looks especially bad in light of the large financial donations that were directed to the yeshivos by this individual. Rabbi Aba Dunner explicitly accused the rabbinic establishment of having been bought off. There is clearly substantial grounds for concern and criticism, and yet your article gave the strong message that any such criticism is “evil speech.” Is it not the case that sometimes public criticism is necessary and valuable rather than being “evil speech”? Is it not the case that sometimes silence can be evil?


UPDATE: My comment has now been posted, along with a number of others that raise some very sharp criticisms.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rashi and Rav Elyashiv


Hakirah vol. 9 is now on sale! I have two articles in this volume. One is an exchange between R. Saul Zucker and myself on the topic of whether Rashi was a corporealist, following my original article on the topic (now available for free online). The other is the sequel to my article on Rashi, titled after Rav Elyashiv's famous line, "They Could Say It, We Cannot," discussing how to relate to views found in the Rishonim that are now considered heretical, as well as how in general to understand the notion of heresy. The articles will only be available in their entirety online in about six months, when the next volume of Hakirah is released. In the meanwhile, I recommend that people buy the print edition of Hakirah - it's a great journal, you get to read the articles right now instead of waiting six months, and articles are always easier to read in a printed and bound volume than in a PDF (unless you are lucky enough to have a Kindle DX).

I received an interesting email relating to my response to Rabbi Zucker regarding Rashi, which further confirms that, baruch Hashem, I am not anywhere near as much of a radical as some people think! It also includes an unusual inversion of the prevalent stereotypes about the difference between the Modern Orthodox and Charedi communities:

Dear R. Natan; Congratulations on your outstanding article, which I consider "megalgalin zchut al yedei zachai". When your article first appeared last winter, I must admit that it did not come as any chiddush to me, but it was well-presented and I gave your article a Friday night presentation in a local Charedei Flatbush shtieble, attended by 125 learned baalei-batim who were for the most part somewhat receptive. It was only from following the subsequent brouhaha that I realized the vicious nature of even non-Chareidi types when their inability to view matters objectively is exposed. I have taught a daf-yomi for many years and have been convinced for some time that Rashi's Talmudic commentary even more so than his peirush on Chumash show him to be a through and through corporealist. I've even pointed this out to my Shabbos afternoon chaburah for many years. Then Lorberbaum and Friedman articulated it for academic-types and now you've made it part of the intellectual landscape. Many thanks for all your brave efforts on behalf of intellectual integrity. May Hashem continue to strengthen your hand against all your detractors.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tropper, EJF and the Gedolim

At last, the Gedolim have broken their silence about Tropper/EJF, and their official spokesman has written a statement. But first, some background. Way before the tapes emerged, revealing Rabbi Tropper to be bribing/ blackmailing a prospective convert into sexual improprieties, there were all kinds of reports of inappropriate behavior on the part of Tropper and EJF. It cannot be adequately stressed that what was needed was not just a condemnation of what he did to this convert (and a condemnation of the obviously forbidden is indeed necessary in a community where perverts and their enablers know that they can get away without condemnation). Most importantly, what was being demanded was a condemnation and transparent, public investigation into all the other wrongdoings, especially the question of how a person who was always suspected of lacking integrity, and who was accused of having his organization commit various wrongdoings, was able to attain so much power and honor by virtue of giving massive sums of money to yeshivos. Here is a list that has been circulating, which I have edited somewhat:

1. From R’ Harry Maryles:
I knew what this con man was about 20 years ago when I first met him. He was responsible then for ruining the life of one young man I am very close with - making life miserable for his parents. His mother went to the grave suffering an estrangement from her son for which Leib Tropper was responsible. His father suffers to this day from it. He took advantage of this young man’s misfortune and conned him into doing something no decent man would ever do. And he made it seem like he was doing him a favor. This young man is now 20 years older and still suffering the consequences of it. Consequences that after 20 years have little chance of being reversed! I cannot get into details because confidences would be broken. But suffice it to say his only concern at that time was not to help this young man but to help himself by gaining the support of a wealthy friend in doing this con.

2. From a comment on ViN:
I have been involved with Kiruv for over three decades. Close to thirty years ago a university student underwent a Giyur Kehalacha when he discovered that his mother was converted by Conservative rabbis. A week later he went to Yeshivas Ohr Sameach. A few weeks ago EJF told him that his Giyur may not be good because they have questions of the Rabbonim who did it. Who is a erliche Orthodox Rav and does not do kulahs in Giyur. This shocking action is beyond belief. The EJF did not call the Rabbomin in question. They just put the Safek in the mind of this person 3 decades later. We need a proper structure in Giyur, and proper standards kept. However the idea that Rabbonim in Monsey, or Meah Shearim will suddenly begin to question Geirus done properly is outrageous. There is no historical precedent for this. There are a small group of Rabbonim aligned with EJF that have attempted to impose their view on Gierus. They are overreaching and creating havoc in the Jewish community.

3. From a comment on ViN:
I went to Rav Reuven Feinstein when the now infamous former head of the EJF tried to stop my marriage to my wife who is a giyores. He claimed that the Rov who was migayer her did not know what he was doing. Rbe Reuven told me that her geirus was fine. We are married now. The head of EJF got what he deserved for the pain he caused me and many others.

4. From a comment on ViN:
I converted years ago and have been frum from the time I emerged from the mikvah and the EJF told me my conversion was invalid because of the rabbonim on the beis din, all of whom were frum Orthodox rabbonim by the way. I was not the only person this happened to. Of course the EJF offered to 'fix' it for a substantial sum of money. How nice of them.

5. From a comment on Daas Torah blog:
I know this man very well, and know the underling rabbeyem he surrounds himself with, they told me that right now he is licking his wounds like a dog, and trying to "re-invent himself." Whenever tropper had an issue with a baal tsuvah/ bochur who tropper asked to "jump", and the baal tshuva didn't immediately ask "how high," Tropper in his paranoid ways would immediately reach for the phone, and call that person's boss (Tropper would find jobs for some bochurim, so that he held over their heads that he controlled their jobs) or fiance, (Tropper would arrange shidduchim for bochurim, and not allow or be very unhappy if a bochur found someone through a non tropper source, again this was all about the control factor, if he made the shidduch, he could control you) and besmirch that person. He would then secretly and slowly start a secret campaign to tell other bochurim and ballah botim (the few that their were in the yeshiva) that said baal tshuva is (insert some made up issue Tropper would make up here) and tell them that the bochur was in cheirem. He would wait until the bochur found out on his own by his surroundings that he was in cheirem. In some cases he would have the secretary of the yeshiva (he also controlled her and made her work basically for free, what did he have over her? you guessed it, she was a ger, he magayered her, and she was from france, so he promised her sponsorship, which never panned out) type out a letter to that bochur, telling him that they are no longer welcome to learn or daven there. Make no mistake about it, in all his years in kiruv, for every one person who he makereved to yiddishkeit, he probably turned off 10 off of yiddishkeit forever.

6. From a comment on ViN:
I worked for EJF and know some of the Dayanim personally this is easily verifiable as needed. I can tell you that people knew that Leib had a problematic history and they covered for him for over twenty years. This was told to me by one of the Dayanim that worked with Tropper intensively. Leib also had a shaychus with Shlomo Carlebach and this did not serve as a positive example. While Shlomo would have killed himself before pimping a woman to his chaverim he was not an embodiment of perishut. Leib, while he never sat on a Bet Din did pull the strings of who sat on the Batie Din because he controlled the funds and the jobs. We will never know if there were women whom he abused that made it through. Firstly, because they will be terrified of coming forward for fear of having their conversion invalidated and secondly because the Batie Din will not want to look like idiots. While none of the women I worked with were abused bu him sexually- they were abused by him emotionally in the sense that he showed utter disregard and insensitivity for them as people in various ways. While I have never seen a greater chilul hashem in my lifetime I hope that it serves as a wake up call.

7. Anonymous report:
A Rosh Yeshivah in Har Nof who runs outreach programs said that someone who attacked him and one of his programs later admitted that he was paid $25,000 by Tropper to do so.

8. From a blog:
Rav Schachter spoke at an EJF convention. In the course of his shiur, he mentioned the opinions who are lenient about shaking a woman's hand, and situations where it may be appropriate to follow the leniency. He cited examples of gedolim who shook women's hands. None other than Rabbi Tropper screamed at Rabbi Schachter, calling him a shakran. Rabbi Schachter responded with case after case of roshei yeshiva and gedolim who have shanken women's hands before. Rabbi Tropper had an hysterical fit that the honor of these great gedolim was besmirched with an accusation of shaking a woman's hand.

9. From Rabbi Natan Slifkin:
Also involved in the campaign against my books was Yaakov Kalmanowitz's brother, Rabbi Osher Kalmanowitz of the Mir Yeshivah in New York. He did not want to openly involve himself, and so he recruited his friend Rabbi Leib Tropper of Yeshivas Kol Yaakov in Monsey. Rabbi Tropper created a story that was told to the Rabbis were were approached to condemn the books. The story involved two students in his yeshivah, described as "angelic," who allegedly dropped out of yeshivah and left Orthodoxy after reading my books and concluding that "if the Sages could have been wrong about science, then they could have been wrong about everything." Rabbi Elya Wachtfogel, the primary rabbinic authority behind this ban, presented this story as grounds for his campaign. I myself was shaken when I heard about this story, but my mentors were skeptical and advised my to investigate it. The investigation showed that one of them was barely observant to begin with, and dropped out of yeshivah before my book on the Sages' knowledge of science was published. The other left Kol Yaakov and went to YU; he wrote to me that it was nothing to do with my books, which strengthened his Judaism, but he noted that the rabbis in Kol Yaakov did not like them.

10. From a blog:
The Leib Tropper I knew 20 years ago in Monsey was a disgusting scumbag who used to hang out in Tuvia's bookstore "looking for potential Baalei Teshuva" to "makarev". I was newly married at the time and used to wait inside Tuvia's for my husband to pick me up after work. On more than one occasion I had to tell Tropper to "stand back from behind me, he was too close" and I also had to ask for help to tell him not to get too close to me so that he could "accidentally brush up against me" while I was browsing in the store. That is the Leib Tropper I know. He is the same jerk who screwed around on his wife, the daughter of Rav Margolin, a student of Rav Aaron Kotler, for 25 years before leaving her to marry one of the beautiful young women whom he was "makareving" to Yiddishkeit. The fact that she happened to also come from money was just the icing on the cake... Tropper's personal history should have disqualified him from acting as a decisor and shaper of the future of the Jewish people...

11. From a comment on UOJ:
TROPPER SHOWED UP MOTZAEI SHABBOS TO SPEAK AT THE SOUTH FALLSBURG YESHIVA MELAVEH MALKA AND WAS EMBRACED & KISSED BY R' ELYA BER WACHTFOGEL!!!!

12. From UOJ:
...And guess who "replaced" Elya Ber Wachtfogel at EJF -- his nephew Chaim Blum, EB's handpicked successor.

13. From R. Aba Dunner, Executive Director of the Conference of European Rabbis:
...We unmasked this organization and the chap who ran it, I would not call him Rabbi - before this scandal... We found him to be a control freak and a megalo-maniac, we found him to be so disrespectful of Rabbanim that there was a unanimous vote of the standing committee to make sure that he and his organization do not enter Europe...
The EJF refers cases which it claims are ready for giur to a small beis din that will accept their recommendation when a larger more established beis din would not consider the case in any way suitable. (additionally the EJF besmirches the name of botei din with track records measured in decades and whose credentials are impeccable but who have the temerity to question their judgment and qualifications) Rabbonim from small towns across the USA were continually surprised over the last few years that intermarried couples who they reckoned were unready for giur - even though they might qualify with a year or two of work - were leaving town and returning a month or two later having been converted through an EJF recommendation and officially having been mentored successfully by the EJF . In many of these instances the levels of observance were insufficient to start with and diminished subsequently with many ending up only nominally practicing Jews.
To burnish their credentials as the only chareidi purveyors of geirus, the game plan was to present themselves as the most chareidi organization out there by buying their way into the chotzer of the Gedolim by giving kickbacks to the various individuals who attempt to surround the Gedolim. By steady drip feeding of a few thou here and there to help with a chasuna or pay off some choivos or support a pet project, Tropper managed to buy his way in and then parade his ability to get photo ops as if that made him a ne'emon of the Gedolim. The story that he was telling was that all botei din and mekarvim in the USA were not to be trusted with the future of klal yisroel and only someone with his dikduk bemitzvos particularly in the areas of kiruv was in the position to handle it properly. This from a man whose personal habits until this time had been a matter of concern to all who knew the facts...

15. From a participant at EJF conferences:
At the EJF conferences, Rabbi Tropper and Rabbi Eisenstein spoke about how a person who believes that Bereishis can be reconciled with the world being millions of years old, or who accepts the view of the Rishonim that Chazal sometimes erred in science, may not be converted to Judaism. Furthermore, a Rav who believes such things may not act as a Dayyan for conversions. Conversion performed with such people are suspect. (In light of reports about how, in many cases, EJF sought out and accepted insincere converts, for the sake of money or currying favor with Tom Kaplan, these statements may have been a way of wresting power away from the RCA.)

16. From Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer:
In light of the recent revelations of the misdeeds of the founder of the organization called Eternal Jewish Family, it is an opportune time for you to make your rabbonim and chaverim aware of the reprehensible nature of an organization that throws geirim who are tzaddikim and tehorim into confusion over their status, declares that individuals who believe as the Tiferes Yisroel and others that the world is more than 5770 years old k'peshuto are pasul as dayanim, etc. There are some who maintain a "head in the sand" attitude and would cover up Rabbi Tropper's misdeeds, but I believe this is the Hashgocho manifest in retribution upon those who afflict geirei tzedek, u'mitzvah l'farsem.

17. From a blog:
By all accounts, Tropper is still running EJF behind the scenes. He's still making the financial decisions. Of course, because there is no transparency, accountability, or integrity, it's impossible to know for sure. But in any case, those that are replacing him are likewise unqualified for such important communal work.

18. From someone who worked for EJF:
After being a mentor for some time with The Eternal Jewish Family and witnessing first hand its many serious flaws, the question is what do we need such an organization that dilutes the very framework of halachah that has guided the Jewish people for the last two thousand years? My first assignment was to work with an intermarried couple, where the non-Jewish husband was enthusiastic about committing to Judaism and learning what it means to become a Jew. His Jewish spouse was less than enthusiastic and cold about the whole idea. As I was approached by Rabbi Jacobs to speak to this family, I asked him point blank, how can you even think about working with this man if his wife is not supportive and wants nothing really to do with Judaism? ...After all the conferences all over the world and world-class Rabbanim and Rosh Yeshivos who took part, who paskened such a question that this was permissible? Another glaring question that I asked as I started my work for them was: is there a Shulchan Aruch or a standard that you use when deciding which families to take, who not to take? What about the curriculum? Was there even a syllabus? Who are the tutors that are used, how are tutors qualified? ...Who are these mentors? I asked Rabbi Jacobs many times who they used as mentors and how he qualified them as good mentors. I never got an answer on that... I heard other stories from students about mentors that turned off their students and had “their own way” of doing things. When one of the students confronted me about this, I asked them, find out who their rav is and see who they go to ask their questions too about how they are supposed to do this. The student came back to me a few days later and told me that the mentors were all flustered thinking that their authority was being usurped and who were they to question what they were doing! ...With all the hoopla of the many conventions that EJF has had all over the world, what about all the choshever Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva that have addressed these conferences. Do they really have any inkling as to what is happening within the organization? ...Some of these stories are just the tip of the iceberg of the disaster and krumkeit that this organization purports, all in the name of helping these families and helping with establishing a universally accepted conversion.... As of right now, it is a disaster and in total disarray. It’s not about the scandal and how it happened. It is about who is running the organization and why it is hefker.

19. From a blog comment:
The issue with Troppergate is not the recently publicized audio recordings per se; they merely made clear and undeniable what many people had been saying for years about Rabbi Tropper. The problem is that a rabbi who for DECADES was known to have been a manipulator who engaged in abuses of power on multiple levels, was nevertheless showered with honor and given ever greater power to wield, as a result of his channeling massive financial contributions that kept yeshivos afloat. And it is this that explains the deafening silence from the charedi rabbinic establishment about the recent revelations.

* * *

So now, we finally have the official statement from the Charedi rabbinic establishment about all this. And what is it?

It is that we should see the terrible earthquake in Haiti as punishment for our sins; specifically, for evil speech - and a specific example given of such evil speech is the criticism of the Gedolim for not saying anything about Tropper and EJF!

?!?!?!

The article warns that the "misuse of the holy power of speech is not a small evil." That is true. But there are times when silence is also a misuse of the holy power of speech.

Friday, January 22, 2010

New York Lecture Tour

Here are details for my forthcoming lecture tour. I will be adding events to it as I finalize them. If you would like to arrange a presentation in your school/ community, please email me.

Sunday February 7th:

Morning, 10am – 1pm
The Torah Tour of the Bronx Zoo
Price: Adults $20, children $15 (does not include admission)
For registration (required), email zoorabbi@zootorah.com
Download flyer here

Sunday afternoon at Washington Heights Congregation (The “Bridge Shul”), 815 West 179th Street:
2.30 pm
Sacred Monsters: Mysterious & Mythical Creatures of Torah, Midrash and Talmud
4.00 pm
Rationalist Judaism: The Unknown, Endangered, Dangerous, & Life-saving Approach to Torah
Entrance Donation: $10 for one lecture, $15 for both
Download flyer here

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lucy's Bones


A friend of mine wrote to me as follows:

I was told about the following question, raised by Rabbi Yaakov Feit, who was in a museum containing the remains of Lucy, a famous proto-human. He wanted to know whether a kohen could enter the museum, or, equivalently, whether Lucy's bones are halachically considered to have come from a human corpse (in which case they are metamei be'ohel).

I thought this question could be broken down into several interesting components.

1. Are these bones actually the remains of an organism? Adherents of Gosse theory might say that bones carbon dated as millions of years old were simply placed in the earth, as bones, by God at Creation, and never belonged to a living being. My friend and I assumed that bones that are not remains of a living being are not metamei, though we weren't sure how to prove it.

2. Is carbon dating halachically recognized? (Not sure why it shouldn't be, but....)

3. If Lucy lived (and died), was she human, or at least human enough to be metamei? This gets into the whole adnei hasadeh business, etc. Note that apparently there is an opinion (Chasam Sofer?) that the remains of gentiles who lived before Matan Torah are metamei be'ohel mideoraisa, even though the remains of gentiles who lived after Matan Torah are not. So this might be a nafka minah mideoraisa.

I thought this was a really interesting question, because it shows that these topics have practical--and not contrived at all--nafka minahs lema'aseh. It shows that even among those who read Genesis literally and assume the earth to be mere thousands of years old, there are still nafka minahs lema'aseh deoraisa between the various approaches. It makes a big difference whether ancient bones were planted in the earth by God, or whether they were, for example, made to look much older by the Flood (in which case they could still be assumed to be actual remains of once-living organisms). There are probably lots of museums affected by this consideration. It shows that belief in an ancient earth can have practical ramifications. And it shows the importance of paleontology in psak halacha: you can't pasken whether Lucy is metamei now that she's dead until you figure out what she was when she was alive!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Getting It From Both Sides

It's slightly funny. There were endless attacks against me from one side for my adopting Rambam's approach in various areas; my critics claimed that Rambam does not represent the Torah-true mesorah. And now, in the comments on the previous post, there are attacks against me for my claiming that in some areas, Rambam himself was presenting Greco-Muslim philosophical perspectives rather than the traditional Jewish perspective - someone is insisting that Rambam always does represent the Torah-true mesorah.

What is not funny at all is how others are getting it from both sides. ZAKA, the charedi emergency response group, sent a team to Haiti to help rescue victims of the earthquake. It is incredible work, but physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. For previous such efforts, forensic teams have dubbed the group "the team that sleeps with the dead" because they toil nearly 24 hours a day to identify those who died. And what is the response? Some people are condemning them for being mechalel Shabbos to save goyim, whereas others are condemning them for taking a break in order to davven.

Yasher koach to Zaka for their efforts! And let us remember how much more value there is in actually doing something rather than in sitting back and finding fault in how others are doing things.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Demonic Dogmatism: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Gemara (especially the Bavli, not so much the Yerushalmi) is replete with countless references to demons. Nevertheless, Rambam (as well as others such as Ralbag, R. Yaakov b. Abba Mari Anatoli, R. Levi ben Avraham ben Chaim, and probably Meiri and Ibn Ezra) were of the view that there is no such thing. Rambam does not explicitly deny the existence of demons, but it clearly emerges from many different discussions of his.

It is not only contemporary academic scholars who realize that Rambam did not believe in demons. As Marc Shapiro documents in his fascinating Studies in Maimonides and his Interpreters, there were many traditional Torah scholars who also realized this, including R. Shlomo b. Meshullam da Piera, R. Yosef b. Shem Tov, R. Yosef Shlomo Delmedigo, R. Aviad Sar-Shalom Basilea, Abarbanel, the Vilna Gaon, R. Yosef Ergas, R. Yosef Shaul Nathanson, R. Menashe ben Yisrael, R. Eliezer Simchah Rabinowitz, and R. Yosef Kapach. Some of these agreed with Rambam, others criticized him for this denial.

But many traditionalists simply could not imagine that the great Rambam could deny the existence of something that played so prominent a role in Chazal's worldview and even in halachah. Shapiro cites a long list of authorities who claimed that Rambam really did believe in demons. Even someone as relatively broad-minded as R. Yaakov Kaminetzky z"l wrote that when Rambam wrote that magic and the occult is all nonsense, he was only speaking about the magic practiced in his day, and was not referring to that of the Biblical and Talmudic era. He claims that Rambam agreed with Ramban that magic, demons and so on did actually exist.

This sort of historical revisionism is well known amongst traditionalists. But I discovered a fascinating new example of it amongst people who, one might expect, would be very different. Here we find someone claiming that Chazal themselves did not believe in demons (as actual entities), and here he claims that Ramban and all the other Rishonim did not believe in them either.

This is not only untenable, but absurd. Along with virtually the entire ancient world, Ramban certainly believed in demons, and writes at length about them. He describes them as being produced by witchcraft and possessing bodies composed of air that cannot be detected, along with the element of fire. Since they are composed of these light elements, they are able to fly, and since they travel in the sky, they are able to learn about future events from the angels of the constellations. Ramban also explains Chazal’s statement about demons eating like people to mean that they also subsist on food – although theirs consists of evaporated moisture and smoke from fires. He also views the denial of the existence of demons as signifying a general heretical worldview, berating Aristotle for denying the existence of that which cannot be empirically detected. It is quite clear that Ramban believed in the existence of actual demons, as did Chazal.

I'm not sure how to categorize this latter kind of revisionism, which seeks to read the Rambam's rationalism into all other great Torah authorities. Should it be termed hyper-rationalist? Fundamentalist-rationalist? Irrational rationalist? It's difficult to find a label that is accurately descriptive without being offensive.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Muslim Slifkin

I was forwarded this article under the title, "The Muslim Slifkin." The parallels are interesting - including how, 800 years ago, Muslims would definitely not have been so traditionalist!

Egyptian Medical Doctor Criticizes the Phenomenon of Accepting Unscientific Islamic Beliefs, like the Notion that a Woman's Pregnancy Can Last Up to Four Years

In an article on the liberal website Elaph, Dr. Khaled Montasser, a liberal Egyptian physician, criticizes the phenomenon of endorsing traditional ideas that have been disproven by science, such as the Muslim belief that a woman can be pregnant for up to four years. He points out that this notion is believed even by some Muslim doctors, and is acknowledged in the laws of some Arab countries, including those that are not theocracies. He calls on the Muslims not to accept outdated and unscientific ideas just because they were proposed by important clerics, stressing that contesting the opinions of religious scholars is not tantamount to attacking or disparaging the religion itself.

Following are excerpts from his article... (click here for more)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Comments and Email

I have 310 unanswered emails in my inbox. I nearly always get around to answering my emails eventually, so if you have sent me an email, please be patient! But if you have a question for me, email (or phone) is definitely the way to do it. Submitting a question in the comments on the blog (e.g. "how do I get hold of this book") will not get you an answer, sorry.