Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rabbi Shlomo Miller endorses Rabbi Broyde

Rav Shlomo Miller, the senior Charedi rabbinic figure in Toronto, first became known to many people when he wrote a letter protesting the heresy of interpreting Maaseh Bereishis in naturalistic terms, specifically as done in my book The Challenge Of Creation (but also applicable to any way of reconciling Bereishis with modern science). This letter was posted around Toronto when I visited there a few years ago; you can read it, and a response, at this link.

Recently, Rabbi Miller wrote a letter which condemned an article about women covering their hair, written by Rabbi Michael Broyde of Atlanta.

Now, in contrast to the topic of organ donation, where I admitted that I had not researched the topic thoroughly, the topic of women covering their hair is a topic that I have not researched at all. But what do I see? I see that Rabbi Broyde wrote a lengthy, detailed, article, with copious footnotes. And I see that Rabbi Miller responded with a single paragraph of assertions from authority and insults. And I ask myself: When two people have a disagreement, and one calmly presents a thorough explanation of his position, while the other refuses to do so and simply hurls out angry insults, who is usually correct? When you have good reasons to be confident in the correctness of your position, you don't refrain from sharing them. That's why, without knowing anything at all about this topic, I see Rabbi Miller's condemnation of Rabbi Broyde's article as an endorsement of its arguments.

(And to preempt those who point out that I did not respond to Isaac Betech's disproofs of evolution - first of all, he didn't offer any, and second of all, I spelled out at length my reasons for not debating him.)

34 comments:

  1. I don't see it as an endorsement. At most, it tells me that R. Miller disagrees with R. Broyde. R. Miller, it seems, is wont to defame his opponents without presenting rational arguments. That doesn't really tell me anything about his opponents. R. Miller would no doubt probably write in a similar vein against J for J. That doesn't amount to an endorsement of J for J.

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  2. Unless you assume (as I believe the Haredi world does) that the one line psak of a Gadol is worth more than any proof you can bring from any source (Tanach through responsa of Acharonim)!

    This is part of a larger issue, that the common trend in the Haredi world is not to detail a psak, not to give reasons. The psak therefore cannot be argued upon, certainly not disproven, without the argument centering solely on the stature of the posek.

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  3. Unfortunately, much of Rabbi Broyde's scholarship is wanting. This was demonstrated quite clearly by Rabbi Shulman, who wrote a footnoted rejoinder in a follow-up edition of Tradition.

    There are times when a position need not be argued. We don't need to write long articles delineating why we believe in Moses and not JC. We simply say - "Get lost!"

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  4. L'havdil, let's say a patient goes and does some research on their medical condition on the internet. The patient then comes into my office with a whole sheaf of papers and makes a lovely presentation on how I should be treating his condition.
    Unfortunately, since the patient doesn't actually have formal training in medicine but cherry picked great sounding sources and put them together to make his position sound comprehensive, he doesn't realize that from the start I've already tuned him out since I actually know about his condition and the treatment options better than him. And after a 10 minute talk, I can simply say "No, you need treatment 'X' because the literature and guidelines support its use as opposed to treatment 'Y' for which you've brought no credible support."
    Perhaps in Rav Miller's eyes, he's the doctor and Rav Broyde is the patient. Yes, Rav Broyde wrote a very long, well-researched and footnoted entry but Rav Miller KNOWS he's wrong so why waste time refuting him point by point?

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  5. "Endorsement" might be going a bit far. Even if R' Miller did not bring forth counter-arguments this does not mean that others are not able to.

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  6. To those who are wondering why their comments did not appear - please read the comments policy (http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/09/comments-policy.html).

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  7. After all of your posts about the chareidi mentality,you ask why he didn't present an argument?

    The logic goes that anything more than an insult might seem to legitimize his Broyde's view.

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  8. Food for thought: I think the Ramban refers to another Rishon's words as "foolish" in his peirush al hatorah. I can't recall where though. Somewhere in sefer Bereishis perhaps, and I think about the Ibn Ezra. Can't guarantee it though. Just something to consider.

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  9. HaDarda"i: ...R. Miller would no doubt probably write in a similar vein against J for J. That doesn't amount to an endorsement of J for J.

    Ah, but there are already many anti-missionaries books that attempt to counter specific J for J claims. Broyde is making halachic arguments and Miller has not sought fit to analyze and challenge them, resorting instead to the ad hominen attack that Broyde is possessed by an "evil spirit".

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  10. I'm afraid you forgot the US is an irony-free zone.

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  11. With regard to Torah (as opposed to medicine) there is an obligation al menas lelamed. I believe this is true in issuing any kind of p'sak as well. Rabbi Miller has issued an offhand dismissal of Rabbi Broyde, but I find Rabbi Broyde's essay compelling because I learned so much Torah from it. Precisely why I find the Iggros Moshe compelling as well.

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  12. It seems apparent to me that at least some people don't understand the dismissal. This is more than that. He compared R. Broyde to Ache"r, that is, Rabbi Aron Chorin.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81ron_Chorin

    To say that this is insulting doesn't even begin to approach it.

    As regards to whether or not Jesus is the Messiah requires a Jewish response, Sefer Nitzachon, Chizzuk Emunah and many other books with more lasting value than a pamphlet written for hippies who might have gotten caught up with J4J are all part of the traditional book shelf.

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  13. C'mon, the article doesn't even pretend to be an objective halachic analysis.

    "Everything that I have written is meant only to justify the halakhic
    practice of modest Jewish women."

    See Biur HaGra YD 293:2 in reaction to Bach on Tur YD 293.

    "And I ask myself: When two people have a disagreement, and one calmly presents a thorough explanation of his position, while the other refuses to do so and simply hurls out angry insults (sic!), who is usually correct?"

    It is sad to see you using such arguments. C'mon.

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  14. "I see that Rabbi Broyde wrote a lengthy, detailed, article, with copious footnotes. And I see that Rabbi Miller responded with a single paragraph of assertions from authority and insults"

    While I have great respect for R. Miller, I personally prefer the approach of R. Shulman who responded in Tradition point by point, as I am not comfortable by the sometimes seemingly harsh rabbinic language used in public statements elsewhere. At the end of R. Alfred Cohen's "Daat Torah" in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society (available online on JLaw.com), he argues that the community "could handle serious discussions of communal issues, or appreciate in- depth explanations of certain aspects of current hashkafah".

    However, one can also make a case in support of the approach used here by R. Miller, in not granting legitimacy, in public, to what one feels is a basic halachic error(the case being discussed in the link below is that of "yoetzet", which I think is much less clear cut than this case, but it seems analogous) :

    "I purposely did not cite sources.

    Much of Torah decision-making and Hashkafah positions are more related to the essence of the Torah and elemental issues than to a particular footnote. It is famous that Poskim treated the "Yirah Li" ("I believe") of the Rosh as a stronger statement than when he sourced his P'sak. There is a famous story to this effect as well with Rav Chaim Soloveitchik and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodjenski. As a matter of fact, Rav Soloveitchik ZTL used this method in responding to Ben Gurion's famous "Who is a Jew?" query. He chose to answer succinctly and with almost no sources jointly with Rav Chaim Heller. The point he was making was

    a. There is no need for us both to respond since this is basic and there is only one Torah;

    b. This does not require lengthy analysis or pilpul. It is self-evident-poshut

    http://serandez.blogspot.com/2009/03/r-feitman-on-yoatzot-halacha-second.html

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  15. A friend of mine and his wife had a very weighty issue that needed a psaq. He asked R' Fink, and R' Fink found that both R' Elyashiv and R' Moshe Feinstein posqened on it. However, R' Elyashiv did not issue a teshuva laying out the reasons and arguments leading up to his psaq, and R' Feinstein did. R' Fink said to follow R' Feinstein; he could not countenance a halachic system in which answers are given without any argumentation, sources, and so on. He could follow exactly why R' Feinstein ruled like he did; there was a coherent basis to the psaq, a cogent line of argumentation based on Torah sources.

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  16. I think Rabbi Miller's missive was simply intended to publicize his opinion in the matter, and not to rebut R. Broyde's position.

    R. Broyde's paper was not intended to allow uncovering the hair, but rather to be "melamed zechus" on those who do. There was a published rebuttal (don't remember who) that it was dangerous to argue the wrong position, lest the hair-wafflers take encouragement not to cover.

    Similarly I think R. Miller's note could be interpreted as a protest rather than a true response.

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  17. A dismissal without reasons is most effective. It can’t be argued with the way a scholarly paper can.

    > There are times when a position need not be argued. We don't need to write long articles delineating why we believe in Moses and not JC. We simply say - "Get lost!"

    We absolutely need to justify a belief in Judaism vs. a belief in Christianity. Just like we need to justify everything we believe. Why would you think differently?

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  18. I believe this is the very same r. miller who expounded on chazal’s grasp of quantum mechanics – prefaced by the modest disclaimer he is stepping “outside my normal boundaries to expound about these things”. Well, yes – outside his normal boundaries but perhaps not outside the boundaries of a hubris that permits one so ignorant of a discipline to non-the-less expound nonsense with self-presumed profundity.

    Now, to not know things does not make one an ignoramus. e.g. to the best of my knowledge, RYBS was not fluent in Sanskrit, but since he quite sensibly did not offer the world his “expert” opinions of the philosophical worth of the Bhagavad Gita, no one would think this lapse in his knowledge base might justify calling him an ignoramus. But what should we call r. miller and others of his ilk who do feel free to instruct the great unwashed about, well, apparently anything - based perhaps on an ability to fight through a tosofos, kasher a chicken, or do a quick read of a popular science book. So, I at least, may gauge accordingly the worth of any assertions issuing from people who feel free to expound while "stepping outside their boundaries".

    And my apologies to anyone offended by my seemingly inappropriate coupling of a RYBS and a r. miller within the same paragraph. Obviously no commensurate scale was intended.

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  19. As a matter of fact, Rav Soloveitchik ZTL used this method in responding to Ben Gurion's famous "Who is a Jew?" query.
    =====================
    Without prejudice towards the rest of your post, R'YBS was simply responding in the manner most likely to make an impact, I doubt he would have responded the same way if the question had come from someone within the halachic system (and please don't draw that parallel to R Broyde)
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  20. "That's why, without knowing anything at all about this topic, I see Rabbi Miller's condemnation of Rabbi Broyde's article as an endorsement of its arguments."

    As it's been pointed out, that's a logical fallacy (I believe the technical name for it is a False Dilemma; see: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/false-dilemma.html). Just because R. Miller doesn't present evidence (and commits a number of logical fallacies of his own) doesn't mean the conclusions reached by R. Broyde are correct. They might be, but nothing logically follows from R. Miller's statement.

    It does give you an indication of R. Miller's level of intelligence and erudition, and to what type of person he perceives to be his audience.

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  21. "I doubt he would have responded the same way if the question had come from someone within the halachic system (and please don't draw that parallel to R Broyde)"

    I respect both R. Broyde and R. Miller, and was trying to find a paradigm for R. Miller's response (FWIW, R. Feitman, whom I was quoting, used the RYBS/Ben Gurion story for the "yoetzes" issue, which is also obviously within the halachic system).

    I also find the comments on the blog post which originally posted R. Miller's response rather unsavory and unbecoming; I think it safe to say that the rabbonim's complaint against the Vos is Nais comments being a chilul Hashem and divisive would apply to such comment's well!

    (though in all honesty, any blog discussion needs to aware of those concerns, no matter how yeshivishe or un-yeshivishe its ideology is)

    I also agree with the post of "Chani", below, from the above-mentioned, "Yudel's Rest of the Story blog:

    "I'm still confused about why everyone is going crazy over a limud zechus! It's not the same thing as paskening! ...
    Is anybody seriously disputing that many of the ladies of yesteryear did not cover their hair? Is it so terrible to have a limud zechus on this? Is it better to think of them as ignorant or sinners, c''v?

    Many years ago when my husband and I first became frum (we were living in Atlanta at the time) I asked R. Broyde flat out if I had to cover my hair and was told to do so. Moreover, with the perspective of having asked many many shailas of him during that period of time, I did not find him to be somebody who always sought the meikhel route. To the contrary, he seemed to be ruthless about applying his considerable intellect to the halacha and following it to the conclusion.

    Although my husband and I have been quite yeshivish for some time, I have nothing but respect for this man and his character. I've seen very few people to match him in sheer intelligence.

    I repeat the call of others - if there's an issue with his scholarship, then by all means, have that dialogue. But these personal attacks ...well, no wonder moshiach hasn't yet come."

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  22. I have not delved into this in detail, but the pshat of Masechet Kedubot 72a -- which directly addresses the issue of head covering -- is perfectly clear.

    Any objective analysis of the phenomenon of head covering in American Modern Orthodox (and Dati Leumi in Israel) would recognize this is more an issue of identity politics than halacha. Curiously (or not) the same phenomonon occurred in the Muslim world at approximately the same time.

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  23. It's interesting that Rabbi Miller didn't write, "and I see no need to refute Rabbi Broyde point by point at all" but rather, "it is not the place here to be l'palpel in this matter."

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  24. For what it's worth, I interpreted Rabbi Slifkin's statement (paraphrased), "Rabbi Miller endorses Rabbi Broyde's arguments" as being more of cute quip than a serious argument. Thus, it didn't occur to me to say that Rabbi Slifkin was using faulty logic.

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  25. Any objective analysis of the phenomenon of head covering in American Modern Orthodox (and Dati Leumi in Israel) would recognize this is more an issue of identity politics than halacha. Curiously (or not) the same phenomonon occurred in the Muslim world at approximately the same time.
    ===============================
    This statement would be just as true replacing "American Modern Orthodox (and Dati Leumi in Israel)" with "American Yeshivish/chassidish[m&f} (and chareidi(m&f) in Israel)"
    KT

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  26. I have not delved into this in detail, but the pshat of Masechet Kedubot 72a -- which directly addresses the issue of head covering -- is perfectly clear.

    Yeah, and the pshat of the same gemara is that a woman should be divorced without a ketubah if she converses with other men. Seems perfectly clear also.

    I love it when people selectively quote a gemara to support their stance.

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  27. Zach, first of all Ketubot 72a-b provides the rationalist and historical explanation for head covering by married women. If there is another quotation in the Talmud that directly contradicts Ketubot 72a-b directly, please let me know.

    Second, your comment could be made about virtually any quotation from gemara. The amoraim, you may recall, were "selective quoting" mikra as prooftexts throughout the Talmud.

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  28. "IH said...

    I'm afraid you forgot the US is an irony-free zone."

    Bingo. Most people are missing the point with all their nitpicking and objections to this post. It was meant to be ironic!

    Come on fellow readership, get with it, you guys/girls are better than this.

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  29. "Much of Torah decision-making and Hashkafah positions are more related to the essence of the Torah and elemental issues than to a particular footnote."

    Uh, yeah, but is wearing a woman's hat really one of those issues? Seems quite a stretch.

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  30. The chasam sofer did not allow sheitals either. According to RSM who considers one is 'chariner' for being mattir uncovered hair he RSM who is most likely mattir sheitals would also be called 'chariner'.

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  31. What is a 'chariner'?

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  32. Carol: "What is a 'chariner'?"

    See these, and their outbound links:

    (1) http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/01/aaron-chorin-rabbiner.html

    [Incidentally, my family retained a memory that Sabbateanism was indeed involved in the conflict. I heard of it as a child when Gershom Scholem's paper from the '30s, "מצווה הבאה בעבירה", was republished in English c. 1970.]

    (2) http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2011/01/rabbi-aron-chorin-pt-1-great-fish.html

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  33. R Miller wrote that the Gemara says clearly not like Broyde. What else needs to be said?

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