Friday, March 11, 2011

Rav Schechter's Error

The post "When The Gedolim Came To Teaneck" generated this thoughtful comment by someone called Alex, with regard to the video of Rav Aharon Schechter's diatribe:

I was put off by the method of delivery, an over-the-top fairly angry rant, but I didn't take offense at the message, which I think had a clear point -- that one ought to know Shas a little better, and worry more about what one is clearly chiav al pi Torah to know and to do. I tend to gravitate more to my Slifkin books rather than study of Shas, so I don't mind the chizzuk in that area.

I greatly admire Alex for his ability to look past those parts of the presentation that offended him, and to find useful messages to take from it. But Alex is very much the exception. Most people are simply going to find it offensive, and reflecting very poorly upon Rav Schechter - and with good reason.

To be sure, the most important part of Judaism is to observe halachah. And there are more basic parts of Torah to learn than maaseh Bereishis.

Yet the fact remains that there are many sincere frum Jews who are bothered by conflicts between Torah and science. Now, I can appreciate that certain topics, such as the Deluge, bother relatively few people, and the answers require pushing the boundaries of faith to their very limits, and it is therefore not worth opening that can of worms in public. But questions regarding the age of the universe and evolution are extremely basic and are of great concern to countless thousands of people, and there have long been approaches proposed by authorities with impeccable credentials.

Screaming at people with these questions that they shouldn't think about such things is not going to be very helpful. In fact, it is likely to cause great harm. As Faranak Margolese writes in "Off The Derech":

Despite the history and importance of debate, we seem to have a hard time with questions today. Sometimes we do not accept them at all. At other times, we accept them only if they are “within the system,” as long as they don’t challenge the fundamentals of Torah. Students repeatedly express frustration and sometimes bitterness about this reality, and some go off the derech (the path of observance) because of it. (Faranak Margolese, Off The Derech, p. 234)

If a more choshuve source is required, then we have Rabbi Chaim Friedlander ztz"l from Ponovezh:

We are frequently faced with a dilemma in these topics: Is it worthwhile to enter into discussing them, and to know and understand what it is possible to understand and what it is not possible to understand, or to leave it all as a matter of simple faith? But on the other hand, it is likely that a person will raise the question and not know how to answer it, so it is appropriate to raise the question and the answer—especially in our generation, where there are many that are confused and have erred in their path. (Sifsei Chaim, Emunah VeHashgachah vol. I, p. 337)

Not many people are going to stop worrying about these questions just because Rav Aharon Schecter said so. Rebuffing people for their questions has the effect of making them feel invalidated, lacking confidence in Judaism, and resentful towards the rabbinic establishment.

Rav Schechter's diatribe is especially ironic because I know of people in his very own yeshivah, Chaim Berlin, who have been immensely bothered by these issues and never dared raise their concerns with him. And who can blame them? Instead, these people have turned to my books, which have been helpful to them. And thus Rav Schechter has no idea that even within the pure environment of his own yeshivah, there are people who desperately need guidance with these topics. On a personal level, I find it immensely frustrating that he is publicly slamming me for dealing with these issues, when his own talmidim are turning to me rather than him for help!

62 comments:

  1. his answer may be sometimes the few have to "suffer" for the good of the many (I don't know what the stats would be on how many are bothered vs. how many would be)
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  2. The fact that students in his yeshiva are bothered by these questions is great step forward for the American charedi community. One can only hope that these yeshivah bochrim that are seeking alternatives to the charedi approach to classic dilemmas will be next generation of leaders for the charedi community. Although I do see this as a realistic possibility for the American community, the Israeli one seems much more resistant to change and most probably will stay mired in their close minded ideology.

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  3. "On a personal level, I find it immensely frustrating that he is publicly slamming me for dealing with these issues, when his own talmidim are turning to me rather than him for help!"

    Interesting;maybe that's precisely why he's slamming you. It's because he knows they're turning to you.

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  4. Perhaps it can be said that Rav Schechter's approach has some degree of viability (though not much)in Chaim Berlin, but not in a modern Orthodox congregation in Teaneck where many view his behavior as buffonery.

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  5. Fair enough, but:

    (a) He should acknowledge that others have a right to disagree - Rambam says, "When I can see no other way of teaching a well established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools—I prefer to address myself to the one man"

    (b) He's not in a position to do a cost-benefit analysis when he doesn't even know what the facts on the ground are.

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  6. I don't see what the big deal is. If a Gadol such as him says to stop worrying about such things and to strengthen your emunas chachamim, who are we to say otherwise? Why do we have to be so mechutzif ? Since when do we question our Gedolim and their hashkafa? This nonsense would have never happened in Europe.

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  7. True, but he might well say (b)is known through daat torah and allowing for (a) might still cause more defections then it's worth(Rambam notwithstanding)
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  8. I didn't find R. Schechter's tone or message offensive in the least. I do find that people prefer to focus on the tone in order to avoid addressing the message, which is threefold:

    1) There are some things in the Torah that most of us simply cannot fully understand and appreciate. Maaseh Breishis is one of them.
    2) While we are obligated to learn even those portions of the Torah, with the commentaries, only spiritually and intellectually qualified people, those who understand the nistar of the Torah (from whom R. Schechter excludes himself), are qualified to provide commentary. We must realize and accept that our small minds cannot understand those portions of the Torah, even with the commentaries.
    3) It is chutzpadik for some young "fellow" who clearly does not possess the spiritual qualifications or knowledge, to publish a book that radically reinterprets maaseh breishis.

    Now, one may have a different worldview and thus disagree with some or all of these points. But I find nothing inherently offensive about them. R. Schechter acknowledged that with his approach one ends up with unanswered questions, but he believes that one who allows those questions to become all-consuming has misordered his/her priorities.

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  9. Since when do we question our Gedolim and their hashkafa?

    He's not one of my Gedolim, nor of most of my readers, and his hashkafah does not represent ours, which is based on the Rishonim of Sefarad.

    I don't think that this forum is for you.

    This nonsense would have never happened in Europe.

    That depends which nonsense you are referring to. Rav Hirsch or Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman would certainly have viewed Rav Schechter's speech as completely off-base. And Rambam would not have hesitated to call it nonsense.

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  10. he might well say (b)is known through daat torah

    You think he would claim that he has ruach hakodesh to know the facts on the ground? Hey, he didn't even see through Tropper. (Or maybe he did, which is even worse.)

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  11. Nachum, what's offensive is

    (A) His completely ignoring a long mesorah of people trying to make sense out of Bereishis in light of science, from Rambam, through Rav Hoffman and Rav Hirsch, through to plenty of Rabbonim in our generation - as though I'm the first person to address these problems!

    (B) His implicit message that there's something wrong with being extremely concerned about the fact that Torah seems to have been clearly disproven by modern science.

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  12. R. Natan:

    With regard to your point A) I believe R. Schechter would respond that not every "fellow" is a RMBM, Rav Hoffman or Rav Hirsch. Not every "fellow" has the license to publish a book radically reinterpreting Maaseh Breishis.

    With regard to your point B)I kind of agree with you. R. Schechter certainly could have shown some compassion for people who have those extreme concerns (even if R. Schechter himself doesn't share those concerns), and shown such people an approach to how to deal with those concerns (although that would take more than some soundbite).

    On another note, I was quite impressed with R. Schechter's command of the English language.

    On yet another note, as far as I know, R. Schechter is not widely recognized a heavy hitter "gadol."

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  13. With regard to your point A) I believe R. Schechter would respond that not every "fellow" is a RMBM, Rav Hoffman or Rav Hirsch. Not every "fellow" has the license to publish a book radically reinterpreting Maaseh Breishis.

    Nachum, Rav Schechter was objecting to a book QUOTING Rambam, Rav Hoffman and Rav Hirsch, not providing a new explanation.

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  14. On the video R. Schechter is actualy clear that he was objecting to some unqualified fellow publishing a book in which that fellow radically reinterprets Maasaeh breishis.

    Whether R. Schechter (or the other gedolim) would have reacted to the book the same way had the book not contained an original radical reinterpretation of Maaseh Breishis is anyone's guess.

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  15. But (A) my book was simply quoting others, and (B) his reasons clearly apply to all previous authorities. He doesn't say, let's just learn what Rambam and Hirsch say about it - he is angry at the very idea of addressing the issue.

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  16. Nachum Boehm

    >On another note, I was quite impressed with R. Schechter's command of the English language.

    You mean that he doesn't sound like the average yeshiva bochur? This is how the Gedolim impress the flock. The masses don't know how to speak properly, have never read a book, and when some of their Gedolim meet the minimal standards of general society it dazzles and impresses them. Oh, my goodness! Rav Aharon Schechter can speak a sentence without saying "epes" or "asach." Wow!

    Contrast this with another Chaim Berlin rebbe, who can't:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFQ50LCsR3I

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  17. Mike, what is wrong with questioning gdolim? Was not there a question and answer session following the shiur? Was not Rav Shecter replying to a question from the audience?

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  18. Your book indeed quotes others. In addition to that, it also offers an original radical reinterpretation of maaseh breishis.

    Whether R. Schechter and the Gedolim would have objected to a book that simply quotes others is unknown. What is known is that he feels that YOU don't have the licence to offer your own original radical reinterpretation of maaseh breishis.

    He does not say do not learn maaseh breishis with meforshim. In fact, he says the exact opposite. Watch the video again.

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  19. Nachum-to state again, R' Slifkin did not radically reinterpret maaseh bereishis. He merely brought to light some of the less well known sources(such as the rambam and R'Hirsch to show how the Torah can be understood in a way that doesn't contradict modern science.You can disagree with him if you wish, but you certainly can't label him a kofer for holding of the Rambams approach. Whilst I don't always agree with him, I find R' Slifkins approach very refreshing. I myself was brought up in the charedi school system, and I don't see eye to eye with the charedi community on a number of issues, this being one of them. That said, I'm still very appreciative of certain aspects of the charedi community, such as the chashivus haTorah.

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  20. >>> I don't see what the big deal is. If a Gadol such as him says to stop worrying about such things and to strengthen your emunas chachamim, who are we to say otherwise?

    Mike:
    First, it is imperative that you realize exactly what is the definition of a “Gadol” before you ascribe it to somebody. Extensive knowledge of shas and poskim alone does not a Gadol make. It is very much also his words and actions among many other factors. And while I truly don’t know much about R’ Schechter, this one video alone is enough to disqualify him. In fact i would go so far and say that being the position he is in (a well-known RY), this video is an embarrassment and possibly a Chilul Hashem.

    >>>> This nonsense would have never happened in Europe.

    What the heck are you talking about. If you think there was more koved Hatorah and koved habriot in the last 250 years among European Jews, please do some reading on jewish history.

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  21. "This nonsense would have never happened in Europe. "

    Don't know how true that it, but those days are long gone. In Europe, the rabbis were the intelligentsia. in America, the layman may have three advanced degrees and the Orthodox rabbis are typically ignorant in non-talmudic areas. (And often disappointing even in those areas.) Also, in Europe they had much more practical power over people's lives. Increasingly, the only people who will follow them will be those who have no desire to think. Fortunately for them, that seems to be pretty common.

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  22. "and shown such people an approach to how to deal with those concerns (although that would take more than some soundbite)."

    How many years has he had? I'm sorry to break it to you but neither he nor any of his like-minded peers has the answer. That's why you'll only find them bashing and never explaining.

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  23. Aside from the tone, which I imagine makes the substance appealing to very few and gives the impression that R' Schechter was speaking more for his own benefit than for the benefit of any listeners (which he pretty much says at the beginning), I think the sum of his diatribe evinces the kind of thought control and absolutism so characteristic of the chareidi world.

    I happen to agree with R' Shechter; these kinds of questions are not really important, and we should concentrate far more on learning how we ought to act than on contemplating the deep mysteries of the universe. I, however, am humble enough to acknowledge that my opinion is just that - my opinion. I know that these kinds of questions don't bother me, and I have little interest in science-Torah speculation and reconcilliation. My mind is simply inclined to studying practical matters. I am not so conceited, however, as to think that the way my mind works is the way everyone elses mind works.

    If some (such as yourself) are particularly inclined to answering these kinds of questions, how can I, or anyone else - even R' Shechter - tell you "No! This is not what you should concentrate on." My mind inclines one way, your's another, and we would be remiss if we did not pursue out natural intellectual inclinations to their fullest (within the realm of halacha, of course). Nothing does more to turn people off than to delegitimize their earnest interests and concerns as R' Shechter did in response to this well-intended question.

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  24. Mike said...
    > Since when do we question our Gedolim and their hashkafa? This nonsense would have never happened in Europe.

    Right, because the haskala was an American phenomenon.

    Nachum Boehm said...
    > On another note, I was quite impressed with R. Schechter's command of the English language.

    He’s also very charismatic, even when shouting about people having the audacity to think for themselves.

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  25. A A thoughtful readerMarch 11, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    OT-
    I actually think that how to understand the mabul in this day and age is much more of a question than evolution/ age of the world. There has been much more discussion of those topics and good enswers have been given to them. It's been a long time since I've read your books, but I don't seem to recall the mabul being addressed, and I have yet to see any good explanations as to how to reconcile it with science. Do you have any posting where it is discussed in detail you could link to, or in the alternative, would you mind briefly setting forth what approaches there are to it?

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  26. I can say that as a BT coming from a totally secular background (no high holidays, Pesach, etc.), one of my very first questions about Torah observant Jews was "How on earth can someone today believe that the world was created in six days?" At the time, I NEEDED an answer to that question, because if I couldn't make sense of that language (which seemed so totally backwards), then I wasn't interested in anything else observant Jews had to say. If caring rabbis like Rabbi Slifkin are demonized for providing answers to those questions because he cares about bringing Jews like me back to Hashem (I now lead an observant life and have a beautiful wife and baby boy), then those doing the demonizing should think long and hard about what Hashem really wants, versus what their own community wants.

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  27. Although we may disagree with Rabbi Schechter regarding his lack of interest in becoming aware of the scientific facts, we should be wary of interpreting the words of the Torah using the facts of modern science. After all, the Rambam and other sefardim interpreted the Torah using Aristotelean science which is clearly incorrect. I would prefer an honest admission of our lack of ability to interpret Bereshis in the light of modern science to a strained interpretation of Bereshis based on the Big Bang.

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  28. "To be sure, the most important part of Judaism is to observe halachah. And there are more basic parts of Torah to learn than maaseh Bereishis."

    How do you square this with the statement in Succah and elsewhere staing precisely the opposite? The debates of abaye and rava - that is, halacha - are small matters.

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  29. I have read all the comments so far and the best comment I can find is that which is written in the Gemara with Rashi.

    Tractate Shabbos 63a, "Those (Like Rabbi Schechter) who do not search out the precise reasons behind the Torah's teachings, examining and clarifying everything, (e.g. Maaseh Breishis) like the right hand, which performs skillfully, is learning Torah for ulterior motives and not lishmah!

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  30. Joel Rich:

    In this scenario, I don't see how the suffering of the few (however few or many they are in actuality) helps anyone at all.

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  31. Mike suggests that "questioning gedolim" would never have happened in europe, but I guess he forgot that almost all of europe was off the derech in the post ww1 era. They did far more than merely "question gedolim" in Europe.

    Nonetheless, it is still worth stating that we are not in europe anymore and we're not going back. It is time to move on.

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  32. Nachum Boehm said...
    Your book indeed quotes others. In addition to that, it also offers an original radical reinterpretation of maaseh breishis.


    Whether "The Challenge Of Creation" does that is debatable. But "The Science of Torah," which he was addressing, does not. And again - his point was that to be addressing the issue at all is wrong.

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  33. It's been a long time since I've read your books, but I don't seem to recall the mabul being addressed, and I have yet to see any good explanations as to how to reconcile it with science. Do you have any posting where it is discussed in detail you could link to?

    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/10/dealing-with-deluge.html

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  34. Simon said...
    Although we may disagree with Rabbi Schechter regarding his lack of interest in becoming aware of the scientific facts, we should be wary of interpreting the words of the Torah using the facts of modern science. After all, the Rambam and other sefardim interpreted the Torah using Aristotelean science which is clearly incorrect. I would prefer an honest admission of our lack of ability to interpret Bereshis in the light of modern science to a strained interpretation of Bereshis based on the Big Bang.


    Well then, you should like my book very much, because that is exactly my approach!

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  35. R. Slifkin. Fair enough. I read COC but not SOT.

    If R. Schechter is indeed criticizing you for something you did not (yet) do then that is indeed more offensive than banning certain lines of thought.

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  36. Some of us do still yearn for those old days...not the post WW2 days, but the pre-haskala, shtetl days where the Rav ran the show. It has nothing to do with intelligence or education, even if the people themselves were not as educated as they are here in the USA.
    There is nothing wrong at all with negating your own will, or even your own intelligence in order to properly serve Hashem. Just because you have a brain is not reason to use it for things that YOU think are proper. This stance that He wouldn't have given us a brain if He didn't want us to use it is very arrogant and nonsensical. There are many many things Hashem gave us that we are not allowed to use or pursue just because we have them. Desires, speech, etc are all God's gifts, but they come with rules, and the brain does as well. We all
    know that there are rules about thinking about certain forbidden things, mostly sexually based. Yet I never see anyone here or on any blog saying "Well, He gave me a brain and I'm going to use it to think about pornography." Why not? It's YOUR brain isn't it? The same applies here. Who decides what to use it for and what not? The Torah leaders of our generation, that's who! So if an Adom Gadol, whether or not YOU recognize his gadlus or not, says that we don't think about these things, then WE DO NOT THINK ABOUT THEM!
    It's a huge chutzpah to think that YOU get to decide anything on your own when it comes to Torah or anything connected to Torah, which is pretty much everything in this universe.
    Hanistaros l'Hashem Elokeinu!!!

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  37. Everyone has a rebellious streak in them and Rabbi Schechter is no exception. Here he rants, how dare you differ from me me me...instead of using gentle and softly spoken wise words to be better received.

    King Solomon states.
    KOHELES 9:17 Words spoken softly and gently by wise men are better received, (and with pleasure) more then the shouts of a king over fools.
    Meaning even if Rabbi Schechter was a king and his students would be gullible, it would not have an as great effect as using a gentler tone on the sagacious and the astute.
    I see the only reason why one would resort to such behavior is due to a rebellious nature. Ask any mother whose child has acted in similar behavior.

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  38. I wish we could all be on the level of the Rav who is reputed to have said that questions about the supposed conflict between science and Maaseh Bereshis were irrelevant to him because all he cared about was learning halacha from the Torah. He had no need to look into it for answers to science and history issues. that's not what the Torah was there for.
    However, there is one fundamental flaw in Rav Schechters' approach in the video. On one hand he notes the Gemara that says we can't understand the true meaning of Maaseh Bereshis. On the other hand, does that mean we must then understand it literally? If it's to be understood that way, then where's the secret depth?

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  39. >If some (such as yourself) are particularly inclined to answering these kinds of questions, how can I, or anyone else - even R' Shechter - tell you "No! This is not what you should concentrate on." My mind inclines one way, your's another, and we would be remiss if we did not pursue out natural intellectual inclinations to their fullest (within the realm of halacha, of course). Nothing does more to turn people off than to delegitimize their earnest interests and concerns as R' Shechter did in response to this well-intended question.

    That's a very important point. The chachomim were hardly as absolutist, and acknowledged that אין אדם לומד תורה אלא ממקום שלבו חפץ. The fact is that Maaserh Bereishis is a branch of Torah. Who can tell people who crave to study this topic that this is off limits for them? Presumably R. Aharon Schechter has his personal favorite areas of Torah - is there some reason why he should instead learn things which his heart does not incline toward? Even if you can kvetch that this is his prerogative to tell it to 20 year old boys who are directly under his spiritual tutelage, how can he tell this to adults?

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  40. A learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant one (Moliere)

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  41. Some of those commenting above seem to believe that prior to WW2, in Europe, rabbis and gedolim were able to make decisions that were adhered to by the masses. Incorrect! Not only was there reformation and haskallah, even among those who stayed true to Torah Judaism questioned and challenged great gedolim. And even yeswhiva students challenged their roshei yeshiva. How about Slabodka, where a large amount of students walked out and made their own yeshiva? How about R Leib Malin who saved the whole Mir by ignoring the roshei yeshiva and pushed the students to go through USSR?
    This whole idea of following gedolim blindly is a new concept. I do think it was invented by the Aguda to force subordination of local rabbis to super-rabbis. Thats why who is and who isn't a super-rabbi is decided by some committee.

    Jewish history is full of people who rightly and wrongly disagreed with their rabbis.

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  42. From Iggrot Ramchal 88:

    הלא הדינים צריכים בישראל – הנעזוב אותם? לא, לא נעזוב אותם, אבל נקבע להם זמנים לפי שאי אפשר בלאו הכי, אך לא בהם נבלה זמננו ח"ו

    Are laws not needed in Israel? Should we stop studying them? We should not stop studying them. Rather, we should devote to them a limited amount of time, as we cannot do without this, but we shall not spend our life in this study, Chas V'Shalom.

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  43. "Just because you have a brain is not reason to use it for things that YOU think are proper."

    It's not very often that I wish someone who wasn't a troll actually was. Thank you for teaching us how and when to think.

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  44. R. Schechter’s error was not simply his ranting response to attempted questions after his talk, but rather his entire nearly half hour preceding presentation - a sort of free form rambling contemplation of various p’suqim and b’rokhos reflecting, as R. Schechter saw it, the awesomeness of toras hashem, or something like that. Perhaps he felt his teaneck audience needed such convincing and his mission in showing up was to deliver that gospel, so to speak. All this punctuated at intervals by occasional shout outs of random sentences he must have thought particularly significant. I cannot guess what might be the analytic quality of the average Chaim Berlin audience regularly privy to such insights but after listening to this exposition, can well imagine the impression of yeshivish world lomdus this schmooz form might have gained a highly educated audience of adults. It’s unfortunate that R. Feldman essentially dropped out of the proceedings in deference to R. Schechter once the latter arrived, as his opening remarks at least indicated an ability to hold up his end of a substantive colloquy, an endeavor of which R. Schechter was certainly disinterested and possibly incapable.

    As to the posters who were impressed by R. Schechter’s command of English, I must have missed that part too. Let’s remember he was born in Brooklyn and might be expected to speak his native language about as well as any average Brooklynite of that era (yes, there’s a joke in there) but nobody would confuse him with a R. Lichtenstein in such matters (or any other). If I seem a bit harsh in my assessment, I confess that after the Michael Hersh craziness –there is also a local silver spring angle - it is hard for me to view any performance by R. Schechter objectively. nevertheless I believe my remarks do reflect the objective quality of his performance here.

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  45. On one hand, the man all but admits to being an ignoramus about these foundational areas of modern science. That's fine & good. There's no problem about not being interested in these fascinating subjects. But the follow-up...that since he personally is an ignoramus, it is incumbent upon you to also be one... is just a an argument designed to spread ignorance and darkness. And coming from a fellow who is said to be involved in education, it has to be said that his attitude appears to be anti-educational. He wants to enforce a lack of curiosity? What kind of teacher is this?

    I am sure he would never answer the question "Why is this night different from all other nights" with "It's none of your business". Yet, through special pleading, he thinks this type of answer is acceptable to those who are interested in the fundamental working theories of science.

    I hope he never gets sick or needs a doctor. But if he does, I would beg him to take advantage of the work of scientists. Science has provided a method to pursue curiosity. And, from a practical point of view, it delivers the goods. And one great thing about interest in science is that all people can talk to each other using the language of science. They can be religous or secular.


    Gary Goldwater

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  46. R' Schechter has single handedly ensured that anyone troubled by these issues will read your books. You see, if they are troubled by these issues, they will also be troubled by R' Schechter and hence will choose to read exactly what he says shouldn't be read.

    It's all good.

    Isaac Balbin

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  47. I wish we could all be on the level of the Rav who is reputed to have said that questions about the supposed conflict between science and Maaseh Bereshis were irrelevant to him =========================
    i thought he said it didn't bother him, not that it was irrelevant.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  48. I, and many others like me, left Yeshiva because I was troubled by the kinds of questions Rabbi Schechter says we should not be asking. I tried for a long time to focus on my learning and ignore the nagging doubts, but at a certain point I realized that I no longer believed. Once I came to that conclusion, game over. The whole thing felt like a charade.

    It is arrogant and naive to suppose that one can address this problem by telling people to focus on Gemara.

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  49. The other thing to consider is the "Michael Jackson effect".
    Michael Jackson started off as a relatively normal person. He was then handed lots of money and surrounded by people who told him he was as near to a deity as a human being could be. After a few years he succumbed to this limited environment and began to believe what he was told about himself.
    Saddam Hussein fell into this trap as well. After surrounding himself with "yes men" who insisted that he could beat the US in a war (because he shot anyone who said otherwise) he honestly came to believe he could.
    Rav Schechter and his ilk spend 99% of their time surrounded by people who agree with each other. They never expose themselves to alternative points of view willfully and when confronted by them shout them down because they can't comprehend the idea that someone would think differently. This would explain pretty much his entire speech on the video.

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  50. "Jewish history is full of people who rightly and wrongly disagreed with their rabbis."

    Jewish history is also full of people who were wrongly persecuted by their rabbis. Read Iggrot Ramchal (quoted earlier) to see what the Ramchal had to endure.

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  51. R'Garnel
    see here: http://vbm-torah.org/archive/values/20values.htm
    especially " This dependency is problematic not only for the disciple, but for the rebbe as well. It is inappropriate for rabbis to voice their opinions in areas that fall outside of their expertise, e.g., in medical or financial matters. There are times when expressing opinions in these areas can cause great damage. Many mundane matters are far removed from a rabbi's education and training. It goes without saying that this in no way detracts from his standing."

    I would add that there is a danger in believing your own PR
    KT
    Joel RIch

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  52. It's amazing to me that there are people who really think that they (or some rabbi they think is amazing) can actually disqualify a given person (or group of people?) from stating their interpretation of Jewish sources based on anything, let alone based on some arbitrary criterion such as perceived "greatness" an amorphous quality no one can quantify but really just means "what kind of esteem rabbi X holds him in."

    ANYONE can state an interpretation of the sources! You are free to disagree, to offer your own interpretation, and/or refute his/demonstrate it to be mistaken (if you can, that is), but you cannot ban someone from giving their interpretation. That's the beauty of humans having separate and individual brains - interpretation of all things is open to everyone.

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  53. you cannot ban someone from giving their interpretation

    You sure can. I think that you mean that one ought not ban someone from giving an interpretation. Of course, you're entitled to that opinion, but many others disagree.

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  54. Joel,
    First, thanks for the correction on what the Rav said.
    Second:
    > Many mundane matters are far removed from a rabbi's education and training.
    Ah, but now we have "Daas Torah" to get around that!

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  55. The entire idea of "daas Toirah" as it's understood is really a very newfangled phenomenon.

    It developed to a large extent in 19th century Europe. In the time of the rishonim, hashqafa was not a major criteria in determining one's status as a "gadol", someone who's Torah opinion matters. Especially in reaction to the hasqala and other ascendant movements in Europe, it became increasingly the case that to a great extent only the opinion of a handful of rabbis became "kosher" to the frum world, in large part because of their hashqafic stance which informed many issues (ie. no secular subjects in schools, which was a very hot topic in Russia). The idea coalesced that only a few rabbis are the gedolim, and their opinions are what counts, and the opinions of others don't matter very much at all. It became more and more the case that only a rabbi who would toe the "party line" could be eligible for gadol status.

    The inevitable result of this is what a friend of mine aptly calls the Torah dictatorship.

    As a case in point: Rav Shteineman came out in support of nahal haredi. What happened? In much of the haredi world billboard and letters went up attacking him in the most crude terms; he lost much standing in the eyes of a great many thousands of haredim; he was even faced with death threats. Another case in point: notice to what degree and for how long R' Elyashiv had to distance himself from his past in which he worked for the state rabbinate, under R' Herzog, (doing a sort of teshuva) to be accepted as a gadol in the haredi world.

    Of course, today this setup has further broken down, and even the true opinions of these handful of gedolim are not the policymaking criteria in the haredi world; rather, it's the machinations of asqanim and power brokers. A case in point would be the expulsion from Gush Qatif, in which the majority of the moetzes Hagedolim of Agudas Yisrael voted againt joining the government, but the forceful machinations of Yaakov Litzman, who is not known as a hacham at all, got the thing pushed through.

    In addition, "daas Toirah" usually boils down to the opinions of those rabbis who agree with my ideological stance.

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  56. "You sure can. I think that you mean that one ought not ban someone from giving an interpretation. Of course, you're entitled to that opinion, but many others disagree."

    No. Actually, I meant what I said. Not what you said.

    The sources (talmud, rishonim, aharonim, etc) are written and exist. Anyone can come and look at them and interpret them. Anyone else can combat that interpretation with his own, demonstrate it false if he's able, etc etc. But it doesn't make any sense that you can forbid someone to give an interpretation. While we are at it, why don't we forbid stating an opinion, so you ought to stop writing comments to this blog because opinions are no longer granted to anyone less than a gadol.

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  57. it doesn't make any sense that you can forbid someone to give an interpretation. While we are at it, why don't we forbid stating an opinion

    In China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, to name just a few countries, the expression of certain interpretations and opinions are banned, and people who disobey the bans can be jailed or even killed.

    As well, bans on expression exist in all cultures, to some degree. In every culture and society, including "rationalist" ones, there are taboos, the breaking of which result in some negative reprecussion. Thankfully, we don't live in China or North Korea, and so are free to choose to disobey bans and suffer the consequences.

    But I for one am sick of people whining about not being accepted after breaking taboos.

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  58. James Madison, in Federalist 51, articulated two critical insights.

    ....the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.[emphasis mine]

    This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other -- that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.

    I believe that there is a common thread behind all statist and totalitarian enterprises, be they socialism, Communism, National Socialism, Muslim or.... And Zionism had its moments, too.
    Anyway, that thread involves the presumption that social and/or governmental action can transform human nature, (and that it is desirable to do so, to, in Eric Voegelin’s immortal phrase, immanententize the eschaton,) giving rise to a New Man of some sort. That generally correlates with the belief that those who are New Men, or are the best guides in how to make the New Man, ought to run things.

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  59. [continued from prior post]

    In that connection, Madison goes on:

    It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority -- that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable. The first method prevails in all governments possessing an hereditary or self-appointed authority. This, at best, is but a precarious security; because a power independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the major, as the rightful interests of the minor party, and may possibly be turned against both parties. The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government.

    Madison thinks that competing interests and breakaway denominations are a healthy thing in a republic and that an official church is as inimical to liberty as a totalitarian government.

    It might be worth remembering that "totalitarian" used to be used with a favorable connotation, and as more or less synonymous with "holistic."

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  60. "This nonsense would have never happened in Europe."

    That nonsense was Europe. Read some history. The defections towards secularism became a juggernaut.

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  61. "That nonsense was Europe. Read some history. The defections towards secularism became a juggernaut."

    Only in places where outside influences were allowed in, or where residents ventured outside their shtetls. Like the Perchik character in Fiddler on the Roof. The residents of Anatevka were doing just fine without his talk of revolution and Communism. Once they started listening to his apikorsis and allowing for the possibility of something other than frum Judaism, the town went to hell. So experiencing the goyishe world and allowing for its nonsense to enter our lives is clearly not a good thing at all.
    Where was most of Torah learned and flourishing? In the isolated shtetls, not in towns with secular universities. Occasionally a guy would go to one of them in the interest of becoming a doctor, lawyer, whatever. Next thing you know, off with the peyos, off with the beard, away with the tefillin. Horrible.

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